A couple of our favorites: poached salmon with barley pilaf, roasted peppers and corn pesto ($10.25) and heirloom tomato and bean salad with avocado ($9.25).
We didn't love: that it's open only for lunch, Mondays through Fridays.
The Educated Palate, 88 4th St., San Francisco; (415) 908-7522, http://www.ccsf.edu/campuses/Downtown/palate/index.htm
5. Farm: Table
This tiny downtown coffee shop/diner gives new meaning to the term "hole in the wall." "We do a lot with 300 square feet," said Kate Amitin, who co-owns the Farm: Table with her ex-husband, Shannon Amitin. ("It was an amicable split.")
The restaurant, near Union Square and several hotels, including the Clift and Hilton, isn't much more than a giant window on the street with one communal table inside and a couple of café tables outside. But lovely creations are served daily, and every day they're different. The Amitins produce a cereal, an egg and a toast each day, but those descriptions don't do the food justice. The toast might be an artistic creation topped with pears, figs and crushed almonds ($6.75), and the egg hard-boiled and served over a baguette with squash, padron peppers and cherry tomatoes ($7). Lunch is also served; soups, salads and sandwiches vary daily.
We loved: the innovative, attractive dishes.
We didn't love: sharing the communal table with a neighborhood boor.
Farm: Table, 754 Post St.; (415) 292-7089, http://www.farmtablesf.com
6. Lers Ros Thai
A family of six got up to leave just as we sat down. "Have you been here before?" a member of that party asked us.
"No," we answered.
"This is the best," he said, "and we're Thai."
Lers Ros (my waitress translated this to mean "excellent tastes") is close to Civic Center and is a no-frills contemporary Thai restaurant crowded with tables and diners. It opened only about a year ago and quickly became a favorite of San Francisco reviewers, who like the food and the hours; it's open until midnight. So if you have a sudden craving for green chicken curry during the late-night news, you can rush out for a steaming bowl of it.
The restaurant's claim to fame centers on its inventive dishes; flavors are crisp and clean and seem more distinct than at many Thai restaurants. Most dishes on the menu — there are 115 items — cost less than $8, which makes it a good bet for budget travelers.
We coupled Pad Thai Prak ($7.25) with a spicy-flavored tilapia, a whole fish topped with a chilies-based sauce ($12.95). The preparation was flashy, the tastes intriguing.