This will probably be my last post about San Francisco for a while (unless my trip is oddly uneventful) but I couldn’t leave without mentioning the food here. I don’t consider myself that much of a “foodie,” but I think it’s hard to avoid becoming one when you live in a city like SF. From taking pictures of good meals to always sharing dishes with friends so you can sample as much of the menu as possible, eating in San Francisco is about more than just quelling your hunger.
There are plenty of highly rated, upscale “dining establishments” in San Francisco, but I can’t say I’ve been to many of them. I have a lot more experience with places that are relatively inexpensive, quick, and don’t require reservations – but are still high quality and unique to San Francisco. Some of the best of these “cheap eats” are concentrated in the Inner Sunset, the Castro and the Mission, all great neighborhoods to explore. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of my personal favorites:
Best burrito: La Taqueria. Since the San Franciscan burrito merits its own Wikipedia article, everyone in SF has their own go-to burrito place that they swear by and vehemently defend. La Taqueria may be a little pricier (they charge extra for cheese, what?) but their meat is the freshest I’ve had anywhere and gives the burrito a whole different flavor. Also, their agua fresca is amazingly refreshing – go with a large cup!
Best sandwich: Ike’s Place. Once you try one of Ike’s sandwiches (I recommend the “We’re JUST friends” or the “Menage a Trois” – try ordering those over the phone on a crowded bus…) you’ll understand why loyal fans waited in line for hours when the original Ike’s was shut down a few months ago. They are back in a much more spacious new location that even has some seating. Couple of tips: do phone in your order to avoid the wait. And if it’s nice out, take your sandwich down the street to Dolores Park for a picnic!
Best cheap breakfast: Art’s Cafe. Cute hole in the wall where everyone sits on stools along one counter. They specialize in hash brown “sandwiches” and their strawberry lemonade is delicious – intensely sweet/sour & heavy on the strawberry. It’s easy to get very, very full here, but if you’re going for the basics (eggs & toast) you won’t find a cheaper breakfast. Best if you’re alone or with one other person, since it seats no more than 10-12 people. Cash only.
Best sushi: Sushi Time. Sushi’s never particularly cheap or fast, but Sushi Time has some of the most affordable and freshest sushi in the city, in a cozy spot you could easily miss from the street (as I did dozens of times before I finally stopped in). Follow the sushi signs on 16th or Market and head down the stairs. Don’t be put off by names like the “Barbie Roll” or the “Astro Boy” – they’re all amazing, if not authentically Japanese. Butterfish (walu) sashimi is worth trying too.
Best seafood: Pacific Catch. One word – poke. Not the one you got from your brother on Facebook, the Hawaiian version made of marinated tuna. This place does it best. They have a branch in the Marina, but the Inner Sunset location is more spacious, serves up bigger portions of the same dishes and offers cocktails to boot.
Best Thai: Baan Thai. My go-to Thai place. The pad thai reminds me of the stuff I’ve had in Thailand on the street for 20 baht. That’s a good thing. Also, the Vietnamese iced coffee is a treat.
Best tea: Rose Tea. You might take issue with it if you’re a tea snob, since this place is more about flowers and herbal/fruity infusions than actual tea, but I think it’s more delicious and far more affordable than the other tea rooms I’ve been to. They also have some dangerously delicious pastries, like their chocolate-caramel-sea salt tart.
Best ice cream: Bi-rite. EOS. Holy Gelato! …I swear I don’t it that much ice cream. Anyway, Bi-rite has rightly (ritely?) earned its popularity, and its prime location by Dolores park will have you waiting 20-30 minutes in line if the weather is nice. It’s worth it – try the new basil flavor… (I’m serious.) EOS changed ownership recently, so there’s a chance the quality has changed, but they offer a 5-flavor ice cream sampler that is the perfect amount to share with a friend. I think it’s the most flavorful I’ve had anywhere, and the place doesn’t even specialize in ice cream. Holy Gelato is some of the best gelato I’ve had outside Italy, though it’s too bad they discontinued their goat cheese flavor. I think I have more than enough ice cream favorites, but I’ll also mention Humphrey Slocombe because people say it’s better than all the others. I may try it for the first time before I leave and update this post…
Best bar food: Butter. The food reflects the name… greasy, buttery goodness. Just reading the menu might give you a heart attack, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. The place is also very friendly and has some interesting/trashy drinks – try the “trailer tea.”
Best cocktails: Cocktails aren’t usually considered food, but once you’ve seen what some of the “mixologists” in SF put together you may start believing otherwise. Bourbon & Branch is on the spendy side but worth it for two things; the atmosphere (for the full effect, go on a weekday and enter through the main door with the password “books”) and the cucumber gimlet. I’ve tried many of the other drinks in the “library” there but that one remains the best. Tope is a new bar in North Beach that serves up similarly creative drinks at a more reasonable price.
A note on the links: I’ve used Yelp to link to businesses throughout this post and the one about my neighborhood. I have no affiliation with Yelp, but find it to be most useful in figuring out a restaurant’s location, hours and specific highlights. If you’re in SF and don’t know where to go for food, Yelp (particularly the mobile app) can be an invaluable tool.