The City (not "Frisco," unless you're a disaffected tourist wearing polyester shorts, black socks and an overpriced t-shirt) is the Mecca of culture in California. The hilly terrain and the Mediterranean climate lend themselves to give this western City of Lights an unfathomable depth of character. Consequently, there are literally scores of books available to list everything one can expect from San Francisco, from the mundane to the cerebral. This space will provide only my preferences on some truly rich establishments, both within the confines of San Francisco City and County and in the surrounding areas. By no means exhaustive, these are simply the observations of one person who matured within the panoramic view of the Transamerica Pyramid, across the Bay in Alameda.
Best All-Around Dining Experience: Harry Denton's
The new "chic capital" of dining is Harry Denton's. Once a favorite of the late Herb Caen, Harry's offers an outstanding menu of well prepared, nouvelle-style cuisine. Their crème brulèe is THE best in the Bay Area (actually, it's the best I've ever had -- La Tour d'Argent in Paris would have a tough time topping Harry's), and their "Harry's Cosmopolitan" (a concoction of Absolut Citron, Cointreau, and juices) is superb. Located on Stueart Street, it's at the nexus of the Embarcadero, Financial District and Broadway. There is also Harry Denton's Starlight Bar atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on Union Square -- the pinnacle of nightlife within this Constantinople of the West.
Just under the Bay Bridge from Harry's, along the Embarcadero near Pier 38, Town's End is the best place in this Medina of Dining for breakfast or brunch. Their muffin basket features a tempting sample of their baked delights, and the food and service are always superlative.
For a late-night mocha, try Tosca on Columbus -- site of several scenes from the movie Basic Instinct. Also, Caffe Espresso near Union Square offers delectable pastries and baked goods, and is near the bustling Market District.
On Kearny St. near Columbus, at the extreme outskirts of Chinatown, there is a Chinese restaurant that is absolutely superb: House of Nanking. (comparable only to P.F. Chang's in San Diego for quality; Chang's still has the superior ambiance) It's a true hole-in-the-wall, with a plain facade and a few, unembellished tables. The food, however, is truly superb! It's on Kearny, between Columbus and Jackson (open every night until 10pm; closed for lunch on Sundays). If you're in the mood for excellent soup, try A-1 Diner (on Clay, between Grant and Kearny: another Chinatown hole-in-the-wall).
For an adventure in dining, catch the Red&White Fleet (next to the Franciscan; Pier 41, I believe) and take the ferry to Tiburon, nestled in a cove to the north and east of Angel Island. There, you'll find a quiet hamlet on the Bay with lots of small shops, some wonderful art galleries, and my favorite bistro for Caribbean cuisine: Guaymas. With a pleasant ambiance, and a teasing view of the city and Golden Gate (partially obscured by Angel Island), an evening at Guaymas is sheer delight! Unfortunately, the last ferry returns to San Francisco at just after 9:00pm, so you'd better make early reservations....
South Bay Note:
In the south bay, the Tied House in San Jose offers a wide selection of hand-crafted beers, as well as a hearty selection of sausages, chicken, and seafood -- the swordfish is particularly good.
East Bay Notes:
For very stylish cuisine, Skate's on the Bay in the Berkeley marina, offers a spectacular view of the City, as well as a menu that rivals Harry Denton's.
Berkeley can also be called the "fast food paradise" of the Bay Area, boasting the likes of Blondie's (BEST slices of pizza), Top Dog (for some designer sausages -- with an equally diverse selection of mustards), and Oscar's (home of the best strawberry shake, and with greaseburgers on par with SoCal's In-n-Out burgers). All are within a few blocks of Cal. (the REAL U.C.!) Also near the campus, there are a number of Euro-style coffee houses (Cafe Strada, at the end of College Ave, has the only Hot White Chocolate, though...).
Traveling a couple of miles south, near the Oakland-Berkeley city line on College Ave. is Zachary's Deep Dish Chicago Style Pizza -- almost as good as Gino's in Chicago! Oakland's Jack London Square, located at the foot of Broadway, boasts some of the best restaurants in that city, with Cutter's for the best prime rib, Scott's for the best seafood, and a host of others (as well as some great shops in Jack London Village).
For less refined food, Flint's BBQ near 51st has the best ribs in all of the Bay Area -- it's only walk-up service, so be prepared for a messy picnic....
Oakland's Chinatown has some great Chinese food, but it's not quite as convenient as Alameda's Park Street, where Yu Hsiang and China Garden are tops (this is GOOD Chinese, too -- not even Jimmy Wong's in San Diego can compare!).
La Taqueria, on Alameda Ave. a block off of Park St. in Alameda, has the best carnitas, while the taqueria next to World Famous Lee's Auto Parts (also on Park, between Santa Clara and Lincoln) has the best carne asada. Like San Jose, Alameda has one of the other Tied House microbreweries -- this one in the Marina Village on the Oakland-Alameda Estuary.
A bit further south, in Hayward, La Imperial has the best cheap Mexican -- and some GIANT super burritos. Pack your Tums before heading here, though -- they don't go mild on the salsa....
San Francisco Bay Area Microbreweries