Essential food and wine experiences: San Francisco

This article represents the personal favourites of Foodtourist’s editors Sue Dyson and Roger McShane. These are the places they haunt on their regular visits to San Francisco.

San Francisco evokes many memories. The incessant clang of the cable cars. The haunting beauty of the fog rolling up the harbour and lingering among the hills. The chill of the evening winds. The charm of the wooden houses clinging to the side of steep, steep hills. The symbolic grandeur of the bridge. The easy-going, yet determined locals always on the move.

But for us the most lingering memories are the food and the passion about food. The incredibly mixed heritage of the city is one of the factors. Chinese, Italians, Spanish, Vietnamese and northern Europeans have all left their mark. So has the climate. You can grow just about anything in the areas around the city.

Throw into this mix people with a passion for food such as Alice Waters and you have the recipe for a great food city. In fact, along with Paris, New York and Hong Kong it is one of the most exciting food cities in the world.

There are so many food experiences available here that you need a very long visit to take advantage of them all. We have produced a selection, which will help you try the best there is on offer.

If you haven’t been to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, then you are missing one of the most interesting dining experiences in the world. Set up by Alice Waters nearly forty years ago, Chez Panisse has been at the apex of the food scene for the entire time – no mean achievement given today’s fickle diners and the problems with retaining consistency over such a long period.

Another must in this city is a visit to Cafe Zuni in Market Street. It was founded by talendted chef and author Judy Rodgers who died in 2013.This is another long-term player on the food scene that has displayed a remarkable consistency over the years. The food is simple yet prepared with skill and attention to detail. The whole roast chicken for two prepared in the wood oven is legendary.

If you have the time, hire a car and drive to the Napa Valley for another memorable dining experience. The French Laundry in Yountville just north of Napa is one of the world’s top restaurants. The chef Thomas Keller is a fanatic in search of perfection.

Another top end place that we like is Restaurant Gary Danko.

But we are increasingly attracted to a range of less formal places such as the delightful Commonwealth in the Mission District, nearby Mission Chinese Food, Nopalita and the fabulous Bar Agricole. These places are setting new standards for quality food and for peasant dining experiences.

Back in town you should not miss the passion evident in the cooking at Flour + Water. Here you will find some of the most serious Italian food in the country served in relaxing surroundings by cheerful staff relaxed in the knowledge that their job is made easy by the wonderful food on the plates they are carrying.

If you haven’t been to San Francisco for a while, book your flight soon. The food experiences alone make this a must-visit destination!


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Our book recommendation

We thoroughly recommend the excellent book by Marco Canora, a chef whose food we admire having eaten his food at Hearth and Terroir.