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Jul 9, 2008 01:47 PM

Dream SF/Sonoma/Napa Itinerary for a Budget-Minded Foodie

Locals please help!! Having to be budget-minded while in the area for a trip this September, we still want the best food experience possible. Sun-Tues will be downtown near the Wharf. Tues-Thu will be in Sonoma and Thu-Sun will be in Napa.

A few Splurges are planned, but we need to keep the costs down where we can. I've read so many posts that my head hurts! I know opinions vary, but I would welcome hearing what you locals think the Dream list is...the "must go/can't miss" places and the best deals /experience places as well.

We are planning on some winery tastings and/or tours and appreciate input on those. Our past favorite winery experience was Deerfield Ranch - tasting at their home/winery. We prefer unique experiences or just simply out of this world wines (Freebies don't hurt either!).

Here's the short list so far:

Tartine Bakery
Long Meadow Ranch - Olive Oil/Wine Tasting
Jarvis Winery (Splurge - the couple travelling with us has already planned this one)

THANKS for your help!

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  1. Where is home for you. For example, if you are from NYC, you don't even want to think about deli in SF. What are some other places you are considering?

    17 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      We're coming from the Greater Phoenix area. Not really looking for a deli, but if it's on your "must go to" list, then we'd certainly consider it! So far the couple we will be travelling with has been doing most of the planning (they mentioned Scomo's and Fog City Diner). It's been a while since I've been to the area (and almost 14 years since last eating at Fog City Diner - is it even any good anymore?). Because of that, I haven't really got set expectations. I'd prefer to be a little adventurous and go with some recommendations I get from fellow Chowhounds!

      1. re: ButterflyWest

        Why not start a separate thread for Scomas and Fog City?

        I never hear anyone mention Fog City anymore. I don't know if that's because they are resting upon their former laurels and not worth the money or time, or because I'm not downwind of the good things they're doing.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          Fog City report from July 4th

          Scoma's is ok if people INSIST on eating at Fisherman's Wharf. It is one of the better lunch items ... however there are better and less expensive restaurants in the city.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              I think I'd like to know what those better and less expensive restaurant options are! Could someone give me a top 10 list? Top 10 restaurants in the city...Top 10 wineries not to miss (with contact names as a plus)? Top 10 wine country eateries according to locals and not the food media? :)

              1. re: ButterflyWest

                Here are some great moderately-priced or cheap places you might look for reports on:

                Angkor Borei
                Bodega Bistro
                Jai Yun
                Helmand Palace
                La Ciccia
                Larkin Express Deli
                Memphis Minnie's
                Thai House Express

                1. re: ButterflyWest

                  Ok, top 10s...

                  Well, as I've said, I think the best value for exellent food in the city is L'Osteria del Forno. Second best is Helmand Palace.

                  3 great values for higher-end dining are:
                  A16 (Marina)
                  Fringale (SoMa)
                  Delfina (Mission)

                  5 other great values for great food (not quite as "high-end") are:
                  Benjarong Thai (Marina)
                  Taste of the Himalayas (Marina)
                  Troya (Richmond)
                  Blue Barn Gourmet (counter service only; Marina)
                  Eliza's* (Pacific Heights)

                  *Arguably the most inauthentic Chinese food ever, and I'm sure I'm going to get yelled at for including it on my list, but I like it.


                  Top 10 wineries not to miss:


                  -Sequoia Grove / Karl Lawrence (Ric Henry - / 707.963.2702)
                  -Pride (Tim Bouchet - 707.963.4949)
                  -Outpost (Tony Velebil - 707.965.1718)
                  -Chappellet Winery (707.963.7136)
                  -Lewelling (David Wight - 707.963.1685)

                  -Deerfield Ranch / Kosta Browne / Kutch (Dan Kosta, Jamie Kutch -,
                  -Freeman / August West / Sandler (Ed Kurtzman - 415.225.2891)
                  - *NAPA AND SONOMA* everything that Thomas Brown touches Outpost / Schrader / Rivers-Marie (
                  -Carlisle (707.566.7700)

                  10 wine country eateries I don't know about, but my favorites are:

                  Farmhouse Inn (expensive)
                  Zazu (note dissapointing experience comment recently by someone else, though)
                  The Girl and the Fig
                  Willi's Wine Bar

                  Martini House (higher end)
                  Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen

                  1. re: whiner


                    YOU are AWESOME. Exactly what I was hoping to learn! Thanks for the Zin recs on the other threads too!

                2. re: maria lorraine

                  What do I think about what, ML?

                  If someone insists on eating at FW, then I would go for the three-couse lunch at Scoma's and not dinner. I've certainly beaten the drum for this restaurant and I've personally eaten there more than once for lunch because I like it and I think they have some of the freshest fish in the Bay Area. However, as a tourist, I wouldn't waste my time there. Again, as of this post it is one of the better options in the Wharf area. Who knows by September if the new stuff at Ghiradelli will be worthwhile.

                  The linked report is from a trusted by me poster whose tastes often match mine. I had zero interest in Fog City until that report. That, being said, it is not at the top of my list and as a visitor I wouldn't waste my time there.

                  What would I do as a visitor on a budget ....


                  Get up early and drive across the Golden Gate bridge and have breakfast at Murray Cicrle.

                  What a glorious way to start the day by crossing the beautiful bridge and drinking in the stunning scenery. Then sitting in this lovely restaurant watching the boats and ships glide through the bay while eating not only the best croissants in SF, but maybe the world. It might be interesting to compare a Tartine croissant later in the week to see how they compare. IMO, a Murray Circle croissant to a Tartine croissant is as a Tartine croissant is to Sarah Lee.

                  Post breakfast.

                  Since the OP is from Phoenix and the entire schedule seems to miss any decent farmers market, I'd drive up to the Sunday San Rafael farmers market which is only second to the Saturday Ferry Plaza Market and pick up picnic supplies. These are the same vendors supplying the top restaurants in the Bay Area and this is a way to sample many of them on the cheap ... and to pick up some great items to take home like Rancho Gordon beans, Marshall's honey, various olive oils. If the OP wanted a hot lunch they could pick up a roli rosti chicken.

                  Post Market

                  I'd drive around Marin County. Walk around Tiburon, go th Muir Woods and oggle the redwoods, picnic on the Marin Headlands while soaking in the fabulous views. Maybe stop by Larkspur and have a slice at Picco Pizza and a gelato at Emporio Rulli.


                  If the picnic isn't appealing, have lunch at Fish ... sit outside on the picnic tables on the dock at Richardson Bay enjoying more views. This isn't exactly cheap, but for the stellar quality you wold be paying a lot more anywhere else. Certainly less than even the bargain lunch at Scomas. Be sure to check out the house boats near by.

                  Another option would be a sort of splurge dinner. Drive back to SF and have dinner at Aziza. I think it could be done for $40 per person and it is the place locals love and gets many recs on the board ... one of the best restaurants open on a Sunday night ... or anythime



                  Mama's in North Beach which is near the Wharf.

                  I'd then explore North Beach ... XOX truffles, Graffeo Coffee to take home. Walk down to Chinatown and get some take-out Dim Sum at Golden Gate bakery. Walk down to Union Square.


                  Get a take out lunch from The Sentinel which everyone has been raving about. Walk down to the Ferry Building and enjoy lunch sitting on the bay. Check out the ferry building shops.


                  Go for Happy Hour at the fun new Orson. Great way to sample this place on the cheap

                  Maybe walk a few blocks up and get another small plate or two at Coco500



                  Tartine. Walk up the street to Bi-Rite Creamery after. Sugar rush

                  I assume that Tuesday is the day they drive to Sonoma. It is difficult to recommend anything because I'm not sure if that means the city of Sonoma or all over the county.

                  I'd take the less scenic route and cross the Bay Bridge and have lunch at Brown Sugar Kitchen ... probably some of the best food in the Bay Area at incredibly inexpensive price ... I just recently had a stunning smoked chicken and shrimp gumbo ($6.50) with a piece of caremel cream cake with burnt butter frosting ($4) ... that I still dream about. The pastry chef who consults there is my favorite and has worked at places like the French Laundry, Bouchon, Aziza and a number of places ... how much of a bargain is this. Pick up a cookbook to take home ... it is great stuff

                  I might drive through Berkely and do a quick stop at the Cheeseboard in the Gourmet Ghetto. You won't see a cheese shop like that in Arizona. Maybe drive down Cedar and stop by Acme Bread and Cafe Fanny, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse's casual cafe.

                  If there isn't a big Asian presence I might even wander over to Pacific East Mall in Richmond on my way back to the freeway. These large Asian malls are sort of the real Chinatowns of today with interesting markets, shops and restaurants.

                  Then on to Sonoma

                  In Sonoma, the girl and the fig has a three-course blue plate special every day. A great way to eat at this very popular restaurant. Up in Heldsburg, Bovolo has great inexpensive and wonderful eats.

                  In Napa ... ditto ... don't know exactly where ...

                  However, Ubuntu is a must ..

                  For putting together a nice picnic lunch on the cheap Oxbow Market. Get a fabulous porchetta sandwich from Fatted Calf or Rotisario. Wine and cheese from the wine and cheese merchant ... or take your stash and sit out on the patio at oxbow.

                  Maybe dinner at Ad Hoc one night

                  Since the poster will be in the napa area on Friday night, maybe checking out the cooks market in the evening and dropping by JV Wine and Spirits with its famous (to locals)t $2 Friday Night Winemaker Tastings.

                  Not knowing the specifics on Napa/Sonoma thats as much that is worth at this point to recommend.

                  1. re: rworange

                    The Sentinel is in the middle of the Financial District, which to me is one of the most depressing and least interesting neighborhoods in San Francisco. For a tourist I'd recommend avoiding the area except maybe to pass through on a vintage streetcar on the way to or from the Ferry Building.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      ... this from the person who argued that upper Geary had great views?

                      What ... miss peeking in at the stunning atrium of the Palace Hotel across the street from the Sentinal What about the thrill of seeing the 'real' SF ... observing the workday financial district buzzing with inhabitants escaping their cubical hives to feast on the nectar that is the Sentinal.

                      Too much reality for a visitor, seeing where the locals are kept during the week? Oh, the humanity.

                      Besides ... doesn't a chowhound go anywhere anytime for greatness?

                      However, they could hop the street car from Union Square, stop at the Palace Hotel and then hop back on to the Ferry Building.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Yeah, the Garden Court at the Palace is worth a detour. Good though expensive place for afternoon tea or Sunday brunch.

                        Generally the FiDi's like any other high-rise office district in the world, and it's the second-easiest neighborhood in SF to get expensive, mediocre food.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yeah, but this seems to give the impression that Sentinal is mediocre where it is destination-worthy ... for take-out. It wasn't a rec to eat in the Financial District. It was a rec to eat at The Sentinel.

                          The mention of the palace was just a reference that even in the least scenic part of town there's always something interesting.

                          Forgot the link in the long post for the Pacific East Mall

                          1. re: rworange

                            By the way, I just want to thank you for your long post above. It was good to hear your thinking.

                            I believe the Friday Chef's Market in Napa changed to Thursday nights. Also in Napa, Back Room Wines on First Street (near Main) right across the street from Bounty Hunter has great Friday night tastings.

                    2. re: rworange

                      Wow. Now this is going to be great fun! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

                      1. re: ButterflyWest

                        Hope you have fun and report back on where you finally go and how you like it.. Also, don't feel tied to a schedule. If something looks good, take a chance.

                      2. re: rworange

                        Bwahahaha orange!

                        Them's fightin' words for Tartine!

            2. The original comment has been removed
                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Awesome article. Thanks so much! Great to know where to eat well/reasonably in between the splurges!

                2. I'd go to Freeman and make sure Ed Kurtzman is there to taste you on the August West stuff when you are there.

                  If you go back to Deerfield try getting in touch with Jamie Kutch so that you can taste his wines when you are there as well.

                  My two favorite moderately inexpensive restaurants in SF are both walking distance from the Wharf -- L'Osteria del Forno (400sq ft hole in the wall that does not take credit cards nor reservations and has one oven making some of the best pizzas and roasts in SF): and Helmand Palace, which is a really welcoming Afghani restaurant: (although the website for Helmand is atrocious). The upside to L'Osteria is also that it is in North Beach (our little Italy) which you may want to walk around, anyway. If you do go to Helmand Palace, it is just around the corner from my favorite wine store in SF, Boindivino, on Green between Van Ness and Polk. You should deffinitely check it out.... If you do walk to Helmand, take Polk, not Van Ness, most of the way there... much more interesting stuff to walk by.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: whiner

                    I second l'Osteria and the idea of walking aound North Beach. It's been my neighborhood since my beatnik days for good reasons. Another budget saver and carnivore's delight that doesn't get mentioned much (not that it needs to) is Il Pollaio, specializing in grilled meats. Chicken (as the name implies), steak, pork chops, rabbit, lamb chop, all with great fries and other tasty sides.

                    Il Pollaio
                    555 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                      I know Il Pollaio gets positive mentions on Chowhound, but I never had luck there. The chicken was always dry and the sides forgettable, since I can't remember what they were.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I used to be a fan of the rabbit, but half a rabbit with a mountain of those huge fries is too much for me these days. I usually avoided the chicken because the incomparable Gira Polli was just around the corner and it seemed silly to not go there for chicken. But I also liked the lamb chop and pork chops, and sometimes would just order Italian sausages (a la carte) with fries on the side. .

                      2. re: Xiao Yang

                        I like the pork chops at Il Pollaio...

                      3. re: whiner

                        Thanks for the winery tips! And the heads up about the no cc's for L'Osteria del Forno!

                      4. If you haven't done it before, get on the phone and call Frog's Leap and set up a tour. It's free and you get to taste their wine throughout the tour.