Guys, we need to talk about San Francisco. When we made a plan with Matt’s parents to go there for a family-business-related trade show, I was prepared for the beautiful and distinctive neighbourhoods. I knew about the overcast weather. I expected paper straws and compostable cups galore (yay!). I was excited about historic points of interest, like the redwoods, 19th century architecture and the Golden Gate Bridge. What I completely overlooked when planning the trip was how good the food was going to be.
We didn’t have a single bad meal over the extra long weekend we spent there. Matt and I arrived a good 8 hours before the rest of our family, so we planned a self-guided food tour of NoPa’s trendy Divisadero Street adapted from the fabulous San Francisco Travel website. Since we hadn’t had breakfast yet, we started at the Mill (736 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA), which is famous for their expensive toast and the beautiful building, which used to be a literal mill! You could choose between a few different set combinations, so we enjoyed a $6 USD order of seasonal raspberry jam on molasses brown bread. The toast itself was substantial and thick, the generous sprinkling of sea salt and smear of melted butter were satisfying and the jam tasted like someone’s sweet grandma had come down from heaven specifically to make it. 10/10 would toast again. Our cappuccino was great, too!
Across the street was 4505 Burgers and BBQ (705 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA), where we tried their “Best Damn Grass-Fed Cheeseburger” ($10) cooked medium rare (oh my gosh yes) and their deep fried “Frankaroni” ($5), which is yes, crispy fried mac and cheese containing morsels of hot dogs. Everything here was completely delicious.
We also picked up one of their $3.50 USD bags of chicharrones (pork rinds!) to take home for my dad. We were so impressed in general by the variety of locally produced snacks we saw in convenience stores and delis. California truly has it going on!
We weren’t 100% full yet (though honestly getting there) so we stopped in at another recommended spot on the walking tour – the Little Chihuahua (292 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA). This cozy, relaxed space was full of locals stopping in for a Friday lunch and they were doing a brisk take-out business with people ordering huge amounts of burritos to take back to the office for their colleagues. This was our final food push for the afternoon, so we split a plate of three specialty tacos, the Ensenada fish, the garlic shrimp and al pastor pork ($5.25 – $5.75).
Everything at the Little Chihuahua was super fresh and super tasty. The food took a little while to come out, but it was more than worth the wait. I highly recommend this spot for a lunch or brunch before walking over to Alamo Square Park for an iced coffee and a photo op with the “Full House houses” or Painted Ladies. After tacos and park views, it started dumping rain on us so we went back to the historic Chancellor Hotel to get ready for our first ever Michelin-starred meal at Omakase (read all about it here!)
The next day we loaded ourselves onto a minibus for Dylan’s Famous Tour, a meandering drive through some of San Francisco’s most famous neighbourhoods, across the Golden Gate and into the Muir Woods National Monument for a walk through a sequoia forest. Of course there was lots of natural beauty, culture and sunshine to soak up, but my favourite part was obviously our lunch stop in Sausalito. We had some juicy, incredible deli sandwiches from Venice Gourmet (625 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA) at the water’s edge and watched harbour seals swimming back and forth. Best picnic ever!
That night we went into Little Italy seeking out all the seafood we could find – we were very satisfied with our catch at Caffe Sport (574 Green St, San Francisco, CA). We all had some variation on pasta with delicious house made sauce and seafood, but the highlight for me was our huge shared fritto misto with deep fried calamari, shrimp and scallops under a pile of ribboned zucchini and carrot. It came out with a house creamy garlic sauce that had us all frantically shovelling this appetizer into our mouths.
The next morning we hit the famous Japanese Tea Garden (75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA) in Golden Gate Park. We hadn’t had breakfast or even a coffee yet, so we were delighted to see an adorable little cafe selling tasty Japanese tea and snacks when we walked in. Oh, plus we loved all the pagodas and trees and flowers and whatever too, of course! But that red-bean stuffed pancake (dorayaki)!! So good.
We were on the west end of town after our walk through the tea garden and looked up nearby taquerias so my brother-in-law, Spencer, could get his Mexican food fix. (The way to Spencer’s heart is through a super-sized burrito, no question!) The closest place with the highest rating was Chino’s Taqueria (3416 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA), a family-run, cash-only operation that didn’t even have a website – that’s how you know you’re in for something delicious.
We all gorged on burritos, tacos, chips, guac and fresh salsa. The food was an excellent value with hefty portions and a ton of flavour, but my favourite part of this meal was the extremely friendly staff. So many times when travelling, we’ll visit a small, locally patronized restaurant and get barked at by impatient servers who don’t have patience for those who aren’t hip to the menu – this couldn’t have been further from the case at Chino’s. From the way they cheerfully piled toppings high on each of our orders to the way they warmly laughed at my enthusiasm for chile verde pork, this shop stole our hearts!
After an afternoon of fresh air and exploring Ocean Beach, the Cliff House and the Sutro Baths on the west side of San Francisco, our family was overdue for a high calorie feast. Luckily for us, there was a table for six available at Chili House (726 Clement St, San Francisco, CA), a Peking duck hot spot in the area. We loaded up on dishes, but my favourite was the honey walnut prawns. I’m always curious to see local interpretations of foreign foods (see Croatian sushi for a good time) so I was excited to have an opportunity to try this dish, ostensibly from Hong Kong but dominant in the Bay Area. Battered, deep fried, drenched in a sweetened condensed milk sauce and topped with toasted nuts, these babies pack a flavour punch. They were one of the last items to come out and even though I was almost ready to burst, I found room to tuck away a few of these juicy, sticky, sweet prawns with no hesitation!
On our last day, we were craving some seafood but wanted to avoid the overwrought (and overpriced) Fisherman’s Wharf. As a compromise, we went to the Buena Vista (2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA), an over 100-year-old eatery famous for introducing Irish coffee to America in the 1950s. We can now confirm that their Irish coffee holds up to the hype – it was creamy and luxurious with a bracing punch of whiskey in every sip! My favourite part of the meal here was the gooey, creamy, savoury clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. I’ve never felt so devastated finishing a bowl of soup before – and luckily for me it was dark enough in the restaurant that I was able to tear apart and eat most of the hollowed, chowder-soaked loaf without causing too much of a scene.
This was a fabulous trip with wonderful family members, but sadly had to come to an end the following morning. Though it took my body several days to recover from all the food, I left my heart in San Francisco and can’t wait to go back!