If the greatest football team in the world didn’t happen to be from Milano, San Francisco would very likely be my favourite city. Great food from every ethnic cuisine you can imagine, fresh and delicious seafood and sushi, cocktail bars on every block, Napa Valley wine, alternative thinking, open-minded people, Mission St hipsters, a beautiful metropolitan landscape - no other city in the world can compete.
I have been to SF several times and have come up with a list of my favorite bars and restaurants. A special thanks to Greidy, Nicole, Elizabeth, Erin, Azzurra, and Paul for the great suggestions.
Below I have compiled a list of my favorite food and drink experiences in San Francisco.
Coffee and Tea
Blue Bottle Coffee
The coffee here is so good that I always make sure my hotel is walking distance from their Mint Plaza location. This awesome coffee bar offers single origin espresso, excellent blended espresso, and an odd looking siphon bar, which may remind you of the meth lab from Breaking Bad. Their best espresso blend is their signature 17 foot ceiling. If you get a chance, try the Panama Geisha coffee in the siphon format. They also do a V60-ish pour over here, which depending on the bean, can deliver great results.
Be prepared to wait for your coffee as the line-up always spills outside the establishment. You will find line ups everywhere in SF, but if they are made up of a good percentage of hipsters, you can rest assured the product is really damn good. Also recommended at the Mint Plaza Blue Bottle is their breakfast/brunch, whether it be poached eggs, their breakfast sandwich, waffle, french toast or a damn fine cookie (ginger molasses, double chocolate or saffron). If you want to try another great speciality coffee place, head over to Ritual Coffee in the Mission (1026 Valencia St).
Samovar Tea Lounge
I have to thank Kevin Rose (of Diggnation fame for the tech nerds out there) for having turned me on to Samovar tea lounge. It also helps that their best location is situated just above the Moscone center, where the most important conference in my field is held annually. As soon as you enter, you will instantly feel more relaxed, with its beautiful and naturally lit environment that will remind you of a Zen garden. Samovar is a perfect place to go during a stressful work day to help you reach a state of peaceful serenity.
Cocktails and Beer
Tommy's Mexican restaurant
Tommy's Mexican restaurant is an institution in SF, originally opened by Tommy Bermejo and his wife 50 years ago. Tommy's is now run by the energetic Julio Bermejo, a great host and one of the friendliest people you will meet in the bar industry. He is the world ambassador of tequila thanks to is amazing knowledge of the agave-based spirit. Start off with a Tommy's Margarita (2 oz Blanco or Reposado Tequila, 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice, 0.75 oz Agave Nectar). Then, let Julio and his senior bartender Greidy guide you through the world's largest collection of tequilas. Tommy's has some amazing Mexican food. I suggest the carne asada, the number one choice of Julio's uncle.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the experience of sitting up at the bar at Tommy's is how you will instantly become friends with everyone there: I've had the great pleasure of meeting cool people like Kern, Elizabeth, Cecilia, Cristian, Robert and so many others. Tommy's is my number one recommendation in San Francisco and perhaps in the United States. A MUST.
My favorite cocktail bar in SF, ABV won my heart with few-ingredient yet palate enticing beverages and its casual and friendly approach to a cocktail bar. Ryan, Cecily, John and co. are one if the most likable bar teams on the planet.
From the new menu try Tarragon Fix (blanco tequila, lime, pineapple, tarragon), an homage to the Tarragon Collins (gin, lemon, tarragon, soda). The best drink of the new list is La Botana (mezcal, orange, pickle brine, lime, beer). From the original menu, you can’t miss the Fogerty cocktail (2 oz rye, 0.5 oz Campari, 0.25 oz creme de cacao, 2 dashes orange bitters). If you’re chilling with Greidy, don’t forget that ABV makes the best Paloma in the city.
Nopa was recommended by my good friend Matt Rooney and I am pleased to report his perfect foodie rating is still intact! Although the focus of my visit was their best in SF burger (mine was deliciously cooked medium rare with creamy Gruyère on top), I was blown away by their "beer cocktails", where not a single drop of beer used to make them! The Flanders red cocktail was the star of the show at Nopa. Featuring Diep9 Old genever, cherry heering, Eagle Rare bourbon, red wine vinegar and soda, it tasted just like a Flanders red sour ale. Unbelievable!
Pacific Cocktail Haven
Pacific Cocktail Haven (PCH) is a beautiful west-coast style cocktail bar with some of the best drinks I’ve had in ages. Although I didn’t have the pleasure of sitting at the long counter which dominates the bar, I was well taken care of by Miguel, waiter on that evening. Check out Ultra Magnus with Highland Park Magnus, Lairds applejack brandy, maple, ume, bitters and their Old Fashioned with Rittenhouse rye 100. As PCH is often packed, it's best experienced with a small group.
Thanks to SF expert Nicole, part of the 28 HKS family in Singapore, for pointing me towards HardWater, a great whisky bar next to the Slanted Door (see below). As soon as I entered the beautiful whisky bar, I was greeted by the sweet smile of barlady Erin Rose. For the first time I felt at ease on my SF trip. Other than Erin's charm, you will be amazed by T. Olle Lindberg's interior design. HardWater is bright and modern with a high ceiling and a gorgeous rack of whiskys in the back. It's a welcome change from the dark whisky bars I am used to frequenting.
Erin prepared three delicious cocktails for my after lunch session: a mint julep, a whisky sour, and from their menu, the Creole cocktail with Rittenhouse 100 rye, Punt e Mes, Benedictine, China-China, Angostura, and lemon peel.
Whitechapel is a beautiful gin bar in SF that was designed to look like the London underground station of the same name. Running the show are Alex Smith and Martin Cate who have come up with the largest gin collection in North America. On my first trip to Whitechapel, I was lucky enough to encounter Alex at the door and he suggested I try the spirit forward Penny Dreadful with Sloane's dry gin, Citadelle reserve, Amer Bigallet, Italian sweet vermouth, Hellfire bitters and Smoked Islay peat. On my second visit I sampled the Mission Creep (The Botanist gin, calvados, salted pistachio, egg white, angostura bitters, lemon).
At Slanted Door, you can enjoy great Vietnamese fusion along with solid cocktails. The Slanted Door is located on the back side of the ferry building with a spectacular view of the Bay bridge.
Before, after (during?) your meal try one of their awesome cocktails from a list of classic drinks. My favorites were the Whiskey cocktail (bourbon, angostura and orange bitters, gum syrup, orange peel and served on a hand cut ice cube) and the Bentley cocktail (calvados, Dubbonet red, Peychaud’s bitters). In terms of food, check out the in depth review in the separate food section below.
The beer geek's first choice in SF is Toronado, a no-nonsense dive bar featuring many great local beers on tap, and an impressive selection of highly sought after bottles. A great place to mingle with an alternative, peace-loving crowd.
Zeitgeist is an epic dive bar whose main attraction is the outdoor beer garden which is a great setting for heavy afternoon beer consumption. The no photo rules maintains the sanctity of this watering hole that is frequented by a mix of college kids, hipsters and bikers. That didn't stop me from snapping a quick shot of Vibhav with a Pliny the Elder.
Bender's Bar and Grill
Bender's is a dive bar in the hipster-ridden Mission district of SF. I discovered Bender's on my quest to drink the nearly impossible to find Pliny the Elder, the best double IPA in the world. Shout out to Paul B, a former SF-hippie, for steering me towards this awesome watering hole, which also offers great bar food and other fine beers. But back to Pliny the Elder: it is a hoppy, bitter, badass indian pale ale that you will will never forget for as long as you live.
How can I describe the food at Mission Chinese? High end ingredients used to make non traditional but delicious comfort Chinese food. Although the waiters are Mission-esque hipsters, the cooks are Chinese, with a kitchen similar to one you'd find in a ghetto Chinatown restaurant.
Rockstar chef-owner Danny Bowien has trained his staff extremely well, and all the dishes perfectly executed, day or night. The highlight for me was the thrice cooked bacon and rice cakes, a dish that saved me after my whiskey cocktail binge at Bourbon and Branch the night before. Sorry, I don't have photos from B&B becauase the dicks don't let you take photos there. Back to Mission Chinese, the spicy beef chow mein was also rad, but maybe a bit too “gweilo” (white guy style). This dish has since been replaced by the Lung Shan chow mein, the ultimate gon chow ngau ho, but with Shanghai style noodles. Another must tries are the Kung Pao pastrami, spicy Chongqing chicken wings and the Westlake lamb dumplings (fried dumplings, tzatziki, ma la vinaigrette, peanut).
The Slanted Door
The Slanted Door can be best described as a gourmet Vietnamese fusion restaurant. That may turn off traditionalists, but I can assure you that the food at the Slanted Door is phenomenal. I suggest starting with the spring rolls, if only to trick yourself into thinking you are at an Asian restaurant. Try the crispy imperial rolls, filled with pork shoulder and gulf shrimp or available also in veggie version. Served on the side are vermicelli and peanuts, meant to be wrapped together with the spring rolls in rice paper. Other certified food porn are the pork spareribs, the best I’ve had in my life.
Of the main dishes, the cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab were excellent. For vegetarians, opt for the addictive yuba noodles with roasted chili, sweet peppers and mushrooms. The highlights however were the shaking beef cut from a wonderfully tender filet mignon, and the organic chicken claypot with caramel sauce, chili and ginger. I can’t put into words how good these meat dishes were.
Lers Ros is the best Thai restaurant in San Francisco. On my first visit I was impressed with their green curry chicken. On my second visit, I decided to try their Pad See Iw (beef with fried rice noodles). Friends, I almost saw god after eating this dish! I've had beef with fried rice noodles hundreds of times before, all over the world. This includes the cantonese version gon chow ngau ho in HK and the Malyasian char kway teow in Singapore. However, this rendition at Lers Ros blows all the of the others out of the water. I liken it my experience of eating cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita. Other than the Pad See Iw, try the curry dishes and the stir fried pork belly.
Kitchen farmhouse thai cuisine
Kitchen Farmhouse is one of the best eating options in the Mission. It also happens to be located near the famous cocktail bar Trick Dog. Here you'll want to try the Hat Yai Fried Chicken, a fried half chicken that's served along side yellow potato curry and delicious roti. The green curry is also solid, but not quite as memorable as the one at Lers Ros.
Z and Y Sichuan
If you are craving spicy food, Z and Y has your fix. You'll want to order the Chicken With Explosive Chili Pepper, a delicious but extremely spicy dish that will leave your lips numb. The spicy dumplings are also dope.
Ryoko’s is an izakaya (Japanese tapas) and sushi bar which offers the freshest and best sushi in downtown SF. This place is always packed so be prepared to wait 30 minutes for a table as they don’t take reservations. Write your name on the clipboard and order a beer to tide you over while you wait. Before the sushi arrives, order as much as you can from the izakaya/appetizer part of the menu. The fried cheese, agedashi tofu and tuna yukke are all excellent. For the sushi/sashimi, order off the daily specials chalkboard or ask your waitress to bring you their freshest fish. I went there 3 times in a week to give you an idea of how awesome this place is.
Thanks to Greidy for taking me to Bar Crudo, one of the best seafood places in SF. The best time to come is for happy hour, when you eat and drink very well for a reasonable price. Check out the fresh oysters or the savory shellfish stew!