San Francisco: My 10 Favorite Food Moments

August 2nd, 2012 · 14 Comments · Rituals, Travel

You know how everyone says San Francisco is so low-key and relaxed? How you people out there are all about the lifestyle? Well, I think I might have shown up in the wrong city when we headed there last week for a few work-related events — including that visit to Pixar and a Dinner: A Love Story reading at Omnivore. Because our four-and-a-half day trip seemed to be the opposite of laid-back. Do not take this to mean that I didn’t have the best time ever — all I’m saying is that in a town like SF, there is so much pressure to eat well, that every mediocre bite of food felt like some sort of colossal failure on my end. I had a long list of you-must-go-here directives in my inbox and on facebook, and, perhaps most exciting, a customized San Francisco itinerary for my family from Yolanda Edwards of Travels with Clara. (You know by now: When Yolanda talks, people listen.) So the long weekend was spent, doing what this neurotic New Yorker does every other day of her life: Crossing things off lists. And then, of course, making one of her own. Now that I think about it, maybe the problem is not with San Francisco? Anyway, here are my top 10 favorite food moments from the weekend.

(Picture Above: One of those quizzes turned keepsakes that I made with the girls on the plane home.)

#1. Smitten Ice Cream. There were warring emails about Bi-Rite vs. Smitten, but it just so happened we were in the neighborhood so stopped by Smitten. They use liquid nitrogen to custom-blend each bowl in front of your eyes. Because the ice cream has no time to melt and then refreeze, this means there is not a single ice crystal to be found, resulting in the creamiest mint chip I’ve ever eaten. Abby was wary (ice cream shop or witches lab?) until she tried a bite.

#2 Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes from Plow may not have been on the girls’ list, but they were right at the top of mine. Along with those potatoes fried in rice bran oil that Yolanda told us all about. We took advantage of our jetlag and showed up at the Potrero Hill spot almost as soon as they opened their doors. By the time we left around 8:15, there was a line around the corner.

#3. Miette I do not have girly girls, but even they could not resist the pull of pastels and polka dots at the famous temple of sweets. How could I get away with not going here a zillion times? My kids chose the sour patch stars one day and little candy covered chocolates the next. These are bags of mini cookies.

#4. As Yolanda said, March in Pacific Heights “is the kitchen store of all kitchen stores.” I agree and loved it even more when I saw that right next door was Sue Fisher King. I wanted everything in the store — especially the ceramics and linens — but ended up with four votives. The girls got to pick their favorites.

#5 The Cereal Bar at Pixar. There were a lot of things that stayed with me after reading Anthony Lane’s story on Pixar, the most desirable workspace in the universe, but what stuck with me the most was the free favorite cereals on tap all day long. Needless to say, on our office tour, we made sure to stop there first. (Phoebe went with Cheerios; Abby with Cinnamon Toast Crunch.) Do whatever you have to do to befriend someone at Pixar so you are allowed to enter!

#6Omnivore, naturally — the cookbook store in Noe Valley where I was lucky enough to read from Dinner: A Love Story. Thanks Celia, Kate, Samantha, Whitney, Emily, Anna, Jen, Paul, and Brooke for stopping by. (And Phyllis and Amanda! You were both there in spirit.) And btw, how lucky are you all to have this place in your neighborhood?

#7. Pork Taco at La Taqueria. I don’t think I have to explain this one — La Taq was on every single person’s list so going there was non-negotiable. (Well, so was Blue Bottle Coffee but there better be a sack of diamonds at the bottom of every cup to make me wait on those lines for it.) Next time I think I’ll spend more time exploring the Mission and less time watching my whole family go into some sort of catatonic state over how delicious the tacos were here. We supplemented with two agua frescas: one mango, one cantalope.

#8 Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building. We went on Saturday morning and spent half my book advance on peaches, agua frescas, a smoked albin0 salmon, tomatoes, and apricots. You know, just in case we needed a snack to hold us over between the lemon ricotta pancakes and the pork tacos.

#9. Zuni, we were too busy drinking Negronis to take photos of the famous chicken. But rest assured, it was ordered, consumed, and revered appropriately.

#10. Dinner at My Friend Anna’s On Friday we drove ourselves crazy trying to secure reservations for all those must-eat places — Mission Chinese, Delfina, Canteen, State Bird Provisions, Bar Tartine, Il Cane Rosso — but ended up at my friend Anna’s house. Anna is a born-and-bred New Yorker and we worked together at Cookie before she was transplanted to SF four years ago with her husband. We drank some Gruner, sat in her beautiful Noe Valley apartment, fawned over their view of the Mission, caught up on each other’s families, and ate pizzas straight out of their delivery boxes at the dining room table. It think it was my most favorite night of the week.

Thanks SF friends for all your advice! Feel free to add more in comments below to help future visitors.

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14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amanda @ DinnersintheFourOneFive // Aug 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I am so sad that I missed seeing you in person, but we were camping that weekend in Marin. Did you ever make it to Japantown? If not, I should seriously send you some Japanese mini-things from Ichiban Kan and Kinokuniya.

    I know about the pressures to do it all right when visiting a city and judging by your pictures, it looks like you nailed it. I am not the biggest fan of La Taqueria only because their burritos are the size of a newborn baby and I feel this need to finish the.entire.damn.thing.

  • 2 Jenny // Aug 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Yes! We went to Japantown and went to all the spots you told us to go — Ichiban Kan and Kinokuniya (which is sister store to one in NYC. who knew?) We also hit the Japanese tea gardens, of course. Since neither involved eating (miraculously) they didn’t make this list, but they definitely would’ve made the overall “top 10 things to do with kids in sf” list. Thanks again and hope camping was fun!

  • 3 A Plum By Any Other Name // Aug 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Oh, the pressure! That is precisely how I felt in Paris, too. A subpar croque–that would have been inconsequential in the states– felt like a complete fail.

    Glad to see your negroni was served in 80 year-old Italian man style. I hate it when they come in martini glasses. What kind of negroni drinker likes them that way?! Seriously.

  • 4 Valerie W // Aug 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    As an SF mission resident – here’s a mission short list, for food anyway:
    1) La Palma – the Mexicatessen on Florida at 24th – they have to put stanchions out in december when the abuelas line up to buy masa for their holiday tamales – go here for fresh tortillas, and their homemade potato chips, and tortilla chips made from their tortillas are fantastic.
    2) Casa Sanchez – 24th/York the original store of the salsa and chip maker – you can buy their salsa here cheaper than at the grocery stores.
    3) Tortas Las Picudos – 24th/Alabama – go here for a licuado (smoothie) – I usually just point and say put those three or four fruits in it – mango, pinapple, orange juice. fantastic!
    4) El Metate – 22nd/Bryant – the nicest man ever serves fantastic tacos, burritos and my favorite agua frescas and top notch flan
    5) Casa Lucas – 24th/Florida – this is a great all-around market for supplies if you’re cooking at home and are sourcing ingredients – queso, spices, etc
    6) Mission Pie – 25th/Mission – fresh local seasonal pies, sweet and savory – the farm in the city
    7) R Image Market – 25/Folsom – looks like just another corner store, until you go inside and see the sandwich counter – falafel, dolmas, and fantastic hummus
    8) Humphrey Slocumbe Harrison/24th – a long line for weird ice cream. If it’s crowded, go to Mitchells San Jose/30th – it’ll be crowded there too, but with more families and fewer pretentious people
    9) The bar at Foreign Cinema (mission/21st) – not lazlo, the bar in front, but the restaurant bar, usually not crowded, you can order most of the menu and great cocktails
    10) CAVA 22 (22nd/Bartlett) – margaritas, chips, salsa and mariachis every friday and saturday – I’ve given directions to this place for people who are waiting in line outside puerto allegre – you’ll get a better margarita, more and better food options and did I mention mariachis?
    11) for the vegetarians – Papalote (24th/valencia) – best tofu burrito. Only tofu mole burrito. Unfortunatly these days it gets super crowded and somehow their burritos have topped the $10 mark, so I don’t go there as much as I used to

  • 5 Juliana // Aug 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Funny, I don’t think (living in NorCal, but not the bay area) I have *ever* heard SF described as low-key and relaxed. It’s all relative, I guess. :)

  • 6 Allyn // Aug 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    This is perfect! We’re heading to San Francisco in a month and I’m making lists and asking for suggestions (http://lollingabout.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/happy-belated-4th-of-july-2/). I’ll be pouring over all of this and taking notes.

  • 7 Kendra // Aug 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    The trip sounds heavenly! Will bookmark this for future SF trips.

  • 8 sallie // Aug 2, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    I’m sorry but this response has absolutely nothing to do with your San Francisco trip. It does have to do with my boyfriend, glassy eyed and content, asking through a mouthful of sausage pizza, “Who is this woman?” That woman is you. And after your pot pie, spicy oven fries, salmon salad, porcipine meatballs, and homemade pizza, we are both smitten. Thank you. We can’t wait to try more.

  • 9 amy // Aug 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Your reading at Omnivore was great. I really enjoyed talking to Phoebe. Did she end up with oysters at Zuni?
    -Jen’s friend Amy

  • 10 Susan E // Aug 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    We really, really enjoyed the food and service at Baker & Banker (Lower Pacific Heights). So unbelievably amazing.

  • 11 amy // Aug 3, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Also, I’m glad you made it to Plow. It is a favorite of my 10-year-old.

  • 12 Hannah // Aug 4, 2012 at 3:07 am

    we were bummed to miss you but were out of town for your reading … sounds like a great visit though! I would say China Town Dim Sum, and Aziza (morroccan) should be on your list for a return visit … but you guys had a spot-on-perfect list! And take out with friends in a cool apartment is always better than a restaurant, especially when you have kiddos in tow. Sounds perfect.

    Also I love the “Who is this woman?!”comment … that would be my husband, too. I also now get “I’ll bet Jenny and Andy eat meat every single night of the week, and love each other more for it!” (now that we are eating veggie 3-4 nights, with one parent decidedly less enthused! ;O)

  • 13 Lauren // Aug 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I think the blue bottle really is worth it. It is my everyday coffee! yum.
    I also love Little Star pizza on Divisidero for their deep dish and Green Chile Kitchen on Baker and McCallister for really yummy southwestern/mexi something.

  • 14 Joanne // Aug 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I’ve been hearing a lot about the pork tacos at La Taqueria. I think it’s time to head out there. Thanks for sharing these great places.

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