Seek and ye shall find.
It is easy to stick to favorite restaurants and bars. It makes the decision making process easier, especially after a long week and all I want is a glass of wine in a comfortable place with no surprises to price or atmosphere. What I tend to forget is that the usual places I love were at one time new discoveries.
I discovered Amalie a few weeks ago. It was a night I was searching for a good glass of wine and some good cheese. I started at a place in the Financial District (or the FiDi, as it is known to those who are very busy and overscheduled and to prove it to us lesser mortals must use an acronym at every opportunity. By the way, “San Fran” drives me up the wall as well. But that’s another post. Anyway….) which was way overpriced for both the wine and the cheese plate. The portions on the cheese plate seemed to come from scraps tossed onto board as the waiter rushed by the kitchen, and wine, while good, not worth the price.
Here’s a rule of thumb I usually stick by: if the wine menu doesn’t have at least one glass of wine under $10, go somewhere else. If nothing is under $15, run like the wind. You can get good wine all over the city that won’t bust your budget.
Undaunted I searched for “best cheese plate” and Amalie came up as a favorite several times. And with good reason. It is a lively bar with a large selection of wines by the bottle and glass. The Monday night I was there the special was a bottle of wine and a cheese plate for $35. A steal. The wine was earthy with some spice, not the fruit bomb that is woefully common these days, and the cheese plate had proper portions, not the insulting dainty servings that are also far too common.
The attention to good wine and food served at a reasonable price may have something to do with the French atmosphere of Amalie, and the staff, who are also international. They take good wine and food as a birthright, as an indispensable part of life. I couldn’t agree more.
Amalie 1754 Polk Street (at Washington Street)
Open Seven Days a Week 5:30pm – 2:00am
Happy Hour From 5:30 – 7:00
Check out the wine list
My wife and I have a standing date on Friday night, known as the Wine Hour, even though it lasts longer than that. The Hotel Biron is one of our favorite destinations.
It has a great wine list with about 50 wines, about half by the glass. The pours are generous, but unless you’re going to sample several different wines (which I endorse) , I would suggest telling the bartender (winetender?) what you like, ask for a taste, and if it is good, buy the bottle. The glass to bottle price at the Hotel Biron makes it a deal. There are 5 glasses to a bottle, so if your group, (or just you) are going to have at least three glasses, get the bottle. You can cork the leftover and take it with you.
This is one of those places off the tourist path. It is a small, brick lined place that is not on a main street and doesn’t have a big sign blaring its location. It also doubles as an art gallery, and has interesting pieces on the wall. The last time I was there the one piece I really wanted had already been spoken for. Fortunately, there was wine to ease my pain.
45 Rose St., Near Market and Gough 415-703-0403
Located on Columbus Ave, just up the street from the Cafe Zoetrope and down from Broadway, The Maritime Wine Tasting Studio a nice place to relax and enjoy a wide variety of wine. The company started out as wine importers and producers. The staff has a passion and knowledge of wine, so tell them what you like, and they’ll find something to please you. They’re smart people, so ask any question you’ve had about wine. Aside from the reasonably priced wines by the glass, they also have an all-day happy hour special wine that is a great deal. And if you like what you drink, you can buy a bottle.
Maritime Wine Tasting Studio, 222 Columbus Ave, Phone: 415-861-1139
If you’re staying downtown, there are many good reasons to hop on the N-Judah street car and take a quick ride to Cole Valley, and the Inner Sunset. There you will experience San Francisco neighborhoods that most visitors miss, and restaurants and wine bars locals love.
Get off the N-Judah at Carl and Cole, and Inovino is steps away. Inovino is an intimate wine bar that has great food and wine, and is especially a deal at happy hour (from 4-6 weekdays, 3-6 Saturday, closed Sunday).
The owner, Claudio, is a master Sommelier with years of experience at some of the best restaurants and hotels in Europe and the US. Where ever he has worked, critics raved over the wine list. Now you can experience his expertise in a casual, neighborhood atmosphere.
Inovino, 108 Carl St., 681-3770
A quick trip on the N Judah train (aka streetcar) from downtown takes you to the Inner Fog wine bar, a great neighbor hangout with an outstanding happy hour deal.
First up is the Inner Fog at 545 Irving in the Inner Sunset. Take the N Judah, get off at 7th Ave, and it’s right across the street. The Inner Fog is great anytime, but from 4-6 Monday through Friday, you can get some terrific wine for only $5 a glass. My favorite (and the favorite of many) is the “Crackbird.” Actually a blend named “Blackbird,” it has proved so deliciously addictive that it was renamed on the menu. I cannot think of a better deal.
And if you can’t make it for happy hour, come anyway. The wines are always good and reasonably priced. And they have beer, if that’s your beverage. And there are small snack plates if you’re hungry. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and the place itself is smallish and inviting.
If you want to brag that you’ve gone off the beaten path, and without much effort (the N is really speedy from any downtown MUNI station), head into the Inner Fog.
Tommy’s Mexican out at 24th/Geary is one of those off the beaten path places that you’ll love, and be able to boast about visiting when you get back home.
While the restaurant is good, the real draw is the small bar serving up 100’s of tequilas. Personally, I like the house margaritas, which are made with quality tequila and fresh limes–no premixed stuff.
The place is small, so get there’s early if you want to be sure you get a seat. But even if you don’t, the atmosphere is so friendly that you won’t mind standing.
Julio, (pictured) is the owners’ son, and the mastermind behind creating “The Greatest Tequila Bar on Earth.” He has been featured in numerous magazines and television show. If Julio is there when you are, he will treat you like a friend and long time regular.
It’s out in the little-visted Richmond district (out in the Avenues, as we say), but easy access from down town on the 38 Geary bus. And you’ll want to take public transportation, because you should never drive in San Francisco anyway, but especially after enjoying the best margaritas you’ll ever have.
Fisherman’s Wharf, like any other tourist destination in the world, has overpriced food, and even more overpriced water. A bottle of water will set you back a $1 if you’re lucky, but more likely $2 or more. And the restaurants are, for the most part, over priced and mediocre quality.
Fortunately, if you walk 2 blocks off the wharf, you can save money, and eat better.
At the corner of 401 Bay St. at Mason, there is a Trader Joe’s. For 19 cents you can get a bottle that would cost $1.50 on the wharf. And the bigger bottles are an even better deal. You can also buy sandwiches, salads and snacks.
If you want to sit down to eat, there is the Cafe Francisco (2161 Powell at Francisco). No only is the food good and reasonably priced, it is a local’s hang out. Down the block at 2257 Mason at Francisco is the Taqueria San Jose, which serves up great burritos, tacos, and other Mexican food.
This is a rule everywhere in the world—2 blocks off the main tourist street, you find local treasures.
I’m always looking for restaurants the will give guests to San Francisco “bragging rights.” By that I mean a restaurant the is off the tourist path of usual suspects (many of which are good–such as Tony’s Pizza and Cafe Zeotrope), and when you talk about your vacation later, you’ll be able to boast you ate a place very few tourists, and even few locals, know about.
Cajun Pacific is just that sort of restaurant. It is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The menu changes weekly and is posted on Wednesday. It is small, and far out on the
western edge of the city. Go three more blocks, and you’re in the ocean.
Reservations are highly recommended. And it is an easy ride (about 25 minutes) to get out there on the N Judah, which you can pick up downtown under Market St.
Take the trip and treat yourself to great Cajun food, a San Francisco experience, and bragging rights about finding a hidden gem.
Cajun Pacific Restaurant
4542 Irving Street @ 47th Avenue, in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset
Nduja (“en-doo-ya”) is spreadable salami, and perfectly spiced. If you have never had it, and probably haven’t, you should. You can pick it up (and other porky treats) at Boccalone in the Ferry Building. (The Ferry Building is at the foot of Market St. on the Embarcadero.) In a city known for food, Nduja is a standout. When I serve it as an appetizer at dinner parties, it’s always a hit and there are never any leftovers. Get some with a loaf of sourdough bread or crackers, and treat yourself. Buy some to take back home. As a matter of fact, buy two: one to share, and one all for yourself.