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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.

      http://www.bunrab.com/yummychow/Revie...

      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.

          http://www.chowhound.com/boards/show/2

          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.

            Also:

            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
              cioppino
              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.