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Oct 22, 2009 05:10 PM

Heading To SF Berk Area, and In Need of Some Tips

I live in Southern California and will be traveling to SF from 10/29-11/3, precious little time to do everything in such a great city. We will be staying in downtown SF (Courtyard) and be using Metro/BART as transport.

Would you please post your must hit food spots?

I tend to gravitate to casual dining more than fine dining. Take out, food on the go tips are great too.

My wife's one major request is chowder in a bread bowl. I'm sure there are a million places to make such an acquisition; however is there a "GREAT" place to go?

Burgers, fries, pizza, Italian, Ethiopian, Greek, Middle Eastern, BBQ, fried chicken, Soul food, Vietnamese, Japanese, if I forgot to mention something, it's all up for grabs. I'm sure we'll be walking through China Town, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, the usual tourist enclaves and some of the beaten path choices would be great.

I have heard tell of an ice cream shop in Berkley that is unreal, and a friend told me to hit "Top Dog." Any hound impressions would be greatly appreciated.

A good bakery / donut shop would be welcome suggestions too.


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  1. Chowder in a bread bowl was invented by somebody at Boudin a few years ago when they decided to expand the well-loved (and still respectable) local bakery into a statewide chain of crappy cafes. You can get the same thing at LAX or SFO while waiting for your flight.

    Chowder is not a San Francisco specialty. Our thing is cioppino.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Where does one get a decent bowl of cioppino?


      Whether top dog is worth the trip is terribly subjective. For the average person, I wouldn't go all the way to berkeley for Top Dog. If you're a huge hot dog lover, maybe, in which case you'd want to have a list of some of the great hot dogs of the bay area - I remember a thread on the topic at some point.

        1. Top Dog isn't a destination type of place, but it's worth a visit if hot dogs are your thing and you happen to be in the area anyway. Personally, I find it a major hassle to go anywhere near the UC Berkeley campus anytime classes are in session.

          I don't know of any "unreal" ice cream in Berkeley--some people like Ici (for their cones, especially), but I give it a big thumbs down. The ice cream is icy and the flavors are extremely muted. Much better are Tara's (which is in Oakland, but accessible by BART) and Lush Gelato (also in Oakland). In SF, there is Bi-Rite Creamery (which is near the Valencia St. shopping area, which is fun to visit anyway) and Humphrey Slocombe (which I haven't been to, but many people like for its more innovative flavors).

          7 Replies
          1. re: abstractpoet

            Naia could have been the mentioned "unreal" place too. Most people here pooh pooh it a bit; I like a few of their more unusual flavors like rose and black sesame. It's right next to berkeley bart. I would not call it unreal, but everything depends on frame of reference.

            Slocolmbe is actually unreal - Jesus Juice ice cream?

            1. re: bbulkow

              Many thanks abstract. This is the kind of information I am looking for.

              Slocolmbe. Roger that. It's on the short list, thanks!

              Now, all I need is some food tips that don't require tedious searching of board posts, and I'll be in business.

              1. re: cem3340

                I think you'd get better responses if you gave more info then great food and casual...both are subjective and there's a LOT of choices in that range. Also how much do you want to spend? The question gets asked a lot in SF.

                1. re: cem3340

                  Just a word of advice, the best way to get information on this board probably isn't just making a general request for "must hit food spots" and then listing almost almost every different type of cuisine imaginable. San Francisco and Berkeley have a wealth of good restaurants, and any individual's list of personal favorites might have 20 or 30 entries. And such lists have already been compiled, many times, for people making similar requests, which is why people are referring you to other threads. "Tedious searching of board posts" is, to be honest, one of the best ways to find out what you want to know.

                  The more specific you can be, whether in terms of a specific neighborhood or a type of cuisine or a certain price range, the more helpful people can be. It helps too if you say what some of your favorite restaurants are.

                  I will say that Zuni Cafe is a SF institution that typifies much of what's good about Bay Area cuisine. On the moderately expensive side, but not "fine dining" in the sense of it being stuffy or that you need to get dressed up.

                  In terms of your bakeries, out-of-town visitors I've brought to Tartine Bakery have really liked it. (This is near Valencia St. also, down the street from Bi-Rite.) In Berkeley, Crixa Cakes is a personal favorite, for pies and Eastern Europeans buns and pastries.

                  Zuni Cafe
                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  Tartine Bakery
                  600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  Crixa Cakes
                  2748 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                  Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream
                  2790 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  1. re: abstractpoet

                    Thanks for your help.

                    I've opted to change my approach and see if that yields some better results.

                    Wish me luck :-)

                  2. re: cem3340

                    I finally tried HS and didn't like it at all; it had icy particles. Maybe a bad day? Bi-Rite is a million times better. I also don't bother with Mitchell's.

                    1. re: walker

                      What I do like is BiRite and HS are very different visions & styles, yet so close. It seems half of CH prefers one, half prefers the other. I think HS is grainy too, but I'm willing to live with it for the awesome flavors.

              2. This might be a help

                Visitng SF. Eat like a local not a tourist.

                There are some things one has to do despite being warned. Your wife's only wish is clam chowder in a bowl, so if she must have that, Chowder's on Pier 39 may be the best of a bad lot. At least it is made in-house and not canned like most places ... including Boudin.

                You would think that some celebrity chef somewhere would put out an ironic version .. maybe COi... i can see it now clam chowder in a thimble-sized bread bowl on a plate decorated with 'seagull snow' accompanied by a smoking dish. You sniff the SF dry ice 'fog' which has the salty scent of the sea before downing the chowder in one bite. You could put together a whole tasting menu with versions of SF classics such as Rice a Roni.

                Sorry to digress ...

                Anyway, if you can at all take me seriously now, when you do look through the restaurants and suggestions above, be sure to set Saturday morning aside for the Ferry Plaza farmers market.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: rworange

                    No kidding, this is awesome.

                    If you're at the Ferry Plaza farmer market on Saturday, look for a ridiculously tall (6'10"), white male and say hi :-) We'll be there.

                    many thanks!