I miss (eating in) San Francisco. It is a unique city, where the creative food culture is matched by the quality of ingredients grown locally. It is difficult to have a bad meal in SF.
I love food. It is how I structure my days, and is essential to how I experience a place. When I lived in San Francisco, whenever I made guides for visiting friends everything I recommended revolved around what to eat and where to eat it. The requests remain so common, I put together this little tour-de-SF for the hungry (or just curious) explorer.
Lace up your walking shoes because it can be hilly out there and Muni is hard.
So you arrive Friday night….
My advice: take immediate advantage of San Francisco’s perpetual autumn weather, ditch your bags, and head straight to Fort Mason for Friday night’s Off The Grid festivities.
At Off The Grid, the region’s best and brightest in food trucking converge on the Fort Mason parking lot by the bay. It transforms into an outdoor street-fair every Friday night through late October where you can sip local beers and mulled wine underneath the festive marquee lights and watch the sun set over the ocean. Bands play while you eat Korean chicken and waffles, Cape Cod lobster rolls, pork buns, empanadas, pizza, homemade *Chaco Tacos,* fresh donuts and hipster coffee…. You get the idea.
It’s the perfect way to shake off stale office (or airplane) air and kick off Friday night. Cash is useful but not necessary. A jacket is.
After Off the Grid you will be hungry for adventure and warmth. You could walk a few blocks up from Fort Mason to the cultural heartland that is The Marina, where you will find charming bars filled with ex-fraternity finance-turned-startup-life-types, but you shouldn’t.
Instead, head to the funky bars along Divisadero, a hip up and coming stretch of the city. Madrone offers brilliant live music in an art bar setting (food for thought: skip your flight home on Sunday and stay for their Motown Mondays or big band Tuesdays). For a quiet, cozy cocktail to beat back the jet lag, settle in at neighborhood art deco bar, The Page.
Good morning! If you got a Tecate at Madrone or Whiskey Sour at The Page, you’ll wake up craving some more of that Divisadero high-culture. Go immediately to B. Patisserie, at the corner of California and Divisadero. Founded by pastry chef Belinda Leong and Michel Suas, my old ‘local’ turned food tourist Mecca is famous for their kouign ammans. A Breton specialty, think croissant…but caramelized. On weekends they fill them with molten dark chocolate. Pick up a kouign amann, and since you’ll probably be getting a box of pastries anyway, add a slice of their amaze almond cake, a raspberry scone, or chocolate banana almond croissant (not making that up).
Try when you walk in not to take a picture for your instagram. You can’t.
Pastry in hand, you have a classic San Francisco decision to make: Uphill or down. If you walk two blocks up, you can sit in one of the beautiful little parks that fall drops away to a spectacular view of the city and ocean. Head downhill and spend the morning watching the well-dressed residents of Pacific Heights brunch while window-shopping on the Fillmore. I just want you to know you have options.
Note: I’m recommending that you don’t go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Not because it isn’t wonderful, but because no one likes spending 20 minutes of a precious sunny day standing in line for a food truck taco when you’re hungry and cranky and under-caffeinated. There are so many places to eat in San Francisco that will knock your socks off, so why not eat outside the box a little bit?
If you had B. Patisserie for breakfast, you’re going to want to balance out all that high culture, so head to Dolores Park for lunch. Walk, bike or bus south to the mission on the 22 line, a route that should have its own reality show. Pick up picnic supplies at Bi-Rite, Whole Food’s hot, dark-haired, organic, and slightly bookish older sister. Guaranteed to be delicious, Bi-Rite is the perfect cross-section of SF Boutique grocery stores and overt gentrification. Grab the avocado chicken salad and some dark chocolate sea salt caramels, a six pack of cheap beer, a pack of organic handmade, much-loved-and-practically-healthy potato chips and head into the park. On warm days the park is an ocean of San Francisco’s best people watching. Park afternoons are a way of life for the city, and you would be remiss to miss it.
Relax, and keep an eye out for the man selling edibles out of a golden cauldron. He’s not on my list because I have dinner plans for you, but he is on Yelp.
When you’re sun-soaked and ready to move, stop off at Bi-Rite Creamery, the store's ice-cream outfit on the corner across the street from Dolores Park. There is always a line for scoop ice-cream, but pro tip: if you’re in a rush hop in the soft-serve and ice cream sandwich cue. The salted caramel is worth the wait (and lactaid).
Saturday dinner means it's time for a flow chart. If you’re feeling:
- Authentic: Puerto Alegre in the Mission. BEST Margaritas and the Guac is worth the trip. Nothing fancy about this place. Just deliciousness.
- Local and Adventurous: Tommy's Mexican in the Richmond. Margaritas. Vibe. Heaven.
- Hip and Unusual: Burma Superstar Always packed and no reservations, but cute neighborhood to wait in and a well kept secret THEY DO TAKEAWAY. Check out their sister restaurant B-Star two blocks away for the same food, shorter waits, and chiller atmosphere.
- Funky Scene: Cha Cha Cha in Lower Haight. Carribean fusion tapas and Sangria while you wait for your table. Order the Jerk Chicken and plantains. Res recommended but bar is first come first serve.
- Italian Hipster: Pizzeria Delfina, amazing Roma style pizza in a cozy, industrial chic dining room. Pacific Heights, no reservations.
Saturday Night Bars:
- You like beer: Richmond Republic Draught House is a fun micro brewery even your techie friend with a newfound taste for microbrews will approve of.
- You want to dance like you’re Patrick Schwayze: Bootie. Prepare to sweat your makeup off, feel 16 again, and dance the night away ridiculous throwback mashups. Preparatory alcohol is strongly recommended.
- You want an adventure: Church of 8 Wheels. Roller Derby in a church. Padded bike shorts strongly encouraged.
- You want rowdy but don’t want to be hit on by consultants or dance like Patrick Schwayze: check out the scene at Boom Boom Room
- You want to stay in Pac Heights and look at handsome bartenders: the Lion Pub on Lyon St. The bar used to be a meeting point for down-low gay men in San Francisco’s luxurious Pacific Heights neighborhood. The hangover from this is that the bartenders are still ridiculously good looking.
- Don’t touch me (for girls): dancing in the Castro at Badlands.
- You want to feel like Kerouac: Head to Vesuvio and check out all the hip couples on Hinge dates, and soak in a little bit of the old school San Francisco vibe. Bonus points if you can recite a line or two of Howl.
- You want to chilllll: Go to any dive bar along Haight Street. Guaranteed people watching and bartenders who have seen it all and will probably tell you about it.
- You wan to chilllll on the cheap: Grab a six pack of beer in any one of the super hip organize 7/11’s scattered around the city and post up in Alamo Square Park with a blanket and a friend.
Honorable Mention: Saturdays in the summer Dolores Park have movie screenings of classics and new releases. It’s like the urban answer to the drive through movie date you never got asked on in high school.
If you’re a little worse for wear on a Sunday morning in San Francisco, you’re going to need a cinnamon bun from Devil’s Teeth Baking Co. Located one block away from the Pacific ocean, it’s the perfect way to experience the other side of the city. Devil’s Teeth is the Sunset’s answer to the other San Francisco Pastry Pilgrimages. They provide sidewalk chalk to help pass time in the line (it is a local favorite). Order a cinnamon bun, a kale cheddar scone, and an egg sandwich for good measure. Served on biscuits lighter than cumulonimbus clouds, they are so worth the wait. After you inhale your food in their parklet (because you won’t be able to wait), take a walk on the beach (this is a jacket beach, not a bathing suit beach- this is still SF) to the entrance to Golden Gate Park. Stare out at the Pacific Ocean, or spend the morning walking through Golden Gate Park and lazing in the grass. Say hello to the resident bison on the way, but don’t dawdle because…
If walked along the beach and through the park after your had surfer-approved breakfast, you’re going to want to take a seat at the counter of Pork Store Cafe for an All-American brunchy lunch joint. Sit at the counter if you can because it is actually amazing to see the *one* magician line cook churn out each enormous plate of goodness after another.
It will take you back to diner lunches with your grandfather—but this is San Francisco, so while it’s homey, the food is thoughtful and California-fied. The coffee is fast and plentiful.
Note: Take a second to reflect how you spent the morning on a beach and now you’re in green and bustling Lower Haight. How crazy is it that you can experience so many different cities in one day in San Francisco?
After lunch, take a moment to check out the Haight, heralded as the epicenter of the summer of love. It is still a cool spot to score vintage clothes and check out Nepalese import shops.
Sunday afternoon also means live Jazz in the Haight clubs. You can day drink, or you can sit and silently appreciate your music teacher in high school for putting up with you and giving you a latent appreciation for the stuff. It’s a great scene. From anywhere in the city with a view you can stare out at Alcatraz, or head to North Beach and pop in and out of art galleries.
Sunday night. You don’t want to work hard. You’re trying to make decisions you can feel good about on Monday morning. Don’t worry, no compromise required.
My favorite Sunday night spot is Fillmore street when the trees are strung up with lights, a more soothing scene than during the peak brunch hours. Head to cafe La Medittereane for dinner. The cozy, greek-bohemian restaurant is where you will find all your beanie-wearing barista’s hanging out when their shifts are over. And since it’s not New York, you can still make flirty eye contact with them if you ordered a green tea matcha soy latte earlier that morning without them judging you. Order the mezzo plate for a taste of everything, or the off-menu-favorite-of-girls-everywhere: salmon skewers. Just ask your waitress. The cafe is cheap, cheerful, and delicious. The red wine is a steal, but save some room because…
If you had La Med for dinner, you’re going to want to go to a movie at the Sundance Kabuki Theater. Walk downhill (I got you) and on your way stop in to the Palo Alto import, Fraisch Frozen Yogurt shop. The homeade froyo makes you feel like you’re making positive life decisions just by being there. You can bring food into the Kabuki (is this why I like it so much?) so load up on yogurt (non-dairy available, the pumpkin seasonal flavor is the #2 reason to book a trip to SF in the Fall) with freshly shaved dark chocolate on top.
At the Kabuki, relax in one of the enormous screening armchairs while watching a movie Robert Redford would approve of. Pat yourself on the back for a weekend well-digested.
If you’re treating yourself or if someone else is footing the bill:
1. Garlic Fries at a Giants Game...yes that's a real picture.
2. Fancy Brunch at Foreign Cinema
3. Ichi Sushi in Bernal Heights- voted best sushi in SF, it has no soy sauce on offer. Set a budget and tell your waiter you will have whatever the chef recommends. It will blow. your. mind.
4. Pre Dinner Drinks at Nopa