The Dining Cryptographer: Pazzia and La Mar (San Francisco, CA)
Three restaurants this time: the first two within walking distance, and the third a cab ride away.
Pazzia is an informal Italian restaurant with really great food at reasonable prices. The thin crust pizzas here are delicious, and far better than any other option near Moscone. Their lasagna is also delicious. So's their shrimp fettuccini, and their beef carpaccio appetizer. I could go on and on. Service is kind of random, but the food and the prices make up for it. Pazzia is open for dinner, but think about this place for lunch. (337 3rd St, 415-512-1693)
If you're looking for more upscale Italian within walking distance, go to Ducca in the Westin. It's a Northern Italian restaurant: far more elegant -- and expensive -- but also delicious. Get the potato gnocci with oxtail ragout. They also have a nice happy hour, if you're looking for that sort of thing. And it's a good bet to try if you don't have a reservation -- although by writing this, I probably ruined it for tonight. (50 3rd St, 415-977-0271, www.duccasf.com)
La Mar is one of a series -- "chain" sounds so downmarket -- of Peruvian restaurants, with outposts in Lima, São Paulo, Santiago, Panama, Mexico City, and San Francisco. Expect authentic Peruvian food, and a step higher in elegance than your average ethnic restaurant. Start with a cebiche; I recommend getting a tasting of several. Then, some empanadas. If you're with a group, share everything. The entrées are good, but you'll have a better meal if you order several appetizers, and maybe a main dish or two to share around. Salads are only okay. If you want to maximize your authenticity quotient, order the shrimp soup, served with a fried egg. Really; it's delicious. The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner; if you arrive early at lunchtime, you'll get in and out quickly. (Pier 1.5, Embarcadero, 415-397-8880, www.lamarsf.com)
Last year's Thursday reviews: