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San Francisco - United States
As a restaurant town, San Francisco is rivaled only by New York. As varied as San Francisco's ethnic patchwork is, so is the plethora of dining choices. One can eat Chinese in Chinatown and Italian in North Beach, but a rainbow spectrum of ethnic cuisine awaits you in central and outlying neighborhoods. Have you enjoyed the specialties of Eritrean, Afghan, and Tibetan fare? In San Francisco, you can. Shining out over this sea of ethnic delights are the downtown beacons of fine dining that have really kept San Francisco on the culinary map, such as the stylish downtown restaurant Fringale. Chic and elegant or funky and loud, in San Francisco you'll eat better than you ever have. Bon Appetit!
Castro Street & Noe Valley
In the Castro, casual, inexpensive and fun dining prevails along with lots of gay bars. Orphan Andy's serves what may be the best hamburgers in the city. The loud and lively Detour, one of the most popular bars in the Castro, is a favorite cruising spot while Harvey's offers more relaxed conversations. Noe Valley contains more than its share of the City's better, smaller, less pricey but well-reputed eateries. The Firefly and Eric's, both favorites with locals, often have lines out the door.
Avoid the upstairs restaurants on Grant Avenue, which cater to the tourist trade. Instead, head up the side streets and take your chances at one of the scores of great and inexpensive Cantonese rooms that feed locals. Try the sedate and elegant Imperial Tea Court for a rare and exquisite selection of the finest Asian tea, or the frenetic House of Nanking on Kearny. On the edge of North Beach and Chinatown, Brandy Ho's carries the banner of "spicy Hunan cooking," and Dol Ho is a fixture with the Chinese shoppers and businessmen during lunch.
One of the few bars in Chinatown, dimly lit Li Po's, is a legendary literary hangout. Check out its over-the-top facade.
Civic Center & Hayes Valley
If dining before the opera, Hayes Valley, west of the Civic Center, has its share of the city's finest dining. One of the stars of the area, Jardiniere, features a dining room so remarkably styled that it's worth a peek even if you can't get a reservation. On Hayes Street, Absinthe offers innovative California-French fare in a fanciful, dark velvet surrounding. Then there's the Caffe Delle Stelle's more homey, trattoria-style ambiance with clever and unerring renditions of Italian specialties. The Hayes Street Grill is a reliable favorite. Up the street, Suppenkuche offers modern renditions of German favorites and dozens of beers on tap in an ambiance as boisterous as it is spartan. For a quick and cheap oasis, try hip and funky Momi Toby's Revolution Cafe.
Cow Hollow/Union Street
The clientele here is young, brash, beautiful and successful. Great restaurants line Union Street and side streets. For wonderful neighborhood Italian, duck into Pane E Vino on Steiner, just off Union.
Downtown & Nob Hill
Boulevard offers variations in the spectrum of French/California cuisine, all of them expensive, and all of them worth it. For lovers of seafood and creative design, Farallon, also pricey, is styled on an undersea grotto theme. Don't think of going to these places without a reservation. A large number of great sushi restaurants are to be found in the area south of Post Street. For drinks, try some of the great bars and lounges in Nob Hill hotels, especially if you can't afford to be a guest there. The Top of the Mark (at the Mark Hopkins InterContinental), Harry Denton's Starlight Room (atop the Sir Francis Drake), and the classic Tonga Room (at the Fairmont Hotel) will all let you say you've "been there, done that" without breaking the bank.
Embarcadero & Financial District
Restaurants here, whether stylish or traditional, are informed by discretion and lack of pretense as befits a business environment. On California Street, in the heart of the Financial District, is the Tadich Grill, the City's oldest restaurant. Heavy on tradition, this seafood house hasn't changed much during its extensive existence. The shiny Fog City Diner, near the Embarcadero Center, tips its hat to the American railroad diner, but serves excellent food. Nearby Il Fornaio, at Levi's Plaza Park, offers an exhaustive Italian menu, as well as a takeout deli and bakery. The Royal Exchange is a popular after-work destination for the young movers and shakers of Montgomery Street.
Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square & Aquatic Park
One word: seafood. Places like Alioto's and Scoma's have been here forever, serving serviceable seafood to tourists, and of course have tremendous views with their bayside seating. Ghirardelli Square offers a mind-boggling array of seafood at McCormick and Kuleto. For anyone with a sweet tooth, the huge sundaes at the Ghirardelli's Chocolate Shop are big fun.
For young bohos around the corner of Haight and Fillmore, Nickie's is a favorite watering hole and dance hall. If you're hungry, go to the Indian Oven around the corner. Or, head to Axum for great, inexpensive Ethiopian food. This area also has more than its share of comfortably scruffy cafes, as well as bars such as the Noc Noc, Toronado, Mad Dog in the Fog, and Ad Bodhran.
You're in the culinary heart of the city! What to eat? Italian, of course! Mangia! The only problem here is deciding just what kind of Italian. Check out unpretentious, hearty North Beach institutions like the family-style Calzone's. Off-kilter Sicilian, with gargantuan proportions and chairs on the ceiling? Well, that could only be Caffe Sport. You can also treat yourself to a more elegant and innovative approach to Italian food at hard-to-get-into Rose Pistola. But if you're just looking for a quick snack before scaling Telegraph Hill, have a panini sandwich and espresso at venerable Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store or cross Washington Square Park for fresh focaccia at Liguria Bakery.
But there's more to North Beach than Italian food, of course. Cocktail hour? If you want to get close to the beatnik soul of North Beach, Vesuvio, Saloon, the Tosca Cafe and Savoy Tivoli are where you must go.
Fillmore Street & Japantown
Fillmore Street has dozens of great restaurants so it's hard to know where to begin. Meet and greet at the Elite Cafe, one of the best places in town to have Cajun blackened redfish. Enjoy cozy Thai at the Thai Stick or squeeze yourself into tiny, tasty La Mediterrane. Harry's On Fillmore serves drinks and food and features jazz on weekends. At Fillmore and Geary, pay a cover charge and drink your blues away (or blues your drink away) at the Boom Boom Room. Great noodle houses and sushi bars like Mifune and Sanppo pack Japan Center.
Edgy cafes like the Universal Cafe and restaurants like the Slow Club attract the bohemians and black-clad yuppies in this transitional loft/industrial area.
The dynamism of this emerging area can be felt in its restaurant scene, with more "important" restaurants than almost anywhere else in the city, as well as places where the atmosphere's the only thing that counts. Fringale is considered among the very best French restaurants in the entire city, if not the entire state. Restaurant LuLu attracts a haute-yuppie clientele and offers imaginative food, an extensive list of single-malt scotches, and a very loud dining room. Brain Wash is one of the best, and perhaps only, places to have a beer, listen to a local band and wash your clothes all at the same time.
South Beach/China Basin
Town's End and Delancey Street are among the better restaurants at the end of the Embarcadero, serving wholesome but refined California cuisine. Recently relocated from the Mission, the Slanted Door styles Vietnamese dishes with a California sensibility and consistently makes top SF restaurant lists. Momo's, ideally located across from AT&T Park, suddenly has the best address in San Francisco, and the powerful and glamorous clientele to match.
Haight-Ashbury & Cole Valley
Colorful, funky and intensely popular restaurants like Cha Cha Cha draw a young and festive crowd in the Haight Ashbury. Nearby Cole Valley is less unkempt but features quite a few good restaurants for its tiny size, most notably the wine bar EOS.
The Marina District
On and around Chestnut Street, the college sweatshirt crowd dines and socializes at quick, comfortable, stylish-but-not-edgy places like Ace Wasabi's Rock 'N' Roll Sushi. Nightlife centers around lively singles bars like Bar None, and on Sundays brunch is hugely popular with bicyclists and rollerbladers at numerous places in the area.
The Mission District
The city's hippest, most popular, inexpensive restaurants are to be found in the area around Valencia and 16th Streets, referred to as the Valencia Corridor. Picaro is among the dozens of imaginative, vibrant places to dine without spending a fortune. Be forewarned of lines and waits, however. For drinks, there are scads of places to go along Valencia Street, among them, the Elbo Room offering drinks, music, and photo booths, and the Oxygen Bar, which offers not only fine sake and wine but, yes, pure oxygen. (You can inhale it in 10 or 25-minute segments.) In a parallel universe to this boho scene are the dozens of great burrito places on Mission and Valencia. Each have their adherents but El Toro Taqueria, Cancun and the legendary La Taqueria are the most popular. All serve popular Mexican beers.
The Avenues: The Richmond & Sunset Districts
In Clement Street's "Little Chinatown," you'll find Chinese food rivaling (some say surpassing) the best Chinatown has to offer. Ton Kiang Restaurant, a Martha Stewart favorite, is one of the many remarkable places to eat here, with every one of them unpretentious and a good value. On the other side of Golden Gate Park, on Irving Street around 9th Avenue, are dozens of lively and inexpensive restaurants catering to medical students at nearby UCSF. Sushi, curry, won ton, pad thai, pizza, falafel, crepes, burritos, hamburgers, and Ethiopian favorites can all be found shoehorned into that one intersection. Some of the city's best Chinese restaurants can also be found on outer Irving and Taraval, as well.