One of the things that always makes or breaks a trip for me is the food we get to eat while we’re out exploring. There are always good places to eat wherever you go as long as you make an effort to find them, or better yet, if you have locals to consult with. This is especially true for countries like Japan and the US, where the food scene is so saturated it’s literally dizzying.
Luckily for me, when I went on this trip with Real California Milk/California Milk Advisory Board, they also brought us to a bunch of great places to eat. You can watch my vlog to get an idea of the things we ate and the places we went. All I can say is that it was jam-packed with food!
[READ ALSO: Highlights from the California Cheese Trail]
Apart from the places we were taken to for the California Cheese Crawl, we discovered a bunch of yummy things along the way too. That’s why I thought the eats aspect of the trip is worth a post of its own. I did not write about all the places we ate in because not all of them made such a big impact on me, but the five below certainly did.
1. Five Guys Burgers
It’s funny how I’ve never been to Five Guys before this. I was craving for a burger when I arrived in San Francisco, and I was lucky there was a Five Guys branch fairly close to our hotel.
The menu of Five Guys is pretty straightforward. Their burgers come in regular and little, where regular has two patties and little only has one. The size of the burger is the same though. And the great thing is that the toppings are FREE and you can add as many as you like!
I got a Little Cheeseburger ($6.39) with everything on it except for mayo. It would’ve been a great first experience for me, except for the part where they put mayo in when I told them not to. I should’ve added more pickles and jalapenos, and maybe more sauce because I love a saucy, spicy, zingy element to my burgers. In any case, it was a largely satisfying burger for something labeled as “little”.
You can snack on their free peanuts while you wait for your burgers, but the best partner is still really the fries they have here. The quality is just better compared to most fastfood fries I’ve eaten. Get the Cajun-style fries for a bit of excitement with your burgers. Add a milkshake and you get the ultimate fastfood experience, albeit with a bit more quality than usual methinks.
2. Gott’s Roadside
Before this trip, I had never heard even a whisper of this place called Gott’s Roadside before. Now I know it’s a place to go when you crave a burger but want something in the direction of a more gourmet experience. Think burgers with blue cheese, that sort of thing. Of course it’s going to be pricier as well.
This restaurant has six locations at the moment, and the one we went to was in the St. Helena area, where it stood literally on the side of the road. It’s a lovely al fresco style restaurant that serves made to order burgers and tacos, salads and sandwiches, and even grilled corn and watermelon.
It was incredibly hard to pick just one thing to order from the menu. I have literally never spent so much time trying to figure out what burger I wanted to eat! There were so many things I wanted to try, including the vegetarian Impossible Cheeseburger they have. My friends and I decided to divide all our orders so we could try a bunch of different things, and I ended up ordering their Western Bacon Blue Ring Burger ($11.99).
Toasted egg buns hug layers of goodness that will require you to open wide for a big bite. You get a giant piece of beer-battered onion ring, with some bacon, pickles, red onions, and crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese sitting atop their medium well Niman Ranch beef patties. It’s slathered with some BBQ sauce for good measure.
The BBQ sauce is amazing, by the way. Perfect with fries and their delicious beer-battered onion rings. These rings are huge, because the onions they use are huge too. It’s not just batter!
I also got to try a bite of the Green Chile Cheeseburger ($10.99 not pictured), and I automatically enjoyed it because I really like chiles of all sorts. They grilled some green Anaheim chiles to bring out a smokiness, then added in some jack cheese, lettuce, red onion, salsa verde, and a charred jalapeno mayo. From the description alone, you know it’s good.
The last one I got to try was the Wild Shrimp Taco ($12.99). Large pieces of buttermilk dipped shrimp fried into a crisp, then served in soft, blue corn tortillas with Mexican slaw, cilantro, pickled red onions, lime, and chipotle mayo.
You get two tacos in each order, so the price is a bit steep, which is a shame because these tacos have such a bright flavor thanks to all that salsa it’s the sort you could eat everyday. I do think the burgers are more worth the price though. They are super huge and super filling.
Also, I know that beers and milkshakes are a regular fixture beside burgers, but you can actually order wines here at Gott’s! The perks of being in Napa Valley! I stuck to my coffee addiction and got myself some Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee ($4.99). Such an expensive carton of coffee!
If you’re not headed to Napa Valley, fret not. There is a Gott’s branch at the San Francisco airport’s departure area. If any of the burgers from their menu interests you at all, give it a go. It’s pretty good!
3. Dewz Restaurant
The most memorable meal of the trip for me was this three-course meal at Dewz. Not because it’s a fancier place than the others we went to, but because the food was FANTASTIC. Like, lick-your-plate-clean level of good! This restaurant first opened in 1997 and it was named after the brother of the original owner. It’s now owned by John Jacinto, who came out to greet us and share that his grandfather was a Filipino, from Iloilo if I remember correctly. Meanwhile, his executive chef is from New Zealand.
Dewz focuses largely on being as local as possible. From the olive oil they serve as the dip for the appetizer breads, down to the wine which we had an abundance of, there is this conscious effort to highlight California’s strengths in terms of artisanal goods. They also highlight local produce and California cheeses in their dishes, especially Ficalini cheeses since the plant is pretty close by.
Reading through the menu, my mind was already conjuring up the flavors of the dishes. Words don’t really give justice to the food though.
The Spinach Salad was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten, hands down. Topped with my favorite bandage-wrapped cheddar from Fiscalini, it had a lovely tangy vinaigrette and a balance of fresh and sweet flavors, plus tartness from the strawberries and tomatoes. Even the beet chips were delightful.
For the main dish, we only get to choose one. I was able to sneak a bite of the Crispy Quail however, and the tikka masala sauce really carries this dish through.
My personal pick was the Atlantic Salmon Filet, predictably, because I am a fish person. Oh my goodness. This dish was perfection! The miso-sweet corn puree, though mostly tasting of sweet corn, complemented the salmon so well! the broccolini was fresh, crunchy, and just delicious with the puree too. This plate was a fiesta of textures and flavors, with the quinoa-almond salad adding a bit of bite. I ate every last crumb on that plate.
Unfortunately, I was pretty full when we arrived at dessert. The Chocolate XTC was a real delight as far as flourless chocolate cakes go. It’s glazed with even more chocolate to push it into the indulgent territory. The sweet and tart Zinfandel cherry puree underneath and fluffy cherry chantilly on the side help to keep you from feeling too overwhelmed by the chocolate. (Ha! As if there is such a thing!) I managed to get halfway through this slice before my stomach gave up long before my brain wanted to!
4. Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery’s Storefront Café
This last stop of our cheese crawl was memorable in a few different ways, but what really set it apart from the other cheese companies we visited was their storefront. They set up an actual place to sit and eat so you can try their cheeses incorporated into a variety of dishes. I loved the casual farmhouse cafe vibe it gave off. The fact that they have a pair of chefs, husband and wife, preparing their dishes and pastries, only means they are pretty darn serious about making sure the food is up to par.
Good food in a cozy setting in the lovely California countryside? How does one not enjoy a meal at such a place?
Fresh vegetables and cheese right out of the production line aside, the main highlight of the meal was the kimchi grilled cheese. It came in versions with and without ham. The kimchi is homemade by one of their Korean neighbors, and the fabulous sourdough bread is made in-house. Pair with some really good Valley Ford “Highway 1” Fontina and you’ve got yourself some wholly satisfying crispy cheesy deliciousness. I would’ve liked a bit more kimchi because I’m big on spicy stuff though.
We capped off the meal with some sweet Sprinkles Cookies and a delightful cup of coffee from Black Oak. Their Duomo Blend is one of the best things I’ve drank in a while. I loved that coffee so much I practically begged them to sell me some ground beans haha! If I could come back on a California countryside tour with my family someday, I’d love to bring them here.
[READ ALSO: Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery]
5. Mazarine Coffee
San Francisco has a strong coffee culture. As a lover of coffee, I wanted to try as many of their local coffeeshops as I could, even though I knew it would probably mean me bleeding money lol. But as it turns out, I only had time to try one. Coming to Mazarine wasn’t a particular suggestion by anyone. Pepe and I decided to grab some coffee, and this was one of the most highly-rated local coffeeshops nearby, according to Google Maps.
We clearly came to the right place. There was a line out the door and no tables available to sit at. In fact, some of the customers were even eating right on the countertop where the baristas were handing out the coffee orders.
Mazarine actually have a good selection of food. Toasts feature greatly on the menu, with sweet and savory choices. I wanted to try one of them but I was already pretty full, having eaten some leftover pizza from dinner the night before as my breakfast. I just wanted a nice cup of coffee at this point, and this latte from Mazarine really hit the spot!
6. Stuff worth taking home
The last part of this post is going to be all about stuff you can buy and take home with you from a trip to San Francisco. You won’t necessarily find these things exclusively in the countryside since many of them are available in the city. These are things I highly recommend, and some of them you can most certainly find in other states too. I’m simply adding them in here because I hauled them from California.
Not adding this in here because the trip is sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board, but because I genuinely love California cheese, more so after getting to know more about them during this trip. You may be hard pressed to find these in other places, so don’t be like me and regret not buying that slice of special cheese once you’re home! This was my personal haul that I brought home in a tupperware in my suitcase. As of this writing, only the Toma and the Blue Bay are left. (I have plans for them though!)
If you’re in the San Francisco area wanting to buy some cheese, head over to Cowgirl Creamery in the San Francisco Ferry Building. Their collection of cheeses are super extensive and you will probably be able to find all these cheeses on their shelves.
[READ ALSO: Fiscalini Cheese Company]
McEvoy Ranch Savory Jams
I’ve been waxing poetic about these jams on various occasions, but it’s so hard not to keep talking about them! You can taste the quality and the layers of flavors of everything they put in the jams. My grilled cheese game will never be the same.
Louis M Martini 2015 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon
Although I’m quite biased towards red wine, I’m not the sort to declare every bottle of red a good bottle. But I was truly surprised by this 2015 Monte Rosso because of how complex but balanced it was. It took one sip for me to determine that this wine is pretty unique. Not that I have an extensive knowledge of wines or anything. But in my limited experience, this might be one of the best wines I’ve ever tried. Fitting, because it has quite the hefty hundred-dollar price tag.
Peet’s Coffee (ground or whole beans)
Much as I love trying the specialty coffeeshops of San Francisco, I’m not a coffee snob when it comes to coffee chains. I think Peet’s Coffee is definitely a cut above the typical California coffee chain, because their beans are on a different level. Super legit! Their signature blend, the Major Dickason, produced the best cold brew out of all the beans and blends I’ve used so far. And the aroma is AMAZING. Their Colombia Dark Roast is also quite strong and aromatic. Best part? These bags of Peet’s coffee beans are available in most supermarkets in the Bay Area.
Ghirardelli Premium Baking Chips
If you like to bake, especially chocolate chip cookies, then you will definitely want to buy a bag of these premium baking chips. Ghirardelli Chocolate is a San Francisco institution, and they are known to make some really good chocolate. If course, since this is premium, it is going to be slightly more expensive than any generic chocolate chip you can buy locally. There is a world of difference in flavor and quality though.
I always recommend buying named brand chocolate chips for cookies (Nestle or Hershey’s is okay since they’re easier to source locally), but it’s very rare that I get to see Ghirardelli here so I grabbed a few bags.
[CHECK OUT my Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe Collection]
Mixed nut packs from Trader Joe’s
Completely random, but also possibly the easiest thing to find when you’re traveling in the US. I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I think their products are cheap but also very good quality. I always buy mixed nuts and certain chocolates from there precisely for the reasons I mentioned. Mixed nuts here in the PH cost a fortune! My newest favorite is this Almonds, Chocolate, & Cashews Trail Mix. I’m going to have to ask an aunt to buy me a few packs since I’ve finished the one I bought already.
This post turned out A LOT longer than I was initially imagining. I guess my instinct to write about my favorite food experiences from this trip on a separate post was validated lol. Anyway, I hope this post got you a little hungry for a food adventure in California too!
Full disclosure: We dined at some of these places as part of the California Cheese Crawl organized by the California Milk Advisory Board, however all opinions stated above are my own.