Foodie Vacation, Coming Up - Got Suggestions for Chicago and/or SF?!

Sarah and I are going to Chicago and San Francisco in the coming weeks for what we hope will be an amazing foodie vacation!  We've been gathering suggestions about places to go, and I thought I'd share what we've been told so far, and see if people had thoughts about our current list or wanted to add new ideas.  Maybe you'll find this list useful on your own trip in the future.  So here's what we've got, what do you think?

San Francisco/Bay Area - We planned to go a bit more all out in SF, since we're likely not to be back for quite some time.  We have developed our own hierarchy based on what we've heard and researched on the places below, but would love your thoughts...
  • Chez Panisse - the one reservation we have, and probably the most expensive meal we'll eat - a pilgrimage of sorts you could say
  • Frances - new place, lots of acclaim
  • Boulettes Larder - gem everyone should visit, $15-20 brunch, but so worth it
  • 18 Reasons - food-related space, look at their calendar, that corridor is cool (18th St. between Guerrero and Delores), they also host dinners/tastings
  • Tartine - generally regarded as best bakery in the city
  • Pizzeria Delfina - good pizza for cheap
  • Flower+Water - Italian place nominated for James Beard award
  • A16 - another "Italian"/California cuisine that is really good
  • Aziza - Moroccan place worth checking out, great chef, about to have a show on TBS
  • Dosa - Cali Indian place in the Mission, affordable
  • Zuni Cafe - get roasted chicken if you go, but lots of others do what they do pretty well, known for being solid and consistent for a long time (I asked about this one)
  • Tataki - sustainable sushi (there are lots of small sushi places around too)
  • Slanted Door - Vietnamese, Out the Door is downtown in mall food court, good for cheap
  • Namu - up and coming, 3 brothers, Korean influence, off the beaten path, not expensive, big flavors
  • Ferry Building Marketplace - farmer's market is big on Saturdays, on Thursdays they have food stands set up
  • see if Underground Market is happening while we're in town, very trendy, not sure if its worth the hype
  • ForageSF.com - Foraging is really hip right now - go to foragesf.wordpress.com and see if they're having a dinner while in town
  • street food - use Twitter for this, check out Outside In event, good to find a place where a lot of them are, Off the Grid: A Roaming Mobile Food Service
  • Tacubaya is THE taqueria to go to
  • Dynamo Donuts in Mission
  • Camino in Oakland is supposed to be have a great brunch
  • Bar Jules is supposed to have a great brunch too
  • 4505 Meats - Ryan Farr, has stand at Ferry on Thursdays, most butcher events are one time
  • Avedano's in Bernal Heights - small butcher (Dave Budwith?)
  • Hapa Ramen - pop up restaurant, server in bars, follow on Twitter
  • look at Tablehopper (weekly listing)
Chicago - I should say from the top that I have been following a bunch of Chicago blogs, and one of the Time Out Chicago food folks was kind enough to send us this link to this package they put together, but in general we're going to play this more by ear (and spend less money).  That said, we did specifically hear about:

  • Alinea - we have been on the waiting list forever.  We're hopeful we get a spot this weekend.  It is thought by many to be the best restaurant in the US right now.
  • Table Fifty-Two

Do you have a favorite place - from street food or dive to fancy pants or decadent?!  Any and all thoughts are appreciated.  We're very, very excited!

Oh, and yes, we plan to blog it to share in the joy.  :)


intuitive eggplant said...

That’s quite a list for SF, and a ways to travel to Napa. How long is your trip?

In Chicago, I highly recommend Hot Doug’s: “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium.” They have an astounding and ever-changing array of dogs on the menu, many of them made from game. Check out the daily specials on their site to get an idea of their range. The condiments and accompaniments are as amazing as the sausages themselves. The one time I went, I had the foie dog, topped with foie mousse, and a moustarda that haunts me to this day. But if I’d had the stomach space, I would happily have tried a dozen of their combinations. Plus, they have duck fat fries (I believe those are available only on the weekend).

If you’re flying into O’Hare, Hot Doug’s is not far from the airport. And their prices will be a boon to the budget compared to your dinner at Alinea. On the other hand, be forewarned that they occasionally close for the heck of it on quirky days (but update that info on their website), and you should expect a lengthy line. It’s a fun, casual, upscaled divey kind of place, and Doug himself may well take your order. I had high expectations after hearing about Hot Doug’s on No Reservations and elsewhere, and my expectations were exceeded!


Other places I’d love to try in Chicago are Graham Elliot, Paul Kahan’s Publican, any of Rick Bayless’s places, and (being a Top Chef fan) Dale Levitski’s Sprout or Stephanie Izard’s brand new Girl & the Goat (although rezzies there may be tough to get anytime soon). BTW, do you ever use chow.com to research restaurants for cities you’re unfamiliar with? I’ve found those boards to be a great source of info, especially for great places that are under the national radar or when I’m looking for something neighborhood- or cost-specific and as an outsider am frankly clueless about distances and travel times, or trying to sort through boatloads of possibilities. There’s lots of info available in the archives, and other chowhounders are usually good about responding with straightforward answers, especially if you pose a fairly specific question.

I envy you your travels, and look forward to reading about them!

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Thanks for the great tips, ie! Hot Doug's was on our list the last time we were in Chicago, but we never made it. This may be the trip!

Excellent other suggestions too, including using chowhound (which we've used some, but not too much).

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I've heard great things about Carnival in Chicago. http://www.carnivalechicago.com/

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

anon - thanks for the tip on Carnival. That makes me think about something else I heard was cool - Medieval Times (http://www.medievaltimes.com/chicago.aspx), definitely not a foodie thing, but a food experience nonetheless!

intuitive eggplant said...

Just thought of another Chicago rec. Don't know what else besides eating is on your itinerary, but the Chicago Art Institute has a new addition, and a new restaurant called Terzo Piano that is getting great reviews.

I am hungry just thinking about your trips!

Anonymous said...

Scomas at Fishermans Wharf

Anonymous said...

Flour + Water in SF is delicious! Any pizza with an egg on top is divine! Also Bi-Rite creamery is amazing! There is a very good Vietnamese snadwich in the tenderloin area...a hle in the wall shop, but the sandwich is the bomb!! Also, check out Nopa. And there is a great place at the Ferry building that does a great pork sandwich. It is outside on the right side of the building....can't think of the name. But it will be the place with the longest line! I lvoe SF!!!

Holly May said...

Oh Chicago!! I looooves it :) I feel like I belong there whenever I visit.

Here are some of my faves...

-The Galway Arms- great authentic Irish Pub in Lincoln Park. They have great prices, great food, an amazing ambiance, and often wonderful live irish music. They have a patio that is wonderful to hang out on and enjoy a few pints. www.galwayarms.com

-Goose Island Brewpubs- Goose Island is one of my favourite breweries and it's always exciting to see what they have on tap, and better yet cask. The food is a little pricey, but I haven't ever been disappointed. They have some great creative burgers, if you are into that. There are two locations, both quite difference. The Wrigleyville locale has more of a sports bar type of feel to it, where as the Clybourn locale has two separate areas almost; more of a dining room, and then the bar, which is huge and gorgeous. I prefer the Clybourn location, it just feels more "real" to me...:) www.gooseisland.com

-Billy Goat Tavern- Because it's just fun! I am not even really a cheezborger fan, but visiting here became a tradition and it's a great place to hang out and get some quick cheap grub. My favourite thing about it is the condiment bar. I usually will just order fries and then be cheeky and just indulge on tons of their pickles, oh goodness they are amazing :) Many location, but I have only ever gone to located near Union Park.

There are some recommendations for you to mull over! Have fun!

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! A busy day in preparation for the trip, so not much time. We'll check out all your suggestions and maybe visit some them soon!

Todd said...

Nice list!

I'd say choose either Delfina or Pizzaiolo if you want amazing pizza, probably not worth trying both unless pizza is your passion. Skip A16 (also known for pizza) as they lost their superstar chef last year when he moved to NYC. There is also great deep dish pizza (better than chicago? perhaps) at both Zackery's in the East Bay and Little Star in SF.

I love Burma Superstar and recommend visiting the one in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland instead of waiting in the line at the SF one. It's across from Dona Tomas which is next to Pizzaiolo. Dona Tomas is good but I'd suggest a burrito in the Mission for a good Mexican meal and save your money for Topolobampo in Chicago if you want upscale Mexican.

As for Mission burritos, people have some strong opinions. I judge all Bay Area burrito spots by their version of "al pastor" (slow cooked pork) "super" (with avocado and sour cream). My personal favorite is Taqueira Cancun on Mission near 19th St (open late). Another great option is Papalote on 24th St near Valencia. They do a more California-esque version of authentic mexican food, namely you can order tofu, and their salsa is amazing as is their mole. If you're in Oakland and craving a burrito, hit up the mexican part of Oakland called Fruitvale and visit Taqueria San Jose on International Blvd at 35th.

Dosa is fantastic if you want Indian. Slanted Door is great, Out the Door is good if you are at the Ferry Building already and don't have much time.

If not at the Ferry Building, you must try Blue Bottle at one of their locations. A close second for coffee is Four Barrel (in the Mission on Valencia near 15th). Phillz is third in my book (and like the other two it's extremely strong) and can be ordered at their 24th St location when you're at Dynamo Donut (also on 24th) which is great. However, even better for sweets is Humphrey Slocumbe for insanely good ice cream which is also very close by. Here's a great piece about their ice cream: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/magazine/04icecream-t.html They are arguably better than Bi-Rite Creamery and certainly "edgier" if you want that in your ice cream - order a scoop of the "Secret Breakfast."

Zuni and Chez Panisse are classics and should be approached as such - meaning they aren't as edgy as some of their offshoots and can seem bland in comparison. I'd say keep the Chez Panisse reservation and enjoy it for the mecca that it is. If you want AMAZING chicken for a good price (way cheaper than Zuni) hit up Limon Rotisserie on S. Van Ness near 21st. You will never look at chicken the same.

Have fun.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Thanks for those thoughts, Todd! We're gonna have our hands full with all these eating options. I am confident we will do quite well.

Check back for Chi and SF posts in the coming weeks!

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

In case we don't get into Alinea in Chicago, here are some thoughts from the chef there - Grant Achatz - about places to go in Chicago...


Thought others might be interested too.

Kate said...

Medieval Times is STELLAR. You should consider. You can get your photo taken with the Raven Tamer.