I like dining in the southern part of San Francisco for many reasons, one of which parking is easier at least mid-week, and they have a more neighborhood feel to them even though I’ve been to a few really great Pac Heights, Richmond, Russian Hill and Castro restaurants (review of a gem in the Castro is coming in the next six weeks) and cafes which most notably have their regulars.
Even though technically Noe Valley (Delfina listed below is in Noe), Portrero Hill and even SOMA are in the southern part of the city, below I have focused more of my attention on the Mission, Glen Park, Bernal Heights mostly because I’ve spent more time at these haunts and these neighborhoods don’t get a fair play in my opinion. A few standouts worth mentioning with my own personal insights based on several visits and in a couple of cases, well over a dozen.
- Blue Plate: 3218 Mission Street (just past Cesar Chavez).
I’ve been to Blue Plate quite a number of times and it’s well known among locals and foodies who will make the trek from other parts of the city for their comfort style cuisine.
For example, for starters, you can opt for the sunchoke and potato bisque pickled bartlett pears, winter chicory salad crispy pancetta, pickled sultanas, sweet potato served with charred prune vinaigrette, a granny smith apple salad grilled endive, concord grape with candied hazelnuts and point reyes blue cheese, marinated local sardines butternut squash, house-made chorizo, pork skin with tarragon, steamed manila clams saffron broth, pickled cherry peppers, green olives and corona beans, grilled monterey bay squid chickpeas, blackened eggplant, pimenton, sorrel or (I LOVE THIS ONE), the chicken liver pate pomegranate, aperol, pistachio, served with caramelized cocoa and toast. Their gnocchi slow braised lamb, fuyu persimmon and shaved fennel salad is pretty great also.
On my first trip there, a friend told me I MUST try one of their well known dishes: the blue plate meatloaf mashed potatoes and blue lake green beans. It’s great if you love meatloaf which I do btw, but I’ve never quite understood going to a restaurant that screams “we care about food and wine” and ordering meatloaf, but that’s just me. My grandmother’s recipe is too good to pass up and there are far too many complex dishes I can’t get right at home, gnocchi being one of them. The above photos are from my visit in November but here’s a standalone write-up/review of another meal there in late August.
- Limon: Valencia Street in the Mission. They apparently just opened a new Third Street location in the city. They also have one on South Van Ness. (my favorite is the one on Valencia though).
One of the main reasons to go to Limon is for their Ceviche and they have a few different options to choose from. They also do killer cocktails…in other words, try them all. My favorite thing to do here is sit at the bar and whenever I’ve been there and someone has wanted to sit at a table, I quietly hide my disappointment after at least once pushing back and suggesting the bar. Not everyone likes to sit at the bar, but here, you can chat with the bartender and sample wines, connect with the food at a deeper level and so on. If you want to catch up with someone with no distractions though, I guess the bar is not the best choice.
Below is their Nikkei de Atun – Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna with Mushrooms and Sesame Seeds in Soy Sauce-Infused Leche de Tigre. The sauce and the mushrooms make this a unique dish and it’s a must try.
Moki Sushi – Cortland Street (off Mission)
I have mixed feelings about Moki Sushi although I have to admit, it’s always been fresh. When I first started going, there was a bit of the soup natzi thing going on in their previous location where there wasn’t much flexibility despite how frequent of a customer you happened to be. That said, I’ve been several times since they moved and the food has always been good. One thing to note on the service – while this likely wouldn’t have happened in its early days, it did within the past year. I was in for dinner with a girlfriend and we ordered a variety of sushi, sashimi, salad and a couple of non-sushi appetizers.
Their wine choice was limited which I brought up the previous time I was in there – nothing buttery and oakey for this Kistler-style chardonnay lover, at least NOT by the glass. The waiter happened to mention that he thought they had “something” open in that category and that he’d be right back. Alas, an oakey buttery chardonnay for this customer from a bottle they don’t normally serve by the glass and a memory of the experience to last a lifetime. This is a standout although I’m can’t speak if it would happen again and that it’s standard “we love our customers service,” or if I just got really lucky with one incredible waiter.
Their Ecstasy roll is a incredibly popular with locals and being one of them, I should know, so rather than order my standard rolls and ngiri, I went for it. Imagine scallions and avocado tempura’d together with manguro, bincho, salmon and tobiko. Delicious. I wrote a standalone review on Moki’s here.
- Garcon – 1101 Valencia Street (parallel to Mission)
Oddly enough, I ended up sitting at their bar with a friend one Thanksgiving and it was packed. I’ve been there numerous times and only on one occasion did I sit at the table. I happen to like their bar, as long as you’re not sitting in the middle which faces the door (cold drafts depending on the time of year). This place grew on me…in other words, my first couple of visits were not that impressive. The bartender was annoyed by any change in a menu request and the wine was mostly French, in other words, no buttery chardonnays for this cat. That said, if you drink red, there are plenty of great choices on the menu and if you tend to go for more European style whites, this place won’t disappoint.
Their portions are typical French – small, small but delicious. They have a french onion soup served with gruyere that’s worth starting with and I’m always a fan of including a salad regardless of what you’re ordering. They have an arugula salad, frog hollow peaches, blue cheese, honey pecans served with a lemon vinaigrette and heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, sunflower seed pesto served with crispy rosa blanca eggplant. If you want a slightly heartier starter, you can opt for the grilled monterey calamari, baby artichokes, sweet & sour eggplant, cherry tomato confit and basil or the steamed p.e.i. mussels, fennel, shallot, lavender, lemon in a pastis-chardonnay broth. And, until its banned in the states, they’re still serving a pan seared sonoma foie gras, caramelized mango, toasted pine nuts, yogurt and cabernet syrup for $20 which isn’t bad considering that its still pricey in Paris. (trust me, I tried it at numerous places throughout the city this past December).
They also have a fabulous braised lamb, with minted gnocchi, english peas, pearl onions, lemon confit and a lamb jus. These are all apps of course, so for entrees, try the pacific cod, haricot verts, mustard greens, onion soubise, basil, cherry tomato sauce vierge, the pork tenderloin, creamed corn, leeks, grilled nectarines & prosciutto en brochette, natural jus or a pricier but yummy option is their duck breast, served with cranberry beans, baby artichokes, mitake mushrooms and grilled frisee. You can also order burgers here btw.
- Range: 842 Valencia Street (between 19th Street & Cunningham Place)
When Range first opened in 2005, I fell in love with the place and was there fairly frequently. They had a ribs appetizer on the menu which was to die for and I ordered it every time. As the years marched on, it became increasingly popular so was always busy (not a problem for them) but a problem for anyone who simply wants to grab a seat at the bar and have a glass of wine with a friend. You never knew whether you could sit or you’d be waiting in the cold for an hour since there really is no place to wait if a seat isn’t available. Small is part of its charm as was the original menu.
I still like Range and its why its on the list but I’m not as much of a fan as I was in its early days. The menu also got a bit heavier and I found it hard for awhile to find anything light to compliment something heavy. For example, marinated leeks are served with a poached egg, cheddar and breadcrumbs and they have a chicken liver mousse with a cress salad, both are which are on the heavy side. I have noticed that in the past year however they have added many more healthier and lighter options to their menu, including scallops with a celery root puree served with Asian pear as an appetizer and little gem lettuce salad with a roasted garlic vinaigrette. Entrees have followed as well with plenty of choices: swordfish with portobello mushrooms, a braised flounder with split peas and roasted bacon and fall roots, a braised daube of beef with barley, brussel sprouts and shiitake mushrooms. I’d recommend all of them. My recommendation? Call ahead and make sure you won’t have to wait long before heading over.
- Front Porch: 65A 29th Street (between Tiffany & San Jose Avenues)
This place is all about comfort southern food and they have booths to deliver the ambiance to go along with it. Nestled away on a street you’d never imagine would have a restaurant, the Front Porch gets busy given its size on a weekend night or even on week nights depending on the night. I love the bar here. Note the wine menu isn’t the best, so you’re better off ordering hard drinks or beer if you’re a bit of a wine snob. The ambiance is fun albeit loud at times, and if you’re in the mood for comfort, go for one of their burgers or a bucket of their fried chicken.
On the “finer side,” albeit rich and decadent, you can try the dungeness crab with chanterelles, pomelos, and green onions, the shrimp etoufee with bourbon maple glazed sauce of the pork chop with sweet potato mash and a funnel cake. Nothing in this place is light so be in the mood for some southern fare when you head over to Bernal Heights.
- Beretta: 1199 Valencia Street (between 22nd & 23rd Streets)
The old Beretta used to be my all time favorite place to go in the city. It was under a different name and couldn’t have been more different than this modern hip place that serves high end pizzas and specialty drinks, which they get glowing reviews for. This is another place where I wouldn’t hi-five the wine list but it’s not why you go to Beretta. I call it the “kids” place since it seems to attract every 20 something year old in the southern part of San Francisco who wants to grab a pizza and have a late night. That said, despite the fact that its always packed and incredibly noisy, it’s a great place for cocktails and appetizers. Their salads are great and if you like “light crisp” pizzas, they have a variety of choices.
For example, funghi misti, tomato, fontina & thyme, hot salami, coppa, tomato, provolone & diavolicchio, broccoli rabe, pancetta, tomato & mozzarella, spicy italian sausage, panna & green onions, prosciutto di parma, tomato, arugula & mozzarella, squash, provolone, prosciutto, onion & goat cheese, potato, rosemary, radicchio & gorgonzola dolce, and cipolla, gruyere, parmesan, creme fraiche, pine nuts, each ranging around the $14-15 mark.
- Specchio: 2331 Mission Street (between 19th & 20th Streets)
All I can say is yummy. I love this place. My biggest beef is that the ambiance in the main dining room is a tad on the cold side and could use some warmer “something”, whether its accents to the tables and walls, or change the layout slightly. For something different this past time, we sat at the bar, so had the pleasure of chatting with the owner for quite awhile. He allowed us to sample a few different wines before we settled on a killer barolo — there’s a large selection of Italian reds on the menu. Their homemade pasta is really to die for and I’m still thinking about it weeks later. The portions could have been a tad larger (not a lot but a tad) but the balance of sauces and the choice of accompaniments were a true standout.
It’s all good. Really. Their pasta is homemade and we went for a killer tagliatelle and the spilt spaghetti with mussels tomato sauce & homemade pumpkin ravioli served with an amaretto cream sauce. The salads are amazing too. I plan to do a more extensive review upon another return so be sure to check back for more including food photos.
Foreign Cinema: 2534 Mission Street(between 21 and 22thStreets)
So, I’m an oyster lover and a film lover, and Foreign Cinema has both. You can have a meal outside with heat lamps and view a movie at the same time – a pretty cool concept. Unfortunately oyster prices have gone through the roof unless you stick to the restaurants in the Bay Area that offer deals or special happy hours like Sea Salt in Berkeley (a gem and a recent fabulous find – my write up on them here, which includes details of their $1 oysters). At Foreign Cinema, like many restaurants in its category, they’re a wopping $3.25 a pop but they are fresh. Options include: Beau Soleil (from New Brunswick), Chatham (from MA), Coromandels (from New Zealand), Hog Island Sweet (from CA), Kusshis (from B.C.), Kumamotos (Humboldt, Marshall), among others.
Oysters isn’t the main reason to go though – it’s the film and fun ambiance, not to mention some of their yummier heartier dishes such as their smokey masala pork chop, served with chanterelle-radicchio-leek bread pudding topped with Gruyere, a Pimenton spiced chicken served with butternut squash, braised romano beans and smoky bacon (yum), or their California mixer for $25: lamb, squab, pork belly, couscous, served with confit baby eggplant and ginger raita. On the lighter side, they have a tuna tartare with tostadas or their beef carpaccio with gaufrettes and fried rosemary. (also yum). While their food is great, I actually don’t go anymore. The reason? The place is always chilly and I mean always. I’ve been there about 20 times and every time, it’s been cold, so last time, which was only a couple of weeks ago, we walked down the street to the cosier Medjool bar which actually had heat. I’m not sure why they keep the place so cold and it’s always busy, meaning the food is good. My recommendation: pack a jacket and scarf and head over prepared.
Here’s their film showings line-up. Also, their happening Laszlo Bar is immediately next door and you can get drinks till 2 am.
- Medjool: Mission Street in the Mission.
While I wasn’t initially going to list Medjool here, I decided to because I’ve ended up resorting to Medjool when so many other options haven’t panned out, equating to a place in the Mission that is easy to get into, has a fabulous diverse array of tapas-type dishes you can order and lounge-like seating in the front of the bar, making it an ideal option for groups. It’s also open late.
They have Middle Eastern and Southern European tapas, both hot and cold. I ended up there for part of my birthday this year and we ordered up a storm: Olive Oil-Cured Montrachet Goat Cheese with Sun Dried Fruits and Flatbread, Seared Sea Scallops, Forage Mushrooms, Dungeness Crab Hollandaise, Watercress, County Line Baby Green Salad, Bartlett Pears, Toasted Almonds and Bleu Cheese, Roasted Salmon, Snap Pea-Gulf Prawn Risotto, Shellfish Reduction, Roasted Black Halibut (Greenland Turbot), Butternut Squash Puree with Truffle Beurre Maitre d’Hotel and someone insisted on ordering 4 plates for their pommes frites with parsley and lemon which none of could finish. Really guys? French fries?
- Delfina: 3621 18th Street (between Guerrero & Oakwood Streets)
Delfina Restaurant and its neighboring cafe/pizza joint has always gotten raving reviews in the Bay Area and people love it, so much so that its often hard to get in, particularly on a weekend. That said, if you go early and mid-week, you shouldn’t have problems but be forewarned, if you have food allergies or want something served a little “differently” they’re not the best at accommodating a customer’s requests. While I love the food (and the wine goes down well too), the chef (and even worse, the bartender) has an attitude. Remember that I’ve been there about a dozen times over the years and this one incident was a standout, however there’s been an “attitude” at a milder level from time to time that I’ve blown off as “we’re popular so we don’t need to worry about great customer service.”
My one incident may amuse you but rest assured I’m sure it didn’t amuse them. I was there with a friend from out of town and we sat at the bar, which albeit small, is intimate and wonderful if you can get a seat. I asked for a side of chopped up garlic (extra) for my bread and my salad. The chef simply refused to do it even though they had garlic in the kitchen and the bartender was not only miffed I asked 3 times to get it (seriously, what’s the big deal?). She continued to ignore us for the rest of the evening except for serving us our meals without a glance or smile simply because she had to. It was a pretty disheartening experience. My friend, a serial entrepreneur was more than miffed, got up, walked out of the restaurant to a little convenience store next to the restaurant, bought some garlic and came back. We then cut up our own garlic for our bread and proceeded to enjoy our meals. Was that really necessary? It didn’t phase them nor did they care we were clearly unhappy that they wouldn’t fulfill such a small request for us.
That said, the food has always been great and I love sitting at that little bar. One of these days, it would be great to chat with the manager about whether that truly is their policy and whether they really give a hoot or not. It’s clear that their food wins the show, not their service, no doubt helped by the fact that Michael Bauer, executive food editor and food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle who raised Delfina’s food rating by half a point to three-and- a-half out of four stars after they expanded their restaurant. Even their basic spaghetti with peroncini is a delight. If you like ravioli, they serve it with delicious red kuri squash, chestnuts, brown butter and amaretti, and if you love lobster, you can get a pasta served with one and a quarter pound Maine lobster but it’s not cheap: $36. I’d also recommend their risotto milanese served with oxtail sugo. They also have an interesting roasted liberty goose (not easy to find on menus in the Bay Area), served with brussel sprouts, turnips and pomegranate for $29 and their veal arista for $31 comes with a celery root gratinata, maitake mushrooms and cippoline agrodolce.
- Vino Rosso: 629 Cortland Street at Anderson.
I discovered this little wine bar early on not long after they opened and it became an immediate favorite, so much so that I’m actually the Foursquare mayor of the place for whatever that’s worth. (zero value in my life so far but we’ll see). When I first started going, it became a regular hangout for getting together with a friend for a drink and perhaps an appetizer. About as Italian as it gets in all the positive things that this image for foodies and wine lovers alike brings up, water came without ice in the glass automatically and the majority of their wines are Italian – yum barolo. They are also serious about their cheese, even early on when believe it or not, they didn’t have a proper fridge.
Okay cheese lovers, get ready for this menu: Moliterno al Tartufo – aged sheep’s milk cheese w/ black truffle from Lazio, Quadrello di Bufala – semi-soft, robustly pungent buffalo milk cheese, Tronchetto di capra – soft goat’s milk cheese with walnuts & honey, Blu del Monviso – strong, rich & creamy aged cow’s milk cheese, Robbiola Tre Latti – soft, creamy, whole cow and sheep’s milk cheese. You can get a plate of 3 for $10 and of 5 cheese choices for $15. You can also compliment your cheese selection with speck (smoked prosciutto) & mozzarella di bufala or a crostini (Fresh mozzarella di bufala, sliced tomatoes & basil) or what they do really well: Bresaola e Parmigiano (thinly sliced cured beef & shaved parmigiano) or the Carpaccio di Tonno (fresh marinated tuna & arugula). I’d recommend one of their organic baby green salads to compliment anything you order.
Tables are small — very small – as is the place, so if you’re a large party, I’d give this place a miss. It’s a great place to catch up with a friend over a fabulous glass of wine. While we’re at it, I won’t even tempt you, but suffice to say, be adventurous and try a wine you’ve never heard of since they have an interesting selection. Here’s the list to get you started.
- Heart: 1270 Valencia Street (between 23rd & 24th Streets)
Heart is a great place to meet a few friends for appetizers and sandwiches as its not a fine-dining kind of place. That said, its charm is in the mish mash that could end up on your table and its rustic ambiance. Imagine sherry, fabulous wines or bubbly, a meat platter and some fabulous cheeses. I’m a fan of sheep and goat cheese myself but they do have some great “cow” milk choices, all from the states: abot clothbound cheddar (vermont) membrillo, – zingerman’s detroit street brick (michigan), apples, cowgirl creamery st. pats (california) marcona almonds and rogue creamery crater lake blue (oregon) served with rosemary honey. You can get a choice of two for $13 or all four for $21.
All their meats are served with dijon mustard, cornichons, and a della fattoria baguette. Choices include fatted calf finocchiona salami, fatted calf mortadella, and la quercia organic prosciutto, all between $8-10.
- Lolo: 3230 22nd Street – (between Mission & Bartlett Streets)
I’ve only been to Lolo once so must return to give you a better idea of their menu choices first hand, but I thought the place had promise and am a fan of it charm. It’s also reasonably priced and while it may not leave your mouth watering for days on end, its a simple choice if you want to grab a bite in a quaint ambiance with delicious food and not spend a fortune. For example, you can get hallots, hazelnuts with a zinfandel vinaigrette for $6 and grilled artichokes with hawiian black salt, olive oil and and mint aioli for $7.
Try their arugula and radicchio dried cherry salad, which is served with pine nuts, goat and sheep feta with orange muscat vinaigrette or their little gem salad caramelized pecans, manchego cheese, sherry & hibiscus vinaigrette. For something a little heartier, you can order the crab tostadas chorizo, leeks, dungeness crab, sandia aioli served in an avocado puree, the oxtail tostada capers, morita pepper, rancho gordo orca bean pure and fresh cream, the huitlacoche and ricotta stuffed wonton ravioli with basil and arugula sauce and pine nuts, a pound of mussels with saffron, smoked bacon and Albariño broth, the duck confit with corn tortillas, cilantro and grapefruit-jalapeno sauce or the grass fed hearst ranch beef meat balls bed of roasted eggplant puree, slow cooked morita sauce.
- Piqueos: Cortland Street (just off Mission Street)
Piqueos is Fusion Peruvian Cuisine, so think mostly tapas and smaller sized plates although they have larger dishes as well, many of which are heavy and flavorful. I always go for red (often a great Sangiovese or a Cab) but they have a great house-blended Sangria on the menu as well and as know, beer goes really well with Peruvian dishes.
The restaurant itself is small (used to house Moki’s Sushi, also on this list which moved further down the same street). Obviously the decorations have changed dramatically and the ambiance itself is on the dark side, particularly if you sit in the back. My recommendation here rather than list specific menu items because so many I’ve sampled are worth a try….go for a variety of dishes and meats – spread things out: fish, chicken, beef and get a variety. They also serve a small sampler when you sit down that has this interesting corn mash that is to die for.
Incanto: 1550 Church Street at Duncan.
Incanto’s menu changes daily (sometimes at the very last moment) depending on availability of ingredients. I haven’t been in awhile though there was a time I was there every other month or so. My favorite part about their restaurant is sitting at the bar, and sifting through their various fabulous red wines by the glass (albeit pricey…warning). There are so many great things on the menu but one of my favorites (again, bearing in mind that the menu changes) is their pasta with rustic pork ragu. Also great is a rigate with duck conserva, cabbage and onion for around $17. They “get” pecorino and for those who do, it’s on the menu, served with beets and a radicchio, yum. Also toasted barley, mushrooms, wild greens and snails for $$19 for entree and $13 as an appetizer.
Other specialties can include (depending on availability), cod with olive & kumquat, pork jowl pepato, polenta & onions, veal breast, baby radish, turnip & black strap molasses and duck breast, giblets, carrots served with a salsa verde. Entrees are close to $30 though so not a cheap night out. That said, you can sit at the bar and just take in a few appetizers and a serious red, which will hold you over for awhile.
Vega: 419 Cortland Street.
Vega is owned by the same folks who own Vino Rosso and they put as much heart and Italian ambiance into it as they do their tiny wine bar. Vega of course is a full service restaurant with a fabulous wine menu, salad selection (yummy arugula) and pizzas. Known for their pizzas, it’s not the reason I rave. Sure, the service is great and the owners are so passionate about food and wine. And their pizza truly is good – order one for the table.
BUT, if you love pasta, you must order at least one of their pasta dishes. Additionally they have homemade Gnocchi Della Casa, which you can get with a sauce of your choice for $14: tomato and basil, pesto or gorgonzola and fontina (the rich choice). You can also get a gnocchi with mushrooms and Italian sausage served with a touch of white truffle oil (also a rich choice). If you want to keep it simple, order one of these two which I have done on more than one occasion: the spaghetti with grass fed beef, lamb and pork ragu or the pappardelle alla vaccinara served with slow-stewed ox tail sauce ($15 and $18 respectfully).
Also see my Eating Your Way Through San Francisco blog post.
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