The last time I was in San Francisco was when I was about 8 years old. My only recollection of that trip was Fisherman’s Wharf. A few weeks ago, I happened to receive an email in my inbox for a $59 seat sale through Allegiant Air via Bellingham. I had been meaning to visit SF for some time now, and with this trip being long overdue, we decided to jump on the opportunity. We booked a King Signature room at the beautiful Omni San Francisco Hotel, which is conveniently located in the Financial District right smack in the heart of downtown SF. Built as a bank in 1926, the lobby is adorned with Italian marble, rich fabrics and Austrian crystal chandeliers. We were greeted by a friendly staff, hot apple cider, and gingerbread men. We thought that was a nice touch.
Mocca on Maiden Lane
Our first meal in SF was lunch at Mocca (as recommended to us by Rufina). Located just across the street from Union Square, and tucked away in a lane way called Maiden Lane, this cash-only Italian sidewalk cafe is an excellent lunch spot. We arrived right at noon and there was already quite a lineup building inside. There is limited seating inside, but it has a huge outdoor seating area, a great spot to hang out and people watch during the warmer months.
Left: One of the most glorious beef sandwiches that I’ve ever eaten. Pepper tri-tip of beef, red wine sauce, tomatoes à la Provençal (A term referring to dishes prepared in the style of Provence). With the beef being so juicy, it’s definitely a fork and knife sandwich. My only complaint is that they gave me a butter knife to eat this. Delicious and a great deal at $12.90. Right: Mixed shellfish salad with prawns, scallops, New Zealand green mussels, marinated in olive oil and fresh herbs. $14.75 gets you a nice hearty portion, rich with flavour, with plenty of seafood.
For dinner we decided to check out Burritt Tavern, another place which is walking distance from Union Square. Located inside the Mystic Hotel, you enter a dark, intimate bar as you first walk inside. Off to the side is the adjoining tavern/dining room. With a jazz band playing at the bar and a busy dining room, it was quite loud inside. I wanted to get one of the private walled-in curtained booths along the side, but sadly they had all been reserved. We started off with a couple of cocktails (El Hefe – Mezcal Blanco, Curacao, Lime, Hefeweizen Beer; Grapefruit Buck – Stolichnaya Vodka, Elderflower Liqueur, Ginger Beer, Grapefruit Bitters) in preparation for the meal ahead.
Left: Charcuterie Trio ($18) – prosciutto, terrine, salumi, seasonal accompaniments include pickles, fig and onion jam. I was a big fan of the cured salumi and prosciutto. May really enjoyed the terrine and fig jam. Right: Duo of Ahi Tuna ($16) – with soba noodles, soy shitakes, and sesame vinaigrette. A simple and refreshing appetizer.
Left: Side of poutine ($12) – with grilled oxtail, bacon, gravy, and cheddar. Wait, CHEDDAR? That’s a poutine foul right there. Poutines should only use fresh and squeaky cheese curds. Cheddar belongs on chili fries. Anyways despite their use of cheddar, this dish was still great. It came with a generous amount of grilled oxtail and the hand-cut fries were really well cooked. Right: Spice glazed Mary’s Pekin Duck ($30) – A fall specialty which included farro risotto, baby vegetables, mission figs, confit leg, warm mushroom and arugula salad. This dish was served on a big platter, and our server meticulously portioned the dish out onto two plates. I’ve never had farro risotto before. I would have probably enjoyed actual risotto instead. The picture shown is only half of the serving, so you can see it’s more than enough for two entrée portions.
Above: Bourbon brioche bread pudding ($9) – with bacon brittle, pralines, and maple ice cream. We were both stuffed but couldn’t resist ordering this off of their dessert menu. I love bread pudding, but let’s be honest, they had me at bacon brittle. I’ve never had that before, and I must say it was quite interesting. Sweet and sticky like toffee, while still maintaining the smokiness of the bacon.
I first heard about RoliRoti on Food Network’s Eat St. They are a gourmet rotisserie food truck located outside of the Ferry Building Marketplace. They use only sustainably-farmed meats and organic produce. We arrived at the market just in time for the weekend lunch rush and the lineup was about 15 deep.
Left: The RoliRoti assembly line of meat artists; Right: Rotisserie meat porn. Note the potatoes roasting away on the bottom.
Left: RoliRoti Combo ($7.50) – 1/4 chicken and a side of roasted potatoes. The potatoes roast in the base of the rotisserie grill and get showered by all the meat drippings. The chicken was roasted to perfection and the skin packed a lot of flavour; Right: Gourmet Porchetta Sandwich ($9.50) – served with caramelized onions, arugula, rosemary salt, and crispy skin. This was a delicious sandwich. I’m a big fan of Meat & Bread‘s porchetta sandwich, and I still rank that above this one. RoliRoti’s is nice though, since it it’s more than just “meat and bread” and actually has arugula and onions in it, which really soak up a lot of the porchetta juices and give it a nice added layer of texture and fresh flavour.
We really wanted to go to State Bird Provisions. According to their website, they are fully reserved until mid-February! How crazy is that? But their website also says that they reserve 6-8 seats every night for walk-ins. So we tested our luck and arrived at State Bird Provisions 30 minutes prior to opening, but there was already a lineup of 15 people. Foiled! Luckily, SPQR was our plan B, was a few blocks away, and we already had reservations. SPQR is located on Fillmore Street, one of the main shopping and dining districts in SF, a lot like Kitsilano’s West 4th Avenue in Vancouver. An acronym for Senatus Populesque Romanus, SPQR translates to “The People and Senate of Rome” and was the emblem of the Roman Empire.
Above: Dungeness crab and quinoa salad, chioggia beet, salsa verde, and wild fennel vinegar ($16). The white foam that you see is the fennel vinegar. It was very potent, but the acidity from that and the quinoa complemented the sweetness of the crab quite well.
Left: “fusilli di grano arso”, spicy white veal “bolognese” and bloomsdale spinach ($20). This was very tasty. I think they sprinkled panko on it to finish the dish, but it added a nice bite to the pasta; Right: chocolate linguini, beer braised pork cheek ragu, broccoli crema, and red wine sarvecchio ($20). Chocolate-infused pasta. Enough said. This was quite delicious as well. Very reasonable prices for upscale Italian cuisine.
Lers ros Thai
For dinner #2, we really wanted to go to Brenda’s French Soul Food, but by the time we arrived at 10:30, their kitchen had already closed. Luckily, we had another plan B, which was Lers ros Thai (highly recommended by Maurice). I am a big fan of Thai food, especially of the authentic variety (click here for our post from our trip to Thailand), which you don’t find a lot of in Vancouver.
Left: Pad Kee Mow ($8.95): Spicy pan-fried flat noodle with basil, bell peppers, bean sprouts, and chicken. This dish was way too spicy for May. I, on the other hand, loved it. Thai food SHOULD be spicy.; Centre: Because May couldn’t handle the heat, I ordered a non-spicy Pad Thai ($8.95): Traditional Thai style pan-fried rice noodle with chicken, served with crushed peanut, bean sprout and sliced lemon; Right: Stir-fried alligator with house made fresh chili sauce & young pepper corn ($12.95). I have to give this place 2 thumbs up for these few dishes that we tried, which I felt really embodied authentic Thai flavours.
Zuni Cafe came highly recommended by several of our friends, so it was definitely on our list of places to try. Famous for their roasted chicken for 2 and their burgers, this place is a definitely a fan favourite amongst the locals. You really need to make an effort to try this place out if you’re ever in SF. This is a true gem. We will return again and try their famous roasted chicken, which apparently takes 45 minutes to make.
Above: House-ground grass-fed beef hamburger on grilled rosemary focaccia with aïoli and Zuni pickles ($15), with Beecher’s Flagship cheese (+$1.75), grilled onions (+$1.25), heirloom tomatoes (+$2.50). When all is said and done, this is a $20 burger. Not exactly cheap. But let me tell you, it’s worth every penny. I like that they also asked us how well we wanted the burger cooked. I asked them to do it medium-rare. The above picture only shows half of the burger, as we had asked them to cut it for us.
Left: Pizza with Wagon Wheel cheese, Gypsy and Poblano peppers, onion, and cilantro ($13.50). Cooked in a brick oven, the crust was perfect, it was thin, and had the right proportion of toppings; Right: Shoestring potatoes ($6) – Think gourmet Hickory Sticks but better.
AQ came highly recommended by several of our friends as well. They are quite unique in that they adapt their menu 4 times per year according to the season. The day we visited them was the last day of their Autumn menu. As they update the menu to reflect the freshest produce, they also gradually transform the interior of the restaurant to reflect the palette and tone of the current season. Quite a neat concept! For the quality and value of the dishes, this place hit a homerun and was the dining highlight of our trip.
Above: Duck roasted with lavender, cranberry miso, lentils, mountain spinach ($25). Simply amazing. All of the ingredients worked so well together in this dish, the duck was perfectly cooked. It was the second duck dish we tried on this trip, but this one was the clear standout winner.
Left: Chicken “Crispy & Poached”, autumn squashes, coffee, and sage ($14). This was a very interesting dish. It came with fried chicken and poached chicken, with a butternut squash soup which almost served as a sauce.; Right: Swordfish with Morrocan spice, smoked bacon, sunchokes, and red cabbage ($25). The fish was cooked nicely, and the addition of bacon really complimented the mild flavours of the fish.
Chowders / In-N-Out Burger
Left: New England clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from Chowders at Fisherman’s Wharf. The soup was a bit on the starchy side, but the bread bowl was delicious. I wish we didn’t settle for the first chowder place that we came across, because when we were walking around the wharf after, we saw some other vendors with much more delicious looking chowder bowls. Lesson learned. It’s like going to the Richmond Night Market. Don’t buy food from the first vendor you see (unless it happens to be the one that sells super spicy fish balls ;)). Right: In-N-Out cheeseburger. This was my first experience with In-N-Out. I’m not sure if I was expecting something better, or if it was just overhyped, or maybe I was just spoiled from all the good food this weekend, or I wasn’t too hungry, but this cheeseburger was disappointing. This is what a $2.35 cheeseburger looks like so I guess I can’t complain. I may have to try the Angry Style burger next time, which comes with extra Thousand Island spread, mustard grilled patties, and extra pickles.
Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen
After a long afternoon of shopping in Union Square, Jasper’s was a welcome pitstop as we were both craving a beer. With quite an extensive beer menu of 18 on tap and 40 bottled, we decided to take a quick social media break. Here’s my army of Android devices (Samsung Galaxy Y used just as a personal hotspot with our Roam Mobility data package, Samsung Galaxy S3 as my everyday phone, and an ASUS Google Nexus 7 as my map and browsing device). And if you’re wondering, yes, I need EVERY single one of these devices. This would’ve been a great Google commercial, especially with us being in SF and all.
Bourbon & Branch
A true speakeasy is an establishment that illegally sells alcoholic beverages. Such establishments came into prominence in the United States during the Prohibition period in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Although I’m pretty sure Bourbon & Branch isn’t an illegal establishment, they do display many characteristics of being one: Nondescript exterior with no visible signage? Check. Locked door requiring a password to enter? Check. Bouncer? Check. 50-page drink menu? Check. House rules including no photos allowed? I think I MAY have broken that rule. Check. How do you get in on this action? You need to make a reservation on their website. They will then confirm you reservation by sending you a password.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Both Nick and Jarek recommended that we check out Blue Bottle Coffee. With several locations around town, we decided to check out their kiosk in a converted garage located in an alleyway on Linden Street. It was definitely a bit off the beaten path, but that didn’t stop people from lining up for coffee on a Sunday morning. They grind and brew drip coffee individually on Beehouse drippers. If you’ve been to Revolver in Gastown, it’s kind of the same idea. I would say their coffee is right up there with Revolver in terms of taste and quality. I’m no coffee expert, but it’s definitely no Starbucks by any means.
We managed to squeeze in some sightseeing in between meals 😉
Left: The largest Chinatown in North America; Right: Ice skating at Union Square. Definitely cooler than Robson Square.
Left: UNIQLO – One of my favourite clothing stores. They’re huge in Asia, but this is one of only 3 locations in the US, and the only one on the west coast. We went a bit crazy and splurged in there. Apparently they’re looking to open up their first Canadian location in Vancouver at The Bay in downtown. *fingers crossed*; Right: Macy’s in Union Square looking all festive for the holidays.
Left: The market outside of the Ferry Building Marketplace; Right: May posing with some odd looking vegetables at the farmer’s market
Left: You know there had to be a trolley shot in here somewhere; Right: An amazing lit up Christmas tree outside of the A.P. Giannini Plaza, aptly named after the founder of Bank of America.
Left: Sea lions sleeping at Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf. Right: Ghirardelli Square…for all the chocolate lovers out there.
Left: The obligatory Alcatraz shot. No trip to SF is complete without one. Right: Hard Rock Cafe – San Francisco @ Pier 39
We had a wonderful time in San Francisco. There are about 40 other restaurants on our list of places to try that will have to wait until our next visit. Wondering what and where all those places are? I’ve made you all a Google map. Enjoy! We sure did. 🙂
View San Francisco dining map in a larger map