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Food & Drink

Best Places Near Places with Crazy-Long Waits 

By Pete Kane

Only residents of the Soviet Union willingly waited in line for food longer than San Franciscans do. And while we have it a lot easier than, say, desperate comrades hoping the government dairy surrogate didn't run out, it's still utterly ridiculous. But when the restaurants best known for their eternal wait times leave you steaming in a hangry rage, just know that there are alternatives.

Mission Chinese Food (2234 Mission, 863-2800, missionchinesefood.com) isn't quite the roaring destination it was when it opened, but the waits can still be substantial, especially for groups looking to share. If it's peculiar, unexpectedly vegan options you crave, turn to Gracias Madre (2211 Mission, 683-1346, gracias-madre.com), just down the block. It may have suffered from its connection to the cultish Café Gratitude chain, but it's a legitimate high-end Mexican restaurant, with lots of vegan cheese equivalents that will please even the staunchest paleo-neo-caveman.

April Bloomfield's revamped Tosca Café (242 Columbus, 986-9651, toscacafesf.com) has garnered near-universal acclaim since opening, and its location very near the tourist quadrant doesn't help the wait times. Instead, try Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus, 617-0071, comstocksaloon.com), an equally upscale tour through all the reinvigorated classics. Both restaurants serve chicken livers and roast chicken, and both offer superb $12 cocktails whose names start with Z and contain pineapple gum, but only Comstock goes full-on Jazz Age with the music and interior.

While cleverer people have hacked State Bird Provisions' (1529 Fillmore, 795-1272, statebirdsf.com) algorithm to book a table, and San Franciscans with a curious excess of both time and money can line up at 4 p.m. for the few walk-in tables, genuinely smart foodies know about The Social Study (1795 Geary, 292-7417, socialstudysf.com) around the corner. It's a beautifully laid out space that manages to combine facets of a wine bar, gastropub, and coffee house into one — with a resident DJ. Relax, you'll get your quail someday.

Let's say you want a Hangtown fry real bad but the wait at Brenda's Soul Food (652 Polk, 345-8100, frenchsoulfood.com) is approximately four hours and 45 minutes. Virtually around the corner is Chambers Eat + Drink (601 Eddy, 496-5178, chambers-sf.com), a great alternative inside the Phoenix Hotel. It's very L.A., bragging about being a celeb hangout, plus there's mimosa bottle service at brunch, but the prices are comparable to Brenda's without the ungodly queues. And if you must have watermelon tea, stop by Libby Jane Café, the grab-and-go little sister to Brenda's.

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