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Waitresses in Cool T-Shirts Serving Elegant Cuisine

San Francisco Dining in March 2002

Even as a five-year San Francisco resident, I don't suspect I'll ever completely wash that guilty young interloper feeling out of my hair, but at least membership in the club of laid-back appreciators of the neighborhood-based SF lifestyle has its benefits. Most of you, being the savvy, cold-chilling SF Station readers you are, will have already been to the neighborhood dining destinations I'm about to lay on you, but if not, here are the recent deets on some fine and fabulous low-key meals to be had in our fair city and beyond. The connective tissue here: if the food is great and the servers are allowed to wear T-shirts and aprons, it's the kind of joint whose owners are so quality that they don't need to put on airs, and that's the kind of people who deserve my hard-earned dining dollar. Holler.

Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
My recent favorite restaurant. Emmy's, with its low-lit smallness, black booths and pretty old aprons strung along the walls as décor, combines a West Village, NYC hole-in-the-wall nostalgia and the buzzing vibe of a small San Francisco trip hop lounge (e.g. DJs spinning the likes of Tribe Friday - Saturday). The cuisine is high-end California-Mediterranean at a low, low price point; their huge plate of fabulous spaghetti is only $6 (a couple of bucks more to add gigantic meatballs), so you can go out to a fabulous, stylish Friday dinner with friends and get away with dropping less than a tenner if you're feeling extra po that week. Or, if you're feeling a little fancier, get down with some of the terrific wines on their list, order up a plate of house-cured salmon with flatbreads and horseradish crème fraiche ($9 or so) and a sizable flatiron steak with high-garlic eggplant caponata and salsa verde ($16.50-ish). Bourbon pecan pie a la mode can be had as easily as a 40 ounce of Mickey's or Bud. The servers wear hot T-shirts and you're bound to run into someone you know. For those who feel a twinge of "Ah, crap" upon entering a beer/wine-only joint, appreciate this: Emmy's is connected to the El Amigo bar, where Jager shots and vodka tonics can be yours courtesy of the friendly, sharp-dressed Latina bar staff.

Don't let its status as one of the best restaurants in the country put you off for one more moment. Walk in any night of the week, find it packed with all walks of tasteful life, ask for a spot at the counter, and do what my good friend L.T. Antrim swears by, just share a salad ($5-$6) and a plate of spaghetti ($10) and get couple of glasses of white. It's some of the loveliest al dente spaghetti you'll ever eat, thanks to Chef/owner Craig Stoll, a truly cool guy who's lowered his price point but not his quality output. Should you decide to reserve a table for a hot dinner date, the frosted beaker-shaped light fixtures will cast their stylish glow upon your pappardelle with lamb sugo and black-eyed peas ($10-ish), the quirky, terrific art will lend its glamour to your perfect rare steak-frites ($18-ish), and the servers in their great little T-shirts will take good care of you as you steal some sexy hand-holding under the closely situated tables. Sauntering efficiently through the sleek, blonde wood room, they pour ethereal Malbec and earthy Zin ($6-$7/glass each) at the table and swish away, leaving gorgeous you and your unbearably good-looking date to marvel alternately at the excellent dinner experience and the excellently hot date situation that's unfolding in this most excellent mid-Mission hotspot.

Blue Plate
Again, the casually dressed servers are cool, friendly kids just like you and me, and to the strains of The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs (a family favorite), they deliver glass milk bottles full of water and plates of glorious cuisine with easy charm in this Outer Mission mid-sized bistro. Old wooden skateboards and graceful, melancholy post-modern paintings deck the walls while treats like coriander-crusted lamb, caramelized cauliflower and kicky aioli grace a plate of bull's blood microgreens. The wild mushroom sugo-laced gnocchi are A-mazing. Mascarpone-filled dates accompany an expertly dressed salad; the cuisine here is truly visionary, but grounded enough that it feels utterly mature, settled, perfected. While the check total isn't the lowest of this column's luminaries (let's say, $75 for a three course dinner for two with wine), it's certainly worth every innovative yet homey second of time spent enjoying what Blue Plate has to offer. This place is the sh*t. It's hidden away beneath a lit-up white light bulb arrow at the intersection of Mission and Valencia south of Cesar Chavez. Take a good friend for her birthday. Take your sweetheart. Take your mom. I don't care. Just check it out.