This round-up of San Francisco’s various foodhalls was created when I was in the throes of jetlag and an insatiable taste to recall all the amazing foodstuffs I stuffed down during my week in California…which was now eight weeks ago? Gah.
It had been nearly four years since I was last in San Francisco, and honestly, a lot has changed in the city since then. It could be my wearier eyes, but San Francisco seemed a lot more run down than I recalled. More closed stores; a higher percentage of homeless people, and yeah, the guy shooting heroin just yards from Blue Bottle Coffee in the Mission district didn’t help much, either.
Nonetheless, it’s still a city brimming with culinary delights, which was the focus of my non-work-related days out there, after a week of barely eating, thanks to illness. (The focus of my work-days in SF? Why, ogling the HTC One…)
Dottie’s True Blue Cafe
I started my SF calorie-hopping with brunch at the famous Dottie’s. Well, I say brunch, but actually, I was there queuing outside for its 7:30am opening, after rising at 5am thanks to jetlag. Dottie’s is one of those institutions that’s been in the city since day dot (well, for about 20 years, anyway).
With endless cups of coffee served from the ever-smiling waiters, it kind of has that American Route 66 diner-style offering, only with the rustic bare-brick interiors and light jazz, it feels a lot less kitsch than another of SF’s diner-style foodjaunts, Lori’s.
Seen above, “the open road” (2x eggs; bacon or Italian sausage; home fries; two pancakes, and a juice.)
28 6th St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (SoMa area)
Bacon Bacon Kitchen
Probably my favourite discovery this trip, Bacon Bacon started life as a food truck, before it burnt down. Cue jokes about that fire causing rumbling stomachs across half of SF. The cafe, located just off Haight-Ashbury, only has a couple of stools to perch on, but the food is certainly worth a numb bum. I arrived about 11am, so plumped for the breakfast sandwich (fried egg; bacon; cheddar, and the most amazing bacon jam, all in a bap for $7) and their custom coffee brew, from Roast Co. in Oakland. Not to mention a croissant smeared with bacon jam for the road (which I ended up having for dinner, with a horrendous Walgreens salad).
If I went back again, I’d definitely go for one of their bacon bouquets (a cone with seven strips of bacon, in either the following flavours, or a combination: original; spicy mama; chimichurri; barbecue; chicken fried; house, or candy).
Very novelty-esque, but for a fan of bacon, it’s a must-visit.
205 A Frederick St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (Haight-Ashbury)
Recommended to me by Laura of Caravan on Exmouth Market (one of my favourite London eateries); the location on the far-from-salubrious Market surprised me, but one look at the wooden architraves and smart lighting pulled me in from my stomp past its large windows. Everything, from the decor to the food to the wine, really reminded me of the type of restaurants seen on vineyards back home in the Margaret River area of Western Australia.
I wasn’t that hungry after my visit to Bacon Bacon earlier that day, so had a 4pm lunch (from their “afternoon” menu) of house-cured anchovies with celery, taggiasca olives and cloying parmigiano ($8.75), mopped up with the heavily-salted butter and bread. The flavours were immense in that dish; lesser so in the rather disappointing arugula, pomegranate and goat’s cheese salad, which quite honestly tasted like it could’ve come from a pre-packaged M&S salad. (It’s not listed on Zuni’s website, but was around the $6 mark, from memory). The glass of red (which doesn’t appear to be on the website either) was very well selected, meanwhile.
Looking at the four menus Zuni offers, I think I should’ve really called in for either brunch or dinner, but I really couldn’t fault them, apart from my small quibble with the arugula salad. The service wasn’t the friendliest I had during the week, but they mostly left me alone to read my book and watch the sun lower itself behind the buildings, which was both appreciated and memorable.
1658 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Image via Slanted Door’s website, as I failed to photograph our lunch…oops!
After reading a nubbet on Slanted Door in 7×7 magazine, I thought it sounded like just the place to take my former editor for lunch. Unfortunately I messed up and took him to the main, fancier restaurant instead of Out the Door, the more fast food-style offshoot just in front (both are within the Ferry Terminal Building). Yes, Chen, I was intending on taking you for fast food.
Nonetheless, we had a great lunch. Starting with half a dozen mixed oysters for $18 (2x beausoleil; 2x fanny bay; 2x marin miyagi; 2x drake’s bay), I moved on to the organic chicken claypot, which was a delicately-flavoured mix of caramel sauce with thai chilli and fresh ginger, for $19. Sharing a bowl of Massa Organics’ brown rice with me, Jason went for what I seem to recall was the grass-fed Anderson Ranch lamb sirloin with spring onions and red chillis ($18); a nice Vietnamese plate which was perfect for sharing.
I really enjoyed this lunch, with the interiors just perfectly poised for a business meeting (plenty seemed to be happening around us), or just friends catching up, as it was in our case. My only regret is I didn’t have any room left in my stomach afterwards for a steamed pork bun at Out the Door.
1 Sausalito – San Francisco Ferry Bldg #3, San Francisco, CA 94111
Image via Cowgirl Creamery’s site
Ferry Terminal Building
While at the Ferry Terminal Building for Slanted Door or Out the Door, pop into Cowgirl Creamery for some blocks of cheese (or take-away foodstuffs, such as some immense-looking grilled cheese sandwiches); Hog Island Oyster Company for yup, oysters, or Boccalone Salumeria for all manner of salami items — including a cone of salami. Mmm.
Architect fans will love the building, originally opened in 1898 as the main arrival point for those travelling from East by the train, or by ferry, which was the only way people could reach SF from the Gold Rush until the ’30s (unless they came from the Peninsula).
Image from SFGate
Using seasonal offerings from the vast Californian landscape, chef Mark Liberman uses a French cooking style to serve up four seasonal menus every year. When I visited, the interiors were decked out to match the winter menu, with the sparse tree branches and twinkly lights rather showing up the bright days we’d seen thus far in SF.
As I was dining with a large group, it appears we had a specially-selected menu offered to us which sadly isn’t on the website, but I seem to recall my starter of a winter salad (which consisted of nary a lettuce leaf, instead favouring small roasted arms of parsnip, beetroot and the like, in a honey-tasting sauce) being incredible, though very small; the main of a chicken quarter with cereals and possibly the most amazing mashed potato I’ve ever tasted (poor photo of it, above), and a chocolate devil food’s cake with a malt whip and peanut butter-tasting sauce being…slightly revolting, in all honesty. (The panna cotta someone else ordered was much nicer.) Service however was great.
1085 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Dubbing themselves “icecream with attitude,” the icecream bar (named after two characters in Are You Being Served) was a must-visit after being recommended to me by several different people. Serving up flavours that guarantees its word-of-mouth success, I sprung for a double-scoop option of Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes), and Fluffernutter (peanut butter and marshmallow whip). Check out the full list of flavours here, which also includes…peanut butter curry?
2790 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (Mission area)
If Humphry Slocombe was popular, Bi-Rite Creamery was possibly more so. While it hasn’t carved a niche with novelty flavours, when more than one person tells you to go straight to Bi-Rite for a scoop of their salted caramel, you know you must spring into action.
I headed to the Creamery after picking up a few salad-y type provisions for a makeshift picnic in Mission Dolores park with my pal Basil, from Bi-Rite’s Whole Foods-like grocery store across the road. While the store sells tubs of icecream, if you want a scoop or small take-away tub of icecream, the Creamery is well worth a visit. Ask the friendly hipsters behind the counter for a scoop of Earl Grey icecream while there; you won’t regret it. Cross the road and lick your prize to the beat of San Francisco’s fried hippies beating away on their bongoes, as we did.
3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (Mission Area)
Two Sister’s Bar and Books
Seeking a reprieve from last Sunday’s dazzling heat (and dizzying Super Bowl enthusiasm from the locals), I ducked into Hayes Street’s Two Sister’s Bar and Books. While I didn’t nibble on anything (I eked out an hour with a newly-purchased book from The Booksmith on Haight; one of the world’s greatest bookstores, it has to be said, with a cup of coffee), the food and cocktails being served around me looked great. With the sun shafts lighting up my front table, the rest of the cafe was cool and dark, with a fantastically-curated playlist featuring Dean Martin; Nick Drake, and loads of random bluegrass. (I used a lot of data Shazaming that bluegrass, I can tell you.)
579 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Hayes Valley)
When asking a local of his favourite Mexican haunt (SF is rammed with Mexican places, so obviously I needed to visit THE BEST), La Taqueria was the answer quickly fired back at me. (Confusingly, a lot of Mexican taquerias are similarly named.) Don’t visit expecting a fancy or trendy restaurant — instead, this place feels like a family-run operation, churning out quality handmade tacos to hungry workers on their lunchbreaks. Casual and cheap, I choked down a pork taco (I really wasn’t hungry, but as I was in the area, I thought I’d be remiss not to duck in) and really didn’t regret it. Solid thumb’s up from me.
2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (Mission area)
Oh, Tartine. If I could package up a year’s supplies from any one SF place, Tartine’s Bakery would be it. While Bar Tartine on nearby Valencia Street serves up more adequate meals, it was the hot-pressed sandwiches which pulled me into Tartine — twice. Staffed with good-looking hipsters; populated by yummy mummies and yet more tattooed clientele of the hipster persuasion, the queues may be long, but the food and coffee are well worth the wait. With artisan sandwiches costing in the region of $12, many may be turned away by the price, but they were big enough to share (or take home in a doggy bag, as I did). Just look at the menu. Look at it. AGAIN.
Honestly, the Idiazabal and Membrillo sandwich ($12 for lightly-smoked sheep’s cheese with quince jam) is in my top five favourite sandwiches of all time. Served with a side of sliced apple, and a vital green tea, I was in heaven. And even more so a few hours later, when I tucked into my takeaway slice of coconut and passionfruit bavarian cake ($5), which I don’t even want to talk about because it will just make me weep that it’s not a permanent fixture in my diet.
Served in cafes all around the city (and beyond, I’m guessing), Fourbarrel didn’t pour my favourite cup of the week (that honour goes to Blue Bottle), but was definitely the shop I’d want to hang around in the most if I were local. With reams of LPs behind the counter; good tunes being spun from somewhere, and decent art on the walls, it struck that fine line of being trendy with its junkyard furniture, without being so pretentious you wanted to hurt whoever set it up. That said, I didn’t feel quite comfortable enough whipping out my phone to snap the cool interiors, so you’ll have to make do with my surreptitious snap of the ladies behind the counter. Coffee: about 7/10, if I’m honest. (Though I’m far from a coffee expert!) Oh yeah, and this really turns me off Fourbarrel, too. Though I approve of their bike rack “installation” outside. Can you tell I’m torn?
375 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Mission area)
Now, this is another coffee shop that has me torn. While its coffee was number two on my list, and interiors up there with Fourbarrel (if not more so), the location was a bit odd I felt (that whole SoMa / Folsom area just feels like a wasteland). Nonetheless, I would happily return, to eye up the industrial interiors and trendy-without-being-a-joke clientele.
270 7th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Other restaurants of note, which I shall hit up next time: RN74 in Soma; Beretta on Valencia St; Benu in Soma; Hogs & Rocks in the Mission district; Flour + Water, also in the Mission; Mission Chinese Food; SPQR in Pacific Heights; Boulevard in Embarcadero; Cotonga; Sebo in Hayes; Little Skillet; Una Pizza Napoletana.