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Places to eat, second week of May?

Hi, I'm swinging down from Vancouver on the second week of May to visit. I already made a couple of resos to big ticket places, now looking for the wide gamut of places from cheap to mid-scale that offers something different. Prefer to not go somewhere overly suburban, if I need to travel outside downtown it'd be good to be able to walk around and see things nearby.

I'm casting a fairly wide net, but to be more specific I'm going alone, so places that do large platters will be awkward and I'm happy to try and cuisine type.

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  1. Where do you already have reservations? Why did you pick those places?

    12 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      I made reservations at Benu and Manresa, one because I wanted to try a meal with strong east-asian influences from a French-laundryish context and the other because it feels like a very good example of the more modern Californian fine dining movement that is known internationally.

      Incidentally, to offset the costs of these meals I'm staying at a hostel, go figure

      1. re: Blueicus

        Maybe Bar Tartine, Namu Gaji, AQ, TBD

        1. re: Blueicus

          Coming from Vancouver, you probably don't need to check out local izakaya or dimsum. You might enjoy State Bird Provisions though (mid range) if you're willing to get in line 1-1.5 hr before they open. Or the porchetta at Porcellino. I did not have a good experience at AQ recently (overcooked meat and fish) but ymmv.

          1. re: barleywino

            I rarely have the patience to endure long line-ups unless i have no other option, thankfully i am not a brunch person. The porchetta is a good idea, places i can just wander around and snack is good too, with bakeries or small counter-type places.

            How about a light lunch at los gatos? Is this the right board?

            1. re: Blueicus

              You mean a light lunch before dinner at Manresa? Los Gatos itself has a severe case of upscale demographic syndrome.

              If you're heading to Los Gatos from SF, maybe stop at Little Yangon for lunch. Best Burmese in the area. Other notable cuisines more or less along the way include ramen, various regional Indian and Chinese, Korean, falafel, pastrami, and Mexican.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Yeah, that's the plan... unless it's not worth being there for much of the day.

                1. re: Blueicus

                  Los Gatos is a small, wealthy town. Nice but not much of a destination.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    This is an understatement.

                    If you have a car, you can go for a hike in the santa cruz mountains - perhaps take in Ridge winery (exceptional and interesting wine, a nice tasting room, tables overlooking the south bay) and hike the trail that goes to their particular mountaintop - or you can drive to santa cruz proper. You're better off going to the campus of the Junior University, where there is the cantor art museum, or downtown san jose which is also dubious but has a few things going on. There are various computer history museums (the big one being in MV near google & the freeway). In each of these places there are a variety of light lunch options - from San Jose's san pedro square, to the JJ Cool Cafe at Cantor Art Museum, to the mountain view "Train town" restaurants which should have a public transit shuttle to the computer history museum. If you can swing an invite for lunch at the famous google cafeterias, that's always fun (search linkedin for long lost friends). Saratoga has an interesting Wine tasting room that usually has 6 or 8 of the small local wineries that don't have tasting rooms. Santa cruz is on a different board.

                    You will exhaust the charms of Los Gatos proper in about 15 seconds, as (by my untrained eye) even the one-off boutique clothing stores seem pushed out by chains these days, although that one hot chocolate place there is worth a detour - ie, GF and I have occasionally made it the anchor of a 40 mile bicycle ride.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Haha the "Junior" university. You must have gone to CAL. When we moved to Menlo Park, we had no idea the depth of the rivalry that exists between the red and the blue. Now we are back in Gaucho country (SB) and everyone is very mellow...munching on their #16 Superica especial (had to make this about food).

                  2. re: Blueicus

                    Blueicus, I strongly second Robert's recco for Little Yangon if you can swing it. The portions aren't overwhelmingly large for a single diner. Get the dried shrimp "salad" if they have it. Jealous that you're going to Manresa :-) and totally hear ya on the lineup averseness. Despite 14 eating trips to the Bay area in the last half dozen years, there are well known places I still haven't checked out because I can't stand to line up.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      In terms of total time spent, its about the same. The dim sum style of service at SBP means that while you wait a long time to get in, once you get in, your meal goes by very quickly, while at a tasting venue you might have to wait 10-15 minutes between finishing one course and receiving the next. So you still end up with a lot of wait time if you're doing 10 courses or more, which can be just as tedious and exhausting as waiting in line.

            2. re: Blueicus

              I have to say I like your style - cheap lodgings and money on the important stuff -food!
              The good part is that there are lots of good cheap places for some of the other meals you'll have. Since I mostly know the Peninsula I'll leave recs to those who know the city better.
              Probably too late but unless you can eat a lot I might have said lunch before Manresa might be too much.
              I haven't been to spqr but if you're looking at something as high end as Jardiniere I would suggest considering La Folie - even tho the regular restaurant doesn't do a la carte their prix fix is an amazing bargain and they do a la carte in the bar next door.

          2. If you are in the area on Thursdays, the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has prepared food stalls outside from 10-2:00. There are places to eat inside the F Bldg as well, some less expensive than others. I like the sandwiches at Acme as a bargain option. Hayes Valley is an area in which you might enjoy wandering around and can find some good options for sitting at the bar, like Bar Jules (open for lunch or dinner), as well as some other casual places like Biergarten.

            1. Now that I'm actually in SF I can actually have a better idea of what I'm looking for...

              Im staying downtown near the powell bart station and I have to say that I was quite pleased with my meal at benu. I had a few small quibbles regarding the balance of flavours but everything was well executed and as a person who grew up eating chinese cuisine I didn't feel cheated in the slightest. As for tomorrow I think I'll grab a few small bites in the mission then hoof it to los gatos. Going to napa on friday and my slate is blank on the weekend. I've read a few taco threads but I'm confused, is the mission district the place for tacos and other mexican food or should I go elsewhere?

              6 Replies
              1. re: Blueicus

                No, the Mission is a good spot for tacos in SF. That's a very lively area as well, so it might be fun to walk around.

                1. re: Blueicus

                  Mission is still the best for the Mexican street taco (e.g. meat, onion, cilantro on a soft tortilla w/ salsa). Examples include El Farolito, La Taqueria, Tacquria Cancun etc. If you have the room/time for multiple meals, try one of the super/especial burritos too. Many places you can order them "wet."

                  There's a lot of fancy/doctored tacos that are now available all over the city e.g. Mamacitas, Tacolicious, Nick's Crispy tacos etc.

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    Wet burritos are not the classic Mission style.

                    My favorite taco is the al pastor at Taqueria San Jose, though if I were there I'd be likely to go across the street to La Santaneca for pupusas instead.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Perhaps not classic style, but really tasty.

                      My default order is Al Pastor, which most mission taquerias have. It's a by-way-of-mexico-city lebanese meat dish, fascinating history, and I would argue the SF version is better than the mexico city original. Still, with tacos you can "spread the wealth" and try 3 or 4 meats - that's what makes tacos better than burritos for the tourist.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Some places claim to have al pastor but don't have shawarma-style spits and just cook them on a griddle, which is really more like fajitas.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          If they don't have a spit with a chunk of pineapple at the top, I get carnitas. I also look to see how "crusty" the spit is, crustier is better taste, although you might get shavings from a few hours ago, you're likely to get fresh-shaved.

                2. Sorry, one more question. How are the likes ofmore a la carte dining places such as jardiniere or spqr? What would you guys lean towards in that price range? I had one less day on my trip than I thought so I will definitely fit in the tacos and little yangon. Is lunch at little yangon the same as dinner? Which dishes are more uniquely burmese? I'll keep an eye out for that dried shrimp salas

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Blueicus

                    Except for AQ, the places I recommended above are all a la carte.

                    Little Yangon has the same menu at lunch and dinner, and it's not padded with Chinese or Indian dishes the way some other Burmese places' are.


                    1. re: Blueicus

                      Skip jardiniere, do spqr. Spqr also does a tasting by request if you prefer.

                      1. re: Blueicus

                        SPQR has a counter if you can't book a reservation. People line up before the 5:30 opening for those seats. Here's what it looked like a month ago on a Saturday at 5:15p.

                        (Disclaimer: I'm friends with the owners.)

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          which dish is that in the picture?

                          1. re: barleywino

                            That was an appetizer, uni panna cotta topped with chunks of seared tuna belly, finer dice of tuna tartar, fava beans, and I can't recall the finishing chile pepper or the aromatic herb. It was the dish of the night for me.

                        2. re: Blueicus

                          Not an expert on Burmese but I'd say try one of the samusa dishes, the tea leaf salad and the pickled shrimp, something with pickled mango (item 37 pork curry with pickled mango will get you a taste of Burmese style curry, pickled mango and sour leaf, which is unique I think). Moh hinga is more or less the Burmese national dish, if you feel like a soup. Save room for item 80. Moh Se Kyaw, one of the more interesting desserts I've ever tasted. None of the portions are gigantic here but bring a friend if you can.

                          1. re: grayelf

                            Damn, it all sounds good, too bad I'm traveling alone. Impromptu SF chowmeet on saturday?

                            1. re: Blueicus

                              I hope someone takes you up on your offer as alas I am in Vancouver (though the SO will be in town, he is playing framer for the BIL, doing renos on his new house). The food is so reasonably priced, I'd say overorder and sample what you can. I know, a bit wasteful but we really have no Burmese in Vancouver beyond Bo Laksa King, which has just a few dishes.

                              On SPQR, we loved the apps and the mains were markedly less successful, with one near fail (there were four of us dining that evening). So that might be the way to go as a single diner.