Great Addresses for Food and Eating in San Francisco

I was trying to explain to a French friend what a ‘foodie’ is, and he was looking at me like I was nuts. I guess when you live in a country that’s full of people that live to eat, the concept of people not into eating is a bit odd.

So, for lack of a better introduction, here are my ‘foodie’ addresses for places that I visited and good things that I tasted while in San Francisco:

Charles Chocolates

When someone handed me an unusually heavy sack emblazoned with the name ‘Charles Chocolates‘ on it, I wanted to run home with in and dive right in! I’ve been jealous reading reports of Chuck Siegel’s magnificent confections from other bloggers and let me tell you: Chuck’s chocolate are worth the wait.

charlesalmonds.jpg

My hands-down favorites were the Triple Chocolate Almonds; California almonds roasted and enrobed in both milk and dark chocolate. Superb! There was a stack of tablets of chocolate in there too, flavored with caramelized rice and candied ginger that I’ve schlepped back to Paris to share.

But the most stunning were two heavy boxes, crafted entirely of chocolate, and filled with a luscious selection of Chuck’s best and more dazzling creations. One was his Tea Collection with tea-scented chocolates (think Osmanthus blossoms and charcoal-fired Oolong tea), while the other had such diverse tastes as passion fruit and salted peanut butter. They were so good, you’ll want to eat the box. Luckily you can.

Charles Chocolates
Westfield San Francisco Center
3rd Floor, Bloomingdale’s side
(888) 652-4412

panna cotta

Delfina

This is my must-stop restaurant when I come to San Francisco. The problem is, I can never get in. Luckily my good pals came to the rescue and we dined like celebrities (like Jake Gyllenhall, who was seated across the dining room, unnoticed by everyone but us. I thought Joy was going to drop her kid right then and there.)

Starting with marinated sardines, moving on to heaping bowls of pasta, then finishing with perhaps the best version of Panna Cotta I’ve ever had, it’s hard to have less than a stellar meal at Delfina.

And having charming, if distracted, company…and Jake Gyllenhall to look at, certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Delfina
3621 18th Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 552-4055

Nopa

This is my newest must-stop restaurant in San Francisco (I’m allowed a couple…aren’t I?) And by the looks of things, I’m not alone. Laurence Jossel paid his dues at some of the best dining spots in the city before opening Nopa and he’s got a winner on his hands. In a formerly dicey area (my old neighborhood), diners and chefs from other restaurants now come from all over to gather at the large table to share dinner, or to cozy up in a booth. (Warning: The noise level can be daunting. Request upstairs if you want some calm.)

How can you not love starting a meal with a frosty martini alongside perfectly-salted, hyper-crispy French fries with harissa dipping sauce ending with a bowl of sugared donut holes? Nopa makes me almost want to move back to San Francisco. If I could only persuade Laurence to open in Paris…*sigh*

Nopa
560 Divisadero Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 864-8643

Citizen Cake

I’m sure I’m not the only one anxiously awaiting Elizabeth Falkner’s upcoming book, Demolition Desserts. But for those of us who’ve been enjoying Elizabeth’s desserts for years, we’ve been relishing her tasty treats at Citizen Cake.

(Disclaimer: I have a major crush on Elizabeth Falkner for years.)


I went with now-retired chocolatier Robert Steinberg of ScharffenBerger and shared a Blackberry Tartlet with moist, glistening berries piled up high on a layer of slick, rich milk chocolate mousse in a thin chocolate pastry shell. The Carrot Cake, with cream cheese buttercream, was delicate and delicious, as were the alfajores; thin wafer cookies sandwiched with creamy-sweet dulce de leche.

Citizen Cake Restaurant and Bakery
2125 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 861-2228

Rancho Gordo

I’m sure it’s hard to get people excited about dried beans. But Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando has done it. Each weekend at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, you can pick up a staggering selection of beans and get expert advice from the jovial owner himself. I allocated precious space in my luggage for a few pounds of heirloom dried beans: Christmas Limas, Scarlet Runners, and the wildly-colored Good Mother Stallards.

Can’t wait to cook them up chez David.

Rancho Gordo
San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
(707) 259-1935
(Check website for other locations.)

Zuni

Fittingly, this is where I ate on my last day in San Francisco. It was also the first place I worked when I moved there way back in 1983! At that time, it was just a small restaurant, getting some notice in the press, and we shared the corner with a cactus store.

Gilbert Pilgram, formerly of Chez Panisse, recently took over the restaurant, which he now co-owns with chef Judy Rogers, and it’s never been better. Gilbert’s sprucing up things and Judy’s food still wins me over every time. I came for lunch and didn’t have time for the justly-famous Roast Chicken with Bread Salad (which takes an hour, so order one as soon as you sit down, or you’ll be smashed on Margaritas and Cosmos by the time it arrives), but the Caesar Salad is still tops as is the big pile of shoestring fries and my Halibut Cheeks with sautéed corn and sweet tomatoes was just the thing on a fine summer day with the sun pouring in the warehouse-like dining room.

Dessert was Espresso Granita, served with layers of sweetened whipped cream. Let me just say that I’ve made a lot of frozen desserts in the past few years and this is one of the best versions of any.

A16

For my last dinner in San Francisco, we snagged a reservation at A16, and from the mob at the door, it was clear we weren’t the only ones eager for good Neapolitan-style pizza.

Our pie we ordered to start, topped with treviso (radicchio) and fontina cheese, came out warm and bubbling with a nicely charred crust…but was HUGE. I settled on a nice bowl of gnocchi with spicy sausage in brodo and we ordered lots of bowls vegetables, including roasted corn, swiss chard and giant stewed beans. Desserts were a complimentary selection of house-made gelati: strawberry-mascarpone, tangerine sorbetto, salted caramel, and, of course, a deep-dark chocolate. The service was friendly and casual, and it was a fitting send-off.

Lotta’s Bakery

Earl Darny just opened this bakery on busy Polk Street and I stopped in for a very quick visit en route to an appointment I was late for. Even though I was hyperventilating and couldn’t stay long, I did see a lot of home-style pastries, tons of cupcakes, and the window featured towering cakes with lots of whipped cream and decoration. (And a couple of oversized fruit pies as well. )
Word has it Earl will make you a Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake by special order.

Lotta’s Bakery
1720 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 359-9039

Tamales

A Few Spots for Good Mexican Food

In San Francisco, I have a few favorites. There’s a zillion places in town, mostly in the Mission, that have great burritos and other Mexican food. But across town, at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza, Traci des Jardin’s Mijita is excellent and my breakfast of chilequiles was an eye-opening start for my day.

Also at the market is Cocina Primavera, who makes the most sensational tamales and tortillas I’ve had. While the butternut squash tamales were a bit timid for our tastes, there wasn’t anything we found fault with in the hulking carnitas tamales that came home with us.

If you find yourself in Berkeley, or feel like braving the Bay Bridge, get yourself over to Picante. I am a big fan of their Tostada-style salads, although the tacos made with freshly-patted tortillas are excellent—especially-good corny disks topped with spicy chorizo sausage and potatoes.

Lastly, the best place for Chinese food I know in San Francisco is R&G Lounge (631 Kearny, St). In spite of the goofy name, if you know what to order, you’re guaranteed an amazing meal. And I’m not the only one who feels their Salt & Pepper Crab is the best rendition of Dungeness crab anywhere. Mustard Greens with Mushrooms, Prawns with Walnuts, Minced Seafood in Lettuce Cups, Char Sui (bbq pork), Chicken Stuffed with Sticky Rice (needs to be ordered at least 4 hours ahead), and Crispy Chicken are some favorites to try as well.

Previous posts about dining in San Francisco:

Ici (ice cream)

Fog City News (excellent selection of chocolate bars)

Bi-Rite Creamery (ice cream)

The Burrito King

Three San Francisco Ethnic Eateries

8 comments

  • Oh yeay!! I love it when you give out foodie addresses, Thanks David! The next time I go to SF, maybe in August, I’ll be sure to stop by some of these.

  • Any problems bringing your chocolate into France? ( I’m now sports conflicted……tour de France or Wimbledon women’s final, both live.)

  • Hi Gail: I brough chocolates both ways without problem. From Paris, I packed 2 boxes of chocolates (La Maison du Chocolate and Jean-Charles Rochoux) into my suitcase and they made it fine (granted it wasn’t quite summer yet.)

    On the way back, I hand carried both tablets of chocolates from the fine folks at Charles Chocolates and Theo as well as 2 boxes of filled chocolates and didn’t have problems.

    I’ve heard second-hand reports, mostly on eGullet about things confiscated at De Gaulle, including Laduree macarons (I think they just wanted to eat them themselves), but I haven’t had problems. A friend did have her jar of Salted Butter Caramel from my true and undisputed hero, Henri Le Roux confiscated…ouch!…that would hurt…

    Hilda: A good place to pick up a lot of great locally-produced products, including chocolates, is the Bi-Rite market, across from their creamery.

  • Why San Francisco?

    I finally get to France and am ready to try out your recipes and recommendatiions…and you give San Fran info?

    What gives? :0l

  • I think the French use the term “gourmand” to describe foodie/glutton behavior. It’s a fabulous word, non?

  • Mlle Smith: Check the ‘categories’ box, in the upper left of the site. There’s tons of info about Paris that’s compiled up there. There’s also more here too, for your eating and dining pleasure.

    Penelope: Except not all foodies are in it for the food. Some just want the fancy kitchens and equipment (and magazine subscriptions) that go along with it! ; )

  • Sue me, but I’m not the biggest Citizen Cake fan, tho I adore Elizabeth and her aesthetics. I just find her use of butter cream a tad liberal for my tastes. Strictly a personal thing, and certainly not a reflection on her abilities as a pastry chef.

  • The wife and I are going to SF in Sept. I’ve already made note of your recommendations. I ate at Citizen Cake about 8 yrs ago and I loved it.