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San Francisco Civic Center/Performing Arts Center Dining

If there is any trend in the restaurant scene in the Civic Center/Performing Arts neighborhood, it seems to be a South American one with Evita Cafe and the French restaurant Absinthe is flourishing.

Many restaurants offer a Cheese Plate as a dessert option. Jardiniere even has its own cheese aging room.

For those who like to go out for a bite to eat after a performance, an "LD" identifies restaurants that serve after 10 p.m. The "VP" designation indicates that there is valet parking; in most cases, these restaurants will permit you to leave your car there during the performance.

We do not include every Performing Arts/Civic Center restaurant, but instead, highlight those that we consider worthy of dining in when attending a performance or whenever you are in the neighborhood. Space limits us to mini-reviews.

* = personal favorite
FB = Full bar
B/W = Beer and wine only
W/A = Wheelchair accessible
LD = Late dining after 10 p.m.
R = Reservations accepted
VP = Valet Parking
Price = $ Most dinner entrČes less than $10
$$ = Most dinner entrČes between $10 and $20
$$$ = Most dinner entrČes more than $20


* Bull's
25 Van Ness Ave.
Overview: Lunch weekdays, Dinner Mon. - Sat.; FB, W/A, R, $

Bull's is a lively informal Texas barbecue place where I dine at least once each Performing Arts season. Dinners are served with coleslaw, French fries (potato salad and/or Ranch beans can be substituted), and a biscuit. My favorites include the wood-fired barbecued ribs, beef brisket, and spicy smoked links. Fajitas, steak or chicken; Chicken Fried Steak; and Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy are other good choices. If I am not up to an entire dinner, I order one of the hearty sandwiches...the Pulled Pork is absolutely fabulous. For dessert, I recommend the Nut Pie...it is often pecan but sometimes walnut.

Cafe Allegro
340 Grove St.( in the Performing Arts Center Garage Bldg.) 415/431-2200
Overview: Breakfast and Lunch weekdays (weekend lunch on Matinee days), Dinner until curtain time on performance evenings; B/W, W/A, $, cash only

A favorite of San Francisco Ballet dancers, this cafeteria-style restaurant features homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, burritos, tasty vegetarian dishes and Double Rainbow ice cream.

* Flipper's
482-A Hayes St.
Overview: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily, weekend Brunch; No alcohol, W/A, LD
Thurs. - Sat., $, cash only

Looking for the good half-pound hamburger with at least a dozen choices of garnish? Flipper's is the place. Add one of their generous salads, and you have a good meal. Don't eat beef? Have a chicken, turkey, garden, or tofu burger instead. Don't want a burger? Order a "wrap" filled with turkey or falafel. Got the kids with you? There is a special menu for kids under 12. The weekend brunch menu includes French Toast and other "brunchlike" dishes. The pleasant outdoor dining patio bustles on sunny days.

* Hayes Street Grill
324 Hayes St.
Overview: Dinner nightly, Lunch weekdays; B/W, W/A, LD Fri./Sat., R, $$

When I am asked what is my favorite San Francisco restaurant for fresh fish, without hesitation, I reply, "Hayes Street Grill." For close to 20 years, it has consistently served delicious food and provided attentive, efficient service (they always get you to a performance on time and you never feel rushed). Each day, close to a dozen fresh fish specials are served. The grilled fish dishes are accompanied by house-made sauces and superb French Fries; the sautČed fish preparations are often served with other vegetable or starch accompaniments. Innovative appetizers, non-fish dishes (including grilled meats, creative poultry dishes, and even a burger), and tempting desserts, particularly the popular CrËme BršlČe, round out the menu. My all-time favorite first course, always on the menu, is the Spinach Salad with Feta Cheese and Black Beans.

687 McAllister at Gough
Overview: Dinner Tues. - Sun.; FB, W/A, LD, R, VP Thurs. - Sat., $$

Indigo is an attractive restaurant that takes its name to heart. Its storefront entry is painted a vivid indigo (a shade of blue that can't be missed!). Inside, indigo accents and plush fabrics complement wood, creating a relaxing and romantic setting.

Executive chef John Gilbert creates a different "New American" menu each day, based on what is fresh in the market. Although all main dishes are garnished with vegetables, several of the more popular side dishes, including Napa Cabbage Cole Slaw and Honey-Butter Biscuits, can be ordered separately (they are included with Barbecued Chicken, when it is offered). Some seasonal dishes have included Warm Spinach Salad with Bing Cherry Zinfandel Vinaigrette; Seared Atlantic Salmon with Ratatouille-Phyllo Tartlette, Tomato Fondue & Basil Pesto; and Strawberry Orange Soup. Each evening there is a three-course fixed-price menu ($22.95), perfect for a pre-performance dinner.

Indigo serves the kind of food I love to eat, but its location in "restaurant Siberia" keeps me from dining here prior to a performance; it's just a bit too far and in a neighborhood where I am uncomfortable walking after dark.

690 Van Ness Ave. at Turk; 415/202-2002
Overview: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner 365 days a year; FB, W/A, LD, R, $

Lyon's , part of a chain of family restaurants, offers such homestyle dishes as Fried Chicken, Roast Turkey, Meatloaf, and Chicken-Fried Steak, most priced under $10 and many served with real mashed potatoes. The menu includes several low-fat items and a full array of hearty sandwiches and salads. Customers over 55 years old are offered a special menu, discounted about 20%. Keep Lyon's in mind for after a performance-it is open weeknights until 11 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m.

* Max's Opera Cafe
601 Van Ness Ave. in Opera Plaza; 415/771-7300
Overview: Lunch and Dinner daily; FB, W/A, LD except Monday, $ - $$

Max's is a California version of a New York delicatessen, serving traditional deli sandwiches, enormous salads, and tempting desserts. MAX'S menu is continually being updated to reflect dining trends and preferences; it features a selection of low-calorie, low-fat dishes, as well as fresh fish, pastas, and special seasonal dishes (asparagus and tomato seasons are my favorites). Servers provide nightly musical entertainment.


The California Culinary Academy
625 Polk St.
Overview: Lunch Mon. - Fri., Dinner Mon. - Sat., Sunday Brunch; FB, W/A, R , $$ - $$$ (depending on dining room & day)

The California Culinary Academy features student-prepared, student-served meals in its two dining rooms. The Careme Room, the showcase dining room with a theatre-style kitchen, serves a European buffet lunch on Fridays, a French buffet dinner on Thursdays, and a Classical Buffet dinner on Fridays. On other evenings fixed-price tasting menus and ý la carte selections are offered. Sunday Buffet Brunch, with seatings from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. ($27.95), is worth considering before a matinee.

The Tavern on the Tenderloin is an informal San Francisco steakhouse and grill featuring pastas, sandwiches, and grilled foods. Lunch is ý la carte with entrČes priced under $10. Dinner is ý la carte Monday through Thursday (most entrČes between $10 and $20). A Prime Rib Buffet ($19.95) is served Friday and Saturday evenings. There is a selection of microbrews.


* Absinthe
398 Hayes St. at Gough
Overview: Dinner Tues. - Sun.; FB, W/A, LD, R, $ - $$

When I am at Absinthe, I expect that Toulouse Lautrec will walk into the dining room at any moment. There are murals of Parisian scenes on the walls; the furniture is plush. The menu is simple bistro food with prices that are low for a restaurant of this elegance in this neighborhood. I have liked Absinthe since my first meal here when it had been open less than a week.

The menu changes to incorporate seasonal specialties. A signature Winter dish is Cassis Braised Short Ribs. In June, Soft Shell Crab was featured with a tasty risotto. Pastas have included a creative Fusilli with fried cauliflower, anchovies and capers and a Risotto with greens and soppressa. The Vegetable Platter one evening consisted of perfectly-prepared fingerling potatoes, spinach, onions and thick slices of portobello mushroom, garnished with shaved Parmesan Cheese, and served with lemon wedges. The Arugula Salad is garnished with fried chickpeas and garlic croutons. French onion soup is a favorite year 'round. The popular Cold Seafood Platter, meant to be shared ($18 per person), is generous enough to be a light meal. The walnut bread from Acme in Berkeley is addictive. The dessert menu, almost as long as the dinner menu, includes a good balance of fruit desserts as well as Lavender CrËme BršlČe, and an indulgent SharfenBerger Chocolate Brownie Sundae. Many wines are priced around $20 for a bottle and between $4 to $5 a glass.

To assure that performance goers get prompt service, dinner seatings are staggered at 15-minute intervals around the popular 6 p.m. time. Service is impeccable, with attention to all details including replacing flatware with each course, serving shared dishes on individual plates, and endless refills on coffee.

A bar menu of lighter fare is perfect for a quick meal before or a late dinner after a performance.

300 Grove St.
Overview: Dinner nightly until 10:30 p.m., Late-Night Menu until Midnight Tues.- Sat.; Live musical entertainment nightly; FB, W/A, LD, R, VP, $$$

Jardiniere, a stunning supper club directly across from Symphony Hall and the Opera House, is the joint venture of chef Traci Des Jardins and restaurant designer Pat Kuleto. With entrČes in the $19 to $28 range and most first courses over $12, dinner at Jardiniere can easily exceed $50 per person, more than I like to spend on a performance evening. Rabbit makes frequent appearances on the menu; recently Rabbit Rillettes and Warm Braised Rabbit Tart were two of the featured first courses. On the same menu was Tongue and Lentil Salad with Sweetbreads, Halibut on Beets, Wild Bass on a Bed of Mushrooms and Onions, and FrisČe and Arugula Salad with Roquefort Cheese and Fried Scallion Rings. Cookies and Chocolates ($10) are a nice shared dessert. Cheese, aged right here in a special room on the first floor, is another good dessert choice.

For those who want to go all out, there is a ten-course tasting menu priced at $65.

On performance evenings, I suggest stopping in beforehand for an appetizer and dessert or coming back afterward for the late-dinner menu.


* Caffee Delle Stelle
395 Hayes St. at Gough
Overview: Lunch and Dinner Mon. -Sat.; B/W, W/A, LD Fri. /Sat., R, $ - $$

At this high-spirited Tuscan restaurant, I often order pasta. My favorite dish is the Rustica, ear-shaped pasta, potatoes, truffle oil and sage. Infarinata, a polenta pie with roasted vegetables; and Tuscan Roast Chicken are some of myother favorites. To start, I choose the Poached Pear and Gorgonzola salad. Their Tiramisu is one of the best I've tasted.

* Stelline
429 Gough St.
Overview: Lunch Mon. - Fri., Dinner Mon. - Sat.; B/W, W/A, R, $ - $$

Stelline, is the "little sister" of Caffe Delle Stelle. The menu features hearty Southern Italian fare such as chicken piccata, pork cutlet, pizza, and pastas, all served with minestrone or salad and garlic bread. Most pasta entrČes are priced at $8; most other dinners are under $10. Wine is $4 a glass. Not only is Stelline popular with the pre-performance crowd, it is a favorite with neighborhood folk who enjoy the hearty, well-prepared, moderately-priced meals and comfortable setting.


* Zuni Cafe
1658 Market St. between Franklin & Gough
Overview: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Tues. - Sun.; FB, W/A, LD, R, VP, $$

Recent dinner menus (they change daily) at the ever-bustling Zuni CafČ have featured Grilled White Sea Bass with eggplant, charred cherry tomatoes, bagna cauda, and basil; Brick oven-roasted Quail with chanterelle mushrooms and radicchio; and the ever-popular "signature dish," prepared-to-order Chicken for Two, roasted in a brick oven and served with Tuscan Bread Salad (priced at $30 and always available for dinner and Sunday lunch). The day's Oyster List features several intriguing selections. Pizzas, Caesar Salad, and a great Hamburger on grilled rosemary focaccia bread are some of the options for lunch or a late dinner.

Mexican/South American

Las Estrellas
330 Gough St.
Overview: Lunch and Dinner Mon. - Sat.; B, W/A, $

The tacos, burritos, and quesadillas are all made to your order at this cheerful informal Mexican restaurant. I like the Shredded Chicken and Smoked Jack Cheese Quesadilla...all quesadillas are served with a tasty corn, pineapple, and black bean relish. A glass of Mexican beer or fruit drink completes the meal.


Thai Bar B-Q
730 Van Ness Ave. north of Turk
Overview: Lunch Weekdays, Dinner Mon. - Sat.; B/W, W/A, R, $, cash only

Just about every fish, fowl, or meat is barbecued at the Thai Bar B-Q: squid, scallops, salmon, sausage, chicken, meatballs, lamb, trout, oysters. The menu is rounded out with Thai appetizers, curries, and sautČes, many of which are vegetarian. The Barbecued Duck over noodles is outstanding. Complete dinners, all priced under $9, are served with Carrot Salad, Sweet Rice, a loaf of warm Bread, and Butter.

* Thepin Thai Cuisine
298 Gough St. at Fell
Overview: Lunch weekdays, Dinner nightly; B/W, W/A, R, $ - $$

Each time I dine at Thepin Thai, I make new culinary discoveries. Two of my favorites are Naree Gun-Saeng (The Crying Lady), crispy jumbo prawns in a spicy sauce with fresh basil, and Makur Srong-Glod, Japanese eggplant, broiled to order and served with sautČed chicken and shrimp in special sauce. I always start with Thep Thong, a mixture of chicken, carrots, corn and spices, wrapped in an egg roll skin pouch.


* Millennium
580 Geary Street (in the Savoy Hotel)
(415) 345-3900
Overview: Lunch and Dinner Daily; B/W, W/A, R, $$

The food at Millennium is delicious, attractive, and vegan. Although everything on the menu is prepared without eggs, butter, dairy products, or meat, it is so tasty that I doubt that most diners notice that they are not eating animal products. I enjoy the creative dishes at Millennium, but some with whom I dine (my husband, for one) find the abundance of grains too filling, the main courses which incorporate fruit too sweet, and the imitation meat dishes (Seitan or Soy "Steak") distractions to what could be an interesting menu.

From time to time during the year, chef Eric Tucker and his staff conduct healthful cooking classes and other "lifestyle" presentations.

Millennium is convenient to the Orpheum Theatre and Civic Auditorium.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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