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Lunch on Friday between SFO and Napa

So, my weekend trip from the west coast has one lunch slot open. We arrive at the airport at 12:30 and will drive to Napa, where we're staying. We'll be very hungry, from the time change, but are having a fantastic dinner that evening.

But, who wants to waste a chance at an extraordinary meal when in the bay area, right?

We're extreme foodies and I think we should get something lighter. Current front runners are: Redd (menu looks the best), Chez Panisse Cafe (still haven't tried CP), Greystone at CIA (enjoyed the last lunch we had there).

Because we'll be hungry, maybe we should eat closer to SFO. Plus, it may be hard to get to the Napa Calley places before they close for lunch. Fantastic sushi would be a great option as well.

We appreciate any thoughts you might have.

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  1. Some of the best dim sum in the area is near SFO in Millbrae.

    Chez Panisse Cafe serves till 3 so that should be doable.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I think the Millbrae idea is a good one. You will not have to wait long/drive far before eating (important if your flight is delayed and you're really hungry). The amount of food you order is entirely flexible. If you're starving, you can keep ordering. If you're running late and concerned about spoiling your appetite for dinner, you can order less. It's also low pressure, so if your flight is delayed you will not be in a panic about missing your reservation.

    2. Not food-related, but traffic on a Friday afternoon can be horrendous in the Bay Area. By the time you actually get out of the airport it will be starting to get heavy. I would advise you to get across the bridge and as far toward Napa as possible before you stop.

      5 Replies
      1. re: pcdarnell

        Fully agree . . . Friday afternoon traffic is best avoided as much as possible. I'd head immediately for the GG Bridge and then get serious about a meal once I was in Marin or Sonoma County on the way to Napa. You will be too late to have lunch in Napa most likely unless you have planned a pretty late dinner.

        1. re: vday

          Both options are reasonable, and you could choose on the fly.

          Dim Sum in millbrea is certainly a good bet. They'll have you in and out in no time, although I always leave good dim sum stuffed. It's all about self control. You've mentioned nothing about liking that kind of food though.

          On the close side is also Sakae Sushi in Burlingame - considered by many one of the top sushi houses in the bay area. Near the airport. Supposedly they've expanded or are expanding - anyone know the status?

          SFO to Sausalito is 35 minutes, according to Google Maps. If you sat down to eat at 1:30, got up at 2:15 (possible with dim sum), you're over the bridge by 3 and on your way to napa. Traffic won't be bad by then, and hey, you're on vacation. Pull off at the Marin Headlands if you haven't done that before.

          If you bolt directly for sausalito, you'll have a drive on an empty stomach. Depends on how you feel, I think. Traffic has been light due to the economy, but no promises.

          1. re: bbulkow

            "SFO to Sausalito is 35 minutes, according to Google Maps"
            Unfortunately, I think those estimates from Google are based on driving at midnight;-)

            People have different tolerances for sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, but in this case - forewarned is forearmed. I'd recommend packing a snack, and heading North ASAP

            1. re: vday

              Much depends on your driving style, how much you hate being hungry, and the luck of the draw. I usually beat the google maps estimates by about 20% (at noon when there's little traffic), which is why I listed their times - it's a touchstone folks can use to calibrate.

              Seriously - traffic has been a lot less in the last 9 months. You're heart's set on CP, you can do it. Just research an out. I think Sakae is an excellent choice.

              1. re: bbulkow

                Maybe we'll let traffic.com decide. If the traffic can be negotiated, I can beat forcast times, but not if it's a parking lot.

      2. If you want good Sushi and heading in the right direction go to Sushi Ran in Sausalito they do close at 2:30 so you might be cutting it close.

        1. Pres a Vi, Cavallo Point ( Farley Bar) Pier 15 ( san rafael for not fancy good food) and all are on your way. I agree with the traffic warnings. Last thing you want to do is cross the Bay Bridge onto eastbound 80 with people going up to Tahoe on a Friday pm for the weekend, even if it is for Chez Panisse! Have a fantastic time!

          1. Personally I'd get over one of the bridges ASAP.Maybe you can get in and out of the Millbrae restaurants soon, but if you are at the airport at 12:30 and then getting a car and luggage and finding those restuaraunts and eating, that puts you uncomfortably close to possible traffic backup.

            The Golden Gate bridge is the prettier ride but the Bay Bridge is more direct. I'd go for Chez Panisse as on that list it qualifies for an extrodinary meal.

            If for some reason, due to late flight, you miss CP, Sea Salt in Berkeley is a nice California take on seafood. Or you could pick up a slice of pizza from Cheeseboard ... real California pizza and some cheese and bread. BTW, out of towners are usually unaware, but for many of us Calley or Cali is not good form. It is Cal or California. Where's Herb Caen when you need him? He mounted a major campaign against calling The City, Frisco. Someone needs to take up the campaign against Cali.

            On the Sausalito side, Fish has great Cal-seafood and a nice view of a marina.

            Redd and Greyestone are a hell of a ride from the airport

            7 Replies
            1. re: rworange

              Because I have to look when I type I noticed that the C is right next to the V. I think the OP meant Napa Valley.

              1. re: wolfe

                You pegged it, wolfe. Valley. Not Calley. Can't type that early in the morning. So, I'm thinking Sushi Ran is the front runner.

                Everyone's comments are really appreciated. I think it makes sense to get over a bridge asap and then eat. The CP lunch thread here kind of discouraged us, and it looks like Sushi Ran has a wonderful and creative take on sushi that we will really enjoy. Looking forward to some fine Uni!

                1. re: kbirley

                  If it looks like you'll miss the 2:30 cut off in Sausalito, you can switch on the fly to Sea Salt. They serve all day.

                  1. re: kbirley

                    If you read the CP thread, you realize that there are people that fall in two camps ... love it or hate it.

                    One thing to consider is that you are here at the height of summer where CP stars

                    It depends on what you are looking for. If it is innovative technique-intensive food ... don't go to CP. If you appreciate the best of the best in terms of quality prepared in the way to make the flavors shine, then reconsider CP. I love the afternoon lunches when the crowds clear and sitting near a sunny window.

                    1. re: rworange

                      Well, we're carrying on, no checked bags. So, we're optimistic. I'm sure we'd be happy with either, and we missed CP when we honeymooned in SF. But we're suckers for creative sushi. So, we'll probably make the call on the fly. You think we can walk in either place? And CP's cafe doesn't close between lunch and dinner, right?

                      1. re: kbirley

                        The Cafe closes at 3 but they take reservations up to 2:45 so I think the kitchen must stay open for a while after that.

                        1. re: kbirley

                          I haven't been to Sushi Ran so can't answer that question. The Cafe at CP closes at 3pm. I've always gotten a table for lunch there after 1:30.

                          If you miss out on hours or they are booked, then Sea Salt in Berekley or Fish in Sausalito would be good backups since the are open all day. If you go over the GG Bridge in San Rafael there's a Cal-Puerto Rican place called Sol Food that is an easy on and off the highway and is also open all day.

                2. Maybe it's just me...but...

                  I would heed all the warnings about nightmarish Friday afternoon traffic very seriously.

                  Which means that, I would not stop for a real meal till you reach Napa Valley. I've done the Friday afternoon commute several times, which is akin to slogging through hell.

                  Grab your carry-on and rental car and get out the city like a bat out of hell. It will be at least 1:15 before you're on the road. It will take you an hour to get out of the city. If you have lunch in Berkeley at CP you will be swallowed alive by the East Bay Friday afternoon traffic snares. Starts about 3 pm. It isn't pretty. It will be very frustrating. The commute is often 4 hours when the traffic's heavy.

                  Rather than the East Bay Berkeley route, I'd take the Golden Gate Bridge to Napa (101 to 37 to 121 to 29). It's scenic, the bridge is a nice big orange welcome sign, and you'll see where the wondrous sea meets the bay. Once north of the GGB, think about a quick pit stop at a place like In-N-Out burger. You don't want to get caught in the Friday afternoon traffic on 101 going north either. Backed up by 3:30 pm.

                  So, I'd recommend a big breakfast before your flight and food as righteous as you can find in the airport. Hit CP in Berkeley on the way back from Napa.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Fully there with you Maria about booking it for the GGB. . . "like a bat out of hell" sounds like the right traveling speed.
                    How about packing a little salumi, some good cheese, nuts, and dried fruit for snacks on the road and showing up at Gloria Ferrer to celebrate your good sense in avoiding the Friday afternoon traffic crush with a little bubbly?

                    1. re: vday

                      Thanks for the "local girl" support. Great idea on the bubbly. Though I might push on a bit past Gloria Ferrer to have the Reve bubbly at Domaine Carneros (the faux chateau). Also on the way in.

                        1. re: vday

                          Ahh, Ferrer, takes me back to the honeymoon! It was one of the wineries we visited. Maybe we'll drop by after sushi (knock wood).

                    2. re: maria lorraine

                      Wow, In-n-out burger? Seriously? Even when I'm pushing the limit on getting over the GG there are just so many superior places to run in for a sandwich that I am just astounded by that rec.

                      If so, they don't need to wait to cross the bridge as there is an In-N-Out right near the airport. But even La Boulongerie a block away from the Marin In-N-Out would be a better choice than a chain which is fine for what it is but the OP says "who wants to waste a chance at an extraordinary meal when in the bay area". An average at best burger would hardly fit that criteria. Should they want take-out there are so many quick stop options up Van Ness and just off Lombard.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Seriously. In-N-Out Burger.

                        It's just an example of a quick pit-stop.

                        That is, if KBirley and Co. are into, or would like to experience, this West Coast burger chain. Great quality, and lots of West Coast visitors seek out In-N-Out. Check out the recs and ordering tips on Chowhound and on the company website if you're interested.

                        Just off Highway 101 in Marin near the Richardson Bay Bridge [thinking of you, Wolfe!]

                        The quick pit-stop (quick being essential) could be anything. I just wouldn't stop anywhere before the GGB, and you just don't want to get involved in a meal until you hit the countryside.

                        In-N-Out isn't the only solution. Even the snacks referred to by Vday are perfectly fine.

                        Please read these similar threads:
                        Quick Lunch on the Way to Sonoma

                        Quick Lunch Between San Fran and Napa

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          It may come as a surprise to some that visitors actually show some interest in In and Out Burgers. Here is a thread about a poster is a similar situation with many of the same contributors.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            In-N-Out is a *Los Angeles" burger chain. Eating at one in the SF area is like eating at one of the Los Angeles branches of Boudin, or getting a Mission-style burrito in Brooklyn.

                      2. Here's a recent report by a super reliable poster about a sushi place if you take the route over the GG bridge and have traffic concerns

                        Sushi 69...another reason to call San Anselmo a Mecca

                        There are three or four traffic bottlenecks depending on your destination and which route you take. San Anselmo gets by two of them ... the bridge and San Rafael. The report has the link to the restaurant record and the website.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: rworange

                          San Anselmo's a ways off the freeway and traffic in and out can get backed up.

                          For a quick lunch near 101 on the other side of the bridge I'd do Fish in Sausalito.