Welcome to one of the most fabulous cities on the planet and one with darn good food. San Francisco is a wonderland of exceptional restaurants and artisanal foodie delights. Good thing most of our California trips begin or end around this beloved city--a perfect excuse to stay a few days and explore! With the help of many Backroads food enthusiasts and my mother (a proud San Franciscan, gardener and epic cook), we've come up with a list of some of the best places to eat in the city. Mind you, this is a sliver of what San Francisco has to offer, so feel free to comment below and share your experiences and favorites!
With its close proximity to year-round agricultural regions and wine country, San Francisco boasts some of the best farm-to-table fare in the country.
For the Morning Hours
A crisp San Francisco morning is something you won't forget. The bay is flat and glassy and the air is cold and salty. The sharp morning light peeks through the little alleyways of pastel-painted houses. Dogs are being walked. Everyone is holding a steamy beverage. It's no wonder the city's home to so many poets. As for breakfast and coffee, there are about a dozen local artisan coffee roasters in the city, and they all compete to make the best cup of coffee you've ever had. Plenty of bakeries offer brewed-by-the-cup coffee or espresso, but the shops below are well worth trekking to, waiting in line at and doing whatever it takes to get that breakfast sandwich or croissant.
1. Located in the heart of the Mission, Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia St.; 415-896-4289) is a great place to see this happening part of town. There's no sign outside, but you'll find it! With plenty of bike parking out front and beautiful custom tables inside, Four Barrel is a coffee connoisseurs' favorite. 2. Oakland-roasted Blue Bottle Coffee (66 Mint Plaza; 510-653-3394) is a Bay Area staple. Try a Louisiana-style iced coffee or an affogato (served with local Humphry Slocombe ice cream!) if you're feeling adventurous. They're both blissful. The original location is downtown, but they also have kiosks scattered around the city. 3. With a line almost always stretching down the block, Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St.; 415-487-2600) has a cult following, and for good reason. Grab a double pain au chocolat or quiche made with crème fraiche to enjoy in nearby Mission Dolores Park, a favorite local hangout. 4. If you make your way out to Ocean Beach (which you should!) you'll find yourself near the Devil's Teeth Baking Company (3876 Noriega St.; 415-683-5533). Take a morning stroll along the shore and then treat yourself to arguably the best breakfast sandwich I've ever had. They also serve grilled cheese and salads at lunch and have great outdoor seating on reclaimed wood. 5. Around the corner from the famous Painted Ladies is Nopa (560 Divisadero St., 415-864-8643), serving a mean local, organic brunch on weekends. Try the custard French toast with apples and maple butter and treat yourself to a famed Bloody Mary.
Midday Snacks and Lunchtime
Depending on how you choose to spend your day--from walking the wharf to shopping in Union Square to touring Golden Gate Park--you'll experience one of the many micro-climates of the city. The beach may be fogged in and you'll want soup and grilled cheese. It may be sunny on the bay or in the Mission and sandwiches or spring rolls may be in order. Either way, you'll find exactly what you're looking for at one of these eateries.
1. With soup and open-faced wood-fired sandwiches from locally sourced ingredients, Outerlands (4001 Judah St.; 415-661-6140) has the perfect midday beach snack. Located in the city's Outer Sunset neighborhood, known for it's slower pace and local surf art scene, this restaurant is beautifully designed using driftwood and other reclaimed objects. 2. If tacos suit your fancy, Papalote Mexican Grill (3409 24th Street; 415-970-8815) in the Mission will not disappoint. (There's also a location at 1777 Fulton St.; 415-776-0106). 3. In the shadow of the Bay Bridge, walking the Embarcadero is a fantastic way to take in the city sights. The Slanted Door (1 Ferry Bldg. #3; 415-861-8032) in the stunningly renovated Ferry Building (a culinary destination in itself) serves up authentic Vietnamese with a great view of the bay. The pho and banh xeo (Vietnamese-style crepes) are must-haves. 4. Want a good sandwich in the heart of North Beach? Check out Naked Lunch (504 Broadway St.; 415-577-4951). 5. The ambiance and Caribbean fare at Haight and Ashbury's Cha Cha Cha (1801 Haight St.; 415-386-7670) is a family favorite. I have been going to this restaurant since my childhood. I loved it then because of the spirited, colorful ambiance and incredible fried new potatoes with chile pasilla aioli. I crave it now for the same reasons, plus the sautéed mushrooms and sangria!
At night, the city puts on a little black dress. Her bridges glow and her skyline reflects on the water. As for food, the restaurants below are the vanguards for sustainable, small-plate, local, farm-to-table food (and any other buzz words you can think of). The chefs get pretty creative out here in California, so try anything on the menu and don't be scared to ask questions. Just know that everything is bound to be mouthwatering. 1. On the semi-casual side of dinner, Farmerbrown (25 Mason St.; 415-409-3276), two blocks from the Powell Street cable car turnaround, does southern soul food perfectly. Kids love dining here, as they'll recognize dishes like fried chicken and mac and cheese. Parents like that everything comes from wholesome sources (that fried chicken was organic and locally raised, by the way). Win-win. And you can ride the cable car there!
2. Located on the water in the Marina, Greens Restaurant (15 Marina Blvd.; 415-771-6222) is the perfect spot to watch the sunset over a meal. With all-vegetarian cuisine, the chefs at this California institution know how to prepare any vegetable. The menu changes with the season, but if the roasted Hamada Farm figs and burrata on grilled walnut levain bread is still on the menu, it's a must-have. Their cookbook is fantastic too, so if you like what you eat, snag a copy on your way out. 2. In SoMa (the local moniker for the South of Market neighborhood), Bar Agricole (355 Eleventh St.; 415-355-9400) has an ever-changing menu of fabulous small plates. Order everything family-style so you get to try it all, especially the duck liver mousse! The bartenders here are some crafty chemists, so definitely sip a cocktail. 3. In a gorgeous casual setting, Central Kitchen (3000 20th St.; 415-826-7004) serves up creative California cuisine in the Mission. Backroads trip leaders love this spot! 4. Offering one multi-course menu each night, Saison (178 Townsend St.; 415-828-7990) showcases California's bounty in spectacular French cuisine. French for "season," Saison is exemplary in their food sourcing. Get ready to sit down for a three-hour meal that you'll wish was never over. Find it near AT&T Park. 5. Quince (470 Pacific Ave.; 415-775-8500) serves different 5- and 9-course menus depending on the season and what their small farms are harvesting that week. With beautiful wine pairings, you'll be talking about the wonders of chef Michael Tusk for weeks. Afterward dinner, take a stroll up to nearby Coit Tower for spectacular city views. Bon appétit! Buen provecho! Cheers! And happy eating!