Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Gondola captures the varied flavors of Venice and the Veneto in charmingly low-key style. The main theme is the classic one of simplicity, while service strikes just the right balance between efficiency and warmth. (Staff) 15 Columbus, SF. 956-5528. Italian, L/D, $, MC/V.
House of Nanking never fails to garner raves from restaurant reviewers and Guardian readers alike. Chinatown ambience, great food, good prices. (Best Ofs, 1994) 919 Kearny, SF. 421-1429. Chinese, L/D, ¢.
Le Charm might be in San Francisco, but it has a bistro authenticity even Parisians could love, from a wealth of golden wood trim to an enduring loyalty au prix fixe. The chicken liver salad is matchless, the succinct wine list distinctly Californian. Ponder it in the idyllic, trellised garden. (PR, 9/06) 315 Fifth St, SF. 546-6128. French, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Chez Spencer brings Laurent Katgely's precise French cooking into the rustic-<\d>industrial urban cathedral that once housed Citizen Cake. Get something from the wood-<\d>burning oven. (Staff) 82 14th St, SF. 864-2191. French, BR/L/D, $$, MC/V.
Fly Trap Restaurant captures a bit of that old-time San Francisco feel, from the intricate plaster ceiling to the straightforward menu: celery Victor, grilled salmon filet with beurre blanc. A good lunchtime spot. (Staff) 606 Folsom, SF. 243-0580. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
*Fringale still satisfies the urge to eat in true French bistro style, with Basque flourishes. The paella roll is a small masterpiece of food narrative; the frites are superior. (PR, 7/04) 570 Fourth St, SF. 543-0573. French/Basque, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
India Garden indeed has a lovely garden and an excellent lunch buffet that does credit to South Asian standards. (Staff) 1261 Folsom, SF. 626-2798. Indian, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
NOB HILL/RUSSIAN HILL
Acquerello reminds us that the Italians, like the French, have a high cuisine sophisticated and earthy and offered in a onetime chapel with exposed rafters and sumptuous fabrics on the banquettes. Service is as knowledgeable and civilized as at any restaurant in the city. (PR, 3/05) 1722 Sacramento, SF. 567-5432. Italian, $$$, D, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Ah Lin offers Mandarin-style Chinese cooking in an easy-to-take storefront setting on Cathedral Hill. The dishes are well behaved and tasty, with only an occasional flare-up of chile heat. The roast duck is one of the best deals in town. (PR, 10/06) 1634 Bush, SF. 922-5279. Chinese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Alborz looks more like a hotel restaurant than a den of Persian cuisine, but there are flavors here of barberry and dried lime, among others you won't easily find elsewhere. (Staff) 1245 Van Ness, SF. 440-4321. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Bacio offers homey, traditional Italian dishes in a charmingly cozy rustic space. Service can be slow. (PR, 1/05) 835 Hyde, SF. 292-7999. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Cordon Bleu has huge portions, tiny prices, and a hoppin' location right next to the Lumiere Theatre. (Staff) 1574 California, SF. 673-5637. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢.
Mangosteen radiates lime green good cheer from its corner perch in the Tenderloin. Inexpensive Vietnamese standards are rendered with thoughtful little touches and an emphasis on the freshest ingredients. (PR, 11/05) 601 Larkin, SF. 776-3999. Vietnamese, L/D, $, cash only.
Max's Opera Cafe Huge food is the theme here, from softball-<\d>size matzo balls to towering desserts. Your basic Jewish deli. (Staff) 601 Van Ness, SF. 771-7300.