The Best of the City's Fine Dining
La Folie, 2316 Polk St., Russian Hill (tel. 415/776-5577), has been the place to go for cuisine at its finest since 1988. Celebrity chef Roland Passot never fails to offer his guests a delightfully long, lavish meal. And then there's Restaurant Gary Danko, 800 North Point St., Fisherman's Wharf (tel. 415/749-2060), always a sure bet for a perfect contemporary French meal complete with polished service and flambéed finales.
Best Classic San Francisco Dining Experience
The lovable loudmouths working behind the narrow counter of Swan Oyster Depot, 1517 Polk St. (tel. 415/673-1101), have been satisfying patrons with fresh crab, shrimp, oysters, and clam chowder since 1912. My dad doesn't care much for visiting San Francisco ("Too crowded!") but he loves having lunch at this beloved seafood institution.
Best Dining on Dungeness Crab
Eating fresh Dungeness crabmeat straight from Fisherman's Wharf seafood vendors' boiling pots at the corner of Jefferson and Taylor streets may be touristy, but it's the quintessential San Francisco experience. Locals are more apt to go to Swan Oyster Depot.
Best Dim Sum Feast
If you like Chinese food in bite-size portions, you'll love dim sum. At Ton Kiang, 5821 Geary Blvd., the Richmond (tel. 415/387-8273), you'll be wowed by the variety of dumplings and mysterious dishes. Don't worry about the language barrier; just point at what looks good and it will be delivered. For downtown dim sum, the venerable Yank Sing, 101 Spear St. (tel. 415/957-9300), offers an exotic edible surprise on every cart that's wheeled to your table.
We have a tie: Dottie's True Blue Café, 522 Jones St. (tel. 415/885-2767), has taken the classic American breakfast to a new level -- maybe the best I've ever had. Crummy neighborhood, superb food. Ella's, 500 Presidio Ave. (tel. 415/441-5669), is far more yuppie, equally divine, and in a much better neighborhood, but it's so popular that the wait on weekend mornings is brutal.
Best Funky Atmosphere
That's an easy one: Tommy's Joynt, 1101 Geary Blvd. (tel. 415/775-4216). The interior looks like a Buffalo Bill museum that imploded, the exterior paint job looks like a circus tent on acid, and the huge trays of hofbrau classics will make your arteries harden just by looking at them.
Best Family-Style Restaurant
Giant platters of classic Italian food and carafes filled with table wine are placed on long wooden tables by motherly waitresses while Sinatra classics play to the festive crowd of contented diners. Welcome to North Beach-style family dining at Capp's Corner, 1600 Powell St. (tel. 415/989-2589).
Best Surreal Dining Experience
This has to be sitting cross-legged on a pillow, shoes off, smoking apricot tobacco out of a hookah, eating baba ghanouj, and drinking spiced wine in an exotic Middle Eastern setting while beautiful, sensuous belly dancers glide across the dining room. Unwind your mind at Kan Zaman, 1793 Haight St. (tel. 415/751-9656).
Best Wine Country Dining
If you're a foodie, you already know that one of the top restaurants in the world, French Laundry, 6640 Washington St. (tel. 707/944-2380), is about 1 1/2 hours north of the city in the Wine Country's tiny town of Yountville. Only die-hard diners need apply: You'll need to fight for a reservation 2 months in advance. A more relaxed alternative is Terra, 1345 Railroad Ave., St. Helena (tel. 707/963-8931), where award-winning chef Hiro Sone shows his culinary creativity and mastery of French, Italian, and Japanese cuisine within a historic fieldstone split dining room.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Ame, 689 Mission St. (tel. 415/284-4040), located in the swank St. Regis Hotel, means "rain" in Japanese. But the only drops you'll see coming down here are tears of joy from local foodies who no longer have to drive to St. Helena to enjoy a meal by Hiro Sone, James Beard Award winner and master of Japanese, French, and Italian cuisine.
Best for Impressing Clients: Show your business associates you've got class -- and know what's hip with the foodies these days -- by reserving a table at the Financial District's Wayfare Tavern, 558 Sacramento St. (tel. 415/772-9060).
Best Romantic Spot: Anyone who loves classic French cooking will be seduced at Fleur de Lys, 777 Sutter St. (tel. 415/673-7779), under the rich burgundy-tented canopy that swathes the elegant room in romance. There's lots of question-popping here, too.
Best for a Celebration: Great food, a full bar, and a lively atmosphere are the key ingredients that make Boulevard, 1 Mission St. (tel. 415/543-6084), the place to celebrate. Or celebrate Latino style with pitchers of sangria at Haight-Ashbury's Cha Cha Cha, 1801 Haight St. (tel. 415/386-7670).
Best Decor: Celeb restaurant designer Pat Kuleto spent a week sketching sea life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium before applying his genius to whimsical Farallon, 450 Post St. (tel. 415/956-6969). A glass "caviar" chandelier sets the tone for Kuleto's equally spectacular Waterbar, 399 Embarcadero (tel. 415/284-9922), and at Grand Café, 501 Geary St. (tel. 415/292-0101), he marries old-world European elegance with Art Nouveau glamour.
Best Dim Sum: Downtown and Chinatown dim sum restaurants may be more centrally located, but that's all they've got on Ton Kiang, 5821 Geary Blvd. (tel. 415/387-8273), where carts bring the best Chinese dumplings and other dim sum delicacies to your table.
Best Thai: This locals' favorite is a total dive hidden in the gritty Tenderloin district. But the dishes at Bang San Thai, 505 Jones St. (tel. 415/440-2610), are filling and authentic, and it's a great starting -- or ending -- point for a bar-crawl of the area.
Best Vegetarian Food: For excellent farm-fresh food and an equally stunning view of the Golden Gate, go to Greens Restaurant, Building A, Fort Mason Center (tel. 415/771-6222). Also check out Millennium, 580 Geary St. (tel. 415/345-3900), which makes vegan seem positively decadent.
Best Cafe: If you want to know what life was like before Starbucks, spend some time at North Beach's beloved Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store, 566 Columbus Ave. (tel. 415/362-0536), and Caffe Trieste, 601 Vallejo St. (tel. 415/392-6739).
Best Food Truck Sampling: Food truck fans, we have found your Utopia, and it is called Off the Grid, a daily roving food court of trucks. Go to http://offthegridsf.com for locations and participants. Fridays sample nearly 30 vendors, 5 to 10pm at Fort Maison Center.
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