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L.A. Chowhounder here -- don't shoot me, but need recs for upcoming vaca

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I know, this is gonna be really general, but hubby and I are going to San Francisco and Santa Rosa (also Napa&Sonoma) for about a week. Haven't been in town for a few years and would love to get some meal recs -- we'll have a few upscale meals, but also would like moderate choices. We love non-touristy/off-beaten path type of places. We're staying near Union Square and then onto Santa Rosa (we'll have a car and will be traveling all over wine country -- any winery suggetions would also be appreciated).

Not huge fans of Thai or Indian. We dine on lots of sushi here so probably no on Japanese food.

Love Italian, Chinese, Mex, "Calif cuisine." Oh, we also love a good bowl of chowder, but never know where to go. Many thanks in advance and if you're ever in L.A., (or Silverlake/Los Feliz) will return the favor in spades! Thanks!

  1. Another LA hound here, with an upcoming trip to S.F. We usually stay in the East Bay because my brother and his family live in San Leandro, and trips into S.F. have been rare since my niece was born 6 years ago. This time, we'll be staying in S.F. close to Union Square and brother will be out of town, as vacation timing would have it. I love my family but I'm happy to have some adult time in the city.

    Scanned the S.F. board a few times and decided on Delfina, Aziza and Zuni for our three S.F dinners. Already have the first two reserved and am counting the days until this Saturday when I can make my Zuni reservation the requisite one month in advance. Seemed like those three would be a good representation of what S.F. has to offer these days, and they won't break the bank. Lunches will be ad hoc but will definitely involve at least one trip to the Ferry Building. I am reading my handy Chowhound's Guide to S.F. also.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Debbie W

      Excellent choices, Debbie. Please report back and let us know what you think!

    2. Hello from Los Feliz! While there's lots of good Chinese food in the Bay Area, Chinese food in the L.A. area is as a whole better, cheaper and more varied. Consequently, you probably wouldn't want to use up one of your San Francisco meals on Chinese food. However, if you want to spend more on dim sum than you could ever dream about paying in Los Angeles, then Yank Sing is your place.

      16 Replies
      1. re: Chandavkl

        A better place is Koi Palace but go early. Be one of the first customer because the wait is a joke

        1. re: yoyo

          Agreed wholeheartedly that Koi Palace is outstanding, but being in Daly City it might be a little out of the way for somebody doing the San Francisco tourist scene.

        2. re: Chandavkl

          I completely disagree with you. The chinese I've eaten in Los Angeles, while good, is comparable to New York. While Los Angeles has better Hong Kong style chinese, the Bay Area trumps LA for Shanghai, Hakka, Szechwan, Islamic Uigur, and (arguably) Cantonese. Although LA takes the cake for Japanese, Korean, Middle-Eastern, and Armenian food, I may proudly claim Chinese as being superior in the Bay Area.

          A few suggestions for San Francisco city limits:

          Shanghai Dumpling King (Shanghai) --> Balboa & 34th $
          Ton Kiang (Hakka) --> Geary & 22nd $$$$
          Mayflower (seafood) --> Geary & 26th $$$
          Mandarin Islamic (Islamic Chinese) --> Taraval & 40s [Outer Sunse] t $$
          Good Luck Dim Sum (dim sum) --> Clement & 7th cents
          Yuet Lee (seafood) --> Broadway & Stockton $$$
          Jai Yun (Szechwan inflected Cantonese) --> Pacific & Stockton $$$$ [prix fixe]
          Spices 1 (Szechwan) --> 6th & Clement $$
          Spices 2 (Szechwan --> 5th & Clement $$

          Regards,
          Z

          1. re: zwilliams

            Totally disagree. LA Chinese is way way better than New York. It is also better and more varied than SF. One of the main reason is that LA Chinese is concentrated, whereas in SF you have to go all over the bay area to get comparable qualities. I esp. disagree that SF Islamic Chinese is superior to LA Islamic Chinese. And price-wise LA Chinese is way less expensive than SF Chinese. And by the way, Hong Kong style Chinese is Cantonese.

            1. re: PeterL

              Very reasonable response. First off, I know Hong Kong style is a constituent of Cantonese style; I see Hong Kong Style as being Cantonese Seafood restaurants, that's all. Secondly, maybe I've written off as I haven't spent a great deal of time in LA. I will continue to look into LA chinese.

              Thanks,
              Z

            2. re: zwilliams

              Having eaten at 500 Bay Area Chinese restaurants and over 1,000 in the L. A. area, I will say that while numerically and quality wise Bay Area Chinese food is very very good, and I would be very happy eating only at Bay Area Chinese restaurants, Los Angeles is the Chinese food capital of the United States. Quite simply there is no large geographic area in the Bay Area that is so heavily Chinese influenced as the San Gabriel valley, which is basically one gigantic suburban Chinatown encompassing the cities of Monterey Park, Alahambra, San Gabriel and Rosemead, plus Arcadia, Temple City, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights. I'll concede there is no Hakka food in Los Angeles, but there is Shanghai, Szechwan, and Islamic cuisine as good or better here in Los Angeles than in the Bay Area, and there are other commonly found regional cuisines in the San Gabriel Valley (e.g., Taiwanese cafe style, Shenyang) that you won't find in the Bay Area. Every other poster on this board who has compared Los Angeles and San Francisco area Chinese food has opted for Los Angeles, so this is not just my personal bias.

              1. re: Chandavkl

                I agree with Chandavkl. LA trumps SF for pretty much all regional Chinese cuisines and Taiwanese cuisine. The only exception is high end cantonese which SF wins based on the strength of Koi Palace alone.

              2. re: zwilliams

                20 or 25 years ago San Francisco Chinese food was better than Los Angeles and New York was better than San Francisco. However, the order has clearly reversed to LA/SF/NY. Of course Vancouver leaves all of them in the dust.

                1. re: zwilliams

                  "... the Bay Area trumps LA for ... Islamic Uigur ..."

                  Where have you found Uighur cuisine?

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I was referring to Islamic Chinese with emphasis on hot (warm?) pot and lamb. Perhaps it's not Uighur. Regardless, I was referring to Islamic-style Chinese.

                    1. re: zwilliams

                      Where is there lamb/hotpot in the Bay Area? There are a couple of chains (Little Sheep, Monland Hot Pot) doing this in the San Gabriel Valley. Thanks.

                      1. re: zwilliams

                        Old Mandarin Islamic's specialty is Peking-style hot pot.

                        Darda in Milpitas is a better bet for other Muslim Chinese dishes. They also have three Xinjiang dishes, see this thread (Fremont location has since closed):

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        1. re: zwilliams

                          To Chandavkl - the lamb hotpot chains are cropping up here too . . . San Mateo, Milpitas, Fremont.

                      2. re: zwilliams

                        Z, note that Jai Yun is principally Nanjing/Shanghai with a few Sichuan dishes thrown in. Can't think of any Cantonese influences, unless you want to give Guangzhou credit for the abalone and eggwhites, though I wouldn't.

                        Spices 1 and 2 are heavily Taiwanese-influenced in the style of Sichuan served.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Thanks Melanie,

                          This is good to know. I'm not especially knowledgeable of Chinese cuisine and I've made a good deal of mistakes in my postings regarding the topic. I guess I need to keep eating.

                          Regards from Paris,
                          Z

                          1. re: zwilliams

                            Eating well is your best tutor!

                    2. Where do you buy the Chowhound's Guide? I did a search and couldn't find anything --

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Silverlaker

                        Nevermind, I just purchased it on amazon --

                      2. Koi Palace: Go for dinner or dim sum or both. I grew up on Monterey Park/SGV/Roland Heights chinese and this tops them all. Try the live king crab 2 ways.

                        Canteen: go for dinner or brunch and have renowned chef Dennis Leary cook you up some refined comfort food. For dinner, I recommend any of his soups, and have seconds on the brioche rolls. For brunch, I recommend the beef hash. It's also within walking distance of Union Square.

                        Redd (in Yountville): another star chef who's actually cooking in the kitchen. Great cal-cuisine with wine pairings from local wineries.

                        Oliveto/Chez Panisse/Zuni: one of these for more cal cuisine.

                        Santa Ramen (San Mateo): my favorite for ramen up here. I'd say it's a tie with Santouka in Torrance.

                        and most definitely The Ferry Building on Saturday. Go at 10 or so, grab some eggs a Rosie's, coffee at Blue Bottle, and sample the huge array of fresh fruits, cheese, bread, produce. It's more impressive than the Hollywood Farmer's Market.

                        1. Hey Debbie, can you tell me a little about the restaurants you mentioned (Delfina, Aziza and Zuni)& why you chose them. Is Delfina suppose to be really good for Italian? Thanks.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Silverlaker

                            As to Zuni, I am truly embarassed to have never eaten there before, given how many times I've been to S.F. including when I lived in Berkeley in the 1980's. It's a classic, and I felt it was time to give it a try. Plus I love the cookbook.

                            As to Aziza, it is different than anything here in L.A., the menu looks exceeding intriguing, I like that it's out in the Richmond, we can do a tasting menu for a reasonable cost, and the cocktail list looks utterly amazing.

                            As to Delfina, I don't really have any great reasons other than it gets consistent good notices on this board (well, that's a great reason) and the menu looks really interesting and different than what we usually eat at home. Plus it's in the Mission so that's another neighborhood we get to sample and the Mission has certainly changed a lot since I lived up there.

                            I actually spent a lot less time obsessing on where to eat than usual.

                            For you S.F. folks, since we are trying for Zuni specifically on August 15th, I can try for my res. on July 15th. Any pointers on how best to accomplish that? Should I try Open Table? Call? Thanks. If I'm not successful with the res., should we go anyway and hope for the best in the bar?

                            After our 3 nights in S.F. we are off to Tahoe where I have 2 free nights at Harrah's (and at least of our last visit 2 years ago there isn't anywhere all that interesting to eat) and then 3 nights in Mammoth for our annual fishing attempt, and in Mammoth there definitely isn't anything great unless you count the restaurant at Convict Lake which was fine but overpriced, so I'm really looking forward to our S.F. dining as the culinary highlight of our vacation.

                            1. re: Debbie W

                              To both Silverlake and Debbie W. Good choice about that Chowhound Guide. It is truly great when being spontaneous. There is always a rec for something nearby to try.

                              Here's a really nice recent Zuni report with a link to photos

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              Reservations for Zuni should be no problem. If OpenTable allows a reservation for August 15th today, then go ahead and make it. With OpenTable you have a piece of paper in your hand that confirms a reservations and there are those dining points. Not that I remember Zuni losing reservations.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Thanks for that Zuni report link. The pictures are amazing - oysters, Caesar salad, chicken, granita, rice pudding, wow! What a wonderful meal you all had.

                              2. re: Debbie W

                                Zuni also saves a fairly significant number of seats each evening for walk ins. Getting a reservation has never been a big problem, but I believe they are only releasing certain times to Open Table, so perhaps best to make the reservation directly with the restaurant if you have another time in mind.

                                1. re: Debbie W

                                  Getting a reservation at Zuni for a weeknight a couple of weeks in advance has never been a problem for me.

                                  Looks to me like they take only <6:45 and >9:30 on opentable. If you want some other time, phone the restaurant.

                                  1. re: Debbie W

                                    Hi Debbie W! Your choices are right on. I've never been to Delfina, but the other two are great. I don't think you'll have a problem getting your first choice reservation at Zuni; I would probably call to get the most options.

                                    To Silverlaker: Canteen is a fun little place for breakfast or dinner, and it's likely within walking distance of your hotel. Here's a link to my recent brunch report: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    For Cal-Ital, I really enjoyed our meal at Incanto posted on here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    And the Ferry Plaza/Building on Sat. is a must-visit. Buy some June Taylor jam to take home and see what else at the farmer's market entices. While there are a plethora of eateries to choose from, somehow I'm happiest w/ a loaf of bread from Acme and cheese from Cowgirl.

                                    Hope you both have a great time and please report back!