Well, let me suggest som pretty good local dives that will tide your tummies over until the next great meal.
Should you want bread, let me suggest Bay Breads or La Boulange. Forget about the hypey sourdough that'll knock you off your duff with one whiff. Bay Breads and La Boulange are owned by the same person (different bakers, though). The most soulful baguette to be found on S.F. is at La Boulange. Their Pain aux Amandes are terrific as well. I must have eaten at least a dozen when I was working near there. I recommend getting breakfast at La Boulange.
Dim Sum. I'd keep away from Chinatown (both old and new) for this one. For Cantonese (H.K. style) Dim Sum, I like Yank Sing, but they are expensive. Very modern and chic, though. I think they just moved to a new location at Rincon Center. My friend (who knows how to eat well) prefers a place in the Embarcadero Center. I only know the name in Chinese but not in English. It's called Chuy Heung Chuen. Not cheap either, but it's where the Chinese folks go. There's also a place on Geary called Ton Kiang (at 5821). They're pretty good, but nothing fancy. If you are over in Oakland, I suggest Tin's Teahouse. Nothing fancy, but very nice food. I eat here usually. My worst complaint is that I always manage to get something spilled on me when I go with no apologies from the staff. I'm not sure where folks get the impression that Dim Sum is cheap eats. It's never been and I don't often eat the fancy stuff, either. There are dimsum take out places that are cheaper ($.40 per piece average), but I don't recommend them. If you like Mandarin dim sum, I'd recommend a place called Dragon House on Geary between 18th and 19th Avenues in the Richmond District. It's a lot plainer than Cantonese dim sum but I love the homestyleness of it. Start off with a bowl of warm soy milk and a scallion pancake or fried dough. Then order some small dishes (I like smoked fish and drunken chicken) followed by one or two noodle dishes. I love soup noodles (Northern Chinese noodles are of the thick and chewy wheat variety) especially the spicy beef stew one. Or a stir fried noodle dish like rice cake or pan fried noodles (more like a saute) with spinach. This is a family restaurant popular with the locals and completely unknown to tourists. My Mom and Dad liked this place when they visited. One more peice of advise on Dim Sum. Eat on Saturday or Sunday. It's more crowded, busy and noisy but you might get leftovers on Monday, or worse, they will have run out of the good stuff by Sunday afternoon. Take the 38 Geary bus out to the Richmond neighborhood for Dragon House and Ton Kiang.
If you are in Chinatown, and would like to sit down and rest for a little while, visit the Imperial Tea Court on Powell and Broadway. They feature a complete tea tasting which I haven't gotten around to doing yet. I usually go there and order a cup of tea. The most expensive teas are $3 per cup but you drink this over many refills from the kettle of water they leave with you. I suggest you rest at least 1/2 hour here. The birds singing in cages overhead are very soothing and the atmosphere is very nice. It's really beautiful there. If they ask how you found them, tell them that one of their pastry chef friends recommended it.
Other cheap eats. Indian/Pakistani food in the Tenderloin. Yes, venturing into this part of town is not the typical visitor's idea of a nice walk. But you'll be rewarded by very authentic food and free Chai, too. Taj Mahal (at Eddy and Jones?) has a great curries and is a comfortable restaurant. Very good Naan. My favorite dish there is the Chicken Tikka Masala. Naan and Curry on O'Farell and Taylor? is as it's name implies. Very good food there. Don't be shocked, but eating there is like having food cooked by your friend's girlfriend in his effiency studio. The best naan is at a place called Merswan or something like that. I've never been there, but my friend bought me some naan from this place once and I swear that it was the most soulful piece of bread I have ever had. I don't know where in the Tenderloin this place is but it's there somewhere.
Onward with the cheap eats. You cannot visit San Francisco, or California, and not have a meal at a taqueria. I love La Tauqueria in the Mission. It's address is 2889 Mission. Take Bart and get off at 24th street and walk a few blocks up. Explore the Mission while you're at it. Be sure to order an agua fresca or orchata. I know it's not summer, but I'm sure you will choose wisely. But I don't live in San Francisco, and usually eat out of taco trucks in the East Bay, better and cheaper than La Taqueria, but you're not venturing into my neck of the woods anyway.
If you like Thai, let me insist that you go to Thep Phenom. They reset my standard for green curry to a higher level. It's on Waller and Fillmore. So if you are in the Japantown, Fillmore, or Haight Ashbury neighborhoods, you can drop by for dinner.
If you are in town on Saturday, you have to go to the Ferry Farmer's Market. You might run into Alice Waters there. A few restaurants also stage stands there so you can get food there as well. But come to meet the farmers here. You have to visit the Marshall's Farm Honey people. Usually the beekeeper's wife (Helene) is there on Saturdays. Their Orange Blossom Honey is the absolute best I have ever had. It's one of the few things in life that I just had to buy a jar of when I tasted a sample. When I introduced it to my chef, he was so inspired that he created a dessert to feature it within one hour. You can veg out on beautiful produce and buy a sausage sandwich at the farmer's market. They're open from 8 am to 2 pm. Take the #10 bus or F-train there.
When I eat out, I like to go to Korean restaurants. My favorite in S.F. is Brother's on Geary and 9th Avenue? I'm not sure of the exact cross street but it's definitely on Geary. But beware, there's a Brother's II, which is owned by the same family but for reasons unknown, the patrons are loyal only to the original Brother's. I have to say that for some strange reason I also follow this tradition.
There really is no reason why you couldn't also venture into Oakland and Berkeley. All you have to do is take BART or one of the transbay buses. Bart's easier. In Berkeley you can get to Chez Panisse by taking the Richmond-bound train and getting off at Downtown Berkeley. It's not too far a walk (about 6 blocks) up Shattack. I am sure you do not need me to sing it's praises. If you get off one stop earlier at Ashby and, again, walk abiout 6 blocks up Shattack, you can visit my favorite pastry shop, Crixa. It's new and owned by a very gutsy young woman. My friend and I like to go there for some a cup of tea and an Almond Tea Cake when we finish our grocery shopping at Berekely bowl. If you take the Pittsburgh/Baypoint-bound train and get off at Rockridge station, you can go to Oliveto, Paul Bertolli's restaurant. I love dining here. Ask for a waiter named Sonny if he is working. He is a very good server. He served me the last time I had dinner there. If I return, I'll be asking to be served by him. Oliveto is just across the street from the Bart station. If you walk a few blocks down on College Avenue, one of the best bowls of Udon can be had at Uzen. I have to say that I don't like the ultra modern decor of the place, but the udon has me returning time after time. They have excellent sushi there as well. The other best bowl of udon to be had is in the other direction at a restaurant called Tachibana. Uzen's features broth more close to those found in Tokyo, but Tachibana has more interesting garnishes in their bowl. The noodles at both these restaurants are silky, chewy and absolutely slurpably impeccably good. But the best place for a sushi dinner that won't break the bank is at a place called Angelfish in Alameda. It is in a remote area called Bay Farm Island. It's hard to get to for me, but not so for you if you take one of the Transbay buses that stop there. I love this restaurant for their food and ambience. The sushi chef is friendly and charming but laid back and very inviting. The other really good sushi restaurant is called Sushi Sue's. I can't remember the street it's on but this restaurant has only an eight seat sushi bar and a table that seats 4 people. That's it. It's run by the sushi chef solo now. Sadly, Sue, his wife died last year. There is no menu. You just go and find out what he has and then you ask him to serve it to you. At the end of the meal, he hands you a bill that is not itemized, but I swear it's going to be one of the most rememberable meals you will have had. And that's if you come over to the East Bay, which is a whole nother story!
My my. I didn't expect to right such a long review. I hope this helps and that you and your wife will have a great time in San Francisco. By the way, Happy Birthday. Just noticed it on the bottom of the screen.