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SF food tour for NYC chowhound (3-days)

i am a taiwanese from NYC. i will be visiting SF for the first time, purely for the food. and I was hoping that you guys can help direct me to some of the "best" and "must-do" eats of SF! high quality and authenticity are a must! decor means nothing. it's all about the food.

i'll be using the BART and trolley/cable car as means of transportation. FYI, i don't mind walking a great distance for a worthwhile meal/snack/etc., only if it's worth the hike. i don't mind travelling outside of SF (like oakland, etc.), as long as the BART/bus can take me there. so if there's anything you feel is worth the trek for (whether it'd be a sit-down meal, snack, quick bite, drink, etc.), feel free to inform me! thanks !

please comment on my itinerary (pos/neg). and feel free to add to the list:

-best dongbei chinese (everyday beijing, little potato, shandong, )
-best xibei chinese (?)
-best taiwanese (Joy,168, won stew, ... from what i've found, most of it doesn't seem promising. or am i wrong?)
-best filipino breakfast (carmen's, ling nam, )
-best tacos (el zorro, el gordo, where are there quality taco trucks?)
-best fish tacos (nick's crispy, ?)
-best bakeries (damavand, emporio rulli, delassio, villa del sol, cinderella, mee mee)
-best desserts (?)
-best exotic fruits (?)
-best cantonese (?)
-best ramen (halu, santa)
-best black sesame snacks/dishes (?)

is fisherman's wharf worth checking out? too touristy? any quality snacks in the residential areas?

THANKS SO MUCH!! i should also mention that i am not visiting SF to be a tourist. i don't drink/party/club/bar-hop. so no bars or clubs for me. again, i'm purely there for the food culture. i love you guys.

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  1. I'm not generally a fan of Naia's gelato, but their black sesame's an exception.

    Most of the best food is in residential neighborhoods, particularly the Mission and the inner Richmond.

    Except for the free and beautiful walk along the Bay, Fisherman's Wharf is purely a tourist trap.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Well, there IS Gary Danko in Fisherman's Wharf. However, I don't even like GD, so if your purpose is food, then skip the Wharf ... only if you must eat there.
      http://www.chow.com/digest/577

      The Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer's market is a must stop.
      http://www.cuesa.org/
      http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/

      Filipino and Russian are not strong points in the city. I'd skip Cinderella and Carmen's. The best Eastern European baked goods are at Crixa in Berkeley.

      You might consider concentrating on California cuisine which SF does very well.

      Here's a recent dessert tasting post
      http://www.chow.com/digest/2510

      Searching thru the Chow Digest will give some good ideas.

    2. Considering how hard it is to find a quality burrito in NYC, you might want to try one in SF. Favorites include El Farolito (super al pastor), Taqueria San Jose (super al pastor and super pollo), and Taqueria Cancun (vegetarian and al pastor). All three are located in the Mission near the 24th Street BART stop, though Cancun and San Jose also have branches in other parts of SF.

      18 Replies
      1. re: a_and_w

        Let's add La Taqueria, on Mission nr. 25th to that list (carnitas or carne asada burritos; agua fresa).

        1. re: Steve Green

          I'm not personally such a fan of La Taqueria -- I prefer rice on my mission burrito. I agree, however, that their carne asada and carnitas are tasty. And given that the OP specifically requested tacos, a burrito at La Taqueria might be a good compromise.

        2. re: a_and_w

          Taqueria San Jose's al pastor is tops, but if you ask me it's much better appreciated as a taco.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            You might be right about that -- pastor flavor tends to get overwhelmed in TSJ's super saucy burritos. I actually prefer the pollo, as I think I've mentioned previously. Still, NYC has some decent taco options but is a burrito wasteland. I say, try the mission burrito experience while you have the chance in SF!

            1. re: a_and_w

              i'm glad for your taco help, guys. honestly, thanks! NY-tristate mexican food is laughable compared to the quality of cali/LA. i've yet to try SF tacos, but i'm sure it'll kick the crap out of any east coast taco.

              any thoughts on El Tonayense taco truck in Mission?

              last year, my friends and I had the priviledge of eating goat stew taco in LA (pictures below). is there such a thing in SF?

               
               
              1. re: inmandarin

                El Tonayense has two or three trucks out there, and reports have been positive on all. I hit the one at 13th and Harrison because it's on my shopping path, but it night not be the easiest to get to by BART.

                BART will also quickly get you to the Fruitvale district of Oakland, and if Ruth (Taco Truck) Lafler isn't asleep at the switch she'll have plenty of valuable guidance to offer on that locus.

                1. re: Gary Soup

                  A Fruitvale taco tour is something I've long wanted to do. Based on what I've read, if you're going to do tacos in the Bay Area, this is where to get them -- and readily accessible by BART as Gary notes.

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    ohhh i see. hmm, i wonder if there's a bus route that can take me there. perhaps it's along the way to some of my other destinations. i'll definitely look into it, and see if i can at least make it there for one taco. thanks for the response!

                    it seems like fruitvale district is generally a pretty interesting area for latino eats.

                    1. re: inmandarin

                      If you are referring to the 13th and Harrison El Tonayense, there are several buses that will get you within a couple of blocks, including the 9, 47, and 12.

                      If someone can come up the the other Tonayense location(s), though, I'd bet that at least one is more quickly accessible using BART.

                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        The one at Shotwell and 16th is three short blocks from 16th St. BART.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Since we have a taco/burritor thing going, and I was lazy creating another post, can someone quickly give a recemmendation for a beef tongue (lengua) burrito. I've only had it a La Taqueria and loved it. Thanks.

                          1. re: badbatzmaru

                            La Cumbre's used to be good but I haven't tried it since the most recent makeover.

                      2. re: inmandarin

                        Do you want to take a bus rather than BART for some reason? It really couldnt be easier or faster to take BART (basically the subway).

                        1. re: Maya

                          i don't mind taking buses. obviously i'm not all that familiar with SF's public transportation. but if it can get me from one food destination to the next, without taking up a whole lot of my time....then i'm all for it!! by all means, please inform me of bus routes if you have some in mind!! thanks in advanced.

                          one of the first things i'll need to do when i arrive to SF is to pick up maps of bus routes, BART, muni, cable car, etc. but for now, i've been studying maps downloaded from the internet.

                          1. re: inmandarin

                            BART (underground) is by far the easiest way to get from San Francisco to Fruivale, as well as many other locations in the East Bay and connecting the Mission District to Downtown SF, etc. I think buses between SF and the East Bay would be considerably more complicated.

                            1. re: Maya

                              BART is by far the fastest way to get to the Mission from downtown, East Bay.

                              You can get a pdf of the MUNI system map here: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mmaps/offici...

                              BART map online:
                              http://www.bart.gov/stations/map/syst...

                              And a trip planner that works with all the Bay Area transit systems here:
                              http://transit.511.org/

                              Have a blast!

                        2. re: inmandarin

                          Are you, by any chance, flying into Oakland? If so, Fruitvale is actually only a stop or two from the airport via BART.

                          1. re: a_and_w

                            yes! you read my mind! Oakland is where i'll be flying in. and yes, fruitvale is one of the few stops i'll be making along the way to my hotel. thanks for the reminder!

              2. What fun!
                A few questions to help us come up with an itinerary for you - are you on a budget? How much per day (food only)? Are you at all interested in French, Italian, or Californian? Are you looking mostly for styles you can't get in NYC? Are you from Manhattan or an outer borough (asking because while Bay Area regional Chinese is way better than Manhattan's, it may not be significantly superior to Flushing's)? And are you travelling alone (have to take serving sizes into account if you're planning on eating at a lot of Asian restaurants)?

                6 Replies
                1. re: daveena

                  just to answer the few questions you had before, i'm not on a tight budget. at the same time, i'm not really looking to splurge on a single meal, unless the authenticity is top notch. i plan to hit up an average of 8 food destinations per day (given that i eat one thing at each spot). however, friends will be meeting up with me sporadically throughout the tour. so there will definitely be extra mouths present. yes, most particularly, i'm looking for styles i cannot get in NYC (or better versions of what is offered in NYC). i'm not quite sure i'm familiar with "californian" food, so if you can teach me more about that, that'd be great!!

                  i'm glad to hear somebody in SF is familiar with flushing! the (bei-fang) northern-mainland chinese community has been growing stronger and stronger in flushing, while styles of cantonese, shanghainese, and even taiwanese (to a degree) have been lacking within the last couple of years. is it true that there's a higher concentration of cantonese chinese in SF (resulting in better quality of cantonese food in all of california...maybe even all of USA)?

                  thanks for the interest!

                  1. re: inmandarin

                    To me, "California cuisine" means cooking driven by fresh, local, seasonal ingredients pioneered here by Chez Panisse, basically a local version of the kind of simple rustic cooking you find throughout rural Italy, France, and Spain. Other places that do that sort of thing include Zuni, Cafe Rouge, and, in a more Italian and less French vein, Oliveto, Incanto, Delfina, Pizzaiolo, and Dopo.

                    Here's a topic on NY counterparts:

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/314968

                    1. re: inmandarin

                      Your grazing regimen sounds a lot like mine, especially when I'm sniffing out new things to try.

                      I always budget time for Flushing on my annual swings through New York and this year I wil probably have several days worth; I intend to cover the food courts, street snacks and dumpling joints like a blanket!

                      San Francisco doesen't really have street food per se (save for the occasional hot dog or churro vendor) but Chinatown and our neighborhood Chinatowns have a richness of Cantonese-style walkin' around food. Check out the walkaway dim sum/bakery establishments on Stockton Street, Broadway, Washington and Jackson Streets in Chinatown. Steamed and baked pork buns, chicken buns, chicken pies ("gai pies"), Chinese sausage in a steamed bun, egg custard tarts, Chinese crullers, etc. are all very hand-friendly if sometimes messy, and they'll usually give you a plastic fork on asking for daintier items like siu mai.

                      1. re: inmandarin

                        Well having lived in nyc for 16 years and SF area for 10 years, I kinda know the asian population areas. The SF chinatown has pretty much the same population make up as before(Cantonese/Toisan). Most of the new immigrants are living outside of Chinatown in Sunset and Richmond districts. This is why Chinese food is better out there than in Chinatown. As a result of the asian population moving to the suburbs, there are less people going to Chinatown for Chinese food. It's not like 15 years ago where the only place to get real Chinese food was SF Chinatown so you went there. Now you get better food outside and chinatown has become a tourist area and the cuisine has shifted to cater to the tourist crowd. since the mid-80's migration of Taiwanese to the bay area, they settled in the south bay so you tend to get more Taiwanese places in the south bay. Although some cantonese places are poping up in the south bay because variety was needed.
                        In contrast Manhattan chinatown keeps getting new immigrants there. So the traditional cantonese places are being replaced. I personally have not eaten in chinatown for a few years and the last few time was because of wedding banquets. the Taiwanese never liked the Chinatown area so they were out in the Flushing area. I still remember it as Taiwanese and Korean food area way back when. 8th Ave in Brooklyn has some good cantonese places from my days there.
                        For Taiwanese food in the Bay area, I found a good place called Joy in Foster City. I would just stick to the Taiwanese food in the weekend. Their normal Chinese cuisine is subpar. Probably hard for you to get to via public transportation.
                        For dumplings, hsiao lung bao, and beef noodle soup I like Sung Tung Restaurant in San Mateo. All of their dumplings and hsiao lung bao are hand made. The beef noodle soup is a mix of beef pieces with tendons on them. It's cooked very long so the meat and tendon is very tender. The soup is very flavorful. It's right near the San Mateo caltrain station.

                        1. re: mshih

                          To offer a counterpoint, I didn't think much of the xiao long bao at Sun Tung in San Mateo. Much better to be had at Shanghai East in San Mateo. Or in SF at Shanghai Dumpling. Here's my post on Sun Tung,
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/45519...

                          1. re: mshih

                            I've lived within close walking distance of San Francisco Chinatown for 40 of the last 45 years and can offer some of my own assessments of Chinatown.

                            Chinatown today is primarily a transitional area for immigrants from China; the typical immigrant family spends less than a generation in Chinatown. As a result it retains a closer connection to, and fresher memory of, mainland cuisine and shopping habits. While earlier immigrants and their offspring may prefer to dine in the neighborhoods, a surprising number of them flow into Chinatown evry day to shop for the freshest produce and meats; Stockton Street is a 10-hour a day, seven day a week farmers market once removed, you might say; produce, fowl, fish and porcine meats are delivered fresh, or even live, from the source daily.

                            You'll also find a lot more Mandarin, Shanghainese and other non-Cantonese dialects spoken on the streets of Chinatown now than you did 20 or thirty years ago. As a result of China's educational system's requirement for Mandarin use, most of the people staffing Chinese markets have at least a working knowledge of Mandarin. My wife, who speaks Shanghainese and Mandarin but not a lick of Cantonese, has no difficulty shopping at any of Chinatown's markets; twenty or thirty years ago she would have. The "lingua franca" of Mandarin, as it were, has led to a wider cultural cross-fertilization and a broader range of products offered; the sole Shanghai specialty food market in Chinatown perished a few years ago because there was no longer a need for it; the Cantonese-run markets eventually began offering most of the same products at lower prices.

                            The Cantonese focus of Chinatown restaurants is as much a reflection of real estate ownership patterns as the local population mix. The vast majority of commercial real estate in Chinatown is controlled by the Chinese Family Associations under the Sam Yup and Sze Yup umbrellas, and they tend to rent and sell to homies, whom they know and trust. This is why you will usally find non-Cantonese Chinese Restaurants in what I call the "Pale" (peripheral areas, especially the Kearny St. fringe).

                            I also think it's disingenuous to say that Chinatown restaurants are more tourist-oriented than before; you should have tried to get an authentic Chinese meal in Chinatown 40 years ago. With the exception of places like House of Nanking and, to a certain extent, Brandy Ho's and Hunan Homes, you have only to do a window survey of Chinatown restaurants to see what market drives them. (And that's a conservative sampling; non-Chinese diners are far more likely to be seated where they are visible from the street). Some argument can also be made for the fact that tourists have a more sophisticated palate vis-a-vis Chinese cuisine than ever before; some of the non-Chinese faces may mask as great an appreciation for Chinese food as some of the Chinese faces. It's a lot easier for a short-term visitor to the City to find Chinatown than to find Joy Restuarant in Foster City (whose menu. I'll snarkily add, exploits stright-up-and-down Shanghainese food as much as "Taiwanese food", whatever that is). Some of those non-Chinese faces might even be Chowhounds ;-)

                      2. you might check out sfgate.com; they just did a top 100 restaurants. Although I can't agree with all of them, it can serve to whet your appetite.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: chuckl

                          Given specifications such as "decor means nothing" and the list of prospects in the original post, I think the only Top 100 place that fits the bill might be Tartine.

                        2. There is a quality taco truck that parks at the corner of Battery and Pacific during the weekdays. It's called San Beuna. They serve very good tacos and burritos. They have horchata and other Mexican beverages. Lunch is about $7 there. It's in an area that has a lot of good restaurants and is walking distance from Chinatown and Northbeach. So if you're in the area, and it's lunchtime, and you're craving a taco, head to Battery & Pacific. Their Al Pastor is good and a lot of people order the Cabeza and really like it, but I haven't had that one myself yet.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: sgwood415

                            thanks for the tip! with the little spanish i learned in high school, when you said "cabeza" ....is that meat from the head of an animal?

                            1. re: inmandarin

                              As far as I understand, "cabeza" does mean meat from a heat (like beef cheeks) and brains is another word.

                              1. re: inmandarin

                                Beef cheeks. Super tender and delicious.

                                1. re: sgwood415

                                  oh really? interesting! thanks a lot