Where to Eat: My List of Really Good and Surprisingly Affordable San Francisco Restaurants

Sea vegetable salad (left), horenso ohistashi (right) at Umi, a small, charming Japanese restaurant on Potrero Hill


I have to confess that I eat out, probably more than is good for me, and certainly more than my modest budget rationally can afford. But, you know what, I enjoy it, so I’ll no doubt continue! Partly it’s that I spent ten years working in restaurants and that I still find the business fascinating. And partly it’s that I’m curious to explore new tastes, new techniques and new cuisines. In twenty two years of living in San Francisco, I developed a repertoire of modest places where one gets very good food at fair prices. Just for the fun of it, I’d like to share with you some of my San Francisco haunts where I return often, even though I no longer live around the corner.

My little list consists of places where you’ll always get fresh, interesting, well-priced food. They are clean and pleasant, and they offer good options for vegetarians. Please keep in mind that restaurants can change over night, so before you go, it might be wise to check on line or call ahead to confirm menus and hours. (Click on the restaurant’s name to go to its web site). And so, organized by neighborhood, here’s my list…


Le Soliel–My favorite neighborhood Vietnamese place. A cut above, both in decor and food.  Everything is good, but the imperial rolls are the best in the city, wrapped in lettuce, with mint and Thai basil tucked in, and dipped in a fabulous sauce. Great fun to eat. Open daily from 11 a.m.  133 Clement Street (between 2nd and 3rd), 415-668-4848.

Empero Taste–This place used to be called Best Panda, and to me it always will be. We celebrated my 60th birthday here–and a great feast it was.  Busy at lunch with a crowd of Chinese workers, packed with families at night and weekends. This place offers tremendous value.  Specializing in sea food, but with plenty of fresh vegetable options. 4052 Balboa (corner of 42nd Ave.). 415-876-3298.


Kasa–For ten or eleven dollars you’ll get a filling and completely satisfying plate of Indian food.  Fast food at its best, you order at the counter and watch while your plate is put together.  Clean, contemporary decor. Open continuously from 11 a.m. daily. 4001 18th St. (at Noe). 415-621-6940.  Also in the Marina at 3115 Fillmore (at Filbert).

Chow–I’ve eaten here frequently since it opened in 1997 and never been disappointed. California-Italian, with pizza, pasta, soups, salads, meats and well prepared vegetables. Menu changes seasonally.  Not-to-be-missed gingerbread cake. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner beginning at 8 a.m. 215 Church St. (at Market). 415-552-2469.  Also in the Inner Sunset at 1240 9th Ave. East Bay stores in Lafayette and Danville.


Farina–Italian, from the Liguria region, Farina’s house-made breads and pastas are wonderfully light and fresh. Contemporary decor, and pleasant outdoor seating with a view of the colorful murals on the Women’s Building across the street. Open for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Sunday brunch 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 3560 18th St. (between Guerrero and Valencia). 415-565-0361.

Regalito–A “little gift” in Spanish, and a small but inviting place it is, with an open kitchen, counter, and a few tables. Everything here is smart and contemporary.  Quality comes in the form of free range meats and organic vegetables, with a compact menu that avoids most Mexican restaurant cliches. Open for dinner daily 5-10 p.m. and brunch/lunch from 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. 3481 18th St. (between Valencia and Mission). 415-503-0650.


Aperto–A neighborhood California-Italian place with a limited menu of pastas, salads, sandwiches, fish and meats, always cooked just right. Come for lunch. Dinner, when the compact space is busy, can feel cramped. Good Wines. Open for lunch Mondays through Fridays 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for brunch on Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 10 a.m. on Sundays.  Open for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 5 p.m. on Sundays. 1434 18th St. (at Connecticut). 415-252-1036. They opened recently in Oakland’s Glenview neighborhood at 4238 Park Blvd.

Umi–Simple decor, brief but appealing menu. Sushi and sashimi, as well as some cooked Japanese menu favorites. I really like this place (see the photos)! Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner from 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. 1328 18th St. (near Missouri). 415-355-1328.


Ananda Fuara— The only vegetarian restaurant on this list proves that followers of a spiritual teacher (Sri Chinmoy in this case) can indeed run a successful restaurant. Peaceful, pleasant, busy, Ananda Fuara offers a menu of vegetarian standbys consistently well-prepared and efficiently served. Open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, except for a 3 p.m. closing on Wednesdays.  Closed Sundays, and for two weeks in April and August. Corner of Market and Larkin, at 9th St. 415-621-1994.

Lers Ros–Many people have called this the best Thai restaurant in the Bay Area.  I don’t know about that, but I do think it is really good.  It’s main attraction is an extensive menu which ranges much beyond the usual  twenty or thirty items you’ll find at most Thai restaurants.  While the lunch specials are well-priced, I’d order off the regular menu where the choices are a lot more interesting. 11 a.m. to midnight daily. It’s located at 930 Larkin St. (between Ellis and O’Farrell), in a neighborhood now known as Little Saigon, and because of the many nearby Vietnamese sandwich shops, restaurants and pho places, the area is a lot less dicey than it used to be. 415-931-6917.


Out the Door–I’ve been a fan of Charles Phan’s Slanted Door since it was a little place on Valencia St., but their new, glitzy restaurant in the Ferry Building is pricy and a reservation can be hard to come by. Their lower-priced version, Out the Door, located on the lower level of the huge Westfield Shopping Center on Market St. between 4th and 5th Streets, offers another option. Order their unique daikon rice cakes or any of an array of noodle soups, stir fries, salads, entrees, all first-rate. And note that they serve organic short grain brown rice. Out the Door is a sit-down restaurant, but the other options in this food court are above average for fast food, mostly locally owned ethnic restaurants, rather than the usual mall suspects. Open daily 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., except for an 8 p.m. closing on Sundays. 415-541-9913.

Delica–It’s no wonder the food here tastes so Japanese, as Delica is an outpost of a Japanese chain.  The concept here is take out, but there is some seating in the store and more nearby in and around the Ferry Building.  I especially like the potato and the shrimp croquettes and salads such as hijiki and edamame, and spicy burdock.  Create your own or buy a ready-made bento. Another case where fast food is good food. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.  Located in the Ferry Building at the foot of Market St. 415-834-0344. They have a smaller store in the Japan Center, Japantown.

Note: I hope to expand and update this list from time to time.

Unagi donburi, at Umi on Potrero Hill


4 responses

  1. Thank you, Gary, for this wonderful and useful list! I know that if you say the food is good, it will be! I’ll pass this list on to my family when they come to visit. They love good food, and even better, good food at a reasonable price!

    • Thanks SkyAnn, Recommending restaurants is always a little nerve wracking, because people can have such differing experiences in the same restaurant. But, these are all places where I’ve dined numerous times and been happy. What more can I say?

  2. Thank you for being so honest and genuine about your eating out in Restaurants. Your description with regards to types of restaurant allowed me to eat out more. Thank you for that suggestion. I like reasonable places to go and eat, that have good food.

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