HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Looking for somewhere for a birthday meal but disappointed n Marin restaurants

I'm baffled by what people here (in Marin) seem to think is good and the prices they are willing to pay. I've gotten gunshy about going out to eat and coming away feeling that I should have stayed home. What am I missing?

I've had nice meals at Lotus; Le Croissant; Eduardo's (all in San Rafael). That's about it. Sol Food I've found under-flavored and hugely disappointing--I can barely taste the garlic. I don't understand why anyone goes there. Yet Wah--inedible. Tried 3 unmemorable Thai restaurants. Buckeye Roadhouse -- nice but overpriced & bland.

Friends keep asking me where I'd like to eat and I no longer know where to suggest. Really, I'm not that picky, I just like fresh, well-seasoned food at a reasonable price and yes, I expect to pay more for ambience.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Gosh, this is a bit of a surprise to read. Are you a native of Marin or a new resident?
    Anyway, one of my favorite places is Moylan's brewpub in Novato. They have some great beer, of course, and pretty hearty foods like fat sandwiches and pizza dishes, along with some superior salads. Try it, and I am sure you will like it.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Tripeler

      I'm not surprised at all to hear this from a native or a newcomer. Marin (along with Palo Alto/Menlo Park) continue to be rife with high priced and not very tasty food. It takes extra effort to find something worth eating, so I'm glad you've chimed in.

      It's one of the reasons to be so excited about M. H. Bread & Butter,

      We haven't had any reports for Farmshop yet, would love to hear what some chowhounders' opinions.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I haven't gone to Farmshop myself but a good friend in Marin has said that it's delicious with great cocktails and lovely ambiance. So it's on my list.

        1. re: rubadubgdub

          We went last night for a birthday celebration and really liked it.

          1. re: pane

            Nice, standing by for details when you're ready.

    2. Are Inverness and Olema too far from you?

      Sir & Star is getting good marks.

      1. Pico (the restaurant,not the pizzeria) would be my choice for a birthday dinner. For pizza, I like Bar Bocce in Sausalito.
        For lunch, Table Cafe in Larkspur and Comforts (I prefer the restaurant side to the deli side) are both excellent. For lunch or an early dinner, try Kitti's Place in Sausalito, especially the Southeast Asian dishes and daily specials.
        I think Lotus Chaat and Spices serves some of the best South Indian food in the Bay Area and prefer it to the other Lotus restaurant in San Rafael. Great Byriani there recently.
        Bel Campo Meat Company in the Marin Country Mart is where I head when I crave a hamburger or pulled pork sandwich, and El Huarache Loco serves very good Mexico City street food. Haven't tried Farmhouse yet.
        I think Royal Thai in San Rafael is very good, if not very spicy. I remedy that with condiments, and the chef owned, family run Las Camilias has been a favorite for years, though I must admit I haven't been for a while.
        I could go on, and would have included links, but am impeded by this iPad in China. More when I return!

        1 Reply
        1. re: gumbolox

          These are all recs that I would agree with. I get my Asian fix when I am in the city because I find the Asian food really lacking in Marin. I have been gong to Las Camellias for 20+ years and it never fails me. I think Sol food has hurt their business.

        2. I like Poggio. I've gone there from Berkeley for their bollito misto (served only for a month or two in winter).

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Just got an email from Poggio in Sausalito for 10 special nights to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

          2. I have a reservation at El Paseo in a couple weeks, based on good reviews from some Mill Valley friends. Tyler Florence has been spending a lot of time there and brought in a new executive chef a few months ago. Has anyone been there recently?

            1. A birthday meal in Marin would depend on what you are looking for--an elegant place for a celebratory meal or a more casual place for a family get-together or something else. As for why there are not more and better restaurants in Marin, after 20+ years here I have some thoughts. First, there are only 250,000 residents in all Marin's 800+ square miles; 20% of these are over 65 and may not often dine out. Then, a great many of the others commute to the city and may not feel like going out again after traveling home. And I find a lot of us love to cook at home and take advantage of a world-class farmer's market and its many satellites across Marin. Finally, the city is just across the GG Bridge and Napa and Sonoma are at most 90 minutes away, the East Bay closer than that, so there are many dining choices nearby.

              That said, I would second recs for Poggio and add Sushi Ran in Sausalito. I have not been to El Paseo in Mill Valley since it became a TylerFlorence/Sammy Hagar meat-oriented place, but its ambience is elegantly cozy. I also second Pico in Larkspur (for the crudo especially) and the fine pizza next door at Pico Pizzeria. Also fine pizza in San Anselmo at Pizzalina. And in San Anselmo, I have always had a good time at Insalata's. But as I suggested, for fine dining or rewarding ethnic cuisine, I go to the city. For a great day-long outing, I go to Napa or Sonoma. But then, I have time: I am a Marin retiree.

              3 Replies
              1. re: alfairfax

                Pizzeria Picco is sibling to Zero Zero in SF.

                A smaller population might result in fewer restaurants but that's no reason they should be mediocre.

                I'm pretty sure the demographics are the main issue. Marin County has the highest median household income in the state, and doesn't enjoy the diversity of most Bay Area counties (73% white, 81% born in the US).

                1. re: alfairfax

                  Great points alfairfax, especially about the commuters. Being one myself I rarely find myself wanting to dine out. Of course if there were a greater quantity of good options that could change!

                  For a special occasion I really like Marché Aux Fleurs in Ross.


                  1. re: Civil Bear

                    Don't know how I forgot this one. Have had many good times there and Dan and Holly are terrific chef/host.

                2. No one has mentioned my current Marin favorite, Le Garage. It's a casual French bistro on the water in Sausalito with quite good food at reasonable prices. You can make it simple and inexpensive, for example share a large salad and an order of mussels (too large for me alone), or order a lot and drink a lot of wine and spend quite a bit more money. It suits both approaches.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                    I like e Garage too and also their sibling L'Appart in San Anselmo (have not gotten to F3 yet) but am not sure it is a birthday dinner location. OP has not described what type of place is appropriate for the event.

                  2. I like Le Garage, their more casual sibling, F3, is pretty cool, too. I've spent a lot of quality time at both. Poggio is ok.

                    Barrel House is all the buzz. My grocery store guy, random dog walkers and so on are singing praises. I haven't been. Maybe give it a shot.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: steve h.

                      Looks good. Here's the website for Barrel House Tavern in Sausalito.

                    2. for lunch:
                      Garden Bistro
                      333 Enfrente Rd
                      Novato, California 94949
                      (415) 883-9277

                      Tue - Fri: 11:00 am - 2:00 pm, 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
                      Sat - Sun: 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm

                      patio seating/garden - casual

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Cynsa

                        Oooh, not a fan of Garden Bistro. Went a few years ago on a Groupon and found it very ordinary.

                        1. re: Civil Bear

                          Before or after the remodel and menu changes?

                          1. re: Cynsa

                            I have no idea. It was my one and only visit.

                      2. I've always enjoyed D'Angelo in downtown Mill Valley for a celebration meal. Others must also because there always seems to be at least one table celebrating something. The food has been quite good the last few times I've been there (over the past few years) after a period of not-so-good food.


                        1. The Pelican Inn at Muir Beach is loaded with old pub house charm and is guaranteed to make you feel like you've gone someplace special. It's semi-pricy.


                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Sharuf

                            How's the food? I've only had the beer.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              I had lunch there recently after years of picnicking at Muir Beach. It was fun to do once, but the food was just okay. The Fish and Chips and Shepard's Pie were both heavy and pretty oily. I don't think we finished either. There was a nice mimosa-type drink--can't remember what the juice was--for non-beer drinkers (that would be me). I loved seeing the inside of the building, anyhow.

                          2. Greetings irkedat. Have you seen anything here of interest in the past week?

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: alfairfax

                              No, not so far. Most of the menus are pretty uninspiring.

                              Guess I'm hard to please. I'm a reasonably competent home cook so when I go out, I look for food I can't or don't make at home, and I look for flavor.

                              My husband is a carnivore and doesn't eat fish, so it needs to have more than 1 or 2 meat entrees.

                              And I find places that focus on weird combos (porterhouse with olive-date salsa and banana-turnip-creme fraiche sauce) the description is usually more interesting than the food itself.

                              1. re: alfairfax

                                Many, many thanks to all who replied and made suggestions. Sorry if I seemed like a grumpyguss before. My story has a happy ending after all.

                                I followed up on all suggestions and looked at all the menus. Garden Bistro looked like the best bet. Four of us went there tonight and had a lovely time. Nice hostess and waiter. Great appetizers & salad. Lamb ribs, steak & a pork chop special were all huge hits. Beautifully prepared vegetables, which even the carnivores loved. Large portions, excellent flavor combinations.

                                As we were about to leave, Garden Bistro staff surprised us with a birthday dessert just because the waiter overheard my friend mention my birthday.

                                It was a splurge at over $40/person (including tax & tip) but I felt we got our money's worth. My friends (who eat out a lot) were very impressed and specially thanked the staff. I was really happy because we ALL enjoyed our food and experience.

                                Garden Bistro--highly recommended.

                                1. re: lkredhat

                                  Thanks for the update on Garden Bistro. I haven't been there for several years, for lunch, and it was mostly Middle-Eastern and pretty good. Looking at the online menu, it's still mostly Middle-Eastern; looks like you selected the other items and it's good to know that they are also good. I'll have to get back there soon.


                                2. I've had 3 meals at El Paseo in Mill Valley and they were terrific. The rib steak for 2 was one of the best morsels to pass my lips ever. Generally, I, too, am sick of every restaurant in Marin. Le Garage IS good. New Morning Cafe is a favorite in Tiburon for breakfast with perfect scrambled eggs, French style. Comforts is so varied it never disappoints. Hilda's in San Anselmo has the best pancakes ever. And, believe it or not, Pasta Pomodoro in the Rowland shopping center is amazing. But only that one. I guess the chef has been there for 13 years. I love the Lasagna and the brussels sprout side dish. I go to Sushi House in Alameda for sushi where the rolls are as big as my wrist. And inexpensive to boot. And don't forget the sea salt caramel ice cream at 3 Twins in Larkspur Landing. It's tough, though. We certainly need a few new restaurants in Marin like the kind that abound in Napa.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Debaloo2

                                    That's a very good list (as long as this thread has grown to include food in Marin in general, and not necessarily for a special birthday meal).

                                    Yes, I'm very surprised by our report on that one Pasta Pomodoro. I was very disappointed in the one in Mill Valley (Strawberry) the two times I went their.

                                    I'll add these two new-this-year places:

                                    M. H. Bread & Butter (San Anselmo) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9039...

                                    Farm House Local (Larkspur), breakfast & lunch http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/892861

                                  2. I realize that you've already had your dinner, but I was wondering if anyone had any reports on Frantoio in Mill Valley. We used to go often and enjoyed the food but haven't been there in years. Anyone been lately?

                                    1. My husband and I tried a new place in San Rafael for our anniversary last August. We found it via a Living Social coupon, but we would go back again no question (unfortunately, it's a bit far for us).

                                      Sana Marin
                                      2200 4th Street, San Rafael
                                      (415) 457-4164

                                      Mediterranean style food (good variety and they were really careful about my food allergies, though they didn't have a dessert I could eat, which was our one disappointment). A bit on the pricey side but not excessive. Very nice atmosphere, excellent service, perfect date night (though we'd bring our child too).

                                      They're a mile or two west of downtown so they might be missing walk-in traffic. I really hope they succeed. Lovely little place.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: CyndiN

                                        Sana Marin is closed. For lease sign in window.

                                          1. re: alfairfax

                                            What?! But the website is still up. They're closed Mondays, maybe I'll call them tomorrow to check. Could they just be moving?

                                            Addition: Just tried the number. Disconnected. I wonder what happened. The food was really really good there.

                                            1. re: CyndiN

                                              >I wonder what happened.<

                                              Too much competition from the adjacent Phyllis' Giant Burgers :-)