Nettie’s Crab Shack
2032 Union Street (near Buchanan), 415-409-0300, www.nettiescrabshack.com, Monday 11 a.m.–3 p.m., Wednesday–Sunday 11 a.m.–9 p.m. (Friday–Saturday until 10 p.m.)
Though it’s a little newer and cleaner than the New England crab shacks I’ve been to, and the food is more West Coast than East Coast, Nettie’s has become a staple on Union Street for fresh, creative seafood dishes (and, of course, whole crab, steamed or roasted). Sit on the big front porch in the sun (or under a heat lamp if it’s chilly) and do some people watching over one of the excellent cocktails (I’m rather fond of the High Tea, described on the menu as “a drunk Arnold Palmer.”) You’ll also find a small, well chosen international wine list by the glass and bottle as well as beer on tap, in bottles, by the bucket, and PBR in a can.
Not to Miss: The menu changes seasonally, but recent favorites include Dungeness crab deviled eggs; red fish and shellfish chowder in a smoky broth; fish and chips (made with flaky, tender Anchor-Steam-battered true cod); and a blackened trout BLT. I’m always a sucker for childhood favorites, so the butterscotch pudding and the fried-to-order funnel cake are my desserts of choice.
Tip: Be sure to check the chalkboard for a daily selection of oysters on the half shell and fish specials (order the pan-fried local sand dabs if they’re available).
2348 Polk Street (at Union), 415-929-1183, www.lemongrasssf.com, Monday–Thursday 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday–Saturday 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Since 1994, chef-owner Toi Sawatdee has risen each morning before the sun and headed off to the markets to gather fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, and seafood for the day’s menu. Named a Top Woman Chef in Northside San Francisco’s 2007 “Best of Food & Wine” issue, Sawatdee is not only a talented cook, she is a charming host, and the ambiance at Lemongrass reflects her serene approach to cooking as well as her guests. Sawatdee’s food is a level above the average Thai restaurant and Lemongrass rates as my favorite place for Thai in San Francisco (along with Marnee Thai).
Not to Miss: Crispy rice salad; Thai stick-marinated prawns (wrapped in a crepe and deep fried); mieng kum (roasted coconut, peanuts, ginger, and red onions served with spinach greens for wrapping); and curries, from her signature pumpkin to a green version with salmon.
Tip: Order online for quick, free delivery to your home or business. (Lemongrass also does corporate and private catering.)
1412 Polk Street (at California), 415-359-1236, www.darbarsf.com, daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
This Indian/Pakistani cuisine is a cut above the average and features Halal meat and a wide array of vegetarian offerings using fresh ingredients and spiced to order. Fantastic dal, chicken tikka masala and lahori choley (chickpeas slow-cooked in a spicy sauce). Darbari wraps make a quick, healthful lunch, featuring tandoori meat or chicken (Pakistani-style barbecue in a traditional clay oven), grilled fish, or herbed mixed vegetables topped with chutney, lettuce and cucumber inside fresh naan — they’re tasty, filling and priced around $6.
Not to Miss: The popular all-you-can-eat lunch buffet features 10 courses that include three meat and three vegetarian entrees, fresh-baked naan, rice, salad, and dessert, for $7.99.
Tip: The party platter offers a great sampling of authentic dishes for offices or private gatherings and feeds 30 people for just $10 each.