The Best of San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants

So I had to start it at some point. Following is the beginning of a permanent link of my favorite places to eat in and around San Francisco.

At first blush it’s easy to dismiss Alioto’s in Fisherman’s Wharf as a typical tourist trap — prime location, great views… but how is the food? Well, in my opinion the seafood is terrific. The old world setting and the old world San Francisco staff are great and the views are truly beautiful at sunset. My friend Drew runs the Anchorage just down the way and when he set us up for dinner there a while back it was truly nice to find that the food was every bit as good as the atmosphere — and if you ever need to book a group dinner and have an opportunity in one of their upstairs private dining rooms go for it.

8 Fisherman’s Wharf, The Embarcadero, San Francisco. 415-673-0183.

Blondie’s makes great pizza by the slice. It can’t really compare with Zachery’s in Berkeley but, other than Zachery’s, it is probably the best pizza by the slice around. Gobs of thick gooey cheese on big generous oversized slices. Yum.

Make sure to order and eat it there as that is when it is freshest and tastes the very best. I’d recommend just the plain old pepperoni as my favorite — although if you have a healthy appetite and want to go for two slices they have pretty interesting “slices of the day.”

Seating is more ample in the San Francisco location as it has a downstairs seating area. Much of the time in Berkeley you may end up eating your pizza standing up at the counter or outside but it still tastes just as good.

63 Powell Street, San Francisco, 415-982-6168
2340 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-1129

Ok so Clown Alley is probably not where you want to take a date… well unless she was the right kind of date… but I do not think you can find a better beer and burger combo anywhere in the Bay Area. It’s cheesy decor is excused by the best burger around along with a great condiments bar.

The beer is served by the pint or pitcher and is always nice and cold. Granted this might be the kind of place that you end up at when already drunk before arriving — but when you get there to continue your warrior ways of partying you won’t be disappointed.

42 Columbus (at Montgomery), San Francisco, 415-421-2540

Best breakfast sandwich. Golden Gate Meat Company. I remember when Luluís Petite opened up in San Franciscoís Ferry Building and I was all fired up to try their fancy breakfast sandwich. Yeah it was $5 which was a lot but, hey, it was LuluísÖ theyíre supposed to be fancy. Boy was I disappointed. After two tries Iíve never been back. The place is overpriced and the food is really marginal. On the other hand, last week I discovered for the first time the breakfast sandwich of the Golden Gate Meat Company.

If you are really hung over one morning, yeah we all have been there, and would like to consume all of your daily calories at breakfast after having skipped dinner the night before in favor of three shots of tequila and nine beers, the Golden Gate Meat Company is this place for you. For $5 they will sell you the most delicious combination of eggs, bacon, salt, pepper and cheese on a big oversized bun with some kind of really tasty buttery or hollandaise type sauce Ė Iím not sure which. The cost is steep when compared with $2.50 or so for an Egg McMuffin but for those days when you just need that big fast filling breakfast skip the McDonalds and go by the Golden Gate Meat Company. They start serving the sandwiches at about 6:45 a.m.

The Golden Gate also does an ok job with lunch (the barbeque beef or chicken sandwich are the best) but the standout is that terrific breakfast job they do over there.

One Ferry Building, Shop 13, 415-983-7800

For more restaurant reviews see Thomas Hawk’s Guide to the Best Restaurantsin the Bay Area.

Enjoy some spicy food at Henry’s Hunan. Hunan, or just Henry’s as I lovingly refer to it as, wins the award in my book for the best Chinese food in the Bay Area. Owner Henry Chung has been serving unbelievably, truly phenomenal, the most amazing, Chinese food for the past few decades at his four chain restaurant. Every day they serve a really cheap “rice plate” for lunch in these proverbial holes in the walls around the Bay Area. My favorite is their chicken with black bean sauce and even though it is not always the daily special, they always seem to let me order it regardless of the day at the Sacramento Street location.

People come from far and wide to delight their palates with Linda’s famous meat pie — the perfect way to start a lunch or dinner at Henry’s.

The food seems to differ slightly from location to location and my favorite has always been the Sacramento Street restaurant.

There is not much to be said for the decor at Henry’s but this quite simply does not matter when you cook the kind of truly to die for Chinese that Henry’s does. I’d also highly recommend the dish “Marty’s Special” as well. I’d order Marty’s Special more often if I weren’t already so highly addicted to their chicken with black bean sauce.

For a truly interactive experience with Henry’s menu you must check out this amazing review of everything on their menu.

674 Sacramento St. (bet. Kearny & Montgomery Sts. San Francisco, 415-788-2234
924 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA, 94111, 415-956-7727
1016 Bryant St., San Francisco, CA, 94103, 415-861-5808
110 Natoma St. (bet. New Montgomery & 2nd Sts.) San Francisco, 415-546-4999

Kirala in Berkeley makes the most incredible sushi. It is not cheap by any means and the restaurant is typically packed every night. My recommendation is to get there early — around opening time, 5:30 p.m. or so for dinner. This is the best sushi in the East Bay and my second favorite sushi restaurant in the entire Bay Area — just behind Sushi Ran in Sausalito.

2100 Ward Street, Berkeley. 510-549-3486. Definitely try it out if you are ever that way.

< strong>La Morena is a fantastic taqueria should you ever find yourself in South San Francisco. This is my second favorite taqueria in the Bay Area — right behind La Taqueria in the Mission and just ahead of Cactus Taqueria in the East Bay. Try the Carne Asada Plate and you will not be disappointed — generous portions of warm corn tortillas, tender flavorful beef strips and guacamole, sour cream, lettuce served with rice and beans for only $6.25. A real bargain and a wonderful filling lunch. Every time I fly into SFO I seem to find myself stopping there on the way home.

They have a spacious upstairs dining area complete with salsa bar and free cooled water cooler.

307 Banden Ave., South San Francisco. 650-589-4447.

Best Bay Area Breakfast… yup… Mama’s on Washington Square in the heart of North Beach. Ever since Doidge’s on Union Street went out of business Mama’s in North Beach has been the undisputed best breakfast spot in the Bay Area. Be prepared for a long wait in line, especially on weekends, in the hot sun in front of the restaurant unless you really get there right at opening time (8 a.m.). The menu is reasonably priced and the house specialty is french toast prepared a myriad of ways.

1701 Stockton Street, San Francisco. 415-362-6421.

Market Bar is an interesting concept. Each day they buy their ingredients from the local merchants in the Ferry Building food court and prepare seasonal dishes based on the purchased ingredients. The result is a mixed bag. I have had some simply delicious dishes there as well as some that were good, but just adequate. Because the menu changes so frequently with the seasonality of the Ferry Building merchants, it makes it hard to find a favorite dish Ė but itís also fun to have a constantly changing menu as well. Probably the standout that Iíve had there so far has been an heirloom tomato soup to die for. I had no idea that tomato soup could ever taste that good. Iíd stay away from the pizzas, but the cooked sandwiches seem to be consistently good as well.

The restaurant has an inviting outdoor seating area and does take reservations which are typically needed as it seems to be pretty full every day. With the fancy ingredients from the Ferry Building merchants you may need your waiter to decipher a few of the the dishes for you but itís always nice to learn about new foods and ingredients.

Initially when Market Bar service first opened earlier last year I thought the service was poor and without shutters on their windows the blazing hot sun could cook you during your lunch. But since getting the kinks worked out (shutters are now up on the windows to keep the heat out on hot days) the service has improved considerably.

One Ferry Building, The Embarcadero at Market Street, San Francisco, CA, 415-434-1100

Ristorante Milano is just what you need when you want an easy convenient good causal Italian restaurant on Grand Avenue in Oakland. Although the food is not the superb and amazing Italian of the North Beach Restaurants of the world, it is very fine every day Italian. The dishes are attractively prepared and full and flavorful. You get a good meal at a fair price with pretty much your basic Italian menu of things like veal, individual pizzas, an assortment of pastas and raviolli and lasagne. I thought that the mozzarella and tomato salad was especially good and the presentation was beautiful.

The service at Milano is outstanding. Although we were there on a not so busy night, the staff was extremely attentive and bent over backwards to make sure that we were taken care of.

One of the things that I really like is when the staff at a restaurant really pay attention to the water glasses. For some reason I always seem to be extremely thirsty and it irks me to no end to go to a restaurant and find that the water glasses are emptied and then not refilled until you track somebody down and ask. This is not the case at Milano. They were very attentive to all aspects of the meal and were constantly refilling our glasses without needing to be asked.

The wine list has for the most part low to moderate priced everyday wines. The highest end bottle of Chardonnay was a bottle of 2002 Cakebread that we ordered for $54.

All in all if you want a good Italian meal at a fair price with great service you will not be disappointed by Ristorante Milano.

3425 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-763-0300

Morton’s Steakhouse is the quintessential chain steakhouse serving amazing glutonous big tender steaks the likes of which you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world.

If Harris Steakhouse did not already hold the title for best steakhouse in San Francisco Morton’s would own it. They are a damn fine 2nd best steakhouse in the Bay Area however.

The ambience at Morton’s is dark, inviting, decadent and powerful. You walk downstairs into a bar where the big powerful men and the women that love them drink martinis, beer and full bodied red wines.

When you are ready to eat you are in for a treat. Big giant steak knives and well starched white tablecloths play well in the dark atmosphere.

The thing about Morton’s is that everything there is big. From the colossal shrimp or bacon wrapped scallops as appetizers to the blue cheese or tomato salad — and of course then there are the steaks.

Porterhouses, Double Filet Mignon with Bearnaise sauce (in case your cholesterol count wasn’t high enough yet), and the Ribeye are all well worth the order.

They do serve vegetables on the side for those who want to appear at least somewhat healthy. Yes, the broccoli does have hollandaise sauce on it. My advice though is to skip the vegetables and just go for a bigger steak with a giant baked potato stuffed with sour cream and butter.

The desserts? Never had ’em. Never had any room for ’em.

Parking? Yeah there is none. Count on valeting it to add to your already expensive evening (both in terms of cost and calories). Oh, and be sure not to invite your vegan friends.

400 Post Street, San Francisco, 415-986-5830

Orale Orale is fine everyday Mexican fare in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Although the food is nowhere near the spectacular food youíd find at Cactus Tacqueria in the East Bay, in South San Francisco or La Tacqueria in the Mission, Orale Orale is in my opinion the best Mexican for the Downtown San Francisco at present. I particularly enjoy the flautas which are served best crispy and come covered with sour cream and guacamole with rice and beans on the side.
< br />There is always a line at Orale Orale so youíd be advised to get their early if you want to get a seat. Fortunately I eat at 11:00 every day and itís never a problem then Ė but by 11:30 you will be waiting. The service is quite good and fast at this busy restaurant as they are eager to get you out and the next paying customer in your seat. They are also very good at making sure your chip basket and salsa are refilled promptly as your table empties them.

Not a whole hell of a lot to report here as their menu is rather limited… however, if you ever can make it to the San Francisco Fish Company in the new Ferry Building on a Wednesday or Thursday for lunch they serve the best fish and chips I’ve ever had for $7.00. I just wish that they started serving lunch at 11:00 a.m. as that’s when I typically eat lunch. For some reason they don’t start serving until 11:30 a.m. The fish and chips are worth the wait though.

One Ferry Plaza, 1st Floor, South End of the Building. 415-283-4850.

Shen Hua in Berkeley is Chinese food as good as it comes. Although I don’t think anything could top my two favorites in the City — Henry’s Hunan and Brandy Ho’s — Shen Hua is by far my favorite Chinese food in the East Bay.

The picture above is of my favorite dish there, Prawns a la Shen Hua — you must try it if you ever make your way to College Avenue in Berkeley. The chow mein, pot stickers, and another favorite, Andy’s Special, are all spectacular.

2914 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-883-1777

Tadich Grill is the original rainy day restaurant in San Francisco. It is also the oldest restaurant in San Francisco opened back in 1849. The restaurant specializes in seafood and does seafood very, very well.

Tadich’s doesn’t take reservations so prepare to wait unless you plan for an early or late lunch. Every weekday the grill is packed with business people of all stripes. The grill has a nice bar if you are dining alone or with a causal friend and don’t need to sit down at a table. For more serious business meetings Tadich’s booths are very nice and very private. The staff are longtime employees and if you eat there regularly you will get to know them in no time.

Personally I’d recommend the rainbow trout pan fried. And definitely do not miss out on the Manhattan clam chowder. It is hot, fresh and wonderful with a little spicy tabasco sauce added in. Tadich’s serves all of their seafood with huge lemons for flavor and the best tartar sauce around. The oversized french fried potatoes that come with the fish are some of the best.

240 California St., San Francisco, 415-391-1849.

Additional links:

Burritobot (find the best burrito in San Francisco)
Zagat Survey.