Tadich Grill 240 California St./Battery St., Financial District. Begun in another location in 1849 as a coffee stand, this San Francisco institution has been here since 1967 and is California’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation. With dark wood walls, a long wooden dining counter, and private enclosed booths, it has an old-fashioned clubby feel and is a cozy place to be on a rainy day. The wait to get in can be long, but persevere. Then be wise and order simple, unsauced dishes. Pan-fried fish (my favorite is the petrale sole) is particularly good and served with housemade tartar sauce. Everyone gets a hunk of the classic sourdough bread. Steaks and chops are on the menu, Hangtown fry--scrambled eggs, bacon, and oysters--is available, and the housemade rice pudding has been on the menu for more than 100 years. Old fashioned drinks made from scratch include Manhattans, martinis, and Bloody Marys.
TAP415 865 Market St./5th St., in Westfield San Francisco Centre on 4th floor under the dome, Union Square.
Tartine Bakery 600 Guerrero St./18th St., Mission District. This small bakery-cafe is famous for its huge loaves of country-style bread made with organic ingredients and wild yeasts. The bread is used for toast at breakfast and in sandwiches at lunch. A line generally snakes out the door, and seating space is limited and parking space difficult to find. Still, everything is so delicious that patrons seem not to mind. Pastries include an exquisite sugary morning bun, a jewel of an éclair, and the flakiest of croissants. Loaves of bread are available for purchase only after 4 p.m. The best plan of attack is to have one person get in the order line while another holds a table, preferably while sipping a drink purchased quickly at the back counter. One of the oversize sandwiches--the croque monsieur is popular and ready immediately, while other pressed hot sandwiches require a 10-minute wait--plus a dessert pastry can easily fill two diners. Organic ingredients, local eggs, and Niman Ranch meats are used.
ThirstyBear Brewing Company 661 Howard St./3rd St., South of Market. San Francisco’s only certified organic brewpub has several seating areas in a large, open room of concrete floors and vintage brick walls—it is industrial yet cozy--plus an upstairs area with pool tables. Ordering a 3-ounce taster of each of the nine house brews, which include the popular Polar Bear pilsner and Brown Bear English-style ale, is a good idea. It will probably be impossible to pick a favorite until all are sampled, and by then most people forget which is which and have to start over--or come back again. Cocktails, single malt scotches, and housemade Sangria are also options. The menu features modern rustic Spanish cuisine, including tapas--boquerones (fresh Spanish anchovies) and gambas (sautéed garlic prawns)—plus paellas and desserts (don’t miss the classic Spanish churros with chocolate dipping sauce). Video tour of brew area.
Live flamenco performances are scheduled on Sunday evenings.
Tommaso’s 1042 Kearny St./Broadway, North Beach.
Town Hall 342 Howard St./Fremont St., South of Market. Sitting in the wide-open, high-ceilinged main dining room here is the best, but when the place is jammin’, a communal table near the bar is a good alternative to a long wait. The historic brick building it is within is the former Marine Electric warehouse, built just after the 1906 quake. Floors are stained the color of dark chocolate, and handmade wooden tables and chairs plus original brick walls add to the inviting mood. Starter specialties include seafood chowder with housemade sourdough crackers, and steamed mussels in Old Bay tomato broth. Should scrumptious wild mushroom lasagna be among the choices on the ever-changing, mostly American menu, don’t hesitate. Desserts are homey and special—warm pineapple upside down cake, pear-and-sour cherry crisp, butterscotch pot de crème—and the hot chocolate made with Parisian cocoa is like velvet.
Trattoria Pinocchio 401 Columbus Ave./Vallejo St., North Beach.