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Advice urgently sought for 1 day in Livermore, 1 day in SF

Hello SF Hounds,
My parents and I will be going to a wedding at the Wente Winery in Livermore this Saturday evening, and I need some guidance for a few other meals.

1. We have to go to a dinner on Friday night at Casa Orozco, which does not seem to get much love here. Is there anything in particular that's safe there? Anything definitively to be avoided?

2. On Saturday we will need either a late breakfast/brunch or early lunch in Livermore. We would like something casual since we'll be eating and drinking quite a bit in the evening. I've heard good things about El Charro Taqueria, but in case my parents don't want Mexican again the next day, any other cuisines would be fine.

3. The biggest question of all: Sunday in SF. We will have a car in the city because my parents are taking me to the airport (SFO) for a 6:50 flight (I hope this will not complicate things too much), so we cannot have dinner at a traditional hour. I don't know how much time we'll have to allow from the city to the airport, but I'm thinking we won't want to be starting the main meal later than 3. If possible, we would like local, seasonal food, main dishes no higher than the $20-30 range, and a nice local wine list. My parents are from the NY met area (New Jersey, I am not ashamed to admit!), and I live in L.A. so we would most prefer something unique to SF and not well represented in NYC or L.A. We would also like a place to have breakfast. Vegetarian options, artisanal bread and organic eggs would be a real plus!

I hope some hounds can help me. I know there is so much great food in your city, and I don't want one single bite (or sip) to be in vain!

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  1. Three o'clock on a Sunday is a tough one. My suggestion is to use Open Table to figure out what places are open and serving at that time, identify a few that might work, and then come back with that list and ask for comments. Most of the restaurants I saw were are in tourist areas or were Asian (which doesn't sound like what you want). One that did jump out at me was Foreign Cinema, but I don't know whether they're serving brunch or dinner at that hour.

    For your Livermore area dinner, I suggest driving ten minutes down 580 to Dublin and checking out the Ulferts Center, which has a plethora of Asian eateries.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Thanks for responding, Ruth. It actually seemed that quite a few places are available on Open Table, but is Fisherman's Wharf the tourist area to avoid? Foreign Cinema sounds interesting; at 3 it's serving brunch. Is that a meal you recommend there? If so, anything in particular?

      1. re: Epicure

        Yeah, I would avoid Fisherman's Wharf -- very touristy. Even if a couple of restaurants there are decent, it's not the kind of experience you're looking for. I've heard great things about brunch at Foreign Cinema, but I've never been myself.

        1. re: Epicure

          I would also agree that Foreign Cinema is a great spot for brunch; intersting scene, not typical brunch fare (as in more creative and tasty), and the bloody marys are fantastic. I've been a couple times and I haven't been let down yet.

          1. re: barndog

            Oh, I love bloody marys. Just one question: is the crowd mixed-age enough that my 60ish parents won't feel uncomfortable?
            Thanks again!

            1. re: Epicure

              I ate there with a friend (I'm mid fifties, she is mid-sixties) and we were definitely among the oldest there, but that doesn't in and of itself make me uncomfortable. I would request the patio if the weather is nice, it is quieter and tables are better spaced, both of which make it more comfortable.

      2. It's not particularly casual, but the smoked porkchop at Wente winery in Livermore is a destination dish.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Hoss

          Yes, the wedding will be at Wente, so we'll be eating there tomorrow night.
          My parents tried and greatly enjoyed El Charro Taqueria, which I read about on this board, but is there anywhere else you'd recommend? I read that Sai's has very good Vietnamese food, but there has not been much posted on Livermore recently!

        2. Zuni is open all day on Sunday. Opentable shows availability at 1:45 but you could surely get a later reservation if you call the restaurant.

          -----
          Zuni Cafe
          1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

          1. Casa Orozco on a Friday night? Be prepared for an earsplitting time - this a popular locals place. The food's okay for Americanized Mexican (hey, this is Livermore afterall). I'm partial to their chiliverde. For a very casual breakfast/lunch, you might try the Railroad Cafe. The menu offers more than your ham and eggs standard fare. For a decent cup of coffee, you're pretty much limited to Panama Bay downtown.

            I hope you like hot weather.

            1 Reply
            1. re: samse

              Yikes. It's going to be a million degrees in Livermore this weekend. Good thing the wedding is in the evening.

              Zuni sounds like a great suggestion. Exactly what you're looking for.

            2. If you have lunch in LIvermore, the Contra Costa Times did a review of Cafe Garre at Garre Vinyard. Link to review is in this place record
              http://www.chow.com/places/32459

              10 Replies
              1. re: rworange

                Cafe Garre is a great recommendation: my mother got a salad with roasted salmon and spinach with pine nuts, feta, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and an outstanding lemon vinaigrette, and my father got the shrimp and crab melt which came with a pasta salad. My mother's dish was definitely better! Also, the onion focaccia was very good and not greasy! Wines by the glass were also good (Merlots were good despite Sideways reputation).
                Panama Bay got lots of points for the coffee!
                Casa Orozco, which we didn't have a choice about, was only okay. My mother and I got shrimp enchiladas (not that bad because there was no filler, but the beans and rice were very greasy) after we read the meat and vegetable dishes were to be avoided, and these were edible after three margaritas. Not to sound like an undergraduate, but I'm less critical when I'm not paying and I can drink as much as I want.
                After being in Marina del Rey, the temperature here was very unpleasant, but I'm excited to try new places.
                On Sunday we're going to Foreign Cinema for brunch at 2 (do you like that choice better than Zuni?), but I want to take a burrito back to L.A. so I'm thinking of El Farolito. Will that travel okay? I brought a Ziploc bag. I will be eating it around 10 pm (ca. 5 hours after I buy it). If there's a burrito that will travel better, I'd like to hear about it.
                Thank you very much. More reports to follow.

                1. re: Epicure

                  Zuni's food is exponentially better than Foreign Cinema's, but the latter's more conveniently located for picking up a burrito.

                  If the burrito's going to be sitting around, to minimize it getting soggy / gummy choose a meat that's not soupy (e.g. carnitas rather than chile verde), get the salsa on the side in a container, and order regular rather than super (i.e. no sour cream or guacamole).

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Thanks! And do you recommend El Farolito if I can just get one to take home with me?

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I am not sure this is going to work if OP is flying; the salsa would be viewed as a liquid and might not be allowed in carryon, even if less than 3 oz since it isn't a personal care item.

                      There are plenty of places in LA to get burritos as good as SF MIssion style ones (and in a similar style), IMO., I am not a burrito fan, but after five hours, yuch. IMO not at all worth the trouble.

                      I think Zuni's food is better than FC, but not exponentially better and FC IS both (somewhat) cheaper and easier to get into.

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        Actually, there was a huge debate on the L.A. board with the San Francisco people largely arguing that there is nothing as good. That was why I didn't want to miss it. However, now I'm thinking I may instead get a burrito for breakfast. I read on this board about a place in Livermore called El Castillito, and then we dropped by to pick up a menu earlier today, and the burritos seem to be the Mission style, if I'm understanding that correctly.
                        Susaninsf, it sounds like you're right, but is there anything, in your opinion, that would be better and less messy to take back on the plane that I really can't get in L.A.? Also I have one checked bag, so I can always stick stuff in there.
                        And we do have a reservation for FC for tomorrow at 2 pm.

                        1. re: Epicure

                          I guess I am just the wrong person to judge, because I am not a burrito fan (much prefer tacos and plenty of spots to get those in LA and why anyone from LA would want to waste even one bite on Mexican food in San Francisco proper is absolutely beyond me...)....but what could possibly be so unique about our burritos? just go to any taqueria in LA that has good meats (isn't that what it is all about, really, is good meat?), and if they don't offer rice, beans, guacamole and sourcream or whatever they think makes it Mission Style, add them in. it would take you less time to make the add ons at home than to bring the entire thing on the plane....but you don't need to do that: hubby has had a burrito at Tacomiendo in WLA, just to name one spot,and I can't tell the difference between that and Mission style. I just don't get it, personally, I think it is a sentimental thing of folks who used to live in the city and miss it. But as I say, I may be the wrong one to ask.
                          try for yourself, I guess. breakfast makes sense, but only if they offer meat burritos: a 'breakfast burrito' with eggs is an entirely different thing.

                          Having spent a lot of time in LA lately, I personally can't think of anything that would travel well that you can get in SF proper that you can't get in LA. LA is the most diverse city in the US, if not on the planet, after all. Where SF shines over LA, IMO, is in the number of mid-range restaurants that emphasize fresh, local restaurants (LA has such restaurants, but they tend to be high end, not mid-range). Foreign Cinema is a good example of that ilk, as is Range. And above all, Aziza, which is unique in style, IMO.(California-Morrocan) However, it is way out in the Richmond, and I wouldn't bother going there to get something to go that might be stolen by TSA anyway.....

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            Yeah, but there's that whole thing about grilled tortillas vs steamed.

                            Just want to comment that the SO is one to buy burritos that he lets hang around forever. That sort of encouraged me to extend the life of a burrito. Actually the flavors kind of meld over time like a stew that is better the next day.

                            So, I don't think "after five hours, yuch" just don't get the guacamle and sour cream.

                            I don't know ... a breakfast burrito is a different animal, IMO.

                            1. re: rworange

                              except that most of the Mission burrito places do steam the tortillas (which I don't like...)

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                Personal preferences aside, if you're looking for the quintessential Mission-style burrito experience, you should get one at a place that steams the tortillas, since that's how they all were for the first 20 years or so after El Faro developed the dish.

                    2. re: Epicure

                      Thanks so much for reporting back. Wish I could help about the burrito, but I don't eat them often. I remeber reading positive reports on El Faralito. Hopefuly someone else will reply.

                      -----
                      Cafe Garre
                      7986 Tesla Rd, Livermore, CA 94550

                      Casa Orozco
                      325 S L St, Livermore, CA 94550

                  2. I just returned to L.A. late last night and wanted to let you all know how the meals turned out and what I ate.

                    Breakfast on Saturday: El Charro Taqueria. I went with my parents and two of my mother's cousins, and we had one order of chilaquiles verdes, two orders of chilaquiles rojos, and two orders of huevos rancheros. Two aguas frescas were available, strawberry and cantaloupe, but everyone got the cantaloupe, which was delicious. The huevos rancheros and the chilaquiles rojos were both very spicy and delicious, but I think my favorite of the three dishes was the chilaquiles verdes, which was not quite as hot but a bit more complex tasting and for me slightly edged out the other dishes. Everyone was delighted with this breakfast. The men followed up with Dos Equis.

                    Breakfast on Sunday: El Castillito opened at 9, and we were the first customers. I got my Mission style burrito despite the early hour: steamed tortilla with guacamole, sour cream, rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and cilantro. My father enjoyed his huevos con chorizos, but we were all especially excited about the burrito. I do not think I have ever had such a messy burrito, and I can see how taking it in that form on the plane would have been disastrous. We often transport burritos between L.A. and NJ--from Tacomiendo, Gallegos, and El Tarasco--and they create no mess whatsoever, but this luscious burrito from El Castillito would have been a horrible traveler.
                    P.S. While I am far from an expert on burritos, I have never had one in L.A. that was quite like the Mission style. Anyone interested in the debate can check it out:

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/493655

                    Sunday after breakfast: a stop at the Ferry Building for some delicious local products.
                    We got many local cheeses at Cowgirl Creamery (though I was sad to have to pass up the butter), breads at Acme (sourdough of course, but also a gorgeous looking rye and some cheese rolls), pastries with fresh fruit from Frog Hollow Farm, and assorted Japanese delicacies from Delica (rice balls, roast beef sushi, kakiage). What fabulous offerings! I would kill to have this Ferry Building in L.A.--just as I would kill to have a Chelsea Market. I stuffed my suitcase!

                    Brunch at Foreign Cinema, 2pm: What a divine brunch! My parents loved it (crowd was mixed age ENOUGH) from start to finish. We started with cocktails--killer bloody marys and a fascinating one called the Saint Germain Cocktail (elderflower liquer with champagne on the rocks), then moved on to wines by the glass because the selection was so good. We tried a pinot grigio from Santa Barbara County, a white burgundy from Macon, and an especially alluring pinot noir blanc from Alsace. For starters my parents got a dozen oysters (Kumamoto, Miyagi, and Pearl Point), and I got a strawberry pop tart (rich strawberry preserves--I'm guessing--encased in the most lusciously buttery shortbread). For main dishes my father got the Loch Duart salmon with corn and porcini hash and blue lake beans, and my mother and I both went for egg dishes (since we'd had no eggs for breakfast it was okay!); she got the fried eggs deglazed with balsamic and I got the asparagus frittata. What fabulous dishes! My mother was thrilled with the unusual flavor of the balsamic with the fried eggs, and my frittata was full of fresh vegetables and just gorgeous to look at. I'd also like to praise the service, which was seamless and professional (our server was Jenny). At one point, just as the main dishes were arriving, she told us the salmon would take longer than expected so she brought my father a divine arugula salad on the house so he could eat something at the same time as us. Quite a class act. If anyone's interested, the total with tip came to $190, which was not bad for three people getting so much food and drink.

                    Anyway, I'd like to thank everyone again for guiding me so wisely. It was such an exciting food trip, and I will definitely return again soon to try more places.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Epicure

                      Back at you ... thanks so much for reporting what you tried ... especially in the Livermore area.

                      -----
                      El Charro Taqueria
                      2020 1st St, Livermore, CA 94550

                      El Castillito
                      211 N P St, Livermore, CA 94551

                    2. I have eaten most of the places around town. My daughter also got married here.

                      I like the new Greek resturant on 1st Street. I'm from Chicago and the food there is authentic. The man who cooks is the father of the owner, and he came from Greece and uses family recipies. The only question is if they can find space for your group. Call them and see if they can reserve tables toward the back. I have seen groups in there. Best bet.

                      Uncle Yu's is good, but skimpy on servings and service is very spotty. We went away hungry after one group meal. Didn't have water except once the entire meal. Saturday night service.

                      Best tacos are from Los Caporales - two locations but small places and not fancy. I love all their food. Authentic. Also good is Los Vaqueros on Vasco Rd. & it is much larger.
                      I do like Bruno's Italian.
                      The big Italian restaurant on East. Ave. and Hillside where we had my daughter's rehearsal dinner had OK food and a private room - but if you don't get the room forget it - too noisy.