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Is the SF food scene running out of gas due to high rents & tech bubble?

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Are Portland and West & East Oakland doing more edgy things and allowing chefs to take chances?

Interesting & provocative article by John Birdsall in the SF Weekly:


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  1. Hard to dispute, isn't it? Is there any place in reasonable driving distance of SF that's affordable? What about Pacifica?

    4 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      There are places in SF proper that have much more reasonable rents, but it would be hard to attract restaurant customers to those neighborhoods.

      1. re: Tripeler

        Right, that's why Outerlands and Mission Chinese Food went out of business.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I was thinking of even cheaper places. Mission Chinese Food is in a comparatively expensive location, though Outerlands really isn't.

    2. Is that even a question? I've believed this to be true for at least a year now, especially compared to Oakland. The Mission is conspicuous proof of that to me. Just how many fancy Italian places does one neighborhood need? Did we really need another Tacolicious? Don't get me wrong, you could walk randomly into any one of those places and have a perfectly lovely meal, but no one would ever call these places "edgy." I guess it would be edgy if they opened a Pizzeria Tacolicious, but that seems unlikely to happen.

      Regarding Portland, I'm no expert, but when I was there last year, I ate my way through a fair number of restaurants, and frankly, I prefer SF's restaurants, although I'd be pretty happy if we had their food truck situation.

      1. SF has pretty much everything that Portland does and a lot more besides. We don't have to go to Oregon to stand in line for pork sandwiches at a farmers market. They don't have the diversity or high end we do.

        Oakland's a cheaper place to open a restaurant, but SF seems like a stronger market. Would Gajalee make it in Oakland? Una Pizza Napoletana? Lers Ros?

        1. hard to debate that the sf food scene is in an 'ebb' phase rather than a 'flow' phase.
          it seems there are fewer exciting new concepts than a city of this size, with this food population, than there should be. and valencia being 'google's cafeteria' is hysterical in its accuracy. while there are things like dandelion, craftsmen and wolves, and others, things like tacolicious, curry up now, mau, and the ridiculous beta brand 'clothing; store. in three years, valenica will be an outdoor suburban shopping mall.....

          26 Replies
          1. re: frontzNskrontz

            It's an old SF tradition to hate on the latest wave of newcomers but the technies have money and eat out.

            2001 and 2008 were ebbs. I bet 2013 will turn out to be the all-time high of new restaurants opening in SF. I can't even keep track of all the new places let alone try more than a small fraction. Just scroll down this list:


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              The tech industry and the interwebz titans are notorious for being cheap and not giving back to the community. Even the historical robber barons of California gave back. Compare that to when Larry Ellison "gives back" to SF on America's Cup, it cost SF a pretty penny.

              1. re: ML8000

                I think that's just mindless prejudice. Most of the conversations I overhear in restaurants and bars in SF are among techies.

                The people I hear ranting against techies are mostly old slackers and hippies who can remain in SF only because they have rent control.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  By conventional standards, Silicon Valley and Tech has not given like other "big boys" in the past, despite a widening income gap. I believe it's the macho nerd libertarian ethos. There's way more info but you can do the search.


                  Any way, like many I left SF long ago and bought a house in the East Bay.


                  1. re: ML8000

                    I absolutely know what you mean by the macho nerd libertarian ethos. That's perfect.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      The Silicon Valley Community Foundation's fund almost doubled in size from 2007 to 2012, from $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion. Somebody's making a lot of donations.

                      That article is about how some Silicon Valley charitable foundations are giving less to local organizations than they did five years ago. Without more details, it's hard to know what that trend means.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I left San Francisco in 2002 because I was tired - after living in SF for 6 years and the bay area generally for 15 - of continually reading and hearing how I was destroying San Francisco by driving up rents and creating gentrification, because I was in the tech industry and had money.

                      The fact that I participated in the cultural life of the city as a musican - that I patronized a wide variety of bars and restaurants - enjoyed strange geek underground scenes - was born in the east bay - lived in an old house not one of the then-new ugly lofts - and a million other things - would never be enough.

                      Now, honestly, a joy of the peninsula is I don't have to be ashamed of being successful, and I can drive 40 minutes and dine just about anywhere from Campbell to the Mission. I continue to be amazed at the astonishing diversity within an hour of my house - although I'm now a huge fan of LA.

                      Last night I hit Zare at Flytrap. We were on our way to a data visualization display at the hackerspace in the same block (which we had miscalculated, it's next week).

                      GF was very, very happy with Zare, loved the fact that it had all the Moroccan / whatever influences that Zare brings (not just italian). In particular we loved this strange stuffed tomato, which I mentioned reminded me of a chaat somehow. The entire place was EMPTY because Oracle Open World was on its last day and it looked like lots of large tables and groups had booked in, but hadn't yet arrived. We had a fairly fast and well paced dinner at the bar (in n out in less than an hour).

                      Bartender was pretty good. The pisco sour had a little too much bitters - at least, I've never had one with that much bitters, although it was something more cinnamon than the standard type and very tasty. Although I wouldn't call it the top bar in the city they're knocking out some tasty drinks.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yeah, persian. Great melding of tastes.

                    3. re: ML8000

                      I don't agree that techies are cheap. Far from it. The ones I know (very young guys, mostly) don't have very good taste in food, but they do spend their money on it.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        I don't think this maxim applies to dining out (or drinking); when I've heard the same thing said, it's usually spoken of charitable giving to traditional society interests, like the opera or ballet, which I'd agree a 35-year-old millionaire who was an early Fbook employee might be less likely to care about.

                        Everyone I know who works in tech (from not super-well-paid start-up workers to super-well-paid established tech company workers) dines out a lot--they work long hours, maybe eat lunch in the office, but eat at restaurants at night. AQ, for example, has been a Twitter heavy crowd every time I've been, and the new beer bar that opened up across the street from Twitter was so slammed at 7 p.m. it was hard to move.

                        I would be curious, actually, if new restaurants that beckon the tech crowd are more likely to close later than a typical SF restaurant because at least among my group of friends in SF, people are increasingly working later and wanting to dine later, closer to but not quite NYC hours.

                        1. re: ML8000

                          "not giving back to the community"

                          in what sense? not sure what you mean exactly by this.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            Yes and no. It's true that they may not naturally be good tippers and they have to be trained to be a good diners at time (although you could say that for many people that either haven't worked in a service industry or who don't eat out regularly) but you'll find the regulars at most mid and upper level restaurants are usually in tech or tech related. They may be one of the reason for the higher rents but they are also a huge cash influx for restaurants not to mention the insane amounts of corp. events that tech companies do every day in this city at restaurants.

                            1. re: tjinsf

                              You may also notice that SF only has one industry - tech - remaining. There's a few other companies in SF - a bit of retail (Levis / Gap), a bit of Finance (remainders of WellsFargo, Schwab) - but I think you'd have to say it's majority tourism and tech.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                SF has several hundred thousand jobs that are not tech or tourism. Other major employment sectors include state and federal government agencies, hospitals, insurance companies, pension funds, colleges, and law firms.


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Still I agree with the spirit of bbulkow's comment, in the sense of distinctive local employments, and in the case of tech jobs, those with relatively recent history.

                                  A few generations ago it was tourism and shipping and finance (complete with the San Francisco Stock Exchange). The original West Coast deep-water port, with the whole population and subculture of stevedores it supported. (The passenger liners -- liners, not "cruise" ships -- that I saw at the piers 50 years ago lost out to cheap air travel; freight lost out to containerized Oakland with lower average labor costs and lower random "loss" of goods, similar to New Orleans losing its port business to Galveston.) Tourism remains; SF is no longer the dominant W.-Coast financial center it was in 1920 or 1950; most of the other employments that Robert cited have long stable local histories and aren't at all distinctive to SF.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Corporate headquarters, insurance, banking, retail, law firms, health care, colleges, and federal and state agencies employ more people in SF than tech companies and tourism. The top five private employers in SF are Levi Strauss, Bechtel, Fireman's Fund, Delta Dental, and Del Monte Foods.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Source? Del Monte only has 479 Bay Area employees according to http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancis... . I assume that's where you're getting this list of 5.

                                      The list is not of "private" employers as we usually think of the private sector, but rather PRIVATELY HELD companies - ie corporations whose stock is not traded on the public markets. I see no reason why the composition of a company's investors matters to this discussion.

                                      1. re: bigwheel042

                                        My bad, those are the largest companies in terms of revenue that have employees in SF. The 25 largest employers in SF in 2010 were:

                                        26,554 City & County of SF
                                        24,759 UCSF
                                        9,214 Wells Fargo
                                        6,800 California Pacific Medical Center
                                        5,629 Kaiser Permanente
                                        5,555 State of California
                                        4,697 US Postal Service
                                        4,394 PG&E
                                        3,804 Gap Inc.
                                        3,804 Charles Schwab
                                        3,000 City College of SF
                                        2,637 ABM Industries
                                        2,472 Catholic Healthcare West
                                        1,951 Safeway
                                        1,885 USF
                                        1,618 Salesforce.com
                                        1,548 Deloitte
                                        1,227 SF State U
                                        1,200 Hilton
                                        1,200 Levi Strauss
                                        1,104 Blue Shield
                                        1,100 SF Marriott
                                        1,096 St. Francis Memorial Hospital
                                        1,037 Accenture
                                        960 YMCA of SF

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          No, they aren't the largest companies in terms of revenue. They are the largest PRIVATELY HELD companies in terms of revenue. McKesson, Google, and Wells Fargo dwarf Levi Strauss in revenue.

                                          1. re: bigwheel042

                                            This is starting to seem very off-topic, but there are so many businesses that don't necessarily employ huge numbers of people, but that have changed the city simply because they weren't here a few years ago: AirBnB, Goodreads, Marin Software, Uber...Twitter...

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            I actually think that list makes my point. I don't consider government to be an industry, and every region needs a certain amount of health care, and there's one large university, then you have a smattering of individual companies with a little bit of financial services and a little bit of retail.

                                            I also dislike any analysis that believes that this area stops at the border of the city of san francisco. It'll just miss the point.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              Whether an employer is an industry or not is irrelevant, my point is that the majority of well-paid jobs in SF are not in tech, so the restaurant industry is not completely dominated by the supposed herd mentality of techies. SF has several orders of magnitude more government jobs than most places due to the large number of state and federal agencies that are located there. Same goes for higher education and health care. In many ways it's a regional capital.

                                              Birdsall didn't claim that his alleged problem was unique to SF. He said that chefs have to go to East or West Oakland to take chances since otherwise they're faced with $12,000 a month rents.

                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          The spirit, I said -- not the letter. Insurance, retail, government etc are not unique to or publicly associated as signature industries of SF. In the way that tourism (with all its supporting restaurants and hotels that some locals too use) has always been, and shipping used to be, and high-tech (often meaning, narrowly, software) lately became. With all those recent articles about Googlers commuting from SF and so on, in media like the New Yorker


                                          and the London Review of Books

                                          http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n03/rebecca-... .

                                          Rather as the state of Washington was once known for fish, lumber, and Boeing, and is now known for Boeing, Microsoft, and coffee houses -- even if none of those ever actually employed as much as a plurality of workers.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            The claim was that there's little employment left in SF except for tech companies and tourism.

                                            In fact the majority of SF residents and workers are not in tech, even if some people who don't live here think there's nobody else here.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Note that of the authors of the two recent articles I linked above about SF trends -- very relevant in themselves to this whole topic, incidentally -- one wrote as a SF resident, the other grew up on the peninsula.

                          2. It's an interesting article and I think right in some ways.

                            Some of the things I'm always struck with when I'm eating in Portland is how empty the restaurants are during the week and the lower prices. I think that costs are cheaper there but there isn't as large a pool of people who are used to eating out every meal or spending at the high end for regular meals.

                            Without a doubt Portland owns SF when it comes to cheap eats but at the highest level, it doesn't have as many options and the creativity seems to be at the same level. As much as people want to complain about those tech people, those tech people are guys (and some women) who have no problem paying for dinner ever night and aren't afraid to try new dishes and pay for it.

                            Having been here for the last bubble, the restaurant scene here seems far more alive and growing than it did for that one.

                            Also one of the good things about the Mission being overprice center is that good restaurants are moving into other neighborhoods. The quality of food in the Castro, Dogpatch, Glen Park and Portola seems to have all gotten better.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tjinsf

                              What's good in Portola? Queen's for po-boys has managed to last a few years, but is there anything else chow-worthy? (Unlike the first three, it's hardly a techie-rich neighborhood, in any case.)

                              1. re: bigwheel042

                                I would love to know what's good in Portola as well! I'm one of those "techies" I guess, but I moved from Hayes to Portola for affordable housing. There are a few good Chinese places out here, but I don't think they are considered Portola (like Beijing Restaurant at Mission & Silver).

                            2. Is SF going to be the scene of huge creativity? Probably not - the population is getting too homogeneous and the rents are high. We're obsessed with "the perfect/the ideal" more than we are obsessed with the fun or the shocking. It's a very "serious" competitive scene.

                              Having just eaten through Portland last year, I find the Portland comparison strange. There was nothing in Portland that couldn't be found in SF for the same or better quality (Pok Pok is just Thai street food). . BUT the best thing about Portland is they don't have the lines/crowds of "foodie" people that pour into SF every night. It's easy to eat there.

                              Now Los Angeles - now there's a place where the population is diverse, lives close together, there's varied industries and the rents are pretty low. There's a lot of fun in the L.A. food scene and the L.A. chowhound board.

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: goldangl95

                                I wouldn't say the problem is that the population isn't diverse enough. I'd say that the problem is that the restaurant scene is being driven by people who eat out not because they are interested in food and restaurants, but because they can afford to and with the long hours they work and their long commutes, it's easier than cooking. Thus the proliferation of places that serve familiar food (pizza, "comfort food" etc.).

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Hm that doesn't reflect my experience. If you work long hours and have long commute times and just need to eat out to get your calories for the day in, you're not going to sit and have a 2 hr meal at Cotogna, make your reservations 2 weeks in advance etc.

                                  Regardless of its usefulness, Yelp is success here because so many working professionals think of themselves as "interested in food and restaurants." Indeed, a main source of bonding is finding the cool restaurant/winery/bar to go to.

                                  It's painful to eat at the mid-range and up restaurants in the city, there's long waits, reservations are hard to come by, it's not fast in-an-out. Only people who think of themselves as into food would brave it.

                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                    Cotogna is probably not the median restaurant that is "driving" the scene in SF. Instead the "cool" restaurants (I'll exempt bars, which are mostly cool for serving truly good cocktails) are determined by the kind of person who can't wait for Super Duper/The Melt to hit their neighborhood, is hunting for a food truck featuring bacon or pastrami, thinks Mission Chinese Food is the greatest Asian food they've ever tasted, and takes their cues from the Food Network/Travel Channel for where the next fad is.

                                    "Only people who think of themselves as into food would brave it."

                                    That's kind of the hilarious thing about eating in SF: the largest herds of people waiting 60-90 minutes are often lining up for mediocre food.

                                    1. re: bigwheel042

                                      ? I'm not sure if that's true within SF at all. If you look at the median ($$-$$$) on Yelp with the most reviews that are favorable (e.g. 3.5 stars and above). They are:

                                      Brenda's French Soul Food
                                      Burma Superstar
                                      House of Prime Rib
                                      San Tung
                                      The Slanted Door
                                      Foreign Cinema
                                      The House
                                      R&G Lounge

                                      That's no "Melt" nor a list that's worthy of derision (I may disagree if it's the best - but if you went to those 10 places as a tourist - I'd say yea you got a decent sampling of SF).

                                      The top 38 Eater SF list is equally as acceptable, the first 10:
                                      Lers Ros
                                      Bar Tartine
                                      Ichi Sushi
                                      Namu Gaji

                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                        But if anything this only highlights my point. None of these popular restaurants are bad, but several of them (Burma Super Star, San Tung, perhaps the latest iteration of SPQR and Slanted Door) are perennially very overrated and probably do not serve the best food in their respective cuisines within the city limits. Their popularity is being driven by people discriminating enough to tell good from bad, but not discriminating enough to seek out the best or most interesting.

                                        Katana-ya definitely isn't in the top 3 ramen joints in SF anymore. Even if the Slanted Door mothership is not itself overrated, Charles Phan's other recent projects have featured more misses than hits yet he keeps drawing massive crowds for at least a few months after opening with every new place. Ichi - I'm sure they do a fine job, but is it rated so highly because it's the best sushi-ya in the city, or because it serves very good sushi in a pleasant atmosphere in a neighborhood that has a dearth of good sushi in particular and Asian cuisines in general?

                                        HOPR may well be a delightful experience, but it's hard to argue that it's not playing to comfort food seekers these days.

                                      2. re: bigwheel042

                                        you know, I wouldn't mind if they opened a Super Duper near me, actually.

                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      There's nothing new about people going out to eat because they're too tired or too busy to cook, or about there being a lot of places to get popular favorites such as pizza, Thai food, or sushi to serve those people.

                                      Nor is there anything new about obsessed foodies mobbing anything great, new, or different. That's just a different aspect of the local restaurant scene, which is so huge and diverse that most broad generalizations are wrong.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Sure, people have always gone out to eat because they don't want to cook. I think what's different about techies is that they (a) go out almost every night, and (b) have a lot of money to spend. That makes it very attractive for restaurants to try to appeal to them. It's not a completely new phenomenon, since it was also true during the last tech boom.

                                    3. re: goldangl95

                                      goldangl95, I totally agree with your assessment about the SF food scene. People from SF/Bay Area tend to poo poo restaurants who are not authentic, whether ethnically or local-centric, etc. which I'm sad about. I wish we're more forgiving in general so chefs here feel supportive to do interesting things. Even David Chang and Rick Bayless tried to address this in their own way to much negative reaction from this board and area.

                                      Also agreed with your assessment on the LA food scene and LA CH board. Love reading what's going on there. People on the LA board are pretty feisty but they seem to be pretty self-aware on the area and themselves.

                                      1. re: KathyM

                                        I don't get that at all. The number of people who demand "authenticity" is tiny compared to the number of people who are trend-seekers. No Cal-Italian or Cal-French restaurant is ethnically "authentic", yet these places seem to have plenty of business (to say nothing of a place like Namu Gaji or Mission Chinese Food). And when was the last time a Cal-French/Cal-Italian restaurant went under for not cooking locally enough, as opposed to simply not making excellent food?

                                        I don't read David Chang's comment as an indictment of authenticity or cooking locally, but of chefs who think that using high-quality ingredients absolves them of the responsibility to craft those ingredients into something sophisticated. If I want something unsophisticated with high-quality ingredients, I'll splurge at the farmer's market and make something myself, thank you very much, and save a pile of money in the process compared to what I'd be spending at a restaurant.

                                        I like Phillip Glass, but music would be pretty boring if every "serious" composer was a minimalist and a second-rate Glass imitator to boot.

                                    4. I have friends that had a very well regarded restaurant that went bust. From talking with them my impression is that if restaurants in SF are running out of gas it's more due to the very business unfriendly environment of SF and constant crap imposed by the SF board of supervisors.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Ridge

                                        Could you elaborate please? It would be interesting info.

                                      2. I think "more edgy things" is part of the problem. The constant quest to be just a little more "out there" than anyone else results in an ADHD-like burnout. The feverish competition amongst so many new restaurants has it's limitations. Fresh food, simply prepared, without pretense, will never go out of style.

                                        And yes the City bureaucracy does wonders to inhibit new enterprise, food or otherwise.

                                        11 Replies
                                        1. re: Andrew H

                                          And what problem would that be?

                                          In any event, this hardly seems applicable when discussing San Francisco. "ADHD-like burnout"? San Francisco has the opposite problem -- the scene as a whole is exceedingly heterogeneous, and if anything I'm burned out on how similar it all is. Seriously, a lot of us have been complaining about the Cal-Italian thing for many years now, in fact the rest of you probably roll your eyes at this point, but what happens? They open EVEN MORE such places.

                                          1. re: dunstable

                                            A thought just occurred to me - the phenomena you describe may be due to lack of real estate e.g.

                                            Let's say cal-italian really took off and on any given Friday night 5,000 people want to eat cal-italian. But, due to lack of real estate there's only 15 cal-italian restaurants and they only seat 50 people each.

                                            So the 15 cal-italian restaurants can't expand to accomodate 250 each - there's just not that type of big cheap space available so instead they open 5 different cal-italian restaurants that can seat 50 people each.

                                            1. re: goldangl95

                                              Yes, I agree that's part of it -- if the market demands more Cal-Italian, why not open another Cal-Italian?

                                              I guess I should clarify that while I personally find it all a little boring, I can't really blame them either. It's similar to when cineastes complain about formulaic Hollywood product -- it's all well and good to demand boldness and experimentation when it's not your own money at risk.

                                              1. re: goldangl95

                                                Menupages counts 261 Italian restaurants in SF. At a rough guess, I'd say 100 of those are Cal-Italian. So your 5,000 people can all get served, and there are over 3,000 other restaurants for people who are in the mood for something else.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  The numbers were just to clarify the point - to be clear I didn't think those were the actual numbers for SF.

                                                  I would also rather name out the cal-italian than say half of the pizzeria/italian places in SF are cal-Italian. When I think of Cal-Italian I think of places like Zero Zero, Cotogna etc. and in that space I think there's more like under 30 (and I can only think of under 15) than 100.

                                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                                    OK, more like 50. Some are small, some are huge. I think there are a lot of those places because a lot of us like to eat that food several times a week or month. But whatever, that's less than 2% of the total restaurants in SF.

                                                    Cafe Tiramisu
                                                    Cafe Zoetrope
                                                    Caffe Delle Stelle
                                                    Dante's Table
                                                    Elmira Rosticceria
                                                    Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
                                                    Firewood Cafe
                                                    Flour + Water
                                                    Jackson Fillmore
                                                    Local Kitchen
                                                    Palio d'Asti
                                                    Pizzeria Delfina (2)
                                                    Rose Pistola
                                                    Seven Hills
                                                    Ti Piacerá
                                                    Uva Enoteca
                                                    Valencia Pizza & Pasta
                                                    Zero Zero

                                              2. re: dunstable

                                                If you think there are too many Cal-Italian restaurants, don't go to them. How is that a problem for you, when over 98% of the 3000+ restaurants in the city are not Cal-Italian?

                                                In San Francisco, almost any "problem" of that sort can be solved by walking a few blocks or jumping on a bus.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  We've already had this debate many times, you probably already know what my response would be.

                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                    I have no idea.

                                                    The only problem the local restaurant scene presents to me is that I can't eat enough to try all the new places that sound good to me and get back to my favorite places as often as I'd like to.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Short answer: Plenty of great restaurants here! The only problem is they are mostly all the same, and I sometimes find myself jealous of cities with more creative mid-level restaurants, most notably Chicago.

                                                      1. re: dunstable

                                                        Bayless said much the same thing in April and then sort of backed off.


                                                        Maybe you just have a narrower definition of creativity. Chefs here generally keep the modernist thing on a shorter leash since they get better ingredients than their counterparts in Chicago.

                                            2. The SF restaurant scene is thriving at every level, from hot dog carts to food trucks to takeout places to cheap dives to neighborhood Thai / sushi / pizza / taco / burger joints to artisanal / locavore / organic versions of those favorites to our glorious array of great midrange places to high-end Michelin endurance menus.

                                              SF has people who patronize all those places. There are multiple scenes and multiple crowds following them.

                                              Portlandians can only dream of the kind of quality and diversity we have. If, as Birdsall claims, their chefs have equal access to ingredients, that's because they're too lazy to find the extraordinary, and their local food scene is the poorer for it.

                                              Birdsall's claim that rents in SF are too high for "populist craft cooking" is belied by chefs continuing to open places on a shoestring. Chefs who couldn't think of leasing a space on Valencia are still opening places on Mission, e.g. the Palace, Linea Cafe, and Chico's Grill.

                                              15 Replies
                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Chico's Grill is in the Excelsior-adjacent part of Bernal Heights -hardly on a high-traffic stretch of Mission, unlike the other two. So it's not especially notable that opening a restaurant would be less of a squeeze there. Also, a Yelper reports that it's just a rebranding by the same owner of the previous restaurant in that space (Olivia's).

                                                1. re: bigwheel042

                                                  My point is that despite Birdsall's claim that chefs have to go to East or West Oakland to take chances on a shoestring, chefs in SF are proving him wrong every month.

                                                  Per the ABC site, the liquor license for Chico's Grill dates back to 2008, so it's not a good example for the current economy. Linea Cafe and the Palace are, though.

                                                  Birdsall's example of a $12,000-per-month lease in Temescal is also bogus. Sure, you'd have to pay that for a 3,000-sf. space next to Pizzaiolo, but $12K was the total amount of Doughnut Dolly's kickstarter.

                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Not that I disagree with your SF flag-waving (hey, I like our scene better than Portland's too!), but where it regards "hot dog carts to food trucks" and other cheap food, Portland destroys us. It's not even close, I would trade their trucks for ours in a heartbeat -- they literally have hundreds more than we do, selling every imaginable cuisine (thanks to Portland food trucks, I got to try all manner of weird sausages I'd never had before). There's really no arguing that the potential for creativity is stronger up there. Seemingly all it takes to try out their ideas is a cart and a corner of a parking lot. In SF, even temporary parking spots for trucks can involve months of legal wrangling.

                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                    The barrier to entry may be lower in PDX, but does that result in them having better and more diverse food? Everybody I know who goes there says it's a step down as far as food.

                                                    And do all those people really want to be in trucks? I'd bet some would rather have real restaurants if the market would support it.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Well, take my opinion with a grain of salt, because I don't go there that often,but while they are definitely a step down at the mid and top level (disclaimer: I didn't get to eat at Beast), they definitely have more diversity at the $20-and-below mark. It's not a question -- if you are on the west side of the river, there are literally a hundred options or more within a half-mile radius of wherever you are.

                                                      Craftsman and Wolves is, to me, a more typical example of what happens in SF with "cheap" food. I know that place is popular on this board, but it's like other restaurants in the New Mission: it's competent, but also expensive and not all that interesting -- when I described it to my friend, I said it was basically a more successful version of 'wichcraft (not really intended as a compliment).

                                                      In fact, now that I think about it, even in SF, it is often trucks that introduce the most inventive cheap food. Korean tacos were first brought to SF through food trucks. Sisig burritos were brought to SF through food trucks. On the other hand, if a new takeaway opens in SF, the odds are strong that it is something like Super Duper -- again, competent and perfectly fine, but not super interesting.

                                                      I'm sure all those trucks would rather be brick-and-mortar, but I don't see what difference that makes to creativity.

                                                      1. re: dunstable

                                                        If creativity can't be rewarded by a promising career path, it makes a difference to the chefs. People come back from Portland raving about the superiority of the happy hour scene there, but that reflects a shortage of customers.

                                                        Craftsman & Wolves is a great bakery. I wasn't even aware they made sandwiches, that's a very small part of their menu.


                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Very well, not Craftsman & Wolves then (I always forget bakeries are not primarily about lunch -- I do that with Tartine too).

                                                          The point is the same, though -- the brutal truth is that, just like with Manhattan fifteen years ago, with gentrification comes homogenization, and the higher the rents go, the less adventurous the restauranteurs become. Them's the breaks. Craftsman & Wolves may not be the best example, but consider how many Super Dupers they keep opening. And Little Chihuahuas. And Rosamundes, and so on. This seems to happen at higher cost points as well: we get treated to a second Tacolicious, a second Nopalito, Out the Door, Pizzeria Delfina, Little Star Pizza, Fresca, Troya, Wherever & Kebab... there are many, many clone restaurants in San Francisco. This is not exactly evidence of a hotbed of culinary inventiveness.

                                                          I have to say, Robert, that while I greatly value your opinions about specific restaurants (I confess that I recently tried a hole-in-the-wall entirely because you wrote favorably about it), I'm sort of bemused by your apparent belief in the universal infallibility of the local scene. Anytime anyone dares suggest that any aspect of SF's dining scene is inferior to anyone else's, you protest quite passionately. We don't have to be #1 in every possible facet of cuisine, it's okay.

                                                          1. re: dunstable

                                                            The adventurous segment of the SF restaurant scene is bigger and more audacious than it was five years ago. Craftsman and Wolves, AQ, Bar Tartine under Nick Balla, Saison, Namu Gaji, Benu, Mission Chinese Food, State Bird Provisions, Commonwealth, St. VIncent, Sons & Daughters, Atelier Crenn …

                                                            The additional branches of Little Star and Pizzeria Delfina are bringing better pizza to more neighborhoods. So what if that's not inventive?

                                                            Obviously not every aspect of the local scene is the best in the country, but I don't think there's another city in the country with as diverse and vibrant a dining scene. I don't think there's a better place to be a chef. Portland certainly isn't.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              We've had this discussion before too. Places like wd50 and Alinea happen... and then ten years later we get Atelier Crenn? That counts as audacious? And even then, I remember a lot of people on this board complained about fads and gimmicks, even after all this time. This is not exactly a city that embraces culinary trends. Earlier attempts at this sort of cooking, like Winterland, were forced to close.

                                                              We have, in my opinion, the best food in America, but that is entirely owing to the ingredients. It is very difficult to argue that we also have the most creative scene.

                                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                                "If I could get perfect vegetables, I wouldn't need to do all this."—Heston Blumenthal

                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                > I don't think there's another city in the country
                                                                > with as diverse and vibrant a dining scene.
                                                                without intending to reply on a narrow basis, since i dont really know what your "scene" criteria are, but painting with a broad brush, NYC >> SF, imho.

                                                                in fact NY is basically better than SF except for SF being closer to the sierras and in spite of all the whining, the weather is better and we have nicer sunsets. NYC is an alpha city and SF is a toy ... a nice toy, but a toy.

                                                                i mean i think it's almost more honest to say "but that's not fair to compare with ~10x the size" rather than "that's debatable".

                                                                er, have you been to Chico Grill.

                                                                ok tnx.

                                                                1. re: psb

                                                                  i like this list of alpha++ / alpha+ / alpha / etc cities: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_city

                                                                  i think to some extent it is reasonable to say portland is to san francisco as san francisco is to new york.

                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      I mean I'm all for SF pride but what are the great SF Thai places beside Lers Ros? What are the great sushi places?

                                                      Great Ethiopian? What about great Korean? Great Sichuan? Great Persian?

                                                      My point is - if someone was coming from LA, what restaurants or food trucks would you take them to? Besides Indian and then the frequently cited uber high end?

                                                      It's true we have a lot more (as I mentioned before) of Cal-Italian or farm to table type places than LA. We have a lot - all competing for the ideal and the best and for their corner of real-estate space. But as many others said - the variety/creativity isn't the same.

                                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                                        Birdsall's piece is about Portland.

                                                        No question LA has amazing diversity, if you're willing to drive as much as people there do.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Fair - that's why I find the Birdsall piece so amusing.

                                                          Portland seems to be a weird choice to make as would be say Austin. It's like yes the rent is cheaper but it's a pretty non-diverse town doing interesting but pretty much the same craft/cocktail - farm to table stuff as here. And not doing it quite as well because, as dunstable notes, they don't have the same access to ingredients.

                                                          On the other hand, places like LA and Chicago are kind of doing their own thing. They have the craft/cocktail farm to table stuff but they're doing a lot of other stuff too - it's somewhat independent and different and fun. Add in the huge diversity of LA cuisine, and I think there's something special going on there.

                                                    3. My response: I disdain how some people writing or commenting on the "SF Food Scene" limit themselves to the upper-right 9 square miles of SF. If you take that as the food scene, you might be depressed. It's not healthy, those few square miles.

                                                      I love the entire bay area food scene. I love Willi's, I love the cheeses of Bohemian, I love the Hotsy Totsy, the Red Sea, the unnamed Korean places in Oakland, Marshall's oysters, russian river's beer, wine from donkey and goat, the late lamented Oakland BBQ scene, indian in the south bay, the McCarthy Ranch festival of asian food, the hipsters in the mission, the tacos in redwood city, the small collection of crazy sushi guys (Sho, Sakea, Sam's), the ramen scene from San Mateo to Santa Clara, a fresh late night bearclaw from a happy doughnut, the eau du lucre of the Village Pub, the twin beacons of Manresa and Chez Pannise continuing to educate generations of chefs, the little blip of great icecream from Lush to MMM, the VPN mini-trend of the south peninsula, Desi Chinese --- and so much more.

                                                      Did I like my last trip to Portland? Yes. It's friendly. There's an aura of caring. Tech there is radically open source. It's a glowing magical place.

                                                      And yes, I'd rather eat in LA or NYC, and every meal I eat in both of those places is better than 99% of what I have in the bay area, but we're doing OK here, thank you very much.

                                                      If, and only if, you count the whole bay area.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                                        Dan Sung Sa and Kang Tong Degi aren't nameless.

                                                      2. What 'edgy' restaurants are in 'West' Oakland ?

                                                        Brown sugar kitchen and Fuse are kinda near
                                                        ' West' Oakland...but not really.

                                                        Am i missing something?

                                                        Or does the author think Uptown and Temescal are in West Oakland?

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: Mission

                                                          Brown Sugar Kitchen and Fusebox are almost as far west in West Oakland as you can get without being on port property.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Brown Sugar Kitchen and Fusebox would be a long and probably 'very interesting' walk from the West' Oakland Bart station.

                                                            This place looks kinda funky cool...

                                                            Pretty Lady
                                                            1733 Peralta St
                                                            Oakland, CA 94607

                                                            1. re: Mission

                                                              Everything west of 980 is West Oakland.

                                                              1. re: Mission

                                                                folks not familiar with Oakland might not understand that 'West Oakland' does not refer to a neighborhood in the same sense as Dimond, Temescal, Rockridge, Russian Hill, Cow Hollow. neither does 'East Oakland'. they're entire sectors of a very spread out urban area. East Oakland has many neighborhoods within it, San Antonio or Fruitvale just to name two, West Oakland somewhat fewer, because large areas are the port or army base.

                                                                1. re: moto

                                                                  If Fusebox's neighborhood has a more specific name than West Oakland, I haven't heard it. Clawson is west of Peralta, Ralph Bunche is south of Grand, Hoover Foster is east of San Pablo.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    wikipedia lists eighteen neighborhoods in West Oakland. a couple of them you might have heard if you worked there in law enforcement or the drug trade, like Ghosttown and Dogtown. Fusebox is probably in what's called the Bottoms, or Lower Bottoms. granted, some of the names could be termed nicknames, and some come from the vernacular or street culture, rather than from realtors/commercial developers, politicos, or formal associations that sometimes developed because people with the means wished to exclude others they perceived as 'wrong'.

                                                                    1. re: moto

                                                                      The Bottoms / Lower Bottoms is the other side of Grand and the other side of Mandela.

                                                                      I suspect Fusebox's area has no name because nobody lived there, it was always industrial / warehouses until artists started doing the loft thing.