"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

08 June 2015

Where to Eat at #ALAAC15

See #10 below for info on the Giant Donut of Doom.
The American Library Association's annual conference is finally going to be in my neck of the woods this year!  I am excited that I can attend ALA without having to travel and that librarians will be descending upon the Bay Area. The most recent edition of the American Libraries magazine even has an article suggesting places to eat in the city.  I'm sure they're good suggestions, but of the restaurants listed, I have only heard of one and I've never eaten in any of them.  Not only that, but those few restaurants will be very crowded if everyone from ALA decides to eat at them.  With all that being said, here are my suggestions of places you should eat if you come to ALA this summer in San Francisco:

1. Darbar. This tiny little restaurant has the best Indian food in the city. They have a weekday lunch buffet that is very reasonably priced, and they also offer carry out and dine in options for dinner. This is the one restaurant I take everyone to when they come to visit me in the city.

2. Giorgio's. Giorgio's is an Italian restaurant that serves big helpings of classic Italian foods. The restaurant is adorable, with its red-and-white checked tablecloths and friendly waitstaff. It's also conveniently located on Clement Street, which offers a variety of shopping and wandering options for those who wish to escape the ALA and Pride crowds.

3. The Tonga Room. Looking for something adorably kitschy? Look no further. The Tonga Room is located in the Fairmont Hotel and boasts a Hawaiian-themed menu and tiki-esque atmosphere. The restaurant is centered around the old hotel swimming pool, which now plays host to a pontoon where live music is played every night. The Tonga Room fills up quickly, though, so call for reservations now.

4. The Stinking Rose. If you like garlic and don't have time to visit Gilroy, the Stinking Rose is a good restaurant to eat at. They serve Italian food with a healthy dose of garlic, so make sure you have some mints in your pocket for afteward.

5. The Crepe House. This is a great place to stop for a quick savory or sweet crepe. It's also conveniently located on Polk St., which has a variety of coffee shops and small businesses and is a great place to wander off the beaten path.

6. Tony's Cable Car. Diner-style food in an adorable cable car, this is a cash-only restaurant, so make sure to stop by an ATM before you show up.

7. Toy Boat Dessert Cafe. Ready for dessert? Stop by the toy boat, a tiny ice cream shop located on the corner of Clement St. and 5th Avenue. The shop is decorated with vintage toys and is not to be missed.

8. Polly Ann Ice Cream. Speaking of ice cream, if you are indecisive, I recommend Polly Ann's Ice Cream Shop. Located on the corner of 39th Avenue and Noriega, this little shop has a wheel you can spin if you don't want to choose what flavor to eat.

9. Swenson's Ice Cream. The original Swenson's is on Hyde St., and the line that can stretch out the door is an indication of exactly how good their home-made ice cream is. This is a great place to stop by once you've visited Lombard Street.

10.  Bob's Donuts. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Bob's Donuts, another small donut shop on Polk Street between Clay St. and Sacramento St. In addition to the standard variety of donut, they also serve giant donuts, which are worth gawking at and possibly eating if you have some friends to share with.

There are also scores of tiny coffee shops and other hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are great to eat at. Each neighborhood in the city has its own flavor and style, and it will be easy to find a variety of places to eat when you are here. You will not find many fast-food chains within the city, and that's not a bad thing: while you're here, please sample some of the local cuisine.


Christi said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I'm going to definitely try to visit some that you have recommended! Christi from KY

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! I am not able to be at ALA, but will be in San Francisco in October. Hope to try some of these places. Jen in VA

David said...

Thanks for the restaurant suggestions. Do you have any recommendations for vegetarian restaurants. I'm sure most restaurants you mentioned have plenty of vegetarian options, but it would be nice to get some suggestions about vegetarian restaurants (either vegan or vegetarian are fine!).

Jenni Frencham said...

David, here is a reply from a vegetarian friend of mine:

No matter where you go, you will find a veg option. I'm the only vegetarian I hang out with, so to speak, so I tend to go to a lot of places that are veg-flexible but not totally dedicated to the plant-based life. That said, I can suggest several places-- Toy Boat mentioned in the post is delightful, and has food options in addition to ice cream. They can do a bagel with anything on it, including vegetables and hummus. In the same neighborhood, Kitchen Istanbul is delightful Mediterranean food, and a little bit fancy. Again with Clement Street-- there are a smattering of Thai, Indian, and Chinese places up and down the street that will have food for you, in particular King of Thai Noodle and . I used to live near there, and I still work in that neighborhood, so it's dear to my heart. It's also home to Green Apple, possibly the best book store ever. Genki Crepes is the best dessert place/Japanese specialty product convenience store next to Toy Boat, and don't miss Genki Ramen one street over at Geary and 4th.

Jenni Frencham said...

Also on Geary is Enjoy Vegetarian at roughly 17th Ave-- it is NOT GOOD, do not go there. They have every food product you can think of made out of something else, so you can get veggie shark fin if you really want to. Everything there is soggy, and since they have something against chilis/onions/spices/salt everything is drenched in sugar. Do not be fooled. Across the street and down a little ways is Buffalo Burger, which does a fine veggie cheesesteak (though I admit it's like 80% onions.) Honorable mention to Infinitea, the best bubble tea place (soy milk or fruit/tea/boba only options) at Geary and 17th or so, and Ton Kiang, the dim sum place at 21st (it's SUPER NOT VEGETARIAN but one of the only places I make an exception.) Belly Burger at Geary and 21st is incredible-- they make the burger, you pick the toppings. Back to Clement-- Tia Margarita's at 21st Ave has excellent margaritas (kind of a heavy hand with the tequila!) and while they are again, not a specifically vegetarian restaurant, they have fine options including a great nachos plate. Heartbaker is a quiet coffee/bakery place on California and 15th or so with the best croissants. House of Bagels at Geary and 14th has mediocre coffee but dynamite bagels AND they have challah, black-n-whites, and rugelach (three kinds!) most of the time, but they close early.

Jenni Frencham said...

India Clay Oven is at 30-somethingth and Clement, and it's another fancy option-- a little bit more expensive than many places, but fantastic food. There is also a branch in the Haight, and they both deliver. Pizza Orgasmica has a lot to live up to based on the name, and the pizza is pretty good--heavy hand with the toppings, the Blueberry IPA is nice-- with a chill atmosphere. Richmond Republic Drafthouse has great beer (Downtown Brown on tap!), but most of the snacks are terribly bedecked in meats. The Bitter End is mostly a bar, but they have food that is decent. Why yes, I do have a goal of drinking or eating in every establishment on the Geary-Clement corridor, why do you ask? :)

A personal favorite on Balboa between 35th and 36th is the Americana Cafe, which is an American-Italian-Vietnamese diner, which has veg options because they have ALL the options-- pancakes and linguini alla vodka and eggs benedict and pho and grilled cheese and all at once. It's diner food, but it's cheerful and cheap and you can't beat the variety. Up the street closer to 35th is a coffee shop with a name that escapes me, but which is open late and has a wonderful ambiance (not for studying) and wine and beer and friendly faces on tap. The burrito place on that same block is great and they mean it when they say spicy. Down closer to 36th is the Zephyr Cafe, which has a quieter atmosphere and free wifi, and the coffee is fine. They do a competent and satisfying bagel with your choice of topping. If you choose, the beach is walking distance. You can see where Playland used to be and where Maverick's was a couple years ago-- don't swim at Ocean Beach, the waves are killer-- and you're also walking distance from the park. Incidentally-- it's a 30-45-minute bus ride out to the Richmond where all of that is happening, and many cab drivers will refuse to take you there or the dispatch will quote you 45 minutes and never show up. (If you use Uber or Lyft, they are much more reliable.) So don't plan on getting anywhere quickly to or from the Outer Richmond (= anywhere between Arguello and Ocean Beach)-- make this your first or last stop for the day.

Jenni Frencham said...

Speaking of mostly bars-- and I know that is not what you asked-- the Irish bar (and bakery during the day-- griddle scones! cream buns! snowballs!) at Geary between 20th and 21st is wonderful, Buckshot's at 3rd is OK (good music, skeeball, annoying college kids, freaky taxidermy animals on the walls) and I would probably spend more time at Fizzees at 4th if I still lived out there (despite the fact that Fizzees is...sticky. But friendly, and cheap.) Trad'r Sams at 37th is the dive bar equivalent to the Tonga Room (rather than an elegant floating band, they have country-western on the jukebox), and I can say that tiki bars are totally your best option if you wish to drink what is essentially a vase full of liquor, but the Tonga Room is a lot classier. Nizario's at Geary and 3rd OR Castro (by the bank/Starbucks...pretty sure that's 18th?) is the best pizza in the city, in my opinion. And while we're talking bars and Castro, Toad Hall is a great place, very friendly, good music, same goes for Badlands. The Cafe on the other side (Castro down Market a little) is a nice brunch place, tell Kevin that Red says hi if you see him. Hot Cookie in the Castro has hot cookies. If you're going to the Castro anyway (and it is convenient from Moscone if you take the F train uptown), look up Cliff's Hardware (for souvenirs) and the Seward Street Slides (for adventure) first.

Jenni Frencham said...

Downtown near the main library/City Hall, Ananda Fuara Vegetarian Restaurant (I want to say at Larkin and Market?) has weird hours and is run by a fringe religion, but they have great food, vegan options every day, fantastic vegan desserts, and the portions are HUGE. I grew up vegetarian and I go here when I miss my mom. The Neatloaf sounds odd, but it's delicious if you're into things that are held together with a pound of cheese serving as glue (and I am.) They have salads and soups and a vegan special of the day. Downtown I also like The Grove at 3rd and Mission walking distance from Moscone, because they have iced tea and coffee in tall beer glasses, and very fresh eggs, salad, sandwiches, and pastry. There are a ton of fast places to eat in the downtown area because so many people work there, so you will have no trouble walking in a random direction near the convention and finding a veg option, if not a fully vegan option. If nothing else, the food court in the big mall at Powell St. BART has something for everyone. Oddly enough, the cafe in the basement of the courthouse is really good, but you have to go through a metal detector.

Jenni Frencham said...

In the Mission, Rainbow Grocery is a great place for pre-prepared food if you're vegan, vegetarian, or just a gourmet, at 12th and Folsom. Also unique SF souvenirs and bulk herbs. All up and down Mission are fine places to eat-- carry cash and just try somewhere promising-- but I like La Taqueria at almost 25th, Taqueria Pancho Villa on 16th between Mission and Valencia, and Red Cafe for breakfast kind of across the street from La Taqueria. Frjtz at Valencia near 17th is Amsterdam-style fries and decadent sandwiches, the Dolores Park Cafe for coffee and breakfast at Dolores and 18th, and Pig and Pie at 24th between Harrison and Alabama, which admittedly has pig, but they also have wonderful pie, and a broccoli rabe sandwich, and homemade pickles. Ali Baba's Cave at Valencia and 19th is Mediterranean, easy veg or vegan options-- I have a soft spot for it because it's where I usually fuel up for pride parades with the combo platter in their restful air-conditioned splendor. That whole strip of Valencia between 25th and 14th or so is fun for window shopping-- check out Paxton Gate and Therapy. Bar-wise, and I know someone reading this is probably into it if you're not-- Bond Bar is bougie as hell but has great drinks and doesn't get super loud, and it's next door to fantastic pupusas. For my money the best pupusas, however, are at Balompie's, the most convenient of which is at Capp and 18th. I never had pupusas until I got to SF, but they are incredible, and you can get veg options (cheese/beans/peppers only, for example.) Ike's at 16th and Sanchez is AWESOME but it's a line around the block and kind of expensive for sub sandwiches. Vegan options aplenty, however.

Two places I have not tried-- Gracias Madre, which is vegan fine-dining, and Tartine, a fancy gourmet bakery with a line around the block every day, even weekdays. If you go, please let me know how they were.

Hopefully that meets the need!

David said...

Thanks for all of the information. I now have no excuse for not finding some fantastic vegetarian fare when I'm at ALA!