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SF in February. List of restaurants

I'll be in the Bay area and Napa in the middle of Feb. I want to experience the best of the area. Please tell me if there are any places I should skip and what I should replace it with.

I've read many of the posts and I want to say thanks for all the valuable information as I this is my first trip to the area

Napa Area

The French Laundry (reservation confirmed)
Auberge du Soleil (reservation confirmed)
Bouchon Lunch (reservation confirmed)
La Luna Taqueria Lunch
Bistro Jeaunty Lunch

San Francisco
Sushi Sebo
Taqueria Sinaloa (Lunch)

Other Possibilities

Los Gatos

Also, other places that might not be high end but one shouldn't miss like an amazing place for breakfast or a place that has unbelievable dim sum etc.

I will spending a couple of days in Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur. Any recs would also be appreciated.


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  1. That's awfully Eurocentric and a bit heavy on the conservative and expensive Michelin places. Some of the most exciting food in SF is at mid-priced, less formal places such as AQ and Bar Tartine.

    Where do you live? Without knowing that it's impossible to guess what we have that you couldn't find at home.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      ditto to that. But if $ is no object, maybe try Hakkasan which just opened. Or maybe Dosa, Amber India or Kokkari for a bit more diversity, if still somewhat on the pricier side (though more moderately so).

    2. Robert & Mark Thanks for the quick replies

      I live in the Virgin Islands so we don't have a great diversity of restaurants. Thanks for the recs. That is what I was looking for when I asked about some of the more moderately priced can't miss places. I will definitely try Hakkasan and probably Kokkari as well.

      Also Bar Tartine's menu looks really good I might just give them a try too.Thanks

      Are there any "institutions"? Places that really give me a feel for the San Francisco culinary scene?

      5 Replies
      1. re: tatuaje68

        When I think of institutions I think of older restaurants that have stood the test of time, but are not necessarily representative of the most current dining scene. Places like Tadich Grill for example will leave you no doubt that you ate in San Francisco, albeit could have just as easily been 50 years ago.

        California (farm to table) cuisine began in the area about 35 years ago, and early representative Zuni Cafe is still quite good and probably qualifies as an institution. More contemporary takes on this type of cuisine would be places Robert suggested (AQ and Bar Tartine) or State Bird Provisions, although I wouldn't think any of them would qualify as an institution just yet.

        1. re: Civil Bear

          Agreed on Zuni. Of course there is the major "institution" across the Bay --Chez Panisse.

        2. re: tatuaje68

          I think it's safe to say that both Tadich Grill (FiDi) and Chez Panisse (Berkeley) are institutions. Zuni Cafe (Market Street) could also qualify. Taking mass transit (street car, cable car, electric bus, BART, whatever) to any of these places will only enhance the experience.

          1. re: tatuaje68

            SF's restaurant scene is so diverse that no one place will give much of a feel for it.

            Tadich is the oldest restaurant in SF but that's a mixed blessing. Some of the food is old-school in a bad way, you can eat well there but you have to know what to order.

            Hakkasan's a branch of an international chain.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              My wife and I have sailed the EC and the Exumas extensively, not the Virgins, and I think I get tatuaje68's perspective and appreciate the desire for higher-end places. To that point, the itinerary sounds pretty good. Room for improvement? Sure. But it's sound overall.

              The drive down to Monterey and Big Sur is outstanding. My wife and I have been doing it every year for decades. Food down there is nowhere near as good as San Francisco but I'm reminded of an old saw: When Americans go on vacation, they go to California. When Californians go on vacation, they go to Monterey (there are variations). The California board will help you out.

          2. surprised you have Saison, Benu and Coi but not Atelier Creen which would my preference over Coi and Saison.

            Zuni is an Cal cuisine institution and lunch there with oysters and bubbly is pretty classic.

            To get idea of the modern SF cuisine AQ is pretty good for that and it takes the whole seasonal obsession that's an SF stereotype that is actually true to heart.

            Or do a lunch/snacks at the ferry building.

            Unless you have other things going on in the south bay I don't know if Manresa is worth a special trip.

            of course you have to have a mission burrito each place is different, I would stick to Mission street and not the hipsterized places on Valencia

            Also how about Aziza as an alternative to Eurocentric. Other you might be interested in Burmese at Mandalay, Ethopian at Moya (although the best Eritrean and Ethopian is still in the East Bay).

            1 Reply
            1. re: tjinsf

              I agree with Tjinsf. Having eaten at all four, I would take Atelier Crenn over the other three and move on to other interesting cuisines like Bar Tartine and Aziza (Saison, Benu and Coi are all so similar in their haute-ness...)

              Other "institutions" include Swan for oysters, Top of the Mark for the view and a cocktail, Bix for tartare and their Sidecar, Zuni (as others have mentioned), and a Saturday morning at the Ferry Building's Farmers Market.

            2. Thanks for the great suggestions.

              I have already been convinced to go to Aziza after reading Kelseats. I've just recently been reading her blog and she seems to have some pretty interesting restaurants on there.
              I have known about and respected Alice Waters for 25 or thirty years but I've read so many bad reviews of Chez Panisse that I might just go there for a drink just to see it.

              I plan to drive from Napa to Los Gatos and eat at Manresa, then drive to Monterey the next morning

              1. Just a note that Taqueria Sinaloa is in Oakland. The taqueria itself is not walking distance from BART, but their permanent taco truck station is kitty-corner from the Fruitvale Station parking garage. If going over to Oakland for a taco is not what you had in mind, then perhaps someone can give you some suggestions for a place in San Francisco.

                I think for a foodie on SF institution is the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building (plus the Ferry Building market hall itself).

                Your Napa itinerary sounds heavy on the French side to me, too. I'm guessing one thing you do have in the Virgin Islands is upscale French (or mostly French) restaurants, even if they do cater to tourists (which is what the ones in Napa do, too). I've always thought of Auberge du Soleil as one of those places where you go to sit on the terrace and have a drink/light snack at sunset rather than a dinner destination.

                Finally, check out the California board for Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur.

                1. I've never been to La Luna, but you might consider El Molino Central instead. I've eaten my share of Mexican food in the area, and it is, easily, the best I've had.


                  1. Thanks again to all for your replies.

                    To jpancake ; The el Molino menu looks great but it's 21 miles from where I am staying in Rutherford. La Luna is 1-2 miles from some of the wineries I will be visiting which are also close to Rutherford.

                    I have changed my itinerary based on some of your suggestions. Please let me know if you think I have improved my list.

                    Sat Ferry Building Lunch
                    Benu Dinner

                    Sun AQ Brunch
                    Contigo Dinner

                    Mon Mr Pollo Lunch
                    Aziza Dinner

                    Tues Perbacco Lunch
                    Sebo Dinner

                    Wed Saigon Sandwich Lunch
                    Saison Dinner

                    Thur Brenda's French Soul Food Lunch
                    Koo Dinner

                    Friday Taquieria Sinaloa
                    Atelier Crenn Dinner

                    Experience has taught me that I can get jaded eating that much in such a short time but I can always skip some of the lunches or just have a salad

                    20 Replies
                    1. re: tatuaje68

                      Looks like a very impressive line up.

                      I'm sorry you are not leaving somethings open for chance and serendipity, though. Sometimes just wandering a neighborhood and noshing here and there can be just as rewarding as a set culinary itinerary.

                        1. re: tatuaje68

                          i think sebo and koo are similar styles of sushi. you might instead sub one out for kappa (old school counter kaiseki) or jai yun (upscale chinese).

                          i was impressed with akiko's sushi recently (had a nigiri omakase) which could be a good lunch if you want to axe one of your other sushi dinners. i'd probably choose this over mr pollo on your list.

                          i'd go to hakkasan or yank sing over AQ brunch. AQ's brunch hasn't be as highly praised on the boards as the dinner. And regardless, i think if you are going to benu, saison, AND crenn in one week, you are probably going to have more than enough "creative" "innovative" dishes, that a more downscale version of those three (which is what AQ is) likely won't add much.

                          oh, and if you want an "institution", i'd replace perbacco with chez panisse cafe.

                          1. re: Dustin_E

                            I agree with Dustin_E about overdoing it on sushi. Pick one place, and if you still want Japanese, try something other than sushi and go with his kappa suggestion or do a search for "Izakaya."

                            I find Mr. Pollo to be a charming, fun, and unique place, but I've never had a dish that blew me away. Just be aware of the scene. It's a tiny 14 seats place and you can see the chef cook everything, no frills atmosphere, no reservations, and the 4-course $20 prix fixe menu changes daily. You're not gonna find a daily farmer's market driven menu for anywhere near that price in SF, but at a higher pricepoint, you certainly will. There's also a regular menu with a few items and great tres leches dessert. Prix fixe can take 1-2 hours.

                            1. re: Dustin_E

                              If replacing Koo or Sebo I would strongly urge you to consider Izakaya Yuzuki. To me this is the best non-sushi Japanese in the city right now.

                              Everything there is fantastic and very authentic.

                                1. re: pauliface

                                  +1 for Yuzuki. Superb, even by Tokyo standards.

                                2. re: Dustin_E

                                  I agree with all of Dustin_E's recommendations.

                                  I think sebo is much better than koo. I would replace koo with kappa - but you need to make a reservation.

                                  I would also consider Akiko's as an alternative to Sebo. The only thing I don't like is that Akiko's is very crowded (people are packed in more) -- but the food is top notch.

                                3. re: tatuaje68

                                  That is one tasty itinerary. I would totally do the same if I only had a week.

                                  AQ brunch is no where the level of it's dinner menu but I don't know which one you should give up to go there, maybe skip Koo since you are going to Sebo.

                                  I would do Foreign Cinema or Plow for brunch although Plow doesn't do reservations and is on Potrero Hill.

                                  1. re: tatuaje68

                                    How do others on this list feel about Brenda's?
                                    I have some friends who like it and I've been with them twice, but to be honest I can't stand the place. It's the heaviest food I know, heavier even than Frances, which I detest. There is nothing on that menu that does not weigh me down like a lead football.

                                    The first time I tried to order light but ended up overstuffed anyhow. So the second time I figured I might as well just try the fried chicken everybody raves about, but I did not find it particularly tasty, or crunchy, or delicious, and again I felt overstuffed.

                                    So I guess what I'm saying is I'd swap that lunch out.
                                    Swan Oyster Depot is close to that location, and far more delicous. Just get there early because they do get a line.

                                    Or perhaps Gyro King on Grove street, which makes fantastic lamb sandwiches and platters.

                                    1. re: pauliface

                                      Admittedly, soul food is comfort food so you definitely have a point. One could order a salad for lunch, but then why bother going to Brenda's in the first place?

                                      However Brenda's is not lacking in the flavor department, so if the OP is looking for SF's best representation of soul food I would not remove it from the list.

                                      1. re: pauliface

                                        One person's overly heavy is another's rich and satisfying. Heavy isn't automatically a reason to nix it. I love Brenda's!

                                        For soul food, what's that place in Potrero Hill? Hard Knox? Something like that? Maybe there's another location in the Inner Richmond...

                                        1. re: Violatp

                                          don't get me wrong, I can eat a lot of the right things. Cookies til I explode for example. And I seem to have a bottomless pit for japanese.

                                          It may well be that I'm not built for soul food. But I promise you, I do indeed have a soul.

                                          1. re: Violatp

                                            Hard Knox is on 3rd in the Dog Patch and on Clement in the outer Richmond. As much as want to love it (inexpensive, large portions, good menu selection, friendly folks), it is not where I would want to go for good authentic southern soul food.

                                            1. re: Violatp

                                              Hard Knox is in the Dogpatch not Potrero Hill. Brenda's is more soul food than Hard Knox although I like them both. Both are heavy food not a big surprise.

                                              1. re: tjinsf

                                                Meh. I knew it was somewhere in that general direction where I never go. :-)

                                                I wish I could offer a better argument, but I've only been to Brenda's and only heard about the food at Hard Knox via friends. But Brenda's seems more New Orleans soul food vs (from what I understand) Hard Knox is more general southern soul food.

                                                1. re: tjinsf

                                                  Hard Knox is fine for locals, but I don't recall anything on the menu particularly unique to SF, or better than what you can get in most major US cities.

                                                  Brenda's at least had good breakfast items and the hangtown fry is a regional speciality.

                                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                                    As an ex-local to that hood, I always preferred Just For You over Hard Knox, they're different kinds of places, and I think JFY is breakfast/lunch only, Hard Knox was a little grungy.

                                                    Dogpatch is more of a marketing region than a neighborhood, and it's only just become a neighborhood. Piling on anyone for calling it Potrero Hill - which that region was until the lofts went in, approx 2000 - seems unnecessarily harsh.

                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                      Dogpatch has been a residential neighborhood since 1870 and the name predates WWII. I almost rented a flat there in the 80s. It has changed a lot since they built all those condos.


                                          2. The lunches are mostly places I am leaning towards instead of being set in stone. I'm still leaving room for spontaneity.

                                            I wanted to go to Koo for the Kaiseki not the sushi but Kappa looks really good .I would be interested to hear from other CH'rs who have been to both and how they compare.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: tatuaje68

                                              Koo and Kappa do not compere - they are entirely different in offerings and presentation...

                                              I go to Koo for the interesting sushi offerings (like Spoonfuls of Happiness) and I go to Kappa for their Kaiseki which is far more traditional and precious.

                                            2. I think I'll go to Brenda's for breakfast and have some beignets.

                                              Just a note. Regarding doing Benu, Saison and Crenn. I listed my choices over seven days for brevity.

                                              Actually I'll be in SF for 4 days then Napa for three days and then Monterey/Big Sur for 4 days returning to SF for 3 days. I'll be eating at those three restaurants over a span of 2 weeks. Not sure if that matters but I will spreading them out a little.

                                              Also,regarding public transportation. Is it safe to take the buses and rail at night? How late do they run?

                                              Looking at Google maps it seems pretty easy to get around. I was going to rent a car but if I can get around easily by bus and rail it would be great. I'm not talking about staying out at bars until 2am but for dinner, coming back to the hotel by 10pm.

                                              Thanks for the help

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: tatuaje68

                                                Do not bother with renting a car in the city at all! At just over seven miles from end-to-end, San Francisco is very easy to get around and the buses and rail are very safe - as is walking the streets.

                                                What are your Napa choices for eating?

                                                1. re: tatuaje68

                                                  don't bother with a car in the city as the cost and the hassle of finding parking will make it pointless.

                                                  Yes it's safe to take the buses and rail at night but they do NOT keep the schedule that is on google or even their own site and you must have exact change, some buses run 24/7 but on a limited schedule, you can map routes on google with the bus icon. I would suggest having the Uber car service app on your phone if you do need to hire a car. It's a couple of dollar more than taxis here but even the uberx which is the cheaper car service is far more reliable and nice. Also if the weather is nice, it's often quicker to walk than take the bus or even wait for a taxi. While there are many street folks, they are no violent or a threat in any way.

                                                  1. re: tjinsf

                                                    All that. Google Transit Directions are reliable for route but not for bus arrival and departure time. Get a clipper card at the local Walgreens and try it out. Different routes run different times.

                                                    Muni/BART are reliable regarding schedule and safe. Buses are pretty safe, just hold your nose and ignore the crazy people.

                                                    Taxis work well when all else fails. They are prevelent around bars late. The distances are so small that cab rides in the districts where travellers land - the upper-right quadrant of the city - are cheap. The hard part is finding them, which is where Uber comes in, if you spend more than a few minutes waiting.

                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                      Most restaurants and bars have priority numbers for calling cabs, just ask them to call you one.

                                                      511.org is more reliable then Google Maps for transit directions.

                                                      BART trains are usually on schedule. Muni's on-time rate is around 60%. Nextbus.com is helpful.

                                                2. I listed them in my first post at the top with one minor change. I'm going to trade out either Bouchon or Bistro Jeanty and eat instead at Etoile.

                                                  Bouchon and Jeanty seem pretty similar. Not sure which one is better. I've eaten at Bouchon in Vegas.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: tatuaje68

                                                    Sorry - you are right...

                                                    There have been many mixed reviews of Etoile recently; it has gotten some stars, but local diners haven't been flocking there or been very impressed.

                                                    If you have eaten at Bouchon in Vegas, then you've experienced their cuisine. I'm a Bouchon detractor as their Napa valley location has declined considerably over the past several years and I've always preferred Jeanty anyway.

                                                    Other places of note include Goose & Gander (new to the valley and a rising star), and the FARM at Carneros (innovative, but I'm not sure you would want it for lunch), especially if you are doing French Laundry.

                                                    Considering the heavy meals you are going to be consuming, you might enjoy an afternoon noshing through Oxbow Market or - my local favorite - Zuzu for tapas.

                                                  2. Carrie

                                                    Great recs, thanks

                                                    I love Spanish food. Now that I'm going to do Zuzu, maybe I can drop Contigo. I would do Bar Tartine instead. Could someone tell me about Bar Tartine and AQ? Their stye of food. Their experiences at both restaurants? I've looked at both of their websites but both their menus are kind of vague, at least they are to me.

                                                    Also I am thinking of doing AQ my first night, a Friday. I see they are open until 11pm.

                                                    I arrive at SFO at 7:05pm. I think I could easily get to my hotel at Union Square by 8:30 and make it to AQ by 9:30pm. Do I have that about right?

                                                    Thanks in advance

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: tatuaje68

                                                      Bar Tartine's food has a strong Hungarian influence and a lesser Japanese influence.


                                                      AQ I can't pigeonhole. Unless your flight's late you ought to be able to make that, and that late it probably won't be full anyway.


                                                      1. re: tatuaje68

                                                        We did both AQ and Bar Tartine on our recent trip in November and neither blew us away foodwise, though AQ was better. In fact, Bar Tartine was a bit of a gong show in the food department. Based on that one meal, I would not return. AQ I would give another chance but prolly won't be rushing back.

                                                        If you want to use transit (and as a regular visitor, I strongly support that choice), don't forget about the awesome Muni passes. They come in one, three and week denominations, and will get you on all the Muni buses, streetcars and cable cars, the latter of which are $6 one way otherwise. They sell them at the airport but also at the kiosk by the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell, where you get out if you are coming in by Bart from the airport (also the best way to get in from SFO IMHO). We use our Muni passes for easy access to more good eating in the SF nabes, and sometimes just to take a load off for a few blocks when we're walking around looking for more eats.

                                                        1. re: grayelf

                                                          Did you post about your meal at Bar Tartine? I thought you were planning to visit the sandwich shop.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Not yet, my bad. I will do so as soon as the Xmas chaos is over. We ended up doing Bar Tartine itself rather than the sando shop.

                                                            1. re: grayelf

                                                              I'd be curious to hear what you ate. I have eaten at both the sandwich shop and the restaurant multiple times and have yet to have anything I have not liked.

                                                              1. re: absc

                                                                Promise I will post a full report soon but suffice to say for now that none of the dishes we had was really good and two of the four were disappointing -- and this is not a cheap meal where you can shrug it off. The menu is too vague on details and even when we asked, the wait staff did not provide good descriptions. This was particularly true on the "goulash" dish which was new then and I note has rightly been pulled from the menu. Nothing like goulash (at all), more like a Japanese dish, little flavour and unidentifiable veg (even the server didn't know what they were). This is a popular place and I did note that my experience was based on a single meal, so YMMV of course, but I would not go back.

                                                                1. re: grayelf

                                                                  I had a similar experience at Bar Tartine, though it must have been nearly a year ago. Two of four dishes were duds (worse, they were lukewarm). I live here and have considered going back several times as others seem to like it so, but as you said, it's not a cheap meal so harder to shrug off.

                                                                  On the other hand, I've liked AQ very much the two times I've visited. Someone suggested going next weekend, but I think I'd have to check the winter menu first and see if it appeals.

                                                      2. Thank you all again for your suggestions.

                                                        I've pretty much got it settled now.

                                                        I'll just go over the dinners in SF proper while mentioning that I will go to the ferry building on Sat at around mid day. Lunches will be decided as I go along. I won't have any reservations for lunch except for a lunchtime reservation at Perbacco

                                                        1st week
                                                        Bar Tartine

                                                        2nd week
                                                        Atelier Crenn

                                                        I will report back to let you know my impressions as a first time visitor to the Bay area.

                                                        Robert: The 511.org and nextbus suggestions were very helpful. Thanks!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: tatuaje68

                                                          If you're taking public transit to Aziza, be sure to pick up a 38AX, BX or L (express/limited). The regular 38 will take approximately forever.

                                                        2. Dustin recommended Akiko's for Sushi. There are two listed. One on Mason called Akiko's Sushi and Akiko's Restaurant on Bush St.

                                                          Which one were you referring to? And would that be a good replacement instead of Sebo?