Magic Flute Ristorante 3673 Sacramento St./Spruce St., Laurel Heights. Situated within a 1914 vintage Victorian on a low-key, high-quality shopping street, this pleasant spot offers comfortable indoor tables as well as outdoor garden seating. The work of local artists colorfully decorates sponge-painted walls. Among items on the California-Italian menu are salads and pastas as well as a great cheeseburger. Housemade desserts include a killer double fudge chocolate cake and a rich, rich tiramisu.
Market & Rye 300 De Haro St./16th St., Potrero District. Though this spot can be very quiet at dinner, it rocks for brunch and lunch. Decor includes a conference table previously owned by George Lucas that is repurposed as a communal table and a black-board wall filled with celebrity-chef autographs. Board games, children’s toys, and a large TV provide entertainment. The menu includes pre-packaged salads such as crunchy Brussels sprouts, pickled yellow beets, and roasted cauliflower, but sandwiches are the mainstay. The most popular is probably the messy, crispy Cornflake Crusted Fried Chicken, but currently a Mojo Pulled Pork and a spicy Sriracha Roasted Chicken Salad are holding their own. They all go particularly well with an icy-cold beer—the coldest I’ve had since years ago in Puerto Vallarta, where it was really, really cold! Brunch items include pumpkin pancakes, a fried egg sandwich, housemade churros, and a bottomless Mimosa. A giant cinnamon bun reflects the season—in fall expect pumpkin—and is available until they run out. Unfortunately, the legendary mac & cheese grilled cheese sandwich I’ve only heard about is currently off the menu.
Marnee Thai 2225 Irving St./23rd Ave., Sunset District, (415) 665-9500; L-D W-M; $. Reservations advised. Exceptional and authentic Thai cuisine is served in a tiny room completely covered with attractive, sound-absorbing woven fibers. Especially good are the mild yellow curry dishes prepared with potatoes in a complex mixture of spices softened with coconut milk, and the stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts (tossed on after the dish is cooked, allowing them to retain their crunchiness). A side order of delicious peanut sauce and a palate-refreshing cucumber salad are recommended. Allow time before or after for shopping the produce markets and mostly Asian businesses scattered along this bustling street.
A branch is nearby at 1243 9th Ave.
Michael Mina 252 California St./Battery St., Financial District. Featuring a large dining room with a tall, tall ceiling, this sophisticated space is enhanced by gorgeous oversize flower arrangements. It is chic, bustling, and all at the same time and delivers food of equal caliber. Creative, impeccably fresh seafood dominates the surf and turf menu, using Japanese ingredients and a French influence. Some dishes involve “table theater,” with the waiter dramatically mixing and preparing items at table. In addition to fish, squab and foie gras are also on the menu. Desserts include a daily soufflé and a variety of cheeses. A seven-course tasting menu with optional wine pairings is perfect for those who just cannot decide.