Besides saving money, getting the most value out of a dining experience also includes that other important resource: time.
By taking some time right now to plan your dining experience, you'll insure that you get the most value out of that experience by considering our "Expert Tips" on each specific restaurant. Once you've narrowed down your choices, never forget that time is on your side in San Francisco: there are many, many restaurants vying for your business. Doing a little prep beforehand of what's really out there will leave you extra time to walk the lovely neighborhoods of San Francisco and let that one special restaurant grab you. There's nothing more important during a trip than that one memorable, signature meal.
To start you off, let us introduce you to a few of our favorites, such as Chapeau! and Mama's on Washington Square. They're low in expenditures and high in appeal. If you want the highest rate of return for your dinner dollar, be sure to check out the restaurants on our list.
Simplicity and authenticity reign at this small, popular restaurant. Zinc tabletops and exotic hardwoods bear this out, as does the incomparable Italian fare with its top-notch ingredients. Treat yourself with grilled calamari salad, braised rabbit, steak frites, roasted chicken, or salmon with fresh vegetables. Although Delfina has garnered much acclaim since it premiered, the trattoria still delights with casual ambience, friendly service and satisfyingly reasonable prices – all boons to dining aficionados. Delfina is one of the more expensive of the "budget" restaurants on this list, but their attention to quality will insure that even the most penny-pinching guest feels like he got his money's worth. (415-552-4055)
This spirited Japanese sushi bar thrives on the quality of its fish and the variety offered to customers. Affordable maki, nigiri, and sashimi are beautifully prepared and presented, as much a visual delight as a gustatory one. Guests are also encouraged to try nasu dengaku, a delicious baked eggplant. With more than 90 sushi selections on the menu, it's easy to find a wealth of appetizing options. And Kabuchi is a great example of a budget minded restaurant not skimping on quality or inventiveness, offering dishes such as the Hamachi Pear, Yellowtail sushi topped with sliced pear and kabuto fruity mustard sauce. Full dinners are available. (415-752-5652)
Although it's only been around since 1997, Park Chow feels like an old San Francisco institution, like one of the glory day bar and restaurants from gold mining days. The restaurant distinguishes itself by knowing its purpose and delivering on that promise: a simple, budget-conscious menu full of the best local ingredients. Pick any of the four meals of the day to enjoy in this cozy, no-nonsense space: Ricotta Pancakes with raspberry sauce for breakfast; quinoa with spring fruits for brunch; local lamb burger for lunch; and Smiling Noodles with Bok Choy and curry for dinner. Park Chow is one of the most consistent and respected "comfort Food" restaurants in the Bay Area. (415-665-9912)
Dottie's True Blue Café
A little homey, a little kitschy and a lot of good. If you crave homemade breakfast foods and substantial portions, Dottie's is definitely the place to go. In the morning, wonderful pancakes, French toast, frittatas and baked goods bring satisfied grins to hungry, appreciative patrons. As noontime rolls around, sandwiches, salads and hamburgers take center stage. Dottie's used to be in the Tenderloin, an interesting but somewhat seedy area, so the new location in the always trendy Mission neighborhood makes Dotty even more accessible by public transportation. And there's no better way to start off a full day in the Mission than a big, reasonably-priced breakfast at Dottie's. (415-885-2767)
This charming bistro, happily ensconced in its small, friendly neighborhood, always issues a warm welcome. Its comfortably upscale dining room is busy but romantic, and patrons delight in Chapeau!'s well-executed French country fare. Classics like steak au poivre, roast chicken, cassoulet and duck a l'orange are served a la carte, but multi-course prix fixe menus and the early bird special are incredible deals. Crowning everything is a fabulous wine list that features more than 300 selections. And take advantage of Chapeau's location on Clement Street, an eclectic but often overlooked area of San Francisco that includes the city's beloved bookstore, Green Apple Books. (415-750-9787)
Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Within this small, bright eatery, you'll find some of the city's best sausages. Choose from kielbasa, knockwurst, Italian, chicken or weisswurst, or live boldly by sampling wild boar with chutney or smoked duck with figs. The variety is impressive and – served on French rolls with toppings like sauerkraut, spicy peppers and grilled onions – the dogs are incredible. Sodas and chips also find a place on the menu, and since the grill is small, most people place to-go orders or even take their selections next door to the Toronado Pub, which stocks great microbrews. On Tuesday, Rosamunde makes awesome juicy cheeseburgers as well. (415-437-6851)
For those who like their pizza with thin crusts and simply made, Arinell's is the place. Their flagship spot in the Mission, beloved by locals, is small and not fancy, but the time they saved in creating atmosphere they put into making simple, delicious pizza. If you're in the Mission and need something other than a burrito, slip into Arinell's and grab a slice (or two or three). You'll get a taste of Italy and some needed energy for your big night out in the Mission. (Also a great spot to swing by after your big night out in the Mission.) ((415) 255-1303)
L'Osteria del forno
Given the size of the kitchen, it's hard to believe that so much tasty food springs from a lone oven. Its bounty includes thin-crust pizzas, fragrant foccacia, skewered lamb, a daily roast and baked pastas. Another favorite, milk-braised roast pork, also elicits raves from regulars. The restaurant has only a handful of tables, so waits are common, but the owners prefer the immediacy of small groups and the pleasure of genuine attention. A short wine list is available, and prices are extremely reasonable. Since this restaurant is at the top of Columbus Street in historic North Beach, your after dinner stroll can include walking by quaint cafes that seem pulled right out of Rome. (415-982-1124)
First-time visitors to the Mission District of San Francisco will certainly be overwhelmed by all the restaurant choices. Traditionally known as the premier spot for Latino fare, the Mission has been ground central for the tech boom in the Bay Area. That extra cash has created so many estaurants so quickly that even longtime residents of San Francisco may feel like first-time visitors to the Mission.
Through all this upheaval, one thing has remained constant: the enticing aroma of Chinese and Burmese food wafting out of the small, dark doorway of Yamo on the corner of 18th and Mission Street. What's also remained constant is the long line and impossibly tight quarters inside, so get there early and get takeout. ((415) 553-8911)
One of three locations, the Valencia Street restaurant in the Mission District is where the magic that is Pica Pica first happened in 2010. Fitting in perfectly with its surroundings full of Latin flair, this Maize Kitchen is open for lunch, dinner and dessert. Most popular on the menu is the arepa (pocket composed of grilled corn and stuffed with vegetables, plantains, beans, cheese or meats. . .your choice).
Also sample the ceviche or yuca fries as a starter. Don't leave without having a glass of sangria and a taste of dessert (yuca beignets or coconut quesillo). Bringing pure food, fantastic flavors and environmental awareness, all take-out containers are completely biodegradable. (415-400-5453)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.
Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
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