Forget the Flowers For Your Hair, Just Don't Bring Your Shorts to San Francisco (Part 2)

When we left off last time, I'd just deleted my entire list of suggestions and recommendations for San Francisco, and I'm sure you could hear me screaming from here. Remember that eardrum-shattering shriek you heard while watering your backyard in New Jersey or vacuuming your living room in Minneapolis last week? Yeah, that was me. Sorry about that. And please apologize to your neighbors.

Now, however, I've had a little time to compose myself---have also written "I must remember to save my posts, I must remember to save my posts, I must remember to save posts" a hundred times on the chalkboard in my kitchen (oops, hang on while I save again, okay, there we go)---and am ready to start all over again with the task of recommending some of my favorite haunts in San Francisco.

As I said the first time around, these are just some places that Sean and I find ourselves going to rather a lot---you will see that around ninety percent of them involve food or drink, wow, I wonder why---because I'm assuming that you can figure all that guidebook stuff out for yourself (yes to Coit Tower, City Lights Bookstore, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz, especially if you do the night tour; no to Fisherman's Wharf, please, for the love of god.) I've only included places that we really, really love---and can therefore vouch for---but if anyone else wants to add their own San Francisco favorites in the comments, please feel free to do so, and we can build up an enormous MASTER LIST OF EXCELLENCE that will have the tourism board knocking down our doors and Mayor Gavin Newsom begging to take us out for pizza and a movie. (Hell, I wouldn't say no to that.)

As a little bit of background, San Francisco is all about the neighborhoods. Everyone thinks that their neighborhood is the best neighborhood (seriously, my neighborhood is the best neighborhood), but the good news is that it's pretty easy to get between neighborhoods, either by walking or taking the bus, cable car, MUNI light rail, BART, street car, or taxi.

The neighborhoods directly surrounding the Westin St. Francis---where BlogHer is taking place---are Union Square (basically one enormous outdoor shopping mall), the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, and the bit between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill, which more mature people call Lower Nob Hill and people like me call the Tendernob. The Tenderloin can be vaguely sketchy, but if you're used to big cities, you probably won't sweat it too much. It's not that it's dangerous, it's just that it's a little seedy. But be brave and venture out: it's also where you'll find some of the best food in the city.

The Tenderloin, Lower Nob Hill, and Nob Hill

Everyone in San Francisco has a favorite Thai restaurant, and everyone believes that their Thai restaurant is the best Thai restaurant. For us, that Thai restaurant is Bang San, a tiny hole in the wall with four tables and truly fantastic food. To mix it up a little, we sometimes go to the equally excellent Sai Jai Thai, and if we're in the mood for Vietnamese, we head to Pagolac (which---random aside!---is run by the family of sweet little Juniper's former daycare provider.) While we haven't found an Indian restaurant we're truly in love with yet, we find that Shalimar seems to satisfy our cravings for the moment; I've never actually eaten in there---we usually pick the food up---but it's noisy and crowded and very basic inside, so definitely don't go there expecting anything fancy. Down on Polk Street, you will find Cafe Zitouna, which Sean and I patronized both Sunday and Wednesday of last week, and no, we are not ashamed of that at all. Two words: falafel sandwich. Three numbers: $5.95.

Right around the corner from Bang San and Shalimar, you'll find Bourbon and Branch, a bar I resisted for a very long time because I thought it would be pretentious and hipster-ish, but then I finally went there and actually really liked it. You'll need a reservation, but it's got a speakeasy theme going on---they give you a password so you can get in---and the drinks, while expensive, are strong and delicious. For more of a dive, we like the Edinburgh Castle, where we consistently lose at trivia, but certainly enjoy the cider on tap. No, I'm sure the two have nothing to do with each other.

Going a little upscale, I'm a big fan of the Nob Hill Grille (particularly for brunch, where I demand that you order the pesto scramble, and then I demand that you share), and I also like the Nob Hill Cafe, which is awfully San Francisco in a very non-touristy way. Up the hill just a little---and now you're actually veering into Russian Hill---is Frascati, where we went for Sean's birthday last week and couldn't stop talking about for two days afterwards, primarily because of the chocolate bread pudding. Right around the corner is Swensen's Ice Cream Parlor, where they will let you sample pretty much anything before you make your mind up. Don't tell them I told you that.

North Beach

North Beach is pretty much my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco, and you should spend an afternoon there, walking around and stopping for a caffeine fix at XOX Truffles, where they give you a free truffle with your cup of coffee. One of my favorite places for lunch on a weekend is Cafe Francisco, where I say you should order the special on the board or the Mediterranean plate and Sean says you should order the Roast Beef Tuscany. For dinner, forget the touristy Italian joints on Columbus and try Trattoria Contadina instead, where they are awfully generous with their wine pours, if I remember correctly (and if I don't remember, I'm probably right!) It's also worth noting that if you live in a place where they don't have Trader Joe's---you poor thing---there's one in North Beach, and in my opinion, it's the least crowded one in the city. It's also where I do my weekly grocery shop, so maybe I'll see you there!

The Mission

There are probably many people who can tell you which bars to go to in The Mission, but I'm not one of them, so I'll just tell you about the burritos instead. The Mission is famous for its burritos---you'll see taquerias in other parts of the city advertising "Mission burritos"---and I recommend you check out El Farolito (where my friend Alison was once eating while they got ROBBED), Taqueria Cancun, and El Toro, which was not only the first place I ate after we'd moved to San Francisco, but also the first place we got a parking ticket. Man, I'm surprised they haven't put a commemorative plaque outside.

SoMa

You probably won't find yourself in SoMa much, other than if you're attending a baseball game at AT&T Park, or, uh, putting in a few hours at a dot-com company, but if you do, may I recommend the South Park Cafe, where you should most certainly order the Pig Salad, probably the best salad on earth. (It's mixed greens, crispy pulled pork, and thinly-sliced apple, accompanied by a tangy vinaigrette and a hunk of chewy baguette.) I also like The Butler and the Chef, where the sandwiches are the size of your head. No, not your head. Your head is fine!

The Richmond

Finally a non-food related suggestion! I recommend that you check out the sprawling Green Apple Books, where you will likely be able to find any second-hand book you've ever heard of. I also recommend that you pop into The Plough and Stars and have a pint of Magner's. I came here with my dad once and there was a group of people just practicing the Irish fiddle in the corner. Sean says they have the best Guinness in the city.

There are whole San Francisco neighborhoods that I haven't mentioned here, by the way---Hayes Valley, the Castro, the Haight, and on---and that's because I don't really go to them as often as I go to the ones above, so if you do, by all means chime in and fill the gaps.

Bringing up the rear with a miscellaneous category to finish, I'd definitely urge you to check out both the MoMa and the de Young Museum, and to head out to Crissy Field for a staggering view of the bridge or take the N-train all the way out to Ocean Beach for some good coastal California air. If you've never eaten at In-N-Out Burger, there's one at Fisherman's Wharf; I hate Fisherman's Wharf (can you tell?), but it's worth fighting the crowds for that Double Double with cheese. And if you find yourself with a sweet tooth, Fiona's Sweet Shoppe---which I posted about here---is only a few blocks walk from the BlogHer hotel.

And that's it! If you're visiting for the first time, have a wonderful stay in San Francisco, and if it's not your first time, well, then, congratulations on not picking up and moving here yet. You're a stronger person than I am, that's all I can say about that.

1
Camels & Chocolate
Jul 14, 2008

Ha, funny enough, SoMa is one of my favorite neighborhoods for eating and where I find myself most often -- Local Wine & Merchant, Salt House, Luce, Oola, Jack Falstaff, Koh Samui & the Monkey, Ame, XYZ, etc. etc. etc.: they're all divine!

2
Caroline
Jul 14, 2008

My salivary glands have kicked it into high gear. Unfortunately, all that's available to eat right now is an assortment of cereal in the wardroom. Unsatisfying! On a side note, I was going to write "varied assortment" but that's a little redundant, no? Anyway, I'm moving to San Diego soon and now I have even more reason to make San Francisco one of my first West Coast side trips! Thanks for the suggestions!

3
Jonna
Jul 14, 2008

I spent 30+ years of my life in the City and now I'm retired on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. I miss very little except... the food! You really got me with this post. Of course, I can't remember the names of some of my old favs and who knows if they are still there anyway. I'd add my favorite dim sum parlor in the Richmond but... the name is lost in the fog. Thanks for persevering and re-writing the post. Oh, and yeah, I heard you screaming all the way down here. Glad to know it wasn't fatal.

4
Raven
Jul 14, 2008

Reading this makes me so excited!

Thanks for the tips!!

5
Carly
Jul 14, 2008

Oh my. Well this is my first time to San Francisco and I'm relying on my BlogHer roomie Rhi to help me out with the sightseeing since we're staying an extra day. This is all so overwhelming and I'm afraid I will bore her or disappoint her with my very picky palate. I can't help it though. I live in Oklahoma where the fine cuisine is few and far between and usually doesn't involve things with the words curry or capers.

But I love your list and I will make sure she sees it.

6
ali
Jul 14, 2008

whatever...4 days is just not enough time...especially with that pesky little conference getting in the way ;)

7
Rhi
Jul 14, 2008

Great list! I've been to SF a few times for work and wish that I had this then, for when I was eating on the company's dollar!

8
Angella
Jul 14, 2008

I am thinking I need to make a second visit so I will have time to take in all of your suggestions. The best way to see a city is through the eyes of the locals!

9
wwcutie
Jul 14, 2008

I really wish you had made this list a month ago, because I had never been to SF and convinced my parents to cut a day from our Yosemite trip to visit.

The only place we went was Fisherman's Wharf, and I wanted to KILL myself!

10
Sheila
Jul 14, 2008

Umm... not really sure, Holly, why you would recommend a restaurant at which patrons get robbed? Is the food REALLY that good at El Farolito?

11
bookgeekgirl
Jul 14, 2008

Great recommendations, Holly. In North Beach, I also would add coffee at Caffe Trieste. Best latte, ever! Plus, it's full of cute little old Italian men AND it's right around the corner from City Lights Books. What more do you really need? :-)

12
Moose
Jul 14, 2008

If anyone finds themselves in Hayes Valley, go to Arlequin (on Hayes St.) for the grilled cheese and Miette for the salt caramels and licorice lentils.

If you want non-food related suggestions, I can't help you.

13
NothingButBonfires
Jul 14, 2008

Sheila -- only the restaurant got robbed, not the patrons! (Um, if that makes you feel any better.) Someone just ran in, hopped over the counter, and grabbed the cash from the register. But yeah, the food really IS that good.

14
Georgia
Jul 14, 2008

Places I've been dreaming about since I moved from SF, over a year ago:

-a falafel at Truly Mediterranean in the Mission
-black bean cakes and eggs at Dotties True Blue Cafe
-a cheeseburger and fries from Burgermiester on Church
-a sausage from Rosemond (and their yummy chili), and eating it next door at Toronado with a pint (lower Haight)
-cornmeal pancakes from Kate's Kitchen on Haight
-a pint (or three) and a burger with greasy potatoes at Zeitgeist
-a burrito from that taqueria on Church off Market that I can never remember the name of...it's next to Burgermiester
-Aardvark bookstore on Church off Market
-a warm, yummy dinner at Chow
-cappuccino It's It from a dingy liquor store late at night, while running drunkenly to catch the last L train

I need to take a trip there a.s.a.p.

15
sizzle
Jul 14, 2008

I used to want to live in San Francisco (it's a fantastic city) but I couldn't afford it. It's spendy! But I am super excited to get to visit again. I miss it. Seattle has its charms but San Francisco is its own beauty.

Thanks for the suggestions!

16
Kerri Anne
Jul 14, 2008

I'm resisting the urge to print this post and just carry it around in my purse this week. That way if anyone asks me (the non-San Francico-ite?) where to eat, I can pretend to know exactly what I'm talking about and say something like, "I have it on good authority that we should eat HERE."

(Thanks! for putting this together.)

17
Mariam
Jul 14, 2008

I love this post! I've spent many an afternoon at Green Apple, it was just a short walk away from my old flat.

And I second the recommendations for Bourbon and Branch and Taqueria Cancun. And while West Portal and the Fillmore aren't on the list, may I suggest Fresca? Their lomo saltado is the best I've ever had and totally worth the requisite 45-minute weeknight wait. Oh, and one more suggestion: Mitchell's Ice Cream in the Mission. Try the baby coconut or avocado!

18
Anne & May
Jul 14, 2008

Ooh! Very very good list. I'll help you with the Mission.

If you're drainkin' in the Mission, check out:

Latin America Club (Brooklyn-style bar)
The Lone Palm (divey bar with Art Deco theme)
Gestalt (for brats and beers)
500 Club (good dive)
El Rio (for live salsa and great margaritas)
The Monk's Kettle (for fancy microbrews)
Elbo Room (Good for a group)
Make Out Room (Good for a group)
Casanova (Good for a group)

Um...no. My liver is fine. Why do you ask?

19
Dagny
Jul 14, 2008

Georgia is right. Dottie's is an absolute. While I like Trieste in North Beach, I also enjoy Steps of Rome.

In Hayes Valley, I love Absinthe, Suppenkuche, and Citizen Cake.

I also love Ella's out on Presidio for brunch. And sometimes Savor in Noe Valley. Oh, and another Noe Valley fave is Lovejoy's Tea Room. When I'm feeling nostalgic, I head over to St. Francis on 24th in the Mission for ice cream.

Love Cancun and El Farolito for burritos but I have recently discovered Gallardo's on Folsom near 14th. Fantastic Mexican food.

20
NothingButBonfires
Jul 14, 2008

Yeah, I like Dottie's too (and it's right opposite Bang San and next door to Shalimar), but the WAIT sometimes kills it for me. You have to go on a weekday and you'll walk right in. On a weekend, figure on waiting for an hour, lined up outside while homeless people hit you up for change.

21
Sean
Jul 14, 2008

@georgia: the burrito place at Church and Market, are you talking about El Castillito? If so, GREAT suggestion! definitely one of the best Burritos in town (and there's some steep competition there!)

There's another Taqueria on that block too closer to Market... Mi Casa, I think it's called, but I can't vouch for them one way or the other.

22
Georgia
Jul 14, 2008

Yes! El Castillito is the Taqueria I was thinking of. God damn those were some delicious burritos...I don't think I even need to mention that I haven't found a burrito in Los Angeles that even comes CLOSE to being that good. Plus they're the only taquria that doesn't get annoyed when I ask them to grill my burrito. Also, their nachos...holy crap.

23
evany
Jul 14, 2008

Hey! Thanks for the awesome big City tips, I actually work 3 blocks away from Fiona's Sweet Shoppe and didn't even know it existed...What? Who?

I'm also going to be at the BlogHer conference this year (I'm on the "What We Do: Pursuing Your Passion Never Gets Old" panel on Saturday morning, nervously enough)--I hope to get the chance to meet you there? That sure would be fun!

24
Rebecca Faulkner
Jul 14, 2008

God I'm such an Oaklander. I would do a day in SF then spend the rest of the time hanging out in Rockridge, the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, looking at weirdos on Telegraph Ave....perhaps you could include the East Bay as its own SF "neighborhood"? You do enjoy the Alameda Flea Market!

25
Andrea
Jul 14, 2008

Oh oh...thanks for resurrecting the lost post of the weekend. So worth it! I will likely be visiting many of your recommendations - particularly for Thai (which I could go for now). Thanks for the recommends! A month in San Fran probably wouldn't be the same without them - or shamefully touristy. Don't noooobody want to feel touristy shameful. Eh?

26
cartoongoddess
Jul 14, 2008

How did you know I was watering my backyard? I wondered what that noise was.

27
cagey
Jul 15, 2008

Wandered over by suggestion of Slackermama - great post! When we stay in the city, we usually stay at the Hotel Carlton on Sutter. I love your description of that area - it is dead on. However, I love the area because it has an air of authenticity and is low on the touristy element. heh.

Did want to chime in with my love for Shalimar. LOVE Shalimar. My South Indian husband and I live for eating there when we are in town, although I should mention that the place is more Pakistani in flavor than Indian. I recommend doing take-out as well. Eating inside is not nearly as enjoyable as having a carpet picnic in a hotel room. Eating naan on the floor with your hands is more authentic, right?

Also, I would like to recommend Columbus St - I really enjoy that area. I guess it would be considered a hike from Union Sq for some folks, but we walk there from Sutter, so it's not that bad. More walking = more pastries. Right?

My husband does have a website called FoodieBytes.com that would be very helpful for folks needing to find some chow while in town this week. (Please feel free to delete this last paragraph if this came across as spammy!)

28
cryitout
Jul 15, 2008

You nailed the description of the oft-maligned tenderloin: not dangerous; just seedy.

Great tips!

29
Kacey
Jul 15, 2008

I was talking about going to Blogher over on my blog, and someone sent me over here when I was asking about what to see, do, eat while I'm there. Thanks for all the info! It's great. Can't wait. Leaving tomorrow...

30
Gi in SC
Jul 17, 2008

OMG no recommendatation for Ti Couz yet?? please for the Love of Jesus , go there!!! i believe its in SOMA>

fav. restaurant. ever.

go and take some pics for me for my anniversary, please?? ROFL>

31
Aerin
Jul 18, 2008

Do you know what is excellent? I will tell you what is excellent: I was in San Francisco on July 8-9 last week, and I totally went to Bang San! All by myself, without prompting! You are right, it was very delicious.

I am additionally exceptionally proud of myself for hitchhiking there and back (to San Jose--I was refereeing for the USFA's Summer National events, omg ten days of pain), entirely without undue incident, as might be expected of a New Hampshire girl. And I got to drive somebody's porshe. Hooray!

Yes I know this is maybe the second time ever I have posted in your blog; that is because your blog is excellent, and makes me shy. :)