Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Feb 27, 2014 12:45 AM

Can't Miss Dishes (Coming from LA to SF)?

The only thread similar to this I found in the search was in reference to a New Yorker.

But if you're coming up north from LA, what are some dishes that you absolutely should not miss (ideally that you just can't get down south)?

The dishes could be from any level of restaurant.

I was looking at an article about SF's best burritos, and came across, for example, plantain burritos. We seem to have a serious lack of such wonderful things in LA somehow.

I'm curious what other dishes like that may be lurking beneath the surface of the SF dining world.

But at the same time, there are also other dishes, for example, the porchetta at Cotogna, that have garnered acclaim for being their respective best-of versions, so if anyone would be interested in sharing more of those (Favorite pasta at SPQR? The best cut of meat at Incanto? Some hidden gem you might easily overlook at Bar Tartine?)

If there's already a thread full of these that I missed somehow, I'll happily take the link.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. The Quail dish at State Bird Provisions

      Kung Pao pastrami at Mission Chinese

      XLB at Koi palace

      11 Replies
      1. re: Ridge

        I guess I am going to disagree. Assuming, LA poster that you venture out to the San Gabriel valley etc. I would not bother with Dim Sum in the SF Bay Area.

        We have amazing bakeries here. I actually greatly prefer Knead (Pomme D'amour, croissants etc.) or B Patisserie to Craftsman & Wolves recommended below.

        I agree on the ice cream recs (Humphrey Slocombe, Bi-Rite)

        If you have the budget for a $$$$ meal, it's something SF does really well. Quince is probably my crowd-pleasing favorite at the moment in this range (crowd-pleasing in a good way).

        1. re: goldangl95

          The problem I see, goldangle95, in posts that dismiss, broad-brush, a numerous genre of restaurants in a whole region or subregion, is that they never make clear for the reader which, specific, restaurants of the genre account for the assessment. Assertions like "I've tried many of them" have the same problem, as do challenges to suggest, while standing on one foot, local restaurants making favorite particular Specialty X from the genre, which is done so well elsewhere (when, in fact, different specialties are the local strength, making Specialty X irrelevant).

          I'm fully prepared to believe that none of the (400?) dim-sum houses (formerly called Cantonese tea houses) throughout the Bay Area holds a candle to the average in the SG valley (or Vancouver, or any other locale where dim-sum is fashionable in recent years). But -- given that North American dim sum _started_ in San Francisco, which was already famous for it over 50 years ago (I just checked a standard book from those days), years before most of the US and Canada had ever heard of dim sum -- even if the argument is fully valid, what's missing from it is details, specifics, lists of places tried and found unsatisfactory.

          1. re: eatzalot

            Fair point - but I think there's been numerous news articles and chowhound posts on this stuff. Google search and you get stuff like this:


            and all the discussions that resulted all over from Chandavkvl, bloggers such as Clarissa Wei etc. just make LA a much more vibrant scene for Chinese food. Having this discussion everytime an LA visitor asks for advice makes the thread less helpful (IMHO)

            1. re: goldangl95

              Understood, but I have seen the same conclusion from you before, goldangl, yet I still have no idea which dim-sum places YOU have tried, and what dishes. A link to past postings maybe?

              1. re: eatzalot

                You are free to search my past postings and find them. =) Or start a new thread on this topic e.g. dim sum in SGV/Los Angeles v. SF Bay Area

            2. re: eatzalot

              Who cares how long we've had dim sum in SF? The most significant event in our dim sum history was Harbor Village closing.

              Someone who's really into dim sum might want to go to Koi Palace and/or Yank Sing to compare them with Sea Harbour, Elite, King Hua, and Lunasia, or whatever the current top places are in LA, but for others it's not the priority it is for people from other places.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I'd have said that the most significant event in local dim-sum history is that we popularized it in North America; and if we're talking just about recent decades, it might be the propane-cart explosion at Canton Tea House or wherever it was, 1985 or so. :-)

                But I mentioned the history for context, of course. Given that dim sum is such a longtime Bay Area tradition, a falling off of quality is all the more significant.

                But it is still helpful to know when comparisons reflect experience, and how much (vs general reputation, LA Times stories, or other hearsay). Moreover, many people -- including part-time Southern Californians like me -- have _not_ eaten in SG valley, and are interested in the best of dim sum wherever we happen to BE.

                Just as, for example, that someone once experienced a transcendant duck-egg-noodle dish in some little Hong Kong place that no longer exists, and will never find its equal in the Bay Area, doesn't argue against recommending good current local noodle dishes, for those of us who find the long plane flight and the need for time-travel daunting.

                1. re: eatzalot

                  The topic here is "can't miss dishes" for someone from LA, which isn't a very long plane flight.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  For the record, the broad Chowhound consensus is that it's still Sea Harbour and Elite that duke it out for the top spot in LA. It's also the consensus that Vancouver is much better at dim sum than LA, and that both Elite and Sea Harbour perform much better for dinner than for dim sum.

                  Mr Taster

                3. re: eatzalot

                  I've only had dumplings (not really full dim sum) at 3 places in SGV;

                  I've had dim sum at Zen Peninsula, Peony, Yank Sing, Asian Pearl, a few places in chinatown few of which are still open, about a dozen places in the south bay with similar names (like dim sum king and shanghai dumpling), mid-peninsula places like Su Hong Kong (PA), iDumpling, Panda Dumpling, ABC. I probably eat dumplings every week or two - average once a week. Somehow, I never got to Harbor Village.

                  I've eaten some of the places in Shanghai, like Yang's before they closed the famous "street of dumplings" and put in a high-rise (or, when I went, the hole for a highrise). And the big street mantou.

                  In a 2 hour sample of SGV I was able to eat dumplings that were at worst about the same as the better places that I frequent in the south bay, and some dumplings were closer to shanghai quality.

                  I would agree with RL, to anyone who eats SGV, the only benefit of dim sum here is having a few of the reference places like Yank Sing or Koi Palace.

              2. re: Ridge

                Are you trying to start another XLB war ?

              3. Cannelles from Boulette's Larder
                Lamb neck from Incanto
                Mortadella from Boccalone Meats
                Rebel Within (or Anything) from Craftsman & Wolves
                Secret Breakfast from Humphrey Slocombe
                Burnt Caramel from Bi-Rite Ice Cream
                Tartare from Bix
                Sidecar from Bix
                Bacon BonBons from Gitane
                Oysters from Swan
                Roast Chicken from Zuni
                Extra Dark Hot Chocolate from Cocobella
                Mochi from Benkyodo
                Coffee Ribs from Koi

                6 Replies
                1. re: CarrieWas218

                  How is the sidecar from Bix different from any other well-made sidecar in the city?

                  1. re: OliverB

                    I've never had any other WELL-MADE Sidecars in the city... All the other I have had have been unbalanced or overly sweet.

                    Bix shakes them in small, individual shakers and somehow their proportions and ingredients are superior.

                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                      Sidecars are very finicky. I went through a stage of ordering them in many places, but then realized you have to spend some time mixing that drink, which brandy, how fresh the lemon is.... I only order it on a "specials" menu now.

                  2. re: CarrieWas218

                    The Boulette's Larder place is insane...$22 for eggs?... Jesus...

                    How is the "meat cone" from Boccalone?

                    What else is Gitane good for? is it the kind of place you could just drop into and get the bonbons?

                    1. re: BacoMan

                      The Bocalone meat cone is an easy way to try a few of their things. It's the same salumi served at Incanto.

                      Gitane topic:


                      1. re: BacoMan

                        Gitane, Bon Bons, If there's a spot at the bar, absolutely.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        All of those threads are 4 years or older. Is the SF dining scene really that stagnant? In LA there would be a dozen new dishes to add to a thread like this in a single year, let alone 4.

                        1. re: BacoMan

                          With a lot of the good restaurants in SF the menus constantly change. People may have had a good dish there that is no longer available. Most of us don't have the wherewithal to be up to date and have all the new menus and dishes tasted.

                          1. re: Ridge

                            Right. That's why I would figure we'd have to have what appears to be the same discussion over and over, but is, in reality, a very different discussion each time. That's usually what makes a forum like this a living, breathing information source, as opposed to a calcified archive of information.

                            But quite often people post just to say, "look at older posts".

                            1. re: BacoMan

                              Part of it is actually just the difference between the strengths of LA and SF. Where SF trumps LA is mainly in the fine dining/$$$-$$$$ categories. Even among those of us who allocate a ton of our budget on food, there's very few who can eat regularly at the top end of the price bracket enough to discuss specific dishes in any given month (which is how often many of these restaurants overhaul their menus).

                              Oh! Another thought - LA really lacks in upper end Indian. Dosa is a good choice to check out.

                              1. re: goldangl95

                                But surely there must at least be some street food quirks?

                                Is it really true that the only thing SF offers to those of us from LA is Benu/Crenn/Saison/Quince/Manresa?

                                For example, I came across the plantain burrito's at Cu Co's in my online searching, and despite the embarrassment of riches down here, we don't have such a thing, and I am very excited to try one.

                                Other things that are super exciting are the porchetta at Cotogna, and the fried quail at State Bird Provisions. I can technically get those in LA, but they sound like especially remarkable dishes up in SF, and have reputations for being something special.

                                The Indian comment is cool. I truly don't understand how LA lacks upper-end Indian. I would be very curious to see how that is, so I may well check out Dosa. Is there anything specific to get there?

                                Are the 20 iconic dishes of Eater SF pretty accurate in your (or other SF Hound's) opinion?


                                1. re: BacoMan

                                  Everything I've had on that list is good. To me La Taqueria is gringofied in a boring way. Zuni's the best place to eat oysters.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    What is the better alternative to La Taqueria?

                                    You know...I've never had the chicken at Zuni. Is that as big of a miss as everyone says it is?

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      Zuni's roast chicken is great, though I usually order other things.

                                      Where to get the best burrito or taco is highly debatable, though it's a common view that people from LA shouldn't bother.


                                  2. re: BacoMan

                                    For Dosa, I would go with anything you completely don't recognize (there should be plenty of those) plus either a Dosa or Utttapam.

                                    I would prioritize seafood or lamb over chicken if you are ordering meat.

                                    Don't waste your money and stomach real estate on samosas =P

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      Besides the entire bay area having fewer people and higher prices than LA, people recommending will tend to recommend a few square miles in the city of san francisco.

                                      Then, any trendy-thing up here gets replicated in LA super fast.

                                      You would do well to check out places that are just now hot, before they replicate to LA. We had good coffee for a few years, but there's a few decent places in greater LA now. Migrating south from Portland.

                                      Here's a decent interesting list


                                      Alta, TBD, Box and Bells have been mentioned in CH. I haven't heard of the others.

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        "We had good coffee for a few years, but there's a few decent places in greater LA now. Migrating south from Portland."

                                        lol. No offense, but how much do you follow coffee? This is almost an understatement. There are tons of places to get extremely good coffee in LA now. In the Big Western coffee competition LA dominated the Southwest (which includes San Francisco).

                                        To say LA has a "few decent places" is a somewhat hilarious understatement to someone very involved in the coffee world, where it is often said that LA is a contender for top coffee city in the country at this point.

                                        SF, of course, has it's own institutions, I'm not belittling it in any way, but just figured it's worth pointing out to anyone reading this that LA has done more than just "replicate SF" in terms of coffee.

                                        Anyway...back to food...which I know less about... what are the things that are hot now in SF that will soon be replicated in LA?

                                        1. re: BacoMan

                                          I follow coffee decently, and I probably had an overly dismissive tone. About a year ago I spent a weekend in the greater hollywood area and I couldn't find a decent cup (and didn't have a car) and I'm still sore about it.

                                          Oddly enough, this morning's cup was from Klatch, from Upland, ie, out by the Ontario airport. It's a fairly typical 3rd wave roast, not as pointed as some, but with a nice balance. Very good every day roast. They did well in the Big Western, as did Intelligencia and a place in San Jose that I've never heard of. Given that I don't love Intelligencia, I consider that metric a bit suspect.

                                          Although I did have a cup at French Press in Santa Barbara last year, and they did well. That was a very, very good cup of coffee and I spent some time talking to Nick about portafilter head temperature measurement and regulation. They, of course, are just down from Portland, and Santa Barbera's as much part of LA as Santa Cruz is part of SF. I don't know if you'd consider Stumptown part of LA - although they have a cafe there and not in SF, they're PDX in my mind and you can get good pulls of Stumptown roasts here and there in SF (I think, although I'd have to look up who's doing what these days).

                                          This is where I point out --- again --- that LA's definition of LA is much larger than SF's definition of SF. If you'd call Klatch part of LA, you'd have to include Barefoot, Ecco, Equator (and maybe even Verve) as part of SF. It did seem that in LA, I could find a good cup within a 20 minute drive of where ever I was which is about the same here --- although the mid-peninsula is a bit of a wasteland (till you hit Red Rock in MV, although I've bullied my local into a decent espresso). I hit Luxxe in Santa Monica, and that was a decent cup. Is Santa Monica part of LA?

                                          In general, unless you know about some places and roasts I don't know about - which could be true - what I've experienced seems like the trend that rolled in from PDX to the bay area in about 06, and continued south. Probably further followups on what's happening new in coffee in the LA area should be on the LA board, though.

                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                            What is the "Greater Hollywood area"? If it's literally Hollywood, then congratulations on staying in the one area of LA that has no good coffee shops haha

                                            " I hit Luxxe in Santa Monica, and that was a decent cup. Is Santa Monica part of LA?"

                                            I would say Santa Monica definitely is. No one in LA thinks of it as a separate city, despite it actually being. The restaurants there are all thought of as LA restaurants.

                                            I'm not entirely sure what you are talking about though in general. Did you actually mean local roasters, or did you just mean 3rd wave coffee shops, i.e. shops that serve very, very high quality coffee in various brew methods, expertly pulled espresso, etc... ?

                                            If you mean literally local roasters, then that's a little different.

                                            But coffee shops with expert baristas, that serve high-level coffee and espresso that is as good as anywhere in the world...there are tons of them.

                                            My short list:

                                            Coffee Commissary
                                            Balconi Coffee
                                            Spring for Coffee
                                            Cafe Demitasse
                                            Cognoscenti Coffee
                                            Go Get 'Em Tiger
                                            Bar Nine Collective
                                            Two Guns Espresso
                                            LA Mill

                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                              We should definitely get this moved to the LA board.

                                              I was staying right near hollywood / vine - doing a show at the Fonda (ex Music Box). I had no car. I was without coffee the next morning, and quite sad. I did hit the little Farmer's Market there.

                                              I was equating roasters with cafes. I should consider that the cafe's the thing, and leave roasters as simply part of the supply chain. I think the cafe, to do a good job, as to be pretty well integrated, but you've got about 48~72 hours after roasting before brewing, and 72 hours is a very reasonable shipping time. All I really care about is getting my cup, and roasting is very different from running a retail establishment, so good coffee shops is really the only thing required.

                                              I was a little shocked to see that 3rd Wave is now (at least according to wikipedia) about the _shop_ and not about the _roast_, and only pays a little attention to 3rd Wave roasts being lighter, and using different brewing techniques. This reinforces the shop being the thing.

                                              I'll be happy to check a few of the cafes on your list next time I'm down south to have a more informed discussion.

                                              1. re: bbulkow

                                                There's no reason to move this to the LA board. The LA board is full of people that don't give a shit about coffee. They also HATE list making, rankings, and discussions about food/drink.

                                                It's far more valuable on the SF board where people enjoy appreciate coffee, and discussions about food. It's more important for those in SF to know about the good coffee in LA I would say, since apparently people are unaware of the developments. And this is a thread all about LA/SF interference.

                                                I don't see the problem.


                                                Hollywood/Vine is the worst area in all of Los Angeles. It's shit in terms of food, but it's REALLY shit in terms of coffee. It's the one dead zone. There is literally nothing in that area.

                                                Sorry you had to stay there =/

                                                I would somewhat agree that the shop is at least as, or more important than the roaster. That's certainly true in most of LA's shops.

                                                Oh, it's worth adding Paper or Plastik to my list. They also serve some of the best food in the city (not the pastries and such, but their dinner menu is absolutely stunning).

                                                Hopefully you get to check out a better area next time you're in LA. I think you'll find that things are very good here if you can get away from the hell hole that is Hollywood.

                                        2. re: bbulkow

                                          That's the Eater "heat map" for SF. All new and trendy.

                                      2. re: goldangl95

                                        or if you want the same vegetarian Dosas and idli for less money you can go one block down to Udupi Palace. You may not be able to get alcohol but the food is better and costs less and they would never serve samosa which aren't Southern Indian.

                                        1. re: tjinsf

                                          Udupi Palace serves samosas and you can find samosas all over South India as a staple these days. Also the food choices aren't as playful at Udupi Palace. PLUS atmosphere wise - there's a lot of "canteen" type Indian veg. restaurants in Los Angeles. But the western/Indian combos and the atmosphere are hard to come by (esp. western/South Indian).

                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                            Haven't been to the Udupi palace in SF but used to go to the one in Berkeley. It was terribly inconsistent. You might have a great meal one night and go back order the same things and the food would be terrible. Unless the one in SF was more reliable and consistent I would not recommend the OP go there.

                                            Dosa is more expensive but the food there has always been stellar when I have gone.

                                      3. re: BacoMan

                                        I don't think things here change often enough that somebody who wrote a bunch of recommendations for someone from LA in the past year or three would bother typing them up again.

                                        The three topics from the past year I posted links to below should give you a good idea of the areas where people think we might do better than LA.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Good to know.

                                          In LA, my top dishes change at least yearly, so I am used to a quicker change of pace.

                                          Thanks for the threads =)

                                    2. re: BacoMan

                                      I've seen more recent threads with advice specific to visitors from LA, but it's tough to find them with the board's search or Google since "la" is such a common string.


                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        I judge a city's culinary acumen not by the latest flash-in-the-pan sideshow, but by what tradition and history have proven out. You may call that stagnation-- I do not. By that measure, the cioppino and sand dabs at Tadich Grill are not to be missed.

                                        Mr Taster

                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                          No way Tadich's cioppino is the best in town. They sometimes use frozen shellfish and tend to overcook it. Sand dabs, Petrale sole, and Rex sole are safe bets, though I think Sam's is probably doing a better job with those classics these days. Both provide an only-in-SF experience, or at least it will be until the new Tadich opens in DC.


                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                            You're putting words in my mouth.

                                            I didn't say that Tadich's cioppino was the best in town-- I don't have the breadth of experience eating cioppino in SF to make such a broad, hyperbolic declaration.

                                            I said it was not to be missed, and my reasoning was based upon Tadich's entrenched history in SF, and because those dishes are an essential part of SF's seafaring history and culinary tradition.

                                            Mr Taster

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                You may make the point that you do not believe the cioppino at Tadich is not "the best", but that statement in no way follows my comment (other than literally following it on the screen.). I never made that assertion.

                                                Mr Taster

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  The thought just occurred to me-- isn't nearly all fish and shellfish frozen at sea? I'm asking this question sincerely, because although I do have some knowledge of the subject, it is not comprehensive.

                                                  Aside from the live fish swimming in tanks at your local Chinese market or restaurant, what is the guarantee that any type of fish you're buying is not previously frozen?

                                                  Do the restaurants you're recommending for cioppino have live tanks?

                                                  Again, I'm asking sincerely. I don't know the answer to this. Source links to back up your assertions would be greatly appreciated.

                                                  Mr Taster

                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                    Fresh fish is readily available. If you see the fish whole, the difference between fresh, not so fresh, and previously frozen is clear. Better restaurants buy only from reputable and trustworthy suppliers such as Monterey Fish.

                                                    Fresh is almost always superior to previously frozen. The one exception is sushi-grade fish that's flash-frozen to kill parasites.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      What about shellfish? After all, that was your entire conceit about Tadich's cioppino.

                                                      My understanding is that shrimp is individually quick frozen on board ships in large vessels. Even here in LA where we have an abundance of Chinese and Korean markets, it's relatively rare to find live shrimp tanks. (Though shellfish like clams and mussels are readily available... I just made a spectacular Manhattan clam chowder with some beautiful cherrystones that were on sale at Assi Korean supermarket for $1.99/lb)

                                                      Mr Taster

                                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                                        Cioppino can be made from just about any combination of firm white fish, crab, mussels, clams, squid, octopus, and shrimp. The best places will vary the mix depending on what's fresh, or offer cioppino only as a special when the chefs can get all their favorite ingredients.


                                                    2. re: Mr Taster

                                                      I worked in a seafood shack type restaurant on the end of Long Island during my teens and the fish wasn’t frozen, though we did serve some of the frozen pre-breaded clams sometimes. Otherwise all the shellfish was fresh. However, my boss who was a real character would buy a giant fresh caught swordfish, bring it out whole and parade it around the dining room proclaiming to all the diners how he only served fresh seafood. Then he’d bring it back into the kitchen and we’d cut it up into serving size portions and freeze it for use during the next couple months.

                                        2. I don't know the Indian scene in Los Angeles, but you might read up on Gajalee and Anjappar Chettinad: