I’ve never met anyone that’s paid a visit to San Francisco and hasn’t fallen in love with it. While I’m a New Yorker through and through, I can’t get enough of the mild weather, beautiful views, Mexican food and friendly people.
While this wasn’t my first visit to the City By the Bay, I thought a culinary adventure would serve my travel buddy and I well. So we did just that, ate our way through San Francisco…
First stop: Mexican food. I had been dreaming of burritos and California avocados (I swear they taste different on the west coast!) for about a month leading up to the trip. Despite the fact that it was barely noon, my travel mate and I headed straight to La Corneta Taqueria in Glen Park for their specialty Super Burritos. Stuffed with your choice of meat and topped with all of the fixin’s, including rice and beans and some fresh sliced avocado. We fell into some sort of Mexican food coma and the rest of the day was spent wandering up and down hills in the city, making room for dinner.
That night, we headed to Foreign Cinema in the Mission for an evening of film and food. As we indulged in local Hog Island oysters, grilled squid with a perfectly spiced charmoula sauce and melt-in-your-mouth homemade gnocchi, we watched Malena, starring the fabulous Monica Belucci, the latest film they were screening in their outdoor patio. We finished off the evening with a few cocktails at Laszlo, the Brooklyn-esque bar attached to the restaurant that was bustling on a Monday night and fully equipped with a DJ.
There’s no better way to start off a Tuesday afternoon than with cookies and tea in Golden Gate Parks Japanese Tea Garden. In their serene teahouse, we sipped on green tea with great views of their quaint garden area. After some teatime in the park we headed for, yes…more Mexican food, but this time it was a bit fancier. Nopalito in the Panhandle is a delicious Mexican joint that serves up traditional dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Their masa is house-ground from organic corn and their chorizo, queso fresco, tortillas, and bread are made on premises. With a small menu of quintessential Mexican dishes like empanadas, taquitos and chilaquiles we were in heaven once again, sipping on white wine sangria with blood oranges and finishing off the meal with homemade orange and dulce de leche popsicles.
While the weather took a turn for the worst that evening, the threat of thunderstorms the next day kept us off of a ferry to visit Alcatraz, one of the world’s most legendary prisons (though we do still recommend booking a visit if you’re in San Fran). On that rainy afternoon, we found ourselves at Blackwell’s, a wine shop in Outer Richmond for a blind tasting. We sipped on reds and whites from France and took shots in the dark guessing the grapes and regions that they came from.
The blind tasting must have put us in the mood for more vino because on the following beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon, we decided we were Napa-bound. Starting at Gloria Ferrer, a sparkling house in Sonoma, we enjoyed some delicious Blanc de Blancs, a crisp sparkling Chardonnay, perfect for sipping on their terrace under a big yellow umbrella. We then headed to Artesa, my favorite vineyard in Napa because of its beautiful views and the interesting sculptures that decorate its entrance. A bottle of their 2005 Merlot made its way out with us to be enjoyed later on in the week. Last stop, Grgich Hills Estate, which produces organic and biodynamic wines with a super friendly staff and rows of wooden barrels lining the back of their tasting room.
We decided to balance out our wine-filled Thursday with a food-filled Friday and made our way to Sutro’s at the Cliff House for a four-course lunch. We sat alongside floor-to-ceiling windows that offered great views (despite the rain) of the Pacific Ocean and its rocky coastline, while indulging in a local spinach and mushroom salad, crab cakes and a perfect-on-a-cold-rainy-day-like-today roasted carrot and parsnip soup. Our main course was tri-colored gnocchi with root vegetables and a perfectly orchestrated bouillabaisse; chock full of mussels, clams, shrimp and soft shell crab. We had a light, palate cleansing dessert of a trio of sorbets and a key lime tart.
We rolled ourselves out of the Cliff House and into a cab headed straight for an afternoon of acupuncture at SF Community Acupuncture in the Mission. It’s a female owned, affordable acupuncture center that offers treatments in a quiet, group setting. It was the first time for both of us so we were a bit nervous (and giggly) as Kien Chou, our cool calm and collected acupuncturist, stuck thin needles in problem areas to help relieve some of our everyday aches and pains. An hour later, relaxed and still full from lunch we headed back home for an afternoon nap while the weather was still overcast.
The evening brought us to Absinthe in Hayes Valley for drinks and snacks with friends in their hip bar. We sipped classic cocktails like French 75’s, bubbly Prosecco and of course the namesake liqueur itself, absinthe. From their bar menu, we slurped down some more west coast oysters, snacked on a crispy artichoke and goat cheese flatbread and picked at a perfectly selected cheese plate.
We kick started our Saturday with brunch at Starbelly, a highly acclaimed newcomer to the Castro neighborhood. Serving up California comfort food, our meal started off with a lemon pistachio donut, one of the best I’ve ever had (courtesy of Dynamo Donuts in the Mission) and delicious vermouth champagne cocktails. We chowed down on sunny-side up eggs with spinach, red onion and sausage and a wild mushroom stratta, a variation on a fritatta, and washed it all down with some fresh squeezed OJ. Stuffed and ready to work it all off, we set out on a long walk from Union Square to Fisherman’s Warf, where we stopped to pick up some bicycles from Blazing Saddles for our bike ride over the golden gate. The ride showed how fit everyone in the city is, there were a ton of people running, biking and walking (the view definitely makes the workout easier) on the beautiful Saturday afternoon. With our helmets strapped on and a mini map as our GPS we made our way up and down hills and down the National Park Bike Path alongside the Pacific Ocean to get to the Golden Gate Bridge.
As the Blazing Saddles staff cheered us across their makeshift finish line, we were ready for dinner. We had worked up quite an appetite during our bike tour, so we made our way to Urban Tavern in Union Square for an evening full of comfort food. The meal started off with a house made soft pretzel served with grain mustard, mussels and clams with chorizo in a smoked paprika sauce and a deliciously fresh chopped farmers market vegetable salad. Stuffed by the time our entrees arrived, we tackled a perfectly medium-rare steak with french fries and a crock of roasted veggies. Dessert was the star of the evening as we died-and-went-to-heaven over their signature peanut butter cup served with salted peanut brittle and Ciao Bella peanut butter gelato. We drooled over the banana trifle jar, layers of banana cake, sliced banana and whipped cream, leaving us stuffed to the brim and utterly satisfied. We bar hopped that evening with the locals and ended up at the west coast outpost of NYC’s Beauty Bar, where we danced our butts off to early 2000’s tracks.
As if we hadn’t spent the past seven days eating ourselves into a oblivion, we decided one last indulgent brunch at 2223 in the Castro was the perfect send-off before heading to SFO. Chorizo and pepper jack scrambles, smoked salmon eggs benedict and warm cinnamon rolls with walnuts were accompanied by sky-high glasses filled with spicy gazpacho bloody marys.
As the fasten your seat belts light went on and the pilot introduced himself on Virgin Airlines Flight 24 to JFK, we knew we’d seen the real San Francisco, the heart and soul of its culinary culture. Not a bad way to spend a week 3,000 miles away from the delectable offerings of New York City.