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NYC coming to SF

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Hi all,

I'm planning on visiting San Fran in a few months with the beau (I like to plan far ahead...hah).

We truly enjoy all types of food and drink and are looking for must-eats/must-drinks in the SF area. Coming from NYC and having great food and drink, I know a few days in SF can't cover everything...but we plan to be there for 4-6 days and want to get a general feel for the food and drink culture here as much as possible.

Our budget is fairly open—looking for hole-in-the-walls as well as fine dining in all cuisines. Also looking for great cocktails bars (heard of a few speakeasies such as Slide and Bourbon & Branch) and popular night time venues/areas.

We plan to hit up NAPA valley also..and hopefully get a reservation at the French Laundry (I know I'll have to [try to] make reservations 2 months in adv.). So any tips about NAPA would be great too!

The only time we will have a car is during our 1-2 day trip to NAPA. Even though I've seen great recommendations slightly outside of SF, I would like to keep suggestions within reach of public transportation.

Thanks in advance!
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  1. As you might imagine, questions like yours get asked here regularly. It would really be worth your while to spend 15-20 minutes scrolling thru the many threads that are already here. You will find hundreds of helpful suggestions available to you.

    You can also go to the upper right-hand corner of this page and do searches for places (such as Napa) or subjects (such as wine tasting) that might be of interest.

    Here is one thread that should be of interest:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/785217

    1 Reply
    1. re: DavidT

      Thanks for the thread. I did actually look through a few others that helped me find a few places but I figured I posted my own also!

    2. If you're going to be dependent on public transportation, look for a centrally located hotel, i.e., within a block or two of a BART / Muni subway station.

      Some previous topics from visitors from New York:

      http://www.chow.com/search?query=new+...

      http://www.chow.com/search?query=Subj...

      1. Sorry, don't mean to be snarky, but had to reply to ask why you cap NAPA like it's an acronym? Napa is a name, it's not like NASA. :) There's a Napa city and then the Napa Valley, which encompasses many small towns with great food like Yountville and St. Helena.

        8 Replies
        1. re: singleguychef

          Haha to be honest, I have no idea. But now I know..and won't make that mistake again.

          1. re: ashleylau

            LOL, no worries.

            So just a few suggestions knowing you're coming from NYC:

            1) I wouldn't bother with Chinese food, because you can get some good ones in Flushing, or down in L.A. We have decent Chinese restaurants but none that I would carve a meal for especially since you're here for such a short period. But if you happen to be strolling in San Francisco Chinatown, then I would say drop in to Golden Gate Bakery for some fresh dahn tat (egg custard tarts). They're best when eaten fresh rather than taking back to the hotel.

            2) I feel the current San Francisco dining scene is farm-to-table or sustainable dining in a casual setting. Some innovative places that do this include: A.Q. (seasonal restaurant), Central Kitchen (same chef as Flour + Water but this isn't a pizza place), Rich Table (book reservations early) and Baker and Banker.

            3) Food trucks are popular and makes for easy dining without the fuss. Depending on when you're exactly coming, you might try Off The Grid at Fort Mason, which is the largest gathering, or SOMA Street Eats, which is a permanent parking lot location with rotating trucks.

            4) For fun, if you time it right, maybe you can do a pop-up dinner? You have to follow the ones you're interested in via Facebook or Twitter to get their schedules, but another easy way might be to get on the newsletter listing for Kitchit, which seems to be planning several pop ups with local chefs. Another popular one is called Lazy Bear, an underground pop-up.(Just Google those names if you're interested.)

            5) If this is your first time to San Francisco, there are some classics that you might want to try just because they're institution. These include Swan Oyster Depot for no-fuss fresh seafood (with lots of old-school charm), Tadich Grill in the Financial District, Zuni Cafe for its chicken dish, or Slanted Door (mostly for the view).

            6) If you're into celebrity chefs, then those restaurants would be Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern (good food, this is not like Guy Fieri's attempts to open a restaurant), Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino's Incanto, Traci des Jardin's Jardiniere, and Martin Yan's new M.Y. China in the shopping mall.

            1. re: singleguychef

              I like the food trucks, but honestly I'm not sure a tourist needs to spare a meal for them, especially not SOMA Streat Eats, and especially not a tourist from NYC. If any of those trucks had a proper brick location, few would recommend any of them as must-try restaurants. Don't get me wrong, I like them as a cheap and tasty dining option, but if an out-of-towner is vacillating between SOMA Streat Food and someplace like Incanto, then forget it.

              1. re: dunstable

                Yeah, they have the food truck fad in NYC as well. A real non-fad cheap taco truck might be worth a detour.

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/803758

                1. re: dunstable

                  I threw out the food truck option mostly as just that, an option. I know sometimes when I travel, I get tired of rushing off to a restaurant and sometimes I just feel like grabbing something quick. So that's why I mentioned the food trucks as an alternative. Also, NYC might have food trucks, but I haven't seen them together en mass like Off the Grid.

                  1. re: singleguychef

                    Off the Grid isn't necessarily quicker than a restaurant.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      In case the OP does decide to hit Off the Grid: http://offthegridsf.com/markets

                      I believe the big Fort Mason one doesn't start up again till later in the spring...

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Off the grid and Streat are slow and annoying. The benefit of the trucks is when you come across them, so having a couple of names like The Chairman so if you see the truck, you stop, is the right way. And simply let your nose be your guide.

                        Yes, NYC knows food trucks. I was wandering through some part of manhattan a few weeks ago and came across an artesianal ice cream truck, got myself a scoop of burnt banana. It was a little grainy but worth a stop.

            2. Hopefully viewing some of the threads suggested will narrow this down for you and you can post with where you need help/focus. Some basic ideas:

              Bourbon & Branch or Local Edition or Rickhouse for cocktails in a speakeasy type setting. Absinthe for damn good cocktails in a French Brasserie type setting.

              Go to the farmers market at the Ferry Building on Saturday morning or Wednesday morning.

              We are best at the mid-tier $40-75 a person restaurant. Among many are:

              Italian inspired: Cotogna, Locanda, Incanto, Flour + Water
              Innovative/experimental: AQ or Commonwealth
              Neighborhood/local ingredients: Nopa, Frances, Baker and Banker, Rich Table, or Canteen
              Innovative Wine List: St. Vicent's
              Innovative Beer List: Abbot's Cellar
              "Novelty" concept: State Bird Provisions

              You should try ice cream:
              Bi-Rite, Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, or Humphrey Slocombe

              You should try coffee:

              Philz, Blue Bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel, Sightglass etc.

              We also have some great Michelin 2/3 star type places. If you can't get French Laundry try:
              Benu (french modern cuisine with an asian twist) or Atelier Crenn (experimental cuisine with a californian/french flair in a more casual setting)

              5 Replies
              1. re: goldangl95

                Saturday and Tuesday morning, not Wednesday for the Ferry Plaza farmer's market .

                1. re: wally

                  huh. So weird, I could have sworn it was Wednesday. Anyway it's actually according to the website Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Thanks for the correction!

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    Thursday has more food booths and less farmers.

                    1. re: wally

                      thanks wally and goldangl95! Really useful info

                      We actually have blue bottle coffee in nyc now. Pretty good :)

                      1. re: ashleylau

                        NY also has a Four Barrel presence too, but like Blue Bottle, the coffee is actually different in character from what you get in SF. Different enough to make it a priority? Depends how you feel about coffee. Still worth going out of your way for one of SF's celebrated small roasters. It's a long list of options.

              2. You have gotten a lot of good suggestions. I'll just note that "in a few months" the situation might be different. Places open, close, chefs move around, etc. So be sure to monitor the scene in the coming months.

                I'll say also that if you have your heart set on a specific high-profile place, you should nail down a reservation, because they can be hard to get on short notice (i.e., Rich Table, as was noted below, or Cotogna).

                1. As a frequent visitor to S.F. working in the food and drinks industry, I can say you are getting a lot of good advice.

                  In regard to drinks, certainly B&B and Rickhouse (same ownership) can't be beat, however B&B is best visited with a reservation and some research. I'd also look at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant for Margarita's, Clock Bar for great mixology in an elegant setting, Cantina for proprietor Duggan McDonnell's own Mezcal, Smuggler's Cove for Martin Cate's exceptional take on Tiki (and then also the Tonga Room at the Fairmont for an OLD SCHOOL take) and then a personal favorite I went to first in 1993, long after its legend was established, the Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee. There are too many to actually list but these are the ones I try to hit every time I'm there.

                  For the catagory firmly rooted in between drinks and food, I'll hit you with Alembic and Absinthe.

                  The pure food rec's have been pretty solid so far so I'll only add that if you are a follower of Food TV, don't get put off by Chris Cosentino's reputation for being a "nose to tail" guy, Incanto has plenty of recognizable and delicious dishes that do not require eating quail pupils. You can also find his salumeria, Boccalone, at the Ferry Market Building open even if there is no Farmer's Market that day--try the nduja.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ellaystingray

                    You said "Clock Bar" and I read "Doc's Clock", one of my favorite dive mixology places. But for elegance, stick to Clock Bar as recommended.

                    I agree about Incanto.

                    I do think for a "real feel of the SF scene", places like Incanto are a must. Chris has a nice, small place with good bar seating and a chalkboard. It's a great "experience SF like a local" place - drop by off hours (early or late), pick two small plates off the board and ask them to pair a wine, relax, enjoy. I hear State Bird people line up at 4:30 for their opening at 5pm, just to sit at the bar seats, which means the casual early side is overexposed. Sigh.

                    I'm reminded of 38 degrees in the 90's. Hard to find, stylish place, big chalk board. I miss that place, sometimes, but the spirit lives on. Got torn down to make Mission Bay Plaza.

                    I'll make a plug for Blue Bottle Mynt. I know Brooklyn has a BB, and I haven't been, but I like getting the Egg in a Hole and something from the Syphon. That's my perfect morning in SF.

                    Somewhat different from the Get A Reservation And Dress To The Nines thing - more Brooklyn than Manhattan - we have some of that but it's not the strength.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Re: Blue Bottle, there are now 3 NY locations, and one location does happen to offer a more personalized Syphon bar experience as their concept, complete with a coffee skin tea while you wait, and a marshmallow.

                  2. Definitely need to get yourself some tacos, as basic as that sounds. Tacos to the bay area are like pizza slices to NYC- quick, cheap, foldable, eaten with one hand, cheap and extremely satisfying. I love the street style tacos at Vallarta Taqueria, where all the meats are happily bubbling away at the taco bar (open till 3am on weekends). 24th and treat. Barbacoa, suadero, chorizo, tripitas...

                    1. Good suggestions have been thrown out and I'll add to them or just +1 them. Here are some suggestions from a late 20's "kid":

                      You should try to tackle SF by exploring neighborhoods one at a time, especially since you won't have a car. The neighborhoods that are most lively/worth exploring [for me] in terms of bars and food would be the Mission, Tendernob, SOMA/Embarcadero and maybe Pac Heights or Marina. [I may get taunted for some of my recommendations because of subpar food, but ambiance/scene is important to me as I am still very much a kid :)]

                      The Mission:

                      I'm sure that you will want Mexican food, so hit up Taqueria Vallarta (or Americanized Tacolicious) for tacos or if you're vegetarian, and La Oaxequena if you like smoky mole. El Farolito and La Palma are overhyped, and Taqueria San Jose and La Taqueria are just basic Mexican food in my opinion.

                      As for bakeries, Tartine is worth it if you don't have to wait in line. Knead is good also. Craftsman and Wolves can be touch-and-go but the space and presentation are awesome.
                      Birite, Humphry Slocombe and Dynamo will likely pop up in your searches, but Humphry and Dynamo are a ways down from the main Valencia strip. Birite has the advantage of being near the Delfinas and a block from Valencia, but it's not worth the wait IMO.

                      Lots of casual but nice dining/casual drinking options like Abbott's Cellar, St. Vincent, Bar Tartine, Beretta, and Mission Cheese. Basically, you will see a LOT of wooden floors/walls/furniture. Foreign Cinema is cute also but the food has never been jawdropping. There are dive-but-not-dive bars also like Sycamore and Monk's Kettle, both of which have good food.

                      Flour+Water and Central Kitchen are awesome, but are quite a schlep from public transportation and are kind of located in between warehouses and sketchy housing. It might be hard to catch a cab out of the area. Same goes for Skool and Source.

                      Delfinas and Farina are overrated IMO, as are Namu Gaji and Mission Chinese Food.

                      SOMA/Embarcadero/Edge of Fidi:

                      Lots of trendy restaurants and food. Some favorites include Prospect for brunch, AQ, Cotogna, Perbacco/Barbacco, Michael Mina (not for the food so much hah) and Wayfare. Ferry Building is good for a walkthrough and La Mar next door is pretty good. Don't bother with most Embarcadero restaurants.. Chaya, Epic and Waterbar generally suck but are lovely. Waterbar is good for $1 oysters during brunch or HH. For cheap/quick eats, hit up Sentinel or Deli Board for sandwiches. 25 Lusk is very pretty but the food leaves a lot to be desired, so maybe just hit up the lounge there. District, a wine bar, is just a block down. More towards Union Square, there's Press Club (no full bar) or Local Edition, as mentioned. You can reserve tables at LE for free on Seatme for certain periods of time. Up the street are Rickhouse, Gitane, Cafe Claude/Claudine and kitschy Belden Place, which is cute on weekday nights but dead on the weekends.

                      Pac Heights/Fillmore area doesn't have much, but State Bird Provisions is there if you can snag reservations. There's a walk-in standing/waiting/eating tabletop thing also. Going up and down the hill, there's SPQR, Baker & Banker, Park Tavern, A16, Delarosa and a bunch of small cafes/quick food restaurants, but all are forgettable IMO.

                      Tendernob is where most lively bars are at. Jones is popular, along with Rye up or Bourbon & Branch/Tradition down the street. You can reserve booths at B&B/W&W or Tradition ahead of time as well. If you're brave, you can head over to Chambers, which is definitely swanky and loud.

                      I beg you not to go to Sloane - it's a dirty club with sweaty, messy, trashy people. If you want to be trashy, sticky, and dirty, you can hit up Balboa Cafe or Butter and Holy Cow. At least for the last two, Bar Agricole is nearby to save you.

                      For splurges, +1 on Benu and Atelier Crenn. You can call ahead to Benu and boss them around, and they are totally accommodating! Commonwealth tasting menu is a great deal. Have yet to be able to snag reservations at Frances, but I have hear it is awesome. Gary Danko is nice, but a bit dated in comparison to all the new modern menus available.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: ylw08

                        A couple notes on location.
                        Park Tavern got lumped in with Pacific Heights and Fillmore, but it's is in North Beach, and separated by a neighborhood or two.
                        Flour and Water and Central Kitchen are in residential neighborhoods, and buses get you very close.

                        As for Balboa Cafe, there's nothing sticky or dirty about the place, and while the crowds might be "tacky", it's an SF institution at this point, with a great burger at that. It doesn't get recommended nearly enough.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          balboa cafe is cougar central on friday and saturday nights

                        2. re: ylw08

                          this is great, thank you for such a detailed response!

                          1. re: ylw08

                            did you mean to say slide instead of sloane? sloane is an awful club, indeed, but i think you were thinking of slide.

                            slide is a club that used to be a speakeasy, with a fun slide as you go in that takes you down to the lower level. it's great on wednesdays and thursdays, too crowded on fridays/saturdays.