Hullo, just back (in England) from holiday with family in San Fran; chowish family, so we went to some interesting places (mainly chinese/jap) which you might be interested in. Forgive me if you've heard/seen it all before - not particularly clued up on the SF scene apart from occasionally grazing the chron reviews during lunch breaks.
Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant - Definitely one of the most interesting places we went to. Hole-in-the-wall sort of place which dishes out authentic northern chinese/islamic food. This sort of food is very hard to track down outside china - lots of lamb, rib-sticking stews, wheat pancakes &tc - some real Beijing specialities you don't normally see outside the mainland. Excellent lamb stew and outstanding pan-fried pancakes - really crispy dough, but avoid the lamb kebabs - too chewy. 3132 Vicente Street.
Hong Kong Flower (Millbrae) - Seems to be the local for the relatives. Had some excellent meals here - the hotpot was very good (incl. crab, lobster &tc), fresh seafood. Dim sum nice but came round on trays rather than trolleys so not as warm as could be. Mango pudding very nice and mangoey (as opposed to the yellow gelatin they sell in the chinese supermarket). Absolutely packed out with the local chinese. Get the impression from previous posts that the HK Flower had gone downhill, but I found it good as ever (last visited in '99).
Sushi-Kei - Local sushi joint in Millbrae on the Broadway. Good fresh sushi; the uncles prefer it to other places around cos the fish comes from Japan. Good Toro, Sea Urchin. However agedoshi (is that how its spelt? tofu so-so.
Aqua - could resist popping in for my posh cal fix. Very nice $40 lunchtime tasting menu. Seared Hamachi, crab cakes, miso-glazed sea bass with mushroom broth, potato crusted trout with horseradish mash, port-poached pear. Trout a tad overcooked and a bit bizarre switchin palates eastern-western-eastern &tc with each course, but overall wonderfully executed food and great value (by london standards!)
Tra Vigne - awesome food in this St Helena Italian joint - got the recommendation from people at the wineries - half hour wait for a lunchtime table but well worth it. Jaw-dropping braised smoked short ribs on polenta - tender, unctious, melt-in-mouth fat and meat at once. Pasta with dungeness crab also got rave reviews - sauce really, er, crabby.
Japanese noodle place - round the corner from Draegers in San Mateo, on a corner. Can't remember much more about where it was but the noodles were cooked to order and outstanding - just the right chewyness you don't get in places where they cook the noodles in batches and dish 'em up quick.
Overall highlights - pancakes at the muslim joint, ribs at tra vigne - hope that's useful!