Recently a friend and I underwent a roughly 7-day long, 2000-mile excursion around California and Oregon sandwiched around the Labor Day holiday. While the trip was more focused on getting in the sights (a rather ambitious attempt, as we found out), we were going to try our darndest to get in some chowy goodness along the way. I had asked for some advice on a few boards for potential suspects and wanted to report back.
As we found out, timing (and hunger) is a little hard to figure out sometimes, so potential places fell by the wayside, and some places were guesses and/or bows to convenience (or sheer tiredness).
San Francisco Bay Area - We started and ended our excursion from here as my friend took a very early from the Midwest to get over here by mid-morning.
Day 1 (Saturday #1) – this proved to be the most relaxed day of the trip and one which could planned-out fully beforehand.
Park Chow, San Francisco – this was the perfect kind of place for my friend after being up for quite awhile (an early wakeup time to catch her flight and not much layover time to get much to eat). Park Chow is kind of homey and comfy neighborhood type place, and her flight arrival time allowed us to beat the lunch rush. Good enough coffee to satisfy the both of us, and the brunch offerings were perfectly fine. My companion especially loved the home fries with her chicken sausage, mushroom-spinach-jack scramble; my huevos rancheros dish was fine, though I wish it had arrived a little hotter than it did. Still, this was a solid start to the day.
La Michoacana, Vallejo – by the time we got back to my home after touring the Conservatory of Flowers and a bit of Golden Gate Park, we were in the mood for something a little light to tie us over until early dinner at Ubuntu, so I suggested this old standby that I hadn’t visited in awhile. I found there’s more signage in the interior these days touting more lunchtime options (a wider variety of tortas) but the funny thing was there was no signage describing the paleta flavors. After a brief rundown from the gal behind the counter, I stuck with one of my favorites (the coconut – still as good as I remembered) and my friend enjoyed the sweet/sour play of the tamarind.
Ubuntu, Napa – my friend was the most excited by this when I proposed it as a potential dinner destination; she has always been a fan of places that creatively that make use of fresh ingredients, especially with vegetarian dishes. We didn’t know quite what to expect (this was my first time as well) but the gal was excellent, explaining their concept, helping out with suggestions, and checking up on us regularly without being hovering. We also liked the interior vibe, befitting a place that has co-bills a yoga studio on its template.
We ended up sharing four dishes as suggested by our wait person – by far our favorite was the rustic rancho gordo ‘yellow eye’ bean stew, with rosemary, chili, and smoked kale – smooth and creamy with just a little heat and easily filling. I never was a huge fan of eggplant, which made the heirloom tomatoes with eggplant puree and herb froth a nice tasty surprise for me. Who knew that potatoes (dressed up with Mexican sour gherkins and a roasted/raw/emulsion ash) could be so tasty. Perhaps the only merely good dish was the garden inspired extruded pasta dish with fennel, squash and edible blossoms – maybe it was meant to be subtle by nature, but my friend especially thought it could’ve used something to give it more kick somehow.
Those used to mondo-sized portions may not get filled up with these small plates, but by the end we both were plenty full enough to not order up a dessert (though maybe we should have in hindsight.)
Definitely the culinary highlight of our trip and we would love to go back one of these days.
Day 2 (Sunday)
Model Bakery, Napa - Since we had a lot of traveling to do, we wanted to pick up something quick we could nosh along with our supply of food we intended for the hikes (trail mix, lavash, peanut butter, some Trader Joes cookies, and apples.) Sweetie Pies is the usual stop for me, but the downtown had been made difficult to navigate due to River Festival road detours. We went to Model Bakery near Oxbow Market, a place I knew about but had never visited. Pastries were fine, but not extraordinary - I picked up a cinnamon and sour cream muffin (my mom makes a great sour cream cake, so I wanted to compare) and a cranberry scone; my partner picked up a feta and spinach croissant and apricot scone. Added some of their Peet’s coffee to our order and headed out the scenic way (SR 128 by Lake Berryessa) to get to the Central Valley.
Day 7 (Friday)
Cha-Am, Vallejo – After visiting the redwood parks along the Avenue of the Giants section (who knew we could have all the cheese we want with some of those attractions up there heh) and feeling worn down in our 7th day of travel, we didn’t want anything too fussy. We tried to hit up the Fremont Diner (I wanted to compare their product to my companion’s parents’ own home-bottled pickles, amongst other things) but we arrived much too late there. Thai seemed to be agreeable to the both of us, but for some reason (tired brain, I guess LOL) the Asian Wok & Grill or Ano Lao Thai didn’t pop into my head.
Thus it was Cha-Am, which my brother-in-law (who is Thai) frequents still – the food was decent (at least when I asked for my Pad Prik spicy, it was nicely so without it being overwhelming; my partner liked the Cha-Am Noodles well enough) but the service was lackluster and the vibe off (Hawaiian shirts on the service staff and new wave music over the speakers…not that I mind either during the right moments.) Despite that, we really didn't mind - we were just glad the hard traveling for our excursion was over.
Day 8 (Saturday #2)
Grandma’s Birthday Party – Obviously a food experience rather than a restaurant review, but I wanted to mention this was my partner’s first taste of a Filipino-style food celebration. All the delicious usuals (lechon, lumpia, puto, kutsinta, etc.) were present, and she had a terrific time with the tasty food, the company and the festivities as a whole.
Di Napoli Pizzeria & Restaurant, South San Francisco – after the party, which was a lunchtime affair, closed out, we traveled to stay near the airport because her flight flew out at a ridiculously early hour the next morning. Normally I would’ve suggested a dim sum place, but after the prior two meals, we were looking for something not in that general "Asian" mode. After some quick research and our less than optimal pizza experience in Oregon, we decided on this place on South San Francisco’s main drag.
This was solid pizza (much better than our experience in south-central Oregon for certain) – my friend loved her pear, speck, gorgonzola and prosciutto pizza (forgot what they called it) while my Amore Mio (pancetta, mozzarella, basil, garlic and peppers) was great. Our crusts were nicely thin and crackled when bit into, and held their toppings well.
The only downside was our waitress – to call her inattentive would be understating things. We wanted water but she never got it to us (we had to flag her down) and it just went downhill for us and the other patrons in her area the rest of the night. Not sure about the other wait staff and how well they do their job, but maybe I’d order pizza to go if Di Napoli was ever an option again.
ETA: In case you wanted to read the whole journey, here are the other posts in their respective boards
Portland Metro -
Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558
1238 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
504 Broadway St, Vallejo, CA 94590
610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559
153 Plaza Dr Ste 107, Vallejo, CA 94591
Di Napoli Pizzeria & Restaurant
202 Grand Ave, South San Francisco, CA 94080