FINDING good restaurants is one of the essentials of travel. Where you go and what you eat will often shape how feel about the destination. You can fly away to far off places but if by bad luck or sheer stupidity you found yourself dining at all you can eat Chinese buffets, your view of the place and the food, would understandably be soured.
Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to visit many great places in San Francisco and Oakland, California, some well known, others probably not. Now, these restaurants are not ultra fine dining…gastro-meccas, flaunting Michellin stars and waiters in penguin suits. No, as I am sure you’ve started to realize, posting and scribblings like these are pointed at a younger, more budget conscience crowd. Good places on a budget can be tough to find and relying on a stranger’s whiny Yelp review is usually a bad idea, so here’s a rundown of places to visit in the Bay area.
In downtown Berkeley and located right off Shattuck street, this brick-walled brewery serves up tasty, thin-crust pizzas and a nice array of beers. There is also a full, open air deck out back with tables. What to order: The Triton Pizza – a mix of sicilian sausage, sweet onions, basil, and mozzarella. http://www.jupiterbeer.com/jupiter
While there is also a location in Berkeley, this Mediterranean restaurant is smack dab in the middle of Lake Merrit, Oakland. This diamond in the rough serves well made food for just about anything: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, hanging out with friends, an after-work drink, and late night hookah sessions. What to order: Have the brunch buffet or for dinner the lamb Osso-Bucco. http://www.bacheesos.net/
One of the standouts in the Mission district and located next to 16th street Bart. This simple Spanish tapas restaurant is owned by true Spaniards and holds true to what it should be: an escape, a hangout, and a reminder of home for many. They serve great sangria, Estrella Damm pilsner, and nice wines. There’s La Liga games flickering on the TV screen and sultry white lights hanging over-head, so stop by for a good time. What to order: Try the Albondigas (spanish meatballs in broth) and the Patatas Bravas (chopped and grilled potatoes with spicy red sauce). http://www.picarotapasrestaurant.com/index.html
This Mission restaurant has the unfortunate privilege of being dropped in between one of SF’s grungiest McDonald’s and a Foot Locker with metal bars on all of the windows. This street doesn’t immediately scream Fine Dining, but it’s worth a look. The stellar $15 tasting menu includes four items that vary day to day. The Chef/Owner whips up great takes on Venezuelan and Colombian fare, all while usually sporting a Bow Tie. What to order: stick to the tasting menu and you won’t be disappointed. http://www.yelp.com/biz/mr-pollo-san-francisco
Along the main street in little Italy, this street is filled with fine Italian restaurants but if by chance you stop in here you will be very surprised. The hand made pastas are cooked to perfection, the dark lighting and unusual murals make great conversation, and the wait staff tends to your every need. What to order: one of the many hand-made ravioli options and a glass of Barbera and you’re well on your way. http://www.monalisasf.com/
King of Noodle Thai
This place servs up good, spicy, thai food on the cheap. Located in North Beach, there is a restaurant with tables in front and in back is a somewhat seedy, darkly lit bar reminiscent of Bangkok or Vietnam. The bartenders all seem to be 19 years old and speak varying degrees of English, but they pour strong drinks and seem to have acquired a loyal following of regulars. What to order: Phad thai and the Green curry chicken. http://www.yelp.com/biz/king-of-thai-noodle-house-san-francisco-7
Everyone needs a good, sturdy pizza place to serve as a home base or a meeting point. It’s the kind of place you go to when nobody can make up their mind, or the sheer act of thinking or deciding on a restaurant is too much. When that is the case you go to Pomodoro Pizza and grab a slice and a beer and relax. Located at 240 Kearny Street, stop by afterwork for the happy hour special – under $7 for a slice of pizza and a pint. http://pomodorogourmetpizza.com/
This trendy restaurant sits next to Fisherman’s Wharf along the water in San Francisco and serves up renowned asian fusion cuisine and strong drinks. The prices are a bit steep (entrees from $22-45) but the happy hour presents a fine place to impress a woman you’re intent on impressing. Also check for Google Offers or Groupon deals here before you go. What to order: the roasted “Peking” duck – seared duck breast, scallion and duck confit crepes, cherry compote, and hoisin cream sauce. http://www.butterflysf.com/
There are several locations doted throughout the city but the Embercadero location is a great meet up location for an after-work drink or dinner. Serving classic American bistro fare and a wide array of beer, wine, and cocktails, this is a place to visit if you are near the Ferry Building. What to order: a bacon cheeseburger and fries. http://www.perryssf.com/general_embarcadero.htm
It’s tough to beat delicious and spicy Thai food and Osha does it right. There are multiple locations throughout San Francisco, with one in Glen Park, Cow Hollow, and downtown. The flagship is tucked at the corner of Justin Herman Plaza and has an outside patio with blue umbrellas. What to order: the duck egg rolls and the panang curry. http://oshathai.com/4/
A worldy restaurant and café which has a European flare. The food is a bit pricy but the drink specials, the atmosphere, and the central location at 168 Sutter St. make this a nice and quite place to meetup for a drink. What to order: a calzone or the tuna tartar.
A.G. Ferrari’s Italian Deli
This fine Italian Deli is located in the bustling downtown of San Francisco. Close to the Powell Bart stop and the Moscone Center, you can stop in for superb lunch to-go or eat at one of the small, sidewalk tables. What to order: The pannis are good and the dinner plates of either Eggplant Parmesan or Classic Meatloaf with a garden salad and garlic bread are can’t miss. http://www.agferrari.com/
Stone Korean Kitchen
Located on the corner of Justin Herman Plaza, this nice restaurant with outdoor seating serves up delicious Korean cuisine and offers a nice, elevated happy hour with 2 x 1 wine and beer specials. What to order: the calamari and the bulgogi wraps: marinated rib-eye served with fresh butter lettuce, mango salsa, and sesame oil vinaigrette. http://www.stonekoreankitchen.com/
This restaurant is located in Oakland, CA and near the Trader Joe’s on Lakeshore. It serves up well made, well presented Mediterranean food but it stays safely on the side of food meant to eat not something that looks like an Origami creation. What to order: The gourmet burger is can’t miss, damn good – a fresh, house-ground Kobe style burger adorned with provolone, housemade pickled vegetables, harissa aioli & served with pommes frites. http://www.mezze.com/Mezze/Home.html
So there you go, a few recommendations of very nice places worth a visit. Of course, in San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole, finding good restaurants has never been a problem. As Frommer’s claims, “For more than a decade, the readers of Bon Appétit magazine have named San Francisco their top city for dining out. And for good reason — with more than 3,500 restaurants offering cuisines from around the globe, San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States”.
Well, it sounds as though there are many more restaurants to explore. Good luck and good eating.