When it comes to Chinese, every San Franciscan has his or her own fave, and many of the best spots are in the neighborhoods, so it's wise to take the advice of a local. However, we've found these restaurants to be consistently good and popular in Chinatown.
(1300 Stockton; 415/982-6020; $8-24) is the place for fresh fish, Chinese-style. Under buzzing fluorescent lights, you choose your fish from the tank and they cook `em.
House of Nanking
(919 Kearny St; 415/421-1429; $7-20) is a hole-in-the-wall storefront restaurant serving some of the best Chinese food we've had anywhere. Portions are huge, tables are cramped, prices are low, and lines can be long -- arrive just before it opens for lunch and enjoy.
FISHERMAN'S WHARF/FORT MASON
On a wharf near Fisherman's Wharf,
Restaurant Gary Danko
(800 North Point St; 415/749-2060; prix-fixe: $65-92) is expensive, exceedingly upscale and refined. The tastefully appointed, art-filled dining room, extensive wine list, and brilliant and well-organized menu guarantee a first-rate dining experience. Gary Danko recently won the James Beard Award for best new restaurant in the U.S. Some of our subscribers have found the service snooty, while others praise its unobtrusive nature.
(Building A, Ft. Mason Ctr; 415/771-6222; $9-20) is the city's long-standing gourmet vegetarian restaurant; their brunch (Sundays only) is incredible and they also have a take-out bakery offering baked goods, salads and sandwiches.
OTHER NOTABLE SPOTS
(1658 Market St; 415/552-2522; $31-50), not far from the Gay and Lesbian Center, remains popular and critically acclaimed. Its clientele is decidedly gayer than most other restaurants of its caliber. Zuni offers one of the best oyster selections in town, and has a killer wine list to boot. Thanks to better service, more consistently good food and a more interesting crowd, Zuni is sometimes better for lunch than dinner. Up in the Fillmore/Lower Pacific Heights area,
(3127 Fillmore St; 415/563-4755; $31-40) is one of the hottest spots in town with clean, fresh, creative California cuisine and over 30 wines available by the glass.
Eos Restaurant and Wine Bar
(901 Cole St; 415/566-3063; $18-24) offers delicious California cuisine, an amazing wine list and professional and knowledgeable service. The salmon spring roll appetizers and the duck are a must, but you can't go wrong with any choice. Reservations are de rigueur; good for a full dinner but just as fun with a flight of wine tastes and a few appetizers as a light meal.
For more high-style d?cor and interior design wizardry, try
(56 Gold St; 415/433-6300; $19-36), which serves California cuisine in a 1940s-style supper club setting in Jackson Square with live music (no dancing). Sometimes it's easy to forget that, mere steps from the cluster of faded-glory bars on Polk Street, there's a charming neighborhood just to the north. Russian Hill offers boutique-y shops and some notable restaurants.
CHOCOLATES AND CONFECTIONS
OK, let's play a game of San Francisco word association. Ready? Chocolate. Did you say Ghirardelli? If so, you're surely not alone, and to be sure, Ghirardelli is a significant part of the city's history and landscape. But though the chocolatier is practically synonymous with San Francisco, it is far from the only choice when you crave something sinful. The San Francisco Bay Area, long a foodie haven, has become something of a hotbed of artisanal chocolate and confectionary. So if when the yearning for a little something-something overtakes, consider a few options beyond the Hershey's of the West.
If chocolate, pure chocolate and nothing but the chocolate is what you're after, look no farther than gay-owned
Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker
(914 Heinz Ave, Berkeley; 510/981-4050; and Ferry Building Marketplace #14; 415/981-9150). A trip to their Berkeley factory is worthwhile for the 45-minute tour (reservations recommended) that demonstrates how chocolate goes from bean to bar; tastings included. The adjacent Caf? Cacao ($5-7) serves up light fare, including soups, salads and sandwiches (yes, there is a chocolate sandwich!). Former winemaker John Scharffenberger applied the same philosophy to chocolate making, using a blend of several types of cocoa bean to achieve a more balanced and deep flavor. For something different, try the "Nibby Bar," a semisweet chocolate bar with pieces of roasted unsweetened cocoa bean incorporated throughout for a deep, earthy flavor. Can't make it across the bay? Their retail store in San Francisco's Ferry Building has a full selection of their products.
Another San Francisco treat is
(Ferry Building Marketplace #30; 415/834-9494), for whom chocolate is merely a canvas on which to paint unusual and surprising flavors. Each uniquely shaped and decorated truffle is endowed with such peculiar fillings as star anise and pink peppercorn, tarragon-grapefruit and pearl mint tea. Not all the flavors work; some are too subtle to stand up to the rich chocolate. But perhaps surprisingly the most unusual ones really do shine. Recchiuti also produces some remarkable p?tes de fruits and sells their signature burnt caramel by the sauce. Break out the spoons!