First up….. one of my all-time-favorite-I’d-move-there-if-my-parents-wouldn’t-kill-me-slash-had-I-not-just-purchased-a-house cities…..SAN FRANCISCO.
Ah, the city by the bay: fog rolling over the Golden Gate, seals barking from bobbing platforms in the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square, Alcatraz…these are some of San Francisco’s icons. While these are great, I’d highly recommend spending a day or two exploring San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods, each with its own unique charms. There are a ton of one-of-a-kind boutiques, lots of great museums, and of course…awesome restaurants. For foodies, San Francisco has a plethora of gastronomic delights. What’s better, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune at an expensive, white table-clothed restaurant to get great food. From street vendors, eccentric hole-in-the-wall joints, and Michelin star rated restaurants - San Fran establishments pride themselves in using high quality, local, seasonal ingredients to produce wonderfully flavorful, fresh cuisine. Here are some of my favorite San Francisco eating and drinking destinations:
Town Hall – 342 Howard Street
Aptly named, SOMA’s Town Hall is a friendly gathering place that has San Francisco sophistication without the stuffiness. Serving up American regional cuisine with a southern twist, diners can enjoy buttermilk fried chicken, biscuits with pepper jelly, and house smoked ribs. I’ve had great experiences there both eating at the bar while talking to the locals as well as a romantic dinner with my husband!
Bar Tartine – 561 Valencia Street
Though Bar Tartine has a lot to brag about, it’s simple, understated. When my husband and I set out to try this Mission neighborhood restaurant, we walked by it twice before finding the unmarked door that opened to a narrow restaurant. Without being flashy, Bar Tartine has some very lovely design details – including a deer antler chandelier, blown glass light fixtures, and a long, white marble topped bar. Diners can look into the open kitchen and clearly see the chefs preparing their meals. Bar Tartine keeps its modern French country cuisine fresh by frequently changing chefs and using local, seasonal ingredients. The highlights are certainly the bread, which is baked freshed at Tartine Bakery. You may be hard-pressed to find better bread anywhere in the city. My husband and I started off with the cheese plate, which was equally memorable – a wooden slab filled with high quality cheeses, honeycomb, marcona almonds, and quince paste. Insider Tip: Ask for the best waiter there, my friend Vinny!
Mamacita – 2317 Chestnut Street
Mamacita’s vibrant and stylish atmosphere matches the colorful flavors of its Mexican cuisine. Located in the Cow Hallow/Marina neighborhood, you can enjoy Mamacita’s antojito’s (which are kinda like Mexican tapas), amazing soft tacos (served three to order), and refreshing cocktails, like their Pomegranate margarita. My husband and I shared fresh, citrusy ceviche, goat-cheese stuffed poblano chiles, duck leg with lentils, and niman ranch meatballs in a rich mole sauce. YUM!
Ferry Building Dining and Farmer’s Market - Embarcadero and Market
Every foodie and shopaholic must go..no, RUN…. to the Ferry Building. It has some of the city’s best food (and food inspired shops) all under one roof. The Ferry building also hosts a Farmer’s Market, open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This is a Farmer’s Market on steroids….every fresh fruit, veggie, meat, and dairy product under the sun plus AMAZING vendors selling restaurant quality food from tiny booths. It even has Bourdain’s stamp of approval. I highly recommend some of these other vendors within the Ferry Building:
- Blue Bottle Coffee
- Hog Island Oyster Co.
- Culinaire – food related antiques
- Slanted Door – see below!
Slanted Door – 1 Ferry Building #3
Located in the Ferry Building, the Slanted Door has both a traditional restaurant and a walk-up place next door. Admittedly, I’ve never been to the restaurant, of which my friend Kater says the service sometimes makes the whole experience not worth while. But I have had Slanted Door’s delicious steamed chicken and pork buns to-go and found them to be superb. If you have time to experience Slanted Door’s Vietnamese cuisine in the restaurant, go for it. If not, grab some steamed buns to enjoy while walking around the Ferry Building’s shops or Farmer’s Market.
Find out where to DRINK after the jump!
Bourbon & Branch - 501 Jones Street
With house rules like “don’t even think about ordering a Cosmo,” this speakeasy may not be Sex in the City, but it’s certainly sexy. Living up to its clandestine theme, Bourbon & Branch patrons must give the doorman a password before stepping into a lowly-lit bar, covered in rich burgundy wallpaper and strewn with dark wood and leather booths. Bourbon and Branch specializes in—yep, you guessed it—bourbons as well as scotch, whiskeys, rums and tequilas, all selected to expand patrons’ drinking horizons. Insider tip: ask to have a drink in the secretly-accessible library by saying the password “books.” Those in the know are encouraged to head to the library anytime between 6pm-2am Wednesday through Saturday, without a reservation. For those that want to impress guests at home with hand-crafted libations, sign up for classes at Bourbon & Branch’s Beverage Academy.
Cliff House – 1090 Point Lobos
There is likely nothing that you couldn’t get at any other standard San Francisco watering hole, but you cannot beat the view at the historic Cliff House. Rather than fighting the tourists for a seat for dinner, grab a drink at Sutro’s bar and enjoy panoramic views of the Bay…maybe even catch a glimpse of a sea lion, dolphin, or whale.
While I’ve done extensive research for this blog, I haven’t covered all of San Fran’s eating and drinking delights. Thus, I’ve outsourced some of my research to friends who are lucky to live there 24/7. Here are some of their suggestions (Thank you, thank you, Kater + Vinny for your suggestions. Reviews below credited to Kater Gordon.)
- Flour and Water - Italian. Their website calls them an “Italian restaurant that focuses on seasonal ingredients sourced from the unparalleled and ever abundant California artisans and growers.” They reserve tables for walkins, so if you can’t get a reservation, all is not lost. Pastas, pizzas, and preserved meats are all of the highest quality. Truly a gourmet experience. Wine selection is excellent.
- House of Nan King – Chinese. If you want a fun Chinese food experience, head to the House of Nan King in North Beach- located across the street from Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope. Nan King doesn’t take reservations, but the line moves quickly, and it is well worth the wait. The restaurant is the size of a closet, but don’t let the interior turn you off. Let your server pick your dishes and enjoy.
- Humphry Slocombe – Ice Cream. This ice cream is fantastic. There is usually a line out the door, so be prepared to wait a bit. Ice cream flavors change often. Examples include: Jesus Juice (red wine and coke), Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes), Blue Bottle Coffee, Rosemary’s Baby (rosemary and pine nuts), and Peanut Butter Curry. Unusual combinations, but most are surprisingly good. (Note: Kater was not brave enough to try Jesus Juice).
- SPQR – Italian. When Kater is filthy rich (of which I have no doubt), she will go here ALL the time.
- Zazi - French. Kater recommends going here for brunch. You can turn their regular priced menu into prix fixe for $23.50. Try the burger and french onion soup in their adorable backyard dining space.
- The Presidio Social Club – Californian. It opened in the past few years, yet seems like it is from an earlier era. Extensive cocktail list. Kater loved the marinated veggie antipasto plate as an appetizer and said the whole fish special is beautiful.
- Delfina – Pizza. Delfina has both a pizzeria and a restaurant. While both have great food, Kater recommends the restaurant more.
If you don’t trust our recommendations (you really should though), check out Vinny’s suggestions for websites that list many other San Francisco restaurants: