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Kiwi visitors with 4 days to eat our way through San Fran...

Self-confessed novice foodies, we are "youngish" first-time visitors to San Francisco. Hailing from New Zealand, currently living in Sydney, we will shortly be vacationing in the US, before moving to Singapore next month. We have 3.75 days (Fri afternoon - Tues morning, so at least 11 meals plus snacks!) to explore San Francisco's food scene. We pretty much eat anything and would love to experiment with lots of cuisines, especially aren't as readily available here in the Southern hemisphere e.g. Mexican. Cheap and cheerful is usually our modus operandi although happy to splash out for an unforgettable meal or degustation.

My research on amazing SF food spots (as well as research for eateries in Chicago, NY, and Vegas) is starting to overwhelm me so thought I'd just go to locals for advice. There is nothing more upsetting to me than paying money for a bad meal in a place where good food is plentiful!

Staying near Union Square, and will be availing of public transport, bicycles, and lots of walking to try and combat the waist line effects of our gluttony.

I welcome all food ideas and itineraries - breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Of course we want to spend some time on touristy stuff too, but we will organise our tourist itinerary around our food one!!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. If you've been doing research, post a list of tentative places for feedback.

    1. Stealing from another forum post (which actually got me on to the Chow website in the first place):

      - Tacqueria Vallarta
      - Flour and Water
      - Smuggler Cove (I think I saw this on an Anthony Bourdain programme too... looked somewhat tacky but still appealing?!)
      - Clock Bar
      - Prospect
      - Commonwealth
      - Straw
      - Rooselvelt Tamale Parlor

      I read that it's also worth making the effort to get to Berkeley / Oakland for their food scene? Cheeseboard Collective sounds amazing (cheese and wine make me very happy)

      And other notes I've made (although who knows where from):
      Boudin Bakery
      Curry Village
      900 Grayson
      Yamo Noodles
      Dynamo Donuts
      Bi-rite
      Ferry Building Market - Primavera stand and/or Prather Ranch

      I realise I need to get my geographies sorted and plan accordingly, so the above is a bit of a brain dump so far... that's why I'm hoping to get a much more "refined" list that what I have...

      Essentially our "must-haves" include - Mexican, seafood (chowder plus others), pizza, cheese, great coffee... and perhaps Korean?

      Oh and we're also booked in for a four hour food tour of the Mission District...

      2 Replies
      1. re: eatfreaks

        Hey Eatfreaks, It's a little hard to respond to your list cause it's so open-ended. For starters, if you're signed up for a tour of the Mission, then I'd suggest you delete the restos in your list that are in that neighb.

        Then, I might suggest checking out the various posts from Grayelf, who often visits from out of town and posts detailed, bite-by-bite reports of her adventures eating her way across town. Then post a draft of what you might want to do -- day by day. And that might help get you more feedback on an itinerary.

        I mention Grayelf as an example, but there are many who post their itineraries for you to cut 'n paste.

        1. re: escargot3

          Hi Escargot - I think because this was my first ever Chowhound post, I was probably a little bit too vague!
          I've learnt from the experiences of planning our Chicago and NY eating, that I need to do my eatery plan based on where we expect to be that day.

          Will start compiling and then will share for some feedback. Thanks for the advice :-)

      2. My personal opinion of Prospect is sorta low, but I haven't been back since the year it opened, so take that with a grain of salt, I guess. But personally I think Prospect is expensive and dull.

        1. If you can, try to take a whole day and go wine tasting in either Napa Valley or Sonoma. Although it's super commercialized and way pricier, I actually recommend Napa to visitors as the wineries are closer to each other, it's beautiful (from April to November when the vines aren't bare), and the tourist infrastructure is better (highly recommend booking the Blend Experience at either Paraduxx or Franciscan -- super interesting!). Plan on also eating lunch & dinner in the area -- for lunch I recommend getting a bite from one of the stalls at Oxbow Market (maybe Hog Island Oysters), and for dinner I've always been a fan of Ad Hoc, though there are lots of other good choices. You should rent a car for this, though.

          Definitely go to the Ferry Building on a Saturday lunchtime! The summer is even better with all the fruits/veggies but even now it's fun to walk around the shops and the farmers market. Cowgirl Creamery (cheese) has a shop inside, and Hog Island has tasty oysters (if you don't try them in Napa).

          Cheeseboard pizza is awesome but I'm not sure it's worth the shlep all the way out to Berkeley. If you do go to Berkeley and have a car, I perhaps stop at Takara Sake to try the sakes -- only $5 per flight of 5-6 sakes (they're small so theoretically you can even try two flights per person).

          Difficult to recommend places for you in SF as I most often eat Asian, and as you're in SG/Sydney, the Asian food there will likely be better than here. Places I tell visitors to try are:

          - State Bird Provisions (difficult to make reservations tho)
          - Perbacco (Italian, great apps & pastas but avoid the entrees)
          - Burma Superstar (Burmese so probably not for you)
          - Suppenkuche (German, may be interesting for you)
          - Dosa (Indian -- lots of Indian in SG but this may still be worth going to)

          SF has lots of good artisanal pizza places -- I personally like Tony's Pizza Napoletana and of course Cheeseboard, but there are tons more I haven't tried. Was not impressed with Flour & Water (both pizza & pasta) on my one try.

          My hubby (coffee drinker in the family) loves Blue Bottle -- you can walk from Union Square to the Mint Plaza location in about 15 minutes. Philz (many locations including in Mission) is also a popular local brand.

          If you're in the Mission, make sure to try our unique ice creams! My favorite is Humphrey Slocombe (fav flavor is Salt & Pepper, but the signature is Secret Breakfast), but somewhat more folks prefer Bi-Rite Creamery. Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous is a newer one that has been garnering raves (I haven't been).

          Have fun, and feel free to post in the Las Vegas board too (sadly I can give more recommendations there as I'm a tourist there all the time).

          1. OK.... so here's a proposed itinerary based on our planned activities.

            Arrive 12.30pm Friday, and imagine will just be wandering/exploring that afternoon

            Fri Late Lunch - Clam chowder - either Boudin Sourdough Bakery (O'Farrell St is closest to our hotel) or would somewhere at Fishermans wharf be better?
            Fri Dinner - Straw (a little torn on this one, food sounds pretty heavy but a twist on "American"?) or Tony's Pizza

            Sat will be hiring bikes and exploring waterfront, golden gate, Sausalito...

            Sat bfast/snacks - Ferry Building Markets (Boccalone and Roli Roti, Cap'n Mikes have been mentioned for great rolls/sandwiches), Blue Bottle Coffee
            Sat lunch - The Grove (a colleague recommended this place to me although I haven't seen it mentioned on these forums..maybe somewhere in Sausalito is better if anyone has recommendations?)
            Sat dinner - La Ciccia (we are happy to muni to get there)

            Sun early bfast - Saigon Sandwich (wanted something easy to go as will be doing a food tour)
            Sun lunch - Foodie Adventures Mission Food Tour
            Sun late dinner - Burma Superstar as have never had Burmese before (and have never seen it in Singapore on one of my many visits)

            Renting car and heading to Napa
            Mon early bfast - Farm:Table (near hotel)
            Mon lunch - Oxbow Markets
            Mon dinner - Ad Hoc

            Departing 10.30am on Tuesday - where's best for brekkie at SFO?

            Thoughts? I feel like I'm missing Mexican here... are there food trucks worth pursuing? I have a feeling that casual eats is the way we're rolling...

            Also, love the icecream suggestions (if we can fit it given the food tour) but where is the best place for donuts (or any other recommended SF snacks) and any other coffee suggestions? BF works for a boutique coffee roasting company so would be great to experience the local favourites.

            Thanks!!

            (and I can always return the favour if you need Sydney / Wellington suggestions!)

            19 Replies
            1. re: eatfreaks

              I'm not a local but I do get to SF about once/ year. For reasons I don't quite understand, recent posters are suddenly mentioning Boudin Bakery as a destination for clam chowder. Have you read the other recent threads on this Board -- e.g., http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/891945 -- where many locals have expressed skepticism and pointed out that clam chowder is not even a regional specialty of SF? On the other hand, I do note that your plan is to eat there the day that you arrive; especially given that it may be mid afternoon by the time you get to your hotel, a quick bite at Boudin near your hotel may make sense. (It is likely to take quite awhile to get through passport control at the airport. Not clear from your post whether 12:30 is when your plane touches down or when you expect to arrive downtown.)

              1. re: eatfreaks

                Hi eatfreaks, grayelf here. As mentioned above, SO and I come to the Bay Area a couple times a year to do what you are doing :-). Your plan sounds pretty good to me, especially Roli Roti porchetta for breakfast -- best time to get it is when they first open, otherwise plan on a VERY long wait. You will have a LONG wait at Blue Bottle there as well no matter what time you go, and inside or out (last trip there was a half hour wait for a coffee inside at 4 pm on a weekday, eep). I prefer the Mint Plaza Blue Bottle mentioned by PekoePeony; there may be a wait too but there is seating and good people watching in a nifty room full of cool coffee making gadgets.

                I heartily endorse a trip for Burmese if you've never had it, just be sure to do your homework and order the "real" dishes. I can't recommend Burma Superstar, though, it was pretty sad when we went compared to Mandalay or even Burmese Kitchen. We actually returned a dish, something I rarely do. Plus you will be in a huge (and to me, inexplicable) lineup again to get into a rundown room with no space between the tables.

                Your Mission food tours website says it is a Latin tour so I'd expect to get at least tacos on that. $79 does seem a little steep...

                La Ciccia sounds like it will be right for you, as it is pretty casual. I love it a lot.

                If you need another breakfast option near your hotel on the weekend, Sweet Woodruff is worthy.

                Re coffee, our most recent happy discovery is Wrecking Ball. Front is also good especially for the affogato. Both of these cafes are out of the way though they do roast their own. We've enjoyed Contraband Coffee as well which would be a bit closer for you and Jane has been outstanding on occasion (neither roasts their own). Other roasters to look out for: Ritual, Sightglass, Four Barrel and De La Paz (these all have eponymous cafes but can be found on offer in other shops as well and are part of the so-called third wave) -- depends on what kind of coffee your SO likes. There are still some old school roasters around -- I like Coffee Bar for that style, and there are plenty of Philz fans around. You might even find a flat white if you look hard enough :-).

                I dunno if this counts as an SF snack but do yourself a favour and Google kouign amann in the Bay Area. Starter and b patisserie are my current favourites. Your life (and arteries) will never be the same again.

                1. re: eatfreaks

                  Fri Late Lunch - As others have said, clam chowder is not a regional dish, and Boudin's offering isn't particularly good. I would suggest Dungeness crab instead, which is local and in season. Either cracked or Vietnamese style. Either way you will not be disappointed.

                  Fri Dinner - I would pick Tony's, especially if it will be your only opportunity for pizza.

                  Sat lunch - Recommend Fish in Sausalito. Although a bit pricey for "order at the counter / picnic table food" the setting and food is still quite good.

                  Sun early bfast - Saigon Sandwich is a good choice, but you may want to consider the more traditional Vietnamese breakfast of pho, also located nearby. Turtle Tower and Pho 200 are not open quite as early though.

                  Sun lunch - You should get your Mexican fix on the tour.

                  Sun late dinner - As mentioned, Burma Superstar is a bit touristy and not as good as the nearby Mandalay.

                  Happy Eating!

                  1. re: Civil Bear

                    Hi Civil Bear - where would you recommend for Dungeness crab? A quick google search brings up PPQ Dungeness Island, however it's probably a bit further than where we would want to go given it will be mid-afternoon by the time we get through customs etc and arrive at hotel.

                    Fish looks amazing and could be what the doctor ordered in the seafood department.

                    LOVE pho, but do get a pretty good version of it here in Sydney :-)

                    1. re: eatfreaks

                      Here's my recent post on the salt and pepper Dungeness crabs at The Garden Restaurant in SF Chinatown with photos of the dish. You can order just one, instead of the pair on our table.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/891790

                      1. re: eatfreaks

                        Dungeness near Union Square, open all afternoon on a Friday, Sam's Grill or Tadich Grill.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Hmmm Tadich Grill could be an option - looks like a bit of an institution / old school San Francisco? Gets a bit more kudos than Sam's it would seem too. Asian food is great but people have been right to point out that I will have plenty of Chinese food in Singapore (and chilli crab is of course a speciality there which I've had the good fortune to sample many times!)

                          1. re: eatfreaks

                            Tadich and Sam's are both old-school institutions. Personally I think Sam's is more on the ball these days, but the crab Louie is probably equally good at both. At either place, you could probably get a gross old-school dish that would make you wonder what the fuss was about Dungeness.

                            Sam's doesn't have the lines that Tadich does, and it takes reservations, neither of which matter in the middle of the afternoon.

                        2. re: eatfreaks

                          I feel visitors should not get any Dungeness crab prep, but focus on the one served at Vietnamese (and now other) restaurants all over SF and thus can almost be called a local specialty, which is garlic roasted whole crab with a side of garlic noodles. I don't see it elsewhere in the US or Asia like I do here, and honestly prefer our version to others (for example, the Singapore chili crab is too messy & sweet for my taste). But that's just me :)

                          Now I'm going to lose what little CH credibility I had and suggest another place (which I just remembered) to get this crab, which is The Crab House on ground zero tourist central Pier 39 (you can check out the sea lions while you're there). The crab was surprisingly tasty, and while the garlic noodles are slightly different than the Vietnamese restaurant reps, they're still quite satisfying. My out-of-town family members recommended it so I went recently with my parents and hubby, and they enjoyed it too.

                      2. re: eatfreaks

                        I actually prefer Burma Superstar over Mandalay and Burmese Kitchen, but as it's been over 3 years since I've dined at any of them, lots could have changed in the interim! However I do agree that Superstar has crazy long lines which make it a poor choice. Make sure to get the tea leaf salad no matter where you go!

                        Agree that Boudin's chowder is nothing special, and that SF isn't known for chowder. That said, it's your first time in SF and as someone who loves to do cheesy touristy things myself, I think you're absolutely justified in getting a touristy serving of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl while you're in SF! You can have it for lunch or a snack while biking through Fisherman's Wharf, either at Boudin or any of the many stalls along the wharf. Sure it's not gourmet but still fun.

                        Most of the good Dungeness crab places are sadly out in the Richmond/Sunset like PPQ. The only place I know of close to your hotel is Crustacean, which is the upscale restaurant by the same folks who own Thanh Long, the originator of the SF area Asian roast crab phenom. Most foodies dislike both Crustacean and Thanh Long but my Vietnamese husband loves them; I personally think they're overpriced but the food is fine -- actually prefer their crab & garlic noodles to PPQ's -- so Crustacean may be a good choice as the price difference is probably not worth the hassle of getting to the other side of SF. Wherever you go, make sure to order the garlic noodles too with your crab! Yum.....

                        1. re: eatfreaks

                          If you are concerned about Mexican, given your tight schedule I'd recommend going for a plate from the Primavera food stand at the Saturday Ferry Building Farmer's market. You can still do one porchetta sandwich to split and something from Primavera's menu. Their tamales are well loved on this board (and in my opinion the best around!), and certainly worth seeking out. In the past I have also had them do a half chilaquiles, half tamale plate (one tamale--meat filled ones are stunning) if you want more variety but not a whole lot more food. Be sure to grab some of their chips and salsa or pumpkin seed dip to go and eat on the way to Napa! Samples available just to the right of the food line.

                          1. re: oniontears

                            Or better yet, make a small detour on the way to Napa and go to Primavera's mother ship, El Molino Central in Sonoma for a more extensive menu. More info here,
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/711365

                            There's also a Mexican food purveyor in the Oxbow markets that you have on your itinerary.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Good point that Oxbow may be another place to get interesting Latino flavors. Pica Pica offers arepas, a Venezuelan speciality which is hard to find elsewhere, and I had a tasty (but rather unauthentic) crab taco last time I was there at C Casa. That said, the poster is going to NYC and the arepas at Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village are better than at Pica Pica.

                              As a side note, I was amused last time I was in NYC and saw several restaurants advertise "San Francisco style burritos" as a speciality! So the poster should definitely get a SF burrito while in the Mission; also rather unauthentic in Mexico but it's become something SF is known for :)

                              1. re: PekoePeony

                                Just a word of warning to the OP re the Mission-style burrito: share it! We made the mistake of ordering one each on our very first trip to SF years ago and then couldn't eat anything else for the rest of the day. They are humongous.

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  Very good to know... I am well-known to have "eyes bigger than my stomach". Having said that, I am also well known to "be able to put a lot away"...I will heed your advice though! Thanks.

                                  1. re: eatfreaks

                                    I put a lot away too (dang, that sounds better than my usual "I'm a pig"!) but that burrito defeated me. I swear it was the size of a newborn child. I don't think I finished it, which is sacrilege!

                            2. re: oniontears

                              The closest decent taqueria to Union Sq is Taqueria Cancun at 6th and Market. The al pastor burrito and/or quesadilla suiza are highly recommended. I'd go for lunch and eat there (it's a hole in the wall) because after they toast the tortilla, it's best to eat it ASAP, makes a difference.

                              Couple of notes about taquerias in general: most places do 3-4 items very well, so note what people tend to order, and everyone has a favorite and there's a lot, maybe 200 in SF. (There are websites dedicated to this, like burrittoeater.com)

                            3. re: eatfreaks

                              I agree with PekoePeony in that I prefer Burma Superstar to Mandalay and Burmese Kitchen. So I like your choice but I think we're in the minority on this board..

                              For Mexican -- doesn't the Foodie Adventures Mission Food Tour include Mexican food? I actually don't know what they put on the itinerary but if you know maybe you can post it & see what people think. The thing about the Mission is that it is obviously known for Mexican food but it has now become an area for great food of all types.

                              I found it odd that people were recommending Boudin & completely forgot that people associate eating clam chowder in a bread bowl with San Francisco. That's not something I have thought about since the Cold War but I guess could be fun. If you're going to do that for tradition's sake (!) then probably you should do that while walking around on Fisherman's Wharf.

                              There is great coffee all over the main parts of San Francisco. I like Blue Bottle the best - the main location is Ferry Building but they are in lots of places these days. I would also visit Four Barrel, Ritual, and Sightglass. I had a very good coffee this morning at Coffee Bar & would also recommend that.

                              1. re: calumin

                                Thanks everyone! I have to admit I knew about the crabs but not the clam chowder... it just sounds so delicious though!!

                                I have everything locked into my spreadsheet now so will keep you posted on eating experiences... thanks again!