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San Francisco vs. Manhattan--Overall Better Chowhound Locale

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Having lived and worked (food related) in both locales, I vote for San Francisco over New York as the better place for a Chowhound to live. Manhattan may be more densely populated with restaurants and have a leg up wider variety of some cuisine, but San Francisco has more of what I love to eat. When I'm in San Francisco the only things I miss about New York are a good slice and the pork buns at Momofuku. When I'm in New York I miss a good burrito from El Balazo on Haight or the carnitas at Tres Hermanos in Napa. I dream of the pork belly, salmon rillette and foie at Bouchon in Yountville (Bouchon in Time Warner just isn't the same). I dream of a double double at In 'n Out (the Shake Shack doesn't hold a candle to it). And if I'm in NY for more than a month I get an unexplainable craving for a Krispy Kreme (even though I rarely think of going there when I'm in the SF area).

Yes, NYC has a plethora of fine dining options for those fancy pants occasions. I've been a fan of Gramercy Tavern for special occasions for years. I've also eaten at Per Se and love the exquisite food and ambiance, both peppered with the kind of subtle intelligent humor that I love. But with options like Cyrus, Chez Panisse and The French Laundry, I'm satisfied with the SF Bay area.

And when it comes to availability of fresh produce San Francisco wins hands down. Nothing comes to mind when I think of produce I long for from the NY area, or any particular vendor at any of the Green Markets that I just can't live without (except for the guy who used to sell raw milk at the Union Square Green Market on Fridays, but last I heard he was only selling at the one up by the Cloisters on Saturdays--haven't made it up that far, even though the milk IS worth it). But SF has an abundance of produce about practically all year. I never knew I liked brussel sprouts until I had some off the stalk. Blood oranges are an addiction I wait to sate every January. And don't get me started on berries or stone fruit! Even fresh butter, cheese, and eggs are abundant and delicious at almost every farmers market I can think of in the area.

Even grocery stores are more Chowhound friendly in the SF area. Yes, NY has more (in number) "ethnic" markets, but the only grocery store I go to in NY is Whole Foods. In the Bay Area I love the Berkeley Bowl and Ranch 99. The SF Chinatown may not be as spread out as the one in NYC, but if you know where to go you can find what you are looking for (that's way it is with 'Hounds).

Seafood is better in SF, too. With the exception of soft shell crab, SF just has better, fresher fish (in my opinion). After all, King Salmon trumps Atlantic Salmon every time.

So what do other Hounds think? I'm not looking to pick a fight, nor am I saying Manhattan isn't a great food town. I'm just saying if I have to choose one of the other for my primary stoming grounds, it's the San Francisco Bay area.

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  1. Here's another perspective -- Chowhounding isn't just about eating delicious food -- it's also about going out and finding new delicious food. And there's always less new delicious food to discover in a place where one has been chowhounding for a while. Thus, the answer would always depend on the individual chowhound -- the place less picked over by that hound in question would be a better place.

    1. If you don't mention the outer boroughs, and your idea of the best market in NYC is Whole Foods, that don't sound very houndish to me. Also to dismiss "Ethnic" markets in the NY area certainly leaves out a lot.

      Nevermind Zabars, Fairway, or any of the old school specialty food stores and bakeries in NY.

      Sounds like your experience of the NY area is pretty limited. Get out of Manhattan and live a little. Hit Roosevelt Ave. in Queens, or heaven forbid Brighton Beach.

      2 Replies
      1. re: StriperGuy

        I agree. I have never found the need to go to Whole Foods, there are alot of options out there if you seek them.

        1. re: King of Northern Blvd

          Agreed!!

      2. My take on Manhattan has always been been (w/ a few exceptions) that if you had money it's a great place and you'll have plenty of fun.

        To me Manhattan is more a "dining" town whereas SF is more an "eating" town. Dining as in fine dining, service, reservations, formality. Eating as food first, casual and then service. You can of course do both "eating" or "dining" in both places but they are set up differently for whatever reasons.

        Re: the point about the Outer Boroughs...now that's where a lot of the serious "eating", casual, ethnic food is happening in NY. Of course hardline Manhattanites need a visa and their shots to dare leave the city but that's their lost.

        Frankly I find some of the main drags in the Boroughs have the same charm as the Mission District or Clement St. and other parts in S.F...ethnic, funky, casual, inexpensive...but perhaps not the density. Of course the produce and seafood can't be duplicated but that's geographical.

        Re: Whole Foods -- it's pretty, it's clean, quality stuff, 15-20% more expensive and it freaks me out just a little bit. I keep thinking I'm paying 15-20% more for presentation and things are just a little too perfect for my tastes.

        9 Replies
        1. re: ML8000

          I think this is more to the point of what I was trying to say. I have had some great eats in the outer boroughs, but alas as a cook I work 16 hour days so don't have the time to venture out to the boroughs as frequently as I would like. I also live where it takes about at least an hour to do the trip to Brooklyn, and longer to Queens. Yes, it's an outing with a big pay off, but it's more of a day off excursion. And when I'm working 6 days a week sometimes the last thing I want to do is spend an hour on a train to get some good grub. Perhaps I'm just not as hard core a hound as some....

          1. re: Non Cognomina

            You'll schlep out to a Mexican place 45 miles away in Napa but taking the subway 10 miles into Queens is too long a trip? That's not really an apples-to-apples comparison. I'll readily grant that SF wins on local ingredients much of the time, and certainly each town has its strengths, but it's not really sporting to compare Manhattan to the entire Bay Area. New Yorkers certainly wouldn't.

            How does Manhattan stack up against the city of SF proper?

            How do Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the southern half of the Bronx, Jersey City and Newark, NJ and the neighborhoods of Staten Island close to the ferry terminal compare to the parts of the Bay Area you can get to on foot from a BART or Muni station?

            How does the 50-mile radius of SF City Hall compare to a 50-mile radius of NY City Hall?

            Those sound like better (albeit much geekier) questions to me.

            1. re: hatless

              Thank you. I don't care either way (although I'd take NYC over SF in any regard except "where's the better hilly bike ride" or "where can you find really old trees" any day). But the examples in the original question are ridiculous. It's over 50 miles of crazy driving from downtown SF to Yountville. Not that you'd ever want to but you can jump on the Acela and be eating a cheesesteak at Pat's in Philadelphia in less time than than the SF-to-Napa/Yountville drive.

              1. re: hatless

                The key tipping point is places that are actually open when I'm hungry. NYC wins in this case. If I want a falafel at 4am, I know somewhere in NYC, I can get one. Just hop in a cab and ask the guy where he gets his. Apart from a few diners and latenight spots, SF isn't in the same "never sleeps" league.

              2. re: Non Cognomina

                When you're in the grind it's always hard to get out of it. Unless it's on the normal path of travel/commute, it's a hassle. Sometimes I'll be in my car and thinking I want to go some place and I'll drive by but if parking is a hassle...it really depends on how much I want to go. When I'm on public transpo (BART) it's even more of a hassle. From downtown SF do I really want to spend $2 bucks just to get a good $3.80 burrito?

                You really need someone or something to push/pull you to a new place...or be on vacation. Vacation is always fun and you don't have to worry about anything except for fun and the next meal.

                BTW, what I really want to check out in the Bronx are the old Italian places.

                1. re: ML8000

                  Me too (about the old Italian place in the Bronx)! I just have no idea which ones are really good and don't feel like being a loner in the adventure!

                  1. re: Non Cognomina

                    Check Outer Boros for periodic discussions on the subject or search "Arthur Ave". You'll find plenty of advice.

                    1. re: Non Cognomina

                      Organize some fellow chowhounds maybe? Too bad the site dosen't allow private messages or (optional) access to members' Email

                  2. re: Non Cognomina

                    I think it is less a question of being a "hard core hound" and more about the fact that if you are only talking about the Manhattan scene, then you don't begin to talk about eating in NYC.

                    I have no problem with the notion that SF might beat out NYC - but, if you want total credibility, you have to be fair. There are some amazing supermarkets in Queens, such as the Indian supermarket on 74th in Jackson Heights, the Chinese market on Bway in Elmhurst, any number of Korean markets all over the borough, and I'm not even mentioning Brooklyn yet. Right off the bat, I'm thinking of a great little Thai market in Brighton Beach, on Neptune I think.

                2. As a Bay Area chouwhound, I feel I may never have enough opportunity (nor money) to explore the culinary riches of Manhattan: I dream of going back to Babbo and Bouley (which impressed me more than the French Laundry), of Zabar's and Payard, and of exploring the inexpensive non-Asian ethnic eateries. . . But I know that we have Manresa, Vung Tau, Koi Palace, and the Ferry Plaza; and that my cousin, the NY chef, is always excited about visiting and eating in SF. I know that the artichoke fields are 40 minutes away, I can buy corn cut an hour ago, and my figs will still have sap welling on their tips. . . Perhaps a better question would be: where would a Chowhound rather live? (And I suspect that most SF and NY hounds would probably find they'd rather be exactly where they are :))

                  1. There's Krispy Kreme in Manhattan. And for grocery stores in NY, nothing beat FreshDirect. I really enjoy their local produce options. Another good one is Urban Organic. Both are delivery services you can find online.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: krissywats

                      Where is the Krispy Kreme in Manhattan?

                      1. re: Non Cognomina

                        There used to be one in Chelsea and one on 72nd and B'way but now, according to the KK website there is one at Penn Station and also one on 3rd Ave. at 84th St.

                        1. re: Non Cognomina

                          Non Cognomina, The Krispy Kreme on 23rd Street near 8th Ave., across from the bigger of the two movie theatres, makes donuts on site. The shop in Penn Station is a retail outlet only- no baking on premises. I'm not sure about other locations.

                          1. re: The Engineer

                            I KNEW there was another one. The KK site doesn't list the 23rd and 8th site on their website. I remember seeing the 'hot/fresh' sign.

                            1. re: krissywats

                              For me, unless you get the newborns, KK ain't no big deal.

                              1. re: The Engineer

                                Newborns, yes, never heard that before, but yes.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  I got that from a friend who said he only goes to the KK "where you can see them being born."

                                2. re: The Engineer

                                  If they're not hot, they're nothing special.

                                  Which is basically true for all donuts. KK's success came from serving hot donuts throughout the day. Their downfall came from selling cold ones in grocery stores etc.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    "If they're not hot, they're nothing special.

                                    Which is basically true for all donuts."

                                    If you'd ever had an old-style Tim Horton's Apple Fritter, you would retract this statement. They were huge, bursting with apple and cinnamon, and never served warm.

                                    Unfortunately, after the Wendy's takeover, the fritters were downsized, the apple content reduced, and the spice reduced. Feh.

                                    1. re: KevinB

                                      Definitely not true. If you tried Verna's donuts in Cambridge MA, they are excellent cold.

                                      As were the homemade donuts I used to make as a kid. Wish I still had the recipe. Deep fried in lard... yum.

                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Actually, that's not true about their downfall - I was eating cold KK's from the grocery store when I was 5 years old (that would be 30 years ago). The original KK's (1930's) were only sold to grocery stores, not 'hot and fresh' at all.

                                      Downfall they may have had, but not from being cold in the grocery store. That's how they got popular to begin with.

                                      However, the trick was to put them in the oven for a few minutes and they were perfect.

                                      1. re: krissywats

                                        KK turned into a nationwide chain based on hot donuts, which people went nuts for, then ended up in trouble by investing too much in distributing the cold ones to grocery stores, where people would try them once and not be impressed. Apparently people outside the south like their supermarket donuts a bit less sweet.

                          2. Pro SF: access to vinyards, long (continuous?) growing season, cleaner chinatown(!), In&Out/Fatburger/Jack-in-the-Box, ethnic food can be found in "nicer" surroundings...

                            Pro NY: seasonality of food, endless options, ability to have Burmese dinner, drink cask-conditioned ales all night, and top it off late night at a Ukranian diner all on one block...

                            I've lived in & around NY most of my life, visited SF 4 or 5 times. I just need to take about 5 years over there so I can answer better. Any sponsers?!?

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: The Engineer

                              Engineer, your pro NY description: "ability to have Burmese dinner, drink cask-conditioned ales all night, and top it off late night at a Ukranian diner all on one block..." sounds like the East Village. Good Eats abound!

                              1. re: Non Cognomina

                                you got it, same block as McSorelys ;)

                                1. re: Non Cognomina

                                  In SF you can get Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Kosher, Greek run produce market, Russian, Mexican, diner food, old school handmade ice cream, Irish Pub and Italian (all authentic) within two short blocks - Geary/20th Ave.

                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    Yeah but that's the ONLY place in San Francisco with that kind of ethnic concentration. That's like every other street in NYC.

                                    1. re: MSPD

                                      And how good are these places?

                                      I've spend a good deal of time in NYC and the diversity is there but the food seems happenstance (i.e., you really need to know where the good places are), especially when with Asian food in the winter.

                                      The thing about SF is that you can pretty much get anywhere in the City w/i 20 minutes by car (parking is another deal) and get to any 'hood or ethnic enclave.

                                      1. re: MSPD

                                        The Richmond's less diverse than the Mission District, which has Mexican, Yucatecan, Salvadoean, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Breton, Cal-French, Italian, Cal-Italian, Japanese, Peruvian, pan-Latin fusion, Asian fusion, Thai, Pakistani, California pizza, Indian pizza, Indian ice cream, Burmese, bad NY-style slice pizza, and a one-star Michelin place within a two-block radius.

                                  2. re: The Engineer

                                    not sure about 'cleaner chinatown' - when I was in SF 2 years ago, maybe the streets looked cleaner, but the stores and restos were filthy and way outdated - circa 1900s.

                                    1. re: The Engineer

                                      Where can you get a good Burmese dinner? I was deeply underwehlmed by the place on 7th, especially as compared to Burma SuperStar in, you guessed it... San Fran.

                                    2. Each city has different strengths, mostly as a result of their inhabitants. In general, the west coast has more authentic, cleaner and fresher Pacific rim food, while NY has better European/Western type food:

                                      SF:
                                      Mexican food!!
                                      Dim sum and Chinese food in general is better
                                      fresher, cheaper produce available year-round
                                      Cheaper and wider variety of domestic wine
                                      Sushi is cheaper
                                      Thai is way better
                                      Korean is better
                                      Vietnamese is better

                                      NY
                                      Bagels!
                                      Fresh pastrami at Katz
                                      Easier to find european imports such as cheese
                                      Easier to find eastern european food
                                      French food is better and more authentic
                                      Jamaican and caribbean cuisine
                                      More readily available French, italian, spanish wine
                                      More regional Italian cuisine

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: awl

                                        Which regional Italian cuisines can you get in New York that we don't have in SF?

                                      2. I agree. I think its an impossible comparison between those two amazing cities, having lived both places. As you say, pros and cons in both...oh OK, can;t resist:

                                        Better in NYC:
                                        Overall ethnic Diversity
                                        Late night
                                        steeped in tradition
                                        greek
                                        middle eastern
                                        street food!
                                        consistency of high end dining
                                        French
                                        Jewish
                                        Russian
                                        Polish
                                        pizza...duh
                                        Hot dogs
                                        A certain kind of asian fusion (momofuku, fatty crab)
                                        Not being able to keep up with the dining scene...never a dull moment
                                        old school specialty shops (butchers fish shops, etc.
                                        homestyle japanese and izakaya
                                        Jamaican, Cuban, etc
                                        Soul Food
                                        Peruvian and Dominican chicken

                                        Better in SF:
                                        Vietnamese
                                        Mexican
                                        Burmese
                                        Thai
                                        fresh produce
                                        California wine
                                        California food
                                        Coffee
                                        Basque
                                        Dim Sum
                                        Korean
                                        affordable sushi

                                        I guess in summary...try both!