Food Fanatic Road Trip: San Francisco

Our resident expert takes you on a tour of San Francisco's culinary landscape.

If New York is the top restaurant city out East, San Francisco and its surrounding area 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 winemakers and year-round produce. The result: a bounty of varied dining options including David Kinch’s three Michelin-star Manresa and the highly coveted baos from The Chairman food trucks. 

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 specialty 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 Great Eastern, where the dining room is packed by 11 a.m. on weekends. Everyone seems to be into Asian flavors these days, so spend some time walking around this community—and wherever else the food leads you.

No question, San Francisco is one giant classroom to eat and learn. So bring a notebook and get ready to chow down.


The Progress (Lower Pacific Heights)

James Beard Award winners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski (also of State Bird Provisions) change the small plates menu daily. 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)

Check out the huge rotating draft beer selection; stay for the house-butchered porcine fare at this German-beer-hall-inspired restaurant. 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)

Chef-owner Mourad Lahlou’s ode to Moroccan cuisine 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 chicken. Get it, and see if you can figure out what makes it the be-all-end-all of roasted birds.

Vik’s Chaat (Berkeley, California)

This warehouse-turned-food-hall is a gold mine for Indian and Pakistani street food, especially if you want to adopt these flavors for your menu. Order at the counter, grab a seat in the huge 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 favorites, all made fresh, in-house.

Nopa (North of the Panhandle)

Wood-fired cooking couldn’t be hotter, and this brunch and late-night favorite gets it right with an organic menu that includes a killer burger served with pickled onions and thick-cut fries. The restaurant 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 with a soft spot for kick-ass family-run restaurants.

Follow him on Twitter @ChefManny