We were unable to make it to San Francisco last year due to the impending birth of our son (see our post from last March – Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda), but this spring we were determined to return to possibly our favorite city (with son and mother-in-law in tow). We were blessed with beautiful weather the entire trip and we had a lot of great eats as well (with one notable exception, see State Bird Provisions below). Here is a run down of all of the stops we made in the city by the bay. Those marked with an asterisk (*) indicate those establishments that are also on our San Francisco City Page.
* Nopalito – Our best overall meal in San Francisco. We previously loved this Mexican taqueria near the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood but we were even more impressed with it this trip. The Totopos con Chile were some of the best tortilla chips that we have had – tortilla chips with just the right thickness and a salsa de arbol that left a nice slow spicy burn. The carnitas were the best that we have ever had – the pork tender and moist from its bay leaf, cinnamon, milk and beer braising with perfect hand made yellow corn tortillas. Their cocktails have likely inspired a summer obsession for us – drinks with mezcal. We loved the smokiness that the mezcal tequila brought their drinks, particularly in the Killer Bee (with lemon and honey).
* Foreign Cinema – it is a rare occasion when you walk through the doors of a restaurant and immediately know you are going to have a memorable meal. Our brunch at Foreign Cinema was one of those rare occasions. In what appears to be a movie theater on the verge of bankruptcy on the outside, once we walked down the dark hallway to the restaurant you are transported to one of the most beautiful restaurants we’ve seen. On the left is an open outdoor patio where movies are projected at night for dinner service. On the right side is a beautiful high ceiling dining room with rich wood tables and chairs and exposed concrete walls. The meal lived up to the decor – pristine Kumamoto Oysters, fantastic cocktails, wonderful Croque Madame and some of the best bacon we’ve eaten anywhere – slow cooked brown sugar bacon that melts in your mouth. Easily on our short list for Best Atmosphere and Best Brunch for 2013..
* Flour + Water – Handmade pastas and pizzas from a James Beard Rising Start Chef of the Year Nominee Chef Thomas McNaughton in the Mission District. A visit here was high on our priority list and the food met our high expectations. The Duck Tortelli with king trumpet mushrooms and green garlic was one of the best pasta dishes that we’ve had – this stuffed pasta dish with tender duck confit left us contemplating how much of a faux-paux it would be to lick the plate in the middle of the restaurant. The squid ink spaghetti and the calamari pizza were also stellar dishes. The only flaw seemed to be the noticeable length of time between dishes.
* Nopa – one of the most popular restaurants among locals for good reason. This big sister restaurant to Nopalito features organic and seasonal ingredients prepared in a wood-fired oven. The vibe is fun, energetic but not hectic or pretentious. One of the first restaurants to be famous for both their upscale hamburger and their rotisserie chicken – we tried and enjoyed them both.
* Canteen – tiny but charming restaurant from Chef/Owner Dennis Leary (The Sentinel). There are 4 courses (5 if you count the addictive buttery brioche buns with sea salt) for a very reasonable $50. The menu is sort of a prix fixe menu – the salad and soup are set items, but there are two options for the entree and dessert. He is running a “100 Menus Project” currently, where he features a menu based on the 1971 cook book, “The Hundred Glories of French Cuisine”. Standouts were the brioche buns, the smoked trout salad with endives and mustard as well as the Spring lamb with baby onions and asparagus jus. If we lived in San Francisco this would be a place we would come to often.
State Bird Provisions – It is hard to explain how disappointed we were with our food and experience here. This restaurant has not only been touted by Bon Appetit as their #1 Best new restaurant in 2012 but also a finalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant in America this year. After eating here we were left thinking, does the Emperor have no clothes? The concept is great, creative small plates served dim sum style. The execution and the food, however, were what we would describe as “not-good” to “average” at best. Hot dishes that should have been served hot came around the room semi-cold and oysters were served near-room temperature. The decor was reminiscent of a kindergarten play room. We were so looking forward to this meal and regretted starting out our San Francisco culinary excursion in this way. (Note, in general we do not give bad reviews on this site, so this obviously struck a chord in us to write this).
* Nettie’s Crab Shack – We have yet to have anything that wasn’t delicious at Nettie’s Crab Shack. On a beautiful day, sitting on the porch in this Cow Hollow gem having an Anchor Steam on tap and a Dungeness Crab Roll is about as good as it gets in our book. The Fish and Chips were also fantastic and we were blown away again by their desserts. (On a side note – restaurants pay attention to what Nettie’s does with it’s desserts – it is not about how “fancy” or “creative” your desserts can be, it is about leaving a lasting memory of some delicious treat in the customers’ minds. Keep it simple and keep it tasty). We inhaled the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream and the Dirty Blondie with Caramel and Chocolate Chips.
* The Sentinel – Although we STILL have not had a sandwich from this FiDi artisanal sandwich shop from Chef Dennis Leary, we did stop in for some very tasty pastries and oatmeal. Next time!!
* Bi-Rite Market – if you want to know what a neighborhood grocery store should look like, visit the Bi-Rite Market. This legendary market has been open since 1940 and is as popular and relevant as ever.
* Ales Unlimited – Specialty beer store tucked away on a quiet corner in Pacific Heights. Surprisingly excellent selection of microbrews and Belgian beers. We picked up a bottle of The Bruery’s “Sour in the Rye” – a great barrel aged sour ale from one of our favorite breweries that we can’t seem to get our hands on in Tennessee yet.
* Molinari Delicatessen – classic old-school Italian sandwich shop in North Beach. Get a number, then pick out your bread from the bin and get in line. The tough part is deciding which meat to get on you sandwich – they all sound great. They also have a nice supply of cheese, wine and olive oils. In my mind, I picture this place looking identical to this 60 years ago.
Ferry Building/Ferry Building Farmer’s Market:
Il Cane Rosso – salads and sandwiches all with local ingredients and an Italian leaning. We tried several things and enjoyed them but the best thing we ate was their Acme bread and butter.
* Blue Bottle Coffee @ Ferry Building – more of a coffee/espresso and pastry shop than the Blue Bottle in Mint Plaza, but still a must nevertheless. A few menu items are featured, however, including their liege waffle and sandwiches on an Acme Baguette. Try the excellent Affogato with Humphry Slocombe Brown Butter ice cream if you are craving a sweet pick me up.
* The Acme Bread Company – when you get truly great bread there is something magical about it. Trust us, go to Boccalone and order a Salumi Cone ($3.75), then walk over to Acme and get a Rustic Roll ($0.80) – it will be the tastiest $5 you have had all year.
* Boccalone – this salumeria from Celebrity-Chef Chris Consentino’s with “Tasty Salted Pig Parts” turns out some of our favorite charcuterie. For further instructions, see Acme Bread Company above.
* Out the Door – casual Vietnamese take out attached to and run by Slanted Door. We previously enjoyed the Banh mi and this time found the Lemongrass Pork Vermicelli Bowl and Curry equally tasty, but perhaps a tad bit pricey.
* Biscuit Bender – why is it inordinately hard to find a great biscuit? What is the secret? Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, NC cranks them out by the hundreds every day. We were starting to lose hope that we wouldn’t find another until we ate a Classic Buttermilk Biscuit with Cinnamon Butter from the Biscuit Bender. It had just the right amount of heft and flakiness and yet still moist and flavorful – just the kind of biscuit we had been craving.
People’s Donuts – these vegan donuts tasted, well…vegan-y. Apparently butter, eggs and milk are key ingredients for a good donut.
Roli Roti – maybe we are more in love with the thought of a Porchetta Sandwich than the actual sandwich itself. I mean, it sounds perfect – moist tender slow-roasted pork sliced on a roll. What could be wrong with that? Don’t get us wrong – this is a very good sandwich and I am sure in many people’s books a great sandwich. For us, I think it is just a little too much pork fat. Next time we will try the Range Chicken – it looked great.
Mijita – we can be pretty tough critics when it comes to chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants but we enjoyed them at this cantina from renown chef Traci Des Jardines. The carne asada taco and margarita were both good as well (not so much for the unmemorable fish taco).
Namu Gaji Street Food – although we were sad that we could not make it to this Mission hot spot Namu Gaji for their upscale Korean food – we were happy that we got to taste their food at the Farmer’s Market. The bulgogi “tacos” (with seaweed playing the roll of the tortilla) were just how we like bulgogi – salty and juicy. A side note – bulgogi is the next banh mi.
4505 Meats – it is never a good thing when your chiccarones taste like cotton candy and leave a strange film in your mouth. And trust us, we were with some expert chiccarones eaters.
* Blue Bottle Coffee @ Mint Plaza – when we tell people that this Blue Bottle Cafe has “The World’s Best Toast and Jam” and “The World’s Best Oatmeal” we often get puzzled looks. Looks that suggest inside they are thinking, “Ok? Toast and Jam?! Oatmeal?! Whatever.” But until you have had this toast and jam and this oatmeal you should just trust us – they are unbelievable. The thick cut Acme bread is perfectly toasted and the whipped butter and jam (raspberry) makes for the perfect bite. The Steel-Cut Oats with brown sugar and whipped butter were every bit as good as we remembered. Out of all of the coffee we had all week (and it was a lot, our kid barely slept a wink) the best was the Burundi coffee made at the Siphon Bar. The siphon creates an even cleaner smoother version of a pour over without any paper filter taste. Not only that, we are also officially declaring their Poached Egg with Buttered Thick Cut Acme Toast as “The World’s Best Egg and Toast”. We could seriously eat Blue Bottle every morning for the rest of our lives.
* Sightglass Coffee – we’ve been to hundreds of coffee shops all over the country but none of them are as good looking as Sight Glass in SOMA. This breathtaking location serves as booth their roasting site and coffee shop. Two stories with beautiful wood work and an open airy feel. The upstairs view is fantastic and occasionally they host coffee teaching classes up there. Their coffee is also exceptional – my Ethiopian pour over was one of my favorite coffees of the week. This is what Heaven would look like for a Coffee Geek Hipster.
* Jane – exactly what you would want from a cafe while shopping on Fillmore in Pacific Heights. Great decor and tasty baked goods and the best part – they serve Stumptown Coffee. To us, it is what coffee should taste like.
* Reveille Coffee Co. (Brick and Mortar) – great friendly corner coffee shop where Financial District meets Chinatown. Nice airy vibe and I loved the triangular corner lot. Friendly and engaging baristas. One of the best pour overs of the week. Nice selection of pastries as well as breakfast and lunch options.
* Reveille Coffee Co. (Coffee Truck) – slick black truck that also serves a mean pour over. A mere 4 minute walk from their brick and mortar site.
* Ritual Coffee (Brick and Mortar) – popular coffee shop and roaster in the Mission District. Love the flag/logo. High quality beans expertly prepared.
* Ritual Coffee (Coffee Stand) – open aired coffee shop on the back side of Smitten Ice Cream in Hayes Valley. Their roasts were perhaps a little lighter bodied than we usually prefer but still a good pour over nevertheless. The Hayes Valley area there has changed a lot in a few short years – now a nice small park with great options for coffee, ice cream (Smitten), and beer (unfortunately we were unable to go to Biergarten, next time).
* Tartine Bakery – many times since we last went to San Francisco have we woken up in the morning and said, “I wish I had a Morning Bun from Tartine right now.” Truth be told, we have been craving delicious pastries and bread since our last visit out West. The Morning Bun(s) (we got several) were even better than we remembered, a truly memorable pastry – chewy and flaky with just the right hint of orange rind. The Almond Croissant and Plain Croissant are delicious and the Lemon Almond Pound Cake was flat out insanely good – so moist. Tartine Bakery may be our favorite bakery anywhere.
* Humphry Slocombe – it would be a huge mistake to think that Bi Rite Creamery is the only legit ice cream shop in the Mission. Humphry Slocombe brings world class ice cream with an unassuming charm. It would be easy to pass it by, if not for the winding line out the door. They rotate their flavors regularly but they are most known for two – Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee and Secret Breakfast, both of which are featured daily. The Coffee is easily our favorite ice cream ever – a perfect balance of sweetness of the cream and (I presume) condensed milk with the earthiness of the coffee left us wanting much more. The cheekily named Secret Breakfast features vanilla ice cream with Corn Flake Cookies laced with Bourbon. A guilty pleasure for sure.
* B. Patisserie – very cute neighborhood pastry shop in Pacific Heights. The Kouign-Amann – their signature pastry, basically a flaky croissant with a gooey inside -fantastic.
* Smitten Ice Cream – talk about a great idea! Ice cream made fresh to order! How? With machines that pump liquid nitrogen and freeze/mix/make the ice cream on the spot. It allows them to add fresh ingredients and create many different flavors without the ingredients getting soggy. We had their Rhubarb Crisp and at first the texture threw us off, but by the time we finished the cup we grew to love it. Not to mention the cute shop is in a beautiful part of Hayes Valley. A pleasant surprise for sure. Sorry Dippin’ Dots, Smitten is the “Ice Cream of the Future”.
Happy Donuts – straightforward donut and pastry shop in the Financial District. Good, but not worth going out of your way for.
Dynamo Donuts – whenever you read about top donut shops in the country, Dynamo Donuts seems to find its way onto the list. If you read our blog regularly, you know that we have been obsessed with donuts ever since our trip to Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. After trying on multiple occasions to find a donut to live up to the Voodoo standard we have found only pretenders to the throne. The Dynamo donut is a little too cake-y and dense for us – not even close to Voodoo quality. So, as of now, sadly, we are officially shutting down our journey and declare Voodoo the best.
* Le Labo – we have been obsessed with Le Labo since our stay at Hotel St. Cecilia in Austin. We were thrilled to find out that this NYC fragrance company has opened a site on Fillmore. The service could not have been any more kind and welcoming. Their scent Santal 33 (with hints of cardamom, violet and sandalwood) is now my wife’s signature scent. One of the best parts of all – they actually make the perfume right there while you are waiting and create the label with your name on the bottle.
* Nancy Boy – we fell in love with the signature scent of Nancy Boy in 2010 and it is now the official scent of our home. This fresh lavender scent is calming, soothing and just smells great. Stop in their Hayes Valley shop to smell their other scents and sample their artisan home, bath and body products or buy online. We’ve done both.
Warby Parker Class Trip Bus – on my way to get a cup of coffee at the Reveille truck I turned the corner to find the Warby Parker Class Trip Bus sitting there. If you haven’t heard of Warby Parker yet, you will soon. They are a new eyeware company that makes boutique frames but sells them at a remarkably low price point. Glasses and prescriptions for as low as $95. Not only that, for every pair sold, they give a pair to someone in need. We were able to spend some time with Phineas and the great crew from Warby Parker when the bus was in Nashville several months ago. The bus has been on a journey around the country introducing their brand at a grass roots level. Low and behold, Phineas was still on the bus! Not only was it great to catch up with them, I also picked up a great pair of Aldous sunglasses.
Activities/Things to Do:
Sunday Streets San Francisco – We had no idea this event was even going on when we went to the Mission on Sunday but we could not have been more pleased. Every so often in the Spring and Summer the city shuts down a neighborhood on a Sunday and people just walk the streets and have FUN! There were literally tens of thousands of people walking through the entire Mission area that day – some families with their kids on bikes, some marching playing drums, some dancing, some just taking a stroll in the neighborhood. Everyone just seemed so full of life and vibrant. It helped that it was 70 degrees and sunny the whole time. This is the kind of thing that makes so many people say that San Francisco is their favorite city.
Dolores Park – absolutely gorgeous park in the Mission District that overlooks all of downtown. The grassy elevated perimeter is open to everyone and the whole area was full of blankets and people relaxing (and some smoking medicinal cigarettes). The interior is a fantastic playground area that is only open to kids and adults that are accompanying kids. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, us or Oz.
Fitness Court – National Fitness Campaign – okay, so how do we get one these in Nashville? This thing is great. An open, free workout facility to the public right near the water in the Marina/Cow Hollow area. You can get a full body workout in this well designed court. Sort of San Francisco’s sleek answer to the meat heads of Venice Beach.
Palace of Fine Arts – we were breath taken by the beauty of the Palace of Fine Arts. Though we just strolled the grounds, you can see how the design and beauty would transport you back 2000 years to Ancient Greece or Rome. If the weather is nice, we’d consider a walk through this area high on our list of things to recommend. Not surprisingly, there were about 10 people getting wedding photos the same time we were there.