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  • October 15, 2006
  • News

For Meals Under $25, Go Where the Tourists Don’t

by Gregory Dicum
October 15, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO is justifiably famous for the variety and the excellence of its restaurants. But as a visitor, particularly one looking for both a great meal and a good deal, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that you’ve somehow not quite found what you’re looking for. The tourist traps near Fisherman’s Wharf and most of the dizzying array of restaurants in visitor-heavy areas like North Beach rely on a stream of out-of-towners, most of whom will never come again. Instead, head for San Francisco’s eclectic neighborhoods, where restaurants have to compete for repeat customers in one of the country’s most restaurant-savvy cities.

The four restaurants below will provide you with inventive and satisfying meals, all for under $25 a person, drinks included. Each of these is good enough to anchor an afternoon or evening’s explorations of its neighborhood.

When San Franciscans indulge in a bit of restaurant trendiness, it’s usually with good reason. Delfina, an haute-Tuscan outpost in the Mission District that has been mobbed ever since it opened in 1998, is out of our price range. Which is why the owners, Anne and Craig Stoll (who was a James Beard Award nominee last year), opened Pizzeria Delfina next door in the summer of 2005.

Pizzeria Delfina’s cheerful and bright, if cozy, interior spills out on warm nights to a bustling sidewalk scene, where you can sample small, carefully crafted Neapolitan-inspired pizzas featuring a crisp, hair-thin base surrounded by thick, chewy crust. Toppings are sublimely fresh and carefully composed in a limited number of idealized combinations. The margherita ($11) could not be better, with a sauce redolent of tomatoes just off the vine, and soft wads of mozzarella. More complicated pies, like clam ($16) and broccoli rabe ($12.75), fit diverse ingredients tightly. Sharp, bitter salads like the tricolore ($8) or tuna conserva ($9) make perfect complements to the pizza. Both are bright and cleanly scented with olive oil. A glass of wine like the 2005 nero d’Avola Adesso ($5.25; $20 for a bottle) rounds out a meal still light enough to allow for a Bellwether ricotta cannoli ($4.25), which on its own is worth a visit: this firecracker of crisp, cinnamony pastry bursts with a fluffy, lemony interior studded with roasted pistachios. Pair it with a glass of Castellare vin santo ($5.50), and you’ll see what it takes to make a restaurant trendy in San Francisco.

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