They're on the way to nowhere, but because they're among the city's most unique, it would be a crime to leave out these destination restaurants. If you're not familiar with the streets of San Francisco, be sure to call first to get directions; otherwise, you'll spend more time driving than dining.
Thanh Long, 4101 Judah St. (at 46th Ave.; tel. 415/665-1146; www.anfamily.com; streetcar: N), is an out-of-the-way Sunset District Vietnamese standout that, long after my mom started taking me here as a tot for excellent roasted crab and addictive garlic noodles, has remained a San Francisco secret. Since the owners, the An family, have become rather famous for their aforementioned signature dishes now that they're served in sister restaurants Crustacean Beverly Hills and S.F. -- suffice to say, the crab's out of the bag. But this location is still far enough on the outskirts of the city to keep it from becoming overcrowded. The restaurant is more visually pleasing than most Southeast Asian outposts (white tablecloths, tastefully exotic decor), but the extra glitz is reflected in the prices of luxury dishes (main courses run $14-$34) such as charbroiled tiger prawns with those famed garlic noodles and steamed sea bass with scallions and ginger sauce. On the plus side, unlike the cheaper options around town, there's a full bar here, too, serving fun cocktails such as the Pineapple and Litchi vodka infusion. Reservations are recommended. Thanh Long is open Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday from 4:30 to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 4:30 to 11pm, and is closed on Mondays.
The Ramp, 855 Terry A. Francois St. (at the end of Mariposa St.; tel. 415/621-2378; www.ramprestaurant.com; bus no. 22 or 48), is an out-of-the-way mecca for seaside snacks, dancing, and drinking that's at its best when the sun is shining. If you're lucky enough to be in San Francisco on one of those rare hot days, head to this bayside hangout. The fare is of the basic pub grub variety -- burgers, sandwiches, salads, and soups from $8 to $13 -- but the rustic boatyard environment and patio seating make this a relaxing place to dine in the sun. In summer, the place really rocks when live bands perform (4:30-8:30pm Fri-Sun Apr-Oct) and tanned, cocktailing singles prowl the area. It's open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11am to 3:30pm, and for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 4pm. The bar is open until 9pm on weekdays and later on weekends. From April to October, an outdoor barbecue is offered Saturday and Sunday from 4 to 7:30pm.
Little Star Pizza, 846 Divisadero St. (at McAllister St.; tel. 415/441-1118; www.littlestarpizza.com; bus no. 5 or 24), may be on a dreary strip of busy Divisadero Street and feel like a bohemian speakeasy with its dark colored walls, low ceilings, and jukebox, but this joint is cranking out some of the best pizza in town (pictured right). You're likely to have to wait for a seat at one of the well-spaced tables and you may have to strain to chat over the music and dining din, but there's little I wouldn't endure for one of Little Star's deep dish cornmeal-crust pizzas ($11-$22). Rather than inches of dough, these pies are thin and crisp with high sides that coddle fillings such as chicken, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, sausage, and feta. These babies take about 25 minutes to bake, which is a great excuse to order chicken wings and a glass of wine for the wait. The place serves dinner Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11pm, and is closed on Mondays. Note: There's a second location in the Mission District at 400 Valencia St. at 15th Street (tel. 415/551-7827).
The Sun on Your Face at Belden Place
San Francisco has always been woefully lacking in the alfresco dining department, which may or may not have something to do with the Arctic summer fog. But Belden Place -- an adorable little brick alley in the heart of the Financial District -- defies that convention. A skinny walkway open only to foot traffic, it's a little bit of Paris just off Pine Street. Restaurants line the alley sporting big umbrellas, tables, and chairs, and, when the weather is agreeable, diners linger long after the lunch hour.
A handful of cafes line Belden Place and offer a variety of cuisines at moderate prices. There's Cafe Bastille, 22 Belden Place (tel. 415/986-5673), a classic French bistro with a boho basement that serves excellent crepes, mussels, and French onion soup; it offers live jazz on Fridays. Cafe Tiramisu, 28 Belden Place (tel. 415/421-7044), is a stylish Italian hot spot serving addictive risottos and gnocchi. Plouf, 40 Belden Place (tel. 415/986-6491), specializes in big bowls of mussels slathered in your choice of seven sauces, as well as fresh seafood. B44, 44 Belden Place (tel. 415/986-6287), serves up a side order of Spain alongside its revered paella and other seriously zesty Spanish dishes.
At night, Belden Place takes on a Euro-speakeasy vibe -- perfect for sipping aperitifs and nibbling on frites.
Fast Food from Around the World
Catering to the dense population of downtown white-collar workers, the Rincon Center's Food Court at the corner of Spear and Mission streets has about a dozen to-go places serving cheap, respectable fare running the gastronomic gamut: Korean, American, Mexican, pizza, coffee and cookies, Indian, Thai, sandwiches, Middle Eastern, and Chinese. Most of the restaurants are open Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm, but some until early evening.
Similar inexpensive eats can be found at the Ferry Building Marketplace and Justin Herman Plaza, both at the foot of Market Street at the Embarcadero. On Market and 5th streets, the Westfield San Francisco Centre has an enormous food court in its basement.