HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


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...

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

    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:


                  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.

              2. Most of Berkeley's restaurants worth a visit are more or less upscale places with a focus on great local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients. Personal favorites (half of which are in *Oakland):

                A Cote*
                Cafe Rouge (best burger around)
                Cesar (Piedmont* branch is nicer and has a longer menu)
                Chez Panisse (both)
                Eccolo (for lunch)
                O Chame
                Sea Salt

                On the other hand, Berkeley has only a handful of ethnic places of real interest. Most are Americanized, albeit in a uniquely Berkeley way, for example, Picante's Mexican food is mostly bland but it's made with Niman pork. A few exceptions:

                Indian: Vik's (chaat, lunch only), Udupi Palace (vegetarian)
                Indonesian: Jayakarta
                Japanese: Ryowa Ramen
                Turkish: Turkish Kitchen

                Oakland has some great Mexican, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese places. This topic has a lot of useful info on those and other places of interest in Oakland and environs:


                San Francisco has many great cheap or moderately priced ethnic places worth a trip. Some personal favorites:

                Afghan: Helmand Palace
                Burmese: Larkin Express Deli, lunch only
                Cambodian: Angkor Borei
                Chinese hot pot: Old Mandarin Islamic
                Persian: Maykadeh
                Peruvian: Mochica
                Sichuan / Yunnan: Z&Y Garden
                Thai: Thai House Express at Larkin and Geary
                Vietnamese: Bodega Bistro
                Yucatecan: Chichen Itza (formerly Popol Vuh, same food)

                To me, arguably the greatest culinary glory of the area is our local style of rustic Italian food. My favorite is Incanto in SF but I also love A16, La Ciccia, and SPQR in SF and Dopo, Oliveto, and Pizzaiolo in Oakland.

                Will you have a car? Some of the local equivalents of NY's Outer Borough ethnic finds are in suburban malls that aren't very accessible by public transit, e.g. the Afghan neighborhood in Fremont and Darda (Muslim Chinese) in Milpitas. Personally I can rarely be bothered to make the schlep, there's plenty to eat in SF and the Berkeley-Oakland area.

                How late are you due into SFO? Places close early here.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Vik's isn't lunch only anymore, they're open until 8 on weekends and 6 on weekdays, so could be good for a late snack.

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    You sure about 8? The Web site and answering machine still say Tuesday-Sunday 11-6.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I know, but I think that the website is wrong -- I know that it was publicized a few months ago that it was open until 8 on weekends, and I was there at about 7 on a Saturday a few months ago and it was still open (and hopping). It's possible that they changed back, but for what it's worth, the hours on Yelp are until 8 on the weekends (and there's at least one comment there from last month saying that it was open until 8, so it seems like it was that way in December).

                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                    flight gets in at 10:45 PM.

                    and yep, i'll have a car...

                    1. re: bladerobbins

                      I love Slow Club but they close at 11:00

                      If you want a dive i know one taqueria that is open til 1:00 AM -

                      El Farolito in the Mission area- good Super al Pastor burrito.
                      This is where the mission bar crowd goes and its packed.
                      2777 Mission St
                      (between 23rd St & 24th St)
                      San Francisco, CA 94110
                      Exit the Airport head towards San Francisco, onto HWY 101 North, take the Potrero Ave/Cesar Chaves Street exit, merge onto Bay Shore Blvd., then slight left at Cesar Chavez, Turn right at Hampshire, Turn left on 24th Street, take up to Mission Street and just find parking.

                      1. re: Lori SF

                        They're also open until 3am on weekends.

                  3. These are all good suggestions so far. Your greatest challenge may be the late SFO arrival takeout. You might consider the Slow Club at 2501 Mariposa in San Francisco; they close at 10 PM (11 on weekends) -- and they do do takeout although most people think of it as a sitdown place. The menu changes slightly from day to day, but they always have a delicious burger and fries or Caesar salad. If you called when you're leaving the airport, the timing would probably be perfect. It's just off the 101 freeway, which is your route to Berkeley from the airport anyway. Also a new Whole Foods in that neighborhood with a huge hot food area at 450 Rhode Island, open until 10 PM with a big parking ramp. If you can bear to go out, both locations of Cesar (previously mentioned) are open until midnight -- I had a lovely meal at the North Berkeley one after coming off a transcontinental flight this summer, very restorative, particularly the enormous plate of fried potatoes with aioli. Fonda on Solano Avenue in North Berkeley/Albany is the other reliable late-night option for delicious small plates. There is practically nowhere in the Bay Area, and particularly in the East Bay, where you would ever feel that your grubby airplane clothes were out of place.

                    Bar César
                    4039 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

                    Slow Club
                    2501 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    Bar César
                    1515 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

                    1501 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94707

                    1. We lived in Bay Area from '87 to '90, so the specific recs wouldn't help much now, but in general I found the food there to be just outstanding and you will NOT be going down a notch from NY IMO. It seemed like every place we went had bread better than any I can get out east. And the dungenous crab... I think it is one of the most wonderful places to live, so you are one lucky CH!

                      1. I second Vik's Chaat Corner and would suggest Slanted Door in the Ferry Building. The complaint about it is that it's overpriced and it's not authentic Vietnamese food. They make Vietnamese influenced food with fresh California ingredients.

                        Vik's Chaat House
                        2390 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

                        Scharffen Berger
                        1 Ferry, Building San Francisco, CA

                        1. About forty-five years ago I drove across country from NYC to Berkeley. On our first day in town we were up late talking and decided to go out at about 11PM to see what was going on.
                          Town was buttoned up.
                          Incomprehensible to a New Yorker.
                          I think it's pretty much the same today, though at my age now I am usually in bed asleep at 8PM. .

                          On your way back from the airport you could take a slight detour south to Oakland Chinatown (8th street between Franklin and Webster). There won't be any traffic that time of night. Only one place open: New Gold Medal, great Cantonese BBQ -- though it might be pretty congealed by that time of night. Good jook (porridge), though. They are open until 3AM.

                          Also there no air conditioners in the houses in Berkeley. Often no central heating either. The moderate climate is one reason I'm still here. Outdoor seating is OK at lunch but it is usually too cool in the evenings for outdoor dining. Just East of Berkeley "through the tunnel" the climate is quite different. Even a few miles can make quite a difference in climate, this time of year is an exception though.

                          Theres a big Ethiopian community in North Oakland/Berkeley and a few good places are listed here:

                          New Gold Medal
                          389 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                          2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                          5020 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                          Cafe Colucci
                          6427 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Joel

                            Most of those Ethiopian places are open late-ish by Bay Area standards, but probably not late enough for your flight. Red Sea is open until midnight.

                            Right. No air conditioners. If you're serious about moving and care about such things, studying the area's microclimates is a good place to start. Even within the city of SF there are microclimates (I think the word "microclimate" was actually coined in the Bay Area). You know there are places in the midwest where they say if you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes? In the Bay Area, it's drive 15 miles, or sometimes even 15 blocks. Basically, it's a factor of the number of miles plus the number of hills between you and the ocean.

                            Red Sea
                            5200 Claremont Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                            1. re: Joel

                              Or stay on I-80 and go to Daimo, a few minutes north of Berkeley.

                              Open til 3am daily.


                              1. re: Joel

                                Most restaurants in Berkeley close at 9:30 or 10. Some stay open a bit later on weekends.

                                Cesar and Daimo are my favorites among the few exceptions. Fonda Solana's good, too.

                                Daimo Chinese Restaurant
                                3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                              2. If you drove from SFO to Berkeley in the other direction (so over the San Mateo Bridge), you would be on 880 and be able to get In N Out on your way to Berkeley, which is always a good late night meal. Otherwise, you might want to head up to Top Dog, which is a late night delight (a few locations in Berkeley, check them out to see which is nearest your destination).

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: JasmineG

                                  The Millbrae In-N-Out's not far from the airport, but for a mediocre burger, the local chain Nation's might be more convenient. The Berkeley branch is open till 12:30. Daly City branch is open 24 hours.

                                2. I just moved back to the area from NY two months ago, and perhaps I'm biased, but I definitely eat better here. If you like to cook you're going to love it out here, any little farmer's market beats the greenmarket in Union Square by a mile at least six months out of the year.
                                  Can't really compare to much of the outer Borough offerings (I didn't get to explore all the ethnic eats I meant to before I left), but chinese is generally better here, and definitely Dim Sum (manhattan is my main reference).
                                  The delivery culture is definitely lacking, and absent outside of SF, but this might mean your food will be fresher and closer to the intended temperature when you pick it up (and you can make sure your hot miso soup isn't sitting on top of your sashimi).
                                  Since I'm still settling in I'll let the others lead with all the recommendations, but I'll second Sea Salt and the Ferry Building. Incanto if you're up for the best of rustic italian (the feel is akin to Aurora, though a little more refined, tastier and similar prices).

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jsgjewels

                                    Berkeley is foodie heaven, in my opinion. Be sure to go to Crixa, on Adeline (a continuation of Shattuck Street). It's across from Berkeley Bowl grocery with incredible selection (great prices) of produce, etc. Crixa is a Hungarian bakery with tables. If you like tea, ask for it in a teapot. There is more of a selection in a.m. What I've had here is better than I had in the best coffee shops/bakeries in Budapest. I haven't tried La Farine, a French bakery in Berkeley that I hear is great. College Ave, both in Berkeley and Oakland have a lot of nice places to eat.

                                  2. I don't have any specific suggestions, but just be aware (and I am sure you know already) that NYC is a much much bigger city than SF, including the entire bay area. So the variety and volumn will not be anywhere near comparable to NYC. As another person pointed out, SF is not a late night city, which is kind of strange. So if you are thinking of just going out at 11:00 pm and expect lots of places open, you'll be disappointed.

                                    A couple of cuisine that will be better in the Bay Area than NYC: Chinese food (there's is some dispute) and farm fresh local produce "California cuisine". There is no good Mexican food here. For that you'll have to go to the south end of the state.

                                    Just don't ask, where do I find XXXXX here that's like what I used to in NYC. That kind of question irritates people to no end.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: PeterL

                                      There's great Mexican food in Oakland. And great Yucatecan in SF.

                                      NYC has quantity but we've got just as much variety in the Bay Area. We've got some cuisines they don't have and vice-versa.

                                      1. re: PeterL

                                        No good mexican food? SoCal may beat us out in quantity and selection of different regional cuisines, but there's still some fantastic un-Americanized mexican food.

                                        Try Huarache Azteca in Oakland -- Mexican families drive from two or three hours away to eat here because they say it makes the most authentic Mexico City-style food in Northern California.

                                        Recommended: anything with fresh masa, especially huaraches, sopes, quesadillas. Best fillings are tinga de pollo, flor de calabaza, and fresh huitlacoche. The pambazo (grilled sandwich with chorizo, potatoes, refritos, and more) is fantastic.

                                        1. re: OakTownHound

                                          Good recommendations. I also like the gorditas, nice size for chicharron filling. The smoked lamb (weekends only) is also great.

                                      2. This time of year the farmer's markets are obviously not at their peak. Recent rains make the fields wet so even if there is produce they might not be able to harvest it.
                                        For a visitor at this time of year, my recommendation is to go to Berkeley Bowl -- just to look around. The parking can be a problem -- just park in the street a few blocks away.
                                        I too enjoy seeking out ethnic holes-in-the-wall, but the ingredients at the Bowl are so seductive that we eat at home a lot.
                                        The selection of produce, and the prices, are amazing. Last week they had fifteen varieties of navel oranges.
                                        Another thought: We take bread very seriously here in Berkeley. There are lots of good bakeries, but if you go the Bowl, and go to the right-hand side of the store as you go in, you will find bread from forty different bakeries. I counted. That does not include the sliced bread selection on the opposite side of the store.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: Joel

                                          There may be 40 different bakeries making fabulous bread, but the NY ex pats will only complain that there's no decent rye bread (questionable) and no "real" bagels (sad but true).

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Esther's and Bennett Valley make world-class rye bread.

                                            Real bagels don't exist here, but even in NY you have to schlep to Brooklyn for the two or three places that still make them.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Saul's in Bekeley sells great rye bread ... as good as most on the East Coast. Berkeley Bagel has very good bagels. I don't like either Ester's or Bennet Valley, but that is just me. Not what I grew up with.

                                              Good Eastern European food is sadly lacking in the Bay Area. That being said, if you can, stop by Crixa. As someone mentioned it is world-class great. I can't think of one East Coast bakery that does it better. Their specialty is the buns and coffee cakes.

                                              They are near the Berkeley Bowl which as someone else said, given the rains, much better to check out than a farmers market. I bought five different types of kumquats there this week. Who even knew there were that many varieties? Some were different shapes (like teardrops) and sizes.

                                              Then complete the Berkely food shopping experience. Drop by cheeseboard for a piece of pizzz and then go over to their cheese shop which has hundreds of types of cheese. Get one of their cheddar cheese rolls.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                I like the rye better at your Model Bakery.

                                                1. re: rworange

                                                  Saul's gets its bread from Acme. I think it's a special bake.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Yes. It is a special bake from Acme and different from the regular Acme rye sold at the bakery. Also, Saul's slices it.

                                            2. re: Joel

                                              The bread section at BB is over the top.

                                              If you like ethnic food in the Outer Borroughs there's plenty of that on International Blvd in Oakland, Irvining and Clement St in SF(will probably remind you of Queens) and the Mission in the parts that haven't been gentried yet.

                                              Nothing much more to add except things like the produce, mid-priced restaurants and artisan goods will spoil so you can't eat it anywhere else.

                                              re: the question about if you can get XXXX like in NY, it's not the question so much but often how it's asked.

                                              If you need convincing beyond food, go up to Lawerence Hall of Science or Grizzy Peak Blvd in the hills on a nice day and look out at the bay, or head to Muir Woods in the morning.

                                            3. For Friday lunch near Mills I recommend Champa Garden. A short drive and parking is plentiful. Great Thai and Lao food served in a warm location you would never expect. Lots of positive reviews to be found here.

                                              Champa Garden
                                              2102 8th Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

                                              1. The food here is very different from NYC. Having lived in both places you need to understand that the variety here is much much less than NYC. Don't get me wrong its good, but not as "ethnic" as NYC. The Mexican is awful (unless you crave burritos) and the take-out delivery is really bad. I miss the rows of small establishments in certain neighborhoods. Here they flock to more corporate places where people rave about the food...I go and don't understand the draw. Check out Portland, Oregon for a true foodie experience.

                                                15 Replies
                                                1. re: SFguy

                                                  You thought the food at El Huarache Azteca and Chichen Itza was awful?

                                                  Delivery places tend to be bad, it's true. That's just not part of the local culture.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Good Mexican does not mean taqueria with a cafeteria style serving venue. NYC has Rosa Mexicana, Zarela Martinez and Maya (very different from SF's version). Chicago has Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill and Salpicon. Until SF has anything like it the Mexican food here is far inferior to other parts of the country. Tres Agave is a disgrace to Mexican food and belongs in Tahoe with the other Sammy Hagar joint.

                                                    1. re: SFguy

                                                      The food at El Huarache Azteca and Chichen Itza is great. Both have table service, neither is a taqueria.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Can't compare to upscale Mexican as previously mentioned. Its important to set realistic expectations for people who love good Mexican food.

                                                        1. re: SFguy

                                                          Perhaps a better way of saying it is "SF lacks good upscale Mexican options" not "The Mexican is awful."

                                                          I had a great meal at Tamarindo in Oakland last week. Casual vibe, but the food is very well executed with good ingredients. Not at the level of Frontera Grill, mind you, but I spent more than twice as much at Frontera (and my FIL spent five times as much at Topo.)

                                                      2. re: SFguy

                                                        I'd say "far inferior" is an overstatement. Both Colibri and Mexico DF do a pretty good job once in a while, but not all the time. What do you think of when you say authentic high end Mexican? I think grass fed filet mignon with huitlacoche sauce, tableside service for guacamole, caesar salad, etc, based on my travels in Mexico. Are you thinking gussied up Poblano food?

                                                        1. re: SFguy

                                                          Topolobampo is a notch above anything in California... but Rosa Mexicano(with a few exceptions) is really mediocre.... there are casual places here that vastly surpass the cooking at Rosa Mexicano... the only reason someone would think Rosa is better than the causal eateries here... is if they value ambiance, decor & pedigree over food.

                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                            My thoughts exactly about Rosa and all it's knockoffs!

                                                          2. re: SFguy

                                                            Rosa Mexicana?! I've had Mexican in the Marina that was better. We do, however, agree on the delivery issue...

                                                        2. re: SFguy

                                                          I'm more curious about how, "... they flock to more corporate places where people rave about the food." Are you talking about SF proper or the suburbs and chains?

                                                          Regarding delivery...90% of delivered food is subpar to what you can get in the restaurant. Except for pizza, what travels well?

                                                          1. re: ML8000

                                                            Hmm...Kuleto, Ogden, Plumpjack, Real, to name a few corporate chains in SF. It travels well if its 5-10 minutes away and the chef knows how to pack it.

                                                            1. re: ML8000

                                                              I work in the Financial District and I can tell you my co-workers eat at all of those place all of the time. The Chronicle has been all over the new Kuleto openings along the Embarcadero and they have people lined up there...these are not tourists. Just check the postings here on those places and read the reviews. I love Larkin Street Vietnamese joints (i.e. Bodega Bistro), North Beach Italian (numerous), Delfina, Incanto, Foreign Cinema, Perbacco to name a few.

                                                              Not sure about packing to-go food but they figured it out in NYC.

                                                              1. re: SFguy

                                                                Tell us more about Kuleto's new restaurants , which did you go to Epic or Waterbar and why do you not like it I am curious have not heard any reports here yet..

                                                                1. re: SFguy

                                                                  I eat out all the time, and almost exclusively at independent restaurants or tiny "chains" (the two Cesars; Sea Salt / T-Rex / Fonda).

                                                                  The Kuleto, Plumpjack, and Real groups aren't chains in the sense that e.g. Restaurants Unlimited or McCormick & Schmick are. Each of their restaurants has its own personality defined by its chef. Some of them are excellent, e.g. Boulevard, Martini House, Picco. (Note that Cindy Pawlcyn's no longer involved with the Real group, and Mustards Grill is now her own property.)

                                                              2. re: SFguy

                                                                Mexican food is not awful here but if your only reference is Tre Agave then you might think that although very narrow point of view.

                                                              3. IMO, the Bay Area's greatest strength lies with casual, high quality, mid-priced dining. By casual, I mean that the style of food is what you would find in a bistro or trattoria. Short ribs instead of filet, lamb's shank instead of rack. By high quality, I mean that the ingredients are top-notch, sourced from excellent local farms, ranches, and food artisans, and the kitchen's execution is stellar. By mid-priced, I mean that dinner for two often runs to $50-$100 total, including tax, tip, and drinks. You could easily visit 50 of the best restaurants in town without dropping $100 per person. Visitors from NYC and LA are often shocked by the reasonable pricing of entrees, which often stick to the teens, and rarely approach the thirties.

                                                                The other strength is in food available to an avid home cook. The produce is among the best in the world, and there is good stuff in season year round. There are wonderful, sustainable ranches and fisheries in Northern California that supply us with delicious, guilt-free beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, and seafood. We are experiencing an explosion of artisan food producers: we have three traditional charcuterie makers, excellent bakeries, incredible cheese shops, unbelievable specialty stores, and countless confectioneers and jam makers.

                                                                Lastly, if you are passionate about organic and sustainable food this is probably the best place to live in the country.

                                                                Anyway, if you'll be in Berkeley I insist that you check out three places (they're all readily googlable):

                                                                Cheeseboard Cheese Shop - just incredible. Wonderful selection of cheeses, friendly and helpful staff, sample all you like. Closed Sunday and Monday.

                                                                Saturday Farmers' Market - even in the dead of February you will be impressed by the selection of local, seasonal, produce and several high quality food artisans. Just imagine what it will be like in a few months. But don't bother with the prepared food stuff, it's not the market's strength.

                                                                Sketch Ice Cream - a truly fantastic sweets shop run by a friendly and passionate husband and wife team. Don't miss the salted toffee.

                                                                8 Replies
                                                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                  My girlfriend and I regularly eat at some of the best restaurants in the East Bay for $15 per person. Share two starters and one main (or pizza) and we're stuffed, and we're not drinkers.

                                                                  We do this at Pizzaiolo, Dopo (has anyone mentioned Dopo yet? Easily some of the best Cal-Italian pastas, charcuterie, and starters in the area), Oliveto Cafe, Sea Salt, etc.

                                                                  1. re: OakTownHound

                                                                    I must have a much bigger appetite than you do. At Pizzaiolo or Sea Salt we typically share two or three appetizers, two main dishes, and a side or two, and it's hard to pass up dessert at Pizzaiolo. Typical tab excluding wine is probably $40-50 a person with tax and tip. Dopo's a bit cheaper.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Maybe we aren't huge eaters -- at Pizzaiolo, one pizza and two starters, plus some of that delicious rosemary-flavored bread to mop up the juices is usually plenty for us. Sometimes we also get one of their delicious contorni for $5, and sometimes we pick up a piece of pie at Bakesale Betty before hand and eat it for dessert at home. It would certainly be easy (and worthwile) to spend a whole lot more if you can, but if you need to stick to a budget, you can eat quite well there.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        I just went to Pizzaiolo last night with three people, and we were all full at the end of our meal (two pieces of pizza and a meatball were leftover, as much as I wanted them at the time), and including three glasses of wine, two appetizers, the meatballs, a pizza, and a dessert, the tab was just over $100 (including tax and tip). Definitely not as cheap as OakTownHound, but I reguarly get out of Pizzaiolo for $30-$40 a person, including drinks.

                                                                        Also, it's gotten easier to pass up dessert at Pizzaiolo since their pastry chef left.

                                                                        1. re: JasmineG

                                                                          Hey, I was there last night too! Excellent clam pizza - had all the flavor and much superior texture (of both clams and crust) to the New Haven original. Also really liked the anchovy with chili and capers - some mouthfuls were a little too salty, but it was easy enough to balance those out with a bite of crust. Seems like seafood + pizza is a winning combo... last time I went, I swooned over the squid and aioli pizza.

                                                                          I hadn't realized the pastry chef left - we had an olive oil-almond cake with rosemary-pine nut ice cream that was excellent.

                                                                          1. re: daveena

                                                                            Daveena, we keep being at the same places and missing each other! I had the mackerel from the wood oven -- completely amazing, though a little tricky to eat, and the always good arancini, meatballs, and sausage and greens pizza (I was with a slightly unadventerous family member who absolutely loved her meal). I've had that anchovy pizza with chili and capers before -- my dining companion that time agreed with you that it was too salty, but I love salty things, so it was great for me. I didn't know that the pastry chef left either until our waiter told us, but the hot fudge sundae with toasted almond ice cream was pretty tasty, though the ice cream didn't have as much of a flavor of toasted almond as I would have liked.

                                                                      2. re: OakTownHound

                                                                        I wish I had your discipline. My bank account would be much happier.

                                                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                          It's not always easy - especially when the meatballs are on the menu.

                                                                    2. I remember seeing a recent-ish post on the Manhattan board searching for Lao cuisine and coming up empty, so I'd try one of the Lao-Thai places in Oakland - either Champa Garden (mentioned above) or Green Papaya Deli. I don't think there's much Cambodian, either - there are some good reports on Angkor Borei in SF. I like Battambang in Oakland but find it hard to convince them to make things authentic unless I have a Khmer speaking friend with me, so it's hard for me to recommend it... unless you have a Khmer speaking friend who can go with you...

                                                                      Do the Cafe at Chez Panisse for one of your mid-range meals and spend some time at the Cheeseboard. Definitely go to Berkeley Bowl. Also, just for kicks, go into any random Safeway and check out the bread and wine selections. One of the things I hated about cooking in NYC was that I couldn't buy wine in the grocery store, so I'd have to go out of my way to get to a wine shop... here, not only are there decent inexpensive bottles to cook with in the grocery store, there are frequently some pretty good bottles that you'd actually enjoy drinking, too. And even chain grocery stores carry fresh bread from Acme, Grace, and Semifreddo's.

                                                                      Explore one of the Asian food malls anchored by a large Chinese grocery store (either 99 Ranch or Lion) - Pacific East Mall in Richmond will be a short drive from Berkeley. The Asian food malls and strip malls out here are epicenters of great chow.
                                                                      rworange's "directory":

                                                                      I lived in Manhattan for 4 years, and I'm closing in on 6 in the Bay Area... I ate well there, and I eat well here. I've had better ethnic food experiences here, but I also rarely ventured into Brooklyn/Queens when I lived in NYC, while I've lived in the South Bay and East Bay out here (in my mind, South Bay=Queens, and East Bay=Brooklyn), so I don't think I'd be comparing apples to apples if I compared my overall Bay Area experience to my Manhattan experience. I've had better high-end meals in NYC. But overall, I eat better here, mostly because I cook more than I eat out, and living out here is a dream for a serious home cook. At this point, it would be really, really hard for me to give up the access to relatively inexpensive and excellent produce. I'd never seen a persimmon before I moved out here, much less a dead-ripe one that weighs in the hand like a water grenade... blood oranges, Blenheim apricots, Santa Rosa plums, cavolo nero - all things that I can get at my humble neighborhood farmer's market. I miss bagels, but I'd miss California produce more.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: daveena

                                                                        Green papaya deli is great -- I spent 3 weeks in Laos in December, and their food tastes as close to the real thing as I've had out here.

                                                                        When I was in there, they made the papaya salad to order -- they had me taste it right from the mortar in case I wanted more spicy, sour, sweet, salty, etc. Great laab also.

                                                                        1. re: OakTownHound

                                                                          Love the sour sausage, too. And the Lao-style amok (moke pa).

                                                                          There are a bunch of other intruiguing-sounding things, but they only seem to have a couple of items available every day... one of these days I will have to call ahead to see if they can make the dishes I haven't tried yet. Here's most of the menu, with translations:

                                                                      2. I go back and forth between coasts, and I always have cravings from whichever city I'm not in at the time. With SF it's sourdough, pork buns, mineral water, ice cream sandwiches, big salads, focaccio, italian salamie, mexican food with real refried beans, and real guac (as opposed to the high end more authentic Mexican found in NY), princess cakes, croissants, certain cheeses, thai food with a peanut sauce, submarine sandwiches, deli sandwiches, and that's just the stuff off the top of my head. I could make a similar list for New York.

                                                                        They both have hits and misses. I've grown frusterated with the quality of food in SF when it comes to cheap eats, and ethnic food though. A lot of what's championed seems to be based on economy rather then the quality. I've also found that on the mid to low range eateries, it's tough to find consistant quality. Maybe it's a high rate of changeover in chefs, but I find that if I start raving about a place, and go back 5 months later, the menu and what come out of the kitchen might be vastly different. There's also a lot more turnover in SF, with some really great, innovative places closing. That's a new trend in NY as well though.

                                                                        Supermarkets in SF are just superior. NY probably has better specialty markets, good for takeout, and splurgey items for a gift basket, but not practical for weekly shopping.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                                          "Authentic" is a very subjective notion (often means "not like Mom made it"), but El Huarache Azteca is Mexicans cooking for mostly Mexicans in a Mexican neighborhood, and my favorite dishes there are as good as the best I get in Guadalajara. Chichen Itza is hardcore Yucatecan, and among their rotating daily specials are some very sophisticated and elaborate dishes.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            Right, by authentic I was thinking of Yucatecan and Aztec styles which were the first really good Mexican foods you could find in New York. San Francisco's selection in Mexican still can't be topped.

                                                                        2. Folks - thanks for all the great advice you are giving bladerobbins, but please keep the focus on great places to eat in the area. Digressions about corporate chains, gentrification, and how much better other cities are for certain cuisines are off topic and have been removed.

                                                                          Thank you!

                                                                          1. Wow. This is amazing. Thank you all so much. I feel very lucky that I already have another (longer) West Coast scouting trip planned for March, so that I can try more of these places. Based on what I've read so far, here's what I'm thinking:

                                                                            Late Thursday night: In&out burger or Daimo

                                                                            Breakfast: Café Fanny
                                                                            Lunch: Huarache Azteca or Oakland taco trucks
                                                                            Dinner: Pizzaiolo or Sea Salt

                                                                            Breakfast: need something fast and easy on way from Berkeley to SF (preferably pretty healthy with all the rest of the chowing I'm going to be doing...)
                                                                            Lunch: Visk Chaat Corner, Bodega Bistro, or Thai House Express
                                                                            Dinner: Café at Chez Pannisse (made a reservation today!)

                                                                            Brunch: Wat Mongkolratanaram
                                                                            Snack: Cheese board Collective, Acme Bread, Berkeley Bowl (if it's nice out, I'll buy stuff at each and maybe go on a hike...)
                                                                            Dinner: Champa Garden, New Gold Medal, or FinFine

                                                                            Brunch: somewhere in Berkeley before we head off to the airport

                                                                            How does that look?

                                                                            Thanks also for the general input about the foodie scene in the Bay Area. I'm encouraged not only by the amazing places you all have suggested, but also by the passion that hounds in the area so clearly have. And man, am I excited by the prospect of setting up a home kitchen out there and getting my hands on all of that produce. If we end up moving, I'm sure I'll have some major CSA/farmers' market questions. In fact, I have two now. I'm going to be in a meeting until 3 on Saturday. Is it worth going to the Ferry Building after? And also, are there any Sunday markets?

                                                                            Thanks again!

                                                                            15 Replies
                                                                            1. re: bladerobbins

                                                                              Looking good.

                                                                              Friday Breakfast: I'd opt for 900 Grayson over Cafe Fanny - better food at a similar price. Just keep in mind that Grayson is closed from 11am-1130am.

                                                                              Cheeseboard Collective is closed Sundays. You'll be able to get a substantial enough meal at the Thai Temple that you probably wont need a snack.

                                                                              Sunday dinner - FWIW, Cafe Colucci is better than FinFin. Order the chickpea entree.

                                                                              Monday - You wont really find brunch service on a Monday, so here are some lunch options. If you want something elegant and delicious, Eccolo. If you want something fast, cheap, casual, and tasty, Gregoire. Both are in Berkeley.

                                                                              The Ferry Building Farmers' Market will be dead at 3pm. There is a pretty good Sunday farmers' market in the Temescal region of Oakland, a 10-15 minute drive from Berkeley. It's not at the level of Berkeley or the Ferry Building, but it's pretty good all the same.

                                                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                Gregoire's mostly a takeout place and has only a few stools inside plus a couple of picnic tables outside, so keep that in mind if the weather's bad.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  True, but the take-out option will be perfect if they're rushing to the airport and need to eat in the car or while waiting in one of those lovely TSA lines.

                                                                              2. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                Daimo over In-N-Out. If you're fixated on trying In-N-Out (food's nothing special except compared with other fast food places in its price range), hit the Wharf branch for lunch when you're in SF for that meeting.

                                                                                Pizzaiolo over Sea Salt unless you're feeling overfed and want a lighter meal.

                                                                                Cheese Board's cheese and Acme's bread make an unbeatable combination, but the Cheese Board is closed Sunday.

                                                                                There's no reason to go to New Gold Medal if it's not the middle of the night. There are lots of better Chinese places.

                                                                                For Ethiopian, Cafe Colucci over FinFine: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/44933

                                                                                Wat Mongkolratanaram's fun if the weather is nice but I'd save it for another trip if it's cold or rainy. Note that most of the food is brought in from local restaurants and reheated. Fried chicken, papaya salad, and coconut-chive rice cakes are made to order.

                                                                                1. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                  I would also say Grayson over Cafe Fanny and Pizzaiolo over SeaSalt. On Saturday, if you're heading to SF anyway, forget breakfast and just go straight to the Ferry Plaza farmer's market early early in the AM, there will be places that you can get breakfast from (depending on what time your meeting starts -- the market opens at 8), and you can get a fun breakfast there. You can go to the Ferry Plaza at 3 if you can't get there before -- the market will be mostly over/packing up, but you can see a little bit, and then you can see all of the stores inside the building (Acme, Cowgirl Creamery, good chocolate stores, etc.).

                                                                                  Brunch on Monday will be a challenge, because most places don't do Monday brunch, but if you want breakfast, you could go to Grayson on that day instead, or just to La Farine on College for some good pastries for the plane and next door to Wood Tavern for lunch (they open at 11:30).

                                                                                  1. re: JasmineG

                                                                                    Re: ferry building. If you like coffee, look for Blue Bottle's cart.

                                                                                    I have recently fired up my CMA espresso machine with the help of one of BB's roaster-guys, and get my weekly delivery. There's a handful of local small-batch coffee roasters that do as well - Ritual in SF, for example.

                                                                                    Words - at least, my words- can't describe the quality of this coffee. On a good day, the crema is a silky smooth caramel.

                                                                                  2. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                    What time do you need to head to the airport on Monday? Eccolo's lunch menu is great but they don't open until 11:30.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      Have to be there probably by 11:30, so maybe that's the day to do Grayson for breakfast. What Chinese place would you recommend over New Gold Medal?

                                                                                      1. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                        With am 11:30 flight, 900 Grayson is a great option. They open at 8 and do a rock-solid, classic breakfast. Order the hash browns.

                                                                                        1. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                          Chinese in the East Bay, Daimo. I don't think there's anything like it in New York.

                                                                                      2. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                        Sounds like a great schedule... making me hungry.

                                                                                        I'd agree with Pizzaiolo over Sea Salt (though they're both great).

                                                                                        Huarache Azteca over taco trucks.

                                                                                        If you pick Bodega Bistro, the best dishes are in the "Hanoi Street Food" section of the menu -- my favorites are the bun cha, banh xeo, and cha ca.

                                                                                        I would pick Champa Garden over New Gold Medal (haven't been to FinFine). They make Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese food, but I'd stick to the Lao dishes which tend to be much better. Don't miss the rice ball salad (naem kao, I think - tastes just like what I had in Vientiane), lao sausage, fried spring rolls (a Vietnamese dish, but done quite well), and laap. Their whole fried fish dishes are good as well. Lao style papaya salad is good if you can handle some serious fishy funk.

                                                                                        Have fun and report back!

                                                                                        1. re: OakTownHound

                                                                                          I was the one who initially recommended New Gold Medal, but only because it is open until 3AM. I like NGM a lot, it's my kind of comfort food (pork intestine etc) but it's not very special -- especially for a New Yorker. .

                                                                                          1. re: OakTownHound

                                                                                            I disagree with Huarache Azteca over the taco trucks; but its a fairly close call. You could easily do a bit of both.

                                                                                            Definitely Champa Garden. I also agree to just have Saturday breakfast at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. While I would personally ordinarily choose Vik's over Thai House Express, I don't see the point of doing that if you will already be in SF....another option I'd consider is doing some juggling of when you have Mexican, and do your Saturday lunch at Chichen Itza in SF: BART accessible (as is the Farmer's Market) if you want to check out our public transit, and blows Huarache Azteca away, IMO! (granted, different regions of Mexico, but still....)

                                                                                            1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                              just realized you have a meeting at Pier 39 and need a late lunch: how late? not sure I would really want to do late lunch at Thai House Express or at Chichen Itza and then go to Chez Panisse Cafe that night (unless I had very late reservations at CPC.) Both are fairly substantial. Perhaps coming back to Oakland and just having a snack at the taco trucks, or going to Vik's and just ordering a few items of chaat is the way to go?

                                                                                          2. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                            Because Cheeseboard is closed on Sunday, I'd switch the Friday lunch plans with Sundays.

                                                                                            Friday lunch - Cheeseboard pizza, cheese shop (cheddar cheese roll), Crixa dessert, Berkeley Bowl

                                                                                            Sunday Taco truck crawl for lunch. The bonus of saving International Avenue / Fruitvale for Sunday is that the tamale vendors come out on the weekend. There are some tasty Guatamalan tamale ladies on international and about 3 tamale vendors on Fruitvale that aren't there during the week.

                                                                                            The El Ojo de Aqua truck makes the finest aqua fresca I have ever had ... ever ... and that includes the time I've worked in Mexico.

                                                                                            Next to El Novillo, my favorite taco truck is El Gordo ... you have to see this with meats stewing in big pots and the guys dipping tortillas into the juices before grilling.

                                                                                            Near the Ojo de Aqua truck is a great aritisan Mexican ice cream maker - Cinco de Mayo. The guy makes everything by hand churning ice cream for about an hour with a paddle ... $1 a scoop ... and great raspados.

                                                                                            Here's a map of Oakland taco trucks

                                                                                            Another good reason for going to Oakland for Mexican on Sunday is many restaurants serve special dishes that day the most notable being menudo.

                                                                                          3. Late night arrival into Berkeley - forget in n out! It's kind of fun a few times, but it's just a fast food burger. As mentioned, berkeley and SF are not late night. Few people know why; I can't explain it.

                                                                                            Options not mentioned:

                                                                                            if you're staying around campus, troll Telegraph Ave near campus and feel the UC Berkeley vibe. You could do worse than ending up at Top Dog on Durant, although other NYCers have sneered. Very berkeley, but you can't sit down. The two competing slice shops (Blondies and Top Slice) offer west coast style - far too much bread, good only when drunk or stoned. I can't keep track of all the little nests in Durant and when they might be open, but something will be (until 1, at least). Follow your nose.

                                                                                            If you're not staying near campus, and like beer, hit Lanesplitter nicely located university @ san pablo - near the university ave freeway exit, trivial parking. The pizza you will likely consider only average (here, we call it good-but-not-gourmet, I like the sourdough tang very much), but the beers are heavenly and local. My personal favorite is Lagunitas, but their tap list is 100% winners, they do enough biz to keep it fresh. Open and serving to 1am. I know you have a few good beers now out NYC way, like that fine brooklyn lager, but west coast IPA is where micro - and hops - went ballistic. I always miss a cold, fresh pint of Lagunitas when I'm traveling - beer never travels right, and water's different world around. If you're in a hurry or tired, grab cooked-to-order slices at the bar. If you want to sample, tell the barkeep and line up half-pints. I enjoy that they never wrinkle their noses at my preference for a pineapple anchovy slice. The waitstaff is all burning man goatees and bettie page lookalikes with tats, so you get local flava.

                                                                                            If you're staying closer to Oakland, look up Luka's. I think they serve till about 1 also, and do belgian beers and "bistro style" food and oysters. It's very bay area - not 10-best-lifetime but the kind of place you'd add to your rotation and end up at once in a while when you're in that particular mood. It has the oakland vibe - unlike Lanesplitter, which is 99% white, you get a nice mix. I always feel at home in Luka's.

                                                                                            There are a few late night asian places, like Sun Hong Kong and Koryo BBQ, but they'd be a little jarring, and no better than you've already eaten.

                                                                                            For getting some take-out, you could do worse than Rudy's Can't Fail in Emeryville, which will cook you up a mess of fried chicken or such. Less local style, rather clean. Again, parking right out front, industrial wasteland, good everyday eats but that's about where it ends.

                                                                                            Lanesplitter is the closest to the freeway, thus closest in time. Rudy's is also near the freeway, and Luka's is downtown oakland and more of a haul if you're not staying near. Closest: about 15 minutes from the SF end of the bay bridge, and about 35 minutes from SFO by car at that time of night depending on how you drive (I could do it in 25).

                                                                                            Finally, if you're ravenous coming off your flight, consider hiking to SFO's international terminal (don't bother with the air train, just hoof it). AFAIK, SFO was the first to invite top-notch local restaurants slots in terminal (outside security). Ebisu on the north side makes a very good noodle (and their noodle outpost on 9th ave in the city is worth a stop), Burger Joint (originally on Valencia in the Mission) on the south side is King Of Char with locally sourced nieman ranch yadda yadda (my girlfriend says BJ is Too Bitter but I love 'em - she gets Dim Sum at the Harbor Village outpost across the food court). I don't know precisely what's open, but you're not going to do any better close to the airport.

                                                                                            I will reiterate these places are excellent *for airport food*, and certainly don't represent the best of the bay. BJ, for example, gets only light mention in the bay area burger threads - maybe somewhere between #10 and 20.

                                                                                            Whether you can eat well here. Um, yes. Different from NYC, but well. Have you ever noticed which ChowHound board was the first - board #1? You've seen a variety of responses here, but the predominant thought is roll with the locals, don't get hung up on NYC-only dishes, and you can find some good eats.

                                                                                            A rather stunning example of bay area food passion is the Sushi Monster, who painstakingly reviews the mid-peninsula sushi joints. It's a 30 mile strech from SFO to Stanford (roughly) that he parses in minute detail. Sushi Monster is my hero.

                                                                                            Some people don't end up adjusting to SF. Whatever - there's crazy hung up people around the world, and only so many seats at my favorite spots. Or, in the words of Zietgiest bar - NO BEER NO WOMEN STAY AWAY

                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                              Lanesplitter at University and San Pablo appears closed.

                                                                                              1. re: wolfe

                                                                                                I just called to check and the guy said Lanesplitter has been and is open as usual, 11am to 1am (Sun.-Wed.) or 1:30am (Thurs.-Sat.).

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  Sweet mother of mercy. I certainly hope so.

                                                                                              2. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                Lanesplitter appeared to be closed this week as I drove by. Any better information?

                                                                                              3. One more thought for food as you get off the plane. Someone suggested taking the San Mateo Bridge rather than the Bay Bridge. If you do that you could take the Fruitvale exit and stop by one of the finest taco trucks in the Bay Area, El Novillo

                                                                                                Killer carnitas. Open till 2am. The Mexican restaurant next door is also open, but I've never tried it.

                                                                                                Otherwise another vote for Daimo over In-n-out burger. Daimo is an easy on and off the freeway though you may need to back track a bit. El Novillo is also an easy on and off ... maybe easier since Daimo can be tricky for someone unfamiliar with the bay Area.

                                                                                                Actually for breakfast I'd take a souffle omelete at Bette's Oceanview over 900 Grayson.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                                                  I like the souffle omelettes at Bette's a lot, but the wait at Bette's is usually 30 minutes at a minimum, and often more like an hour, while the wait at Grayson is usually pretty minimal, if there's one at all. Especially since the souffle omelette takes another 30 minutes after you order, and that's a lot of time, especially if you're trying to do a food tour of Berkeley.

                                                                                                2. Would Pagan be a good addition to our list? The Burmese restaurant in New York closed before I got to try the tea leaf salad...

                                                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                                    THE Burmese restaurant in NY. Okay, now I know for sure what ethnic food we have better than NY. Although come to think of it, a while back Melanie Wong was doing a little survey of Burmese restaurants and remarked Bay Area supposedly had the most Burmese restaurants of any place outside of Burma/Myanmar. Burmese tea leaf salad isn't like anything else, but I'm not sure it's worth trekking all the way out to the Outer Richmond unless you're going to be that way anyway. Maybe just get some take-out tea leaf salad from some place like Yamo or Larkin Express Deli that's a little less off the beaten path. Save the indepth exploration of Burmese food for when you live here (vbg).

                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                      Larkin Express makes the best Burmese food I've had, better than Burma Superstar, Mandalay, Yamo, or By the Bite. Haven't tried Pagan yet.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        I don't like the tea leaf salad much at Yamo.

                                                                                                        In order of preference of tea leaf salad, with 1 being best:

                                                                                                        1) Larkin Express Deli
                                                                                                        2) Burma Superstar
                                                                                                        3) Pagan
                                                                                                        4) Yamo

                                                                                                        I have eaten at Mandalay but didn't try the tea leaf salad.

                                                                                                        But if you want to go out for dinner, LED won't be open and B. Superstar will have a wicked long line, so Pagan is a good bet.

                                                                                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                        I think that if you are scoping out SF as a place to live, it's worth heading out to the Richmond and/or Sunset at least once to see what it's like - when my brother visited, I think he really liked the combination of beautiful beach (Ocean Beach) and good Asian food (Pagan, Wonderful Foods for Bubble Tea) and as we were walking on the beach he commented "It would be fun to live here!"

                                                                                                        That said, you might not need to have Burmese if you go out to the Richmond/Sunset. Just knowing it's there is good enough, since like Ruth says, you can explore that when you actually live here.

                                                                                                        1. re: Dave MP

                                                                                                          True, although if htere is any possibility OP will be public transit dependent I recommend taking public transit all the way out there before deciding on one of those nabes as a place to live rather than the Mission....

                                                                                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                            For food, the Richmond a great neighborhood, not only for Asian, but for Eastern European. But yeah, I work in downtown SF, and my public transit commute from the East Bay is faster and easier than some of my co-workers who live in the city, especially the Sunset. Just as a place to live, I love the Richmond, although it's fogged in a lot in the summer -- something else that might not be apparent to someone visiting in the winter. It's also, in my opinion, one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the City, since it's not very hilly and there aren't any "bad" stretches.

                                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                              The fog isn't so bad...it's the freakin' wind that gets you. Of course now that I'm in the EB when I go back I wonder, how the hell did I live in that? It's overcast 50% of the time. Food-wise, it's a great place. Clement, Geary and a short trip to 9th/Irving has a very good mix, like few places on earth. I recall walking down Geary around 19th and seeing Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, Russian, Kosher, Mexican and more all w/i 2-3 blocks. Not all of it was the best but in relative terms to the rest of the country...it does very well...and that's only Geary.

                                                                                                            2. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                              You have a good point which should not be lost on a subway-blessed New Yorker. When the Richmond merchants rejected first a BART line and then an underground (at least to Masonic) Muni Metro line, they shot themselves in the foot. I go to Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland for Xiaolong Bao far more often than to Shanghai House or Shanghai Dumpling King in the Richmond (both of which have better XLB these days) because it's so much faster to Oakland Chinatown by BART. I'll also go to the Mission for a panuche or whatever when I'd rather have xiaolong bao for the same reason.

                                                                                                        2. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                                          Bagan (with a "B") in Alameda, a spinoff of Burma Super Star with the same menu, might be worth a detour before/after your Champa Garden or El Huarache Azteca meals. Haven't been, but the pedigree is impressive.

                                                                                                          1. re: bradluen

                                                                                                            They expanded within a few months from one restaurant to three. At the moment I'd be concerned about consistency at all of them.

                                                                                                            1. re: bradluen

                                                                                                              Reports on Bagan have not been good. I didn't care much for the food (also Burmese) under the previous ownership, and as of the last reports there hadn't been any significant changes. Maybe the new ownership will revamp the menu, but I haven't heard that that's happened yet. The only dish I have liked there was the ginger salad (which I prefer to tea-leaf salad), which I thought was a solid B.

                                                                                                              Burma Superstar
                                                                                                              1345 Park Street, Alameda, CA

                                                                                                          2. Top Dog in Berkeley (I like the Calabrese and the Brat) and Taqueria San Jose (awesome al pastor and pollo asado) in the Mission. Those were probably the places I missed most living back east -- still do, living in LA.

                                                                                                            1. blade: as you can tell from the posts, people in the area are very passionate about food. In the 10 years I lived there ('90-'00) I had only 2 bad or even mediocre meals across all spectra - cost or cuisine. Maybe the hours are short and maybe not quite the array of ethnicities are as easily available, but you won't be displeased. Plus apartment kitchens are usu. waaay larger than Manhattan's...

                                                                                                              if you do like to cook at home check out "Cookin'" on Divisadero near Oak - great vintage specialty cookware and the owner is a hoot (open to interpretation).

                                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                oh yeah and everyone will have their own opinion on which is the best taqueria (I know I do), but they ALL beat anything anywhere on the East coast.

                                                                                                                NY for bagels, yes, but for a good baguette, only Paris beats SF - pretty much any baker will do, even generic Safeway is good (but there are much, much better), forget about sourdough, over-rated IMHO.

                                                                                                                If you do eventually ever jones for a good Jewish deli, David's on Geary is the ticket.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    well I guess it's nothing to rave about, def. not a destination, but if you're downtown... the pastrami was good, the latkes, like a NY deli they pile way too much on a sandwich (1 can serve 2) maybe the room is part of the attraction for me, you can imagine yourself as a bit character in Vertigo.

                                                                                                                    I have heard recent complaints, but it's been a while for me.

                                                                                                                    1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                      Vertigo? Are you sure you're not thinking of the old Ernie's?

                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        def. not swank at all, more of where the later Novak character might go for lunch before Stewart stalks her down...

                                                                                                              2. Man, I am getting so excited for this trip. What about sushi? Any places that serve really fresh, Pacific catches?

                                                                                                                8 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                                                  sushi? in CA? no, there's none of that nonsense.

                                                                                                                  there's a joint on Fillmore I always liked - Kyoto? Kyushu? it was once one and then changed name to the other but was just South of Geary and had rolls you often didn't see elsewhere.

                                                                                                                  also the Nijiya Japanese grocery under the the Nihon-Machi is great to just walk through and appreciate the packaging and presentation even if you're not buying anything. caffeine chewing gum...

                                                                                                                  on the louche side there used to be a roadhouse/sushi bar/pool room at 19th and Irving that was great to kill a rainy sunday with a beer and a spider roll.

                                                                                                                  Not sushi, but for basic old-school CA seafood try Swan's Oyster Depot on Polk at California. been around forever, pretty much lunch only and gets packed fast - find the hours and go early or late, but the window display alone is worth a walk-by.

                                                                                                                    1. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                                                      Type "sushi" into Yelp and - just for san francisco - you get 950 hits. Yes, that means 950 sushi joints just within the city limits, and the city is not the limit - all my favorite spots are east bay and peninsula.

                                                                                                                      If, perhaps, you can give a particular block, and a time of day, and what you like about sushi, the board could help recommend. On the downside, there has been grumbling about the lack of some non-sushi Japanese specialties, such as okonomiaki, and I would drive an hour for killer teppanyaki.

                                                                                                                      In the meantime, this should whet your appetite.

                                                                                                                      Personally, when I think local raw seafood, I think oysters. There must be at least a dozen bar/restaurants with full oyster menus, places you can get a stiff martini and pick your way through a dozen or two *varieties* of the local bounty, from Tomales bay up the coast, as well as comparing against your wellfleets and such from the east. Zuni and Foreign Cinema are my go-tos, leave Swann's to the tourists.

                                                                                                                      Anyone who wouldn't fall in love with SF after an hour at the Zuni bar chewing oysters and swilling a few drinks has a heart of stone and is no friend of mine.

                                                                                                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                        950 Yelp entries doesn't mean 950 sushi bars, there's a lot of duplication and cross-referencing. 200 is probably closer to the actual number.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                          While it doesn't have all, it has a lot of them ... menupages had 158 sushi restaurants in SF.

                                                                                                                          For sushi information search "sushi monster" on this board for some excellent reports about local sushi. The reports are about peninsula restaurants, but it will give you a good idea.

                                                                                                                        2. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                          What are your favorite spots in the EB?

                                                                                                                          1. re: chemchef

                                                                                                                            For straight-up traditional sushi, Uzen's probably the best in the East Bay.

                                                                                                                        3. re: bladerobbins

                                                                                                                          Sushi Sho on Solano Ave in Albany (next to Berkely) has excellent sushi made by a chef who takes the art very seriously. Pacific Cafe on Geary in SF has simple but very fresh sea food.