Ten Things I Ate in San Francisco
There’s nothing better than discovering a city by mouth and I absolutely adore trying new restaurants while traveling. I’ve visited San Francisco quite a bit in the past two years yet there is a never-ending list of restaurants I still haven’t tried and I doubt I will finish them all.
I planned a visit in October to the city by the bay by myself because I wanted to do things without a kid saying, “I’m boooored! Can we go now?” Things like browsing in Sephora. Or shopping without a time limit in Target. Or even meeting friends and spending good quality time with them.
When we were in San Francisco in May we dined in restaurants that were kid-friendly. For my picky Enzo, that mean anywhere with beef teriyaki or at the very least, Asian! Jo’s kids are good eaters but they also love their mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. My main objective when it came to choosing restaurants this time? Not Michelins stars. Not fancy places. But anywhere they did not serve mac and cheese! Here, in no particular order, are the 10 things I ate in San Francisco:
1. Barbecued Beef Brisket at the Farmer’s Market
It’s always enjoyable to take advantage of the fresh produce in season. There’s nothing that compares to biting into a perfectly juicy cherry or nibbling a sweet ear of corn when they are plentiful and cheap. In the early summer I snacked on cherries, ate perfectly creamy avocadoes for breakfast and nibbled on steamed artichokes and sweet white corn. October is persimmons season- my mom’s absolute favorite. Just look how beautiful these persimmons are! Before driving to Yosemite Jo and I decided to lunch on these barbecue beef brisket sandwiches with delicious pesto chimichurri sauce on toasted sourdough and served with homemade pickles.
When I mentioned to J’s mom Tita Lorna that persimmons were my mother’s favorite fruit, she said her backyard tree was full of them and would I like to pick some off for her? Would I! As a little girl growing up in California, the only fruit I remember picking were strawberries from a field, which the farmers charged per pound picked. But to go to Tita Lorna’s backyard and pick as many as I wanted – wow what a wonderful experience! For anyone who hasn’t tried a persimmon, it’s a tomato/ mini pumpkin looking orange fruit that’s peeled and usually sliced to be eaten. Its crunchy texture is similar to apples, although there are soft varieties as well. The day before my flight back to Manila, Tita Lorna brought a whole bag full for my mother. So though I didn’t eat these persimmons from the farmer’s market, I ate the ones off Tita’s tree. How lovely!
3. Lobster Rolls at the New England Lobster Market and Eatery
I have never hiked in my life so before embarking on our Yosemite adventure, Jo and I went shopping for hiking stuff at REI. We found awesome backpacks with bladders for water and great hiking shoes on sale. I told Jo I wanted lobster rolls for my first lunch in San Francisco and he said he knew a good place in the area. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it so we discovered the New England Lobster Market and Eatery in Burlingame instead!
There are so many kinds of lobster meals available here. I settled on a seasonal lobster roll topped with fresh avocado and bacon bits served with kettle chips. Jo and I shared a bowl of lobster corn chowder. Everything was absolutely delicious! The lobster was meaty and tender and that soup was incredible. They also had a Cajun powder that tasted awesome on everything. I washed this down with an ice cold bottle of Blue Moon because beer and lobster rolls were just meant for each other. It was such a pleasure to dine al fresco with the gorgeous Indian summer weather.
4. Burmese food at Burma Superstar
My brother-in-law Craig frequents San Francisco on business and it just so happened he was going to be in town while I was there! We made dinner plans and I asked what kind of food he wanted to eat. He said, “I want to eat where the locals eat – and anything but pasta!” This was the perfect opportunity to try Burma Superstar – somewhere I’ve been dying to try but with no reservations, the snake lines are always out the door! This time our wait was 45 minutes (they said it was a slow night) but we spent time chatting and having drinks down the street in a little bar called The Neck of the Woods, where they were having karaoke band night (oh so tempting!).
When they texted us our table was ready, were we excited. None of us have ever tried Burmese food before. I’ve had Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino, yes, but never Burmese – so I had no expectations. We ordered their signature Tea Leaf Salad with romaine lettuce, fried yellow beans, fried garlic, sesame seeds, fresh tomatoes, jalapenos and dried shrimp. Burmese samousas with curried potato and lamb. Lettuce Cups (which I love, especially with minced Peking duck) featuring five-spice tofu and shiitake mushroom, with pickled radish, carrots, and water chestnut stuffing. Coconut chicken curry noodles and Tan Poi, basmati rice with cardamom, cinnamon, raisins and onions. Though we were only three, we finished everything. Burmese food is chockfull of flavor and texture, a mix of vegetables and meat. I’m sure lots of vegetarians would love it here with so many veggie options. It pleases me that my American brother-in-law said it was the best meal he’s eaten all year, and that’s saying a lot.
5. Spaghetti and Meatballs at Original Joe’s
You know the cartoons that have those signs that say, “Eat at Joe’s!” Well, I did! Original Joe’s of San Francisco was opened by a Croatian immigrant in 1937 in the Tenderloin district with only 14 bar stools and a counter serving food that was a tribute to the American dream. With its tuxedo-clad waiters, red leather booths, open kitchen and classic menu, Original Joe’s soon became popular for its comfort Italian-American fare.
There’s a branch in Westlake that just opened after a renovation and there were so many blue hairs waiting for a table I thought there was a bridge convention going on! When Jo and I tried to eat there in May we only had time to try an appetizer in the bar area and we went for the meatballs – large, moist and flavorful meatballs that were doused in a delicious tomato ragu. I believe it’s the simplest dishes that are the hardest to perfect – like these meatballs!
So when we finally got a reservation at this old-school place this October, I decided to go with the classics- prawn cocktail to start and those meatballs again but this time over spaghetti. I loved our waiter – he was so cute in his tux and kept coming by our table to make sure everything was great.
6. The best pork buns in town
Jo lives in the Sunset district where many Asian immigrants have turned into their home as well. I sometimes joke that when I visit him in San Francisco I need to see white people to make sure I’m really in America. This being said, there’s all kinds of Asian food available – from the Chinese restaurants that serve dumplings, noodles and pancakes to authentic Vietnamese pho houses and bahn mi shops to Japanese izakayas. I’m not talking about the American-Asian restaurants with great ambiance. I’m talking about the ones with good food that costs $150 for a group of 6 adults and 7 kids and more often than not featuring dodgy restrooms.
When his kids need to bring food for potluck parties in school he likes to order pork buns from Café Bakery and Restaurant. When you enter, it’s legit with Chinese and English names for all its baked good but more importantly there’s a group of elderly Chinese men sitting around a table eating noodle soup and having tea while chatting loudly. That’s how you know! Jo always gets the yummy char sou bao which are fat and filling – and consistently voted as one of the best pork buns in the city see in Thrillist here and SF Weekly here. Unlike other Chinese pork bun, her you get a perfect amount of pork to bun in every bite.
7. Ice Cream
I don’t know about you but when I visit San Francisco I enjoy eating ice cream. Unlike Manila where the ice cream starts to melt as soon as it leaves the freezer, here ice cream stays creamy and rich up until the last bite. My favorites are Bi-Rite Creamery’s honey lavender and Humphry Slocombe’s Blue Bottle coffee but on this trip I tried a white chocolate and dark chocolate Godiva soft serve twist and Polly Ann’s Cherry Almond Chip. Polly Ann’s has been open since the 1950s. They rotate over 500 flavors and if you can’t decide you can spin a wheel and let it decide for you! Polly Ann’s has many Asian flavors as well (also being in the Sunset) such as black sesame, guava and even macapuno, which reminds me of home.
8. Trout Cheeks at Hog Island Oyster Company
I do enjoy San Francisco’s fresh seafood and what’s a trip to this city without visiting the Ferry Building for Hog Island Oyster Company’s fresh oysters? I love their choice of local oysters as well as those from around the region. After starting with a few of what’s available for the day together with a nice crisp glass of white wine, I enjoyed looking at their seasonal menu. I usually go for the small plates – it’s a great way to try many of their dishes. This time I had fried shrimp, roasted squash with crumbled goat cheese and their daily special, trout cheeks with mushrooms, spinach and capers on sourdough. Little Mermaid would not approve.
9. Jerk Chicken at Cha Cha Cha
The Haight was my favorite place to be when I used to visit San Francisco in the 90s. It was dirty and interesting, filled rows and rows of vintage clothing shops, smokeshops, art galleries and Amoeba Records. I loved to end my stroll down the street with a meal at Cha Cha Cha for their jerk chicken and rice. I needed to find a leather jacket for my bad Sandy costume for Halloween and I figured where else could I find a real bargain?
Cha Cha Cha is the same as I remember it although Haight seems to have gotten a more touristy vibe. In fact, we parked right in front of an American Apparel where I found the bulk of my costume! Go figure! Cha Cha Cha was as busy as ever but we were able to get a seat at the bar. We started with their homemade red sangria some shrimp sautéed with a creamy Cajun sauce perfect for dipping your bread in. Next we had some steamed black mussels and finally shared a plate of jerk chicken with rice. Unfortuately, In my haste to eat it I forgot to take a photo lol! The jerk spice wasn’t as spicy as I remembered it but I suppose like all things from your heydays your memory turns the experience into something more extraordinary. Or perhaps there are so many more restaurants and cuisines that you have tried since then that your taste buds have grown accustomed to more flavors. No matter the case, Cha Cha Cha is still a favorite when visiting San Francisco.
10. Enchiladas at El Toreador
I absolutely love Mexican food and there’s a cute little place in my favorite neighborhood West Portal called El Toreador. Once inside, it’s a colorful, beautiful mess of Mexican toys, masks, dolls and flying wooden animals as its decor. They also serve an extensive beer menu from all over the world (including the Philippines’ San Miguel Pale Pilsen), whose bottles you can view on display while waiting for a table.
El Toreador serves authentic Mexican food you can mix and match for an entrée. I ordered a chicken enchilada with a cheese tamale. As usual I gorged on the yummy nachos with guacamole and spicy salsa so when my order came – I realized it was not just huge but downright mammoth. It came with fluffy orange Mexican rice and a side of refried beans. I ate as much as I could muster and took the rest home. There was a homeless man down the street and we gave the rest of our meal to him. He was so thankful he accepted it and said to us, “May God bless your beautiful soul.” Makes one feel grateful for the opportunities to eat what one feels like whenever they want.
Hope you enjoy my latest eats from San Francisco! For more of Stephanie and my favorites from the City by the Bay, read our previous post here.
May all your food-tripping, gypsetting dreams come true,
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We are two friends who were former magazine editors. Having moved onto other things, we both realized that the creative flow the publishing world used to offer us was missing from our lives. Armed with a common love of travel to the exotic and familiar, a penchant for the bohemian, an obsession with food and a lust for writing, we decided to collaborate our unique and fashionable journeys through life together in one passion project.
We are The Gypsetters.