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NY Hound considering move West, need help and convincing

As the title suggests, we are thinking of moving to the Bay Area this summer and are taking our first scouting trip in two weeks. I've been scouring this board for suggestions, but am a little overwhelmed, as I know so little of the area.

Basically, I am looking for food that is special to this part of the country - unique Asian cuisines, great Mexican, good sustainable, organic California cooking. One of my favorite things to do in NY is to explore hole-in-the wall joints in the Outer Borroughs that serve excellent (but not fancy) offerings from their native cuisines. I'd love to hit up a couple of places along these lines, as well as one or two mid-range local favorites. Basically, I'd love to get a sense of what it would be like to live around there. No cuisines are off limits - except maybe NY deli and bagels.

We're going to be staying at my boyfriend's brother's place in Berkeley (sadly, he won't be there to show us around), so places in that area are good. Other places on the schedule:

-Arriving late into SFO driving to Berkeley - would love to pick up some good take out on the way home
-Oakland near Mills College Friday morning - perhaps breakfast or lunch round there
-Near Pier 39 on Saturday all day for a meeting - a late lunch near there

Other than that, I just want to explore and see where the food takes me.

Thank you so much for your help. I will gladly reciprocate for any eastern bound Californians...

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  1. I am a bit overwhelmed too..so I will start with the basics for you to check out-
    First of all in Berkeley the birth of the Gourmet Ghetto you have a whole section to explore-so since you are staying in Berkeley sense to start here-
    On Shattuck
    Epicurious Garden- not your typical food hall
    Cheese Board Collective and the Pizza place few doors down
    César- nice tapas place
    Chez Panisse and the upstairs cafe
    -Masse's Pastries

    Gourmet Ghetto West-
    Café Fanny;
    Acme Bread- the best bread

    Over North Berkeley Albany border Westbrae and Northbrae
    on Hopkins Street there are some great markets and cafes.. I don’t know all the names of the places but I love this area.
    Mama Lan's – Vietnamese, it’s been a long time since I have been there..maybe other can tell you.

    Then there is the Albany area and San Pablo Ave,
    I don’t live in the East Bay anymore so I have not been to some of my old digs.

    I use to like Sam's Log Cabin for breakfast
    Sophia Café-

    On Sunday only and its great fun is Wat Mongkolratanaram
    1911 Russell St.
    An outdoor Buddhist temple picnic benches communal table style. Take a look around to see what looks good and get some tokens to pay. Super cheap and some good flavors-
    I love the Khanom Krog (spell?) baked in cast iron mold coconut milk and green onion doughy domes.
    Noodle soup is great and the spring rolls
    Green Papaya Salad- made on the spot, nice bit to it
    The chairs are metal fold up kind and it gets chilly so wear your layers.
    Go early once they sell out the close up.

    North Oakland comes to mind- Temescal area
    Doña Tomás- more for upscale Mexican, darling place
    Bakesale Betty- the name say it all, except the fried chicken sandwich will be something you will want to try.
    I like Pyung Chang Soft Tofu House also some other good Korean on Telegraph Ave.. ZaZang another one, it’s been awhile.
    Pizzaiolo- yes you can get good pizza here! Wood fire thin crust, nice restaurant too. You won’t find a DiFara pizza place here but the bay area does have some good pizza, just do a search.
    Café Colucci- Ethiopian funky, super casual and cheep the Shouro Combo is great.
    There are quit a bit of good Asian places downtown Oakland, I just don’t know the names. I use to live in Oakland would just experimented, things have changed so let the experts chime in.

    Good Mexican is over on Fruitvale, do a search.

    Here is a crazy taco map put together by two chows that really comes in handy when over in that part of Oakland.
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/450404

    There is so much..this will at least get some things started for you. Its not NY and NY is nothing like the Bay Area. There is something wonderful all over the Bay Area and we have beautiful nature everywhere.

    1. A couple of places Lori missed:

      In the Gourmet Ghetto, Gregoire (French take-out)
      Berkeley Bowl Market -- a NY visitor once told me "the produce section is bigger than Fairway"
      On Solano is Albany (just north of Berkeley) -- China Village for Sichuan
      If you want to stop for takeout on the way from OAK to Berkeley, the route takes you right by Oakland Chinatown. I'm not sure what to recommend there, but Legendary Palace is open late, as are some more cheap/divey places.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Oops, just realized you said SFO not OAK. Isn't Taiwan on University near Shattuck open until 12:30 a.m.? It can be good if you order the right things (do a search for some of Han Lukito's recommendations).

        -----
        Taiwan Restaurant
        2071 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

      2. If you'll be in San Francisco on Saturday, try to swing by the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. Saturday is farmers' market day. The prices tend to be more expensive than other markets, but its a great introduction to our wonderful foodie world here in Northern California.

        -----
        Capay Organic - consolidated in Ferry Bldg #9
        1 Ferry, Bldg San Francisco, CA

        1. I moved here from Bklyn in July and no matter what they tell you, on the ethnic end , New York kicks the butt of Bay area. LA is Much Better. For instance the Hyped China Village, while very good cannot hold a candle to Either Little Pepper or Spicy and tasty.
          The taco trucks in east Oakland do rock, but another case where New york now has some pretty rockin' Mexican food.

          Delivery , forget about it , you are gonna have to learn to pick up your own food.

          In terms of western cuisine there are some really rocking places here. Ilive in the East Bay and can tell you that A Cote, Wood Tavern and Piazzolo to name only a few are better priced and more delicious than most of the similar places in New York. And i have not explored the SF scene so much because of financial constraints.

          9 Replies
          1. re: jason carey

            I'm sorry, but I lived in NY for some time and strongly disagree. Asian and Mexican food is *vastly* superior in the SF Bay Area. I haven't tried Little Pepper, but China Village is superior IMO to Spicy and Tasty. And there is no place -- none -- like Taqueria San Jose or even La Cumbre for goodness sakes. The best burrito I had in NYC was served by Chipotle. Here in SF, I wouldn't give Chipotle a second glance.

            PS: Don't get me started on the crappy Italian delis back east. No place like Genova, either...

            PPS: The things I miss from NYC are the pizza (though SF is strong in this regard, too), the falafel/shawarma, and the bagels.

            1. re: a_and_w

              I like China Village and Z&Y in SF, but I think the Sichuan meal I had last month at Wu Liang Ye on 48th in Manhattan might have been better. Further research is urgently required.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I strongly disagree, esp. where anything fried is concerned. Don't get me wrong -- Wu Liang Ye is great, and I'm certainly no expert in the cuisine. For me, however, China Village serves the best sichuan food I've ever had -- I dream of their cumin lamb. Spicy and Tasty is in the same league, but the only place in Manhattan I'd put on par is Szechuan Gourmet -- definitely worth a try if you're in NYC. I have not yet tried Z&Y yet, but will definitely do so the next time I'm in SF.

                1. re: a_and_w

                  China Village's cumin lamb (a Uighur dish, not Sichuan) pales compared with Darda's.

                  Check out my report on Wu Liang Ye, maybe you haven't ordered the best dishes:

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/483946

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I don't think cumin lamb can be pigeonholed as an Uighur dish. Cumin and lamb seemed to be paried everywhere in the world, and cumin lamb may have come to China via the Silk Road, but I think almost every Sichuan restaurant and almost every Sichuan cookbook I've encountered has cumin lamb.

                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                      This is my experience too. Clearly sichuan cuisine has adopted the dish, irrespective of its origins. Regardless, I will have to try Darda's.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      You may be right, but see my reply to your report, which I wish I'd seen sooner. Ever since you turned me onto TSJ, I've been wanting to repay the favor...

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Taqueria San Jose. Specifically, the spit-roasted al pastor. I was an El Farolito guy until reading your raves.

            2. these are fantastic suggestions (that thai market thing sounds incredible). narrowing these down will be difficult, but so much more doable than trying to take on all of the bay area.

              and jason, the lack of delivery in other parts of the country is always deeply troubling. that will probably be the single greatest change in my life if this move happens...

              i'll report back after my trip.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bladerobbins

                I also recommend the Thai Brunch on Sundays in Berkeley. I've only been once, and it's the type of food event that seems normal to people in Berkeley, but really incredible to everyone else.

                A trip to the farmer's market (whether in Berkeley, Oakland or SF) is also great - will help you get a sense of the produce available year round in California and the options available.