San Francisco Highlights

Maxence, Milan and I have recently returned from a positively idyllic, two-week stay in San Francisco, for which we swapped apartments with our friends Heidi and Wayne.

We had a blissfully relaxing, inspiring, and delicious vacation. It was crazy good to be back, catch up with friends and family, and meet some of you lovely readers at my Omnivore Books signing. And now that I am starting to crawl out from under the pile of work that awaited me on my return (not that I’m complaining), I would like to revisit some of our favorite eats and share my best San Francisco recommendations with you if you’re game.

Smitten ice cream

~ Thriving on a diet of (almost) one ice cream a day — mostly from Bi-Rite Creamery on Divisadero (outstanding walnut maple banana ice cream sandwiches); but also from Smitten in Haighs Valley, where the ice cream is freshly mixed and churned in liquid nitrogen before your very eyes (pictured above: TCHO chocolate, and maple brown sugar squash); and, on a slightly less refined, but no less enjoyable level, from Easy Breezy in Noe Valley, where the organic frozen yogurt and toppings are self-serve (dangerous!) and you pay by the weight.

Kale salad

~ Eating kale of all kinds practically every day, and especially loving the red kale salad I made a couple of times with avocado, cilantro, and pomegranate seeds (pictured above).

~ Sampling the best carnitas burrito ever from La Taqueria, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Emily (who is also, unrelatedly, my lovely Pilates instructor in Paris).

Morning bun

~ Starting the day with the buttery, cinnamon-y morning bun from Tartine.

Panucho de Pollo al Pibil

~ Eating fresh, sustainable, organic New Mexican food at Nopalito (pictured above: the Panucho de Pollo al Pibil, a tortilla stuffed with black beans and chicken cooked with citrus and achiote, topped with cabbage, pickled red onions, and salsa with habanero peppers). Admiring with some emotion the beautiful peppy green mosaic tiling behind their bar, which was the starting point of our inspiration for our own kitchen remodeling a couple of years ago.

Slow-cooked eggs at Namu Gaji

~ Sharing a sunny brunch with good friends at New Korean American restaurant Namu Gaji, and relishing the slow-cooked eggs served in dashi, with a side of roasted pork belly, rice, and kimchi (pictured above).


~ Drinking lattes at The Mill. Loving the gorgeous breezy space. Buying a loaf of their exceptional wonder bread (pictured above, in the brown paper bag!) to have for breakfast on following mornings, with a hefty spread of the absolutely irresistible and now much-missed lightly salted crunchy almond butter from G.L.Alfieri.

Roam burger

~ Biting voraciously into the artisan burgers served at Roam (pictured above is the “Heritage” bacon cheeseburger with grass-fed beef on a sesame bun) with a side of fried sweet potatoes because why not?

Gâté comme des filles chocolats

~ Savoring the box of handmade chocolates my friend Alexandra Whisnant brought me on the day of the signing; special mention for the fresh Meyer lemon ganaches (pictured above in the diagonal). Her chocolates are now available at Bi-Rite Markets among other outlets.

Lunch special at Saru

~ Having a splendid sushi lunch at Saru in Noe Valley.

~ Amassing a sizeable assortment of chocolate bars representing the New American chocolate scene, including bars by the local TCHO, Dandelion Chocolate, and Coracao Confections, but also Olive & Sinclair from Nashville, Lake Champlain Chocolates from Vermont, Fine & Raw from Brooklyn, Theo Chocolate from Seattle, and my old favorite Taza from outside Boston.

Lo bak go at Out the Door

~ Ordering a bunch of small plates to share at Out The Door, and being wowed by the freshness and vivid flavors of their modern Vietnamese cuisine (pictured above: daikon rice cakes or lo bak go). Bringing home lots of leftovers for an encore feast that night.

~ Being impressed by, and grateful for how kid-friendly restaurants are in and around the city. There are highchairs almost everywhere (not that our son will sit in them, but that’s another story), the waitstaff is generally sweet and attentive with families, and the often speedy, informal service lends itself perfectly to eating out with a child. Paris is not so bad, but there’s a difference between feeling tolerated and feeling welcome.

Join the conversation!

Have you been to any of these places, and do you share my enthusiasm? Any other favorites I should make a note of for our next visit?

  • What a wonderful trip! Just looking at that sunlight on the houses makes me long for a trip to San Francisco . . .

    I was just there for a short few hours last time, but I managed to get to Molinari Delicatessen. I ordered a “North Beach” sandwich: layers and layers of tender prosciutto, provolone, roasted peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. I could picnic on it every day and never grow tired of that proscuitto. Next time . . .

    • Oh, I must get to that deli next time, thanks for letting me know about it!

  • Lauren

    You were in my neighborhood and hit up many of my favorite places! Usually visitors focus on restaurants in the Mission, but there are so many tasty spots here. Having recently dined with my toddler in France, I agree that we were at most tolerated there, but I assumed that’s because my toddler doesn’t have the French manners that all the parenting books brag about.

    • I wasn’t familiar with the Alamo/Haighs neighborhood before this stay, and was impressed by all the options. As for the Paris dining scene, in truth, as a customer you sometimes feel like you’re just tolerated, even without a toddler in tow. (Insert eyeroll here.)

      • It’s funny bc SF doesn’t exactly have the best kid friendly set of attitudes in California either-but I still can’t imagine bringing my 2 year old to Paris…although he’d appreciate the food to be sure

        • Well, it just goes to show how little we need to feel like it’s an improvement over the Parisian attitude! That said, I also believe in toughing it out, and not caring too much what we perceive waitstaff may think, as long as the kiddo isn’t screaming at the top of his lungs. :)

  • Sorry to have missed you at Omnivore Books but so happy to hear you enjoyed your stay in our fair city.

    • Thank you Christine! I certainly did.

  • Matt

    Roam and Out the Door are also a pair of my favorites! I hope that after Roam you were able to stop in at Sift (California and Fillmore) for some amazing cupcakes (my favorite cupcake of all time resides there, their Samoa). Even if you didn’t, it looks like you got in some great eating and your pictures remind me that I need to avail myself of another Roam burger soon…it’s already been a whole week!

    • Thanks Matt! We walked past Sift but didn’t stop — I will chose ice cream over cupcakes any day, so I had other priorities in mind. :) But I’ll add it to the list for next time!

  • Peter

    Nice! Too bad you didn’t get to sample the inventive and delicious offerings of another Frenchman at PetitPot. Check it out.

    • What a fun format! Thanks for pointing it out, Peter, I’ll keep an eye on what he does.

  • Ah! SF! I am in Mountain View in the South Bay. I am always amazed at the plethora of produce and great food in this area. I have heard great things about Smitten.

    • Mountain View is where I used to live! Loved the farmers market, and the Milk Pail Market. :)

  • This post stirs such strong feelings! I lived in San Francisco for several years and felt like I got to know every corner and alley. By the time I moved, I was living in Noe Valley, blissfully walking to the bakery to get an apple turnover, enjoying the families with strollers walking by. How I miss Bi-Rite, Tartine, the Ferry Building, and also hole in the walls like Turtle Tower, or the bacon hot dog man in the Mission.

    I live in Los Angeles now, and while the city has incredible food, it is so different to experience a city by car versus two feet.

    Coincidentally, I’m traveling to Paris in a few weeks for vacation and am eager/nervous–on one hand, I can’t wait to return (it has been ten years?) and eat, eat, eat; on the other hand, I am more or less petrified about trying to speak French. :)

    • I agree! Cities come in two very different kinds: those that are walkable, and those that aren’t. I would argue that SF is less walkable than Paris because of the steep hills (!) and the distance between neighborhoods, but it remains a super pedestrian-friendly city.

  • Debbie

    So love this post! I came to Paris from San Francisco almost two years ago and I really miss it there! You hit up so many wonderful places, and I made notes of ones to try when I get back during the summer. Probably the thing I miss most in Paris is good Mexican food – especially burritos from the Mission! I’m glad you had a wonderful trip.

    • Well, there’s a lot more Mexican food in Paris now than five years ago, but I agree — there’s nothing like La Taqueria (sigh).

  • msue

    Perfect timing as I’m headed back to SF for week plus a few extra days in December. I love how quickly one can absorb into the pace of the city. I always enjoy exploring on foot. Your highlights will come in handy for the trip!

    • I’m so happy for you! Will you report back on your favorite places?

  • Monica

    SF ice cream options have increased ten fold. There are wonderful new flavors at Humphrey Slocombe as well as at Mr. & Mrs Miscellaneous.
    Good old delicious Mitchell’s with their variety of tropical fruits, cinnamon Mexican chocolate, and creamy pistachio flavors.
    I had the most perfect passion fruit experience with a Smitten ice cream… it was divine. And I’m still dreaming of the spicy caramel topping on salted caramel I had this weekend over there…
    “Dangerous” places :)

    • I know! Such fabulous ice cream options! Thank you so much for adding more — they’re going right up on the list!

  • Kimberly

    I am no expert, but here are a few places I could recommend for your next visit:
    1. Dottie’s True Blue Cafe: I still dream about the Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes
    2. Tadich Grill is a SF classic and the best seafood I have ever had
    3. The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese. My husband and I still talk about the food

    Thanks for posting your culinary adventures. I have bookmarked this page and will try some the next time we are in the city.

    • Thank you for these additional recommendations! Do report back if you try any of these. And as a side note, Out The Door, which I mentioned in my list, is an offshoot of The Slanted Door!

  • I am a brand-new transplant to the Bay Area (Palo Alto to be exact, although we’ll be moving to Mtn View in a few (!!) days). I love all of your food suggestions – everything looks and sounds amazing. Can’t wait to do some exploring myself!

    • Such a wonderful, wonderful area — I miss it very much, even though Paris is nothing to sneeze at. :)

  • Perfect timing – I’m going to be in San Francisco next week! Some of your tips I’ve already tried, others I look forward to visiting… as for my own recommendations, Lers Ros in Hayes Valley is my favourite Thai restaurant. For a great Chinese meal, I’d say either House of Nanking in Chinatown or (this is really off the beaten track, but good to know about if you’re visiting Golden Gate Park or the Legion of Honor) Superior Palace in Outer Richmond. Mee Mee Bakery in Chinatown for the best mooncakes ever, with a staggeringly broad selection (green tea, date, fig…). And, although it isn’t in SF proper, Chez Panisse is obviously not to be missed!

    • I am adding all these to my list for next time! I hope you have a splendid time there, you lucky girl you. :)

      • rachelsloan79

        Was just in San Francisco two days ago and I have another frozen dessert spot in Hayes Valley to add to your list – a Greek restaurant called Souvla that serves frozen Greek yogurt! It would be amazing by itself, but even better, it comes with toppings like crumbled baklava, cherry syrup, Cretan wildflower honey and olive oil and sea salt… I tried the latter and it was to die for! Hope you get a chance to try it on your next trip :)

        • Now seems like a good time to write: OMG! It sounds unique and extraordinary. Thank you for the recommendation!

  • Thanks for posting your adventure. Im actually heading there for Christmas.

    • Lucky you! I hope you report back with your own favorites.

  • I’m so glad you had the opportunity to experience San Francisco and its wonderful culinary playground! Having moved from SF to London I definitely go through withdrawal for all its wonder.

    • Oh, but London is so full of culinary treasures, too! Very different, but a fabulous food scene, too.

  • I love Tartine! So glad you got good breakfast pastry there. I am in Southern California now, great food here too but with much more driving than walking involved, sigh.

    • Tartine absolutely deserves its reputation — if you can brave the lines. :)

  • What a coincidence! I was in San Francisco for part of the time you were — we might even have been at Tartine at the same time at some point, as I also stopped in for morning pastries. While I ate far, far too much while in the city, my favorite dinner was at Range in the Mission. The coffee-rubbed pork shoulder might be the best braise I have ever had.

    • How fun to think maybe we stood in line at Tartine at the same time! :) And that dish sounds really intriguing. Can you tell us anything more about how you think it was prepared?

  • Oh my! Looks like a wonderful trip.

    The kale and ice cream cancel each other out :)

    And that Tartine morning bun…sigh… that’s what my dreams are made of.

    Glad you guys had a good time!

    • Funny, I thought the same thing as I was writing those two tidbits. :)

  • Looks like you had a great time here in San Francisco.

    Another ice cream shop to add to your list is Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous in the trendy Dogpatch neighborhood.

    • Thank you, I hope to have a chance to try it soon!

  • Hillary

    If you have the chance to and it is still in business next time you visit (I hope!), The Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley is a lot of fun! It’s a short walk from the edge of Golden Gate Park, very near the Haight/Ashbury neighborhood. It is a step back in time, with counter people dressed in 40’s-style uniforms and some scoopers even wear charming oblong, fold-out server’s hats–so classic. They have old fashioned flavors and new, and you can even get a boozy milkshake or a scoop of something with a housemade herb or fruit elixir. I had a scoop of cherry served in an antique-looking silver plated dish. Truly unmatched!

    • That sounds like a lot of fun, thanks for the recommendation Hillary.

  • Deborah

    I was visiting SF about the same time you were and was really lucky with the weather (blue skies!) I’ve lived in Paris 22 years, but San Francisco is still home in my heart. Bi-Rite is the best. Have you seen their book/cookbook? It’s a great read. Sounds like you hit the cool new neighborhoods. I really love that stretch of Valencia not far from Tartine and bi-Rite, etc. Just discovered my new favorite coffee shop there: FourBarrel. Most lovingly made latte ever — and tasted fantastic!

  • Ellen

    I adore SF. We were there in December/January with our then 8 year old. We found all restaurants were great with her, and even the fancier ones were most welcoming. Highly recommend Seven Hills at Russian Hill for a really special dinner. Claire is still talking about the arancini she had that night! The Ferry building was also excellent. Going back in July, on the way home to Australia from our Canada/New York 5 week trip. Can’t wait. So many great places to eat, so little time!!

    • Thanks for the additional recommendations! We did love the Ferry Building. Farm Fresh To You has a great selection of chocolate bars from small US chocolatiers.

  • Los Gatos Foodie

    Thanks for posting your trip to SF on your blog. We live South of SF and love visiting, especially for the food, and have tried most of the places you mention. We also love traveling to Paris and have used your blog/newsletter often to get new food suggestions for the City. Whenever I read your posts I feel like I’m visiting a knowledgeable friend who gives me scrumptious ideas! Thanks for your lovely posts!

    • How wonderful to hear, thank you!

  • Susanne

    Next time venture to Marin and to what I think is best organic locally sourced ingredients ice cream
    The Fairfax Scoop.
    People line up here in all weather reminds me of berthillon.
    They even make and bake their own
    waffle cones. I love their lavender
    vanilla ice cream

    • That sounds marvellous, thank you!

  • Sounds like you had a great trip! I’m planning to attend the Fancy Foods Show in SF next month and will try to visit the places you mentioned. Let me know if you’ll be in Los Angeles – I’d love to show you around!

    • Do report back on the places you end up trying!

  • Saudia Sharkey

    I agree, Tartine and Bi-Rite are absolute musts, but do you ever get to the East Bay? Cole Coffee on College in Rockridge pours the fresh coffee of your choice and La Farine patisserie is right down the street.

    Nearly every Saturday morning of the year you can go to the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market in Oakland, but it’s especially marvelous in spring and summer, of course. You’ll find all-organic produce and prepared food stalls and a mind-boggling international array of fresh food carts. There is a marvelous Vietnamese restaurant nearby called Xyclos. And on Friday nights from 5 to 9, the Oakland Museum hosts a band in the outdoor courtyard. Couples, kids, parents, grandparents–everyone gets out on the concrete dance floor and cuts it up. Or you can sit on the steps to watch and listen while you eat a fabulous meal bought from one of the many eclectic food trucks that run all the way down the street alongside the museum.

    • Thank you for these great recommendations! We do usually make at least one trip to the East Bay to have dim sum in Oakland’s Chinatown. :)

  • I was so envious when I first read this post a few weeks ago, but lo and behold my husband is being sent to SF for 2 weeks in April! I’m going to tag along with our almost 2 year old, so I would love to know what you guys did to keep sweet Milan entertained (other than visit amazing places to eat delicious looking food!)? xo

    • That’s great news, you’re going to have a blast! To keep Milan entertained, we visited lots of playgrounds — they’re all over the city — but other than that he was just thrilled to look at the cars, trucks, buses, and dogs. :)

      • Bake

        Thanks so much for this – can’t wait to go! Cars, trucks, buses and dogs will all be a hit with out little one. Happy Weekend! xo

  • I’m a little late in reading this (and making myself incredibly hungry for SF food!) but I’m wondering about a recipe for the red kale salad. What do you dress it with? Proportions? I think I can get all the ingredients here in Luxor and it sound delish! Thanks!

    • It was a simple dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, and a touch of hot sauce!

  • Margarita

    Would you mind sharing where you shopped for fresh produce? We are going next week with our two toddlers (ages 3 and 4) and I have been trying to find a Farmers Market near Haight Ashbury / GG Park where we are staying and most seem to be closed until May :( we are only staying for 5 days – from Wednesday to Sunday and I was hoping to do some good lunches but cook some easy meals in the evenings, enjoying all those interesting ingredients I hope to get in SF… Thank you!

    • Not sure it would be an option for where you’ll be staying, but we got a lot of our produce from the Bi-Rite market on Divisadero. There was a farmers market there on Saturday mornings as well, but I don’t know if that would be in operation next week. And there’s always Whole Foods. :) Hope you have a splendid time there, Margarita!

  • Kirstin Lucas

    I really love burmese food (Myanmar). I haven’t been to SanFran for three years but have recently found out they have a burmese restaurant – Make sure you try the Tea Leaf Salad!

  • Carolina Conde-Perry

    Hi Clotilde! I realize this post is a couple of years old, but I always trust C&Z for food/restaurant references and recommendations so I thought I would ask here first. I will be traveling to Napa early next year for my birthday, and will spend a couple of days in SF. I’m interested in spectacular dim sum but don’t trust other sources, and don’t see one in your highlights here. Do you (or any of your readers) have a recommendation for me? SO very much appreciated!!

    • For dim sum, we like to go to Oakland’s Chinatown — Restaurant Peony in particular. It’s one of those huge dim sum halls with a great atmosphere and excellent dumplings. Have a splendid time in California!

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