Most people leave their hearts in San Francisco. I left my stomach.
The vibrant Californian city is home to a dynamic food scene, no doubt a product of its diverse ethnic and cultural population.
On a recent visit, I was lucky to be taken to some of the city’s best cafes, restaurants and providores, sampling everything from cheap as chips tacos joint to fancy restaurants.
If you’re headed to one of the USA’s best towns, add the food joints below to your bucket list and prepare to be uncomfortably full but happy.
Mission Chinese Food
2234 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.
South Korean-American chef Danny Bowien opened the first Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2010. Taking over an old Cantonese restaurant, Bowien began serving unique dishes like kung-pao pastrami and thrice-cooked bacon with rice cakes. He fast developed a reputation for making excellent experimental Chinese food that goes beyond gimmick. He also left the signage intact.
Today, there are three Mission Chinese Foods, with additional locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Local friends of mine took me to the original my first night in San Francisco and it did not disappoint. If this were a restaurant review it would be five stars from me.
Hotel San Francisco
653 Commercial St, San Francisco, CA 94111.
Where do a bunch of Australians go when they land in San Francisco? An Australian-owned bar-restaurant of course. Hotel San Francisco is the brainchild of Aussies Thomas Glenwright, Paul Schulte, and Priscilla Dosiou, who set out to liven up the financial district’s bar scene with a venue focused on cocktails, music and fun. Plus, a menu designed for sharing is tasty and clever, with dishes like confit duck crostini and fries with fancy salt.
Thankfully, the owners haven’t leaned in too hard to their Australian heritage. The above ‘Downunder’ sign is one of the only giveaways, along with a boomerang on the wall and the occasional Kylie Minogue song.
1 Ferry Building #35, San Francisco, CA 94111.
Modern American restaurant Boulibar was opened in 2014 by the owners of Boulette’s Larder, a popular breakfast and lunch spot already in the Ferry Building. With a more sophisticated bar-restaurant vibe, Boulibar serves seasonal Meditteranean-inspired food including pizzas, mezze, seafood and salads. Don’t miss the cannoli if it’s on the menu.
Whether you eat here or not, a trip to the Ferry Building is a must. The beautifully restored port terminal is home to a number of specialty shops selling local produce and products including bread, wine, books and chocolate. There’s also an acclaimed farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Dynamo Donuts + Coffee
2760 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110.
Though Australia’s fancy doughnut hysteria has somewhat waned, Americans are forever gaga for the circular treat. I was taken to Dynamo Donuts + Coffee as part of a food tour of San Francisco’s storied Mission District and I’m still dreaming of deep-fried passionfruit milk chocolate goodness.
Choose from the classic, year-round favourites or enjoy fun seasonal flavours such as November’s offerings of carrot with cream cheese carrot glaze, sweet potato marshmallow and persimmon. And, for our gut-sensitive readers, there are always plenty of gluten-free options.
3033 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110.
San Francisco is known for many things including temperamental weather, a strong LGBTQI community and amazing Mexican food. Whenever a burrito craving hits you, there’s likely to be a Taqueria within a one-mile radius if not closer. It’s what I imagine Heaven is like.
The city’s Mission District, in particular, is famous for its Hispanic restaurants, with a rich history of migration and refuge for Latin American peoples. It’s hard to find bad food in the Mission, but if you need a recommendation, Taqueria Vallarta is an old no-frills taco joint serving fresh, authentic Mexican food for next to nothing. Set your mouth on fire with hot sauce then weigh yourself on the scales provided. Just joking, please don’t do that.
740 Valencia Street, San Francisco.
Do you want to try the best cookie in the whole wide world? Big call, I know. But I’m quietly confident in crowning the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie from Dandelion Chocolate thus. And believe me, I’ve done a lot of research. They do a damn good hot chocolate to wash it down with too.
With several locations in San Francisco, Dandelion Chocolate is a shop, a cafe, a school and a warehouse all in one. Watch chocolates being made in real-time, learn to temper and bake with it and feast on creative, delicious treats like chocolate yuzu, iced chocolate chai and dulce de leche chocolate bars.
3639 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94103.
Founded by two bakers, Bi-Rite Creamery serves responsible, sustainable ice cream made with locally-sourced ingredients. Their goal is to make people happy with intense, original and perfectly balanced flavours such as Roasted Banana, Honey Lavender and Lemon Ricotta Pancake, and boy, do they achieve it.
On a sunny afternoon in a park right by the 18th Street creamery, I had a religious experience with two scoops of Black Sesame and a Welsh Corgi. Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of the Welsh Corgi from the park, but here is a picture of another Welsh Corgi in case you need help picturing the scene.
3091 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103.
Before this visit to San Francisco, I had never eaten, nor heard of, pupusas, a Salvadoran fried good filled with joy. This trip changed me. Now, I pledge allegiance to pupusas and pupusas only. If you need more convincing than “fried bread stuffed with meat and/or cheese” I can’t help you.
If you find yourself hungry in the Mission District, Panchita’s Pupuseria is a popular place serving delicious, authentic Salvadoran food. Pop in for a pupusa or five, I promise you’ll thank me.
If you go to Fisherman’s Wharf and don’t have a chowder, have you really been to Fisherman’s Wharf? I’m pretty sure you have. I’m a vegetarian and I distinctly remember being there.
My seafood-eating dining companions at Pier Market, however, assured me that the New England Clam Chowder tasted worthy of its crowning of ‘best on Fisherman’s Wharf’. This lovely, waterside restaurant has been serving high-quality, sustainable seafood since 1983 and remains deeply committed to preserving the ocean and fisheries.
I’ve been to the United States several times but until this trip, somewhat regrettably, I’d never been to an IHOP. I’ve also been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.
IHOP ( or International House of Pancakes), is the quintessential American pancake house chain, a breakfast institution serving up eggs and coffee 24 hours a day since 1958. Sure, the eggs are kind of rubbery and the coffee on the bitter side, but there are four types of pancake syrup (blueberry, strawberry, butter pecan and old fashioned) so all is forgiven.
Unfortunately, access to IHOP’s website appears to be forbidden in Australia so you can’t revel in its glory online, but I’m considering throwing in this whole writer business and opening a franchise here so watch this space.
The writer was a guest of San Francisco Travel Association.
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