This is about where I ate and pretty much nothing else. I did a lot of cool things in San Francisco but I’ll get to that in a different post. So I hope you’ve eaten already and if you haven’t there’s still time to make a sandwich. Cause this one is going to make you hungry.
Los Angeles has become a second home for me over the past decade. Whether it’s work related or a vacation I’m alway drawn to LA for one reason or another. Aside from a few trips to San Diego and one very brief trip to Oakland I really haven’t spent much of my Cali time outside of La La land. So the thought of having five days of free time in San Francisco had me super hyped. Given this was the first time I’d be able to explore the whole city I went at it in full tourist mode. As I often do before I travel to places for the “first time,” I researched all the must-try foodie areas. And of course I watched a few Anthony Bourdain episodes to see where he ate in SF. Now that I had my list down I was ready to head west once again.
San Francisco is known for a bunch of great food like its sourdough bread, burritos, dim sum, prime rib among many other things and I planned to try them all. But what I really wanted to focus on during this trip was seafood.
From their acclaimed cioppio which was invented in San Francisco to the Dungeness crab, abalone, and clam chowder, SF has a plethora of highly-rated seafood dishes. So what better place to start my food excursion than Sotto Mare, an Italian seafood restaurant in North Beach. To many locals, Sotto Mare is like an institution – holding the accolade of best cioppio in town.
I arrived in SF on a Sunday around noon ready to get my grub on. After dropping off my bags at the hotel I immediately headed over to Sotto Mare to see what all the fuss was about. Low and behold the place was packed to capacity with an hour wait list. Fresh off the plane with only a couple of airline pretzels in my stomach. I was forced to make a game time decision: Starve for an hour or check the less crowded restaurant next door. I chose the latter. – But as it turns out the restaurant next door was also a very good seafood restaurant call California Fish Market. – A quick glance at the menu at Sotto Mare and I was ready to order. “Let me get the cioppio and a half dozen Kumamoto oysters”.
For those that don’t know, cioppio is a seafood stew filled with crab, squid, clams, mussel, shrimp, and different types of white fish in a tomato based wine sauce. Sounds good right? Well it was! I made short work of the stew and kumamoto’s before capping my meal off with a Bombay Sapphire.
That night I had a few different restaurants in mind to try but I quickly learned most of the restaurants were closed Sunday through Wednesday. And even the ones that do open everyday close pretty early. Quick tip: Make sure you check the date and time before you show up to places. Don’t assume since it early it will be open a lot of the good spots close as early as 2:00 PM. Someone later explained to me that the pandemic really changed the landscape of the food scene in SF. A lot of businesses aren’t able to open more than 4 days out the week.
As it turns out, one of the restaurants on my list was in fact open. If you’re in to mezcal and tequila, Agave, a Mexican restaurant in Uptown Oakland is the place for you. Their selection is very impressive just about every type of tequila you can imagine. I ended up getting the “Smoky Paloma”. As for the food, for starters I had the sopes with guacamole. And for my main I went with the carnitas, both were really good. The drinks had me in the zone so I finished my night at the bar in the hotel. To be honest I started and it finished every night at that bar. But that’s a story for another day.
“You know you’re in the right place when you’re on line at a restaurant with nothing but elderly people…They’re looking for what tastes like home, wherever that may be.”
Next stop Chinatown! One thing I love about Chinatown in SF is the authentic old school aesthetics. New York’s Chinatown has been taken over by big money developers so all the mom and pop shops that made it what it is have slowly vanished. But not in SF (at least not yet) These tiny joints, without all the fancy signage and other fanfare always have the best food. You know you’re in the right place when you’re on line with nothing but elderly people from whatever ethnicity of the food you’re buying. They’re not into the yuppy trendy spots. They’re looking for what tastes like home, wherever that may be. After about an hour of looking into restaurant windows and brushing up on my street photography skills. I had my eye set on two dim sum spots. Delicious Dim Sum and Good Mong Kok Bakery. They both had all the qualities I was looking for. Minimal decor, cheap prices and old folks. A wide variety of dim sum options with each having their own unique spin on the classics. From delicious dim sum I got pork and beef shumai, spring rolls and shrimp dumplings. From Good Mong Kok Bakery I ordered fried pork dumplings, sesame balls, shrimp and cilantro and Shanghai dumplings. I know that a lot of food but I was only in town for five days and I had a lot of ground to cover. Plus all that food only cost around 22 bucks. Insane! Seating was very limited at both places (another good sign) so I decided to take my lunch to the pier at the San Francisco ferry building. It’s about a 15 minute walk (probably a $8 Uber ride) and it was a beautiful day, so why not. I sampled each piece of dim sum. My favorites being the pork shumai and Shanghai dumplings. I had a lot of food leftover as you can imagine so I took it back to my hotel room and ate little bites throughout the day until dinner.
After all the dumplings I ate earlier I wasn’t very hungry when dinner time rolled around. So I just went for a quick bite at Belly Uptown. An Asian-Mexican fusion spot that loads burritos and tacos with Korean flavors. I ordered the surf and turf burrito. A flour tortilla filled with Korean style marinated steak, tempura shrimp, fries, corn salsa, cheddar cheese and chipotle aioli. I doubled up on the carbs and got some tater tots with shichimi aioli and furikake. The burrito was pretty big and very tasty. I was only able to eat half of it. The tots were great too. Belly needs to consider bottling that shichimi aioli. They would make a killing at Trader Joes.
I was really excited about my next destination. A go-to spot for Mr. Bourdain and at the top of every Bay Area restaurant list the Swan Oyster Depot was sure to be a hit. Located in the Polk Gulch section of town. I arrived around 10AM because I heard the line can get pretty ridiculous with wait times as long as 2 hours. But lucky me there was no line at all. Hooray! I grabbed a seat at the bar where I was greeted by one of the owners who told me to take my time and brought me a basket of sourdough bread and butter. Following the Bourdain blueprint my plans were to order the Dungeness crab backs and half crab leg platter. But before I could utter the words the owner informed me that they didn’t have crab and wouldn’t for a few weeks due to a shortage from their “crab guys”. Aww not so lucky after all. My second order item was the mixed dozen oysters. I got Miyagi’s, Kumamoto’s and Olympia’s. All west coast cultivated. A real treat for a native NYer. They were all amazing! Literally like taking a bite out of the sea. They’re served with horseradish, mignonette sauce, hot chili sauce, and cocktail sauce. I ended up getting the shrimp salad as my substitute for the missing crab and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. Medium and jumbo shrimp on a bed of iceberg lettuce served with their famous “Louie Sauce” on the side. A definite winner. Overall my first visit to Swan Oyster Depot was great. Aside from not getting my “crab back” fix the food and service was top notch. I made some great convo with the other guests all of whom seemed to be there off the word of Tony.
Mid afternoon the “itis” I got from my seafood breakfast started to wear off. So I took an Uber to Deli Board in the Soma section of SF. Deli Board has been popping up on my Instagram feed for years now and I figured I’d finally get to try it out and not just stare at my screen tormented at the fact I wasn’t able to eat any. A quick yet thorough search led me to a sandwich by the name of “ The Bradley”. “The Bradley” is a hero sandwich that contains corned beef, Romanian pastrami, brisket, cheddar cheese, jalapeños, and board sauce. Look at this point I wasn’t sure if I was really at picking places to eat or if all the food in SF was just excellent. Needless to say we had another winner. Part of the appeal of a Deli Board sandwich is that they’re stacked. Yet I still finished the entire thing and half the pickle. This is the type of establishment that would know me by my first name if I lived anywhere near it. But unfortunately I don’t. On second thought maybe that’s a good thing I don’t know.
I’m saving this next eatery for a solo post. I connected with the owner of Al Pastor Papi food truck before I got to SF so I could come by and film him and his staff serving up what’s been called the best burritos in SF. So stay tuned for that post. But I will say they ain’t lying about how good the food is. Everything I ate was insanely good.
Before I left to SF I told myself I wasn’t going to step foot in this next spot, a burger joint, at all. Not ‘cause it isn’t good but just because I’ve been there a million times in different cities. And if I wanted a burger I should just find one of the many awesome local joints SF as to offer. But after a late night gin laced episode at a great pub I stumbled upon, it happened. Now in my defense it was 2 AM, all the local burger joints were closed and I needed food fast. So I did. I went to In-N-Out Burger. And you know what I don’t feel guilty about it one bit. The mix of customer looking for an after hours snack was so diverse it was almost comical. There was a long bearded Harley biker, a pregnant lady, a bunch of kids that just let their prom, a drunk couple and me with my red solo cup I walked out the bar with. (Ok I snuck it out so what!) I got my usual, a Double Double with animal fries. To be honest I could’ve gone for a triple but I probably would have fell asleep at the table. All in all a great end to a great night.
I woke up from my late activities pretty hungover but still hungry. After debating whether I should go out to find some breakfast or order room service I went with the next best thing Ubereats. It was still pretty early so there weren’t many places to choose from but I did see one restaurant I had on my list so I said what the hell I’ll give delivery a try. Lois the Pie Queen. A southern-style diner in the East Bay. From what I’ve read it’s been around since the 70’s and over the years has become a fixture of the community. I ordered the sausage and scrambled eggs breakfast that came with biscuits and grits. Lois is known for their fried chicken and waffles notably the pecan waffle which seems to be everyone’s favorite. I wasn’t in the mood for waffles so I ordered a thigh on the side and a salmon croquette. Everything was good although the chicken needed a bit more zing to it but I was happy with my choices.
I spent the rest of day getting all my cliche SF photos for my upcoming blog posts. Like this one haha. With all the walking I did, I worked up a huge appetite. Still on a mission for Dungeness crab I decided to head back to Chinatown to a very popular restaurant named R&G Lounge. I loved this place. The food was spectacular and the service was just as good. Their featured dish is the salt and pepper crab. And their “crab guys” were fully stocked. The crab is cleaned, then the legs are cut into individual pieces dipped in a batter and deep fried and served with fried garlic and green onions. A few other stand out dishes was the char siu, fried oysters, and roast duck. It wasn’t until I got back to NYC that I realized Bourdain went to R&G Lounge on an episode of “No Reservations’ ‘. Also I was there on the anniversary of his death (June 8th). Creepy I know. With a full belly I headed back to the Hotel bar to watch the Golden State Warriors get walloped by The Boston Celtics (game 3). I’m just saying Draymond really needed to step his game… Well all we know how that story ends no need to dredge up the past(Go Warriors!).
My last day in town. At this point I felt like I did a good job checking off my food list. Going into this I knew there was no way I could possibly go to every spot. So I was content with saving the rest for the next trip. But my flight wasn’t until 9pm so I still had a whole day ahead of me. I’m the type of person that never goes to the bathroom on a flight unless I’m heading somewhere far like Africa or China. To be honest I can’t remember the last time I was in an airplane bathroom. The only way to do this is to make go before the flight but more importantly not to eat or drink too much the day of. So I was only going to eat one meal the whole day before heading back home. I wanted to check out the Cookies Oakland dispensary to see if they had anything different from the one in Ashbury (they did). But more importantly it was walking distance from Kingston 11. A highly rated Jamaican restaurant in Downtown Oakland. It was early in the day so it wasn’t too crowded, just a few people at the bar and in the outside seating area. It’s a big place so there was a lot of room to stretch out. I already knew what I was getting because most Jamaican restaurants have a similar menu. I started with the salted codfish fritters and for my main I tried the oxtail and curry goat. I didn’t want to eat too much rice so I loaded up on the meat. I really enjoyed the cod fritters. They used potato in the mixture which is different from the traditional style but it was great. Both the oxtails and goat were cooked to perfection. The portions aren’t that big so I made the right call sampling both. I finished off with a dark and stormy cocktail. Made with rum, ginger beer and lime juice. Excellent!
I must say I really enjoyed this trip to The Bay. The food, the vibe and the people were better than I could’ve imagined. I could tell the pandemic really put a hurting on a lot of businesses. But like New York, San Francisco is one of those places that finds a way to bounce back. It’s a resilient town filled with awesome people. I’ll be back very soon. I still have a lot of restaurants to check off my list. And a few more to add on.