How To Eat Your Way Around San Francisco’s Foodie Neighbourhoods
From hidden hole-in-the-wall restaurants to fine-dining fare, this city’s food scene is having a well-deserved moment.
1 April 2019
All Credits: PA
These days, San Francisco is just as famous for its food as it is for its beatnik poets, suspension bridges and cable cars. It’s a place where buzzy restaurant openings abound, where food trends are born (we have these guys to thank for the recent sourdough revival) and where locals will queue around the block for a Mission District burrito.
A recent nod of approval from the Michelin Guide has nudged the city ahead of New York and LA in the food stakes, with the ratings guide hailing San Francisco as the fine-dining capital of the US. Eight of its restaurants have earned three Michelin stars, more than any other region in the country, and locals are spoiled with a whopping 80 stars in this year’s hallowed list.
San Francisco has been named the fine-dining capital of the US (iStock/PA)
San Franciscans take their food seriously, but the key is knowing where to go. Beyond the tourist traps selling Dungeness crab and Bay shrimp, you can find some of the most exciting dishes you’ll ever eat. Here’s a culinary map of the neighbourhoods you should tick off on your next visit.
If your budget is more accommodating, try Commonwealth, the newly-starred establishment in the Michelin guide that’s well worth the hype. You can eat a la carte at the Asian-inspired restaurant, but the seven-course tasting menu ($95/£72/AED 346, or $160/£121/AED 582 with wine pairings) really demonstrates just how inventive San Franciscans can be.
Plates are beautifully designed and made with locally-sourced Californian produce, and a proportion of the cost of each tasting menu is donated to a local charity. The American Wagyu poached in smoked beef fat with turnip cream is seriously good.
Small plates at Commonwealth in the Mission District (Liz Connor/PA)
Pacific Heights and Nob Hill
Painted Ladies in San Francisco (iStock/PA)
The well-heeled Pacific Heights crowd is also lucky enough to have Lord Stanley (lordstanleysf.com) in its arsenal. We opt for the five-course tasting menu ( $105/£79/AED 380, or $180/£136/AED 654 with wine pairings) at the restaurant, which owners Carrie and Rupert named after their favourite British pub. Here, the Californian-European small plates are as pretty as they are tasty; earthy hen of the woods mushroom tossed in creamy, aged Gouda and pistachio, and – my personal favourite – delicate morsels of Dungeness crab, topped with salty and finely-sliced marble potato.
Lord Stanley’s heavenly crab course (Liz Connor/PA)
Japantown (Liz Connor/PA)
Highlights from the tour include sampling the famous sweet potato latte from YakiniQ Café (1640 Post St), a caffeine-free hot drink made from the orange tuber. It’s sweet, it’s strange, but it’s kind of delicious. If you’re skipping the tour, Ramen Yamadaya (ramen-yamadaya.com/san-francisco) should still be on your radar. Here, they ladle out steaming bowls of hearty Tonkotsu ramen, made with the richest bone broth you’ll ever slurp at.
Another Japanese favourite on our hit list is okonomiyaki (Japanese frittata) from a small food cafe in Japantown’s shopping mall. Once you can get your head around the fact the bonito flake topping appears to be moving (the hot steam makes the flakes rise and fall), it’s actually very tasty indeed. It’s made by frying cabbage with bacon, flour and egg, and it’s topped with a lattice of mayonnaise, and a thick Worcestershire-style sauce.
Strange but tasty: Japanese frittata (Liz Connor/PA)
One of Japantown’s first businesses, Benkyodo Confections (benkyodocompany.com) is still the beating heart of community, where you’ll see old friends catching up over something sweet. Here, they’re famed for their sweet and savory mochi, and their handmade fried doughnut balls are like tiny pieces of heaven.
Fried doughnut mochi balls in Japantown (Liz Connor/PA)
Lanterns and signs in San Francisco’s Chinatown (iStock/PA)
This lively neighbourhood is one of San Francisco’s most visited, and for good reason. It’s easy to spend a whole day here, getting lost in the maze of streets and tiny alleys. The residents here are almost all Chinese, and speak very little English, which can make it intimidating to know where to go.
Food is a big part of Chinatown’s history (Chop Suey was invented here), and Stockton Street is a good place to start. The Chinatown end is as big a culture shock as you can get; a noisy, bustling, colourful and fragrant food market, piled high with fresh veg, herbs and spices.
Fresh veg in Stockton Street Market (Liz Connor/PA)
A word of warning: The animal markets can take a strong stomach – expect to see still-moving fish on the chopping blocks and exotic delicacies like armadillo and tortoise. It feels a world away from the corporate Financial District, which is just a few blocks away.
Make sure you stop at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley too, which was once notorious for its gambling dens in the late 19th century. The tiny factory has been making thousands of authentic fortune cookies every day for years, filling and folding the assembly line by hand.
Fortune cookies lovingly made by hand in Chinatown’s Ross Alley (Liz Connor/PA)
China Live (chinalivesf.com) is a modern Chinese marketplace that serves up a little bit of everything; dim sum, blistered greens, comforting mapo tofu and the most incredible barbecued pork belly.
Too good to share: Peking duck buns, crispy skin chicken and mapo tofu at China Live (Liz Connor/PA)
It’s all great for sharing, although if you’re you’re like me, you’ll struggle to find the generosity to go halves on anything in this city.
How To Get There
Rooms at Hotel Emblem (viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/emblem) in Nob Hill are available from $127/£96/AED 462 per night (room only).
Visit sftravel.com for more information.