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Eating San Francisco in 36 Hours

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By The Gremotraveler

The famous Golden Gate Bridge - Gateway to San Francisco.

There are a handful of cities around the world where the food is such an integral part of the city that people flock to it simply to eat.  If a capital of the foodie universe was to be crowned, San Francisco would probably be in the Top 5 running for the title if not selected as hands-down winner.  Here, the focus is almost always on the local and seasonal.  Every major chef is either a friend or student of the school of Alice Waters, and the food artisans are perfecting their craft to levels never before seen.  From Ferry Terminal Market, to an endless supply of artisan chocolate, sausage, tea, oil, and coffee companies – San Francisco is a foodie paradise.

Unlike most American cities, San Francisco is a walkers dream.  Densely populated, the core of the city and the many attractions considered must-see are easily accessible by foot, BART subway, or trolley.  For those looking for a hotel as a solid base to begin their San Francisco adventure, the choice really depends on the adventure and how you plan on getting around.

The Westin Market Street is an ideal hotel for those who want to be in the centre of the action and plan on doing plenty of walking.  It is located on Third Street, just off Market Street – San Francisco’s “main drag”.   From here guests are a short 10-minute walk to the Ferry Terminal Market, and across the street from the endless shops, bistros and galleries of Union Square, the city’s fashionable shopping district.  The rooms here are clean, comfortable, and reasonably priced for such an ideal downtown location.  The rooms offer floor-to-ceiling windows and spectacular views of the downtown skyline and bay.  The hotel’s Italian eatery and bar, Ducca, offers an outdoor fire pit and terrace for those evenings when you simply want to sit, relax, and watch the fog caress and wrap around the skyscrapers around you.

Another option, for those into tradition and legend, would be the Huntington Hotel & Spa high-atop Nob Hill.  During the days of the "Wild West", Nob Hill was adorned with the mansions of the great railroad barons of the Central Pacific Line, known as the “Big Four”.  These prominent business men included C.P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker.   This hotel is a landmark in the city and has graced its location across from Huntington Park and the Pacific Union Club since 1924.  Here, the guest rooms are “modern-traditional” with large common areas, luxurious baths, and exquisite service.  Every room offers a spectacular view and the lobby bar and restaurant The Big Four, named after the “big four industrialists” has been a favorite of the local socialites for cocktails, light fare, and tea for decades.

If you are exploring the city for a weekend, there are a few areas one should consider concentrating on.  To get the shopping bug out of your system, one should really devote an afternoon and evening to Union Square, the city’s busiest commercial district.  Don’t spend too much time parading around Nieman Marcus or Giorgio Armani, the best sights are food-focused and one place in particular is great for when your “dog’s start barking” from all the walking – pardon the pun. 

Show Dogs is a new addition to the west of the district in an area known as The Tenderloin.  This neighborhood has for years been plagued with troubles but is starting to see a turn-around and Show Dogs is one of the new ventures bringing a new sense of pride to the neighborhood.  Here, the menu of the day consists of all-natural, organic, sustainable, and delicious hot dogs.  Not just any hot dog, but wildly creative and artisan treats like their Organic Duck Sausage with pasilla barbecue sauce and kimchee.  Good food, full of flavour and on the go…just what we like.  Need another incentive.  It is filling and at $8.00 for lunch, a bargain.  If we still haven’t sold you, they have some great beers to quench your thirst after a half-day of walking the streets.  Nothing beats a crisp and cool Northcoast Brewery Le Merle, a Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale from nearby Fort Bragg to help wash-down those dogs.

For those looking for something a little heartier, we recommend a trip up to Hayes Valley.  At Suppenküche, German food and beer from different regions of the country are on full display.  It is the surroundings that make it that much more interesting.  Walking into Suppenküche is like being in a Madonna-inspired sex café video.  Artsy, tight, and full of energy, this Wirsthaus attracts a crowd that is eclectic and serves food that is uber-delicious.  Here, they prepare German food in the traditional style of their homeland. Things we liked:  the beer list and the expertise of the staff.  They can pair a beer to almost anything.  Oh yeah, and the venison.  It is a perfect way to end your first day in the city.

Your Saturday should begin and end on the waterfront in San Francisco.  It isn’t mandatory, but we would highly recommend it.  Strolling down Market Street on a quiet Saturday as the fog rolls out is lovely.  Joggers wiz by you and you can follow the many locavores with their empty canvas bags as they race towards the outline of a clock-tower as it peeks through the cloudy haze. 

 The tower is the famous Ferry Terminal Market where on Saturdays, the weekly farmers’ market is in full-swing.  Every major seasonal ingredient in California can be found here.  Northern California is home to one of the most diverse agricultural regions with everything from olive oil, wine, root vegetables, lettuces, and fruit grown in the nearby valleys.  Grab yourself a copy of The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook at the association stand.  Here, you can grab a signed copy by Peggy Knickerbocker, a freelance food and travel writer living in San Francisco, the author of the book and an advocate of the market, for $25.00.  It is a great guide to help you explore the seasonal ingredients available whenever you visit.  The interior of the market is stunning and home to a wide-range of specialty gourmet retailers. (Click Here to Read Our Piece on Ferry Terminal Market).  After your tour, if you have not already sampled the equivalent of seven meals, lunch is in order.

Assorted local peppers at Ferry Terminal Market for $3.00 a bag.

The Slanted Door is one of the most celebrated restaurants in San Francisco and for good reason.  On any given day, expect a packed open dining space offering stellar views of the bay.  Its location at the end of the market makes it a perfect destination for a Saturday lunch.  A prime seat is a window one where you can watch the market patrons of the Ferry Terminal stroll by with guilt-free looks on their face from "buying local".

The Slanted Door is a modern Vietnamese restaurant famous for their use of organic and ecologically farmed meat, game and poultry sourced from farms around the San Francisco Bay Area.   Here, the bounty of Northern California is set on fire with classic Vietnamese techniques and spice.  The locals will tell you that the must-have is the hodo soy beanery organic tofu with lemongrass, shiitake mushrooms and roasted chili.  We have to agree with them.  It is perfect with the 2008 Bonny Doon Muscat from nearby Monterey County.  Of course, this wine also works well with their barbecued Willis ranch pork spareribs seasoned with honey-hoisin sauce.

With a full belly and hopefully, a decent buzz from the wine, it is time for a stroll.  From the market, you can work your way north to Coit Tower (built atop Telegraph Hill in 1933 at the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit to beautify the City of San Francisco), along the famous Lombard Street, and down to the “north coast”.  Here, you will find the famous Fisherman’s Wharf district and Ghirardelli Square.

The view of Coit Tower from Ferry Terminal Market.

Ghirardelli Square dates back to the mid-1800s, when it served as the original site of the Ghirardelli family's famous chocolate, cocoa, mustard and box factories and was granted National Historic Register status in 1982.  Today, it is a shopping and dining destination featuring several unique spots to pick up a little memento of the bay area.  C&C Fancy Foods is a contemporary shop featuring unique gifts including retro inspired ornaments, sweets and merchandise by famed UK textile designer Cath Kidston.  Nearby, Cellar360 is a one-stop opportunity for San Francisco visitors and residents to enjoy the nearby wine country lifestyle without having to leave the city.  Here, patrons can sample some of the finest wines of California, learn about the history of California wine, and indulge in tastings.  You can even pick up some bottles for the trip home. 

If you have a sweet tooth, you may want to check out the Ghirardelli Shop.  Of course, for something a little more substantial, Kara’s Cupcakes is an artisan bakery which sources all of their ingredients locally with a strong focus on the use of organic products.  They bake their treats throughout the day and you can be certain that as soon as they are iced, the cupcakes are sold within hours.  One thing we liked was that they donate all uneaten cupcakes at the end of each business day to local charitable organizations in the city.  That, and the decadent carrot-cake cupcakes.

If you have yet to try a cable car, this is a great spot to catch one and give your feet a rest.  You can grab one to bring you back down to the Market Street and Nob Hill areas and your hotel.  Grab a drink, freshen up, and then head back down Market Street towards the Embarcadero – where we suggest you end your evening in the same place you started.

One Market, located across from Ferry Terminal Market is a stunning space offering a variety of interesting dining experiences.  Guests can enjoy standard dining room eating, a more energized counter-side experience next to the open kitchen, or a private chefs table inside the back kitchen in the heart of the action.  The food here is seasonal, farm-fresh American cuisine.  The menu changes on a regular basis and offers everything from local farm-raised beef, pork, duck, and chicken to spectacular seafood – something San Francisco is famous for.  One thing that really stands out is the all-America wine list, featuring more than 500 superb selections.  What do we like?  The “Weekly Beast” where a local animal is served “nose-to-tail” style – wastes not want not we always say.  That, and the opportunity to dine with the chefs.

After dinner, we recommend a casual stroll along the bustling Saturday evening streets of San Francisco to your hotel for a good night’s sleep.  You will need it as Sunday is all about exploring the two hot neighborhoods of the city to the South and West of downtown.

A Sunday brunch and tour of the more “colorful” neighborhoods of San Francisco are definitely recommended.  When we say “colorful”, we are of course talking about Mission and The Castro.   Grab a taxi and head out to Foreign Cinema to get in line before noon.  Gayle Pirie and John Clark (the same duo behind Show Dogs) have been part of the San Francisco restaurant scene for over two decades with long standing tenures at Zuni Cafe and Chez Panisse and have earned critical approval for the purity, quality and consistency of their cuisine. In 2001 they took over the kitchen of Foreign Cinema and have been wowing guests with an ever changing Mediterranean meets local and seasonal influenced menu. The back patio on a Sunday here is hopping.  A diverse crowd of gay couples, tattooed moms, preppy girls catching up on gossip, and hung-over clubsters nursing Chef Gayle's Persian Bloody Marys.  The crowd is fun and energizing.  When the time difference finally kicks in and you need that jolt of social energy to keep you rolling on your San Francisco tour, this spot does the trick.

The carmelized bacon at Foreign Cinema is a must-have for brunch.

After brunch, it is time to start exploring the neighborhood.  Head one block West to Valencia and turn right.  This street offers a great selection of specialty shops, cafes, and artisan food shops worth checking out.  Along the route, you will discover Sidewalk Juice (3287 21st Street), a spot the local smoothie fans rave about and eventually, Xanath Ice Cream.  This spot, located at 949 Valencia Street, offers organic ice cream and is a hit with the locals.  What caught our eye was the abundance of fresh vanilla beans hanging in the window and displayed in jars.  While there are many distractions along Valencia, don’t take too long.  You need to head up to 18th Street quickly, make a sharp left and head over to a bakery icon.

Tartine is one of San Francisco’s most beloved bakeries and no visit to the city is complete without a stop here.  Elisabeth Prueitt, along with her husband and renowned Baker Chad Robertson, are co-owners of Tartine and met at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.  Here, they both attended the culinary arts program and the early years of the new Baking and Pastry program.  They have both had stellar careers and were nominated for James Beard Awards in both 2006 and 2007 as Outstanding Pastry Chef and Baker.

The bakery and café is their temple of fine pastries, cakes, cookies, breads, and desserts and on Sundays, the followers of their church of the baked, iced, and decorated form a line-up out the door and around the corner.  You can expect a wait here but it is worth it.  While seating may be hard to come by, you should still try to grab a little cranberry bread pudding or lemon cake.  A little take-away bag of cookies is also a good choice and perfect for bringing home to share with friends – if they make it that far.  Our bag of treats were devoured in the business class lounge as we flipped through our copy of their Alice Waters introduced cookbook, Tartine – named after the very bakery.

After your sweet fix, continue along 18th street heading West.  Directly next to Tartine is Delfina (3611 18th Street), considered one of the best places for pizza in San Francisco.  Another few steps is the Bi-Rite Market, a gourmet food retailer rumored to have the highest retail sales per square foot in America.  Packed into this tiny little shop is a wide variety of fresh organic produce from around the bay area, olive oils, and specialty vinegars – a perfect place for a little gift for the folks back home.  Across the street, they operate an ice cream parlor called Bi-Rite Creamery – offering delicious treats to lick on your continued walk up the hill to The Castro.

When you reach Castro Street, you have entered the centre of the city’s colorful and historic gay and lesbian quarter.  San Francisco is famous for its history as a centre for pushing the envelope on human rights and here, you will find the many famous landmarks of one of the city’s most active communities.  Sights in the area include the famous Castro Theatre as well as several specialty shops, galleries, and cafes.  At the end of Castro Street at Market is a BART station offering direct subway service back to the downtown core and your hotel.

If you have a few hours left before your flight home, we suggest a quick cab ride up to Northern Park for a little Latin flavour.  Nopalito calls itself a “sustainable organic Mexican kitchen” and this is pretty much bang-on – with the exception that they forgot the words “flavourful and authentic”.  Here, you can experience some of the finer and more obscure fare of Mexican cuisine using ingredients sourced locally from some of the finest farmers in the bay area.  Fresh sustainable seafood is used in their Ceviche Verde de Pescado y Calamari, featuring marinated rock cod, calamari, lime, tomatillo, cilantro and avocado.  Another favorite?  The Enchiladas Placeras consisting of pan seared chile mulato chicken breast, tortillas, potatoes, carrots and queso fresco.  Even if you are grabbing a quick take-out bite, this place is a gem.

Afterwards, you can check out Faletti Foods located in the same complex.  This specialty grocer offers some of the finest products in the city and carries some great local chocolates for the flight home including Tcho and Fran’s.  While your travel partner hails a taxi for the airport, quickly grab some of the Fran’s Gray Salt Dark Chocolate Caramels and some Tcho “Nutty” Dark Chocolate.  You can enjoy these on the ride to the airport as the sun sets on a perfect visit to San Francisco.  A weekend may not be enough time to enjoy this city but even if you can only spare a few days, it is certainly worth the visit.  The hard part will be trying to decide what you will declare at customs when you get home.  With so many “foodie” treats, you will easily over-spend your allowance – but we won’t tell on you.


One of my favorite cities in the world. Love the people and their passion for food.
Post Reply By Franco in RICHMOND HILL on 2/22/2018 4:17:37 PM

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