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The SF Bay Area is good for _____?

  • t

Every city has its own culinary strengths that are the by-products of immigration and socio-economic trends. If you're in Buenos Aires, you're going to try Italian food, and if you're in London, you're going to eat Indian food. What about the North American cities though? Would you eat Malaysian food in Houston? Would you try Mexican food in Toronto? What is particularly good in the Bay Area that outshines other cities in that regard? I've heard that San Francisco is one of the best places to try Peruvian food in the United States (and possibly outside Peru). What else do you think is particularly strong in this area?

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    1. Burmese -- a while back someone said that the Bay Area has more Burmese restaurants than anywhere in the world (and more have opened since then).

      Don't forget our native California cuisine! And maybe vegetarian -- it seems like there are more chefs doing interesting things with vegetables than other places, even if not strictly vegetarian.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I definitely hadn't had Burmese food in North America before trying Burma Superstar in Oakland, though I think I prefer Bagan in SF more. The fact that there are places to compare to for this relatively unknown cuisine is kind of exciting!

        1. re: timeo

          Just like LA is great for Korean/Japanese/Taiwanese, SF is not bad for Chinese/Cantonese (but still behind Vancouver and Toronto). I agree that Californian cuisine is good here as well, though there's a lot of opinion on what exactly Californian cuisine means.

      2. sourdough bread, dungeness crab, and my illicit pleasure --the its it ice cream cookie sandwich

        (I know there is a raging debate elsewhere about sourdough on this board, but I find the sourdoughs here from a variety of bakeries to be tangier here than elsewhere.)

        Also, I think we have a nice little collection of Laotian restaurants (for ex. That Luang, Green Papaya, Champa Garden).

        1. Korean in Oakland. Filipino in various burbs. Yucatecan in SF. Afghan, Persian, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan.

          1. Better then average ethnic, very good produce, great mid-range restaurants, a few top end restaurants and artisan stuff (bread, cheese, coffee, etc.).

            12 Replies
            1. re: ML8000

              I definitely agree on the mid-range restaurants and produce. Not as sure about the top-end places: granted I don't eat in top end places often, but compared to my experiences in some other cities (Philadelphia, Toronto, NYC, Paris come immediately to mind, though perhaps the latter two aren't fair comparisons) I've been disappointed with most of the top-end places I've eaten at here...though I would be curious as to which top-end places you have in mind, in case I haven't tried them yet.

              I also think Italian is a strength, and our best regional Italian and Cal-Italian places get recommended often on the boards (including by me).

              1. re: susancinsf

                The French Laundry and Manresa can pretty much stand up to any place but yes, not that many compared to NYC, Paris or Tokyo. Still...the fact we have a decent number is pretty good considering everything else we get.

                The other thing, bouncing off Cal-Italian, is anything Cal (or Cal cuisine)...including Cal-Moroccan...no one gets that.

                1. re: ML8000

                  What restaurant is Cal-Moroccan? Sounds interesting....

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Agree with FL and Manresa comment.

                    Not that this is the only barometer, but aren't NYC and SF the only two cities in North America to have Michelin guides? -Philly, Toronto up there with Paris?

                    Yes, we pale next to Paris and Tokyo, but I think we have more diversity than both of these. Try finding el salvadorian or laotian in Tokyo. -Great food culture, but not as diverse.

                    1. re: roster

                      I wasn't suggesting that Philly and Toronto were up there with Paris, just that I've personally had better luck there with high end restaurants than I have in San Francisco, and thus I am not convinced it is a strength here.

                      To be fair though, i was thinking more of the City of San Francisco. If ML8000's suggestions are indicative, it may be that the good high end stuff isn't really in San Francisco, which could mean that whether it is a strength depends upon how broadly one defines the geographic area.

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        I've been rereading some of this discussion, and I think I want to add Millennium as an entry in the "great high end restaurants" list.
                        How are those other cities on vegan cuisine?

                        1. re: Kim Cooper

                          I've not eaten at Millenium, but OTOH I've not heard very much that is positive about it on this board.

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            I'd love to see an up-to-date review of Millennium). It's been a solid 6 years since I've been there (one or two locations ago).

                    2. re: ML8000

                      I love Paris, but they're weak on almost everything other than French food. We have better bread.

                      The best food I've had in France was in Provence and the Dordogne, but then I don't have much interest in the kind of cooking that gets two or three Michelin stars.

                  2. re: ML8000

                    I absolutely agree with ML8000 -- couldn't have said it better myself.

                    1. Lot's of great Vietnamese food in the Bay Area.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Civil Bear

                        I wouldn't say the Bay Area, but the Vietnamese food is definitely okay in San Jose.

                        1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                          Yes, I actually had SJ in mind when I said the Bay Area. Initially I was just thinking SF, as that is were I have 90% of my meals, but I know SJ has a much larger Vietnamese population so I didn't want to leave it out.

                          That said, SF has a plethora of Vietnamese restaurants, many of which I find to be better than just okay - just a tip of the iceberg being:
                          -Turtle Tower in Little Saigon for northern Pho Ga
                          -PPQ in the inner Sunset for southern Pho
                          -Saigon Sandwich for Banh mi
                          -Bodego Bistro for white tablecloth french-infused Vietnamese at great prices
                          -Tu Lan for a Julia Child recommended hole in the wall (love their bun with bbq pork and spring rolls)
                          -PPQ Dungeness, Crustacean, or Thanh Long for crab over garlic noodles
                          -and of course the #1 grossing restaurant in the Bay Area, Slanted Door for Cal-Vietnamese.

                      2. Bread. The bay area has more great artisan bread than anywhere in the country.

                        1. produce. the overwhelming abundance of local, seasonal and organic fruit and vegetables. my friends who have left the bay area cannot access this level of quality of produce at the prices available to us.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: lucymom

                            while I agreed with an earlier poster that produce is a strength here, I actually think it is a strength in much of California, not just the bay area. I can generally get the level of quality here in the Central Valley that I got in San Francisco, and the prices are definitely lower out here in the Valley. My local grocery has an excellent selection of organic vegetables and fruit, not to mention that the closest farm is literally only six blocks from my home. The Merced Farmer's Market is small, but there are excellent farmer's markets in the bigger towns such as Fresno and Modesto.

                            Indeed, just started a new CSA and we had lovely kohlrabi in our CSA box this week (along with the first asparagus of the season, yum!)...hubby had to look it up on the internet, but once he figured it out he made a very good puree with both the body and the leaves...very tasty!.

                            However, what I do miss terribly out here in the CV is cheese, and thinking about it, I think cheese is one of the bay area's strengths. Some really nice cheese shops, and some restaurants with very nice cheese plates on the menu. The irony is that some of that cheese is actually produced out here (and I am surrounded by dairy farms!), yet I find I need to travel to San Francisco to get it....

                            1. re: susancinsf

                              Hey Susancinsf,

                              Any recs for a great high end restaurant that *can* stand up to NYC or Paris? I have a special occasion coming up, but don't want to spend the money only to be disappointed by the food/experience (I have had that experience actually in Philly a few times, and already once out here in SF so far). I never realized it but after living in NYC it kind of ruins other places a little bit for you as it's an extremely tough barometer to compare everything else to, so what restaurants out here stand up to that measuring stick in your mind?

                              1. re: MaddyK

                                I really wasn't trying to compare SF high end restaurants to NY or Paris, was just trying to say that IMHO high end dining is not a big strength here, unlike perhaps in some of those other cities I mentioned.

                                I'd suggest a seperate thread on the issue for those that do a lot more high end dining than I do. I am personally most interested in trying Manresa, but it isn't in San Francisco. Indeed, many of my better high end experiences in this area have not been in the City, but in the greater SF bay area. I should know better than to get caught up in these discussions of what SF does well, because the first thing one needs to do is define geographically what one means by San Francisco or the bay area . If I were a visitor looking for a high end experience, I'd consider spending some time in the south bay or the Napa area.

                                1. re: MaddyK

                                  Where have you tried? Can you name/describe a restaurant in NY that you're looking for something comparable to?

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Sure! As far as nicer restaurants there are so many...I've really enjoyed Gramercy Tavern, Per Se, Le Bernadin, Cru, Blue Hill, David Burke & Donatella (which is now DB Townhouse), and Aquavit.

                                    Since we're on the topic I really miss the cool downtown French bistro thing...any places similar to Pastis/Balthazar out here by any chance?