Bay Tripper: It's easy for food lovers to leave their hearts in San Francisco. It's even easier for them to leave their wallets there.
But when I visit, I don't blow big bucks eating in this town's world-class restaurants. I head for North Beach and Chinatown, in search of the best Italian and Chinese food on the continent.
Here are three recent finds:
Navigating through Chinatown (it's the largest outside of Asia) can be a daunting experience. But you can pull into Great Eastern Restaurant, at 649 Jackson Street, just east of Grant, with perfect confidence.
This busy, bustling place features seafood, and the chef knows what to do with it. You'll see all sorts of creatures swimming in tanks -- not only the usual prawns, lobster and flounder, but abalone, frog and geoduck as well.
Adventurous diners can try the likes of sautéed fresh frog with smoked ham ($17), goose chitterlings with preserved mustard greens ($14) and duck tongue with XO sauce ($10). For the timid, there's scallops with stuffed shrimp ($16), sizzling chicken clay pot ($8) and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce ($7).
Open until 1 a.m., seven days a week, it's a good place to fill up after the concert or show.
Chinatown's dim sum brunches are like nothing you've seen. On weekends, dim sum restaurants can look like a madhouse: masses of people, high-decibel clatter and a carousel of carts wheeling around a cavernous room, bearing noontime goodies.
To get the genuine experience, make your way to New Asia, at 772 Pacific, between Grant and Stockton.
Unless you get here when the doors open, you can expect to wait. (The big crush comes between noon and 1 p.m.) But you won't mind waiting for the terrific dumplings, buns, sticky rice, veggies or noodles. (Or, if you prefer, steamed chicken feet and beef intestine soup.) The shrimp dumplings are especially delicate and delicious. And don't miss the gin duy dessert, a sesame-studded pastry filled with sweetened bean paste.
The price is also right. For $35, my family of four staggered out of here swearing they'd never eat again. But make sure you bring cash -- New Asia doesn't take credit cards during dim sum hours.
One of the more decadent things you can enjoy on vacation is breakfast in the hotel room. If you're anywhere near North Beach, get your in-room coffee maker started and walk over to Liguria Bakery, at 1700 Stockton, on the corner of Filbert.
This family business has been around since 1911. It makes only one item -- focaccia. There are four types: pizza ($2.50), raisin ($2.50), onion ($2.25) and plain ($2.25). Locals line up outside the small storefront seven days a week, starting at 7 a.m., for steaming fresh focaccia, prepared in a brick oven. Some customers order just one piece; others order dozens. The place closes when the focaccia is sold out -- often as early as noon.
Back in my hotel room, hunched over a San Francisco Chronicle, a cup of coffee and a fragrant slab of raisin focaccia, I truly got the message: Vacation is good.
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