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Last minute advice for a Boston Chowhound visiting for 4 days

Hi Bay Area Chowhounders,

I'm on kind of a spontaneous trip from Boston. Looking to pack in as much good chow as I can in our short trip.

Specifically, we're pretty poor students. We can maybe splurge one night. I have a list of some carts in San Fran but would love any advice for public transportation accessible cheap eats. We're staying in Chinatown.

We're also planning to rent a car out to Napa and Yosemite for a couple days. While I dream of going to TFL, that's not going to happen until I am very much employed. I don't really know any food in the Napa area other than 3 Michelin star dream restaurants. What else is in the area that we can splurge but still pay our student loans next semester?

Thanks so much!

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  1. Any specific cuisines you're interested in?

    This is a pretty comprehensive discussion of cheap eats in SF:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/804193

    Napa Valley is overpriced and very touristy, Sonoma wine country is nicer and more affordable.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I also wonder about or question the plan for Yosemite. Not exactly in the SFBA. Oh, and a note to OP, Yosemite would be on the CA board.

    2. Sorry about the Napa/San Fran board confusion! I'm posting from my cell phone and saw a Napa post here.

      Thanks for the the archive of cheap eats. It's hard to search well on the mobile app.

      As for food, I'll definitely eat anything. My travel buddy likes food but won't travel too far out of the way of "tourist" areas for good food. I'll go as far as I can huhconvince her. Napa was her idea but I just want to taste some good wine but I'll search over in the CA board.

      If you had 48 hours in San Fran, what would you eat as

      1 Reply
      1. re: sox_foodie

        Napa and Sonoma are on this board as those counties have SF Bay shoreline. It's just Yosemite that's on the CA board.

      2. I've actually never tried to post from our mobile site. It's not awesome.

        Anyway, where would you go if you only had 48 hours?
        Will keep searching the boards as much as possible. Thanks for the advice!

        16 Replies
        1. re: sox_foodie

          Napa (and Sonoma) is in the Bay Area and covered by this Chowhound board.

          Yosemite is not. It's a 4+ hour drive from SF and you wouldn't be doing it justice if you only had 4 days in California. Ideally any plan for Yosemite should plan for at least 2 full days there, which is fully half of your trip.

          1. re: bigwheel042

            I meant 4 days in San Francisco. We plan to stay in Yosemite for two nights. Not enough, but as I mentioned this is an incredibly spontaneous trip that we're sort of planning as we go.

            I'm not super worried about food in Yosemite as we'll "dine on the scenery." We'll picnic for most meals, but I would certainly love advice for Sonoma/Napa valley area.

            1. re: sox_foodie

              If you search here for Sonoma you'll get good ideas. It's small enough that the 'winners' seem to get mentioned regularly.

              1. re: sox_foodie

                What you'd do with 4 days in SF depends a lot on your context, desires, budget. Generally, one might recommend a really high end tasting menu (Saison, Crenn, Commonwealth, Commis - a variety of price ranges), an interesting chinese or korean place, two of our mid-range farm-to-table californian places - maybe one cal-ital (or even northern ital-ital) and one pure californian (cf Maverick). If you have the budget / stamina / stomach, you can consider doing two or three different places for dinner (apps at each place). You also need to fit in oysters and a picknick (4501 meats, cowgirl cheese, acme bread). Whether you'd prioritize alcohol (either mixed drinks and/or wine) would change the recommendation set.

                I usually fit in lunch around the activities of the day, and let the activities drive the area, then pick the best cheap or mid-range taste I can find in that particular part of town. Like, near golden gate park, people often recommend Outerlands, I might suggest Social Kitchen, but that's an example of the thought process. After GG park, if you like drinks, you'd probably head to Aub Zam Zam but maybe you'd go back to your hotel for a nap before heading out for dinner, and find a good drink spot before your dinner.

                If you really like beer, the only place I'd send you (with some idea of what's happening in boston) is the Speakeasy Brewery, if you're around when it's open. Otherwise, just keep an eye out, some places are known for their tap selection and/or freshness.

                When I travel for three days (I do lots of long weekends these days), I'll set aside one night as Eating Night where eating is all, one where it's Music night (and we'll find the best mid-range near good music). Then there's Arriving Night (casual late-night place with the best possible food).

                The context of "things I can't get back home" gets narrower every year, as chefs & techniques spread out. Here are some general discussions.

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/434194
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/931318
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/706799
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/966315
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/917694

                I also recommend Eater as an online source to orient you, you can figure out better your personal overlap. Our local reviewer, Bauer, puts out a top 100 but it's not very reliable.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  I think your tips are overall a little spendy for students on a tight budget.

                  Discussion of where visitors from the East Coast should drink beer:

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/900648

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yeah, "cheap" is relative and "student" is not what I was thinking. With a lot of SF places, you can get the burger and a beer and eat well _fairly_ cheaply but not _very_ cheaply. _very_ cheaply requires grabbing bao in chinatown, and tacos in the mission, and very little drinking.

                    I do recommend Speakeasy Taproom - it's cheap, and in my visit I got there on public transit. Looks like they are open Fri, Sat, Sun now.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      There are a lot of places in SF that cost more than a bao or taco but are still pretty cheap.

                      One trick for a budget is to go to bars without kitchens where you can bring in takeout, e.g. grab some pupusas at Zocalo and eat them at Virgil's.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        The Taproom at Speakeasy is open every day but Monday.

              2. re: sox_foodie

                What is your budget? Try Good Mong Kok bakery (get some bao for your road trip) or Muracci's (think Cafe Mami in Boston). Lunch specials at R&G lounge (think Hong kong eatery in Boston, but much better) or Z&Y (think New Shanghai in Boston)

                1. re: barleywino

                  Our budget is a little flexible since I want to get the most out of our trip.

                  We'll definitely try to have as many <$10 lunches as possible but I'd like to splurge on at least one dining experience. That's not to say that we're living off $3 tacos (as lovely as that might be). I mean we need to alternate cheap eats and splurges. For us that might be a lunch as a nice place, maybe in the Napa/Somoma area.

                  Good happy hour deals would be amazing since we don't have those in Boston.

                  1. re: sox_foodie

                    Grace's Table in the city of Napa gets recommended on this board often for its happy hour. I would suggest that you splurge in SF rather than in Napa or Sonoma. What kind of food do you want for that option?

                    1. re: sox_foodie

                      I strongly recommend spending NO time in the city of Napa. The city and developers have spent a lot of money trying to attract tourists on their way to Napa Valley, where the wineries and scenery are, but there's no intrinsic reason to spend time there.

                      Grace's Table's happy hour is a good deal, but if you're on a budget and end up there that time of day you're not making the most of your time.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        While I would not recommend the city of Napa as a destination, it can be pretty convenient on your way back out of the valley, especially around happy hour. That's often when I am making my way back and I want to eat something before driving much further.

                    2. re: barleywino

                      We'll definitely grab some bao!

                      My goal is to eat as many meals that are simply things we can't get back home.

                      Mexican obviously is stronger here and we'll want to splurge on some sushi I think. Plus anything that might be touristy but has a great view maybe just for a drink but even better if they have great/decent food.

                      I know I begrudgingly send tourists to Union Oyster House for chowder but would never let anyone eat at Cheers. Drink at Top of the Hub but don't eat there.

                      I'd love to hear of your San Francisco version of places we should go if we want to experience "San Francisco".

                      1. re: sox_foodie

                        I can't think of any sushi places around here that compare with say O-Ya in Boston. If you like Cafe Sushi in Cambridge (Sushi Ran alum), you could try Saru sushi here. I would suggest Maruya but it's a bit overpriced (and less selection than Saru). I also see a lot more high-end wagyu beef around here (cheapest Japanese A5+ is probably at Roka Akor) but that would probably break your budget. Dungeness crab is also a local specialty but again not cheap (try Woodhouse seafood). Haven't found a a place around here that matches Island Creek Oyster bar in Boston. You might enjoy Coqueta for a drink/tapas and they do have grilled iberico bellota which I don't recall seeing in Boston.

                        1. re: barleywino

                          Nama (unpasterized) sake is also much more available around here than in Boston, where one hardly sees it in restaurants and never in stores. Pick up a bottle at True Sake and bring it on your picnic (keep it cold though to avoid spoilage.)

                    1. Addendum in Yountville (Napa Valley) for fried chicken. Redd Wood is also not too too expensive. Otherwise I'd just go to Sunshine Foods, Oakville Grocery etc. and make sandwiches get some salami and cheese and such.

                      1. This request was for eats near Telegraph Hill, which is walking distance from Chinatown. But most of the recs turned out to be even closer to Chinatown where you're staying so should be helpful.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9173...

                        I especially second Naked Lunch.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7028... Or the Sunday Lao/Mien pop-up, Chao Mien.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9602...

                        Comstock Saloon has free lunch on Fridays with purchase of two drinks. It's known for craft cocktails, which are not inexpensive, but you might enjoy the experience.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9024...

                        My favorite dry style beef chow fun is at Yuet Lee on the corner of Stockton St and Broadway. It's open late too. I was there last week and almost had a meltdown when they told me the fresh rice noodles were sold out. Anyway, I had a half-order of salt and pepper squid (one of the signature dishes here) and the combo soup noodles. More info,
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6458...
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8275...

                        Check out the salt & pepper chicken wings at Capital Restaurant in Chinatown.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3611...
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3045...
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8521...

                        Three dishes for $16.99 at Yee's on Grant Ave., a fresh update this month.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3942...

                        Then Chinatown has some very inexpensive delis with hanging ducks and steam tables, as well as take-out dim sum places. You can wander along Stockton Street and buy whatever looks good to you. I suggest the roast duck at New Moon, poached yellow feather chicken at Hing Lung, and roast pig with crispy skin at New Moon or Duk Hing.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9180...

                        Boston Strong, have a great time.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          plus one to anything I've eaten at Yuet Lee!

                        2. Tax and tip included, how much are you willing to spend on your splurge dinner?

                          1. Here are some "currente calamo" thoughts while waiting for traffic to die down ...

                            The cheapest food-centric options are clearly "one item meals" ... sando, pizza, burrito, burger, shawerma; prepared foods ... delis, ethnic markets, tactical options from fancier places.

                            With more people, there are some fantastic bargains ethnic food-wise, but this his a harder problem with two people.

                            I think some good options are in the ULTRA CHEAP (<$10) category are SAIGON SANDO, MISSION BURRITO/TACO, INO BURGER, 24th STREET PIZZA SHOP, CHEESEBOARD.

                            (I do not include places like ROTTEN CITY or SOUTH BAY stuff, or other stuff in weird locations in the city, like MARIPOSA CAFE, DARK HORSE, BROKEN RECORD, CHINESE PANCAKE ... all of which would be a waste of vacation travel time ... I "heartily" endorse going to Ymte over just eating ... Ymte is a world class thing, while a MISSION BOWL BURGER is just a good burger).

                            So any money you save by eating at those places, buys you some extra money for more splurgy stuff.

                            There are a lot of good sandwich offerings in the $10 range ... PAL SANDO, WISE SON, GREGOIRE ... you can probably do some more research here. [I am no longer recommending LOCAL BUTCHER and KITCHENETTE is still closed?]

                            For prepared foods, you can try the very cheap to-go deem sum places ... some are better than others, but there are a few near your base in Chinatown. There are some decent options at some Italian delis ... but maybe those are covered adequately back home. In Berkeley a place like LA BEDAINE is a bit of a splurge, but if you buy just a couple of desserts, you can easily split those and try several things for <$15.

                            I know Boston people are heavily involved with ICE CREAM. You might try some of the boutique ice cream places. Also cheapish for two. There are two options here ... exotic modern flavors, e.g. SECRET BREAKFAST, and EXOTIC FRUIT options [MITCHELLS].

                            If you go up to Napa or Yosemite, I would stop in Berkeley and do CHEESEBOARD, a crown jewel of the East Bay. Get the $2.75/slice pizza and go to the cheese store and get some cheeses for your trip ... a major asset at the store is you can buy fancy cheeses in small quantities ... you could probably get 4-5 cheeses in $3-$5 size portions [and taste those that you buy plus 2-3 more]. Obviously you can pick up some bread-type items ... ARIZMENDI in the mission is a reasonable alternative to the Pizza/Bakery but no Cheese sales. You can hit LA BEDAINE on your way to the freeway. If you like beer you can go to LEDGER on the way inbound. The have some good belgians for ~$10/large bottle ... although extended refrigeration may be an issue given your parameters. CRIXA also good but different direction in Berkeley.

                            More good deal on prepared foods: TARTINE BAKERY ... maybe 1-2 items from CRAFTSMAN/WOLVES.

                            If you are near GGPARK, YUMMY-YUMMY is a good deal. #29/#30 are around $10.

                            TONY PIZZA SLICE not too far from Chinatown is quite good. I havent been to NAKED LUNCH but that may be interesting. If you want to go somewhere that's a bit of a splurge but not over the top, maybe BARBACO.

                            BULKOWS recommendations are ... humorous (isnt OUTERLANDS still closed? Or did they re-open earlier than expected?)

                            p.s. re: Yosemite ... there are decent side-of-the-road burger places in GROVELAND, if you want to spend more time than fast food/INO in TRACY. It looks like TIOGA PASS RD is closed [?] so it looks like TOULUMNE MEADOWS not an option. GLACIER PT I believe is open, so that's worth a drive/hike for the classic view of HALF DOME (per A. ADAMS). There is an Afghan spot in Tracy I believe, if you are really really interested in this option.

                            p.p.s. Dont leave food/food packaging in your car in Yosemite ...

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: psb

                              Great post. And to explain to OP, if you leave food etc in your car a bear may decide to explore :( As we say "A fed bear is a dead bear."

                              1. re: psb

                                I like a lot of these suggestions. Good round up, psb!

                                I'd say definitely visit some bakeries: Acme in the Ferry Building, Arizmendi (in Mission or Sunset), B Patisserie, 20th Century Cafe, Tartine. All of these are pretty unlike anything you find in Boston.

                                Vietnamese is also good here compared to Boston, especially in the Tenderloin. But I also like Yummy Yummy, suggested by psb.

                                I would also get some Burmese, since Boston only has one Burmese place (I actually really like it) but here there are many options.

                                Also, tacos and/or burritos: Taqueria San Jose, Taqueria Vallarta, Papalote, Cancun, etc.

                                For Mexican sit-down (still not at all fancy), I like La Torta Gorda on 24th St. for brunch or lunch.

                                For Chinese, I've been taking a lot of guests to House of Pancakes, which is a bit of a trek, but different from anything I know of in Boston.

                                We have great burgers and pizza here, but I think you have those in Boston as well, so I personally wouldn't focus on that. But if you are craving that, so be it.

                                Have fun!

                                1. re: psb

                                  Oh, I forgot to add LIGURIA BAKERY FOCACCIA (short hours, go early ... you're ostensibly young enough not to worry about carbs). Another moderately priced sitdown option not to far from your base is OSTERIA DEL FORNO (have not been in a while).There is also that ARGENTINE TRUCK near Fisherman's wharf ... I dont remember how much that cost. Cheap enough to experiment.

                                  Speaking of Bao, I still havent been to BAONECCI, but might be an option.

                                  BTW, I thought the KUMQUAT FLAN at COMAL was fantastic. In fact I was quite impressed with COMAL overall. Or was it LOQUAT. It as the most PANNA COTTA-like flan I have had.

                                  There are some crazy cheap items on the D&A CAFE HAPPY HOUR MENU, but I only go to the one on CLEMENT ... isnt there one in Chinatown? I once texted a friend "I think I made a mistake ... I bought $11 of food from D&A" and she responded with "You are going to die."

                                  1. re: psb

                                    Just to be clear, Bao'Necci is Roman-style pizza, not bao. Not cheap as pizza goes but exceptionally good.

                                2. One thing that I would do in the Bay Area is to hit a farmer's market. The produce here is wonderful year round. You can usually find an inexpensive but tasty lunch, as well as stock up on picnic items.

                                  For my foodie friends and relatives that visit from the East Coast, they always rave about our local farmer's markets.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: freesnack

                                    Thanks so much for the great recommendations! We're back on the road and just got4G back.

                                    We had an absolutely lovely time in Yosemite. No bears and no bears in our car fortunately.

                                    You were absolutely right that Napa was a terrible idea.We found the two least expensive tastings ($5 and $10 ppl respectively and on totally different sides of the valley) and high tailed it over to Yosemite. We ended up saving money the last few days by stopping by a grocery store right after we picked up our rental car. I've been living on peanut butter and hummus for a few days now. Albeit really quite delicious hummus. Ready to explore the delicious options in San Francisco!

                                    We're thinking of exploring a Farmers market for some picnicking over in the Golden Gate Park area. Dinner tonight is still up for discussion. Will look further when I'm no longer reading this post from my phone in the car!

                                    Thanks so much!

                                    1. re: sox_foodie

                                      In SF it's cloudy, windy, predicted high in the low 60s, and there's a slight chance of rain, so maybe not a great day for picnicking in GG Park.

                                  2. In a town where a splurge could equal a down payment on a small house in other places my favorite 'splurge' that I can actually afford is The Palace, at Mission and Cesar Chavez. Just a short block from 24th street BART and a block off the start of the hipster Valencia Corridor that you will enjoy immensely is a fun and funky but also really wonderful husband wife team stealth eatery.

                                    Prix Fixe menu for around $50 per person.

                                    Lovely interesting preparations, beautifully plated with interesting and surprising pairings. Modest Flights to go with, if you choose, or by the glass wine.

                                    Recent offerings were goat three ways, kobe beef thingy, quail three ways,

                                    The chef has a very nice way with his sauces. The demi on the kobe was wonderful.

                                    You won't regret it.

                                    Ignore the confused reviews. There used to be a down at heel steak house, The Palace Family Steak House, there for decades and the reviews from that are mixed in with the new venture in the space.

                                    We dined at Chez TJ's one night and The Palace the next and The Palace compared very favorably!!