Food culture is booming in San Francisco and there is no lack of all things delicious, beautiful or interesting. Fellow locals and Bay Area lovers: This is by no means a comprehensive list. I've left plenty of room for you to chime in, so please add your comments!
My suggestion is to check things out by neighborhood and discover the little places. I especially recommend:
- The slightly schizophrenic Mission District which is home to both upscale venues like Bi-Rite (buy a sandwich to go and walk over to Dolores Park) and little scrappy bodegas that stock chiles, mangoes and homemade tortillas.
- Clement Street in the Richmond for the most diverse selection of food shops in the city. Everything from Russian dry goods to Chinese butchers to French culinary antiques.
- Japantown for beautiful ceramic bowls and paper cones filled with hot chestnuts.
So buy a Muni pass, bring your best walking shoes and just get out there. Be sure to dress in layers so you can accommodate San Francisco's mercurial weather and microclimates.
Foods You Must Try
• Tartine's Bread is only available Wednesday-Sunday after five o'clock. Call ahead to reserve a loaf or half-loaf and pick it up still warm from the oven. (East Bay choice: La Farine's baguette or Phoenix Pastificio's olive bread)
• Adante Dairy's cheese and, if you're lucky, their butter
• Frog Hollow Peaches
• Dry-farmed tomatoes
• Hodo Soy Tofu
• Dungeness crab
• 4505's chicharrones
• Straus Family Creamery's Yogurt (second choice: Saint Benoit in crocks or glass containers)
• Tomales Bay oysters from Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry
There are approximately 20 farmers' markets in San Francisco right now, and when you add the entire Bay Area, that number nearly quadruples! While the Ferry gets a lot of attention, many locals go to Alemeny or the Civic Center for lower prices and (slightly) less crowds. Here's a good list of all the Bay Area Farmers' Markets.
• Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market
• Civic Center's Heart of the City
• Also highly recommended are Berkeley Farmers' Market and Marin County Farmers' Market
• Ferry Building Market Place
• It's still in planning stages, but this mega-food hall in Oakland should be worth visiting. Meanwhile, you can check out
• Rockridge Market Hall up in the Oakland hills
Best Grocery Stores
• Rainbow Grocery Coop is a must visit as it's one of the best (meat-free) grocery stores in the country: 'oo' flour in the bulk bins, truly cruelty-free eggs, amazing cheese section, beautiful local produce.
• Bi-Rite Market
• Richmond New May Wah
• Monterey Market or Berkeley Bowl for East Bay choices. Berkeley Bowl has the most amazing produce section ever
Specialty Shops of Note
• Miette's, especially the Hayes Valley location for the Confiserie: rows and rows of colorful candies from all over the globe, stacks of unusual chocolate, pretty candy flowers.
• Boulette's Larder in the Ferry is a tiny kitchen devoted to stacking your larder with the most delicious items. Everything from exotic Japanese charcoal to the best imported couscous, spices, oils and even locally grown eggs.
• Cookin' is a little expensive but worth a browse. Stacks of Le Creuset, stacks of antique French molds, stacks and stacks of copper pots and saltcellars.
• Kamei Restaurant Supply is not to be missed. It takes up almost 1/2 a block and is chock full from floor to ceiling with everything from plastic chopsticks to the best rice cookers to an exhaustive collection of white tableware. Just across the street from Green Apple.
• Green Apple Books for an amazing selection (an entire wall!) of used and new cookbooks
• If you're here on the first Sunday of the month, the Alameda Flea is the best place to go for vintage housewares, linens, posters and just about anything else. The food is not so bad either.
• Soko Hardware for beautiful Japanese tableware, paper lanterns, gardening tools
• Omnivore Books on Food is a small, intimate bookstore devoted entirely to new, used and rare food and cookery books. They have great author events, too.
• Avedano's Holly Park Market is mainly a butcher shop but they also carries a lot of imported pastas, fresh produce and some pretty good take-out food.
Independent Food Artisans
• June Taylor
• Blue Chair Jam
• Blue Bottle Coffee
• Farmhouse Culture (don't miss her smoked jalapeno sauerkraut)
• Anything that comes from La Cucina's program, which assists low-income entrepreneurs (often immigrant women) in launching their food businesses.
• San Francisco is developing an incredible food cart culture. Most operate by Tweeting their location but this clever fellow has figured out a way to gather all the food cart tweats into one blog for your ease and bliss.
About The Kitchn's Food-Lover's Guides
We focus mainly on home cooking here at The Kitchn, and we know that one huge source of inspiration is travel. We want to give you ideas for things to eat and places to visit even when you're away from your home kitchen. We want to inspire your inner chef and introduce you to the best spots for food-lovers in a dozen or so major cities.
These guides don't deal with restaurants; there are plenty of other resources for that. These are the spots for food-lovers and cooks: the markets, specialty cookshops, and best small-batch artisans. If you're traveling in one of these cities this summer, we hope these guides help you find something inspiring. And if you live here, maybe you'll find a new resource to inspire your daily cooking!
We need your help, too, with these guides. Each city's thread will have at least some recommendations, but of course they will be incomplete. So we need your insider help. Tell us where the best markets, food shops, jam-makers, brewers, butchers, independent groceries, bakery supply stores, and quirky, strange, out-of-the-way food experts are. What are your favorite places to shop, as a cook?
(Images: San Francisco City Government Photo Collection; Dana Velden)