Last year as part of my coverage of Web 2.0 Expo for Centernetworks I wrote a post offering a guide to San Francisco near the Moscone Center. This post is an updated version of that post, written in advance of the 2009 Web 2.0 Expo here in San Francisco but I hope it will be a resource for anyone visiting San Francisco for a conference. Please add other finds and feedback in the comments below.
This is not intended to be comprehensive there are literally 100’s of restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels within a half mile of the Moscone Center in San Franciso. Rather this guide is a list of a small, selective set of restaurants, cafes, and a few bars which are notable and worth trying. These are places that as a local to San Francisco I return to frequently, these are the restaurants where I personally entertain – whether it be for an afternoon meeting over coffee, a light dinner with friends, a professional working dinner or a business entertaining event. My focus is mostly on great spots for coffee or daytime meetings and on dinner. I will include a few suggestions for lunch but often at a conference lunch is part of the conference – and since the networking over confernce lunches can often be the most valuable networking I would, reluctantly, recommend that you eat the bad food in the interest of the networking.
But perhaps chase the conference lunch with great coffee or tea at one of the places I suggest below.
With one exception I am also concentrating on locations which work well for events during the week, most of these places are open every day during the week (but I would always recommend calling and making a reservation for professional dinners).
Around the Moscone Center is not the best of places in San Francisco for working breakfasts, any number of local hotels offer acceptable business breakfast meeting options, near to the Moscone I would recommend XYZ at the W hotel (181 3rd St – 3rd & Howard inside of the W Hotel).
A less formal and lighter option, but one I would highly recommend, is the nearby Blue Bottle Cafe (66 Mint St – corner of Mint & Jessie, between Mission & Market just after 5th St, Mon-Fri 7-7, Sat 8-6, Sun 8-4) which offers a small but seasonal and very good selection of breakfast food along with their world renowned coffee. This is serious, film crews come from Japan to shoot all day long, barrista’s compete in national competitions level coffee and they offer coffee & preparations to serve all tastes. One strong suggestion taste the cappucino’s and lattes before you doctor them – they really don’t need any sugar. Blue Bottle’s Cafe is, I think, one of the absolute best cafes anywhere in the world. I have been known to take multiple contacts to Blue Bottle in the course of a single conference day – last year I went there at least three times in one day with three different business contacts. Besides great breakfast foods they offer great if also highly selective food options (always light and seasonal) during the course of the day.
If your conference continues into the weekend my suggestion is that you take some time on Saturday morning to get breakfast at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market (Building with a big clock tower at the end of Market St on the water. A short taxi ride or a manageable walk from most conference hotels or the Moscone Center). Widely considered one of the finest farmer’s markets in the country the market starts at 8:30, though some stalls will be set up earlier. I highly recommend arriving before 10am as the market quickly gets crowded. It continues until 2pm on Saturday. Inside of the Ferry Building are many great local shops and markets which are open 7 days a week. Blue Bottle Coffee has kiosks they operate during the Farmers Market (and they are opening up a full cafe in the Ferry Building later in 2009). Of course you can spend hours shopping at the many local (and mostly all organic) stalls each with a seasonal selection. A few highlights I recommend to my guests: Flying Disc Ranch – for an amazing selection of locally grown dates; Frog Hollow Farms – they have a stall inside so are available 7 days a week, Frog Hollow is I think the best orchard in the Bay Area and offer amazing seasonal stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, apricots), pears, Meyer lemons and more. Year round they have great jams and marmalades which I frequently give as gifts; Primavera – a locally run organic Mexican restaurant only open on Saturdays during the Farmer’s Market (located in the far corner by the water) they offer a small selection of handmade from market ingrediants Mexican breakfast and lunch items each day (homemade tamales, varieties of chiliquiles and much more). This is regional Mexican cooking most likely unlike anything you have had unless you have traveled extensively in Mexico.
A breakfast meeting at the Farmer’s Market will not be a quite or entirely private one but I can think of few better or more energizing ways to start my Saturday morning.
Meetings during the daytime
As I noted above, Blue Bottle Cafe is a great option, one I turn to frequently.
For non-coffee drinkers, or just for a great change of pace, I recommend Samovar Tea Room inside of Yerba Beuna Gardens (730 Howard St. Literally above the Moscone North, stairs are just to the left of the conference entrance. Sun – Wed 10-8, Thurs-Sat 10-9). Samovar serves amazing teas accompanied by a great selection of light food. This is a calm, peaceful oasis above the Yerba Beuna Waterfall and sitting above the Moscone North entrance. This is not where to go for a fast, quick, hurried meal. But it is a great spot to take a break from a conference and to have a highly civilized and usually productive business conversation. My personal preference is to meet at Somovar in the afternoon, after lunchtime. For small groups Samovar is also a good option for post-conference dinner. Not a heavy meal but a tasty one and not a place to drink (other than great teas).
For a great lunch option, as well as a good place to have daytime working lunch during a conference I have three suggestions just a few blocks from the Moscone Center. All three are part of the Westfield San Francisco which is just blocks from the Moscone between 4th & 5th and between Market & Mission.
First, ‘Wichcraft (866 Mission St at 5th) which though it is a small scale national chain and owned by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (of Bravo’s Top Chef fame) is also a purveyer of amazingly tasty sandwiches. For the quality and flavor, one of the real bargains for lunch in the city. They close relatively early but are a great option for lunch or a quick, early casual dinner. They have plenty of seating and even a large party can usually seat together at one of their large communal tables.
Second, Out the Door (basement level of the Westfield Center). Ignore the minimalist website, Out the Door is the more casual spinoff of the world renowned Slanted Door restaurant, one of the finest Vietnamese restaurants in the country (and also at times one of the hardest to get a reservation at). Out the Door offers quick and very tasty Vietnamese food, prepared artfully and skillfully and served in their large and spacious dining room. A great option for a group of nearly any size for lunch and just blocks from the Moscone. They are also open for early dinner, though I prefer them for lunch. The food court in the basement level of the Westfield Center is a very good one (much better I think than the food court in the Metreon) with options for any palate. I personally like Coriander which offers very tasty Thai food, had lunch there today in fact.
Third, Straits (4th floor of the Westfield Center). Straits offers upscale Singaporan food, though it is a small scale chain (here in CA, Atlanta and later in 2009 Houston) I highly recommend them for great and unusual food. In particular I like Straits for working business lunches. They are not cheap, but the quality is very high and though they are in a Mall (albeit a mall which cost some $440M to rennovate) once inside Straits is a great restaurant for working lunches (not working as in open up the laptops, working as in serious conversations over good food and if you want great drinks). They are open for dinner, though I prefer them as a working lunch venue (late night at times they turn into a nightclub).
San Francisco is a food and restaurant town, there are 100’s of restaurants, dozens of great ones throughout San Francisco. Here are a few of my absolute favorites, places I take people to frequently.
For a serious dinner with clients, over great food and drink, here are my top suggestions in SOMA.
Town Hall (343 Howard on the corner of Fremont, Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30, Sun-Thur 5;30-10, Fri-Sat 5:30-11). Townhall offers amazing, contemporary food in a venue that is also exceptionally well designed. Great food at a price which is a great value for the quality and service. They also have a private dining room which can handle up to 40 people seated or 80 people for a standing reception ($1000 min for lunch, $2000 min for dinner, offers full audio-visual capabilities and Internet access). One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco and a place I suggest to locals and visators alike.
Salt House (Mission between 1st & 2nd; open Mon-Thur 11:30-11, Fri 11:30-12, Sat 5:30-12, Sun 5-9:30). Salthouse offers contemporary American food, locally and seasonally sourced, with a fantastic selection and level of quality. It can be a bit loud so is best for relatively small groups, no more than about 6, but offers some of the absolute best food in San Francisco. I have business contacts who insist on a visit to Salt House everytime they are in San Francisco and I’m more than happy to comply.
or Anchor & Hope (83 Minna St, just off of 2nd, Mon-Fri 11:30-2, Sun-Thur 5;30-10, Fri-Sat 5:30-11). The third restaurant from the trio who founded Town Hall and Salt House, this is their take on a contempory American seafood shack. Currently top on my list of restaurants to try next, given the amazing quality of their other two restaurants I feel very comfortable recommending Anchor and Hope.
There are other great options, but these are three of my favorites in SOMA for serious food all great options for a small business dinner.
For a large group dinner, especially on a budget, my goto suggestion in SOMA is Canton Seafood and Dim Sum (655 Folsom St on the corner of Hawthorne betwee 3rd and 2nd, Mon-Sun 10:30-9:30). For lunch and on the weekends they offer cart service Dim Sum at very reasonable prices and of exceptional quality. But what I really love going to Canton for is to bring a large group for a banquet. They can almost literally accomodate any sized group (upstairs they have a dining room that seats up to 450+ people, downstairs they seat up to 300, though a reservation is advised). I generally modify one of the banquet menus ending up with a 7+ course feast, including Dim Sum (which I request as a substitute for other appetizers and fried rice) for a price of about $25/person. Typically this feast includes a whole fish, Peking Duck, Salt & Pepper Crabs and more. Amazing, tasty food, very reasonably priced with inexpensive drinks and friendly service. I’ve had dozens of groups events at Canton Seafood over the past few years and have never once been disappointed – and they have done great whether I’m dining with a few friends or have brought 100+ people.
Professional networking quality drinks
San Francisco has many great bars and has become well known for some of the most serious wine bars and serious mixed drink bars in the country. If that interests you, I encourage you to do further research (or leave suggestions here as a comment) but here are a few great to know about venues nearby to the Moscone Center.
House of Shields (39 New Mongomery between Market and Mission, New Montgomery is between 3rd and 2nd, Mon-Fri 2pm-2am, Sat 7pm-2am, closed Sun). A 100+ year old San Francisco institution. Not the fanciest of drinking estabilishments by far, but a goto establishment for afterwork, post-conference networking over cheap drinks. Not fancy, but also likely a spot where many speakers at tech conferences may end up (and certainly a spot favored by locals).
The Press Club SF (20 Yerba Beuna Lane, just off of Market across from Yerba Beuna Gardens between 3rd and New Montgomery, tasting room hours Mon-Thur 4-9, Fri 4-10, Sat 2-10, closed Sun). An urban wine tasting room, this large space features 8 bars serving wines from 8 different wineries, with representatives from each winery pouring the wine. They also have a selection of light foods to pair with the wines and upstairs a retail store featuring wines from all 8 wineries. For business purposes besides being a very upscale place for after conference drinks and conversations, they also have a private dining room/boardroom with full a/v which can be rented for private events. During Web 2.0 Expo they are closed for a private event on April 1st.
These are my suggestions. As I stated, I’m sure many of you reading this have others. I hope this is helpful, please leave your own experiences and suggestions below in the comments.