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The 6 Most Overrated Bay Area Food Icons

From a dim sum legend to a garlic shrine, here are some dishes and destinations that probably aren't worth all the fuss
August 11, 2014
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by Virginia Miller

Food is to San Francisco as Hollywood is to LA. At any given moment, you'll find locals infamously waiting in line for perfect tacos, dim sum, bacon-wrapped dogs or Korean fries. Then there are the legacy foods like cioppino and the useless associations, like Rice-A-Roni. We respect all of our culinary icons, but there are some cases when the lines and the hype might not be fully warranted. Here are six of those cases. Let us know what you think in the comments. 

Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl

Why It’s An Icon: Sourdough is synonymous with San Francisco, and Boudin is a legendary local bakery that dates back to 1849. There's even a bakery museum at its flagship Fisherman's Wharf location. 

Why It’s Overrated: This is good sourdough bread. No question. And we love a great clam chowder. But is this worthy of the millions who flock to the Wharf year after year for it? If you're looking for delicious soup and bread, we'll take the combos at Outerlands or Split Pea Seduction

The Stinking Rose

Why It’s An Icon: Maybe it's their advertising in multiple guide books, or maybe it's the superlative craziness of having garlic in every single dish on the menu. Either way, tourists go nuts for The Stinking Rose, and they can't get enough of the 40-clove garlic chicken and garlic ice cream.

Why It’s Overrated: Though quirky, the restaurant lacks the sustainable, farm-driven ethos that San Francisco restaurants stand for, and it's not often you'll see a local enter its doors. Its chain feel is confirmed by its companion LA location. And do you really want to go to a place with a "We season our garlic with food" slogan? 

Belden Place

Why It’s An Icon: There are few more enchanting alleys in the city than Belden, strung with white lights, lined with outdoor tables and packed with people. Eating under the lights of towering Downtown buildings in this festive alley, one is transported straight to Europe.

Why It’s Overrated: If only the food matched the setting. The restaurants are solid but not superlative. Sam's Grill, at the alley's head, is historic and revered, dating back to 1867, but straightforward classic dishes like crab Louie, shrimp cocktail and clam chowder aren't exactly noteworthy. B44 serves some decent Catalan Spanish cuisine. Plouf does alright by seafood. But with countless excellent restaurants in this town to draw out locals nightly, not one of them is in Belden Place. For alley charm with awesome food, head to Bix or Gitane

Yank Sing

Why It’s An Icon: Founded by Alice Chan in 1958, the restaurant was moved by son Henry to 49 Stevenson Street in 1974. Yank Sing is widely touted as one of the great dim sum houses in the US. And it is. 

Why It’s Overrated: We love this dim sum house as much as its Zagat rating and James Beard awards attest. But for locals, paying $1.70 for one pork bun, when you can get three for that price elsewhere, isn't warranted. Just check out Hong Kong Lounge II and Ton Kiang for similar fare at half — or even a third — of the price. 

La Boulange Bakery

Why It’s An Icon: We remember the days when La Boulange was one little bakery off of Fillmore Street. Remarkably, the original is still the best location. Now the local chain has grown to 20 Bay Area locations and one Los Angeles locale, sponsored by new owner Starbucks.

Why It’s Overrated: In the scheme of bakery chains, La Boulange is still exemplary, although it now misses some of the soul and charm of its early days. Their almond croissants are solid, but you can get stellar 100% home-grown versions at Tartine and B Patisserie

Papalote

Why It’s An Icon: A local favorite for over a decade with Mission and NoPa locations, Papalote's salsa is so revered that it's now sold at local Whole Foods and other grocery stores. 

Why It’s Overrated: We stock up on the salsa with the rest of you. But the raved-about burritos don't stack up to the rolled wonders at La Taqueria or El Farolito

fisherman's wharf
sourdough