Monday, August 10, 2015

Eating BIG in San Francisco

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- The Food of Frisco

It took me over 30 years to get back to San Fransisco. It's one of the first cities I visited as a human taking a trip with my parents before I could talk. With no recollection of that trip whatsoever I was excited to finally put some memories of San Fran into my head. For the most part the San Francisco that I knew befoe this visit came from 'The Rock' with Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. Hey, it's one of my childhood favorites. I knew it was a vibrant city I didn't realize just how small it is. Basically seven by seven miles. Which actually works in favor of the tourist without a car. I'd advise against renting one for the entire trip unless you have a place to park it. A small city with an influx of people means very little parking spaces that don't cost an arm and a leg. Uber has a thing there called UberShare which is a ride that might be a possible car pool but will only cost you $7. More times than not the ride was not a carpool and the couple times it was the people were within a few miles and going to a pot within a few miles of your drop off. Its great for transportation to the airport.

Back to Cali

We visited most of the touristy spots and found them similar to Chicago in that you really only need to see them once. Foodwise it's one of the best cities in America to eat, you just need to know that the two things the common tourist would assume they do really well, Chinese and Mexican, are actually what I would describe as above average at best. Nothing you would call the best. That said there's so many great options it's not fair for someone who was there for a few days to rush to judgement. But I can only base it off what I experienced and I felt the upscale modern spots, the type of places you'll read about on Eater, are the city's strong point. You can pretty much bet that rent has something to do with this. I've been dragging on getting this post up due to the fact we went to so many spots. This was on top of a trip to Sonoma County which you can see HERE. Enjoy the ride.

Walking around


This was our first stop on the trip. I knew there was some good Italian to be had and the menu from Perbacco spoke to me the most. Located in the Financial District this seems to be a popular spot for meetings with clients. The interior is charming and the service was stellar. We started out with a gratis plate of fresh baked still warm breadsticks with a fresh pesto dip. She had a pork meatball dish served with sauteed apples, gravy, and nuts over a potato puree. 

Breadsticks and Pork Meatballs

All the pastas are made fresh on-site and as soon as I saw they featured my favorite pasta dish I knew what I was eating for lunch. Agnolotti Dal Plin is a popular pasta in the Piedmont region of Italy and it's basically a mini ravioli. Perbacco stuffed theirs with roasted meats and cabbage, tossing it in a very rich tomato sauce with a medium thickness to it. I was in heaven and almost went back on the final day to take an order to go home with on the plane. One of if not the best thing I ate on a trip that had lots of food that can cause major craves. I've wanted more since the last bite.

Agnolotti Dal Plin at Perbacco

Happy Hour 

Always on the prowl for a good happy hour I read about a couple good ones over on Divisadero so we went  that way for some food and drink. The first one is a little heated outdoor patio with tacos and drinks on special called El Mercado Urbano. It's connected to a sitdown spot called El Mercado. The tacos were pretty good but nothing to get to excited over.

Happy Hour Tacos at El Mercado Urbano

Bar Crudo around the corner had a line forming before their doors opened as we arrived about 5 minutes before opening. Luckily it wasn't that long so we were able to sit at the bar and slurp down $1 oysters and a surprisingly good cup of baked clams with bacon. I guess there's a reason its a popular spot in San Fran when it comes to the Happy Hour. 

Happy Hour Oysters and Clams at Bar Crudo

Views from around town

Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center

While doing some research on where to eat in the area I came across an account on Instagram called @otgsf which is the official account for a rotating food truck party. Basically Off the Grid hosts these food truck gatherings at different spots throughout the city including Friday nights at Fort Mason, a former army base located on the water in the city's Marina District. Bring a coat, it can get cold.

Food stands circle a empty parking

While there were tons of options at OTG not many of them were screaming "ORDER ME" however there were some good eats to be had. I enjoyed an order of turkey momo, Nepalese dumplings, that definitely hit the spot though I tend to love all dumplings. Despite it being cold out I also had to have an ice cream taco from Rocko's. While I passed on fantastic looking lechon from a Filipino stand and tacos dorados from a San Diego style Mexican food stand, it was only because I was trying not to be a glutton. Which probably sounds like BS as you go go thru this mammoth report.

Himalayan Dumplings (Momo) from Bini's Kitchen

Liholiho Yacht Club

Because this was a spur of the moment trip I really didn't bother seeking reservations anywhere as I knew all the hot spots would be booked. That said a couple of them take walk-in's throughout the night. We did go on the earlier side to ensure we'd get to try a place that really caught my eye. I loved what I had heard about Liholiho Yacht Club and then I loved what I saw so it was the one spot I really wanted to try. The dishes are Hawaiian driven but there is no boundaries as far as flavors. The menu spoke to me, both the food and drinks, and usually when that happens I know I'm in store for something I'm going to enjoy and that's exactly what would happen here.

a peek inside

Starting off with cocktails while I cant remember the names of the drinks thats ok because the menu has probably switched. That said they were wonderful and I loved the fact they were utilizing ingredients not commonly found in drink recipes. Onto the food. I'm an addict for raw tuna and the tuna poke on a crispy cracker was a hell of a high. What I'm guessing was a Thai inspired salad featured a medley of marinated squid, crispy tripe, cabbage, peanuts and mint was outstanding. I haven't had tripe that crispy since I stopped by a taco booth specializing in Tripas tacos on the streets of Aguascalientes. Ending with a perfectly cooked Country Pork Steak topped with a honey miso mustard and charred cabbage was a decision I did not regret. In summary, love is endless.

tuna poke, sesame oil, radish, nori cracker

marinated squid, crispy tripe, cabbage, peanuts, fried shallots, mint

country pork steak, charred cabbage, miso honey mustard, tokyo turnips



I got to stroll thru the famous Chinatown neighborhood on a couple occasions and really enjoyed doing so. The atmosphere is different and I like that. One day we weren't far away from a place that had some good words spoken on their xiao long bao. A trip in for an order would be the start of a pretty middle of the road experience as far as the food in the area goes. Part of that reason I guess is the product from here. I ate one and left the rest for the dumpster divers found throughout the town.

Way Below Average Xiao Long Bao at Bund Shanghai

Another night I took a stroll thru the city around 11p and while most of the restaurants and stores were closed it was still pretty vibrant. I purchased some extra loud snapping pops from a store as well as some souvenirs before wandering down into one of a couple handful of open spots for some food. At this hour I was the only non-Chinese person there. I sat at the counter and watched some pro ping pong on the TV while waiting for an order of Chopped Beef over Rice with egg yolk on top. It might not look pleasant but it was certainly comforting. Gravy and rice are two favorites of mine.

Chopped Beef with Rice from New Woey Loey Goey Restaurant

After that it was over to the famous Chinatown bar the Li Po Cocktail Lounge. I saw this place on one of Anthony Bourdain's shows and it seemed like my type of spot so I wanted to make sure I stopped in. It's considered Chinatown's original dive having been open since 1937. While it is a dive it's also a hot hangout and there can be lines of people many of them waiting to sip on the bars famous Chinese Mai Tai. It's made with dark rum, light rum, Bacardi 151, Chinese Liqueur, and Pineapple Juice and it really does pack a punch even though theres little alcohol flavor.

The Famous Chinese Mai Thai at Li Po Lounge

Ferry Building Marketplace

Standing Outside Ferry Building Plaza

We visited the popular Ferry Building Marketplace on a Saturday and the place was packed, like jam packed to the point where every damn tenant had a line at least 15 deep. If you're unfamiliar with the Plaza it's a popular marketplace that sits on the water and hosts an outdoors Farmers Market and food vendors most Saturdays. The lines being so deep inside prevented me from trying much but the Baja fish taco I got from a modern Mexican restaurant called Mijita was money. It had an extra crunchy piece of battered rock cod sitting over a tortilla spread with cabbage and avocado-cilantro cream.

Taco de Pescado from Mijita

I had a list of so many food stops that caught my eye I ended up trying one unknowingly. I have no idea why but the famous Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie out of Oakland had what might've been the shortest line of all the mobile restaurants vending outside on this Farmers Market Saturday. The stuff I read online was saying this is one of the best sandwiches period and I was ready to see how it stacked against what I still consider to be the best porchetta sandwich I've ever had.

Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie

So far so good upon getting a glimpse of their rotisserie on wheels. Just look at those big hunks of pretty pork rotating while dripping it's sweet nectar onto the potatoes piled on the bottom. Brilliant. The sandwich itself was the same. Maybe not quite as much as the one in Toronto but good enough to be remembered and placed somewhere in the top handful of bites eaten on this trip. The pork was highly seasoned and the fat was rendered down right. The potatoes were a worthy sidekick.

Porchetta Sandwich from Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie

What has to be the best Farmers Market view in the States


$1 Oysters daily at Waterbar. Not a bad stop if walking by or attending a Giants game. 

Mission District 

Bus Stop

The Mission District is a neighborhood that has seen much change of late. I was surprised to learn just how small San Francisco is from one of the Uber drivers so it's no surprise to see whats going on as old buildings with longtime residents get torn down making room for new buildings and newly located residents. It's a sticky situation and one I'm not all that familiar with to speak on. But anyways the neighborhood is now an eclectic mix of people ranging from second 1st and 2nd generation Latino-American families to hipsters and drifters. It's evident in the bars and restaurants.

Signature Pastry from Craftsman and Wolves

One of the spots I had on my radar was what Nate Silver and Team 538 called the best burrito in America. San Francisco and the Mission District in particular have an undying love for the burrito and a style all their own for them. They're called Mission Burritos and according to the not always reliable Wikipedia they became big in the 60's. What makes these different is basically the size and the addition of rice inside, though longtime neighborhood staple La Taqueria makes theirs rice free.

La Taqueria

As regular readers know, I don't do burritos, I'm a taco guy. On top of this I wasn't in the mood for a huge meal as we were headed elsewhere and this was just a detour. Ever since the big win the lines have been longer. They were out the restaurant on this day and it ended up taking about 15 minutes to order. They ran a well oiled machine churning out orders, most of them "with this" or "without that" at what was a rapid pace. There's a secret menu here in the same style of In n' Out and one of the popular things on it is the carnitas dorado taco dorado. It takes the fan favorite carnitas and gives them a little bit of extra time on the flattop to crisp up. Then they take a tortilla layered with cheese and allow it to crisp up. The crispy carnitas go onto the crisp tortilla and it goes into a soft tortilla. The entire thing comes with pico, sour cream and salsa and it was the size of a small burrito. While it was messy it was also delicious and very much enjoyed by the two of us. I loved the crunch.

Carnitas Dorado Taco Dorado from La Taqueria

If the line at La Taqueria is long, stop next door at Dianda's for some excellent cookies to hold you over.

Random Pics from the Mission District (Click Picture to Enhance)

While cruising by foot to a cocktail bar I spied something I thought was a dispensary as there was a small line out the door to get inside. I walked over and instead found a cute little Burmese diner hidden amongst the other shops on the block. There were four older Burmese ladies behind the counter and maybe 10 seats total to sit at.


I couldn't wait so I had to take an order to-go and a $5 bowl of garlic noodles with pork both sounded and also smelled phenomenal. I watched as one of the ladies got to work dropping the noodles into the pot and the pork and garlic into the wok. What looked like something very simple as far as prep tasted like something you can only get from a spot like Yamo. A seriously pungent bowl made for a great post-drinks snack during some downtime at the hotel. In a city where the hot dogs from a street cart cost $8 this was a seriously cheap treat. I'd be a regular if they were my neighbor. 

Garlic Noodles with Pork from Yamo

Trick Dog

When out on vacation we like to try all the hot cocktail spots of the town were visiting and San Fran was no different. In fact we're usually underwhelmed by other cities offerings but I found the drinks in town to be as good as anywhere that's not Chicago. Trick Dog is in the Mission and it's one of San Frans most celebrated bars. We had an afternoon drink at this Far East inspired cocktail lounge where I ended up ordering something that literally tasted like liquid Tootsie Roll. Surprisingly good.

Inside Trick Dog

Super Steak Taco from Taqueria Cancun which is the late night taqueria of choice

Late Night Drinks / Eats

Tiki Drinks at Smugglers Cove

My favorite drinking establishment of the trip was the amazing Smuggler's Cove Tiki Bar. These guys are one of the many pioneers who have made tiki cool again. The menu is insane with over 70 tiki style options that are broken down by the recipes country of origin. I had a banana daiquiri that was legendary. Wish I snapped a shot of how it was made. Her favorite spot was Tosca Cafe in the city's North End. Originally a grungy bar boasting the same name some restauranteurs from NYC turned it into a Modern Italian restaurant with a kick ass cocktail menu. Even better is they left the inside looking like it looked back when it was roaring in the 50's. She claimed the bucatini with pancetta and red sauce the best version she ever had. Drinks were money and they serve both late.

Tosca Cafe

Full House

Before taking off for Sonoma County (report HERE) we had to stop at the former residence of Danny, Jesse, Joey, DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle. It's mandatory for tourists who used to watch the TGIF lineup Friday nights on ABC and that would be me. After a couple minute we were off to the pastry shop.  b. Patisserie was a revelation for me. I don't really eat pastries all that often but will stop into a place getting rave reviews which was the case here. While the croissant wasn't my favorite style the kouign amann was the best baked good I think I've ever ate. I'm lucky I don't live near.

Pastries from b. Patisserie

On the last day I packed up and decided to take a walk, which turned into an UberShare ride over to a place commonly mentioned when best tacos in San Francisco is discussed. Nick's Crispy Tacos has a somewhat misleading name and if you were just walking by you'd wonder what was up as it sits inside a bar. The crispy is in reference to a shell that gets a little bit of a bath in oil. What they're known for here are the fish tacos and everyone says you need to get them Nick's way. That would be a crispy piece of well fried fish topped with pico, cabbage and guacamole. It goes inside the aforementioned somewhat crispy shell. At close to $8 this isn't a cheap taco but it's a meal in of itself. All in all it was a very decadent delight however it started falling apart near the end bites.

Crispy Fish Taco done "Nick's Way" from Nick's Crispy Tacos

Asian Eats 

Dim Sum Club 

On the last day I really wanted some dim sum and happened to pass a place that had god reviews online so I went in and order a couple plates. The Dim Sum Club seemed to be popular lunch spot for business people near it's location. I ordered my usual go-to's 

Shrimp Shu Mai

One order of shrimp shu mai and an order of xiao long bao aka soup dumplings to go with it. Both of them were stellar. I'm not a dim sum expert but the shu mai were full of shrimp flavor while the pork and crab stuffed XLB shot soup into mouth with each bite. Never met a dumpling I didn't like.

Xiao Long Bao

To get an idea of just how much Asian eats influence the city's food scene I suggest walking downtown on a workday. It's not that this part of town has the most authentic eats but it seems like every other food stop in these parts is Asian owned. Whether they be Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian etc. I nibbled on a few bites in the area while she shopped.

Japanese Style Gourmet Rice Balls from Onigilly

Japanese Style beef patty from Muracci's

Vietnamese Bowl at Asian Box inside Macy's

Shanghai Dumpling King 

When researching places to eat it seemed to me that most of the popular Chinese restaurants around town weren't located in Chinatown but rather  the Outer Richmond neighborhood. Shanghai Dumpling King seemed to be getting love so I rode over one night when I had a car from the trip to Sonoma. Potstickers and Xiao Long Bao seemed fitting though they had lots of options.

Pork Potstickers

Both plates would hit the spot but fall short of being order another round good. I always get the pork/crab XLB and the crab flavor was somewhat weak in these but they were still better than any I've had in Chicago. The pottickers were a little bit better but still missing that oomph.

Xiao Long Bao


On the last day we took a walk around the city with Montesacro being our lunch destination. Around the time of our trip in late April they were just getting going having opened a week earlier. It's located in a very old building that when gutted was revealed to formerly be a bakery back in the early 1920's. The current owners are bringing what they call the country's first pinseria which they say is a Roman style pizza parlor. Pinsa is what they call their own style of wood fire pizza in Rome. Check out the restaurants website to learn more about why it's different than pizza. For one it was much airier and shaped more like a huarache. We tried an option with prosciutto and red onion that was outstanding.

Pinsa at Montesacro

See ya next time! 

230 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 955-0663

El Mercado Urbano
661 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 440-4500

Bar Crudo
655 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 409-0679

Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center*
2 Marina Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 339-5888

Liholiho Yacht Club
871 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 440-5446

Bund Shanghai
640 Jackson St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 982-0618

New Woey Loey Goey Restaurant
699 Jackson St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 399-0733

Li Po Cocktail Lounge
916 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 982-0072

Ferry Building Marketplace
1 Ferry Bldg Marketplace
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 983-8030

Inside Ferry Building Marketplace

Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie
Outside Ferry Building Marketplace

399 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 284-9922

Craftsman and Wolves
746 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 913-7713

La Taqueria
2889 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 285-7117

Dianda's Italian-American Pastry
883 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 647-5469

3406 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 553-8911

Trick  Dog
3010 20th St,
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 471-2999

Taqueria Cancun
2288 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 252-9560

Smuggler's Cove
650 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 869-1900

Tosca Cafe
242 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-9651

b. Patisserie
2821 California St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 440-1700

Nick's Crispy Tacos
1500 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 409-8226

Dim Sum Club
2550 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 529-2615

343 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 671-4706

307 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 773-1101

Asian Box
170 O'Farrell St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 288-3688

Shanghai Dumpling King
696 Monterey Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94127
(415) 585-1300

510 Stevenson St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 795-3040

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