I have one dinner in San Francisco

by on April 10, 2014 at 2:36 pm in Food and Drink | Permalink

It should be in a Tyler Cowen sort of place.  Probably not in the center of town, but still in SF proper.  Where should I go?

Thank you for your suggestions.

JFA April 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

If you like carnival inspired food, try Straw.

Jimmy April 10, 2014 at 6:06 pm

File under: “best satire site on the web”

Steve Portigal April 11, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Interesting experience but mediocre food. Would not go back, myself.

Alexei Sadeski April 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Good luck separating the excellent spots from the overhyped hipster places.

Following your advice, I’ve found the Pakistani restaurants in the Tenderloin exceptional.

RM April 10, 2014 at 4:12 pm

That would be “Indian restaurants”. Just kidding — my little pet peeve. In 75-100 years, if the hard borders take hold in South Asia, we will then have what we can refer to as Pakistani food.

wondr April 10, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Hindustani? Or regional – Punjabi et al.?

Habib April 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

Pakistan is a meat first country. So the distinction is almost immediate and settled for decades. Catch up. Ethnic Indian food is mostly vegetarian. The Mughlai aspect of cooking can hardly be called Indian considering they were essentially nomadic invaders from the Central Asia steppes and equal claim can be made from any country in their sphere of influence.

Culturally you will find a strong heavy Indian influence in every part of entertainment and media consumption from India in Pakistan. Not cooking shows though. Pakistanis dont need Indian cooking shows. Indian cooking is simply not Pakistani cooking that is why. All star chefs are local. With no exceptions.

quirkyllama April 11, 2014 at 2:29 am

Don’t go to Lahore in the Tenderloin. Used to be very good hole in wall, but owner sold and it’s really gone downhill. Former Lahore owner has a new place: Guddu de Karahi. It’s way out in the sunset but very good. Just order whatever Guddu recommends, but you knew that.

Affe April 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Asia SF

Netizen April 11, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Well played madame. Or is it sir?

nolen April 10, 2014 at 2:46 pm

La Ciccia (Sardinian)
Pizza Hacker (obvious)
Locanda (Italian & cocktails)
Piqueo’s (Peruvian tapas)

Michael B Sullivan April 10, 2014 at 6:20 pm

My wife and I like Piqueo’s quite a bit, though I feel like quality has been a bit variable. It certainly serves dishes that I have not seen anywhere else, and which also taste good. It is probably a bit too upscale/nice to really do the whole Cowen “find a place that is off the beaten track and does not attract a hip crowd” deal.

Sushi ICHI at 3282 Mission Street can be amazing — order primarily or exclusively off the specials menu, and be prepared for the notion that quality varies based on what the day’s catch was.

JDT April 11, 2014 at 6:52 pm

+1 on La Ciccia. I bet Tyler can get as good or better Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese food in DC/Northern Virginia. But a high-quality Sardinian restuarant? I doubt it.

Aner April 10, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Burma Superstar or Mandalay. I think it’s probably hard to find good Burmese food on the east coast.

Alex April 11, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I think Yamo is the more TC Burmese restaurant of the city. House noodles + tea leaf salad is a top 5 meal in the city

Josh April 11, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Second Burma Superstar, make sure to get the Tea Leaf salad.

MP April 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm

– Bar Tartine: Hungarian-ish and probably the best bread in the US.
– Mission Chinese: If you haven’t already been here (or to the NYC one), it’s a must-go.
– Kin Khao: Finally a not-average Thai place in SF, and strangely in a hotel

GR April 10, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Mission Chinese Food. It’s awesome (although totally inauthentic). Tea smoked eel, thrice cooked bacon, cumin lamb are my favorites.
Burma Superstar is good too. The tea leaf salad is great, and the lamb curry is good.

Paul Sas April 11, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Absolutely second that Mission Chinese Food is a must-visit. Lines can be long after 5:30pm. The best burritos in the world are at Taqueria Cancun, just up the block on the same side of the street. If you save room for dessert, Humphry Slocombe has to-die-for ice creams nearby on 24th & Harrison

Alex April 11, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Mission Chinese has lost steam (http://www.sfgate.com/restaurants/article/Dish-after-dish-misses-the-mark-at-Mission-5371515.php); best to skip. I’ll +1 Humphrey Slocumbe, however — best ice cream in a city with many contenders

Matt April 10, 2014 at 3:01 pm

San Tung in the Innter Sunset is a fantastic Chinese restaurant and has – no hyperbole here – the best chicken wings I’ve ever had.

EL April 10, 2014 at 5:27 pm

seconded – though I think it may be better at lunch as you can take a nice stroll through the park afterwards (& have a Hong Kong style mango & sago drink at Creations Dessert House)

Ian April 10, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Agree with Aner… overall, Burma Superstar probably has the highest score in SF when you combine uniqueness x deliciousness x not-in-the-center-of-town-ness. I’ve taken people there for years… even people who don’t like Asian food much. And they’re blown away… all of them. Every time. The catch? No reservations… you need to go early or be prepared to wait.

Alexei Sadeski April 10, 2014 at 3:29 pm

-Three locations in SF.

-4,599 reviews on Yelp

-Multi hour waits


Renee April 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Burma Superstar is good but if you want really out of the way and are willing to deal with the Tenderloin, try Shalimar. Pakistani food – only place I’ve seen lamb brains on the menu in the US.

Todd April 10, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I second Shalimar–some of the cheapest, best South Asian food in SF.

Aaron W April 11, 2014 at 1:23 am

Shalimar is pretty amazing.

Just be careful not trip on a hypodermic needle on the way there.

Alex April 11, 2014 at 4:32 pm

I’ve seen mice scurrying about their kitchen. Food is fantastic — but perhaps not worth the risk?

Paul Sas April 11, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Shalimar is a great place to eat alongside the Punjabi taxi drivers, and its atmosphere is so lacking that it’s a triple threat for Tyler. Of the 3, the Tenderloin is the best

Renee April 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Shalimar is also across the street from some excellent mixology bars.

STL April 10, 2014 at 3:11 pm

shanghai dumpling king (xiao long bao)
thanh long (vietanmese roasted crab)
anh hong (vietnamese beef seven ways)
yamo (hole-in-the-wall burmese)

if you are so inclined, a friend and i are big fans and would be happy to join you if you pick one of our places.

GiT April 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Ha, I was going to plug Shanghai Dumpling King

Gabe April 10, 2014 at 3:20 pm

BAMMM I’ll be here all week.

Brad Spahn April 10, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Cordon Bleu Vietnamese Restaurant. Tiny place, mostly just a counter with around 8 seats, plus a table in the back. They specialize in vietnamese five spice chicken and “meat sauce,” which is better experienced than described. Food is cooked right in front of you and to order, it’s a sooty place that smells like the food. It’s the best Vietnamese food you can get in the Bay area (and the best I’ve had anywhere).

The yelp reviews suffer because of the ambience, but the environment will be a plus for you. I like the salad with five spice chicken, but the combo’s that include meat sauce, rice and five spice chicken seem to be most popular.


Alexei Sadeski April 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm

This place looks good.

GiT April 10, 2014 at 3:36 pm

The last time I ate there I was not really struck by it, but it definitely has its fans.

EL April 10, 2014 at 5:29 pm

I thought this was decent when I went, but my mother was indeed horrified by the ambiance.

Tununak April 10, 2014 at 5:54 pm

A feature or a bug? I would bet this is where Tyler will go.

Jimmy April 10, 2014 at 5:55 pm

This is one of the very few Tyler Cowen sort of places mentioned so far.

treven April 10, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Pakwan either in the tenderloin or preferably mission & 16th. Or Sai Jai Thai for where the local thai’s eat (also tenderloin).

GiT April 10, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Pakwan and Shalimar are both good. Al Hamra is another Indian hole in the wall that has its fans.

My family have been lifelong fans of Henry’s Hunan Restaurant.

paul j. April 10, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant meets your criteria.

Brock Hauser April 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Mission Chinese Food – The best Chinese food I have ever had, absolutely amazing.

Doug M April 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Another post on this site today, tells me that you must discount the recommendations based on the weather of on the day of the review…. Maybe since it is always between 55 and 65, San Francisco reviews are more reliable than other cities.

GiT April 10, 2014 at 4:05 pm

There’s also the possibility of a San Francisco burrito. I’m not sure which I would recommend. Not Gordos. I am a fan of an out of the way place called Chino’s (near Shanghai Dumpling King), but it’s idiosyncratic (get the Spicy Chicken. And go for a quesadilla, not a burrito. It’s prepared like a burrito but with cheese and heated on the griddle, not steamed). La Corneta, Papalote (I prefer the tacos to the burritos), El Farolito. But perhaps those are all “one lunch in San Francisco” options, not “one dinner.”

A April 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Rice-a-Roni be damned – burritos are truly the San Francisco treat.

Green Chile Kitchen makes some good new mexican-style ones, El Castillo for a more traditional flavor. But yes, probably better for ‘one lunch’ rather than ‘one dinner’.

Mike Klaas April 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm

If you’re looking for a Mission burrito, I’d suggest El Matate

Paul H April 10, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Mission Chinese has gone steeply downhill and was recently panned in the paper as worse than a greasy spoon. I recommend Kin Khao, where you will find Thai food with no compromises to U.S. “Thai norms.” It is owned by a Thai native with excellent contacts in the high end food world – but this is not fusion – it is authentic Thai.

James April 10, 2014 at 4:08 pm

You have to try the really expensive toast place.


…or, make toast at home and burn some dollar bills in the backyard.

Willitts April 10, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Oh, geez Louise that scared the crap out of me.

edwardseco April 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Consider taking the public transit to Berkeley where Kabana in new digs nearby the legendary hole in wall serves best Pakistani on the coast. Value is House of Curries. Best low end and a definite Tyler is Vik’s Chatt House but use a GPS to find it. Ajanta is the best high end by far and where I would take guests (tax deductible)..

Paul Sas April 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Kabana is awesome, but I would rate Pakwan in the mission as a virtual peer in terms of deliciousness (Benghan Bhartha & Sag Paneer are 5-star).

ken April 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

long john silvers – south sanfrancisco

Jeff L April 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Other people have been suggesting Burma Superstar – the sister restaurant on the same street, B Star Bar, takes reservations and makes the logistics of getting a meal easier. It’s in the Inner Richmond, which is one of the areas that you want to go for asian food – it is also close to the Presidio which might be relevant for you. Note that both B Star and Burma Superstar are a little bit of a scene, so you are paying for more than just food.

The Inner Richmond and Outer Richmond are essentially Chinatown (and Southeast Asia town) without the tourists.

Alternatively, you might want sushi. There is a lot of demand for this in SF so the average quality seems quite high compared to other major metropolitan areas (I remember your book saying that you thought price and quality were highly correlated with sushi in major metropolitan areas – I happen to disagree). I would highly recommend getting a seat at the bar at Zushi Puzzle and trying omakase. You’d also have to reserve this ahead of time. Word of warning: People definitely don’t go there for the scene or the fast service.

Sunset Shazz April 10, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Jeff L,

Second everything above. Zushi Puzzle’s Omakase at the bar is fantastic, book ahead, Roger is a consummate professional, and occasionally has TC-friendly dishes such as tuna spinal bone marrow, octopus sucker, etc.

Marc April 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Lers Ros for authentic Thai in the Tenderloin is great (including dishes you won’t see most anywhere else in the U.S. – garlic frog or stir-fried alligator, anyone?)

Would agree with many of the comments above that Mission Chinese is a bit overhyped at this point. Around the corner in the Mission is a 8-person Burmese counter joint called Yamo that is run by three Burmese women who seem to just yell at each other most of the time. Greasy, quick and delicious.

edwardseco April 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I asked my SF expert but he said Berkeley!

Mojo Nixon April 10, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Trattoria Contadina
1800 Mason St

bob April 10, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Depends on the day. If its Thursday, try the food trucks near Kezar stadium.

The classics continue to killi t – Delfina, NOPA, Slanted Door – la ciccia if you can get in. Bar Tartin is VERY interesting and good. Interesting Indian seafood restaurant down the street from it, Gajalee (not related to famous Mumbai restaurant of same name.)

Angkor Borai for Cambodian which is exactly your type of place.

Mission Chinese is too salty.

Mark M April 10, 2014 at 4:51 pm

My Cowen-sort-of-place recommendations are not in SF.

Phnom Penh House
251 8th St
Oakland, CA 94607
b/t Alice St & Harrison St in Oakland Chinatown, Lake Merritt

For the Lao specials (not the Thai food):
Vientian Cafe
3801 Allendale Avenue
Oakland, CA 94619

Old Weang Ping
6217 MacArthur Blvd
Oakland, CA 94605
b/t 62nd Ave & 63rd Ave in East Oakland

David April 10, 2014 at 4:56 pm

The Kitchen in Millbrae has arguably the best dim sum in the Bay Area.

Not SF proper, but across the highway from SFO, if the helps.

It hits many of the Cowen high points – suburban, strip mall, loud immigrant customers, bare decor, serious eaters, lots of nearby competition.

Enrique April 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Red Baloon on Mission Street … It’s a small family-run Nicarguan restaurant with delicious food

Sunset Shazz April 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm


King of Noodles
Irving at 16th ave.
Satisfies all your (our) criteria, although as you well know, there is even better in the East Bay suburbs.
Farmer’s cucumber, pig’s ear, onion pancake, etc, and of course noodles.

Some of the suggestions above are excellent- eg. Shalimar in the Tenderolin, Kabana and Vik’s, but you’ve been to Gerrard st. in Toronto and it’s not better than that. If you do try Burmese, go to Mandalay (off the main street, better ingredients than Burma Superstar). Also, the really good, fashionable SF restaurants really are very, very good, but they do not fit with the TC Model / Mood Affiliation Bias.

Zaret April 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Ler Ros for Mr. Cowen over Burma Superstar. Burma Superstar is good but for novices. It takes a pro to optimize a meal at Ler Ros.

E April 10, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Shanghai Dumpling King is a hole in the wall, in the middle of nowhere, and has the best Shanghai dumplings (any many other deliciousnesses) in the United States.

If you were in the mood, Pizzetta 211 is one of my 2 favorite pizza places in the country.

GiT April 10, 2014 at 6:59 pm

I like Pizzetta. But as I read through the thread Shanghai Dumpling King stands out as the best fit.

Drea April 15, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Will also vote for Shanghai Dumpling King as the best Tyler fit, but I would recommend the soup over the dumplings themselves. The dumpling filling was too sweet for my taste, but the soup was fantastic.

Matt April 10, 2014 at 5:31 pm

I also vote Mission Chinese.

Miles April 10, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Delfina Pizzeria (Mission) – definitely doesn’t conform to your maxim of “stay away from restaurants where the people look happy and good looking”, but its a damn good pizza – basically an authentic italian pie.
Terra Cotta Warrior (Outer Sunset) – Hot and Sour Lamb Dumpling Soup, Shiixan Mian-pi with sesame (sp?)
Mission Chinese (Mission) – just get takeout if you don’t want to wait in line. I recommend Thrice Cooked Bacon – get it without the bacon and with extra bitter melon.

Matt April 10, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Serpentine – probably not that Tyler (it is new american not ethnic). Speaking as a New Yorker, it’s as good an exemplar of the genre as anything I’ve ever had.

Orin April 10, 2014 at 5:45 pm

For inner Richmond I would recommend Chapeau! (French) or Mandalay (Burmese).

For scenic and central but not busy go to the tree lined Dubode Triangle, for L’ardoise Bistro (French). That chef you see in the little kitchen is the owner. Enjoy the walk to and from on those streets, there is even a bench out in front.

For North Beach, try Cafe Jacqueline. It’s all soufflés for 2 so bring a friend, I recommend the mushroom soufflé without the cured pork topper, and the lime dessert soufflé. The chef is the only person in the kitchen, and she can’t possibly do this much longer at her age, so consider this your last chance to try her excellent food. There is also Trattoria Contandina (Italian), already mentioned and excellent.

Of all those I would recommend a nice walk through the North Beach hills, with a long stop at Cafe Jacqueline. A unique experience, the area is central but the small streets are not overrun, and you probably won’t be able to repeat the experience once she retires. After that L’ardoise as option 2.

Andrew April 11, 2014 at 6:37 pm

I second L’ardoise Bistro — small, intimate, very good French bistro food. Great service.

Mark in CA April 12, 2014 at 5:21 am

Chapeau! used to be one of my Bay Area favorites, but haven’t been there in quite a while since they moved further down Clement. I know the owners, Philippe and Ellen, and have nothing but good things to says about the food and dining experience. Very good wines, too. Nothing over the top, not pretentious, but nice.

buddyglass April 10, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Bookmarking this thread. Hope to be in SF this summer.

Craig April 10, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Slanted Door for great Vietnamese and an amazing view of Bay Bridge.

TB April 10, 2014 at 6:08 pm

If you’re into the best Neapolitan pizza ever, and you like pizza artistry, try Una Pizza Napoletana. http://www.unapizza.com/

No distractions like appetizers or side orders. Just a one-man kitchen and five different kinds of pizza. Authentic. Open from 5 until they run out of dough.

Will April 10, 2014 at 6:42 pm

If you want chinese I’d walk around the richmond and buy dim sum from cheap small space from behind glass cases, or if you want to sit, get pea sprouts and soup dumplings at shanghai dumpling king then go to Jook Time across Balboa street for chinese buns etc.

also highly recommended
taqueria guadalajara for tripas, etc.
pakwan is tasty
la taqueria crispy tacos with the strawberry drink
marcella’s lasagneria, not sure if it’s open for dinner

Robert Peers April 10, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Cha Cha Cha, can’t beat the food. Be sure to order the sangria, get the large pitcher, trust me.

Rob P April 10, 2014 at 6:48 pm


Its a great hole in the wall. How many times do you get to eat Yemeni food? If you go there is a good chance you’ll be the only native english speaker in the place.

honkie please April 10, 2014 at 10:41 pm

That hole in the wall is from a drone strike, mind you.

Steve April 10, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Whatever you choose, you will do a disservice to this thread if you do not say which of these you choose, or even better if you chose an entirely different option…

greg April 10, 2014 at 6:56 pm

My personal favorites (and not the trendy spots) –

R&G Lounge on Broadway. Awesome Chinese banquet if you have other people. Must try Salt and Pepper crab.

Mamacita on Chestnut Street for non-greasy Mexican food.

Any Henry Hunan. No one takes this place seriously, but in the 70s it was written up by the NY Times as the best Chinese food in the country. I still think the food holds up.

GiT April 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm

if Tyler does not trust us on Henry’s Hunan, perhaps the cookbook will sway him.


Paul H April 10, 2014 at 9:44 pm

I also like Henry’s Hunan. Maybe I’ll get some take-out from there tonight.

Bruce April 11, 2014 at 12:50 am

I’ve been going to Henry’s Hunan for 30 years now — love it! Not at all trendy, but damn good food from a family-run business that’s stood the test of time. And try the Diana’s Special – YUM!

edwardseco April 10, 2014 at 7:10 pm

For Lao Dara. But, again its in Berkeley. Order the fish head. I did because I was too cool to ask what it was. Then had to eat it rather than lose face. My spouse laughed and laughed..

David April 10, 2014 at 7:34 pm

This is a bit far from San Francisco proper, and it’s vegan, but Garden Fresh Chinese Restaurant in Palo Alto is just amazing.

Jed April 10, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Two suggestions:

Terra Cotta Warrior for Xi’an noodles and other regional Chinese specialties. Outer Sunset on N-Judah line.
Izakaya Yuzuki, featuring a range of fermented dishes using koji. 18th/Guerrero on same intersection as Tartine Bakery, in the Mission, convenient to BART and J-Church line.

Also supportive votes for above recs of:
La Ciccia
Bar Tartine

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