If New York is the top restaurant city on the East Coast, the Bay area and the San Francisco food scene have it down on the West Coast.
Home to Super Duper Burger, the Mission burrito and fermented everything, the Bay area offers easy access to the Pacific Ocean, best-in-class wineries and year-round produce. The result: a bounty of varied dining options, including the David Kinch three-Michelin-star Manresa restaurant and the highly-coveted baos from The Chairman food truck.
You’ll be inspired by—and even willing to face—the hordes of tourists at the Ferry Building Marketplace, for example, where a taste of local specialties and artisanal foods will get you thinking about how you can work them into your own appetizers. Go early on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday to experience the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where more than 300 Bay Area chefs shop.
A trip to San Francisco would be a failure without a stroll through Chinatown. Get classic dim sum off the paper menu (not from the typical cart) at the Great Eastern restaurant, where the dining room is packed by 11 a.m. on weekends. Everyone seems to be into Asian cuisine these days, so spend some time walking around this community—and wherever else the food leads you.
No question, the San Francisco food scene is one giant classroom where you can eat and learn. So, bring a notebook and get ready to chow down.
The Progress (Lower Pacific Heights) @thePROGRESS_sf
James Beard Award winners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski (also of State Bird Provisions) change the small plates menu daily at The Progress. House-cured anchovies are a mainstay, however, and shouldn’t be missed. To get the most out of the menu, go for the $62 a person format: Choose four items to share, with the option of adding small items, like pickled nori and desserts.
Hog’s Apothecary (Oakland, California) @HogsApothecary
Check out the huge rotating draft beer list; stay for Hog’s Apothecary house-butchered porcine fare at this inspired German beer hall. Executive Chef John Streit serves dishes like a house-smoked cured pork belly and beef corn dog dipped in house-ground red heirloom cornmeal batter. Pay attention to the pairings for inspiration.
Mourad (Financial District) @Mourad_SF
Chef-owner Mourad Lahlou created an ode to Moroccan cuisine and earned a Michelin star within a year of opening. A menu of traditional meat, seafood and vegetable dishes complements the straightforward yet striking decor. Everyone talks about the roasted chicken. Get it and see if you can figure out what makes it the be-all-end-all of bird dishes.
Vik’s Chaat (Berkeley, California) @vikschaat
In this old warehouse, now a food hall, Vik’s Chaat is a gold mine for Indian fare and Pakistani street food. It’s especially appealing if you want to adopt these flavors for your menu. Order at the counter, grab a seat in the huge food hall and wait for your name to be called. The family-run business lacks signage, so just look for the lines of people waiting to order dosa, biryani, cholle bhature and other authentic Indian food and Pakistani dishes, all made fresh, in-house.
Nopa (North of the Panhandle) @nopa_restaurant
Wood-fired cooking couldn’t be hotter, and this brunch and late-night restaurant gets it right with an organic menu that includes a killer burger served with pickled onions and thick-cut fries. Nopa gets crowded—and loud—fast, so book a reservation in advance if you don’t want to wait.
Manny Haider is a Food Fanatics chef for US Foods® based in San Francisco who has a soft spot for kick-ass, family-run restaurants.
Follow Manny Haider on Twitter @ChefManny