San Francisco | An Eating Guide
As a lover of local, sustainable food, I can think of no better place to visit that San Francisco. It’s seriously my favorite place, like, ever. Every time we go, my husband and I plan our entire itinerary based on where we want to eat and how we’re going to get between restaurant A and restaurant B, which usually involves walking an insane number of miles. After being asked for recommendations a whole bunch of times, I realized that this is a post worth writing. There are many, many restaurants that we haven’t had the chance to experience, but I wanted to share some of our favorites.
Breakfast + Brunch:
Mission Beach Cafe (Mission)
This popular brunch spot in the Mission District serves brunch on weekdays (!) and weekends, as well as dinner. The menus utilize local, organic, sustainable ingredients and offers vegetarian and vegan options. The dishes are reasonably priced for brunch fare; entrees are typically $8-$16. It’s cozy, so plan to get there early if you don’t want to wait in line for an hour or more; no reservations. 198 Guerrero Street at 14th Street.
Il Cane Rosso (Ferry Building/Embarcadero)
This Ferry Building gem serves Italian-inspired, locally-sourced breakfast dishes every day of the week. We love to stop and get breakfast here when we’re visiting the farmers market (more on that below). Grab a seat on the patio to soak in views of the bay and fresh sea breeze while you eat. Entrees are usually $5-$9.50; no reservations. One Ferry Building #41 (on the back side facing the water).
Foreign Cinema (Mission)
This Mission District space is impossibly cool even after being open for more than a decade and a half. The covered outdoor courtyard is an ideal setting for a Californian brunch with Mediterranean flare on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a great spot to take a date or to meet foodie friends. Entrees are typically $14-$18. Get there early before the caramel pecan sticky buns sell out! Reservations recommended. 2534 Mission Street.
Presidio Social Club (Presidio)
In trying to describe this restaurant, the word that keeps coming to mind is comfortable. Maybe its because the hospitable vibe felt familiar to us as Southerns. The restaurant is housed in converted military barracks that are tucked in the serene Presidio National Park. The brunch menu has a variety of options from salads to classic brunch dishes to a raw bar selection, all with a Northern California freshness about them. This would be a great place to take parents or to stop by on your way to walk the Golden Gate Bridge. Entrees $8-$15, brunch cocktails $11. Reservations recommended! 563 Ruger Street.
San Francisco Fish Co. (Ferry Building/Embarcadero)
This counter in the Ferry Building probably isn’t what most people would think of as a breakfast spot. However, they serve a dungeness crab breakfast burrito that is both the most expensive ($13) and best burrito I’ve ever had. Definitely worth picking one up if you’re shopping in the Ferry Building or visiting the farmers market. One Ferry Building #31 (main hallway).
Tartine Bakery (Mission Dolores)
A place deserving of the hype and worth waiting in line for. Grab a few of their beautiful desserts, pick up a loaf of their daily-made bread, or sit down and stay for breakfast, a sandwich, or a cup of coffee (if you can find a seat!). Expect a line pretty much all hours of the day. 600 Guerrero Street.
Bi-Rite Creamery (Mission Dolores)
If San Francisco could be summed up in an ice cream shop, this would be it. The scoops are made from locally-sourced, organic cream, milk, and eggs, and the soft serve is made from local buffalo milk. The salted caramel and honey lavender ice creams are among the reasons that the line sometimes wraps around the block. Like Tartine, it’s totally worth waiting if you have time. If you’re at the original outpost on 18th Street, grab your scoops (or sundaes or ice cream sandwiches) and head across the street to the newly-restored Dolores Park, scheduled to reopen in Spring 2015. Not to be confused with the related but separate Bi-Rite Market that’s a block down 18th Street. 3692 18th Street.
Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop (Ghirardelli Square/Fishermans Wharf)
America’s oldest continuously operating chocolate maker started in San Francisco in 1852. You can visit the original outpost at Ghirardelli Square and shop for a variety of chocolate products, order ice cream and giant cookies, and see some of their historical chocolate-making equipment. Take your treats down the hill and enjoy them by the water with views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. 900 North Point Street.
Good Mong Kok Bakery (Chinatown)
This little storefront is a no-frills shop of “dim sum nice food,” or so it says on the window. If you’re at least a somewhat adventurous eater, go inside and point at some dumplings that look good. You can ask for chicken, pork, etc–but don’t expect a ton of English in response–and probably don’t try to guess what you’re eating. There are no seats inside, so you’ll have to take your little plastic bag(s) of goods somewhere else to eat. It’s also cash only, but pocket change will practically do. I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than $4 on a very hearty snack. The dumplings are something like $.80/each, so this definitely won’t break the bank! 1039 Stockton Street.
The Slanted Door (Ferry Building/Embarcadero)
This award-winning Vietnamese restaurant features organic, sustainably, and humanely produced ingredients. The fresh, modern fare and gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge make this Ferry Building spot a great stop for lunch or dinner. For a moderately priced lunch, choose a soup ($8), salad ($12-$18), and/or noodle dish ($17-$21). Reservations recommended, especially for dinner. One Ferry Building #3 (facing the water in the back of the building).
Mission Chinese (Mission)
It’s difficult to come up with words to describe Mission Chinese. It’s a unique experience, for sure. What started as a pop-up restaurant is now a Mission District mainstay, but don’t expect to see a big sign announcing its presence. In fact, the signage for the restaurant that formerly occupied the space (Lung Shan) is still in place. A paper menu taped to the door is pretty much your only clue. Inside, a bare-bones space is lined with small tables and an enormous red paper dragon on the ceiling. The dishes are irreverent, Americanized takes on Asian/Chinese food, like thrice-cooked bacon or General Tso’s veal rib. In spite of the critical acclaim and popularity of the restaurant, the prices remain extremely reasonable. All dishes fall within a $5-$20 range, with the majority of the menu items coming in at $13 and below. They recently started to (kind of) take reservations on their website, but you still might have to wait in line (totally worth it). 2234 Mission Street.
A former bank building is now a hip gathering spot that’s a perennial favorite on Eater’s Essential 38 list for San Francisco. They specialize in seasonal, wood-fired cuisine, and the menus feature local, organic, and sustainable ingredients. The bar and community tables are great for meeting friends, and the cozy tables upstairs are perfect for a date and overlooking the action.The food is inventive, but not fussy or pretentious, and not overpriced (dinner entrees $16.50-$29). Reservations highly recommended! 560 Divisadero Street.
State Bird Provisions (Western Addition)
For a unique dining experience, look no further. This is yet another SF restaurant that is completely deserving of all the hype and praise, including a Michelin star (!). The restaurant serves dishes dim sum-style, meaning that servers push around carts of food for your choosing. Each cart or tray usually has 2-3 different small plates to choose from, and they usually range from $3-$12 each. You pick what you want, and the server makes a tally mark on your clipboard–it’s that quick and easy. They also have a limited menu from which you can order. I highly recommend ordering the quail (or “state bird”), which is their specialty and namesake. But really everything looks too good to pass up.
Now it takes some commitment to actually get a seat. You can try booking a table online 60 days out at midnight PT, but that only works if you’re really lucky in my experience. (Yes, I woke up at 3am ET and failed). I’m talking sold out in 15 seconds, max. Fortunately there is another option: show up and wait in line. The restaurant reserves a portion of their seats every night for walk-ins. The doors open for the first seating at 5:30, and the line can sometimes form well before 4pm. The first handful of people in line get to go straight in, and then the host starts giving out what amount to same day reservations. They’ll tell you when to come back and will text you if something opens up sooner. For instance, we got in line at 5:30, waited about 30 minutes, then were given seats at 10:15. I know I keep saying this, but it was totally worth it. They served one of my favorite meals I’ve ever had, and it was undoubtedly my most laid back Michelin-starred experience. 1529 Fillmore Street.
Gary Danko (Fishermans Wharf)
If you’re looking for a splurge and/or special occasion meal, I can only say good things about Gary Danko. Don’t let the modest exterior fool you: you’re in for something really special. The menus change seasonally and offer three-, four-, and five-course options (starting at $81/person). What could be another stuffy, white table cloth, Michelin-starred restaurant is instead surprisingly comfortable and full of theater (the good kind–like dessert flambeed table side). The food is nothing short of extraordinary; the service is what makes the experience truly first class. You can make reservations on their website up to two months out, and I recommend trying sooner than later. 800 North Point Street.
Nopalito (Lower Haight + Inner Sunset)
This is where traditional Mexican dishes meet organic Californian ingredients–definitely not your average Mexican joint. The two locations are sister restaurants to Nopa (see above) and share the same values of sustainability. The seasonal menus are inventive and fresh and not a huge hit to your wallet. Dishes range from $6.25-$19 for dinner and almost everything is under $13 for lunch. There are no reservations, but you can call up to 2 hours ahead during busy hours to get on their waitlist. 306 Broderick Street + 1224 9th Avenue.
Flour + Water (Mission)
This is another Mission district hotspot whose buzz hasn’t seemed to die down, even after several years of operation. The atmosphere has an unmistakably Californian vibe–cool yet energetic, and altogether pleasant to be in. The seasonal menus include wood fired pizzas and house-made pastas that feel authentically Italian and locally-inspired at the same time. And it’s all really exceptionally executed. Pizzas from $15, pastas from $19, other entrees from $28. You can reserve a table a month out, but this is also a fairly walk-in friendly place. 2401 Harrison Street.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Ferry Building/Embarcadero)
If you haven’t already figured it out, I really love the Ferry Building. I think everyone should visit because it’s a cool, historic space right on the water full of delicious food. The only way it gets even better is on Saturdays when the whole plaza around the building turns into a giant farmers market. You can find local farmers and makers selling incredibly fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, seafood, flowers, and so much more. If you go in the winter, you’ll see more citruses that you ever thought imaginable, and you’ll never want to buy another box of clementines in the store after you taste what’s available here. As with most farmers markets, it’s good for people watching, too. It honestly might be one of my very favorite places on the planet. So what I’m saying is GO! And then post a photo on social media and tag me in it (@kenanhill) so I can die of jealousy. 🙂 One Ferry Building.
Do you have any favorites we shouldn’t miss next time we’re in SF? Please share in the comments!