San Francisco is a paradise for food lovers. With restaurants, cafes, and food trucks galore, there are countless options no matter what your taste, diet, or budget. The only downside of all these amazing culinary possibilities is having too many choices and too little time, especially when you’re just there for a visit!
Feeling overwhelmed? I’m here to help. Of course, every foodie’s list will be different, but these were the restaurants that fared me well during my recent stay in the great city by the bay.
Address: 316 Clement St. (between 4th Ave. and 5th Ave.)
The Place: The casual atmosphere of this restaurant matches the low-key vibe of its neighborhood. The Inner Richmond is a residential and often overlooked part of SF, but it offers a dizzying array of dining options. If you’re in the mood for inexpensive, authentic Vietnamese food and friendly service, Mai’s should be on your culinary itinerary.
Must Try Dish: The Imperial Rolls. Filled with a mixture of ground pork and chicken and wrapped in rice paper, these delicately fried rolls offer just the right amount of crispiness balanced with vibrant flavor. The rolls are accompanied by nuoc cham—a traditional Vietnamese vinegar carrot dipping sauce with a sweet taste and a spicy kick—a side of vermicelli noodles, and a delightfully fragrant sprig of fresh mint.
Neighborhood: Haight Ashbury
Address: 1790 Haight St.
The Place: This Asian fusion restaurant offers a meld of noodle dishes from Vietnam, China, Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia. Its unique twist is that instead of using oils, the chefs substitute citrus fruit, which is always fresh and plentiful in California. As you inhale the mouthwatering aromas that drift out from the kitchen (where you can also see the cooks transform fresh ingredients into feasts) your tastebuds will be ready for action.
Must Try Dish: The Marmalade Coconut and Lemongrass Shrimp, which combines succulent shrimp, sweet peas, onions, and fragrant lemongrass on a bed of jade-colored spinach noodles. The creamy lemon-coconut sauce is what really makes this dish shine. Share it with a friend or be prepared to take home leftovers—the portions are huge.
Address: 2801 24th St.
The Place: When you step into this old-fashioned soda fountain, you’ll immediately feel like you’ve been transported back to the 1950s. The retro diner, which has been in business since 1918, features vintage tin signs, 50s music, and even a candy counter, with everything from red rope licorice to Bazooka bubble gum. Grab a stool at the counter and treat yourself to classic diner fare like burgers or all-day breakfast, along with modern twists like vegan chorizo.
Must Try Dish: The Chicken Cilantro Soup puts a fresh California spin on a traditional classic. Savory chicken broth and hearty chunks of chicken get a fragrant punch from sprigs of fresh cilantro. This light meal will leave you with plenty of room for dessert—I recommend the Double Dip Soda, which marries the creamy goodness of ice cream to the fizzy fun of flavored soda (including chocolate, cherry, and pineapple). The yummy beverage comes with whipped cream and a cherry on top!
Address: 3296 22nd St.
The Place: San Francisco is a city that takes brunch seriously, so when you see the line outside the door for this hotspot, you know there’s a good reason. While the brightly colored decor and outdoor seating are definite pluses, the real draw here is the hearty portions of delicious dishes, many of which add a Mexican twist to solid brunch favorites.
Must Try Dish: The simple yet satisfying Temple of Spuds. A heaping mound of home fries topped with gooey melted cheese and sour cream gets a flavor kick from salsa and a generous sprinkle of green onions. You can add a protein punch by adding a fried egg on top. Not sure you want an entire meal of potatoes? Many of the brunch dishes come with a side order of plain spuds, and you can ask to “temple those spuds” for a little extra.
The Place: This charming local chain of cafes offers little slices of Paris in the midst of San Francisco. Steaming cafe au laits are served in bowls and the smell of freshly baked bread and pastries waft through the air. The menu features open-faced sandwiches, quiches, and salads, plus plentiful breakfast options too. My favorite thing about this place is the self-serve condiment bar—you can spread Nutella on your croissant to your heart’s content!
Must Try Dish: The Warm Goat Cheese Salad. The star of the show is the goat cheese—lightly breaded and warm and gooey, it sits on top of a bed of mixed greens. The candied pecans and grilled croutons add crunch and help fill you up without weighing you down.
Neighborhood: North Berkeley
Address: 1549 Shattuck Ave.
The Place: Perched on a hill in Berkeley’s famous “Gourmet Ghetto,” Dara’s attractive exterior begs you to come in and take a look—the temple-like building offers outdoor seating surrounded by trees, giving it a very tropical feel. The expansive menu offers a mix of famous Thai dishes, such as Pad Thai and the more rare find of Laotian dishes, such as Nam Soum (a mixture of pork, crispy rice, and herbs served over lettuce).
Must Try Dish: The Stuffed Eggplant is more decadent than most. It’s stuffed with minced veggies and a choice of beef, chicken, or tofu, then topped with succulent prawns, green onions, and cilantro.
Address: 401 Clement St.
The Place: This adorable cafe gets big charm points for its unique décor. The walls are lined with vintage toys from the 60s, 70s, and 80s—it’s like an ice cream parlor, café, and toy store all rolled into one. Indulge your inner child by checking out the toys as you linger over an ice cream sundae, one of the delicious baked goods, or a fresh and simple sandwich or salad.
Must Try Dish: The delicious grilled avocado and cheese sandwich is a classic grilled cheese with a little Cali twist—slices of fresh avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and sweet onion. Wash it down with an egg cream, a creamy and fizzy blend of milk, seltzer, and chocolate.
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