Monday, June 04, 2007

Five Favorite Places to Eat in San Francisco

I have really been enjoying the memes that Tigerfish has been tagging me for! The object of her most recent meme is to list my five favorite restaurants in my hometown, the City of San Francisco. Here are my five favorite places in San Francisco, in no particular order. These places are not high-end, but they are places I feel comfortable going to on a regular basis with great food. If you are a tourist, I recommend you to stop by the Ferry Building and "peruse" the foodie atmosphere there, but these five are definitely worth your visit and your money.

Tu Lan: Although this is a recent discovery for me, every experience at this restaurant has been a extraordinary one. Touted as "Julia Child's favorite restaurant in San Francisco," the image of Julia Child scrawled across the cover of the menu is an endorsement to be remembered. You will always hear two things about Tu Lan: 1) the considerable portions of food served and 2) the rock-bottom prices. Although Tu Lan is in a relatively seedy area of the City (read: "non-tourist friendly") and it is a sticky-table dive in the truest sense, it is the best value in the City for great Vietnamese. My favorite item there, is the refreshing chilled noodle salad, or bun cha gio thit nuong, which comes dressed in a spicy fish sauce and lime vinaigrette. The cha gio (fried imperial rolls) are substantial, cylindrical hunks of oil-crisped rice paper wrapped around ground meat. Dizzam! Those cha gio are a force to be reckoned with! (By the way, the pictures in this post are from Tu Lan.)

#2. La Mediterranee: In the Fillmore District of San Francisco, this tiny restaurant is flanked by colorful boutiques with glistening glass windows that showcase flowing mesh skirts and dangly artisan jewelry. You can work up a hearty appetite after perusing what the neighborhood shops have to offer and then feast on soft and chewy pita breads that are kept warm in cloth napkins. The pita breads are partnered wonderfully with La Mediterranee's flavorful extravaganza of thick and creamy Mediterranean dips, made with ingredients such as chickpeas, eggplant, or tart Greek yogurt. Check out a recent post of mine on my lunch at La Mediterranee, here.

#3. Chutney: This is my all time favorite Pakistani restaurant, I cannot say enough about the creamy, rich, and tomatoey sauce in their chicken tikka masala. I was one of the first patrons of Chutney on the day they first opened, and will be a patron of this fantastic restaurant until . . . Well, forever! Other "must try" items include bengun bharta (which is made with softened cubes of tomatoes and eggplant) and garlic naan (which is served piping hot and liberally sprinkled with roasted garlic and fresh cilantro).

#4. Café Bastille in Belden Place: Belden Place is a quaint, cute alleyway bordering Chinatown and the Financial District in San Francisco. Belden Place contains restaurants that are San Francisco's closest equivalent to the bistros on the cobblestone streets of Europe. Strings of white Christmas lights dangle wistfully across the skies and outdoor chairs and tables line the length of the alleyway. The alongside the tables are glowing heater lamps that warm your relaxed shoulders on chilly evenings and open-faced umbrellas that provide a blanket of shade on sunny days. My favorite restaurant in Belden Place is Café Bastille--I love it because of the croque madame sandwiches, with the blistered and enveloping gruyere surface and the glistening and runny egg yolk that oozes oh-so-gracefully over this classic open-faced French ham sandwich.

#5. Marnee Thai: Walking into the restaurant, you will immediately notice several things about this comfortable place. First is the hatch-patterned bamboo façade on the walls. The second is the numerous plaques and certificates decorating those walls. Those awards are for winning international competitions for pad thai. And yes, I said "international" competitions. Their awards for the pad thai are extraordinarily well-deserved. This place seriously has the best pad thai outside of Thailand. The flavors in the pad thai are delicate and arousing, with the perfect amount of tartness and sweetness from the tamarind paste. The noodles are also immaculately textured--mildly agglutinative but firm enough to be discrete, separate from the other noodle tendrils. For more on the deliciousness that is Marnee Thai, please one of my previous posts on the restaurant.

Additionally, if you are lucky enough to have transportation around the City, check out Shanghai Dumpling King for the best Chinese meat dumplings in the entire City. Try looking up the MUNI bus lines for easy public transportation access from where you are staying (if you are a tourist). It is definitely worth the trip. Also, for good Chinese food in Chinatown, don't just stop in any old place. There are many tourist traps with really bad food in Chinatown. I recommend R and G ("RNG") Lounge, which is a pricier place, but their Chinese food is no-fail. Definitely amble down North Beach for some Little Italy dining. Finally, for cheap and delicious banh mi sandwiches, check out Saigon Sandwiches in the Tenderloin District. Oh yes, and for a touristy taste of San Francisco's sourdough bread, check out Boudin Bakery, where you can get affordable clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

And I would love to hear other people's take on San Francisco restaurants. For other San Francisco places, check out my posts tagged with "San Francisco Eats." For this post, I would like to tag my wonderful food blogging friends who write:

Taste Tests (see her list here)
The Short Exact Guide
Cooking with the Single Guy (see his list here), and
The Food Hoe (see her list here)!

As for all of my meme tags, even if you are tagged, feel no obligation to write a response. I understand you are busy. However, I would love to learn what restaurants earn your seal of approval. Also, if you were not tagged but are interested in this meme, let me know!


  1. Oooh great meme! Thanks for tagging me - I'll get an entry out ASAP! :)

  2. PE those pictures are gorgeous! Dang, they make me want to run over to Tu Lan right now even if I just had dimsum at Gold Mtn...

    Me too for the tag, how challenging to decide on just 5...

  3. Thanks! Now I could check some of these out if I happen to drop by SF area. And you have round up your 5 places so well by introducing different cuisines of the world. Thx! :D

  4. As if I didn't already want to go to San Franciso, now you've tempted me with these delicious sounding restaurants! I agree with chubbypanda, my tummy is growling. :)

    Ari (Baking and Books)

  5. Hi PE - Thanks for sharing! I've made sure to list them down.....

  6. I used to love taking visitors to Ti Couz just so they could see the banana flambe crepes. :P

  7. Oh, and I loved Angkor Wat on Geary for their "The Pope ate here" signs. John Paul, not the new dude.

    And Pacific Cafe or something like that on Geary just at the entrance to Legion of Honor museum for their grilled swordfish and wine while you wait.

    Ah, that was all a decade ago...Damn! I'm old!

  8. Thanks for the recommendations! I'm hoping to visit SF again this fall, and they will come in handy.

  9. Nice picks...

    Some friends of mine and I went to Tu Lan about 5 months ago. They had a bad experience cuz it was in a sketchy area, but I thought the food was GREAT... Too bad they're not going back. Cuz you kinda need friends to go there with, especially if it's getting close to dark. =P

  10. It's funny you love Cafe Bastille so much - I have been there over 200 times in the past 4 years and although I tire of the menu when they don't change it for a while - I will never tire of the lovely staff who have become close friends over the years. I'll tell them - they know what blogs are!

  11. Hey PE, thanks for tagging me. It really made me think. Well, at least for half a day. Finally got around to posting my top five, and here they are:

  12. OOOOH. I'm going to bookmark this so that I can go to each place the next time I'm in SF. Of course, I will have to ask you to join me in an eating fest.

  13. Great post! This is a nice diverse set of choices.

    Thanks for the tag. I'm never very good at these "top choice" type of things, and I'm not quite sure when I'll be able to get a post up, but I will do some thinking about this :)

  14. My mouth is watering. :D I'll keep these recommendations in mind for the next time I visit SF. Thanks!

  15. Hello everyone! Yes, San Francisco is such a fantastic culinary place. I know I didn't cover many of the great places to eat, but I'll leave that to my great friends, the Food Hoe, Chef Ben at Cooking with the Single Guy, the Taste Tester, and Eric at the Short Exact Guide! I hope if you come to visit, that you let me know, and I can take you to lunch!

    And Wandering ChopsticksI've heard of Ti Couz and Angkor Wat, but I've never tried them before. Thank you for those suggestions, I'd love to try them. And a place by the Legion of Honor huh? I'll have to call that my museum standby now! ;) Thanks again!

    Yes Sam, I love them. I haven't eaten there as often as you have, but I can't stop thinking about their delicious and runny eggs.

  16. Great reviews. Is this the same meme that I answered? I was tagged by traveller's tales.

  17. Just added Chutney to my list of must try places! THANKS for the info! I've saved your blog to read more posts. ~Amanda B.

  18. Do you know of any great places with an Indian Food Buffet ? I would love to one where they don't tone things down so much that is doesn't taste like Indian food anymore. ~Amanda

  19. Oh Baby! I'm on my way to San Fran on Monday and will definitely check out some of these spots!


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