Some say that after one stay you leave your heart in San Francisco.
That may be true, but one thing is for sure, leave your diet at home when you visit the Bay Area!
The top-notch cuisine of Northern California is truly something to write home about and definitely not to be missed because of some strict nutritional regime.
Every corner brings a new culinary experience. Here’s your guide to the best local, not-for-tourists fare that San Francisco has to offer.
On Mission Street there is a small windowed diner with neon fixtures that will catch your eye. And if they don’t, the giant “Joe Grinds His Own Fresh Chuck Daily” sign and wafting smells of gourmet burgers will entice you into Joe’s Cable Car.
The dining room is like any average diner with Formica tabletops and red ketchup and yellow mustard bottles, but Joe’s walls are plastered in positive reviews, showing that this diner is probably better than your average Regal Beagle.
Joe’s is known for its burgers, which are freshly cooked to order every time. Each burger comes in three sizes, 4, 6, or 8 ounces and they have your normal cheese, mushroom, and bacon burgers. While those are definitely delicious, they also have really interesting options like the Pizza Fresh Burger, smothered in tomato sauce and served with mozzarella, or the Teriyaki Burger covered in tangy sauce.
Vegetarians, there is something at Joe’s for you, too—it serves great grilled cheeses and veggie sandwiches and, honestly, who doesn’t love a good French fry once in a while? Round out your upscale diner experience with a milkshake or a slice of homemade lemon, carrot, or chocolate cake. 4320 Mission Street;
After hearty American fare, try an exotic meal of perfectly prepared Korean food. The authentic My Tofu House is family-owned and operated, located in a small storefront with a very large colorful and bilingual sign. The interior is sparse, decorated only by some posters on the wall, but makes up for all of that in great service and amazing food. The Korean fare is generally healthy, which means you can splurge on dessert after dinner. Try the sundubu, spicy Korean tofu soup that can be served with beef, pork, chicken, or kimchi. Or order the bibimbop, a rice dish filled with veggies, some meat, an egg, and served beautifully in hot stoneware. The menu also includes a large selection of barbecued meats and tofu salads. Every meal comes with a side of kimchi. 4627 Geary Boulevard; 415-750-1818, www.mytofuhouse.com
Or, travel a little south of the city on Highway 1 for one of the most spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Sierra Mar, located inside the Post Ranch Inn, changes its menu daily based on seasonal and organic fare. The restaurant serves a four-course prix-fixe dinner menu for $100, with at least four options to choose from in each course.
Start off with the butter-poached Maine lobster served with a sweet pea puree and combined with a summer truffle. For course number two, try the asparagus with prosciutto, shaved Romano cheese and fava beans. The third course is the meat course, of which the best option is the roast rabbit tasting, a trio options including a delicious pancetta-wrapped tenderloin. Dessert (aka my favorite part) is best with the baked milk chocolate crepes or the warm roasted apple beignets. In the end, the tasting menu really will give you a very well-rounded meal. Post Ranch off of Highway 1; 831-667-2800, www.postranchinn.com
Start your day off with mama. Mama’s of Washington Square, that is. This small storefront is located right next to a stunning Gothic-style church and is always bustling with customers. The family-owned operation has tables lining one wall and a to-go counter lining the other. The kitchen is open air, so you can see your food being prepared as you wait.
Get an omelet, which Mama’s is famous for—favorites are the Northern Italian, filled with pancetta, mushroom, tomato, and garlic jack cheese, or the Northwest, stuffed with smoked salmon, grilled leeks and sour cream. If you’re in the mood for a sweet bite, you can order French toast with Swedish cinnamon or chocolate cinnamon. Make sure to get there early or wait for a late breakfast because from 7-9 a.m. Mama’s is packed. 1701 Stockton Street; 415-362-6421, https://mamas-sf.com
Chinese food is a staple in the San Francisco area and, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be a heavy meal. Try a lighter kind of Asian fare at Yank Sing. The neutral-toned dining room with wicker chairs is always packed with lunch clientele from the local Financial District. Waiters don muted red aprons as they push carts of steaming dim sum throughout the dining room. If you see something you like, motion them over and take what you please.
Their dumplings are filled with all types of meats and veggies and they have their own unique spin on every dumpling, like the goldfish-shaped dumpling stuffed with crunchy shrimp. Yank Sing sets itself apart by also offering carts of “deem sum,” a wider variety of bite-sized items including Peking duck by the slice, spare ribs, stuffed lotus leaves, and pork buns. When you pick out an item the waiter will stamp your bill with the price of the chow and the cashier will add it all up at the end. If the wait is too long or the weather is too beautiful, head to the open-air to-go station and order a handy meal that comes with dumplings, noodles, and rice. 415-957-9300 (101 Spear Street), 415-541-4949 (49 Stevenson Street), www.yanksing.com
If Taco Bell is your idea of Mexican, you are in for a real treat when you try the gourmet Mexican concoctions at Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana. The exposed brick walls give Tamarindo a homey interior and the colorful artwork adds a fun flair. The food is served tapas style (ie-small plates meant to be shared). Try the ceviche of the day or the tamal Oaxaqueno— pork tamales steamed in a banana leaf. The torta ahogada is a baguette filled with carnitas, beans, and a very spicy salsa, and the empanadas de hongos y queso consist of masa turnovers with mushrooms, goat cheese, epazote, and a Tomatillo sauce. These are only the tip of iceberg as far as the small plates you could choose from at Tamarindo. Remember to save room for some flan and Mexican hot chocolate. 468 8th Street, Oakland; 510-444-1944, www.tamarindoantojeria.com
Farallon is known for its mastery of coastal cuisine. The design of the restaurant is simply breathtaking. The entrance to the restaurant is a bar accented by light fixtures shaped like jellyfish. To get to the main dining room travel up the gorgeous staircase that is covered with more than 50,000 shimmering blue marbles.
Begin with the Mediterranean octopus confit served with thyme leaves and garlic or the Mediterranean shellfish bisque prepared with Maine lobster and cauliflower puree. For your entrée, of course, stick with seafood. Try the stuffed English Channel turbot with cauliflower flan and a champagne-caviar fondue or the grilled diver scallops on top of polenta, roasted mushrooms, covered in bacon vinaigrette. Use your server as a resource for what kind of wine works best with what dish, as wine list is quite extensive. For dessert, Farallon has a huge and quite unique array of cheeses; but if you have a sweet tooth, great options are the quince-apple turnovers with cinnamon caramel sauce or the mocha crunch cake topped off with a white chocolate espresso sauce. 450 Post Street; 415-956-6969, www.farallonrestaurant.com
Travel to California’s premiere college town, Berkeley, and enjoy a delicious small French bistro that serves award-winning breakfasts. The hardwood floors and ceramic plates that hang on the walls give La Note a rustic feel. The menu is written entirely in French, which adds to the restaurant’s Provencal ambiance. Try an array of pancakes like the lemon gingerbread served with poached pears or a stack of oatmeal raspberry pancakes. If you’re in the mood for some protein, go for the oeuf a la coque, which is two hard-boiled eggs served in their shells, along side home fries and toast. If you are really hungry, start off with a delicious pastry like the sour cream coffee cake made with walnuts. Eat anytime before 10 a.m.—after that, the college crowd likes to hold up tables with just a cup of coffee and a croissant. 2377 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley; 510-843-1535
Because of your rich breakfast and your impending gourmet dinner, stick with a smaller lunch. Saigon Sandwich Shop is a hole-in-the-wall store with little seating, and even less choice of sandwiches …the only thing on the menu is a banh mi, or a Vietnamese sandwich. It’s essentially a French roll cut and filled with carrots, onions, jalapenos, and other assorted vegetables. Then you add your choice of one of five types of meat: chicken, roast pork, ham, pork loaf, or pâté. The store also sells an assortment of Asian goodies—check out the shrimp crackers, or a couple of dried plums to round out your lunch or to snack on later. 560 Larkin Street; 415-474-5698
This is your final in San Francisco, so it is the time to soak up the real essence of the city by the bay. To do just that try The Cliff House. The building, which is literally located on a cliff, has beautiful views of the water crashing up against the jagged rocks. If you go at the right time of the year, you may even see some seals sun bathing in the afternoon rays.
Inside The Cliff House are actually two restaurants. The upscale Sutro at The Cliff House, which serves lunch and dinner on white tablecloths, and The Bistro, located above the Sutro with floor-to-ceiling windows and serves cheaper fare. Start by ordering the famous clam chowder, paired perfectly with traditional San Francisco sourdough bread. For your main dish, have one of the Cliff House’s specialties, the crispy fried oysters with citrus cole slaw, fish and chips topped with malt vinegar, or the massive half-pound burger served with cheddar cheese and fries. Make sure to ask your server about the desserts of the day and choose one that fits your fancy. The Cliff House’s food is wonderful, but it is merely a supplement to the beautiful views of an only sometimes-serene ocean. 1090 Point Lobos; 415-386-3330, www.cliffhouse.com
You can only hope that walking through the hilly city touring helped you work off some of the scrumptious eats you enjoyed in San Francisco. When you return home, start to work on your new diet and work off your vacation weight, but only so you can return to the Bay Area and enjoy the hundreds of other mouth-watering restaurants, bistros, and cafes that you have yet to try!
By Courtney Crowder for PeterGreenberg.com.
Going to San Francisco? Check out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to San Francisco, California. And don’t miss shopper extraordinaire Suzy Gershman’s Guide to Bay Area Baubles.
There’s even more Offbeat Activities in Northern California in this video.