One of my best friends is in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend, and since (to my great frustration) I can’t be there to do the gastronomic and touristic adventure I would have wished, I’ve compiled a list of my current favorites to guide him in my absence. May you never be without a panoply of delectable options.
First, the Classics:
Truly Mediterranean on 16th right near Valencia St. The best falafel and shawarma (lamb except Tuesdays and Fridays when they have an equally tasty chicken option). Order it deluxe, which includes potato and grilled eggplant, get a six pack at the corner store and go to Dolores Park to enjoy a nice fog tan. Seriously one of my favorite places to eat, it never gets old.
La Taqueria on 25th and Mission Sts. For some dank burrito action, go with the carnitas con todo (chile, cheese, sour cream, guacamole). The carne asada is also excellent. San Franciscans tend to have strong opinions about this, and mine is that this is the best burrito in town. They even do you the great favor of not putting rice in there, so you know you’re getting delicious meat instead of filler. (Phew, two loaded statements…I’m going to get in trouble).
Bake Sale Betty’s on Telegraph and 51st in Oakland. Stand in line for a fried chicken sandwich with jalapeno slaw that easily makes it onto the top three sandwiches on earth list (along with La Lucha’s lechon in Lima and lampredotto in Florence…lofty company). Get there early, because when they sell out…which happens…you will be that sad person watching everyone else eat their scrumptious prize at the ironing board tables on the sidewalk outside. Who wants to be that person, really?
Full House Cafe on 35th and MacArthur Blvd in Oakland. Breakfast here is enough to keep you going for days, especially since you never want to stop. They make every kind of hash you might want: traditional corned beef, smoked chicken, red flannel…I don’t ever remember more. Plus, this is the home of the most awesome biscuits with smoked chicken and sausage gravy you could possibly get outside of someone’s grandma’s house. However, this is a breakfast spot, and as such I believe they close in the early afternoon. I tend to consider that kind of behavior a grave offense, but I make an exception for Full House because among breakfasts, biscuits and gravy and hash are the undisputed rulers.
Foreign Cinema on Mission St. For an elegant California dinner or a relaxed and beautiful brunch, this place always delivers. They do an excellent oyster and raw bar, have top notch seasonal menus that always have pleasing surprises, the wine list is good and the cocktails are delicious. The space is beautiful too, and during dinner they screen foreign films in the patio (hence the name). They also have a bar next door, I believe also run by them and so with equally tasty drinks.
Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. on Harrison between 3rd and Hawthorne Sts. Excellent tapas, occasional live music, and a great selection of beers. They source their ingredients locally and always provide delicious twists on the traditional Spanish tapas. Did I mention the all organic, hand crafted beers?
Some newer options:
Nopalitos on Broderick between Fell and Oak Sts. This newish spot serves carefully executed, delicious and authentic Mexican food in the unbeatable high style of Mexico City (a place where I could happily eat all day for the rest of my days), They also have a small but well curated selection of beers, tequilas and cocktails, including a michelada. For those of you who know what this is, you also know how rare it is to see it in a restaurant (especially one of this caliber). For those of you that don’t, just go try one with some quesadillas or totopos.
Piqueos on Cortland St in Bernal Heights. The best of the recent craze for Peruvian food. I say this with a much more informed perspective these days, and while it isn’t quite the same as eating it in Lima, Piqueos does a remarkably delicious job of preserving authenticity while still adding that California touch. Also, the space is elegant and manages to preserve that congenial neighborhood vibe. The chef has another venture down the coast that focuses (or so I’m told) on scandalously fresh seafood…something to check out, because let me tell you, Peruvians know what to do with a piece of fish. I believe it is called La Costanera and is in Montara on the Cabrillo highway.
Little Star Pizza on Valencia and 15th Sts. The best deep dish pizza. Yes I know, this is a scandalous claim…especially for a Chicago resident. However, the pure quality of the ingredients shines, from the piquant tomato sauce to the light, flavorful cornmeal crust. The thin crust is top notch too. Their toppings are excellent, don’t miss the fresh sausage. As if that weren’t enough, their salads are delectably fresh and the Goddess dressing is addictive, I hear the spicy chicken wings are chronically good, and they have a great selection of beer on tap and wines. What is not to love about this place?
Some places I would like to try:
Flour and Water on Harrison at 20th Sts. Potentially impossible to get in due to this year’s James Beard Award finalist status, I nonetheless know people who have managed it and report back some tempting details. Fresh made pastas, meat butchered in house, wood fired pizza. The purity of great Italian food cannot be beat, and here they aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, just transmit the tradition with the best execution and ingredients (as it should be).
Domo Sushi on Laguna and Hayes Sts. Good sushi speaks for itself. And it speaks deliciously.
That is all that I can think of at the moment, apologies to the bajillions of amazing places I know I left out. If you can’t eat well in SF with that list, I can’t possibly help you…you need treatment.
Oh wait…oh my god, I almost forgot something incredibly critical:
Dim Sum! Ton Kiang on Geary and 22nd Ave. Utterly delicious dumplings served all day. This is the best, really. Particular favorites are the shrimp and pea tip, scallop and shrimp and scallion and shrimp dumplings. The roast duck is also delicious, and they make what may the best steamed pork bun ever. It is worth the excursion, trust me.
I will have to do a separate entry on Asian food in the bay…I would never finish if I started now and frankly, I’ve made myself quite hungry.