San Francisco is a city that slowly grew on us. Ilana grew up idolizing Haight-Ashbury and Amoeba music, symbols of an era that she wished was hers. I grew up with a fantasy of living in California, and San Francisco always felt especially exotic to me. We've both spent a lot of time there at this point, but we don't think about it regularly or long to be there like we do other places. And yet it's a city with some of our favorite restaurants and foodstuffs in the entire country. We keep finding ourselves back there and every time we each fall a little more in love with it.
The drive into the city still feels magical to me, especially from the North, through rainy rolling hills and a tunnel that breaks into a waterfront and the Golden Gate cresting through the fog. The two of us met while working in Santa Cruz, an hour and a half outside SF. On our rare days off we made our way into the city to eat and drink. It's a comfortable and nostalgic place for us now and somewhere we keep going back to, usually hitting our old favorites and almost always grabbing a burrito.
Here's a list of some of our favorite SF eats we've collected over the years -- let us know any spots we need to check out next time!
The bread that started it all. Their new spot is just as impressively lovely and delicious as you'd expect it to be. In our early visits to SF, we spent hours in line waiting for their coveted bread, buttery tartines, and morning buns. This new spot pretty much always has a line too, but they do a great job of managing it and it's well worth the wait. We tried a few of their insanely good sandwiches, a farro salad with pomegranate and vadouvan, and a chocolate croissant that I sometimes still think about when I'm falling asleep. They also have homemade ice cream and soft serve made from local water buffalo milk (it's dope).
I first learned of Mission burritos when I was living in NYC from an SF native. Soon after, I took a solo trip to San Francisco and spent four days tasting burritos from the best taquerias in the Mission: Cancun, Vallarta, Gordo's, and many more. I learned how to eat them properly, how to tear the foil and suck the sides of the tortilla. I fell quickly in love with them and the Mission itself -- the laundromats playing loud Mexican music, the fruit markets that spill onto the sidewalk, the lingering smell of griddled tortillas and pork fat. Years later, I got Ilana on board and Mission burritos are still a big draw for us to come back into the city.
Taqueria Guadalajara is in the "Outer Mission," which is a bit out of the city and nowhere near the actual Mission. But trust us, it's worth the trip. It's still the wettest, juiciest burrito we've tried and the creamy salsa verde is on point. The carnitas is exceptional, but vegetarian with pinto beans is great too.
For a solid spot in the Mission, go to El Farolito. It's the first burrito I ever tried and still, in my humble opinion, the best in the neighborhood. Their quesadillas suizas are (maybe even more?) fantastic, with more cheese, no rice, and a crispy griddled tortilla. Their carnitas, pastor, and chicken are all great. Pro tip: ask for refried beans if you're going vegetarian.
For killer sandwiches with lots of vegan and vegetarian options. Get the dutch crunch bread. The other day we stood at the counter and split a fried eggplant sandwich, looking out at the dreary dirty part of Market, and it was everything I could have asked for and more. I spent like five minutes licking the "dirty sauce" (aptly named... it's dirty in the best way, almost sexual) off my fingers and the wax paper they wrapped around the sandwich.
They had us at enamelware and big ass salads. Almost every time we go to SF, we get lunch here while the rest of San Francisco is at work. All their rotisserie meats are delicious as is the vegetarian option -- roasted white sweet potato. The wraps are good but the salads are the best. Stay for the frozen Greek yoghurt with olive oil and sea salt.
Home of the original $4 toast. It's on a quiet, wind-swept part of the city, just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean. It's small and unsuspecting, but it's a place with a story (read about it here) and feels special because of it. They sell perfect lattes, coconuts, shots of grapefruit juice, and cinnamon toast, all relics of the owner's nostalgia. We keep going back for our own nostalgia -- the coconuts stacked in the deli case, the one bench outside carved from a tree stump, the milk and sugar, thrown outside instead of in -- all starts to feel like your own after a while. And the toast, totally unfussy and deeply nostalgic, is perfect every time. I once asked them what kind of bread they used and they refused to tell me (I think it's brioche).
Another great place to get acquainted with the $4 toast phenomenon (there's also $6 and $8 toast). The bread is made by Josey Baker, a fantastic baker and really nice guy, who's gained a lot of fame over the years. It's sensual in texture, perfectly chewy and crispy. You can buy a loaf or eat it sliced and toasted with butter, jam, and sea salt. They have Four Barrel Coffee and nice communal tables that make you want to sit there for hours. Don't miss Pizza Night on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Ilana and I worked with Ravi Kapur a few years ago, when we worked for Outstanding in the Field, the year before he opened Liho Liho. It's still one of the most impressive dinners we've worked. His food is addictively unique, perfectly executed, and for lack of a better word -- special. Literally everything is good, but we dream about the duck liver toast with jalapeño & pickled pineapple on the reg. Other favorites: homemade spam (off menu) and eggplant katsu. Come for the food and stay for the Tiki drinks. They're well worth the hangover.