Life in San Francisco is hectic enough. Between our jobs, zumba-pilates-yoga-triathalontraining, family life, friends, fetishes and foundations who really has the time to keep on top of the restaurant scene? Obviously this is one of my greatest passions and I still find myself getting scooped or unawares of the next great food truck, pop up or dining hot spot. I can only imagine how daunting it is for people with normal time or interest.
Still, we’re a food obsessed town. Everyone wants to try out the latest Beard-nominated phenom. When your friends come to town from Paris, you just want to give them that insider experience – don’t you? But where to begin? How can you keep on top of things without spending days combing the interwebs looking for relevant information. And who can you trust?
Following is a breakdown of my favorite ways to get information about dining in San Francisco. But frankly, I think most of the resources I use are national, so if you find yourself in New York, Chicago or LA, this could easily be applicable.
For the aforementioned ‘friends in town’ scenario – the best place to start is at our dear old friend sf.eater.com. On the “38 Essential San Francisco Restaurants” page, superstar editor Carolyn Alburger painstakingly updates monthly the “in” places in the Bay. She even comments on why places are added or removed. It’s really the greatest resource we have for knowing where you ‘should’ be eating. There’s even a handy map if you’re trying to zero in on a neighborhood. Her list requires that a restaurant be open at least six months, so I don’t consider this the cutting edge I often seek. It’s more of a safe bet.
THE HEAT MAP
For more of the cutting edge, Ms. Alburger has created the spectacular, indispensable “Eater Heat Map” where “More often than not, tipsters, readers, friends and family of Eater have one question: Where should I eat right now?” The question is deftly answered with the places that have buzz. While this list might cause debate amongst die-hard obsessives, it’s a great resource for most enthusiasts.
Tablehopper is a newsletter that is published weekly by Marcia Gagliardi, the queen bee of the Bay Area food scene. A subscription to her newsletter is an essential part of being-in-the-know. The minute something opens Marcia is there and reporting. She also keeps an updated list of 10 Places to Eat at Now that comes in handy on a search. In fact, if you compare it to the eater lists, places with overlap are a sure bet [wink wink].
Opentable is not only good for getting reservations, but in many cases, I prefer the reviews here over Yelp. They tend to be concise and trend in directions that can help you make choices (I’ll comment about Yelp below). But most importantly, we often don’t plan enough in advance to score reservations at places like Flour+Water and Frances. With Opentable, you can see what is available as you comb the lists above. I will often plug in my date / time and scan the available reservations before making a decision.
Chowhound is daunting. Unless you are prepared to navigate miles of message boards to find the pearl of wisdom you seek, you might want to try a different approach. If I am looking for something specific, like “Best Pizza in San Francisco” I will add “chowhound” to my google search and scan the lively debates. What I’ll often find is that a thread will go on forever, but clear consensus forms, from which I can make a pretty solid decision. This has been my savior when seeking whitefish salad in New York, Deli in LA and hot dogs / pizza in Chicago.
NO WAY, JOSE
Time to Yelp bash a little. I don’t see much value in Yelp. When people are moved to post to Yelp, I question their motivation. I’m guessing it is typically when they have an experience that moves them to action, whether positive, negative or neutral, depending on the person themselves. But, what do we know about these people? And how are their opinions relevant to us? I could try to glean information from their profile or previous posts, but thats simply too much work. I often find that I don’t get much help out of Yelp in actually making decisions. Sorry for the non-sequitor here, but I think it’s relevant.
BLOGS, GLORIOUS BLOGS
Lastly, the Bay Area is littered with media outlets and blogs, like my own, that can help you find some solid information. Here is a list of some of my favorites:
Now that I’ve added to the inundation of your life, I leave you with my favorite Dr. Suess, as it relates to seeking restaurants, from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”:
You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.