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Jul 2, 2014 04:55 PM

Unique to SF or Cal - Must eats for out-of towners

think the title says it all, looking for things that are either unique to San Fran or California - from burger joint to specialty items, that are the best where you are. Ex: Potato Knish on lower east side in New York, or bialys - that sort of idea. Thanks for the ideas!

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  1. Mission burrito
    Dungeness crab (not in season currently)
    Sourdough bread
    Anchor Steam beer

    7 Replies
    1. re: ML8000

      very sad about the crab
      how about unique fast food/burger type place ( I think of teddys bigger burger in Hawaii with longing often, and paseo sandwich place in seattle))

      1. re: daisylover

        Come back at Christmas for D crab!

        I honestly don't think of SF or NorCal as having particularly unique foods but rather doing wonderful things with them.

        1. re: daisylover

          The Mission burrito is basically SF's version of the slice of pizza: inexpensive, fast, everywhere.

          I'd recommend a place but that will start a 400 response fight because everyone has their choice.

          The old school places often mentioned are: El Faralito, La Taqueria, Cancun.

          1. re: daisylover

            No reason to feel sad about the crab if you are looking for something that is unique to either SF or California. Dungeness crab is neither. Check out the Seattle board for discussions about the best places to have it in Seattle.

            1. re: daisylover

              I would take-out the crispy sea bass roll (wrapped in sweet potato and basil) at Yank Sing (one order has 4 rolls, easily feeds two) and maybe their "donut-style" scallion pancake (4 pieces per order). If you're still hungry, you can also get Peking duck (in steamed bun) by the piece there ($6/piece). If your husband is on a burger quest, he could probably do worse than the wagyu burger at Alexander's (call ahead to reserve one) or he can get an exceptional roast beef sandwich at Salumeria (or if he eats pork, the porchetta sandwich at Porcellino)

            2. re: ML8000

              I hear crabs are being bought up by the Chinese, who send them over live. This has pushed the price of Dungeness to up to $10 per pound in Vancouver.

              1. re: hyperbowler

                I've found Meyer lemons all over the US when in season. Costco of course :)

                1. re: c oliver

                  Commercial Meyer lemons that I see in the markets locally are not from the old varieties that folks have in their backyards around here. Also they tend to be picked underripe and cannot compare to a homegrown one allowed to have a long hang time and picked when it looks like an orange.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I DO know that the ones my nabe gave me lasted way, WAY longer than the store bought ones.

                2. re: hyperbowler

                  Nothing to add to what I posted in that topic.

                  Meyer lemons are in season all year in my yard.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    We have a neighbor (part-timer) at Tahoe who occasionally brings them to me.

                    BTW, for some years now, our SF daughter has had us bring her Truckee sourdough because we all agree there's nothing commercially available that's particularly good.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Acme's Italian loaf is SF-style sourdough.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Acme's actual sourdough is better option amongst current options. Best to get it anywhere other than the ferry Building, where for the some reason buying direct, it lacks sour and airy crumb.

                        The Italian Bread is harder to find. Nice crust but it's missing sourdough characteristics.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Nothing to add to what I posted here:


                      Hyperbowler replaced the link to that topic with a link to an article about Fernet-Branca.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        hmm... I must have hit "edit" rather than "reply" ... thanks for pointing out that accidental deletion, Robert!

                    3. Go to the Tadich Grill or Sam's Grill and order the sand dabs (or a Hangtown Fry).

                      Go to the Tosca Cafe and order a cappucino (comes laced with brandy!).

                      Find a corner grocery store that carries "It's It" ice cream sandwiches. The ones with vanilla ice cream are good, but the ones with coffee/cappucino ice cream are better.

                      Take a tour, which is followed by a tasting, of the Anchor Steam Brewery.

                      And the ultimate SF tourist destination would be an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Tavern.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: DavidT

                        It's It!!! I forgot about those!

                        1. re: DavidT

                          Go to the Ferry Building for the farmer's market! Saturday morning is the best, but there is a Tuesday one and a Thursday one. Even without the Farmer's market there's a lot of solid local producers and shops inside the Ferry Building like Cowgirl Creamery, Blue Bottle, Hog Island etc.

                          1. re: DavidT

                            It's-It was going to be my addition to this thread. Glad someone beat me to it.

                            1. re: DavidT

                              Contemporary It's-Its are a gross factory-made glob of chemicals. Joe's Its are like the old handmade product that made them famous.

                              Irish Coffee is a local specialty, but the recipe was brought here by the late Chronicle columnist Stanton Delaplane, who had it at Shannon Airport.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Yes, they are. I suggest the opening poster spend $1.50 to by one and decide for themselves.

                                  Where Irish Coffee was "invented/discovered" is irrelevant to the discussion. Bialys didn't originate on the Lower East Side of NYC either.

                                  1. re: DavidT

                                    It's-It. Still amazing. Still my favorite. I love the vanilla. Call me a purist!

                              1. re: DavidT

                                Speaking of Anchor, I'd recommend a Junipero (or 209) Martini as a great local experience.

                                1. I know out-of-towners who flock to Inn-N-Out. Why not?

                                  45 Replies
                                  1. re: Martin Strell

                                    In-N-Out started in Southern California and now has branches in four other states.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      But if you don't live in one of those states or CA, it's high on the list of things to try in CA, if only to be "in" on the cultural reference.

                                      1. re: MissEnPlace

                                        In-N-Out's burgers are mediocre. You could make one as good or better at home with ingredients from the supermarket. Their fries are awful.

                                        If I'm starving in some benighted spot with nothing but chain fast food, I'm happy to see an In-N-Out, but for a food-loving tourist it's a waste of a meal.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I agree with your assessment of In-N-Out but will admit that when in DC a few years ago we did have lunch at a Five Guys just cause we'd not had it before. Won't do that again. But then in NYC we ate a Shake Shack for the first time and really liked it.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Five Guys started in DC, Shake Shack started in NYC.

                                            In-N-Out is from LA. Going to one when you're in SF is like going to an LA branch of Boudin.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I was just thinking in terms of (not particularly) fast food places but, yeah, you're correct.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                i'm not sure whether one is eating at the original branch or not should be the deciding factor on whether to eat there or not. I'm happy to eat at Shake Shack in Boston whether or not it originated in NYC (or at Nobu in London or Joel Robuchon in Vegas, even though they are satellites of the original). I would probably rather get a burger at Umami burger than In 'N Out, though.

                                                1. re: barleywino

                                                  I didn't even know that In etc. started in DC. And we didn't seek it out. Just were walking by and thought what the heck. I'd take Umani Burger also.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Don't bother. Umami burger is neither local nor good. Go to Super Duper.

                                                    1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                      I live a couple of blocks from a Super Duper. I would go there a lot more often if it was any good. It's obviously several notches better than McDonald's or In-N-Out, but what's the deal with having their burgers cooked "medium" rather than "to order"? Meh! I'd rather walk two blocks to the Ferry Building and have a real burger from American Eatery.

                                                      1. re: nocharge

                                                        They've been happy to cook mine to a perfect medium-rare on request.

                                                        1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                                          So why don't they mention that on their online menu? Incidentally, American Eatery started out "medium only" and made that clear on their website. That has since been dropped and I have happily order burgers made "to order" since. And then there is the issue of meat quality. AE uses dry-aged meat. SD seems happy enough with mentioning "Niman Ranch" when describing the burger, which doesn't tell you much about the taste of the meat but is a common among less ambitious burger places.

                                                  2. re: barleywino

                                                    If you're visiting a place and are interested in its food, why go to a branch of an out-of-town chain? Maybe it makes sense to eat at Morton's in Chicago, or Bob's in Texas.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      i'm just saying that being a local chain is not (imo) necessarily recommendation enough to eat there, just as being a branch of an out of town chain is not necessarily reason not to eat there. Personally i would rather eat at a branch of a great out of town chain than a mediocre local chain (but that's just me.) For example, if Ding Tai Fung opened up a XLB place in SF, I would probably go there rather than some local place that produced an inferior product.

                                                      1. re: barleywino

                                                        It's DIN not Ding btw. We ate at the one in Bellevue, WA, and they were BY FAR the best XLB we've ever had.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          yes i've been to the one in Monterey park. The one in Bellevue postdated my departure from the Seattle area, unfortunately. I like to call it Ding just because it has more of a ring ;)

                                                            1. re: barleywino

                                                              "Ding" is correct. It's 鼎泰豐 in Chinese, or Dīng Tài Fēng in PinYin.

                                                              1. re: soupçon

                                                                The restaurant's name is Din Tai Fung:


                                                                Ding Tai Fung appears to be a knock off in Ontario CA. Scroll down to Victor's post:


                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  What's in a name? The restaurant's name is 鼎泰豐. You can consult any Chinese-English Dictionary, or ask anyone who knows Chinese for the correct pronunciation or official transliteration of the first character.

                                                                  DTF apparently got stuck with a clumsy transliteration at the outset, and has stayed with it.

                                                                  I also noted that "Victor" began his post "Ding Tai Fung is a very famous chain of restaurants originating in...."

                                                                  1. re: soupçon

                                                                    Well, we ARE talking about the restaurant that here in the US is spelled DIN and if searching for it, that's how you'll find it.

                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Yeah, if someone asked me "What's good in SF?", In-N-Out would be one of the last things to come to mind. Just one of many formula chains that are one notch above McDonald's but light-years from real burgers. But, hey, what is stopping anyone from being "in" on cultural references to mediocre burger chains if all it takes is a trip to SF?

                                                1. re: nocharge

                                                  las vegas Ch'ers liked it so we checked it out - kinda gross

                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I don't contend that they're the best burgers out there, but everyone wants to try one and should.

                                                  1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                    To many people a freshly made burger for cheap is a minor revelation, chain or not. Not the best but in the $2-3 buck, non-frozen patty range it might be.

                                                    One thing people should realize however - InO is *not* fast food. Not with a 15-20 wait most of the time.

                                                    1. re: ML8000

                                                      Same at Five Guys. Are the burgers really that cheap?

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        The burgers are that cheap. $2 for a single burger, $3.30 for a double cheese. $5.xx for the single combo (burger, fries and drink). It's not that the burger is great but that it's decent with fresh beef and cheap.

                                                        1. re: ML8000

                                                          Exactly, and also a cultural phenomenon. Just because of the amount of times you hear about In-n-Out in popular culture, you have to take the chance to try it.

                                                          On the level, how many of us would refuse free In-n-Out?

                                                          1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                            I would pay not to eat In-N-Out's horrible fries.

                                                            Lowering the burger's price to $0 would not make me any more interested in wasting calories on one.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Ordering the fries "animal style" helps.

                                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                                So does avoiding the Wharf location.

                                                                I used to scoff at the whole In and Out phenomenon, but a visit during a trip down south almost changed my tune. Sending a tourist to one still baffles me, and I don't get those people who say it's the one thing they miss from living in California, or who have friends pack cold burgers in their suitcase for a taste of home.

                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                  I have a friend who's a fab cook and very adventuresome eater. He likes them a good bit. But, as you say, I wouldn't send a CH visitor there.

                                                            2. re: MissEnPlace

                                                              I'd refuse if I had to wait in line but if I never had one, sure why not? Regardless, since it's cheap, I'd just satisfy your curiosity. If you're worried of wasting a meal, just do it as a snack. Split a $2 buck single.

                                                              p.s. the fries are bad (made from fresh spuds)...but you can order them "extra crispy". The only problem is extra crispy means extra wait since it will be made to order.

                                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                                Overcooking the fries just makes them bad in a slightly different way.

                                              3. re: Martin Strell

                                                been there it was ok but teddys in Hawaii way better

                                                1. re: Martin Strell

                                                  L.A. hound here. I live within ten minutes of three In-N-Outs - I might go once a year if that. It was great when they first came into the general area, but the novelty is long gone. The burgers are a very good deal. The standard fries are limp and anemic. The menu is simple - too simple for my tastes. When I'm up around the Bay Area, give me Gott's Roadside (Taylor's Automatic Refresher) any day. If In-N-Out had half the heart as Gott's, I'd be there weekly. The big plus is wine and beer - incredibly good wine and beer for a burger joint. This place exemplifies what NorCal views as how In-N-Out would be if they were born up here.

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                                      I love Gott's burgers, but I think it's a little unfair to compare them to In-n-Out since they're in a very different price bracket.

                                                      1. re: TVHilton

                                                        Absolutely agreed. You can't compare a $5 burger to a $10 burger or a $10 burger to a $20 burger.

                                                        1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                          Sure you can. In-N-Out and Gott's are similar by my standards. Gott's basic burger is maybe twice the size, so double the amount of food I'd rather not eat.

                                                          Price is only relevant to me when comparing two burgers that I'd find worth eating regardless of cost.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            I still disagree. They are different burgers made for different audiences.

                                                            1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                              Gott's and In-N-Out are very similar from my perspective. Indifferently griddled, generic bun, boring.

                                                                1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                                  Mua, Namu Gaji, Zuni.

                                                                  Mission Bowling Club's is also great in its eccentric way.

                                                        2. re: TVHilton

                                                          Aren't they pretty similar style? Gott's is larger, but they're targeting the same burger preferences.

                                                          When restaurants serve a grass fed, heirloom tomato version of a Bill's, Joe's, sort of thing, it's still the same style. Price and fancied up ingredients don't change that.