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Feb 27, 2014 05:42 PM

How is SF's 38 Essential List (Eater SF)?

I just looked at LA Eater's list, and it is a travesty for the most part. Anyone soul unfortunate enough to take their dining destination cues from that list would be engaging in, at best, a crapshoot at having anything decent to eat in LA, and at worst would end up at a place that exemplifies the absolute worst of the LA dining scene (mediocre food, very expensive prices, and a tremendous amount of flash).

The SF list looks better to an outsider, but are there places that are really complete jokes to have on your guys list like there are on the LA list?

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  1. Gosh, how about a different kind of 38 Essential list -- a list of all the good places to eat on the #38 Geary Bus Line?

    (What I wonder is why they chose the number 38 in the first place.)

    1 Reply
    1. What about it don't you like? Seems like an ok list. I personally would have put more cheap ethnic places in there but whatever, you can't be all things to all people.

      13 Replies
      1. re: chezwhitey

        Not sure which list you are asking about ?

          1. re: chezwhitey

            It includes non-local chains for starters. A third of it seems to be places that deliver mediocre, or shit food with glitzy atmospheres. Another third of it is just the most expensive places in LA.

            The final third may be good, but one would be picking at random if they didn't already know the restaurants.

            What's worse is that it makes LA seem like it is borderline incapable of producing good food.

            The most vicious horror is that it puts a place hocking $6 tacos that would be mediocre in the Midwest on there. To suggest that that is the height of the taco in LA is so fundamentally dishonest as to be slanderous to the city of LA. Everyone who lives here ought to be offended by it.

            1. re: BacoMan

              I don't think anyone with any kind of real interest in food is going to solely use the the Eater Top 38 as a resource, but will do additional research the Chowhound etc. I get down to LA about once a year and of the current LA list I've been to and had good-excellent meals at Parks, Gjelina, Pizzeria Mozza, Langers and Baco. I wasn't so impressed with Bay Cities. So I'm not sure that the Eater top 38 lists are quite the travesty you're making them out to be.

              1. re: sunnyside

                The quality of Eater's lists is going to vary with the taste and experience of the people writing them.

                1. re: sunnyside

                  You had good picks.

                  Imagine if you had gone to Petty Cash, Hinoki & The Bird, and Sugarfish...

                  You would have come away thinking LA was never worth visiting again.

                2. re: BacoMan

                  6 dollar tacos? well, we've got 9-12 dollar tacos so I think you might be equally offended here too. BTW, did the author get sh!t on by Ciramusti or something? I always thought providence was one of the top 2 or 3 places in LA. At least I got that impression when I went there. Anyway, consider yourselves lucky that you have jonathan gold to give you guys a more balanced and honest list.

                  1. re: chezwhitey

                    Street tacos?... What do you get for a $12 street taco?

                    1. re: BacoMan

                      $12 is the highest price I've seen for TWO tacos at upscale places.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        And I assume those tacos are not street taco size...?

                        At Petty Cash in LA, the street tacos are about $6. We're talking about 1, maybe 2 bites of food for $6.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Empellon in the east village in NYC (cocina, never been to the taqueria incarnation) is getting 16 for 2 of each of their tilefish and shortrib tacos. Even worse, its 24 for 3 of them.

                          1. re: tex.s.toast

                            Fucking horrific.

                            Are they street taco sized?

                            There's a place in Orange County that charges $14 for 2 tacos, but they're not street tacos, and are immaculately conceived creations.

                            1. re: BacoMan

                              i think they serve them on single ply (non doubled) 4 inch tortillas.

            2. SF sneers at flash - so you don't have the same dangers to worry about. I would worry that if you pick only from this list you will see a bunch of mid-high price farm to table, cal/italian hip/neighborhood feeling restaurants (which LA doesn't do as well - but can also get monotonous after awhile)

              If you don't like molecular gastronomy, or really experimental food, I'd skip AQ and Commonwealth.

              I personally haven't been to Coi but many on this board would suggest something else: Atelier Crenn (prettiest plating in the world, a little too experimental for some, unremarkable room) Benu (asian influences, modern efficient room), Quince (italian/cal influences, friendly and beautiful room) or Saison (chef does what he wants - and people really love it)

              Perbacco and Zuni Cafe can feel a bit staid.

              38 Replies
              1. re: goldangl95

                "SF sneers at flash - so you don't have the same dangers to worry about."

                That's good news. I am ashamed of my city for its egregious indulgences in flash over substance... to do it is one thing, but to then proclaim that those places are actually the best LA has is beyond words.

                "If you don't like molecular gastronomy, or really experimental food, I'd skip AQ and Commonwealth."

                Good to know, but for the opposite reason. Feel like we don't have much down in LA, and really would like to try some of that stuff without going all out at Benu / Atelier Crenn. It is a little funny that the SF list only includes one of the "big 4", but I guess it makes sense in some ways since those guys are in a league of their own.

                Re: Zuni. Is the chicken really worth getting if you never have? Or is it one of those over-hyped things (taking an hour, been around so long, etc...)?

                1. re: BacoMan

                  I am ashamed of my city for its egregious indulgences in flash over substance...
                  This is just silly considering LA does low end and diverse ethnic eats better than most (if not all) cities in the US.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Yeah, it does, and the 38 essential LA Restaurants list from Eater LA almost entirely ignores that fact.

                    1. re: BacoMan

                      Eater's list doesn't a city make. Criticize Eater LA not the entire city.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Yeah, I realize was poorly worded. That's what I meant to do.

                        Apparently too late to edit the post though...shit

                  2. re: BacoMan

                    What is considered the "Big Four" these days?

                    Re the Zuni chicken, I've not had it but make it at home regularly so I probably would advise you to do the same. IIRC, it's quite expensive.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      From an outsider perspective it HAS to be Benu / Atelier Crenn / Saison / Coi.

                      No other places get mentioned nearly as often.

                      Zuni chicken looks like it's $24/half chicken, which is standard pricing for half chicken entrees here in LA.

                      Doesn't it require a huge brick oven to make it their way? How do you do that at home?

                      1. re: BacoMan

                        Thanks for the definition :)

                        Here's the Zuni chicken recipe. Easy peasy and SO good.


                        1. re: BacoMan

                          Those are the four places that had two Michelin stars last year. This year's edition added Quince.

                          No half chicken at Zuni. Whole chicken "for two" but I've often shared it with three or four. The smokiness imparted by the wood-burning oven just makes it better.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Didn't they also add Baume?

                            Whatver it is, those 4 get mentioned in Chowhound threads all the time, by SF Eater, by thrillist, SF Weekly, NYT, everyone in LA, yelp, etc... etc... so seems like they are the big front runners.

                            "No half chicken at Zuni."

                            Well, surely you see that a single portion at $48, shared by 2 people is equivalent to paying $24 for half of the chicken? Or is my math that far off?

                            Come to think of it...I guess Tar & Roses in Santa Monica must be explicitly doing Zuni chicken, though they do it by the half. How funny.

                            1. re: BacoMan

                              Baume's not "in san francisco". This area gets very sniffy about what's in the City And County vs what's in "the bay area".

                              1. re: BacoMan

                                Baume and Manresa have had two Michelin stars for a while, but they're 45 minutes or an hour out of town, more at rush hour. Same for the two three-star places, French Laundry and Meadowood. I don't think people are "sniffy" about that, we just think of it as way too far to drive for dinner.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  That must be nice. In LA a 45 minute drive for dinner is just Tuesday. haha

                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                    Having grown up in LA back when everything was "20 minutes" (versus today's 45 minutes), the difference between LA and SF -- in terms of just "a 45 minute drive for dinner" -- is that we don't do that here.

                                    Manresa, for example, is in the town of Los Gatos, which some may consider a suburb of San Jose. But that's not a "suburb of SF," by any stretch -- it would be more akin to living in Santa Monica and driving to Orange Co. for dinner. When we go to Manresa -- 56 miles from my house in Berkeley -- more often than not, we actually spend the night in Los Gatos.

                                    The French Laundry in Yountville is in the Napa Valley -- not only is that not a suburb of San Francisco, it's not even in what most locals consider "the SF Bay Area." It's just under 50 miles from where I live, and while I am more likely to make that drive after dining in the Napa Valley, I also stay over sometimes . . .

                                    Driving the half an hour from San Francisco back up to the Berkeley Hills is [often] quite enough . . .

                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    The "sniffy" I referencing the kind of attitude you're displaying. Manresa is 15 minutes from downtown San Jose, and San Jose has a population of 982,765 (2012).

                                    You think of it as too far to drive for dinner --- from "town". While I won't disagree that it's a long way from FiDi, I happy drive to SF and berkeley once a week for dinner from silicon valley. It's 35 minutes if I time it right, 60 minutes if I time it wrong, and an exhausting 2 hours if I do it really, really wrong.

                                    In the bay area, our full conurbation is 7.15M people (a rather broad counting of all populations that touch the bay), of which SF City And County is only 0.85M.

                                    LA-folk are much more flexible about what is "in town", as BacoMan posts. It would be bizarre to consider LA as only La "city and county".

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      People in SF generally won't drive as far for dinner as people in LA because they have little reason to. There aren't many kinds of food that you can't get in SF that you can get in the South Bay, Marin, or Sonoma.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Keep believing that, and stay the heck out of our restaurants !

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          Everybody I know who has lived on the Peninsula or in the South Bay agrees. There are exceptions, such as Wakuria, Manresa, Anjappar Chettinad, Habana, the Vietnamese food courts, and Curry Corner, but you have to be a pretty obsessed foodie to make that kind of schlep, however trivial it might seem to an Angeleno who thinks nothing of spending four or five hours a day driving.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Agrees you should stay out of our south bay restaurants? I should say so. Oh, that's probably not what you meant. Let's not pick this fight. I've always agreed The City and the East Bay are superior to the peninsula and the south bay, I've just come to a grudging acceptance - after 10 years down here - that there's more bright spots than most people think.

                                            It would be nice to have some actual good restaurants in downtown San Jose.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              Of course you can eat well in Silicon Valley.

                                              I'm just saying that it's not "attitude" but simple common sense that makes SF residents a lot less likely to drive to the Peninsula for dinner than vice-versa.

                                              For example, if you live in Redwood City, you might drive into SF to go to Incanto, La Ciccia, or Cotogna to get a kind of Italian meal you can't get on the Peninsula. On the other hand, if you live in SF, it wouldn't make much sense to drive to Redwood City to eat at Donato.

                                              The same is true for many other cuisines. For Japanese, Chinese, and Indian, it's probably the reverse.

                                  3. re: BacoMan

                                    Re Tar & Roses' chicken, there are no tomatoes in the bread salad Zuni serves with theirs, which they cut into convenient pieces in the kitchen. I can't believe T&R's is as delicious since Jonathan Gold said nothing about it in his review except that you'd be happier if you'd ordered the shellfish pot.

                                2. re: BacoMan

                                  Those four Two-Michelin Star restaurants are pretty unique in their own ways making it a little hard to predict how any person would like either of them. Quince is much more straightforward: Imagine an old-school fancy French place serving Italian dishes. Not like an eccentric chef insisting on blasting Phil Collins in the dining room.

                                  As for Perbacco and Zuni feeling "a bit staid" as somebody claimed: Compare the price points to the likes of Saison or Quince.

                                  1. re: nocharge

                                    It's really unfortunate that the chef is eccentric in a way that is so antipodal to my own eccentricity at Saison.

                                    I believe my first foray into that level of dining will be either Benu, or Atelier Crenn.

                                    Both appeal strongly, as I have a biting, modernist edge, but also an extremist, poetic side, and it seems like both of them represent those things respectively.

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      A CH-friend of mine who knows her way around a kitchen AND fine dining said AC was the best meal she'd ever had. This was a couple of years ago. She was doing a vegan diet for health reasons and her adult daughter was not. They had a wonderful meal.

                            2. re: goldangl95

                              Sf sneers at flash? That's debatable.

                              1. re: chezwhitey

                                Not really. I'm one of the people who wishes there were MORE "flash," as goldang puts it. We don't need to stir that debate up again, but both sides agree that the dining scene here is very conservative, and for the most part, everyone wants it that way.

                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                    Any sort of dining environment in which the chef shows too much creativity (or is trying too hard, depending on your point of view), in the mind of the diner.

                                    1. re: dunstable

                                      Oh. Ok.

                                      I was thinking of flash (in my original posts) as referring to atmosphere, pricing, and making dishes look good without tasting good.

                                      In LA we're not so fortunate as to have a problem of chef's being too creative. Rather, we seem to have a problem with chef's trying to pass off conservativeness, or gimmicks as creativity.

                                      If a Chef is genuinely trying to do something "difficult" and fails, at least they made the attempt I suppose. In some sense it seems to me like all dining above a certain level is "flash" in your sense, isn't it? Surely if you took any dish at Coi/Benu/Atelier Crenn/Saison and compared it to a burrito at La Taqueria it would seem like it was just flash...wouldn't it?

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        Saison's food is the opposite of flashy. The dishes I had included a bowl of grilled peas in Reggiano broth, one roll on a plate with butter on the side, a shot of tuna spinal fluid served in its vertebra, and raw fish seared with a hot coal.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          You don't think a "shot of tuna spinal fluid served in its vertebra" is flashy? I guess we have different ideas of what's flashy! To me, anything that's clearly designed to appeal to the most jaded of diners is flashy.

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            This is a very traditional sort of dish, though. As explained to me by Chris Cosentino (who similarly offered tuna spine as a course in one of his Quinto Quarto meals), back in the day, Italian fishermen would sell pretty much everything they caught, but kept the tuna spine for themselves, since it was harder to sell. Once they ate all the meat off the spine, they would crack open the vertebrae and eat the marrow -- which Mr. Cosentino also showed us how to do. I thought it was pretty great, personally, or at least the spinal jelly part was. (All that spine cracking was a bit messy, though -- maybe not a good choice if you are on a first date.)

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              While true, I think of LA flash as the kind of place where no one orders anything other than ice tea and salad, in a perfectly designed and lit room where you eagle-eye who else is seated, and talking to who. Very little eating is done.

                                              SF flash has a mountain of retro pretension, like Fritz Maytag making beer out of spruce berries just like Washington's troops did at valley forge, even if it tastes like sucking on a tree.

                                    2. re: dunstable

                                      Apparently there are enough less conservative diners these days that Atelier Crenn and Coi have not gone out of business the way Winterland, Frisson, and Antidote did.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Don't think Frisson going out of business had anything to do the degree of conservatism among diners, especially since Daniel Patterson, who now runs Coi, was the opening chef. Rather, Frisson was a vanity project by people who had too much dot-com money (PayPal) and too little common sense about what kind of restaurant concept might work in a given location. A prime example of what happens if you have too much money and spend lavishly on opening a place tailored to your own taste in restaurants rather than something that is actually viable. The Battery Club seems to be a plausible candidate for becoming Frisson 2.0.

                                        Steve Chen supposedly picked up the Frisson space for a bargain and turned it into 5A5, which is still around, proving that internet entrepreneurs actually can run restaurants if they are smart enough. (He's an extremely nice guy, too.)

                                        1. re: nocharge

                                          You're right, Frisson going out of business had nothing do do with the modernist cooking Daniel Patterson did there, since he left three years before it closed. But I think he left because that style of cooking was too hard a sell at the time.

                                          I'm skeptical that the location was a big factor, since Coi is only three blocks away.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            The Winterland location was also what has become a known restaurant killer.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              The concept of a late night place was wrong for that location. The cooking style of Daniel Patterson wasn't too experimental or modernistic at Frisson. He was a hired hand coming off of Elizabeth Daniel and other gigs and Frisson would have burgers on the menu. The idea of a hip restaurant serving $30 dollar glasses of wine and open until 2am was more of the creator's idea of what kind of restaurant he'd like to go to than what would work in that location. Coi is a completely different concept where the chef/owner can do whatever he wants and three blocks is near infinity in terms of location.

                                              But I really liked Frisson. Would do one or two $150 bar dinners there every week. Good times!

                                  2. As a fairly frequent visitor to the Bay Area in the past number of years, I've eaten at 19 of the current Eater 38. I do look at the Eater listing but I spend most of my research time on this board, as I've come to learn which Hounds' palates jibe with my own.

                                    Don't know anything about LA but I will say I wouldn't be rushing to a bunch of the places on the Vancouver Eater 38. I've had better luck with their lists for Portland OR (Pdx board here has relatively low volume) so it seems like the usefulness varies from city to city.

                                    16 Replies
                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      " so it seems like the usefulness varies from city to city."

                                      That is what I was hoping, so thought I would ask the Chow people in SF. Unfortunately the list for LA is almost entirely useless. A few great places are on there, but you're almost more likely to end up at the worst that LA has to offer by using it.

                                      Out of the 19 you've eaten at how many would go on your personal essential SF list?

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        Apparently I can't count because it's 18 not 19 :-).

                                        I would (and have) gone back to Lers Ros (half a dozen visits to the original on Larkin, great appetizer dishes), The Mill (though I liked it best when it was in a tent during the buildout, v. cool bread combos), La Ciccia (amazing sauces), La Taqueria (kinda hooked on their tacos dorados) and Cotogna (especially for lunch).

                                        Old Mandarin was worthy but it's kind of a huge schlep on transit, and best with a crowd (our one visit was a Chowdown).

                                        I'd consider returning to SPQR (great first courses and wines, disappointing mains), Foreign Cinema (because we ate their food at Lazlo Bar next door), Aziza (though I understand it has become less Moroccan of late, the cocktails haunt me yet), Nopalito (with careful ordering), Range (some solid dishes but the room is kind of annoying), Perbacco (tasty but a bit too "corporate" for me), Super Duper (much better than average fast food but I don't quite get the love), Humphry Slocombe (cool flavours but not quite sold on the texture).

                                        Frances, Bar Tartine (current incarnation) and AQ all left me cold on single visits, especially the first two. We went to the second Pizzeria Delfina on California and it was pretty meh, but perhaps we should try the original in the Mission.

                                        The Eater 38 does change relatively often. There are restaurants that have been on it that I'd go back to (St Vincent comes to mind).

                                        Here are a few places I've loved/gone back to for specific dishes:

                                        Bao Necci (pizza)
                                        Blue Bottle Mint Plaza (New Orleans coffee)
                                        La Torta Gorda (tortas!)
                                        Mandalay or Little Yangon (Burmese dishes)
                                        Shanghai House (the advance-order-only salt and pepper pig's knuckle)
                                        Naked Lunch, Hopscotch or Mission Bowling Club (burger, I'm particularly addicted to the latter's)
                                        Sotto Mare (petrale sole)
                                        Miss Ollie's (fried chicken, and a great vibe)
                                        Skool (raw fish, uni flan)
                                        Vietian (nam khao, nam khao, nam khao and sai oua)

                                        Jai Yun is a place that might interest you. I was lucky enough to go for lunch 3 times before the chef limited that meal to a 10-person-per-table minimum. There's an epic thread or two on here that you could read if you have time.

                                        My favourite restaurant in SF closed last summer (Canteen) which was a serious sadness and some other faves have bitten the dust since 2007. The scene does change in the Bay Area but luckily many of the good ones abide...

                                        1. re: grayelf

                                          Sorry if this is overly picky, but couldn't help wondering: what is the "careful ordering" necessary at Nopalito?

                                          Also, why Cotogna for lunch? (Is the famous porchetta on the menu at lunch?)

                                          And could you perhaps describe the texture of Slocombe's ice cream?

                                          Those are three places at the top of my list to go to, so quite curious.

                                          "Frances, Bar Tartine (current incarnation) and AQ all left me cold "

                                          Given so many other raves, this is surprising, and a little scary. Because of all the reviews I had been leaning more towards trying these three places on a trip up there.

                                          It's too bad about Canteen, it looked really interesting =(

                                          It's also really sad to hear about Aziza, which is another place at the top of my personal list to go to, since I've never seen anything like it down south.

                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                            People have different taste. I can't imagine how someone wouldn't love Bar Tartine or Frances. AQ's dishes are often elaborate enough that I'm surprised I like them.

                                            It's a lot easier to get into Cotogna at lunch. Menu's the same all day, I'm not sure why they have separate samples on the web site.

                                            Humphry Slocombe's ice cream is rich, dense, and creamy.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I'm just noticing that the porchetta is no longer on the menu.

                                              I guess that might make getting in to Cotogna a non-issue for me.

                                              How unfortunate.

                                            2. re: BacoMan

                                              Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous is my favorite ice cream is SF. Bi-Rite is great for pure flavors like toasted coconut, roasted banana, etc. and Humphry has interesting combinations, but they don't always work and I agree with Greyelf about the texture being not so great. But I do like their Vietnamese coffee and Secret Breakfast.

                                              Mr. & Mrs. Excels at both pure simple flavors and they also do interesting combinations – but these always seem more thought out and work more consistently than Humphry. The only problem is that they are only open until 6:00, so it’s a daytime treat unless you pick up some pints to take home.

                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                I think grayelf was saying that those places weren't to her personal taste, not that they were bad. For example, I personally love AQ, although it should be noted that the restaurant is undergoing a format change from a la carte to strictly prix fixe at the moment.

                                                Slocumbe's ice cream tends to be on the icy side -- it definitely doesn't have the luxurious mouthfeel of Bi-Rite. On the other hand, I think sometimes too much butterfat mutes the flavors, so if the unusual flavors are what intrigue you, then I wouldn't write it off. Personally, I'd strike a balance and try Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous (which, after having done a ice cream crawl last year, is my favorite ice cream in the city). I had a lemon with ghost chile there this weekend that was awesome.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  Good to know.

                                                  The icier mouthfeel reminds me of places like Sweet Rose Creamery here in LA.

                                                  The flavors are stronger, but I prefer the creamy mouthfeel.

                                                  The only places I've had ice cream in SF are Bi-Rite, and Mitchell's. Have always had a soft spot for Mitchell's Ube. A bit of a childhood thing.

                                                  But I would be interested in trying the wackier combinations at the newer places.

                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                    You will like Mr and Ms M. They combine a deeper mouthfeel with some heartfelt flavors - I was going to pick a nit regarding Ruth's "pure" flavors at MMM, as if you can call Bananas Foster "pure" compared to Chocolate or Vanilla, but she's right --- it's a straight ahead, driving BANG of a single taste, unlike HS. HS is a bit grainier, and whether you should fit it in depends on your personal flight plan, and interest in strange combinations.

                                                    As someone who has spent hours coming up with ice cream flavors that should never be made, HS is a field day of giggles and amusement. I drove up to have a single scoop on a day when they had pork ice cream.

                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                      MMM has my all-time favourite ice cream flavour, sweet cream. And I love the texture of it. I had it twice in 24 hours last trip. Sigh.

                                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                                        Sunnyside said "pure" -- I think of it more as traditional flavor combos with an occasional twist.I agree about HS and "ice cream flavors that should never be made" -- classic flavor combinations are classic for a reason! A lot of these experimental flavors are interesting -- even delicious -- for one bite, but not something you'd want more than three bites of.

                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      AQ is switching to prix-fixe only on March 18, though the chef said they'll probably have a la carte at the bar.

                                                      Their spinoff TBD has similar food a la carte.


                                                    3. re: BacoMan

                                                      There were a couple of items I thought were a bit pedestrian at Nopalito but that was a while ago. I'd just be more careful when I ordered to find out more about each dish if I went again. No resos and uncomfy benches not ideal there...

                                                      Cotogna is quite loud at night, and the tables are really close together, so we prefer it for lunch when the light pours in and the room seems more open. We've hewed entirely to the primi and sides -- the pastas are very good indeed, and I'd commit crimes for their sformatos.

                                                      HS ice cream is indeed rich, dense and creamy, which is all good, but I have experienced what I will call palate fatigue eating a full serving.

                                                      Frances was a bit of a gong show the night we went. It was so busy in there, and the tables are so close together, that the experience was not relaxing. Plus they served me a quasi-inedible piece of steak. But that was only one meal and many people love it. Very hard to get a reso still, I believe.

                                                      Bar Tartine was just a meh experience all around. No standout (and some bad, at least to us) dishes, odd service, just not meant to be. Again, tons of fans, so we could have just hit an off night. Alas, with so many other great options, can't bring myself to give a second chance on limited holiday dining sked. This is why I could never, ever be a restaurant reviewer ;-).

                                                      AQ had some interesting dishes but overall it didn't wow us (we were three that evening). Also thought it was a bit weird that the chef was reprimanding staff in the open kitchen inches from our table. Again not terribly conducive to a relaxing dining experience. YMMV, as they say.

                                                      I loved Canteen to pieces and felt a trip wasted that didn't find me dining there at least once (for a time they were doing breakfast and/or brunch as well). The place was not universally adored, however, so there you are.

                                                      I keep hearing that Aziza is moving downtown. Would be interesting to try it again in a new setting -- though we enjoyed our meal (and the cocktails; did I mention them?), the room was very badly ventilated and extremely warm, even though it was not particularly warm out.

                                                      Looking back on this post, I note that I have commented on the setting and other things more than I usually do. If the food had thrilled me more, I would not have noticed, or cared.

                                                      1. re: grayelf

                                                        Bar Tartine since it changed over to the new menu has been meh for me but I think it's also because they have regional dishes that are nothing like the originals and the service has been very uneven.

                                                        Sad you didn't like AQ but I can see how that can happen. That's odd about the chef, the kitchen usually runs so smooth but we always seat at the table with the banquette seat on one side.

                                                  2. re: BacoMan

                                                    Of my ten favorite restaurants in SF (I didn't pick an arbitrary ten, that just happens to be the number on my list at the moment), AQ, Bar Tartine, Cotogna, La Ciccia, Lers Ros, and Perbacco are on the list, Barbacco, Gajalee, Incanto, and St. Vincent are not.

                                                2. The list looks pretty solid -- there are only a couple of places I'd say "don't bother" to and no complete jokes. One thing to note is that it includes only restaurants actually in San Francisco, which means that a lot of places that might otherwise make a list like that have been omitted (Koi Palace in Daly City, some of the more hip places in the East Bay).

                                                  24 Replies
                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    That is a good point, Ruth, and one that visitors might easily miss. I've had some mighty fine food in Oakland, for example, that would not qualify for that list.

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      Interesting. That is a useful point to know. It does kind of suck. It probably explains why, for example, Commis isn't on there.

                                                      How do locals feel about that? Is there really a sharp distinction between SF the city, and other cities?

                                                      Or is that like excluding restaurants in Santa Monica when listing best LA restaurants (something that would seem rather insane, or at least very misguided)?

                                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                                        I'd say there are a lot of people in San Francisco who are insular -- they'll brag about never having been to Oakland, even though it's a fast and easy BART ride (easier to get to Miss Ollie's from many parts of the city than to Aziza, for example). But with so many people and restaurants being priced out of San Francisco, I think that is becoming less true.

                                                        I don't think it's "rather insane," but it does slant the list in a certain direction and is misguided in that doing so ignores the vibrancy of the East Bay restaurant scene.

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          Most food writers cover the whole area though right? Or is there separate food coverage for the East Bay?

                                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                                            Most professional restaurant critics cover only one area, maybe with occasional forays elsewhere for destination places, if they can talk their editors into it. Michael Bauer in the Chronicle and Jonathan Kauffman for Tasting Table mostly focus on SF but go elsewhere.

                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                              The East Bay is covered more in-depth in the East Bay Express (free weekly based in Berkeley), which has its own restaurant critic -- often a very good one (the much-beloved-on-chowhound Jonathan Kauffman was there for a while, as was Chow's Jon Birdsall).

                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                Oh, awesome.

                                                                I need to start looking at that stuff now, too.

                                                                I think the East Bay might be more my personal "vibe" from this quote from them:

                                                                "Here's the thing about Oakland's food renaissance: There are plenty of cities that do a better job with white-linen fine dining and three-hour tasting menus. Where Oakland is king is its wealth of inexpensive restaurants where the vibe is chill, but the food is so searingly good it'll stop you dead in your tracks."

                                                                1. re: BacoMan

                                                                  Oakland also has arguably the best value in tasting menus, at Commis.


                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    I really like what I see there. I was worried that it was just a gimmicky place with no real value because it has not been on any of the SF lists I've seen.

                                                                    Now that I know that it is being explicitly ignored by all of those people it makes more sense that it might be worth going to after all.

                                                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                                                      Count me in as a Commis detractor. The amuse bouches were fantastic (probably why they are mainstays), but all the other dishes were made up of forced ingredient combinations that just didn't add up for me. Tweezer placement of tiny tasteless flower petals be damned.

                                                                      That said, the price point is competitive, so it may be worth checking out and hoping the dishes are more cohesive.

                                                                  2. re: BacoMan

                                                                    Let's see if I can break down the bay area:

                                                                    1) The City. Insular. Transplants, rich people, poor people, tech people, tourists.

                                                                    2) Greater Marin. Sales people, hippies, commuters to SF, older artists, and a core of mexican workers.

                                                                    3) The East Bay. From the hard slums of richmond, to the intellectual beauty of berkeley, to the tough guy core of oakland, to the suburban flats of Fremont. Somehow getting along.

                                                                    4) Silicon Valley, from the hyper-asian San Mateo, through greater Palo Alto, and the ex-big-box factory core of Santa Clara through Cupertino. Bland, lack of art, but full of old school makers.

                                                                    5) San Jose, with its bleached cheap adobe block housing, corporate working class jobs, indian and viet vibrancy, and scary gang southland.

                                                                    I'm leaving out Wine Country and the 680 corridor (far east bay).

                                                                    In terms of media, Oakland's newspapers don't exist ( the trib ) except in name only. Silicon Valley has only had small (but occasional good) papers - the SM Times and Palo Alto Weekly. The SJ Merc News is an actual going concern, like Marin's IJ. SF has 4 papers, two standard and two "free", Chron/Examiner/Guardian/Weekly. There's only one working head critic (Bauer). That's a lot of balkanization. In 25 years in the bay area, I've subscribed to the Chron and read my local free paper (Express or Guardian), but often subscribed to the NY Times or WSJ (the NY TImes has a large operation in Palo Alto, I think).

                                                                    I would recommend thinking of the bay area more like the 5 boroughs, instead of LA's grand mish-mash.

                                                                    Personally I'm an east bay guy, oakland at heart, with feet in silicon valley. I know exactly one couple/friend who lives in the City and County of SF. Even though I've lived in SF proper for about 6 years, I never made friends there. Sf is a good place to meet for dinner, but the good art is in the east bay, and the good money is in silicon valley.

                                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                                      I don't think you can generalize about the East Bay. The Albany-Berkeley-Oakland portion vies with SF for the widest variety of great food. Outside of that it's the burbs and no food-obsessed person would want to live there.

                                                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                Well some of us are the opposite and prefer going to place with good transit and getting out our neighborhoods. I think the Oakland and the area around have more interesting food than the SF scene now. Then again while I've been to the East Bay weekly at time, I rarely go past Palo Alto.

                                                                I think that they should do a separate list for the East Bay since it's really it's own food community now.

                                                                1. re: tjinsf

                                                                  What are the interesting places in Oakland to eat at (that are more interesting than SF now)?

                                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                                    Off the top of my head, I think Miss Ollie's, Hopscotch, Banh Mi Ba Le, Bocanova, Ramen Shop, Box and Bells, and Fusebox are all doing things that are better or different than you can find in SF. Also Ippuku, Great China, and Comal in Berkeley.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Commis not on the list?

                                                                      I am thinking of making Miss Ollie's my out-of-town lunch when I go visit.

                                                                      Where was that place you hated (loud music) but had incredible rabbit again?

                                                                      Also, from the menu, Hopscotch looks very mundane, but they even made it into the Chron's top 100 list despite people saying East Bay is ignored. What makes them so special?

                                                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                                                        The burger is really excellent at Hopscotch. The other items we tried (there were four of us) were solid. Cocktails were okay. It was all about the burger for me.

                                                                        If you're doing Miss Ollie's for lunch, make it a Tuesday or a Saturday to get the fried chicken. Drool.

                                                                        1. re: grayelf

                                                                          Really too bad leaving town on a Monday =(

                                                                          What made the Hpscotch burger so great?

                                                                          I am not generally a huge fan of restaurant burgers. The only one I have found truly valid is the burger at ARC in Orange County (sort of the TBH of the south).

                                                                          But many people say that it isn't even a burger.

                                                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                                                            It was really well balanced, nicely seasoned, cooked beautifully (though we had two at the table and they both looked cooked through, they were mid rare and juicy), and the tongue adds a little somethin' somethin'.

                                                                            I thought the fried chicken flesh had a weird flavour but my DCs couldn't suss it.

                                                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                Therein lies a tale -- we tried to get reservations way in advance there back in May with a group and there was one cockup after another by staff, with wrong information given out and other problems. Kinda left a bad taste...

                                                                                My current fave burgers in the Bay Area are at Naked Lunch, Hopscotch and Mission Bowling. The first two I've only had once each; the third I have ingested repeatedly during happy hour, sans fries, for a tenner.

                                                                        2. re: BacoMan

                                                                          Commis is great and the chef has his own style but it's generally the same kind of place as Benu, Coi, and Crenn, though cheaper.

                                                                          Boot & Shoe and Pizzaiolo have the same chef and variations on the same menu and neither serves rabbit very often. They're in the same vein as Cotogna, Flour+Water, and Pizzeria Delfina (not to be confused with Delfina).

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            What is Delfina like as opposed to Pizzeria Delfina?