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Quintessential Bay Area in 4 Days

I'll be visiting the Bay Area soon with family and we only have about four days. What are the eats we absolutely MUST try? This includes restaurants, food trucks, take-out, bakeries, desserts, ice cream... any place or dish that you feel is a "can't miss".

**Pertaining to restaurants, about $15 per person is as high as we can go

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  1. What part of the country are you coming from? Do you like Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Burmese, etc.) food?

    A good place to start your research is the "Bargain Bites" section of the SF Chronicle's website. It might not be the ultimate authority, but it will give you some sense of what is available.


    My personal recommendation is to visit a neighborhood corner grocery store that has "It's It" ice cream sandwiches in their freezer. Try one!

    11 Replies
    1. re: DavidT

      I'm from the South, so I'm not really looking for southern cuisine or meat-and-three joints. However, if there's a place that puts a unique spin on southern food, then I would definitely consider it (like Pine State Biscuits in Portland).

      As far as other types of cuisine are concerned, I'm open to literally anything. I'm just looking for the dishes and places that are the best of the best in the Bay Area. (*only caveat being they must be affordable*)

      1. re: El_Duderino

        Fusebox puts a Korean spin on Southern food and vice-versa.

        1. re: El_Duderino

          Fremont Diner (recommended in another post) puts a chef-driven spin on southern cooking, way better than it ever was back in the "good ol' days". It's outside the town of Sonoma.



          1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

            Interesting take. Their grits are VERY good. Written by an old Southerner.

            1. re: c oliver

              I'm from a fairly "southern" part of the mid-west, central Missouri. Fremont Diner is on my list of "must take visitors to".

            2. re: Malcolm Ruthven

              It looks like their dinner menu is primarily BBQ. Do they serve the lunch menu (burger, Nashville chicken, etc.) in addition to dinner on the days they're open later?

              1. re: El_Duderino

                I have no idea because I've never eaten dinner there. Best you call and ask.

                  1. re: El_Duderino

                    I've only been for dinner and their brisket was some of the worst I've had anywhere. Completely dry, no bark, no flavor and served with a piece of white bread that was stale on one side as if they'd laid out the pieces beforehand and plated them later. The fried chicken was good though overcooked and a seasonal peach salad came with completely grainy dried out peaches. The setting is gorgeous with the vineyards in the background and I've never been for brunch but my one dinner experience was not good.

                    1. re: sunnyside

                      Sorry to hear about the bad dinner experience. I've only been during breakfast or lunch hours (many times) and the food has always been very good, even "special".

                      1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                        Well I'm a sucker for eating outside and loved the setting so will probably give them another shot.

            3. Do you know where you will be staying ?

                1. Mission burritos are quintessential San Francisco, well within your price range, and available all over the Mission. i like El Toro, Cancun, and Pancho Villa, but there are lots of good places (and I'm sure someone can jump in with more & better recommendations).

                  I like the El Tonayense taco trucks; also the one at Foslom & Main on weekdays.

                  Highly recommend Mandalay for Burmese food, which should be within your budget if you don't order beer/wine.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: TVHilton

                    For Mission burritos, how do El Faralito and Little Chihuahua stack up?

                    Also, on a different topic, I've heard great things about the Mongolian Cheesesteak at HRD Coffee Shop. Is it overrated, or as good as people say it is?

                    1. re: El_Duderino

                      Forgot about El Farolito. Yeah, they're really good.

                      Don't know Little Chihuaha,

                      1. re: BacoMan

                        Even better:


                        (not a direct link, but I love this headline)

                    1. The SF Bay Area is a very large place. What parts of it will you be visiting?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                        It's actually looking like we're going to have closer to a week-and-a-half in the area. We'll be beginning in the wine country, moving down through the Bay Area (including Oakland), and finishing all the way down in Big Sur.

                        1. re: El_Duderino

                          Big Sur is definitely on the CA board. Not sure where the exact cutoff is.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Southern extent of this board is Santa Clara County; for purposes of this discussion, that means Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties are not included.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Along the coast, Pescadero (San Mateo County) is the last town on the SF Bay Area board, Davenport (Santa Cruz County) and points south are on the California board.

                        2. Wine Country Napa/Sonoma:
                          Addendum (napa) - fried chicken
                          Grocery Stores & Sandwich shops: Sunshine Foods, Oakville Grocery, Wild Sage Delicatessan
                          I would make your own picnic, sandwiches etc. Almost all wine country restaurants will break your budget.


                          Bay Area

                          If you do a search for bakeries and ice cream - you'll get a good list for San Francisco (they are constantly recommended).

                          If Hog Island is back open by then, you can get chowder and oysters there.

                          Pizza would be another good choice. Little Star for deep dish. Zero zero, Pizzeria Delfina etc. for takes on Italian style.

                          If you are in the East Bay, head to Vik's for Indian. In SF, Udupi Palace is OK for South Indian food.

                          Lers Ros is decent Thai.

                          1. Fremont Diner outside of Sonoma

                            Downtown Bakery & Creamery in Healdsburg

                            Della Fattoria in Petaluma

                            El Molino Central in Boyes Hot Springs

                            1 Reply
                            1. If you come through Marin County at breakfast or lunch time, M.H. Bread & Butter in San Anselmo has excellent food in your price range. Both bakery items and menu items are outstanding.


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                Also in Marin County (San Rafael) is Sol Food, a wildly popular place for Puerto Rican food. I'm one of its fans, some other people here not so much. I find the food to be very interesting, tasty, and inexpensive and the atmosphere is fun. On their website, the "big place", at 901 Lincoln Ave, is the one you want. If there's a line, it moves fast. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner; open until midnight.


                              2. In your price range, definitely head to Vik's Chaat House when you're in Oakland (actually Berkeley).

                                1. A few other places in the East Bay (in addition to everyone else's solid recommendations)

                                  Cheeseboard Pizza, Berkeley (check hours and daily special pizza on their website)
                                  Sketch - soft serve ice cream in interesting flavors (plus they have empanadas and cookies, etc.) - Fourth Street, Berkeley
                                  Beauty's Bagel Shop, Temescal, Oakland (Montreal style bagels + more hipsters than you can shake a stick at, but the bagels are excellent - unless you're coming from Montreal or NYC)
                                  Bakesale Betty's, Temescal, Oakland (incredible fried chicken sandwich with spicy slaw; only open lunch)

                                  You could check out an Off the Grid - food truck events in different locations every day. (check their website for schedule)

                                  Again, it would help to know where you're coming from so we know what you can get at home. I would say you should have dim sum here, too - lots of previous recs out there...

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: alixsinger

                                    Arizmendi is a spinoff of the Cheeseboard, same style of pizza.


                                    I don't get Bakesale Betty's. I would not stand in line for that cold and soggy sandwich. Miss Ollie's fried chicken is several orders of magnitude better for fried chicken and it's fried to order.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Strong language as usual, Robert. I would call it neither cold nor soggy. They are made to order, so the bread has never been soggy when I've been there. We can agree to disagree on whether it's a destination or not, but everyone I've taken there from out of town agrees it's unique and delicious. Does Miss Ollie's come in sandwich form? If so, then I will have to try it. I don't eat fried chicken if it's not in a sandwich.

                                      1. re: alixsinger

                                        The chicken was soggy since it wasn't fresh out of the fryer. Obviously the sandwiches appeal to many people since despite the staff making them as fast as they can it's common for people to wait in line half an hour. They're only open 11am-2pm (or until they run out of food, a regular occurrence) Tues.-Sat.

                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I've never had a soggy Betty's sandwich either, even when they were ordered for the whole office and had probably been sitting around longer than normal.

                                        Their chicken sandwich is okay, but if I'm in Oakland and I want a sandwich, I'll probably just go to Ike's.

                                        1. re: dunstable

                                          Ike's makes no sense to me. Why not go to the supermarket and buy the same crap they slap together?

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Because sometimes you need to buy lunch at work. The one near Grand is like a block from my company's main office, so. It does hit the spot, though, not gonna lie. A giant sandwich, a healthy slathering of dirty sauce... good times.

                                      3. re: alixsinger

                                        I would agree that if you're from Montreal, beauty's is most def not a bagel. There is a resto in Montreal called beauty's tho.

                                        1. For inexpensive authentic organic Thai food in the East Bay:

                                          Ran Kanom Thai noodles


                                          1. Forgot to mention this, but the places and bites I had been told about prior to this post were:

                                            - Homeroom's mac & cheese
                                            - Bakesale Betty's fried chicken sandwich
                                            - Mission burritos
                                            - San Tung's dry fried chicken
                                            - HRD Coffee Shop's Mongolian cheesesteak
                                            - Z. Cioccolato's fudge
                                            - Cinnaholic
                                            - Anthony's Cookies
                                            - Bob's Donut & Pastry Shop
                                            - Schulzies Bread Pudding

                                            Any comments on this list? (And, of course, additions are encouraged)

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: El_Duderino

                                              I don't think you need to bother with Bakesale Betty's. It is an okay lunch option for those working in the area; a visitor can skip it.

                                              Homeroom only makes mac'n'cheese; it's a mac'n'cheese restaurant. Depending on your point of view, they are either being very inventive with mac and cheese, or they are selling pretentious versions of hotdish. Probably it depends on how much you like mac 'n' cheese. Anyway, here's the menu. I personally think it is okay, though I rarely go there.


                                              1. re: El_Duderino

                                                Homeroom is just mac & cheese with additives - it is fun too make your own combinations I guess, but there is no culinary genius or innovativeness (you could do it at home just as well).

                                                It's a different list from the ones we usually put together on this board - I haven't heard of most of the others. I would actually encourage you to try them and report back as it would add to the diversity.

                                                One thing I will say is - it's not a particularly innovative/exotic list. The foods listed are mostly comforting and standards you can find across the country.

                                                1. re: El_Duderino

                                                  I like HRD but I don't think the Mongolian cheesesteak is worth going out of your way for. It's basically just a steak and cheese sandwich with hoisin sauce. If you're going to HRD something like the kimchi pork burrito would be a better choice IMHO.