Planning a trip to San Francisco? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be planning your vacay around each meal, because food is life! So much food, so little time. I was lucky enough to visit this incredible city as part of a California road trip a few years ago and when people ask me how it was, the first thing I talk about is the food. So many great food memories.
To help you navigate your tummy and taste buds around this insanely cool place, I’ve put together this guide on the meals you absolutely MUST try while you’re in San Francisco; everything from the hidden through to the traditional and famous. It’s all here for the munching! So, print this bad boy out and work your way from the start to the end.
1. The Ferry Building Marketplace
Get yourself down to this food heaven, located along the water at the Embarcadero, pronto! It combines a farmers market with local food vendors, wine and cheese makers and some pretty spectacular restaurants, cafes and more. You’ll find everything from oyster and cheeses to cured meats, freshly baked breads and more. It’s the perfect place to stock up on supplies for the ultimate picnic, then feast to your heart (or tummy’s) content. It’s the best way to experience fresh, local produce and taste the flavours of the region. Find The Ferry Building Marketplace here.
2. Brenda’s French Soul Food
You should go here based on the restaurant name alone. Lucky for us, the food is spectacular and makes it a not-to-be-missed food spot in San Francisco, especially as Chef Brenda grew up in New Orleans, making the menu an amazing foodie experience. Visit any time of day, if you like, but start with breakfast. You’ll find amazing must-try food, like sweet and savoury beignets, hang town fry, shrimp and grits, big fluffy pancakes and crispy pork belly. Brenda knows what’s up! Find Brenda’s French Soul Food here.
3. The Mill
Want to get your hands on great coffee and excellent baked goods? Go to The Mill. Here you’ll find freshly made breads that will make your mouth water and pastries that will make your tummy yearn for them. Your best bet is to grab as much as you can carry, plus some amazing coffee, undo the top button of your jeans and feast. Be sure to try their ‘Country’ toast, served with butter and cinnamon sugar. Find The Mill here.
4. Woodhouse Fish Co.
This American seafood restaurant serves up beautiful, fresh meals that will fill your tummy (and your heart) with all the good feelings. The menu here boasts all the favourites, like oysters and clam chowder, but the thing to try is the Cioppino. It’s a traditional Italian dish, created by fisherman, and includes Dungeness crab, squid, mussels, shrimp, clams, scallops and all manner of other seafood-y things. Find Woodhouse Fish Co. here.
5. Humphry Slocombe
Love ice cream? Then you have to visit Humphry Slocombe. While there are a load of amazingly tasty ice cream flavours to choose from, the must-try here is the Secret Breakfast. Bits of caramelised cornflake cookies are folded into a bourbon base that isn’t over-the-top boozy. So good and not-to-be-missed! They also serve up weird flavours, like carrot and mango, hibiscus beetroot and peanut butter curry. Don’t worry, there’s normal stuff too. Find Humphry Slocombe here.
6. Swan Oyster Depot
This historic spot has been opened since 1912 and is famous for its simple, but incredibly delicious, seafood. You can get your hands on freshly shucked oysters at the marble counter as well as insanely good clam chowder, served with a decent chunk of that famous San Fran sourdough we all want to sink our fangs into. To get the most out of your visit, savour as many seafood options as possible, including oysters, smoked salmon, crab and more. Wash it all down with an ice-cold Anchor Steam beer. Find Swan Oyster Depot here.
Brunch culture is real in San Francisco, so it’s worth lining up at French bistro, Zazie. Their brunch menu is not to be missed, you guys, especially their famed Tahiti French Toast, which is stuffed with caramelised bananas and walnuts. They also knock out some amazing buttermilk pancakes and all manner of delicious French breakfast treats. Find Zazie here.
8. New World Market
For a unique experience, visit the Russian Markets on Geary Street. They offer up interesting eats like smoked fish, salami and pickled cabbage rolls. The must-visit spot is New World Market, where you’ll find insanely delicious chocolate-covered cheesecakes that will change your life!
9. Devil’s Teeth Baking Co.
Want a quick day to ruin your diet? Visit Devil’s Teeth Baking Co. it’s situated along the water and combines all things decadently carby, with cheese, chocolate, sugar and everything else naughty. The thing to try here is the Special Breakfast Sandwich; two eggs scrambled, with pepper jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, and our famous lemon-garlic aioli on our homemade buttermilk biscuit. Stock up on chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies while you’re there, guys. Find Devil’s Teeth Baking Co. here.
Sometimes, when you’re travelling, you just get a hankering for a really good curry. For vegetarians, like me, curry restaurants are a great option as you can always get something to eat. When you’re in San Francisco, head on down to Pakwan for tasty Pakistani-Indian cuisine including delectable curries, divine Biryanis and delightful breads. Find Pakwan here.
11. Flour + Water
For the best pizza and pasta in town, head directly to Flour + Water. This place has been featured on everything, from The New York Times to HuffPost. The food here is that good! You’ll find melt-in-your-mouth pasta that is, truly, life-changing, as well as pizza that will have you coming back for me. Everything here is made on-site using fresh ingredients that keep things simple and tasty. Don’t miss it! Find Flour + Water here.
12. The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
Americans, reportedly, love their grilled cheese. It seems rude to visit their country without eating at least one amazing grilled cheese, right? To find the best-grille cheese in San Francisco, head directly to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. To up your American-ness, try their Mac n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese; consisting of beautifully cooked mac n’ cheese, stuffed inside a garlic-buttered grilled cheese on sourdough. Holy shit. Find The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen here.
Love Japanese food? Then you’ve got to visit Kiraku! Run by a young Japanese couple, this place serves up insanely good Japanese food. You know it’s good because it’s frequented by local chefs who work at Japanese restaurants. You’ll find the food fresh, bursting with flavour and traditionally Japanese. All the noms! Find Kiraku here.
For fancy food with a not-so-fancy price tag, get your bad self down to Alta. The food here is exceptional, but won’t break the bank either. While the menu changes with the season, the things to try here include their famous Pierogi and cheeseburger! Both are bursting with flavour and will form part of a meal you won’t soon forget. Find Alta here.
This place is San-Fran-Famous and for good reason. Get there early and you may still find a queue of about 30 minutes, with people lining up to get their paws on take-away pastries that do not disappoint. It’s just one of those touristy food experiences you’ve gotta be part of! My tip? I’m a sucker for anything citrusy, so recommend the lemon cream tart as a go-to. Find Tartine here.
16. Dandelion Chocolate
Love chocolate? Visit Dandelion. They serve up divine chocolates, sweet treats and drinks at their chocolate factory/cafe. The must-try item here is the Papa New Guinea S’more; homemade graham, marshmallows and chocolate, with a delightful smokey flavour coming from the smoke-dried cocoa beans used. Each S’more is toasted to order. I’ll take 10. Find Dandelion Chocolate here.
17. Eat the best Clam Chowder in San Francisco
It seemed silly to only include one place in this list, so here’s a list of eight spots for you to choose from. Don’t even think about visiting San Fran without trying at least one serve of clam chow-dah served in a freshly baked sourdough bowl.
- Boudin Bakery Cafe Bakers Hall
- Hog Island Oyster Co.
- Bar Crudo
- Swan Oyster Depot
- Crab Station
- Nick’s Lighthouse
- Alioto’s (at the outlet downstairs from the restaurant)
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Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here