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Feb 21, 2014 11:02 AM

Any transplants from LA to SF (or vice versa I suppose) that would enjoy a discussion of food/restaurant theory?

WARNING: Please, if you are the type of person that thinks you cannot compare, or should not compare restaurants, food quality, etc... then just stop reading this, it will only cause you pain and misery to read. Just do us both a favor and realize that some people like to have theoretical discussions, and others do not. I'm fine with that, but I would like to get some information in a theoretical fashion with this thread if it's ok. Thank you for understanding, and tolerating me!

On to the post!

So, first maybe I should ask whether this list is a pretty accurate listing of the best restaurants in SF (approximately as accurate as, say, Jonathan Gold's 101 list in LA):


Specific things I would like to ask those who have the big bucks. What is the difference in a meal that costs $68-$78 for a full pre-fixe (places like Commonwealth, Sons and Daughters, or AQ, versus places that are a full $100 more, like Coi, Saison, Benu, Atelier Crenn, Manresa, etc... (even Quince is almost $100 more at $158, so lets count that too)?

It seems like we almost totally lack that level in LA. Our best places are about $100 for pre-fixes it seems. (I am excluding beverage pairings in all of these prices).

What is the jump in cuisine like? Are the flavors just far superior? Or is it setting, privilege of dining (exclusivity), better plating, etc... mainly?

(Ok maybe any frequent high-end diner in SF can answer that portion).

Now, I am really curious, what you transplants (or frequent inter-city diners) compared places like State Bird Provisions, Cotagna, Incanto, Mission Chinese, Nopalitos, SPQR, AQ, Aziza, Commonwealth, Flour + Water, Ad Hoc, or Son and Daughters in terms of quality of cuisine, flavor, atmosphere (or any other kind of theoretical modality, besides actual precise type of cuisine they serve, which is obviously not going to be exactly the same as anything in LA). Or maybe you guys can tell me what the tiers of the various restaurants are in SF in your own opinions?

Thank you for indulging me!

I hope this starts off a great discussion, and I look forward to hearing all of the information for planning a trip up there soon.

For reference, I used to eat in SF semi-commonly as a kid with my family but they weren't really into high-end stuff. At at Tommy's Joynt, and Bi-Rite Creamery a lot haha.

However, I did fall in love with Mandalay, and the ballads and curry noodles there. I haven't been back since becoming more of a "foodie" in LA though. How do you guys like that place?

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  1. I think the highest prices in SF are more about location, national / international reputation, and Michelin stars than the quality of the food. For that kind of Frenchy endurance menu, I think you'll eat as well at Commis as at places that cost two to five times the price, though the experience won't be as extreme as you'd have at Saison. I'm skeptical that the food at Coi or Quince is better than at Cotogna or Plum, though I can't be bothered to spend the money to find out.

    Jonathan Gold's list includes inexpensive places that specialize in hot dogs, Chinese dumplings, Korean soup, and so on. Michael Bauer's list is almost exclusively high-end places. The Chron has a "Bargain Bites" list, but its recommendations are not as authoritative as Gold's.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Aren't places like Mission Chinese, or Nopalitos pretty low-end?

      I guess obviously places like Tommy's aren't on there, hah. I really like how J Gold places hole-in-the-walls with places that have pre-fixe menus.

      Not sure if that works as well everywhere outside of LA though?

      No offense, but I am kind of curious to hear from some people who have eaten at Saison/Coi etc... about what you get for the extra $100 over Commonwealth, etc...

      Out of curiosity, would you say the Commonwealth and places in that category are similar to LA's Trois Mec, Alma, Orsa and Winston, etc...? Pluses or minuses?

      1. re: BacoMan

        A top 100 list from critics with broader beats, such as Patricia Unterman or Jonathan Kauffman, would be as varied as Jonathan Gold's.

        Mission Chinese is as low-end as that list gets. I doubt it would have made the list if it hadn't been for the raves in the NY Times and other national press, Bauer normally farms places like that out to other critics. The other two Chinese places on the list were the most expensive in the area when the list was published.

        The Mexican places on the list are upscale for Mexican. There's nothing on that list comparable to Mariscos Jalisco or El Parian.

        Lers Ros is the one other place I see that's not upscale (at least the original Tenderloin location isn't).

        I know almost nothing about LA restaurants.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Cool, thanks for the tip.

          Too bad about not knowing anything about LA restaurants. It seems like you must know more than your average person to know about Mariscos Jalisco, or El Parian though? haha

          Do Patricia Unterman or Jonathan Kauffman have top lists of recommended restaurants or anything? All I get from googling of their names is random eater.sf pages.

          What are your favorite low-end places in SF out of curiosity? What kinds of low-end food does SF excel in in your opinion?

          1. re: BacoMan

            I just skimmed Gold's list, figuring that he'd have some great cheap Mexican places on there.

            This list of cheap places is pretty up to date:


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Oh, haha, good going!

              Glad to see Mandalay make that list, but, is Mandalay really cheap eats for SF?

                1. re: Josh

                  Damn, haha. I guess SF really is several magnitudes more expensive than LA.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            And Lers Ros is really good - even though not upscale. Maybe they felt they had to list it???

            1. re: SFGourmande

              Bauer didn't put Lers Ros on the list until they opened the Hayes Valley branch, which is more upscale. The first few years when there was only the original branch on Larkin it got only a blog post and a blurb in "Bargain Bites."

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          Your opinion would be worth more if it were based on actual experience, and not on assumptions and prejudices ("Frenchy endurance menu"). At least this time you were forthcoming that your opinion isn't based on first-hand knowledge. I think you also fail to differentiate between food that is "better" and food that is "more to my taste"! I would never, for example, say that X Korean restaurant is not as good as Y Sichuan restaurant without at least mentioning that I don't generally care for Korean food.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I have my own views, but I'd love to hear to elaborate more on "better food" versus "food more to my taste" if you could.

            Also, do you happen to have the requisite experiences by chance? I am beginning to think no one has them after all =(

            1. re: BacoMan

              There are posts here from people who have eaten every Frenchy endurance menu, sometimes five or more in one week.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Too bad they don't seem to be responding =/

            2. re: Ruth Lafler

              If a chef has a casual restaurant I like where a meal ordered a la carte costs, say, $50, and another more formal restaurant with a tasting menu that costs over $100, I'm probably never going to the latter unless someone whose taste I share or a friend who knows my taste tells me I'm missing something—which has yet to happen with Coi or Quince (the expensive places whose chefs opened Plum and Cotogna, two of my favorite restaurants).

          2. Perhaps this report from your LA compadre "Porthos" will be helpful,

            1. Unlike Hong Kong or San Sebastian, it is very possible to get a bad meal at any priced restaurant in San Francisco. San Francisco fancies itself as a food mecca, but the reality belies the bucks to be harvested.

              7 Replies
              1. re: BoneAppetite

                Weird... what is it about Hong Kong or San Sebastian that makes it impossible to have a bad meal there?

                Why does SF suck so badly in your opinion?

                I'm sorry, I don't really understand what "the reality belies the bucks to be harvested" means exactly. Probably my shortcoming. Are you saying it's all pomp?

                1. re: BoneAppetite

                  I don't know BoneAppetite's background or experience (given that the name appeared on CH just in the last 24 hours), but I've certainly had bad meals at various prices in both Hong Kong and SF, as have many other people I know. And memorable meals at various prices in both.

                  After periodic experience with SF restaurants since the 1960s and some obsessive saving of things like newspaper reviews, books, and menus, a few observations:

                  - I'd characterize SF's restaurant scene, as many experts have for decades, less as "fancying itself a food mecca" (though boosters can always be found, in most cities with restaurants) than having heavy tourism and business-visitor traffic, often more spendy than discriminating. Some people here recall (at least hearing about) when SF's restaurant industry organized (under Vic Bergeron) to oppose a proposed ordinance requiring disclosure of frozen ingredients on restaurant menus in the 1970s, revealing more about the local industry than many a foodie discussion. Yet in the same era, a few bright lights like Hank Rubin and Alice Waters went their own way, earning respect beyond boosters and beyond locals. This continues. As do the tireless efforts of SF's city gov't toward ever new ways to milk SF's hospitality industry for the revenue so vital to pet projects, corruptions, and social-engineering schemes.

                  - A little history, for perspective? Both LA and HK surpassed SF in population around 1920, at which time SF had been the principal city and port on the North-American Pacific coast for 70 years. All three cities have evolved since, but SF the least by far. Some of that relative antiquity informs both tourist appeal and local boosterism.

                  - I doubt anyone could get much sense of the role of, say, Patricia Unterman simply by Googling her name (that digs up just whatever fairly recently happens to've appeared online, from whatever source for whatever reason), though you might get some sense by patiently studying past Chowhound threads. She was for many years the well-respected leading print Bay-Area restaurant critic, writing with breadth and humility. Her body of work exists strongly in print sources under copyright, though she has continued to write, including online.

                  - Concept of theoretical discussion of restaurant experiences in unclear to me. Is it something like theoretical discussion of hearing music, or of having sex, or of visiting an exotic culture?

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    "- Concept of theoretical discussion of restaurant experiences in unclear to me. Is it something like theoretical discussion of hearing music, or of having sex, or of visiting an exotic culture?"

                    Yes. All of which I spend my life doing. And I cannot for the life of me figure out why no one on chow hound seems interested in it. It's as if no one on this website considers food to be an experience, or art form that can be discussed outside of nourishment.

                    Very weird to me, because great meals are like great symphonies to me, and have at least as much effect on me.

                    1. re: BacoMan

                      I was getting at the "theoretical" bit. Vs. discussing actual restaurant experiences.

                      I think there's been quite a lot of experience exchange on this board over the years. (It is usually necessary, of course, to invest some time searching on topics of interest. Just as people who raise the Constantly Asked Questions like where to eat in Napa Valley often find much more information already on the site than they can get by inquiring into the same ground.)

                    2. re: BoneAppetite

                      SF's best restaurants are consistent at what they do. If somebody reports a bad meal at, for example, Saigon Sandwich or Saison, I'm going to read that as they don't like that style, weren't in the mood for it that day, or went in with a chip on their shoulder.

                      1. re: BoneAppetite

                        can you explain that more BoneAppetite?
                        Having been to Hong Kong and San Sebastian I can't agree with you. There are to be sure more choices in Hong Kong but there are many many bad there and San Sebastian is good for a narrow selection of excellent food but that is fairly recent and can't be compared at all to SF in really any way in terms of size of the city, cost of the food, diversity of the food.

                      2. First off, I'm not an l.a. transplant but have enjoyed eating out there at various "echelons" of restaurants.

                        In SF, I feel like the price point moves from under $100 to over $150 based on service, higher-end front of the house decor and table settings, more-involved-than-typical dishes, high and strict ingredient sourcing standards, and parking availability/other comfort issues. And yes, mr. Lauriston is right, reputation makes a difference.

                        Also: isn't space more expensive in SF so overhead should be higher?

                        I think SF excels at innovative and delicious food between $50-$75 (per person with a drink). But those aren't formal places.

                        Hope this helps!

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: LSC77

                          "I think SF excels at innovative and delicious food between $50-$75 (per person with a drink). But those aren't formal places."

                          That's very interesting, because I feel like I would say the exact some thing about LA...

                          Could you elaborate more on what you mean specifically, how SF excels there, and perhaps which restaurants you have in mind?

                          1. re: BacoMan

                            On my one trip to LA in recent years, I thought the restaurants were generally less expensive than comparable places here.


                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              That's a pretty great read.

                              I hope you can make it down to LA again sometime. I think there have been many, many restaurant openings in the last 6 years that would be very interesting for you to go to!

                              I would personally love to see your thoughts on many of them: Bäco Mercat, Orsa & Winston, Alma, Bestia, Bucato, Salt's Cure, Hart & The Hunter, Tar & Roses, Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Starry Kitchen, Chi Spacca, Lukshon, Corazon y Miel, Sqirl, Plan Check, Cook's County, Superba Snack Bar, Tsujita, Picca, MB Post, Fishing with Dynamite, Animal, Son of a Gun, Red Medicine, Trois Mec, Little Sister, and Night + Market just to name some of them off the top of my head haha

                              As I typed that out, It seems like the whole scene of LA dining has happened somehow in the last 6 years...

                              1. re: BacoMan

                                I'm going to be in LA for a few days soon but outside of one dinner at Lucques I may not eat outside of Koreatown.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Sure you want to do Lucques? It's cal-med with a touch of Frenchy and probably 30% more than an SF place serving the same level food. Wine list is 2.5-3x retail.

                                  Here is LA's k-town neighborhood of the month thread with a link to a previous stellar thread.


                                  Give EMC a try. They're known for their $1 oysters. Skip that. Go with the uni spaghetti, abalone congee, grilled lobster, crispy fried lobster, and steamed Dungeness crab. All Asian preps that you can find individually but nicely done and under 1 roof. Steak is also good if you want some red meat in there. Uni congee was less impressive.

                                  Then of course load up on the traditional Korean stuff.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    I loved Suzanne Goin's food at Campanile and A.O.C., so I've been wanting to try Lucques for a long time and a friend made a reservation. The prices seem similar to SF.


                                    If my friend hadn't made the reservation I'd probably go to Animal. Which I might anyway.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      If you liked AOC you'll probably like Lucques. I keep comparing it to Chez Panisse and Oliveto (probably unfair comparisons) and keep finding it lacking in comparison.

                                      I'm not the biggest fan of Animal (a bit heavy handed for my tastes) but it is probably something SF doesn't have.

                                      I would also highly recommend Night + Market. Thai street food done very well. The pigtail is far superior to the version at Animal. Don't miss the whole braised pork hock.


                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    If you're going to LA Koreatown I would try YongSuSan. There's nothing like it in San Francisco.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Wow, where in Koreatown?

                                      If I can figure out how to send a private message, I would cherish the opportunity to have you try some of the new stuff in LA, if you were open to it. Your opinion on various places here would be seemingly invaluable!

                                  1. re: LSC77

                                    What does Delfina do great?

                                    Seems to me, as a bit of an outsider, that I would kind of rather go to Flour + Water. Am I being sucked in by a hipster name and too much gushing about a pasta tasting menu?

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      Flour + Water feels to me more like a hipster bar than a restaurant. The food is great but or that style of menu I'd rather go to Cotogna. Incanto is another great Cal-Italian place.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Delfina the restaurant has been consistently doing excellent cal ital at a relatively low price for years! Cotonga is also exquisite but at a higher price point, I think. Also, don't you think commis would be $50 more (at least) if it was in SF?

                              2. Folks, we've removed a number of personal jabs from this thread. We know you know better than to go there. Lets return the focus to food. Thanks.

                                1 Reply