My Dining Partner (MDP) and I decided to take a trip to San Francisco last week. We had a great time! Although the city is gorgeous for its ambitious hills and lovely bay, the architecture left something to be desired. The city literally lacks luster, in stark contrast to shiny New York. But, the food is pretty good, so it’s definitely got something going for it. If you’re visiting any time soon, follow my food guide to learn about what to try and what to avoid.
We started our journey with a trip to the inimitable In-N-Out Burger on Jefferson Street. A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a stop at this incredible burger joint. I had a Double Double and Animal Style fries. The burger was extraordinary and the creative use of grilled onions on the fries delighted me.
After In-N-Out, we walked up to Ghirardelli Square and stopped by the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. We ordered the classic sundae, which came with vanilla ice cream topped with the most decadent chocolate fudge I’ve ever had and delicate whipped cream, and, of course, a cherry. It was incredible. I’ve never had a sundae like this in my life.
ice cream sundae
The next day, we took a trip up to wine country and checked out a diner in Sonoma. The Fremont Diner is a hole-in-the-wall place located on highway 121. It’s easy to miss, which, of course, meant it wasn’t extremely busy for a Tuesday morning. We ordered a biscuits basket, which was filled with the most delicious, light, fluffy biscuits I’ve ever had. I opted for the ricotta pancakes, which came with the most delicious cherries I’ve ever had (thanks, California!) and MDP got the brisket hash which was topped with a fried egg and tasted amazing.
After checking out Benziger Family Winery (which has a great story and I urge you to visit it if you go out west), we returned to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge (which doesn’t take cash at its toll, and that’s just crazy talk to an East Coast driver like myself). We went to Chinatown via a streetcar and beelined to the main attraction in this neighborhood: the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It was AMAZING!!! See below for an image of a woman making fortune cookies. This was truly a highlight of the trip for me.
making fortune cookies
Afterward, we headed up to Fisherman’s Wharf (again, because it was one of my favorite tourist attractions to explore) and stopped by Alioto’s for some fresh seafood fare. I tried the clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, which was scrumptious. The chowder was thick (though not too thick) and creamy, and the bits of clam were phenomenal. I also got some crab on my salad on the side, very good. MDP ordered the crab cake sliders and they tasted delicious, as well.
clam chowder in sourdough bowl
On Wednesday, we had breakfast at a diner close to our hotel, and that wasn’t exactly remarkable so I didn’t take any pictures.
For dinner, we went to Brother’s Restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood for Korean barbecue. It was phenomenal! Our table had a barbecue pit sunken in the center. A small man came to our table and placed two receptacles filled with coals into the pit. A kind waitress (the service was very good) brought over some raw meat and we got cookin’. The kalbi was fantastic (!) and the pork bulgogi tasted very good. I enjoyed the banchan muchly, as well, as they gave us a dish with thinly sliced peppers covered in red pepper flakes–in addition to the standard kimchi and seafood cakes–and this was my favorite of the bunch. You must try Brother’s Restaurant for Korean if you’re ever in San Francisco.
On Thursday, we stopped by Boudin, something like an Au Bon Pain, for breakfast. I had the lemon poppy seed muffin and MDP ordered the chocolate croissant. They also had bagels there, and I saw many people eating them…but I’m sure they aren’t very good.
Instead of hanging around the city, we drove to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Big Sur, down highway 1. It was gorgeous. I have never seen views like these in my life. The rocky coast transforms into a beach paradise as you drive along the highway. Stark blue water contrasts to the coarse, white sand, and you feel like you’re in heaven.
beach off highway 1
We went to Nepenthe in Big Sur for lunch. We waited for about an hour for our table, and I’m not sure lunch was worth the wait. It was very good–I had the chicken breast sandwich with chipotle mayo–but it was a tad overpriced. I suppose you’re paying for the view, and, when I see it from that perspective, maybe the cost was worth it.
view from nepenthe
I had heard that a good Indian place called Shalimar was in the vicinity of our hotel, so we checked it out. What a crazy place that is. I wouldn’t go there if you have any trace of anxiety in your being. First, you might have to wait, like, 20 minutes for a table. Everyone is confused at Shalimar, including the waiters. Second, you’ll have to walk up to the counter and order your food yourself (even though a waiter is walking around the restaurant). Third, it won’t be clear that they’ve heard your order or that they’re going to actually make it. Fourth, you’ll have your food practically thrown onto your table in front of you. Fifth, you’ll finally get the check and you’ll be afraid you’ll never see your credit card again if you pay with that method, so you pay in cash (even though you may be cash poor on this expensive trip).
With that said, the food is decent. It’s a Pakistani-Indian restaurant, so I can’t be sure whether my chicken tikka masala was influenced with Pakistani flavors. It could have been. MDP ordered a special curry and aloo paratha, a potato-infused bread that was excellent–much better than their naan.
chicken tikka masala
Friday finally rolled around and we were beat. We had traveled all across the city and state and simply wanted to chill out in the Mission district on our final full day of our trip. Well, we weren’t exactly impressed by the Mission. We opted for La Taqueria for lunch, which had received rave reviews in my trusted guide book, and I wasn’t amazed by their offerings. I had a chicken burrito and it was just so-so. The strange thing about La Taqueria is that you have to order your cheese, sour cream, avocado and any other topping separate from the burrito. It looks cheap, but it really isn’t (it’s only about a dollar less than Chipotle).
After lunch, we went to Mission Pie for some dessert. I had high hopes for Mission Pie but was largely disappointed. I had expected incredible pie. What I got was a slice of sad peach pie and a much-better-though-still-only-decent slice of banana cream pie. I don’t know, maybe my expectations are too high. Coming from New York, it’s hard not to expect a lot from your pie purveyor.
Originally, we had planned to try the Southern Pacific Brewing Company for dinner, but it was packed, so we went to Super Duper Burgers instead. Now, for those of you who know me, you’re aware of my “one burger per week” rule. I violated this, but I’m so glad I did.
I ordered the “super” burger which comes with two 4 oz patties, onion, lettuce, tomato and special sauce. I opted for the cheese and the avocado as add-ons. Wow, what a burger. Super Duper clearly smashes their patty, instead of making a well-formed circular mass of meat on the griddle. The char is perfect and the combination of toppings invigorated my palate. The only thing that didn’t impress me about the burger was the bun, which simply amounted to too much bread. We also got the garlic fries, which were incredible. Crisp fries were presented to us with gobs of garlic on top–amazing! MDP wanted a milk shake, so we tried the cookies and cream version and it was thickly good.
If you’re like me and you have a “one burger per week” rule, go with Super Duper Burgers. Some of you may be surprised to hear me say this (given my avowed love for In-N-Out), but trust me. You won’t be sorry.
We departed from our hotel on Saturday morning and arrived at the airport to enjoy a nice breakfast at the Lark Creek Grill, whose restaurant group has locations all over California. You might try it.
All in all, San Francisco was one big food festival for me. Remember, it’s not New York, so the food isn’t quite as amazing. But it’s pretty darn good!