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San Francisco

Talking in the Mission
Over coffee this is my utopia
Man, I’ll be your lady
As the ocean rises, the sun is fading

We’re back, we’re back in San Francisco
We’re back and you tell me I’m home

-Vanessa Carlton

The first time we visited San Francisco, we knew it would not be the last.  Maybe some day, we can call San Francisco our home too.

The “25: 35 Short List” – these are the few establishments that we feel have a earned a special place of distinction in San Francisco and to which we give our highest recommendation (they are also bolded and marked by “*” before the business name). The rest of our San Francisco recommendations are listed below it.

*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.



*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.


*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).



Here are the rest of our San Francisco recommendations:



Coffee Shops

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.



Reveille Coffee Co. – 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.  Their slick coffee truck is set up a mere 4 minute walk away.

Four Barrel Coffee – industrial vibe coffee shop in Mission District specializing in pour over coffees made from their own roasts.

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.

Ritual Coffee – popular coffee shop and roaster in the Mission District.  Love the flag/logo.  High quality beans expertly prepared.  They also have a large kiosk set up in Hayes Valley. Their roasts were perhaps a little lighter bodied than we usually prefer but still a good pour over nevertheless.

Bakeries –

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.

Casual Dining –

Hog Island Oyster Co. – oyster bar in the Ferry Building.  One specialty is their clam chowder with a thinner broth and clams in the shell. Sit outside on the bay and have some oysters (and a glass of bubbly) which are farmed in their own estuary near San Francisco.

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.


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.


Contemporary Dining –

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.


Zuni Cafe – legendary San Fran restaurant with cool zinc bar downstairs. Their menu changes daily but their specialty, Chicken for Two – about the best chicken dish you can make- is usually on it.

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.


Slanted Door – A blend of French and Vietnamese in a fantastic spot in the Ferry Building.  Often crowded, but eating at the large bar is also great.  Recommend the Shaking Beef and Strawberry Bread Pudding (both were out of this world).

A16 – excellent brick oven pizzas and rustic Italian food. Wonderful atmosphere with a great wine list. Grab a seat at the chef’s bar and watch them fire up the pizzas. (reminiscent of City House in Nashville but more true to Italian cuisine)

Anchor & Hope – renovated warehouse converted into an upscale seafood restaurant with a hip, fun vibe.  Try the Angels on Horseback – a decadent smoked bacon wrapped oyster with remoulade sauce.

Ferry Building Favorites

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.

Desserts/Ice Cream –

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


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”.



Absinthe – French bistro in the Hayes Valley region with excellent drinks.  If you are feeling bold, have a drink with absinthe.

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.


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.

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