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A Good-Bye SF List: the Best Restaurants by Neighborhood

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I am moving out of California.

This may not mean anything to most of you but it matters to me, goddammit. The sharp sting of nostalgia has needled its way into my heart, embedded tightly in the best memories: food.

San Francisco is where I learned to love food again so as a tribute to the beautiful, year-long bounty of excellence available on this coast before I brave the wilderness of Chicago, here are my favorite restaurants by neighborhood*.

*Not all of them though because I’m lazy.

Castro

Courtesy of KQED

Mama Ji’s
4416 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

What happens when you combine Szechuan and dimsum and Eastern European beers? Solid gold. The Castro isn’t really known for having amazing food but this little casual haven is where it’s at. Get the soup dumplings, get the fried pumpkin (the batter has salted duck eggs), get the beer.

Chinatown

I sometimes have photos to prove I actually eat in these places.

Spicy King
65 Waverly Pl, San Francisco, CA 94108

Y’all get excited for Z&Y all you want but I am here for Spicy King. I want to go out in a blaze of hot pot glory with my friends and multiple types of fish balls around me. They even have the kind with the little fish eggs in them. You have not lived until you have had Szechuan-style hot pot, sweating over thinly sliced beef and strange new fungi.

Financial District

Courtesy of Erin Kunkel for the Wall Street Journal.

Kokkari Estiatorio
200 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94111

There are chickens on a spit in the dining room. It’s great. It is not overrated, it is not overpriced and it is not over-fancy (that’s not a word). Everything that comes out of the Kokkari kitchen is a delight, from the hummus to the lamb meatballs to the fucking birthday sundaes.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Courtesy of A Hamburger Today

Tanguito
2850 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94133

I have discussed the wondrous burger that is Tanguito in articles such as this one. But I need to re-emphasize: if you have to be at Fisherman’s Wharf and you need to eat, please go to Tanguito. Really, it is so damn good, that burger.

Haight-Ashbury

Courtesy of Eater SF

Alembic
1725 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

You know Alembic is good. I know Alembic is good. Eat anything on the menu and you know that it is good. I honestly don’t remember what I’ve had here because I’m usually too drunk/high to retain any kind of information. I only remember that I ate, I loved it, I went to get a tattoo down the street and then wound up at Zam Zam.

Hayes Valley

Courtesy of Boxing Room

Boxing Room
399 Grove St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Fried gator should now only be served with thinly sliced lemon. I believe this because of Boxing Room. Once, I sat at the bar and the bartender gave me a persimmon salad on the house. Then the friendly gay couple next to me offered a roasted cheek off the pig’s head they were eating. The mashed potatoes come in a tiny black kettle. I can’t begin to tell you how great Boxing Room is.

Japantown

Courtesy of SF Weekly

Yakini Q Café
1640 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115

It doesn’t technically count because it’s more of a dessert and coffee/tea café than anything else but the Yakini Q café is like another world for me. It’s always serene, always adorable and really though…the desserts are very very good. If you really need to eat, most things in Japantown will be satisfying but how many quiet, totally unpretentious cafes are left in this city?

Marina

Courtesy of SFGate

Viva Goa
2420 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94123

If you have to be in the Marina, please don’t settle for the mediocre restaurants that line Chestnut. Go to Viva Goa and partake in the best Indian buffet I’ve ever had (and I have had plenty). They do fish curry and creamed mushrooms and really delicious gulab jamun. In case you didn’t know, Goa is a region of India on the coast renowned for its beauty and seafood. Also, the owners are really nice.

Mission

Courtesy of KQED

Cholo Soy
2301 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Listen, I get it. The Mission is full of things. But when in doubt, there is only one place I go where I know I will never be disappointed. With a short menu each day, blindingly good ceviche and super simple stewed meat dishes…I dream about places like Cholo Soy. It’s like eating at someone’s grandmother’s house, if she lived in a tiny pink strip mall.

Lower Nob/Nob Hill

Courtesy of Tasting SF

Farm : Table
754 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94109

So you don’t give a shit about farm to table now because everyone does it. Ok, fine. I would have put Sweet Woodruff on this list but apparently no one cared enough to stop it from being closed (besides the owners probably). Farm : Table shouldn’t be anything I like. It’s precious, only does like 3 things a day and open at annoying hours. But it’s so good. Every baked thing coming out of there is incredible and it does actually feel like a rustic oasis in the middle of the TenderNob.

Noe Valley

Courtesy of The San Francisco Chronicle

La Ciccia
291 30th St, San Francisco, CA 94131

I spent my birthday in 2016 at La Ciccia. I can honestly say it was the best meal I have ever had in San Francisco. We ordered baby oyster stew, two rounds of bottarga spaghetti, tripe in tomato sauce, a lamb shank and literally all the desserts. My friends and I went through 7 baskets of bread in an effort to soak up every last bit of flavor possible and 3 bottles of excellent wine between the 5 of us. If you can get in there for a nice dinner, please do. It was life-changing food.

North Beach

Courtesy of Winnie

Piazza Pellegrini
659 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

I like a little kitsche. I like it when grown-ass men un-ironically call me “bella” while I eat outside and watch the park. I like housemade pasta in wild boar ragu. I like tuna carpaccio with thin slivers of orange and onion. I like a nice chianti. It does us no good to be so cynical, you guys.

NoPa/Divis

Courtesy of Hoodline

Souvla
531 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuggggggghhhhhhhh….why is Souvla so good? What the fuck is with that chicken salad? How dare they put baklava on frozen yogurt? Stop. Stop it.

Potrero Hill/Dogpatch

Courtesy of Dogpatchwork

Hard Knox
2526 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

I spent almost every afternoon during grad school at Hard Knox. I could be remembering that wrong but it sure feels like it. I appreciate how disgustingly sweet the iced tea is and how large the portions are. The atmosphere is casual, the food is solidly good and it makes me miss something intangible about living in the South. But without the racism.

Richmond

Courtesy of Vittle Monster

Shanghai Dumpling King
3319 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

If you don’t know by now that Shanghai Dumpling King makes the best damn soup dumplings in San Francisco, then I pity you.

Soma

Courtesy of Zero Zero

Zero Zero
826 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Once, I craved stuffed squash blossoms. I walked into Zero Zero on a whim with a friend and there they were on the menu. They came golden fried, luscious and floating in a basil sauce. I remember pizza too and a dark lounge vibe with some kind of whiskey drink, but mostly I remember the blossoms.

Sunset

Courtesy of Eater SF

Outerlands
4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122

To be honest, I don’t venture into the Sunset much. My only good food memory there is now tainted by a terrible ex, but a good food memory it remains. Outerlands thrives in the tradition of places that look like the inside of a medieval Nordic ship making dishes with a million ingredients that have no recognizable indication that they are edible but still somehow taste good. For instance: I once ate a pork thing that was covered in flowers. It was beautiful and delicious. I recall they put whiskey in my tea for me also, which gives them extra points in my book but probably isn’t helpful for this article. Oh! They make really good bread.

Union Square

Courtesy of SFHog

Kin Khao
55 Cyril Magnin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Yeeees, cocktails that change color. Rabbit meatballs in curry. Vaguely threatening-smelling potted shrimp paste. Fried runny duck eggs. Everything at Kin Khao tastes like an adventure, though the portion sizing can be very inconsistent. They’ll tell you it’s all meant to be family-style but just get your own damned meal. Who cares if it’s too much for one sitting? Thai food makes for great leftovers.

Bonus: Oakland-style

Let me lay it on the line for you: 9 times out of 10, the food in Oakland is going to be better. I don’t make the rules, I just tell them to you. And for all the delicious food you can get in Oakland, there’s one particular Korean restaurant I hold dear in my heart.

Imagine it’s 7:30am and you are hung over. You know you need to eat, and it’s best if you eat something spicy, filled with protein and soupy so you don’t have to chew so much.

Lucky for you, there’s:

Courtesy of KQED

Seoul Gom Tang
3801 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

Open absurdly early on weekends and only preparing really classic Korean dishes…I can’t count the number of times my stupid body with its stupid internal alarm clock pushed its way out of bed at 8am and stumbled in barely more than pajamas to the door of Seoul Gom Tang to get oxtail or tofu stew. They also have the best seafood pancake I’ve ever eaten. It’s huge. You’re welcome.

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Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

At age 2, I was getting run over by a bike in an alley in China. At age 8, I was avoiding man-o-wars on Tybee Island. At age 14, I was overdrinking sweet tea while running through the woods barefoot. At age 20, I was learning Art History and how to drop it low. At age 25, I was making fun of drum circles at Dolores. At every age, I am charming the fuck out of you. Just wait, it'll happen.

  • LetThemEatPanCake

    Wow. Fantastic list. Can’t wait to check out a bunch of those places. All of them, even. If I live that long. Inshallah.

    And i love your style and wit. How unfortunate that we’re losing you to some place else. Thanks for the parting gift. Come back to visit. Peace.