Disclaimer: I am obsessed with San Francisco; I've lived in London for the past 5 years and was & born being fed (read: spoiled) by the food in Hong Kong; I don't work for Zagat or the Michelin Guide. (I wish)
So, there's every reason that people who read this & who stand by London's 'superior' food scene will think I am bloody obnoxious and/or just an ordinary person with a clouded view.
I've been told that San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than other cities- More than New York, more than London, more even than Hong Kong. But even though it's only an academic statistical outcome, I fully agree.
Consider that SF is only 7x7 miles (Hence why their NFL team call themselves the 49ers, get it?).
There's certainly no shortage of range, type, price and method of eating a meal in SF.
If you visit SF for a week, like I did on this trip at the end of April/ beginning of May (the best time to visit, in my opinion); you can easily go around all the Michelin starred restaurants the city has to offer. You can eat 3 meals a day, everyday, all in close proximity and still leave yourself 10 options on the list which you'll regret you didn't try when you leave.
The difference between SF eating and London eating for foodies is the authenticity the local cuisine has to offer.
As far as I am concerned, there are no concessions about localizing the taste; the spice it'd use or products with the aim to recreating the dish in a foreign land. My taste palette tells me that they often surrender authenticity in London, especially when it comes to Chinese food. You will often see sweet and sour pork on menus in Chinese restaurants, replacing 'bland-looking' steamed dishes (which are actually delicious). Incidentally, to have congee in London, I can think of only a handful of places in Chinatown + Yauatcha (!!) However, staying in the Inner Sunset in SF for a week, I've seen congee on the menu of almost all of the Chinese eateries we passed by.
Anyway, let's go with my top picks - novelty ( for a Londoner!) eats in SF
1. Off the Grid food truck market
At Fort Mason Centre/ Persidio. Off the Grid is your roaming mobile food extravaganza - bringing delicious food truck vendors with free sides of music. The Chairman Truck's Lobster Truck. The verdict- don't bother with Fisherman's Wharf. meant to be fantastic, but we've been put off by the long queue, so we went for the Lobster Roll ($14) from
The Roll that beats Fisherman Tourists' Wharf
2. Hays Valley ( Octavia & Linden)
Beer Garden, Food trucks, and coffee shops made from salvaged shipping containers coalesce in Hayes Valley, a beyond-stylish neighbourhood with room to breathe. Smitten Ice Cream ($6 a pop and 5 mins wait) is made-to-order in front of you-what all the happy hipsters want!
St. Francis Fountain (2801 24th Street) - where Patrick and Richie from HBO series Looking, had their 'morning after' brunch.
The Mission District reminds me of Brixton Village in South London- diverse, colourful, arty and just an interesting place, which non-guidebook travellers should always visit first instead of Buckingham Palace or Pier 39.
Mission is literally a collection of crossroads inhabited by many Latinos, the day time artists/night time liberals; entrepreneurs and the less fortunates... all manifested by the colourful graffiti, warehouses turned gallery spaces and independent shops. Everyone you rub shoulders with looks like they have an interesting, yet unique, story to tell. Being an amateur designer, I was truly in awe of this neighbourhood's vibes.
The amount of choice- from organic turkey sausage burgers to grilled prawn burritos to artisan oat bran muffins is overwhelming in the Mission District. We strolled (under a blazing sun) from 16th Street to 24th Street where this cheerful no fuss Mexican eatery - Papalote is located.
View Larger Map
Don't skimp on an additional 99c and go for the extra big three -sour cream, cheese and guacamole, whether you're going for grilled prawn tacos or the mighty Chile Verde burrito.
Honestly, when you start off with a couple of full bowl nachos and salsa which you CANNOT stop munching, the aftermath of tackling one of their burritos would make you think you just filmed a brand new episode of Man vs Food.
Man vs Food future episode title- Burrito
Graffiti walled bathroom for the aftermath...washing your hands!
The 'secret mosaic staircase between 16th Avenue & Moraga Street, is the perfect description of Inner Sunset -a hidden gem.
From the China/ Vietnamese town outside of the known Chinatown; to Roxie Market & Deli (500 Kirkham Street, San Francisco, CA 94122), which surprise you with a great selection of British imports*. The inner/outer sunset is certainly a pleasant unexpected encounter for foodies and shoppers.
It has no Forever 21 but it does have Starbucks. But again, it caught you by surprise how many under-estimated gems are located here and a direct bus can take you to and from downtown in 20 mins.
*Note: we went to DC for a week prior to SF, and the big supermarket at Pentagon City only ad one type of tea available -Lipton's Yellow Label. But Roxie offers a range of British teas including, the rather non-mainstream choice of Murroughs Welsh Brew.
View Larger Map
No utensils, no fuss, taking dirty eating to another level .The choices are simple: Crab, Crayfish ( or Craw fish they call in there) and prawn.
Sides are garlic noodle, fries or corn on the cob. My opinion is go straight for the Cajun sauce unless no you can't take a bit of heat. The spiciness of their Cajun is one of those that you cannot stop licking your lips and the more you do, the more it burns!
View Larger Map
Everyone makes home-brewed coffee and everyone makes artisan muffins in San Francisco, so a trip to Ocean Beach's infamous Devil Teeth Bakery is for:
(1) Biscuit (?!) Breakfast Sandwich
(2) Cinnamon Bun ($4, weigh approx. 2lbs, comparable size & taste to London's very own best & bizarrely called the Nordic Bakery)
(3) It's a fantastic spot for people watching at the Parklet outside
Last words: There are many good blogs and local neighbourhood guides out there, (this post is just my little humble opinion) but 7x7, Refinery29 and EaterSF are my trusted SF sites -containing everything you need to read.
So, if you are visiting San Francisco for the first time?, and want to know if wearing a hoodie is mandatory?
Can I wear shorts and flip-flops in Hays Valley, without looking like a tourist?
A few useful links to get your research started and to provide answers to some key questions:
- Curbed SF has a good info graphic with various neighbourhood stereotypes here: http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2014/05/01/this_infographic_nails_san_francisco_neighborhood_stereotypes.php So you know what to expect when you stroll around MOMA and dress appropriately.
- HereFeed allows voyeurs and merely interested parties to see what areas of San Francisco (and other cities) are being tagged the most via Instagram photos, and it's all in real time. Mental.
- If you are as obssesed with HBO Looking as I am, try this walking tour map of Series 1 filming locations, including Lands End and USS Hornet Museum.
** Next time: SF vs London: Independent shops