a new dish does more
for human happiness
than the discovery
The discovery of
of a new star.
—Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Close to Moscone
MARGARITAS NEAR MOSCONE
Normally, this probably wouldn't make the list. It's a chain restaurant with decent—though not too authentic—Mexican food, but heck, Chevy's Fresh Mex (www.chevys.com) is across the street from the Moscone Center and the food probably won't kill you. But it's anything but expensive, the portions are huge and they have a full bar with strong margaritas, cervezas and tequilas that will take the edge off those analog vs. digital debates. Best of all, tell your waiter that someone in your party (like your boss who leaves to use the washroom after the drinks are ordered) is celebrating a birthday that day and they'll get a free dessert, accompanied by singing waiters and a huge, free straw souvenir sombrero to take home. Lunch and dinner. No reservations. 201 Third St.
Swan Oyster Depot at 1517 Polk, near California, is my favorite seafood dive. It's tiny, has only counter seating and there's always a line, but it's worth the wait. They have cold beer and the seafood is always fresh. There is a wide array of oysters to pick from, as well as seafood salads, fantastic chowder and other assorted goodies. Double up on your Lipitor and enjoy yourself! It doesn't get much better than this.
BOHEMIAN CAFE IN THE LOWER HAIGHT
I enjoy the coffee, bagels and casual atmosphere served at Café International, located on the northwest corner of Haight and Fillmore Streets in San Francisco’s bustling and eclectic Lower Haight neighborhood. It’s a place for sandwiches, salads, tea, reading and conversation, along with live jazz on Sundays and evening open-mic performances. The cozy surroundings include a bar, couches and a patio out back beside a colorful mural. I recommend it for breakfast. Cash only. 508 Haight St. (between Fillmore and Steiner Streets); (415) 552-7390.
THE CLASSY VEGETARIAN
Want to truly impress your clients and/or associates without serving them meat? Hey, this is San Francisco, it can be done. Located near the Union Square shopping district not far from the Moscone Center, Millennium believe that fine-dining and the hippy-ish-turning-mainstream ideals of serving fresh, local, often-organic foods from small farms aren't at odds with each other. And if you take advantage of Millennium's excellent wine list drawing from the fertile grounds of Northern California and Europe, soon everyone will forget that they aren't vegetarians. With most entrees at $20-$25, Millennium isn't cheap, but there's no formal dress code.
—Markkus Rovito, Remix
THE BROKE VEGETARIAN
Even without the bucks for the upscale Greens or Millennium vegetarian restaurants, non-carnivores can still eat well in this great city. Situated several blocks north of Market street not too far from the convention center, Golden Era proudly boasts of one of the most diverse all-vegan Asian fusion menus you could find. If rice, noodle and clay pot dishes featuring soy-and-gluten versions of "beef," "pork" and "chicken" for under $10 sound good to you, congratulations: you'll fit right in here in the city, and Golden Era has you covered.
—Markkus Rovito, Remix
FILM AND FUSION
Usually, I like to avoid drama at dinner, but at Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission at 21st St; www.foreigncinema.com), it’s all part of the ambience. From the street, it’s easy to miss this sleek mission-district restaurant, but once inside, a long hallway spills out into a large open courtyard where swanky diners enjoy “French-California fusion” cuisine under the pale glow of the international art-house films projected onto the cavernous walls. The restaurant is pricey, but everything I’ve eaten here, from chilled oyster platters to a truly lush pot de crème, has been delicious. And if balmy weather lingers, hit the rooftop bar at Medjool next door, for post-dinner cocktails, an entertaining pre-club crowd, and dramatic views of downtown.
LOSE THE FRAPPUCCINO
Usually when I see a bunch of people skulking around in an alley, I head the other way, but in this case, I know they’re all just harmless coffee freaks like me. There’s always a line outside the tiny Blue Bottle Coffee kiosk in Hayes Valley, and for good reason: The Oakland-based company takes “microroasting” to the extreme, offering various brews (including) espresso lovingly crafted with organic beans locally roasted that same morning and ground to order. Try any blend, I guarantee you’ll want to lick the cup. Visit the Hayes Valley location (look for the stand built from salvaged materials) or stop by the Blue Bottle cart at the Ferry Building Farmers Market.
RED'S JAVA HOUSE
Possibly the greasiest (and cheapest) hamburger you'll ever eat, but it's FABULOUS! Make sure you eat outside. Pier 30; they don't accept credit cards, so put your AMEX away.
Close to Moscone
BIG, HUGE PASTA
Yeah, it’s a chain. Yeah, the food is only ok. But where else (at least in this town) can you feed a dozen people for chump change, with meatballs the size of your head? Buca di Beppo, that kitshy “Italian” restaurant famous for its gigantic portions, friendly service and crazy décor. There’s one right down the block from Moscone, making it a convenient pit stop if you’re looking for a fun place to fill up a hungry crowd. The restaurant can have hours-long waits during trade shows, so it’s best to book ahead—ask for the Pope room. 855 Howard St.
VEGETARIANS BE WARNED!
It's no surprise that the House of Prime Rib (www.houseofprimerib.net) features juicy prime rib, although a daily fish special is offered. A tradition in The City for half a century, HOPR is an old-school, English-style, dark paneled walled restaurant—a definite throwback to the past compared to SF's haute nouveau cuisine eateries. Expect perfectly prepared, aged beef, carved by chefs from wheeled carts at your table, presented in enormous slabs—your decision is simply to select the thickness of your cut and whether you want it rare, well-done or something in-between. Locals with big dogs ask for a bag of rib bones to take home for Fido or Fifi. Full bar and huge wine list. It's not cheap, but certainly memorable if you're in a carnivorous mood. HOPR also has a private banquet room for groups of 20 to 70 persons. It's dinner-only, and the place gets busy, so reservations are essential, but credit cards are cheerfully accepted. 1906 Van Ness Ave., 415/885-4605.
EAT FRESH, EAT LOCAL, EAT VEGETARIAN
Conventions are the perfect place to indulge your inner carnivore on someone else’s dime. But if you’ve already consumed your own weight in beef by day three of AES, or you’re a vegetarian looking for quality dining involving more than side dishes, check out Greens. At this four-star restaurant housed in an airy converted warehouse in the Fort Mason cultural center, the menu is 100 percent meat-free. But with dishes as diverse as “masa harina tartlette with garnet yams, grilled onions, roasted tomatoes, poblano chilies” or “filo purse with artichokes, portobello mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, leeks, fennel, asiago and thyme,” Greens pleases even the most discriminating palate. There’s another reason to make this trek across town: Surprisingly, in San Francisco, there are only a handful of restaurants featuring sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and this is one of them.
Close to Moscone
LUNCH WITH WARHOL
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (www.sfmoma.org), with its sleek, imposing brick façade and cylindrical tower looming over Moscone, houses not only a full scope of world-class contemporary art, but a hip, classy café offering surprisingly good eclectic fare. Caffe Museo is located adjacent to the main museum entrance on Third Street, making it a convenient stop for a quick bite to eat—no admission ticket required. They’ll even make you a take-out box if you give them 48 hours’ warning—but then you wouldn’t be tempted to bail on booth duty and take in an exhibit, or two, or three…
ZEITGEIST TAMALE LADY
Okay, I already used Zeitgeist as my entertainment pick, but if you're looking for a midnight tamale that is killer, head over to Zeitgeist (199 Valencia St.) for a well-deserved tasty treat! Look for the lady rolling the happy food cart -- though you might be waiting a while. While waiting, enjoy the atmosphere and grab yourself a cool beer!
Close to Moscone
DO FRIES COME WITH THAT FREAKSHOW?
If you’ve got money to burn and open-minded dining companions, check out Supperclub, the latest incarnation of the Amsterdam-based nightspot that’s expanded across the globe. Enjoy a five-course prix-fixe in one of the dozens of huge, luxurious beds while being entertained by the contortionists, acrobats and other performers onstage, all in a pure white 11,000-square-foot bi-level converted warehouse space that looks like an updated Clockwork Orange set. But this ain’t no family-friendly Cirque du Soleil, so save your power dinners for a steakhouse.
SURF AND TURF FOR ALL
Houston’s is a nationwide chain specializing in steak and seafood platters, and its San Francisco restaurant is worth a visit after a full day at the show. Locals and tourists alike patronize this establishment, which has a cozy but lively atmosphere and a well-stocked bar, and features live jazz Sunday through Thursday. Houston’s offers a range of well-prepared American cuisine—ribs, burgers, chicken, fish, salads, desserts and more—and an extensive wine list. Bring a hearty appetite; I recommend the pork chops. Houston’s often fills up during dinner hours, especially on weekends, so I advise calling in advance to make a reservation. 1800 Montgomery St.; 415/392-9280.
STINKING ROSE, 325 COLUMBUS AVE.
Some other "those that will not be named" Mix editors may disagree on my fave restaurant place, but The Stinking Rose, for some, is a lesson in saying, "No, thanks. I think I've had enough garlic!" You may be thinking to yourself that there is never such a thing as "too much" garlic, and I'm quite inclined to agree with you, or as the chefs at the rose say, "We season our garlic with food." Whether you dabble in garlic cloves soaking in a hot tub of olive oil or the 40-clove garlic chicken, make sure you bring extra mints (and possibly some TUMs). While your stomach is gurgling from garlic goodness, check out the very "Anne Rice" decor--think "Interview With the Vampire" meets a Parisian flat.
Look, they offer a complete steak (or salmon) dinner for $13.49, so don't expect too much, but if you're looking for cheap eats, Tad's Steakhouse (www.tadssteaks-sf.com) is the place. Don't feel like steak? There's an assortment of other delights such as chili, desserts and sandwiches—try ordering "Gimme a Tadboiger" in your best Three Stooges accent. The amazing part? Tad's is on Powell Street, a block up from the Market Street cable car turnaround, in an area with some pretty pricey real estate. But if you don't mind standing at the counter to order and can overlook the bright painted yellow walls (they finally removed their trademark gaudy flocked wallpaper), you might just become a Tad's regular. Tad's opens at 7:00 am with a breakfast menu and stays open until 11:30 pm for the apre-theater crowd. No reservations. 120 Powell St., 415/982-1718.
SMOKIN' LATIN JAZZ
The name says it all: The Cigar Bar & Grill is a hip after-hours hang in the Financial District’s Jackson Square at the corner of Montgomery and Pacific, offering pool tables and an outdoor patio where patrons can kick it and light up a stogie while enjoying a cocktail. Cigars are available for purchase from its fully stocked humidor. Inside, instead of smoke, there’s fire—courtesy of the Bay Area’s hottest jazz and Latin jazz combos who appear Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. (The club/restaurant is closed on Sundays.) The Cigar Bar & Grill takes its live music seriously, and salsa dancing is often the order of the evening. It offers lunch and dinner menus, and a fine selection of wine and spirits. 850 Montgomery St.; 415/398-0850.
NORTH BEACH FLAVOR
Vesuvio: Popular watering hole for the Beats, established in 1948. Head upstairs for a table near the windows and look down on the vibrant Columbus-Broadway North Beach scene. Stop in before dinner for a drink and take in the local flavor; quirky decor; the wood alone makes it feel like 1956. 255 Columbus Avenue at Jack Kerouac Alley, the heart of North Beach, next to City Lights Books. Oh, when you come out, take a look south on Columbus. That triangular green-bronze building is the home of Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, where they edited The Godfather, Godfather II, The Conversation and mmany other films. www.vesuvio.com
TOM'S FAVORITE NORTH BEACH FOOD
Michelangelo Cafe: North Beach is loaded with great restaurants, but if you make it to the top of Columbus, catty-corner from Washington Square is Michelangelo Cafe, a small, family-run establishment with a great vibe. The line moves quick, and it’s worth the wait. Friendly, family-vibe staff makes you feel welcome. Known for its ciappino and other seafood dishes, but Tom likes the linguine pesto, while Sarah always orders the Tortellini Michelangelo. The very good house chianti comes in a rooster; the Tiffany lamps in the ceiling inspired the game "guess my favorite lamp"; and gummy bears are served with almond cookies at the end of every meal. Be sure to ask for the BIG wheel of parmiginna. Fun, bold art blended with Roman sculpture. Cash only.
BARBARA'S FAVORITE NORTH BEACH FOOD
One night, looking for a place to grab a meal before a show at Bimbo’s 365 club, my husband and I walked up Columbus and into a quiet, candlelit restaurant called Da Flora. What a find. Everything in this intimate, Venice-inspired dining room is in-season and hand-made—the pastas, the gnocchi, the sauces, even the hand-written nightly menu. The menu is limited, but each dish marvelous—inspiring, even—and there are always options to please meat eaters and vegetarians alike. I will warn that this is kind of a romantic restaurant with its red interior and low light, but even if you’re not traveling with your significant other, you’ll love the food. 701 Columbus. Reservations: 415/981-4664.
IF YOU ONLY HAVE TIME FOR LUNCH
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe: So you want to duck out for a morning and make the climb to Coit Tower? On your way back, tired and famished, stop in at Mario’s for a foccacia sandwich or a thin-crust pizza. Bohemian 1970s vibe, with large murals and cramped quarters; sit outside with your cappuccino and rest your feet for the night ahead. Or go across the street to the park and take a look at SS Peter and Paul Church. Columbus near Washington Square.
MEAT WITH A SIDE OF MEAT
Are you the type of eater who thinks vegetables are just empty vitamins? Got a ravenous booth crew to feed and an expense account to burn? Be sure to fast all day before gorging at Espetus (1686 Market St., www.espetus.com), San Francisco’s premier (more like only) Brazilian steakhouse. Here, an all-you-can-eat fixed-price menu features a dozen courses of meat served by swarthy waiters who will continue to slice slabs of beef, pork, and chicken off swords, directly onto your plate, until you flip over the little “stop” card on the table. We’ve heard they offer side dishes and dessert, but don’t know anyone who’s made it that far…
BUFFALO AND BREW
A favorite among the late-night crowd for more than a half-century is Tommy's Joynt (www.tommysjoynt.com), an enduring landmark famed for its hof-brau sandwiches, strong Irish coffees and full bar. Hey, it's not much on decor, but it's cheap (dinner about $10, including beer), open til 1:45 am and conveniently located at Geary and Van Ness. Besides the "coldest beer in town" Tommy's touts the buffalo chili and buffalo stew, but why is an endless mystery, especially as San Francisco's only possible bovine connection is a small herd of bison kept on display in Golden Gate Park on the other side of town. Maybe your waiter can explain this. In any case, if you're hungry after hours, this joynt's just the ticket. No reservations. 1101 Geary Blvd., 415/775-4216.
Close to Moscone
TWO BLOCKS FROM MOSCONE AND A WORLD AWAY
The name sounds a little frilly, but fear not. The friendly, French waitstaff at Le Charm (www.lecharm.com) serve excellent, classic French food in a warm, masculine dining room or on the more casual patio where you can also hear good jazz on Thursday nights. The lunch menu features beautifully prepared salads, soups and entrees all under $15; dinner offerings include a $30-per-person, three-course, prix fixe menu highlighting specialties such as salmon carpaccio, escargots, duck confit or coq au vin; and an a la carte menu adding steaks, chops and fresh fish selections. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, totally non-trendy restaurant where you can relax with anyone from your colleagues to your friends to your great aunt. 315 5th Street. Reservations: 415-546-6128.
BREAKFAST HEAVEN (AND MORE)
A San Francisco tradition since 1938, Sears Fine Food (please don't confuse this charming eatery with Sears Roebuck!) is world renowned for its Swedish pancakes, which are delightful—fluffy, light and silver-dollar sized. Conveniently located on Union Square in the heart of downtown, Sears (www.searsfinefood.com) also offers lunches and an assortment of dinner entrees, mostly hearty American fare like pot roast, steaks, fish and some Italian dishes. However, if you arrive at a non-breakfast hour, their trademark Swedish pancakes are available as a dessert item that's great for sharing. 439 Powell St., 415/986-0700.