San Francisco has a well established and renowned food scene, but for first timers to the city, the range of options can be daunting. Thanks to suggestions from EPoP readers and locals, as well as keeping a keen eye out during our wanderings and following our noses, Heather and I were able to sample some absolutely awesome restaurants during our week there.
We ate a wide of variety of restaurants, and the list below represents the best.
Brenda’s French Cajun Food
Location: 652 Polk St. (between Eddy and Turk St), San Francisco
Went for: Dinner
Price: Reasonably Cheap ($10 for sandwich, $15 for a dinner)
Recommended: Oh Heck Yes!
The first night we were in San Fran we had no plans whatsoever, so we went to the front desk and asked for food recommendations. We were super indecisive, so when he asked what type of food we were looking for and we just uttered “uhhh….anything, I guess”, I was super thankful when he asked “Do you like Cajun food?”
This time, the answer was more assertive: “uhhh…..DUH!”
He pointed us towards Brenda’s, a “dirt cheap Cajun place with awesome food and probably a wait”.
Fortunately, he was wrong about the wait, and while it wasn’t what I would call dirt cheap, it was cheap for the quality and portions. And it was definitely awesome!
I had been dying for a po’boy lately, which is strange, since I’ve only had 2 in my life, so I got the catfish po’boy. Heather got the Brenda’s fried chicken meal, complete with a biscuit and a side of mac and cheese.
While the po’boy was definitely good, the fried chicken dinner absolutely rocked. In fact, the fried chicken was the best I’ve ever had in my life, and the biscuit and mac and cheese weren’t far behind.
The portions were so big, we each had almost a half of our meal left for the next day’s lunch. For $35 ($10 po’boy, $15 chicken dinner, $5 glasses of house wine), this place was an absolute steal!
I was told that their brunch was even better, but unfortunately, we never had time to make it back, which was one of our biggest regrets. Just another reason to come back!
If you’re looking for a place with a cool atmosphere, fairly cheap prices, and most importantly, the most amazing food French soul food outside of New Orleans, make sure to hit up Brenda’s.
Location: 3489 16th Street (Castro District)
Went for: Lunch
Price: Cheap to Reasonable ($7-$19 for a sandwich, but they are huge)
Recommended: Oh Heck Yes
Ike’s was the only place recommended by multiple EPoP readers on Twitter, so I knew I wasn’t being steered wrong. However, it wasn’t until I actually tasted an Ike’s sandwich that I knew how just how right they were.
Being from Philadelphia (home of the country’s best sandwich and thousands of amazing cheesesteak places), I’m something of a sandwich snob. It also means I know a good sandwich when I have one. And this sandwich at Ike’s was EPIC!
The menu itself is crazy (have a look for yourself) and basically, you’re allowed to add anything together to make your sandwich. As we waited in line to order, my mouth was literally watering, and I changed my mind at least 3 times in those 10 minutes.
It wasn’t until I actually got up the register and saw a hand-drawn sign for a sandwich that wasn’t even on the menu that my mind was made up:
Halal chicken, salami, pesto, honey mustard, topped with lettuce, and tomato.
In five seconds, my mind had the following thoughts:
Those are four of my favorite foods, that’s awesome….wait, won’t pesto and honey mustard taste gross together?….those are four of my absolute favorite foods….screw it, I’m getting it…..and I’m definitely adding mozzarella sticks to the sandwich!
The guy at the counter validated my decision, saying “You can never go wrong with making it cheesier.”
You sir, could have never been more right!
And just like that, one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had was born!
However, the beauty of Ike’s was that not only was my sandwich amazing, but it seems like all their sandwiches are just as good. My buddy Nick, a braver man than I, took @apaperture86‘s recommendation and ordered the Lex Luthor, $19.91 worth of fried chicken, fried steak, regular steak, French dressing, and mozzarella sticks.
The thing weighed at least 2 pounds, was the size of 3 regular sandwiches, and “worth every penny”.
The sandwiches run between $7-$19 depending on what you get and comes with a bag of potato chips and a special, incredibly tasty bonus surprise in the bag.
In the few short years it’s been open, Ike’s has become a bit of a San Francisco institution and it’s no surprise why. Don’t let the long line (it moves fast) or lack of seating (head to the Dolores Park and soak in the views) dissuade you . If you’re in San Fran, you’ve absolutely got to make a stop at Ikes…and don’t forget to add the mozzarella sticks!
Location: 3692 18th Street (right near Dolores Park)
Went for: After lunch treat
Price: Not cheap, but not ridiculous ($5 for two scoops of ice cream)
After the massive Ike’s sandwich, we needed something to “wash it all down” so we headed to Bi-Rite, which is right across the street from Dolores Park.
Bi-Rite is known for their funky homemade ice cream flavors, especially their salted caramel flavor.
So, of course, I had to try the salted caramel, and since I wanted to serve as a guinea pig for the readers, I felt it was my duty to try at least 2 more flavors.
All the ice cream was super creamy and tasted very fresh, and the salted caramel and the ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodle) definitely lived up to the hype. They were fabulous. Unfortunately, the malted vanilla with peanut brittle and milk chocolate was just average, but hey, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
Special insider tip: They are more than happy to give you as many free tastes as you’d like, so if you’re not in a hurry or there isn’t a huge line behind you, take the time to try out some really unique flavors before deciding on what you want.
Old Siam Thai Restaurant
Location: 201 Ellis Street, between Taylor and Mason (Union Square area)
Went for: Dinner
Price: Really cheap for a Thai dinner ($7-$10 for a curry or pad thai)
We were told that San Francisco had some really good Thai restaurants and that Old Siam was one of them…and also one of the cheapest ones! Travis likey!
It was also right around the corner from where we were staying, so had to give it a try. We were not disappointed.
I ordered the duck pad thai, which ran about $11 and Heather got the green curry with chicken, which was under $9. We also added on their appetizer sampler, which was about $8 and included a bunch of different foods.
The portions were extremely large, and after the appetizer platter, both Heather and I were only able to finish half our meal, which we then took home for lunch the next day.
The food itself was also pretty delicious. I’ve had some really, really good Thai food, in place like, you know, Thailand, and my standards are pretty high. This wasn’t the absolute best I’ve ever eaten, but it was definitely enjoyable and the food came out fast. The atmosphere was also nice and laid back and the servers were super attentive and friendly.
If you’re looking for large portions of pretty good Thai food at a price that can’t be beat, give Old Siam a shot.
Location: 1160 Polk Street, 2nd Floor (Tenderloin)
Went for: Drinks and a Small Bite
Price: Somewhat reasonable for drinks ($5 and up for pint of cider), fairly pricey for food
When walking around the city one day, we passed by a sign that said Upcider. Even though I had never seen a cider bar before, I figured it had to be one…what else could it be?
Turns out I was right, and the reason I hadn’t seen one before was because they don’t really exist. Upcider, which just opened in July 2012, is San Francisco’s first and from a little “Google sleuthing” it seems like there might only be a few others scattered across the other trendy/hip American cities: Seattle, Portland, and New York.
We were never able to make for happy hour as originally planned, but did manage to stop by our last night in town around 11:00 pm. Amazingly, the kitchen was still open, so we ordered a cajun chicken slider, a pulled pork slider, and two of their domestic ciders.
The cider list, as one would expect at a cider bar, was 3 whole pages long and filled with tons of ciders I had never heard of before. Unfortunately, since these ciders are so obscure, they are also pricey, ranging from $7-$15 a pint. Some were only sold in 750 ml bottles (much like a bottle of wine) and cost over $35.
The domestic ciders, things like Woodchucks, Aces, and some others you may be familiar with, were about $5 and the sliders were $6. By sliders I mean slider (singular). Each order came with one sandwich, and while it was definitely really good, it was really small, about 1/3 the size of an average bar sandwich.
If I were actually ordering a meal, I would have needed to order two sets of sliders and an order of fries, which all told would have run about $17.
Again, the taste of the sandwich was way above average, and for a small nibble, the food at this place is nice, albeit fairly pricey for what you get.
So if you’re looking to try something unique, head to Upcider for a specialty cider and maybe a tiny bit of food. But unless you want rack up a big bill, don’t go with a huge appetite.
Location: 7399 St. Helena Highway, Napa Valley
Went for: A big pre-wine tasting lunch
Price: Expensive, but not relative to the area ($10-$12 appetizers, $25-$30 entrees)
We went to Mustards on the recommendation of our friends’ parents, who are Napa Valley veterans. They’ve been to, in their words, “every restaurant up and down the Valley” and they assured us that this was not only just as good, if not better, than all the others but also the most reasonably priced.
Everyone knows those are words I love to hear!
Even though February is off-season in Napa, we made reservations a few days before, and it was a good thing we did since the place was packed when we arrived a few minutes late for our noon reservation (due to a few extra tastes at V. Sattui Winery)!
If you’re planning on heading here, definitely make reservations beforehand.
Mustards had a really nice atmosphere to it, a great mix of a place that took its food and wine seriously and yet remained casual and loose. The waiter was also extremely knowledgeable and friendly, helping us all decide between the awesome food on the menu with suggestions and poignant observations.
When Heather mentioned she was ruling out the chicken because we “cooked and ate chicken a lot at home”, he responded with a “Not to be rude honey, but you’ve never cooked a chicken like this”. (PS- He was right!).
In the end, we settled on two appetizers; the ahi tuna crackers and toasted bread with goat cheese and roasted garlic. At $14, the ahi tuna crackers, while definitely good, were a little pricey. Same goes for the goat cheese and garlic, which ran $10.
It was the entrees, however, that really won me over. Since there were four of us, we decided to spread ourselves out across the menu and try as many different things as possible. The result was:
- Lemon and Garlic Chicken with lemon vinagrette and local vegetables
- Mongolian Pork Chop with housemade mustard and sweet and sour red cabbage
- Korean Curry Smoked Duck with mango pickle and grilled long beans
- The Ever-Famous Seafood Tostada (with grilled whitefish)
To say everything was good would be an understatement; everything was delicious!
As I’m not someone who normally (or ever) drops $25+ on an entree, or $80 total on a meal for Heather and I, when I say this meal was worth it, it carries some weight.
If you want to go here and spend less money, they also had sandwiches on the menu which looked really good and cost between $12-$15.
For anyone looking to go to a nice, relaxed and delicious meal in Napa without completely breaking the bank, I can’t recommend Mustards highly enough. Count me as a believer that it’s the “best value in the Valley”.
Location: 638 Wave Street, Monterey, CA (1 block up from Cannery Row)
Went for: Dinner
Price: Cheap for a sit down Mexican restaurant
After spending the entire day driving from San Fran to Monterey and stopping every 3 minutes to take pictures, we arrived hungry and looking for a nice, quick place to grab dinner. The guy at the front desk at the Monterey Hostel pointed us towards Jose’s, claiming it was one of the “few places in Monterey that you can get a meal under $15″.
Having never been to Monterey, and since he looked like a local, we assumed he was right. Turns out, he was right in one respect and wrong in another. Jose’s was, in fact, a good place to grab a nice Mexican meal. However, there were plenty of places that were regularly priced.
Heather and I had both gotten pretty addicted to chimichangas when living in Japan (oddly enough, the one Mexican restaurant around us in Hamamatsu made amazing ones) but hadn’t had one since returning Stateside.
When we saw it was on the menu, the opportunity was too much to pass up, and we both ordered a chicken chimichanga (healthy, healthy).
The chimichangas were pretty good, and considering they give complimentary chips and salsa and came with sides of rice and beans, they were a steal at $7.
And since we knew our guts would be paying for the deep fried food already, why not add on some deep fried ice cream for good measure? Somehow, despite my love for ice cream and deep fried food, I had never had it before, but wow….if you’re in Monterey, you need stop in just for their deep fried ice cream.
Not only was it delicious, but it was gigantic, big enough for even two gluttons to share! At $4, it’s easily one of the best values I’ve seen in a long time.
If you’re looking for a cheap option in Monterey or have been there for a few days and eaten so much seafood that you’re growing gills, check out Jose’s. And no matter what diet you’re on, indulge yourself in the deep fried ice cream. It’s worth the 5 miles you’ll need to run to work it off!
Ok folks, now it’s your turn.
Locals and lovers of San Francisco alike, let us know what your favorite places to eat and drink in The City are in the comments below.
Bring your A game, because I’ll be taking all the suggestions with me next time I go, and I love to eat!