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Apr 21, 2014 04:43 PM

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:

    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.


                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:


                  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.