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Top 10 Tastes of California

I have an interesting request, and hopefullty a fun one that will spark some great ideas...

First, the facts:
-- I have never been to California. I am from San Antonio, Texas, and go to school in New York City.
-- My father and I will be visiting some schools in California from Saturday August 26 to Friday September 1. We fly into LA and out of SF.
-- We will be renting a car, so mobility won't be much of an issue. The plan is to make the drive between the LA area to the SF area along the coastline highway, which I understand is beautiful.
-- The only two places we must go are Pasadena and Stanford, but those will likely be just during the day on Monday (Pasadena) and Wednesday (Stanford). All areas surrounding these cities (say, less than a 2-hour drive one way) and the environs in between are fair game. We are willing to travel for great food.
-- Nothing is set as of yet, although I plan to make reservations at Manresa in Los Gatos and Chez Panisse in Berkeley. And I've already been placed on the waiting list at The French Laundry. Also considering Lucques when in LA, but that one's not as certain, it just happens to be one of the few LA restaurants I've heard of).

Now, the question:

What are the 10 things you think it would be absolutely criminal to leave California without tasting?

-- We love all kinds of food, from fine dining to hole-in-the-wall taquerias and everything in between. That being the case, any and all suggestions are welcome. I wouldn't mind, for example, seeing Oysters and Pearls from TFL on the same list as an In-n-Out Burger. That's exactly what I'm after, in fact. Regardless of price, regardless of location we just the best food, period.

And and all help is greatly appreciated.

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  1. 1. napa/sonoma valley wine
    2. san francisco seafood
    3. avacados
    4. a good vietnamese restaurant
    5. a good chinese restaurant

    california, especially the bay area, is a huge melting pot of ethnic food. the most expensive/lavish places are not usually the best spots...although different strokes for different folks.

    palo alto has many great restaurants in its own right, my favorite is probably tamarine, a viet joint. ming's is also one of the more 'lavish' chinese restaurants left. i'd also definitely make a trip to get dim sum. hong kong flower lounge in burlingame is still up to par last time i checked.

    happy eating.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wchane

      Is there anything special to order at Ming's? I've been disappointed (bored) by ordering off the menu. Last few years I only go there for dim sum, especially with guests headed out of town since it is so freeway convenient.

      If you like fancier Chinese joints, you might check out Tai Pan, which opened 6-8 (?) months ago in the old Florentine/Hong Kong Flower Lounge space in downtown P.A.

    2. California produce is showcased at the San Francisco Ferry Building Saturday Farmers' Market.
      It's worth perusing the stalls and purchasing a few snacks at some of the many stalls. You can also shop inside and find local chocolates, wines and delicious Acme bread.


      1. 1. bastilla at Aziza or Tajine, SF
        2. caramel truffle at XOX Truffle, SF
        3. burrata at A16, SF
        4. roast chicken w/ bread salad at Zuni Cafe, SF
        5. fleur de sel caramel from Michael Recchuiti chocolate shop at Ferry Building, SF
        6. olive bread at Acme, Ferry Building SF
        7. oysters at Hog Island, Ferry Building, SF
        8. ice cream at Mitchell's, SF
        9. egg custard tart & coconut macaroons at Golden Gate Bakery, SF
        10. double double at In-n-Out

        5 Replies
        1. re: hhc

          I see that you posted on the California board for that segment of your trip. You might also want to post on the LA board for tips in that area.


          I'm going to repeat some of the things mentioned, because, well, it is what you should do.

          1. Saturday Farmers Market at Ferry Plaza
          2. Dinner at Chez Panisse, preferably dowstairs, but the cafe is fine.
          3. Dinner at Zuni
          4. egg custard tart AND bbq pork bun at Golden Gate (although I think August is the month they go on vacation
          )5. Truffles (especially caramel) at XOX chocolates
          6. Acme Bread
          7. Dinner at Coco500
          8. Dinner at Aziza
          9. Lunch at Fish. in Sausalito
          10. Cioppino at Tadich. Sure it isn't crab season, but this is THE SF dish and Tadich is a SF institution that serves the best. You won't get this combo anywhere else.

          In-N-Out is dotted through out California. I personally wouldn't stop unless you are in an area where there isn't any other food options. It's good, but it is fast food.

          1. re: rworange

            great work rworange! this would be my list too, except i'd switch out #4 with dim sum at koi palace. roast chicken with bread salad for sure at zuni.

            i'd also suggest taking the ferry to fish (#9) if you have the time. or grab lunch at the ferry building to go, and then take a cruise around the bay.

            #11 is the mission burrito. i love them, but i do recognize that there are other places in ca (san diego, la) that do them better. still, i'd get one. i like el papalote best, but the relatively most authentic are probably the toyanese taco trucks, or a burrito from la taqueria.

            also, vietnamese food is awesome here; i dunno if that's something nyc has? bodega bistro and pagolac are favorites, though slanted door is the 'big name' version.

            get in and out in kettleman city if you take 5 up. that's not something that needs to happen in sf.

            1. re: artemis

              There are Vietnamese places in NYC, but it isn't as good as the Bay Area. I especially enjoy the pho in the Bay Area. I've had pho in NYC and the noodles was ALWAYS overcooked and the broth was almost always underflavored.

              I have not tried the Slanted Door, but after glancing at the food through the window... it is far from authentic. It's so fusion...catered to the tourists and those who just don't know. The prices are also unjustifiable with spring rolls priced at 8.50 when they should cost no more than 4.00.

              Anyway, if you're coming from NYC, you'll need to try the pho here.

              Pho Y#1 in San Jose for one of the best bowls of Pho you'll ever have:
              1660 E. Capitol Expressway, San Jose, CA 95121

              1. re: davidknowshow

                Many of Slanted Door's dishes are pretty traditonal Chinese-Vietnamese. Outside of the fancier presentation, their spring rolls, bahn xeo, and bo luc lac are similar to what I've had elsewhere.

                You're paying as much for the view and location as for the food. Personally I don't like the atmosphere.

                1. re: davidknowshow

                  your reply has prompted me to try Slanted Door... I'll get back to you and let you know if it comes even close to my gramma's banh xeo. :-)

          2. I second the Ferry Building and all its glory.


            1. keep your reservations at Chez Panisse.
            2. Koi Palace in Daly City for dim sum or amazingly fresh cantonese seafood
            3. Canteen for a great meal cooked by top chef Dennis Leary for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
            4. Redd if you don't end up getting into TFL
            5. Oliveto for cal-italian
            6. Save your burrata experience for Campanille while in LA. It's also been available at AOC and Lucques
            7. While in LA, consider AOC over Lucques
            8. In-N-Out with one of their shakes.
            9. When at Stanford, go up Willow Street to Back-A-Yard (hole in the wall) for jerked chicken, jerked pork, corn festivals, ox-tail, etc.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Porthos

              Taylor's instant refresher in the ferry building makes a better shake than In N Out.

            2. You should also post on the Los Angeles and California boards. This board's only for counties that include part of the San Francisco Bay shoreline (as do Napa and Sonoma).

              Dim sum is a must.

              Other local specialties:

              Mission-style burritos
              Cheeseboard / Arizmendi-style pizza
              Joe's Special
              Hangtown fry
              It's It

              There's lots to be said against Mission-style burritos, but they are one of the most famous local specialties.

              If you don't have cheap Pakistani dives, that's another must at the low end.

              In-N-Out's food is not very good unless your only point of reference is McDonald's and other corporate garbage. It might have the best burger in its price range.

              A16's burrata comes from Gioia Cheese Co. in Southern California, so you might try that down there.

              San Francisco seafood restaurants get most of their seafood from the airport. Dungeness crab season's over.

              1. I went to Stanford from '91 to '95 and as a poor student I would splurge at the Peninsula Creamery. It's 50s style diner, nothing fancy. Their milkshakes are awesome and I always loved their chili dog. Their bread pudding is great too and you can drink a Green River soda.

                Ferry Plaza - yes, and buy some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. I'm a cheese geek and addict and they have a great selection. Taylor's Automatic Refresher is here too and is super, try the Miss Kentucky. I prefer the original St.Helena location for ambiance, but you may not have the time to get out there.

                In n' Out - yes, you have to at least try it once. Get the Double Double Animal Style.

                6 Replies
                1. re: babyfork

                  Agreed about the Double Double Animal Style! You won't see it printed on the menu and you may feel silly ordering it, but I promise this isn't a joke!

                  1. re: Non Cognomina

                    I don't feel there is any particular reason to check out In 'n' Out Bulger unless because of the cultishness surrounding it. I feel even more strongly about the lack of good reasons to visit Taylor's refresher. Both are pretty ordinary burgers, there's probably better at a host of greasy spoons in Austin.

                    Having said that, I'll admit that I myself perversely check out chains just because they are chains that I never tried before.

                    But don't expect outstanding eats from either one.

                    1. re: Non Cognomina

                      some of the chowhounds here will probably brand me... but...

                      you can also order the fries, well done, animal style. it's like chili cheese fries but with in'n'out's special sauce instead of chili. worth trying... =)

                      1. re: lawrence

                        I'll just say that I'm a huge In 'n Out fan, but I can't stand the animal-style burgers or the fries well-done. If that was my first meal at In 'n Out, it would be my last. But, you might love it, as others clearly do, so don't limit yourself to one style. Actually, I don't like their shakes either (prefer Ruby's which taste more "real" to me). I just get a cheeseburger w/onions and regular fries. Yum.

                        1. re: emily

                          Since you're driving up from SoCal, you can eat at the In 'n Out off the I5 by Fresno as your rest stop stop.

                    2. re: babyfork

                      > I would splurge at the Peninsula Creamery. It's 50s style diner,
                      > nothing fancy.

                      FYI, about 3 years ago the well-known location was renamed. The diner at 566 Emerson, the corner of Hamilton, is now known as the "Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill", and there is a second branch at Stanford Shopping Center. (Some day there might be a web site at http://www.paloaltocreamery.com/ ). A few blocks over, at 900 High Street, corner of Channing is the "Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store & Grill" which formerly was an actual dairy. That location is more of a sandwich shop, and is run by the landlord of the better known location (in which the restaurant is operated by someone else). Peer in the window and you'll know whether you're in the right place. :-)

                    3. If you don't get into TFL, consider Cyrus in Healdsburg. Not only is that a wonderful meal with some of the best service you'll ever have but there is some great food to be had in Healdsburg the highlights being salumi and gelato/sorbetto from Bovolo and/or any ice cream from Downtown Creamery.

                      I highly recommend Cyrus.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: lainielou

                        I was just going to post the exact same advice about Cyrus.

                      2. My two cents for Asian food...

                        If you are serious about Viet food, try Nha Toi in San Jose. It is very, very good and bursting with flavor, herbs you don't see in every Viet restaurant, and sauces that are so potently delicious, you crave it later.

                        I don't know much about the izakaya scene in NYC, but Gochi in Cupertino is as good as any in Japan. You can sit, eat, and drink for hours like the Japanese after-work parties.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: yamada3

                          Can you tell us more about what's particularly impressed you at Nha Toi? I'm readying for a visit soon.

                        2. Ops, did I 'reply' to the wrong post?

                          This is in reference to Nha Toi in San Jose...

                          I eat there pretty regularly these days, I have liked most everything I tried.

                          This is one of the only places where I can enjoy the canh chua. It's not too sweet, and the fish actually comes to life in the soup. The taro soup/stew was excellent too.

                          I had several of their big grilled fish plates (with wraps and herbs) - although I don't remember which one it was, the accompanying sauce was a grated tuna seasoning, which the lady said was a specialty of the house. It was divine. It was like a pocket of condensed umami with just the right combination of saltiness to highlight all of the subtle umami overtones.

                          I also really like their salted-fish fried rice - nothing like any fried rice I've ever had.

                          Everything here is more potent in flavor than many of the other restaurants I've had Viet food. For example, if you ask for hot peppers here, they bring the small peppers we grow at home for our serious chilli consumption. They are so hot, most Japanese friends of mine cannot eat them.

                          My only disappointment so far has been one of the green papaya salads. They have two versions - one is vastly superior to the other.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: yamada3

                            I think Nha Toi is worth trying since it focuses on Northern Vietnamese cooking, whereas most of the Viet places in CA are Southern (Westminster in SoCal is the place to go for that), but I wouldn't make it a destination for a short trip.

                            All the items we tried were good except for the Gio Heo Gia Cay -- my bf said it translates to "leg pork fake dog" and apparently it's pork cooked with herbs and spices in the same manner that dog is cooked back in Vietnam. However I think it's an acquired taste and we could only eat a few bites. Afterwards my bf brought it back to his mom (who's from Saigon), and she said her version is very different, so I guess it's not the definitive version of fake dog :)

                          2. Great lists posted so far. To reiterate a few items and add a few more...

                            Uni (sea urchin roe) nigiri sushi is often from Southern California, if you really are adventurous with your eating. Might as well go to Yum Yum Fish market (Irving St SF) before 4 pm (beat the crowd) for good valued sushi, there's a few tables to sit, but keep in mind it is still mostly a fish market.

                            Veggie Delight gigantic salad (choose poppyseed dressing) at Cafe Intermezzo in Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue

                            It's It ice cream cookie sandwich

                            fresh artichokes in Castroville / Moss Landing (go there if you're driving up the coast from LA to SF, north of Monterey)

                            Korean BBQ at any recommended venue, particularly one where you can cook your own at your table with wood charcoal, not gas.

                            definitely hit the SF Ferry Building Farmers Market on a Saturday morning to check out the fresh produce, the baked goods, the fresh seafood, and the cheese at Cowgirl Creamery!

                            Swan Oyster Depot on Polk St in SF for an early seafood lunch (beat the crowd), sure it's a bit touristy, but still good and better than wasting time at Fisherman's Wharf

                            Banh mi Vietnamese sandwich either from Saigon Sandwiches (Tendernob SF) or Le Cafe (Outer Richmond SF)

                            Hole in the wall Mexican food recommendation: Naranjos Taqueria on Broadway St in Redwood City, maybe a 15 minute drive north from Stanford.

                            If you really want a great burger, forget In-N-Out, and head to 21st Amendment on 2nd Street in SF. It's not cheap, but the burgers are oh so good. The beer is pretty good there too.

                            On your drive up from LA to SF, try to find a fruit stand. The fresh fruit in California is very nice. Fresh produce in general is much much nicer here than in NYC.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Benny Choi

                              I'd get my Korean in Los Angeles in K-Town. Actually, I suggest Los Angeles' Bar Marmont on Sunset for out-of-this-world hamburgers and shoestring fries. Yes, I know this is the Bay Area chain...

                              As for the Bay, Taqueria Cancun in the Mission shouldn't be missed. Very, very different from Tex-Mex but equally delicious. The tortillas are paper thin and flavorful. Our Italian can't be beat either (Incanto, Antica Trattoria, Pane e Vino...)

                            2. The NY Times has a good article about tacos along the drive from LA to SF:


                              (don't ask me why the NY Times, although the food section has an article this week that seems to reflect the lack of good tacos out east.


                              And if you end up at Caltech, you may eat at Burger Continental more than you want to. But Pie and Burger is worth it.

                              1. I love Korean food (not just BBQ), but everything I hear/read indicates that it's better in LA. I eat at great places in Oakland (mostly Sahn Maru and Ohgane), but I think you should check the LA board for this. I'd also look to LA for high end sushi. If you're looking for California kitsch and solid food, a late night visit to the Palms in Thai Town will bring large servings of good Thai food and a performance by a Thai Elvis impersonator. Not the best Thai food in California, but far from the worst, and the experience is a blast. http://www.palmsthai.com/contactus.htm Call to check Elvis's schedule.

                                I know everyone wants you to hit Hog Island at the Ferry Building. I understand this, but I'd do things a bit differently. By all means visit the Ferry Building, but don't skip making a trip north. Bring wine. While in Marin County, go to Tomales Bay Foods. http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/ Watch Cowgirl cheeses being made. Taste. Then buy a picnic lunch there and drive ten minutes to Marshall and visit the Hog Island oyster farm. They have a great funky picnic area overlooking Tomales Bay. http://www.hogislandoysters.com/v2/te... You can purchase oysters fresh out of the tank. They'll teach you how to shuck them and provide knife, glove, and mignonette. It's been a little over a year since was there, but last time I was there fifty Hog Island Sweets were $32.

                                I second dinner at the Chez and Tadich. You should not miss the birthplace of "California cuisine" or the quintessential flavor of San Francisco.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: lexdevil

                                  Just wanted to add a note that Hog Island has instituted a reservation policy for use of the picnic area.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    The Hog Island link includes the reservation info.

                                    1. re: lexdevil

                                      Yep, just wanted to put it out there since many people don't open links and this is a change in the last year or so. Also, the website has two different sets of prices and res policies. Here's the other page (scan to the bottom), which quotes a higher price and a minimum group size of 6. Walk-ins of smaller groups accommodated space permitting.

                                2. My Top 10:

                                  10. Mission Street Burritos (rec Carne Asada/Prawn Combo at La Cornetta)
                                  9. San Francisco Sour Dough
                                  8. San Diego/ Baja style Fish Tacos
                                  7. LA Thai
                                  6. Real Monterey Bay Calamari
                                  5. Tomales Bay BBQ’ed Oysters (North Bay coast) -TY RL
                                  4. Santa Maria style grilled tri-tip (central coast)
                                  3.San Francisco Cioppino (rec Tadich Grill)
                                  2. Napa/Sonoma Wine tasting
                                  1. Chez Panisse’s California cuisine (Berkeley)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. If you are driving the Coast Highway, you MUST stop in Pescadero, about 10 miles south of Half Moon Bay. Arcangeli Deli & Bakery has a heavenly garlic or artichoke/garlic loaf with whole garlic cloves baked right in.
                                    Stop in at Duarte's (pronounced "Doo-Arts") tavern for their famous artichoke soup, too. Top rated by Jane & Michael Stern:

                                    If you're feeling adventurous, turn in from the coast at Pescadero and take Pescadero Road to Highway 84 (Woodside Road). It will drop you at the back door of Stanford in the ultra-plush neighborhood of Woodside.
                                    I went to Stanford and lived up in those hills for a year. The drive is gorgeous, but a bit longer and more twisting than if you took Highawy 1 to 92 in Half Moon Bay.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: foodiegrl

                                      If you do the 84 route, you can always stop at Alice's Restaurant at Skyline and 84 for breakfast, lunch, beers, whatever, on the deck, and watch all the harleys go by...

                                    2. Wow, thanks so much everyone for all the great suggestions. There are just so many options! I'm working on narrowing down my list of possibilities some, and I'll post it in the next day or two to see what you guys think. Thanks again for the help.

                                      1. Reservations booked so far:
                                        Lucques -- "Sunday Supper". We have reservations Sunday August 27 at 7:00pm -- West Hollywood
                                        Jar -- "Mozzarella Monday". We have reservations Monday August 28 at 7:00pm -- LA
                                        I'm thinking I need to cancel this one because I read today that the Mozzarella Monday thing is only done in the bar area. Is that information accurate?
                                        Manresa -- Grand Tasting Menu requested. We have reservations Tuesday August 29 at 6:30pm -- Los Gatos
                                        Chez Panisse -- 4-course set menu. We have reservations downstairs (the restaurant) Wednesday August 30 at 6:30pm -- Berkeley

                                        Any substitutions/additions/deletions you would make?

                                        Question marks that remain:
                                        LA area:
                                        - Dinner (and of course dessert) Saturday
                                        - Breakfast/Brunch/Lunch/Snacks/Bread/Sweets/Ice Cream during the day Sunday
                                        - Lunch Monday near CalTech (thinking Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles for this one)
                                        - Dinner Monday night as possible alternative to Jar (Hopefully the new Batali/Silverton place if it's open then. But doesn't have to be a similar style of food. Doesn't have to be right in LA, for that matter. Can be a short drive there, and then we'd crash in the city for the night.)
                                        Between LA & Los Gatos:
                                        - Possible dinner Monday night??
                                        - Breakfast/Lunch Tuesday
                                        Palo Alto area:
                                        - Lunch Wednesday somewhere close to Stanford. Is there an In-n-Out Burger nearby? Or a taqueria with fish tacos perhaps?
                                        SF area:
                                        - Dim Sum Thursday perhaps
                                        - Dinner Thursday if we don't get lucky with a cancellation for TFL
                                        - Early breakfast Friday morning so we don't have to eat crappy plane food

                                        Places that I'm still considering:
                                        Too many I have a massive list I'm slowly trying to whittle down.
                                        Some places that look the most interesting so far, though, are:
                                        LA area
                                        -- Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles
                                        -- Tacos Baja Ensenada
                                        -- Langer's
                                        -- Philippe's
                                        -- Doughboys
                                        -- In-n-Out
                                        -- La Brea Bakery
                                        -- AOC (only if we don't do Lucques)
                                        -- Jin Patisserie
                                        -- Boule
                                        -- Spago
                                        -- Providence
                                        -- La Super Rica (Santa Barbara)
                                        In between LA & SF (this list is terribly short, and fine dining is probably not what we're after during the d, but hopefully it will grow once I find some of the places for the "In search of..." things I'll list below):
                                        -- Bouchee (Carmel)
                                        -- L'Auberge (Carmel)
                                        -- Sierra Mar (more for the view than the food) (Big Sur)
                                        SF area/Wine Country:
                                        -- Ferry Building Marketplace (this is a must)
                                        -- Tartine
                                        -- XOX Truffles
                                        -- Mitchell's Ice Cream
                                        -- Aziza (menu is interesting)
                                        -- Oliveto
                                        -- Incanto (have read good things here on eG)
                                        -- A16 (do I really want to try a pizza place if I go to school in NYC, though?)
                                        -- Tadich's (want to try a true SF cioppino)
                                        -- Koi Palace (are there better dim sum options?)
                                        -- Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton ("salt-and-pepper" tasting menu is intriguing)
                                        -- Boulangerie at Pine St.
                                        -- Citizen Cake
                                        -- Michael Mina
                                        -- Golden Gate Bakery
                                        -- La Folie
                                        -- Jardiniere
                                        -- Canteen (although perhaps too similar to Upstairs at Bouley in NYC)
                                        -- Fleur de Lys
                                        -- Fifth Floor
                                        -- Gary Danko
                                        -- Campton Place
                                        -- Redd Napa Valley (Yountville)
                                        -- Cyrus (Healdsburg)
                                        -- Manka's (Inverness)
                                        -- Julia's Kitchen at Copia (Napa)
                                        -- Terra (St. Helena)

                                        Yikes, that list was long.

                                        Still in search of...:
                                        -- Olallieberry Pie (Duartes? Linn's Fruit Bin?)
                                        -- Date Shake (I understand this is a SoCal thing)
                                        -- Pick-your-own strawberries, olallieberries, etc somewhere between LA & Los Gatos. Or just a place to buy some awesome fresh tiny strawberries (there's probably a French name for them that I don't know )
                                        -- Some good artichokes (Castroville the place to go?)
                                        -- Some good avocados

                                        Thanks again for all the help everybody. There are so many great options. The hard part now is choosing which ones.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: tupac17616

                                          Great call on Lucques, Jar, Manresa, and Chez Panisse. Too bad you couldn't squeeze in AOC while in LA.

                                          For dim sum, go to Koi Palace. There is no better option in SF, LA, or NYC. You can get lobster or dungeness crab dumplings to order.

                                          If you can, try some of their fresh abalones that they have NOW! And also they have some Australian snow crab (looks like small king crabs) that you can have them prepare 2-tastes.

                                          Pass on A16. I like Incanto because it reminds me of Batali italian but that may be a reason for you to pass until you move here.

                                          Canteen is more diner setting than Bouley. I'd make it a must. It'd also be a little change in pace. Some comfort food to break up the fine dining.

                                          Redd is nice if you can't get FL.

                                          And of course, don't forget the Ferry Building on Saturdays. Go early. Rose's ran out of stuff by noon last week.

                                          1. re: tupac17616

                                            olallieberry pie: the oldest stand-by source for this finest of pies is an otherwise unexceptional neighborhood joint in Berkeley called Fat Apple's, corner of Cedar and Martin Luther King Jr. They've been making olallieberry pie for decades (in high school, I used to buy a whole pie there with a buddy and then go to a coffeeshop with friends and eat it out of the tin; it was sensational).

                                            your Friday breakfast in San Francisco, before the plane: Tartine Bakery, at Guerrero and 18th in the Mission District is about as good as French bakeries get. Their morning buns, in particular, are the finest iteration of the morning bun I've ever tasted. Nice atmosphere, too, if you don't mind hustle and bustle and hipsters drinking coffee before work. Seriously, this place is highly, highly recommended. You could also grab some savory food for your airplane lunch, and you'd end up pinching yourself at 30,000 feet. That one-block stretch of 18th, in fact, is a foodie hub. Delfina, which oddly didn't get recommended for dinner (it's easily as good as the best restaurants on your list), and the foodie/organic devoted Bi-Rite Market are just up the street.

                                            1. re: Daniel Duane

                                              Yeah, I would go to Delfina before most of the other places on the list.

                                          2. SF Area: dinner if you don't get lucky at TFL

                                            You might want to consider Keller's newest venture, Ad Hoc. The concept is a $45 prix fix of comfort food like fried chicken and beef strogenoff, with superb ingredients and execution that meets the Keller standard. I thought of it because they don't take reservations, and it's in Napa so it seems like the perfect last minute backup-and you'll at least get a taste of Keller while you're here. Unfortunately, it hasn't actually opened yet (any time now) so there aren't any reports. I'm plannning on eating there on the 19th (assuming they're open by then) and I'll have a full report out soon after.

                                            1. Early morning breakfast sounds like you should stop at Canteen!

                                              1. La Folie's great but probably not that different from small French-chef-owned haute French places in NY.

                                                You'll likely find great artichokes on a number of menus. Castroville's where they grow a lot of them commercially but not the best or the place to eat them.

                                                Given your limted time I'd strike from that list:

                                                Mitchell's Ice Cream
                                                Golden Gate Bakery
                                                Fleur de Lys
                                                Fifth Floor
                                                Campton Place

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  There's always room to squeeze in a bakery stop. Here's a thread on the Manhattan board from NYers pining for Golden Gate Bakery custard tarts.

                                                2. This is for yehfromthebay, it would be difficult to jump off the I-5 to stop at In-N-Out in Fresno, as the I-5 does not pass through Fresno.

                                                  Here is a link to the In-N-Out website to find their locations that would be in the Bay Area (or other areas):


                                                  1. I recommended Incanto to some friends from New York who know Babbo, and they were impressed by the food and prices, particularly the wine prices.

                                                    "Because you are going to Chez Panisse, I'd elminate other Cal Cuisine places like Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton ..."

                                                    I don't think those are similar sorts of places. I'd group them like this:

                                                    Market-driven California:
                                                    Chez Panisse, Zuni Cafe, Cafe Rouge

                                                    Market-driven Cal-Italian:
                                                    Oliveto, Incanto, Pizzaiolo, Delfina

                                                    Chef-driven Cal-French:
                                                    French Laundry, Ritz, Gary Danko, Michael Mina


                                                    La Folie, Fleur de Lys

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      However, you categorize them, they are all pretty similar. You can choose to agree with that or not. I go through my dining swings where I eat upscale a lot and it doesn't matter what is attached to the end of the Cal, after a while I get sick of it because it it all so similar and gets boring.

                                                      Everyone has huckleberries. Everyone is doing skate or pork belly or whatever the trend of the moment is. There are the designer greens and the goat cheese or cheese o' the month.

                                                      Even Aziza is only marginally different, but the most different of the whole list and pretty unique to SF.

                                                      French you can get anywhere. I'd rather eat Cal-whatever than spend my one-shot at a SF French restaurant.

                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                        Chez Panisse serves normal-sized portions of three or four courses. Everybody at the table gets the same dish. The focus is on highlighting the flavors of top-quality seasonal ingredients, and presentation is relatively simple. It's inspired by rustic Italian and provincial French cooking.

                                                        Thomas Keller, Michael Mina, and Ron Siegel put a California (or sometimes Japanese) spin on French haute cuisine. Often there are elaborate tasting menus of nine or more small courses, not necessarily with the same dish for each diner at the table.

                                                        To me, these couldn't be more different. The former is my ideal. The latter, sometimes I get nauseous just reading reports.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          I think you'd really like Ron Siegel, even though I wouldn't suggest him for this visit. I tell you, if I win the lottery or my business ever goes big time, I'm treating you to dinner at French Laundry just to read your report on it.

                                                          Well, that's just it ... it's all spin.

                                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        I dined at both Incanto once (last March) and at Babbo many times.

                                                        Incanto has amazing appetizers - I tried one with beef hearts and a salad and it was delicious! The beef hearts were so tender, they were cooked and seasoned perfectly... absolutely wonderful.

                                                        The pastas however were a complete debacle especially compared to Babbo. I had a green (spinach?) fettucine with nettles and it was incredibly bland. I couldn't get over the fact that it was undersalted and flavorless. My boyfriend had a plate of spaghetti with just a plain ol' butter and lemon sauce. We were hoping it would be something more, but meh. I did, however, appreciate the freshness of the pasta. Luckily, we filled up on alot of the appetizers. I wish I could remember what they were because they were so good!

                                                        Babbo's pastas (Batali's forte IMO) are just so incredibly innovative and packed with flavor compared to Incanto. Garganelli + Funghi.. a delectable combination. Even his papardelle bolognese, which is usually a dish that reminds me of school lunches, was inspired!!

                                                        All in all, I really enjoyed incanto because it had good appetizers and it didn't break the bank. I would defintely go back.

                                                      3. For Wednesday lunch, why not eat on campus? What better way to get a feel for the University Dining Service. Stanford has by far one of the most progressive food service operations in the country. They have had a formal vegetarian, vegan, and even halal program there for more than 10 years now. These days, they are emphasizing organic, sustainable & locallly-raised products and intergrating green business practices as well. Every location has a certified trained Executive Chef, and their director (whom I last saw at the James Beard Awards this year) is a CIA grad and industry expert.

                                                        While typical "dorm" food service is on hiatus this summer, there are plenty of operations running right now that accept cash-paying guests. Check them out here:

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: foodiegrl

                                                          If you're going to eat on campus, go to the Thai take-out window in the basement of the psych building. I think it's open only from noon to 1, and you'll know it by the line of 40 grad students snaking out the back door of building 60. (I think it's building 60.) Get the special, and have your money ready when you get to the front.

                                                        2. I have no clue which of your posts I put this in, but Devil's slide just beyond Half Moon Bay reopened today, so if you go that route, you don't need to do a detour.

                                                          If you are in the HMB area, Flying Fish grill makes some excellent fish tacos.

                                                          Also, about French Laundry ... someone on the board had sucess using Open Table, so you might give that a try.

                                                          1. I think I may be officially the most indecisive person in the world. I'm not sure if this list of SF area options is getting shorter or longer, but here is the current one, sort of grouped in rough categories. My fellow 'hounds, help!

                                                            Manresa (already have reservation)
                                                            Chez Panisse (already have reservation)

                                                            Ferry Building Marketplace (this one is basically a sure thing)

                                                            Tartine (this place looks really good)
                                                            Citizen Cake (My dad and I are both huge sweet tooths)
                                                            XOX Truffles
                                                            Bay Bread Boulangerie

                                                            Mitchell’s Ice Cream
                                                            It’s It Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich (where to find one?)

                                                            Tadich Grill (cioppino)

                                                            Koi Palace
                                                            Zen Peninsula
                                                            Yank Sing
                                                            Golden Gate Bakery
                                                            AA Bakery

                                                            Aziza (this one looks interesting)
                                                            Canteen (only considering for breakfast)

                                                            The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton (anyone done the "salt-and-pepper" tasting menu?)
                                                            Fleur de Lys


                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: tupac17616

                                                              I'd strike Mitchell's and It's It, they're not in the same league with the rest.

                                                              Bi-Rite's an amazing corner store but not a must-eat stop for a tourist. Worth a look around if you're at Tartine half a block away.

                                                              1. re: tupac17616

                                                                Just about any corner or grocery store has It's It.

                                                                Definitely love Canteen for breakfast. You might also want to consider Dottie's True Blue. Strike Citizen Cake from your list. But I do like their gelatos. Of your high-end restaurants, go to Ritz Carlton. I would do Incanto or A16 over Qunice. Coi or Aziza over that group. Koi Palace from that list (but get an egg custard from Golden Gate Bakery). I hope that helps narrow it down a little.

                                                              2. I really love Boulette's Larder for breakfast. We go there every time we're up from Los Angeles. We've been to Canteen as well but, Boulette's Larder always brings us back.
                                                                Boulette's Larder is in the Ferry Building.
                                                                To the other hounds out there: How do YOU feel about these two places in comparison?
                                                                I obviously think that Boulette's Larder is an extremely unique experience (ONLY in SF will you find a place like this), and the food is just as great, if not better than Canteen.
                                                                I beg you to try this place for breakfast... please look into it!!

                                                                1. I've been trying to edit the post I made last week to keep the list of options up-to-date as I trim the fat, so to speak. But for the sake of convenience, and hopefully to get some more opinions, here is my list of possibilites as of today:

                                                                  Manresa (already have reservation for Grand Tasting Menu)
                                                                  Chez Panisse (already have reservation downstairs)

                                                                  Ferry Building Marketplace (basically a sure thing)

                                                                  Bay Bread Boulangerie
                                                                  XOX Truffles
                                                                  Citizen Cake

                                                                  Mitchell’s Ice Cream
                                                                  It’s It Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich

                                                                  Tadich Grill

                                                                  Koi Palace
                                                                  Zen Peninsula
                                                                  Yank Sing

                                                                  Golden Gate Bakery
                                                                  AA Bakery

                                                                  Canteen (only considering for breakfast)

                                                                  The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton ("salt-and-pepper" tasting)
                                                                  Fleur de Lys


                                                                  What area of San Francisco would be best for a "food crawl", popping in at several different places to grab something small?

                                                                  Also, what kind of options for good food are open 24 hrs in the SF Bay area?

                                                                  And where would you recommend for a very early (~7-ish) weekday breakfast?

                                                                  Thanks for any and all help. It's greatly appreciated.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: tupac17616

                                                                    I'd say skip Fleur de Lys -- it's no different from dozens of other high-end French restaurants around the country and nowhere in the same league as the Ritz IMO.

                                                                    Of your dim sum choices, definitely Koi Palace over Yank Sing or Zen Peninsula.

                                                                    Chinatown is great for a food crawl, and if you keep crawling, you end up in North Beach, which is littered with bakeries, coffee houses, etc.

                                                                    Another street that's fun is Clement (Richmond District, or "the Richmond" -- not to be confused with the city of Richmond in the East Bay), especially between fifth and tenth and out in the 20s. It's an interesting mix of Asian, Eastern European and a dash of Mexican. If you're driving, you can cruise the whole length on your way out to the Cliff House (for the view, not the food)/Seal Rocks area, then you can circle back through Golden Gate Park and perhaps over to the south side of the park (Sunset District or "the Sunset") and the heavily Asian commercial shopping/restaurant areas along Irving.

                                                                    As any NYer will tell you with great disdain, SF is not a 24-hour town. The choices after 11 pm are pretty slim. There was a thread recently about late night places to eat:


                                                                  2. A fellow chowhounder mentioned that Golden Gate Bakery was closed for vacation. Please keep that in mind.

                                                                    An alternative to Koi Palace for dim sum is Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Burlingame. Koi is notorious for making you wait, even with reservations. If you would like Chinese food for dinner, I'd go to R&G Lounge or Koi Palace.

                                                                    For Vietnamese influenced cuisine, I'd recommend PPQ in the richmond district of San Francisco. They are infamous for their crab and also make good pho.

                                                                    If you stop by Boulangerie, do not leave without getting the Cannelés de Bordeaux. It's scrumptious! As is the banana cream tart from Tartine Bakery. It is better than the banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery in New York.

                                                                    In addition to all the rave reviews listed above for Canteen, I am also adding in my vote and insisting you stop by. The standout breakfast dish for me was the peach french toast.

                                                                    And lastly, two dinner spots I'd recommend are Michael Mina and Acquerello. Michael Mina purely for the food. There is no ambience b/c it occupies space in the lobby of the St. Francis hotel. Acquerello for the outstanding service, overall dining experience and bang for your buck.