favorite restaurants in san francisco

i read one of those ridiculous “favorites” lists and the poor schmuck actually listed zuni as his favorite restaurant.      louis has been proclaiming for years that “zuni is the ernie’s of our generation.”  don’t know ernie’s?    watch “vertigo.”    it’s the “in” spot frequented by kim novak.   what was glamorous in 1958, was beyond tired when it closed in the late ’90’s,  yet the same crowd frequenting ernie’s in it’s prime, haunted it until the end.    eighteen years ago, zuni was hip.    unfortunately the same people are still swilling cosmos at the bar…     and the place is full of tourists.     every time louis makes the ernie’s analogy to one of our friends, they sheepishly mumble, “but the food is good.”     the food at zuni is pretty good.    particularly if you’re the kind of person who hates change.    don’t get me wrong, the menu is seasonal and the ingredients are fresh and of extremely high quality.   it’s just that every season for the last 15 years it’s been the same stuff on the menu fixed with the same judy rogers rusticity.    there’s something to be said for  consistent.       but the last time we were dragged there by a friend, the service was beyond horrible.  completely incompetent.  enough of that.

part of problem is that living in the bay area kind of ruins you food-wise for most other places (excepting italy, france and possibly australia).    the quality of the ingredients and the level of craft is extreme.     so that no one goes to zuni thinking they’re getting the best of san francisco, i thought i’d make a list for you…  i’m completely biased toward family-owned businesses, seasonal, local and organic ingredients and against food that’s been handled a lot in the kitchen…     here goes…

favorite restaurant:    woodward’s garden (1700 mission).     like home cooking if you were extremely talented,  had all the best ingredients and all the time in the world.   intimate and retains a whiff of the funkiness that defined san francisco before union square and fillmore street were nothing but chain stores.   save room for dessert.

runners up:   la ciccia (291 30th @ church) is sardinian.  so it’s like italian, but not.  it’s great food (i’d suggest several first courses and pastas instead of entrees) with an impressive wine list.      bar jules (609 hayes).   a pretty room and  a crowd that’s as hip and good looking as zuni’s was in its heyday.   the chalk board menu changes daily and the food is simple and delicious.    it’s a bit noisy when it’s full.   we love sunday brunch.

pizzagialina (2842 diamond).   hands-down best pizza.   tender and crispy thin-crust pizza  with traditional toppings  as well as more experimental combinations.   the menu changes daily.   salads — sized individually or served family-style are some of the best in town.

indianroti (53 west portal).   better than most of the food i’ve eaten in india.   though my favorite nan comes from the stand at the alameda flea market on the first sunday of every month.

bread: there’s a lot of great bread in the bay area.    a favorite at our house is noe valley bakery‘s (4073 24th street) organic dried fig bread.

french fries:    hayes street grill (320 hayes).   which is also the best fish restaurant in town.    it’s an institution with the opera/symphony crowd.  avoid performance nights.    as much as i love you patty, the room needs some freshening up.

hamburger:   slow club (2501 mariposa).    another place that’s been around for a long time.    somehow, this one still seems hip.   maybe because it’s not trying so hard and the bridge and tunnelers would never be able to find it.

caesar salad:  probably zuni.   i haven’t had one in years…  but slow club’s may be as good.

dim sum:   lucky fortune (5715 geary) — recommended by patty unterman — is a dump.     really, just awful.    but the food is awesome.   instead of bringing carts or trays around, you order from a menu, which means you get what you want, not what they happen to bring.    and that it’s really, really fresh.    when they bring you your ticket, you’re likely to think there’s been some mistake.    a lucky one.

ice creambi rite creamery (3692 18th).    organic, local (strauss family creamery) ingredients and small batches make for the best (in my opinion) ice cream in the u.s.  mint chip is my favorite.    runners up – vanilla or salted caramel.   the fresh fruit juice (often with chunks of fruit) pop cycles are also fantastic.

mexican chocolate ice cream:      mitchell’s (688 san jose avenue) beats bi rite’s (bi rite adds salted peanuts to theirs).  a crime.

lunch: boulette’s larder (ferry building).   it’s like eating in the kitchen of a 5-star restaurant in france.     a few seats around a big table.   unbeatable food.    pricey.

sushikiss seafood (1700 laguna street).    the best sushi i’ve ever eaten (admittedly i have never been in japan).    there are two tables and 4 seats at the bar.   you must make a reservation — he only buys enough fish for the people he knows are coming that night.

cambodianangkor borei (3471 mission).  family owned.   fresh and wonderful.

donuts:    bob’s donuts (1621 polk) — get the raised glazed.

high tea:  lovejoy’s tea room (1351 church).   a little tattered, but completely authentic.   beats the hell out of the high teas at the hotels down town.

chinese dumplingsjust won ton (1241 vicente).   another patty unterman recommended hell-hole.   and getting there…  it’s out in the sunset about 10 blocks past where you thought the ocean started…     but the dumplings are to die for.

macaroons:  tartine (600 guerrero).   tartine is not my favorite bakery.   too much fat.  and god, how do i hate their lemon meringue cake (if only my grandmother were alive to give them meringue-making lessons).   but credit where credit is due — their macaroons are heaven.    the orange zest is the key.    and the petit size is nice.

candy shop: sweet dish (2144 chestnut).  my daughter would like to move in.