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Dining: Savor San Francisco

Frommer's best bets for culinary treats in San Francisco.
Jack Hollingsworth / SFCVC
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The Best of the City's Fine Dining: Michael Mina, 335 Powell St., Union Square (tel. 415/397-9222), is the place to go if you want to have a totally different California-cuisine, fine-dining experience where dozens of fancifully presented small portions make up a long, lavish meal. For those who've been there and done that, Campton Place, 340 Stockton St., Union Square (tel. 415/955-5555), is on top of its game with truly outstanding and absolutely beautiful European cuisine within a comfortably elegant and intimate hotel dining room. And then there's Restaurant Gary Danko, 800 North Point St., Fisherman's Wharf (tel. 415/749-2060), which is always a sure thing for a perfect contemporary French meal complete with polished service and flambé finales.

The Best of 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 Wine Country's tiny town of Yountville. Only die-hard diners need apply: You'll need to fight for a reservation two months in advance and dinner is more about the drama of the sights and tastes than it is about fun with friends around the table. A more relaxed, but absolutely outstanding 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.

Dungeness Crab and Sourdough Bread are two of San Francisco's most famous edible delights. You'll be able to sample the Sourdough virtually everywhere -- grocery stores, restaurants, and sandwich shops for the most part use exceptional bread. For a good selection, drop into any local grocer and browse the bread isle and look for brands such as Acme and Grace. What makes it different from French bread is its notable tang or sourness. (Our other breads tend to be some of the country's best as well.) Dungeness crab is our favorite seasonal delicacy. The season usually runs from November to April (with plenty of fluctuation over the years) and you can sample the fresh cracked crustaceans at most local restaurants that feature seasonal ingredients (practically every restaurant serving California cuisine or a seasonally changing menu), stalls along Fisherman's Wharf, and, least expensive, at grocery stores -- especially those along Stockton Street in Chinatown; ask the seafood purveyor to crack it for you, grab some cocktail sauce or mayo or whatever you'd like to dip it in, load up on napkins, and you've got a hell of a San Francisco treat.

A Dim Sum Feast: If you like Chinese food and the current small-plates craze you'll love to "do dim sum." Whether you duck into one of the casual storefronts with steaming baskets in the window or head to the city's best dim sum house, Ton Kiang, 5821 Geary Blvd., the Richmond (tel. 415/387-8273), you'll be delighted by the variety of dumplings and savory and sweet dishes that are offered for a few bucks each and meant to be shared.

Best Hotel Restaurant: Daniel Humm's deliciously refined and artistic Contemporary European cuisine makes Campton Place, 340 Stockton St. (tel. 415/955-5555), worth a visit regardless of where you're staying. On the other side of Market Street, Melissa Perello whips up superb French fare at Fifth Floor Restaurant in the swank Hotel Palomar, 12 Fourth St. (tel. 415/348-1555). The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, 600 Stockton St. (tel. 800/241-3333 or 415/296-7465), serves up good and seriously formal French cuisine and surroundings.

Best for Impressing Clients: Show your business associates you've got class -- and deep pockets -- by reserving a table at the Financial District's Aqua, 252 California St. (tel. 415/956-9662). It pairs rather noisy power lunching with excellent seafood and wine.

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. 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. Care less about fancy food and more about an affordable bill, festive surroundings, and awesome grub? Head straight to the Haight'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 Midas touch to whimsical Farallon, 450 Post St. (tel. 415/956-6969). The result is an orgy of oceanic artwork, from jellyfish lamps to sea urchin chandeliers. It's truly a spectacular achievement in restaurant design, although some argue that its underwater antics are over the top.

Best Wine List: Thanks to renowned sommelier Raj Parr, Michael Mina, 335 Powell St. (tel. 415/397-9222), is pouring to perfection, provided you can swallow the steep prices.

Best Pizza: Gourmands and everyday diners squeeze into North Beach's Tommaso's, 1042 Kearny St. (tel. 415/398-9696), for killer pizza and a no-frills Italian cafe atmosphere.

Best Desserts: What a decision! Your sweet tooth can be satisfied in a number of spots around town, including my all-around favorite newcomer Piperade, 1015 Battery St. (tel. 415/391-2555), which woos with astoundingly tasty orange-essence beignets and chocolate tortes; and Absinthe, 398 Hayes St. (tel. 415/551-1590), a glamorously casual and festive restaurant serving seasonal southern French cuisine and sensationally sweet finales by French pastry chef Murielle Roux.

Best Value: No other place in town serves up heaping plates of fresh pasta at penny-pinching prices the way Pasta Pomodoro, 655 Union St. (tel. 415/399-0300), does. It has other locations at 2304 Market St. (tel. 415/558-8123), 3611 California St. (tel. 415/831-0900), and 816 Irving St. (tel. 415/566-0900). Want a little more atmosphere and more sophisticated cooking with your value? Then head to Delfina, 3621 18th St. (tel. 415/552-4055).

Best Brunch: The Sunday spread at the Terrace Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, 600 Stockton St. (tel. 415/773-6198), will set your eyes popping and your feet tapping. Strut around the lavish buffet featuring sushi, caviar, freshly made blinis, and traditional egg dishes. A jazz trio brings even more joy to it all. Book well in advance. Each weekend sells out. Want something a little more low key? Then head to Ella's, 500 Presidio Ave. (tel. 415/441-5669), for some outstanding and revered breakfast food.

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). If you want to experience how rich and varied vegetables can taste, sample the extraordinary four-course menu, offered on Saturdays only.

Best Coffee Shop or Cafe: With all the wonderful coffee shops throughout this cafe town, there can be no one winner. We do, however, love the authentic atmosphere at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store, 566 Columbus Ave. (tel. 415/362-0536), and Caffè Trieste, 601 Vallejo St. (tel. 415/392-6739). If you see another cafe you like, pull up a chair and enjoy. Just do San Francisco the favor of supporting our unique (and independent) coffee culture.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit our online dining index.

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