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May 1, 2010 12:04 PM

Yet another SF/Napa/Sonoma itinerary post

I will be visiting the SF area in July with my husband for a week. We are both in our 20s and are open to any type of food (but we would like to eat at places that are unique to SF). I've searched this topic and found many helpful posts but I have a few questions that I haven't seen on this board yet.

My husband does NOT want a week full of multi-course fancy dinners (I know, what's wrong with him?). I thought we could compromise and eat at the bar of some of the higher-end restaurants. Good idea? I was specifically thinking of the bars at Michael Mina and Cyrus. We will be staying at the Farmhouse Inn and eating at the restaurant there. It will be my one "allowed" fancy meal, haha!

Exactly how safe is the Tenderloin area? I've found a few restaurants I'd like to try there, but is it safe for us to be walking around at night?

We have never had "real" Mexican food before. What's a good restaurant to try for first-timers?

We will also be checking out the Mission district (maybe Foreign Cinema), but I've bookmarked tons of other recs for that area.

For our time in Napa I was thinking about having our bigger meals at lunch. I've seen many recommendations for Redd, Farmstead, and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen so I think we'll just choose between those. Any recommendations for a low-key restaurant in Calistoga for supper, which is where our hotel is?

I've read that the CIA has an excellent store, but there's no mention of it on their website. Is there one and is it worth going to?

Thanks. These boards were very helpful when planning my trip to NYC a couple years ago, so I hope the food in SF will be as good as the food I had there!

Farmhouse Inn
7871 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574

Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110

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  1. Which restaurant is best for Mexican food depends on what dishes you want to try, e.g. Chava's for caldos, Taqueria San Jose for tacos al pastor, Poc-Chuc for Yucatecan dishes.

    The part of the Tenderloin that includes many board favorites such as Thai House Express, Burmese Kitchen, Lers Ros, Turtle Tower, Pagolac, Bodega Bistro, and A La Turca gets a lot of food traffic at night, especially on weekends.

    A La Turca
    869 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    Bodega Bistro
    607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    Thai House Express
    901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    655 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    Turtle Tower Restaurant
    631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    8 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      How about a Mexican restaurant for someone who doesn't know what any of those things are (but would like to try!). Off to google...

      Thanks for the tenderloin recs.

      1. re: nuclearali

        Mexican food at taquerias (and burritos) is a general dish, then you call your meat. The meat can be simple beef or chicken grilled, (pollo asada, carne asada) but if you like pig, don't miss Al Pastor (a marinated and grilled way) and Carnitas, which is double slow cooked. For a wide experience, go to just about any taqueria and get a whole mess of tacos (like 6), one of each meat that looks remotely good. You can skip cabezas the first time out. Get the regular taco, not super, and call you own shot regarding the hot sauce. The hot sauce is never blinding, it's just a little extra vinegar + chili kick. Most places will have a salsa bar off to the side with 3 or 4 choices to add: I'd go naked the first few times around. It'll come with a bit of lime for squeezin' over the meat. Best done with a friend and sharing each taco (a little messy), and consider ordering seconds of anything you especially like - or, better, go to the store next door and try again.

        That's called a taco crawl.

        Excuse my enthusiasm, a leisurely taco crawl through the mission on a sunny saturday is a slice of heaven. Top it with the local ice cream purveyors, and a little sitting in Dolores Park. Mmmmm.

        1. re: bbulkow

          I'm not sure many taquerias do a lot of things well. I've been disappointed by everything I've had at Taqueria San Jose other than the al pastor and the chorizo.

          1. re: bbulkow

            Well we will definitely be doing that.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          The CIA store is definitely worth visiting, as is wandering around the campus (if they let you ). It is a gorgeous place.

          Also in the Tenderloin worth a visit is Burmese Kitchen; it actually closes fairly early and by July, the sun will be setting later so there really is no problem wandering around that part of the 'loin. I think it gets a worse reputation than it deserves.

          Considering your husband's preferences, a restaurant in Napa that I think both of you would enjoy is the Bounty Hunter; it is a low-key wine bar with amazing bar food. The downside of having a bigger meal at lunchtime in Napa is that you are missing prime winery-open time. Once they close at 5:00 or 6:00, there is little else to do in Napa BUT eat and relegating a lot of time to lunch <ahem> eats away at the limited wine-tasting time.

          Practically ALL of the restaurants in Calistoga are low-key and that is an area that is not really known for the high-end, multi-course dining so prevalent down in the rest of the valley. Sol-Bar is not bad and I've had decent meals at Brannan's, but that was several years and several chefs ago. I haven't heard any recent reports.

          Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
          452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          Brannan's Grill
          1374 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, CA 94515

          755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, CA

          Bounty Hunter Rare Wine Co
          975 1st St, Napa, CA

          1. re: CarrieWas218

            Will check out Burmese Kitchen and your other Calistoga recs, thanks!
            I'm not too worried about missing out on wineries since we have a good amount of time in the area (3 full days, with us renting bikes one of the days and checking out a bunch of wineries). The other days I envision us only seeing a couple of wineries a day, at most!

            Where exactly is the CIA store? Weird it's not on their website.

            1. re: nuclearali

              The CIA store is in the same building as the restaurant - at the other end. Just pull into the parking lot and look for signs. It is a beautiful spot but I have not heard anything about their restaurant food for months. I ate there often years ago when I lived nearby but have not read any reports for ages. The Dean & DeLuca store is also interesting for food-related toys - but very VERY expensive.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            Burmese Kitchen looks interesting, since I've never had Burmese food (but the flavours look like something we would like). Also I am excited you listed a Turkish restaurant, as I was there last year and am missing the food!

          3. JoLe

            1457 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, CA 94515

            1 Reply
            1. How safe the tenderloin is depends on your frame of reference and the exact part of the tenderloin in question. I consider it safe but I'm a rather burly 6 foot male. I think it's 100% safe before dark. I don't personally know anyone who has had a problem there but you certainly put your guard up: no talking to the drunks, girls don't walk alone after dark, pay attention, that kind of thing.

              Which restaurants are you considering? The "tandoorloin" section is one of the better parts of the tenderloin.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bbulkow

                Thanks, I think we'll just do our best to be out of there before dark (which I don't think will be too hard to do).

                Well from the above poster I'm interested in Burmese Kitchen and A La Turca. The other cuisines I'd be interested in (that haven't been mentioned previously) would be Middle Eastern or Cambodian.

                A La Turca
                869 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              2. Willi's Wine Bar seems like a good bet for our second night at Farmhouse (just found it on another post, with a good review).

                Willi's Wine Bar
                4404 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

                1. Since you want places that are unique to SF and your hubby doesn't like fancy restaurants, I suggest skipping Michael Mina, even at the bar. It's expensive, it gets too many negative reports considering its price point, and it's not unique to SF.

                  Chez Panisse Cafe (maybe for lunch on your way to Napa)
                  Tadich Grill (local seafood)
                  Aziza (Cal-Moroccan)
                  Piperade (Cal-Basque)
                  Perbacco (Northern Italian), or Barbacco, it's more casual little sister

                  I don't think any of those restaurants will make you feel you "settled" for something less than a "fancy" restaurant.

                  Zuni Cafe
                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  Tadich Grill
                  240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  Chez Panisse
                  1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                  1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111