Don't have the cash flow right now to try any of the cool new restaurants you read about? Or simply can't muster up the planning skills to book weeks in advance? Here are a few recommendations for inexpensive, accessible alternatives to five of the hottest new places in town.
1) Keiko À Nob Hill/Nombe: After selling their Michelin-starred El Paseo in Mill Valley to Tyler Florence and Sammy Hagar, chef Keiko Takahashi and her husband Seigo Takei have moved their Japanese-French fare into an elegant Nob Hill home. Eight courses of what Bauer refers to as "feminine delicacy and airy presentation" will run you $88, with a wine pairing option for $78. If you're looking for a similar style of food at a lower price, try Nombe, where Nori Sugie came on earlier this year. He applies the skill in European and Asian fine dining honed at Asiate (New York) and Charlie Trotter's (Chicago) into an izakaya menu. A seven-course kaiseki including what Sugie calls "elevated" techniques is just $34.95, and co-owner Gil Payne will happily geek out with you over his extensive sake selection.
2) Quince/Mr. Pollo: Michael Bauer recently welcomed Quince to his elite four-star club, raving about the increased elegance of the room, playful food (including a current dish called Green Eggs and Jambon), and service alike — all no doubt making this already-tough reservation even more difficult to snag. The four-course, market-driven tasting menu runs $95, while nine courses are $140. If the ambience is absolutely secondary to the food, why not adventure to one of the four tables at Mr. Pollo in the Mission? All of them afford front-row seats to watching Manny Torres Gimenez preparing a nightly four-course, market-fresh menu for $20. The Columbian-Californian fare features whole lambs and goats butchered on-site—a skill he honed in the kitchens of Quince and Coi.
3) Saison/AQ: He's vigorously defended his ingredients and his fiery techniques, but there's no denying Joshua Skenes' nearly $500 tasting menu at Saison is a splurge. AQ also takes an approach to seasonality, and it's serious enough to extend from the plate to the restaurant's design details, which morph every three months. But you don't have to pass the bar or get engaged or have some other insanely once-in-a-lifetime special occasion moment to justify eating out at a restaurant where entrees cap out at $25.
4) Wo Hing General Store/South Sea Seafood Village: Chinese food of any sort is still stupidly scarce in the Mission, which might be why well-heeled Missionites love to love on the dumplings, ribs and other Chinese street food-inspired dishes at Wo Hing General Store. Follow the Chinese expats out to South Sea Seafood Village where you can anthropomorphize the crab or lobster of your choice before it ends up steaming and surrounded by condiments on your plate. They've also got authentic versions of a lot of Wo Hing's treats for about half the price. True, you'll be sacrificing Brooke Arthur's cocktail program, but South Sea rocks a very impressive tea selection and your choice of ceremonies. Don't be too cool to go to the Sunset.
5) Nopalito/The Little Chihuahua: This week's newly opened Nopalito in the Inner Sunset has drawn quite the lines for cinnamon- and beer-braised carnitas—even as the price for a not-gargantuan portion runs over $15. Sticker values are comfortably lower yet the fare is still organic at The Little Chihuahua, where the wait is (almost) never more than a hungry someone can bear. If the evening calls for a glass of wine or if there aren't any seats left at the Chihuahua, order the food to go and take it over to Vinyl Wine Bar, which is essentially kitty-corner, and has more of a trendy, night-time feel.