I LOVED San Francisco.
It’s one of my favourite trips I’ve ever done, and a huge part of that has to do with the food. You know me, I love food! And San Francisco is one of the top foodie cities in the USA.
With the Pacific Ocean on one side, and extensive farmlands a few hours drive inland (not to mention the Napa Valley vineyards to the north!), the city is known for it’s incredibly fresh produce and culturally diverse menus.
There are restaurants, cafes and food stalls on every other corner, serving everything from Chinese noodles to Mexican tacos, and from classic American diner food to fresh salads and seafood dishes.
Now, with so much choice available, it can be tricky to know where to eat in San Francisco. Obviously, I’m no expert. I was only there for three weeks, not three years. So this list only features places we tried for ourselves.
Some I found on lists and reviews online, some we discovered by chance, and several were suggested by local San Franciscans while we were there.
We did stay in an apartment with a kitchen, so I had breakfast there most days, and we also cooked dinner at home several nights a week to save money.
But I managed to tick off quite a few of the must-eat spots on my list – and today I’m (finally) sharing them with you!
TRAVEL TIP: Feeling overwhelmed by the food choices in the city? Ask your Uber driver, hotel receptionist or a friendly stranger on the street for their favourite restaurant. Everyone in SF has #strongopinions about their food, so you’re sure to find somewhere really really good! ??
BREAKFAST AND BRUNCH
It’s Top’s Coffee Shop
On my first weekend in San Francisco, I wanted breakfast in a classic American diner. I wanted pancakes, waffles, juke-boxes and neon lights. And boy did we find them!
It’s Top’s Coffee Shop is one of the oldest diners in town, and it still looks like it did in the 1950s. Long counter, tall stools, booths with the original leather seats (patched with tape!) and classic juke boxes on the table.
The interiors are fab, and the food is EXCELLENT. We had their award-winning pancakes with bacon the first day, then went back for waffles and fried chicken, and then again for burgers, fries and milkshakes. Everything was fresh, hot and delicious, and I’d go back to SF again just for this place to be honest.
Lower Pacific Heights
I stopped by Sweet Maple one morning, on my way to explore Fillmore Street. It was pretty busy even on a weekday mid-morning, but as I was alone I was seated easily at the long counter.
The menu is huge, but the guy next to me was working his way through a giant plate of golden French toast, so I just ordered that.
But I couldn’t resist also going for a side of their famous (and trademarked!) Millionaire’s Bacon: an extra-thick cut of bacon, slow-cooked for hours with brown sugar and spicy peppers until it’s chewy and crunchy and tastes absolutely incredible.
It’s a bit pricier than most places I ate in SF, and the service was friendly but rushed – however the food was really good, and if you’re a bacon lover, you really do have to try it!
The breakfast pizza was mentioned in every review I could find online, so I had to order that – and it’s so simple but SO GOOD. Fontina cheese, ham and an egg. That’s it. It was a little greasy from the type of cheese, but honestly it was so yummy, and perfect with a hot strong coffee.
It’s a favourite haunt for locals, and they also have lovely outdoor seating available, which would be lovely in summer!
We walked there on a Sunday afternoon, en route to Land’s End, and for a quiet part of town, this place was BUSY. Like, we had to sit on the window ledge busy. It’s very popular with the laptop brigade, so if you want a seat, make sure to get there early.
The coffee is actually really good, and you can order all sorts of novelty drinks like colourful rainbow lattes, Nutella lattes, lavender lattes…
We also ordered a portion of the avocado toast, and an almond butter and berry toast, which were surprisingly awesome. I’m usually more of a savoury girl, but that almond butter toast really blew me away!
Mission Beach Cafe
One of Gary’s friends had suggested Mission Beach Cafe for brunch, but everywhere we looked online it said the place was always packed. The only way to get a table was to arrive at least twenty minutes BEFORE opening time, and put our names down on the waiting list.
It was definitely worth the early morning wake up call though!
We ordered a ton of food, including a combo breakfast for Gary, a dropped (poached) eggs and beans in tomato sauce for me, and then pancakes and a side of biscuits and gravy for us both to share.
Highlights for me were the pancakes and the biscuits. American “biscuits and gravy” is actually far less gross than it sounds to us Brits: they’re like savoury scones, with a creamy sausage gravy on top. Very tasty.
COFFEE AND PASTRIES
The Mill was my first stop in San Francisco. It’s just round the corner from Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies, which makes it the perfect pre-sightseeing breakfast stop.
Inside, it’s bright and airy, with tall ceilings, friendly baristas, and a selection of seating options available. The coffee was one of the best I had in SF, and their avocado on home-made toast was great too.
They also offer a pizza night in the evening, if you’re looking for somewhere cool to hang out!
Jane on Fillmore
Lower Pacific Heights
I popped in to Jane on Fillmore to grab a coffee halfway through my shopping trip, and was surprised at how busy it was for a midweek lunchtime.
The interiors are gorgeous, and they had a good-looking brunch menu, but it’s pretty expensive (even for SF!) so I just ordered a peppermint tea to go, and went on my merry way.
Lower Pacific Heights
After Jane, my next coffee stop was down the road, at b.patisserie. I ordered a latte and one of their famous kouign amman pastries (pronounced: queen aman), which was buttery and crispy and utterly perfect.
It’s one of the best pastries I’ve EVER had actually!
Fisherman’s Wharf (and various other locations)
San Francisco is famous for its sourdough bread, and a lot of that is down to Boudin Bakery, and their 150 year old sourdough starter.
The main bakery is down on Fisherman’s Wharf, but you can find smaller shop branches all over the city. Their canned chowder is forgettable, but their bread is truly excellent!
We particularly enjoyed the chocolate sourdough (omg I could have eaten seven loaves of this stuff!), but they also do fun seasonal breads shaped as everything from turtles, to four-leaf clovers, teddy bears, and octopuses (octopi?).
Cool Tea Bar
If you’re a fan of Asian bubble tea, then definitely head down to the Cool Tea Bar in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
I don’t usually like it, but our Chinatown tour guide encouraged me to give it a go and I actually really enjoyed my roasted milk tea!
North Beach/Little Italy
There are a bazillion types of chocolates, caramels and fudges on offer at Z Cioccolato, but make sure that, whatever else you try, you buy their signature seven layer fudge!
They have flavours for every kind of sweet lover, so let the friendly staff know what you’re into, and they’ll unearth the right slab of sweet, salty, bitter, soft or hard fudge for you.
The Baked Bear
Fisherman’s Wharf – North Beach/Little Italy
The Baked Bear is king of ice cream sandwiches.
Choose your home-made cookie flavour, choose your ice cream, choose your “toppings” – and stuff your face with the one of the most delicious sweet mashups you’ve ever tasted.
My favourite was the the Blue Bear flavour: blue cake-batter-flavoured ice cream, stuffed between two warm chocolate chip cookies. It’s like the Cookie Monster on a sugar high, and it’s DELICIOUS.
Salt & Straw
Hayes Valley – Lower Pacific Heights
This was the first ice cream I had in San Francisco, and has a special place in my heart for Salt and Straw‘s crazy flavours.
Gary stuck to a conventional two scoop of vanilla and strawberry (which were both great), but I went a little bit out there and tried one scoop of the cheese and bread, and one of the apricot and thyme.
The apricot was actually my favourite of the four, but the cheese and bread was actually shockingly good! It was a bit like a more-savoury cheesecake, with chunks of toasted bread mixed in.
Make sure you make the most of the free tasters – as you can test out some of the crazier flavours that way, and then stick to your safe chocolates and vanillas if you decide it’s not for you.
Hayes Valley – NoPa – Russian Hill – Cow Hill
Loving Cup specialises in blended frozen yoghurt: you pick your base flavour (plain or chocolate), pick your toppings, and then they mix it all up in an industrial size blender.
I’m not usually much of a chocolate girl, but I couldn’t resist trying the house special of Cookie Dough and Oreo blended into Chocolate Froyo. Very very delicious!
There are a couple of Bi-Rite Creamery outlets around San Francisco, but we got ours inside the Bi-Rite Market behind Alamo Square (near the Painted Ladies).
I got a scoop of black sesame, which I’d tried before in Japan and LOVED, while Gary went got the salted caramel. The combination of the two was minddddd-blowingly good, and the texture was really creamy. 10/10 would recommend!
Mission District – Embarcadero/Financial District
Food Network named Humphry Slocombe one of the top 5 ice creams in America, and I totally understand why. Their flavour combinations are fun and quirky and like nothing you’ve ever tried before.
Their trademark Secret Breakfast flavour ice cream is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It’s cornflake and bourbon flavoured, which sounds bizarre, but somehow totally works!
Lappert’s Ice Cream
Sausalito (over the Golden Gate Bridge)
Ride your bike (or take the ferry) across the Golden Gate Bridge, follow the road down to Sausalito, and join the “queue” for Lappert’s (I say “queue”, but it’s actually more of a brawl. Be prepared to get your elbows out!)
They have a huge selection of flavours, and it’s definitely worth paying extra for the waffle cone (over the cheap little plasticky cones). The Mayor’s Flavour was my fave: espresso ice cream with salted caramel ribbons and chocolate chunks.
Good Mong Kok Bakery
This amazing little shop is tucked away on one of the main streets in Chinatown. Good Mong Kok Bakery sell an array of freshly steamed dumplings, egg custard buns, and all sorts of delicious Chinese snacks.
It’s teeny tiny, and this is very much a take-away-in-a-little-plastic-bag kind of place, but OH BOY. They’re honestly the best dumplings I’ve ever had in my life.
I ordered a selection of their steamed pork and shrimp dumplings, as well as an egg custard bun, and I still dream about them. Hot, perfectly cooked, and stuffed to bursting with delicious savoury filling.
The service is super rushed and not particularly friendly, but when the dumplings are THIS good (not to mention cheap!) who even cares?
North Beach/Little Italy
I loved Molinari Delicatessen so much. Inside, the walls are lined with everything from Italian wines, to house-cured cold cuts, jars of pesto, plump tomatoes, and a selection of cheese that nearly brought a tear to my eye.
Their Italian sandwich menu is incredible, and my mozzarella, salami, sundried tomato and basil spread sandwich was the stuff of dreams. I have absolutely no shame in telling you that I also took one home for Gary, but he never got to try it cos I ate it before he got home. Sorry ’bout it.
Hayes Valley – NoPa – Mission District – The Marina
This cute little fast food place is fancier than the average, with a simple but delicious menu based on Greek suvlaki.
Souvla is small but perfectly formed, with cute interiors and a selection of tables and stools at the bar. You order your food at the counter, and it’s delivered straight to your seat. It’s very busy in the evenings and peak lunchtimes, so try to arrive very early or very late!
Choose between chicken, pork, lamb and sweet potato, then decide if you want it in a salad or in a home-baked wrap. I went for the roasted lamb wrap, with cucumber, feta cheese, pickled pink onions and harissa-spiced yoghurt dressing. The meat was tender and spicy, the dressing was creamy with a bit of a kick, and the garnishes added a lovely bit of freshness and crunch.
I also ordered the Greek fries which were perfectly golden and crispy, but a bit too salty for my taste. The frozen yogurt here is amazing too – my favourite were the baklava and honey toppings!
Gary’s friend suggested Wing Wings for a quick dinner before we went Out-Out, and I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about it, but never judge a book by it’s cover cos the food here is INSANELY good.
We ordered a portion of the chilli cheese fries to share (it’s a huuuuge tub, and so good), and a whole load of chicken wings. You can pick your sauce, so we went with half spicy Angry Korean sauce, and half classic Barbecue sauce.
The chicken was perfectly crispy on the outside and softly tender on the inside. Both sauces were finger-lickingly good, with the perfect amount of burn in the Angry Korean and sweet stickiness on the BBQ.
Best fried chicken I’ve ever had. For real. A big (sticky) thumbs up from me.
4505 Burgers and BBQ
If it’s meat you’re after, you can’t do any better than 4505 Burgers and BBQ on Divisadero Street. This meat-store turned barbecue joint serves a selection of different meat platters, alongside burgers, sandwiches and a whole load of different sides.
Our Cheeseburgers were juicy and perfectly cooked, topped with gruyere and special burger sauce (a bazillion times nicer than the horrid dry patties we had at In-N-Out) – but it was actually the Brisket Fries that stole the show.
Crispy golden fries, smothered in tender pulled beef, gooey melted cheese, garlic sauce, tangy pink onions and OH LORDY THEY WERE JUST SO GOOD.
Mission District – Marina – North Beach/Little Italy – Embarcadero/Financial District
About four different people recommended Tacolicious to me, so this was number one on my list of places to eat in San Francisco, and I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint.
We arrived at their Mission branch (they have several across the city) at around 7pm on a Friday night, and there was a bit of a queue, but we were able to put our name down on the list and they texted me to let us know when our table was free.
They have a sister tequila bar next door, Mosto, so we popped in there for margaritas and then just took our drinks over with us when we were called.
Tacos are the name of the game here, so we took advantage of their 4 for $20 deal and ordered eight. The best part is you can mix and match your toppings!
The baja fish taco was my fave, while Gary loved the pork carnitas. The fried avocado was also delicious, but I thought the beer chicken was quite dry. Great guacamole (one of the best I think I’ve ever had), friendly staff, fast service, and truly excellent margaritas. What more could you ask for?
I picked up a cold while I was in San Francisco, and when I’m sick, I always crave Japanese ramen. So I took myself off on a little solo date to Orenchi, in the Mission District.
The Orenchi Ramen pork broth was creamy, salty and full of umami flavour. The noodles were perfectly cooked, with plenty of bite. And I loved the toppings: pork belly, seaweed, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and my favourite soy-marinated egg.
It’s kinda pricey at around $13 for a bowl, but it’s worth it. They also have a load of different ramen bowls available, including a vegan option, and a selection of sharing dishes like takoyaki and karage chicken.
READ MORE: My recipe for Chilli Chicken Ramen
Gary and I popped in to A Mano one evening for a quick dinner, and were really impressed. The service was swift and friendly, and the pared-back Italian-style menu was delicious.
I had my favourite spaghetti amatriciana, with bacon and tomatoes, while Gary tried their seafood special. Both were really well seasoned, and the wine was really good too.
A perfect little date spot!
Look, if you’re here for authentic Chinese food, you’ve come to the wrong place. However, if you’re looking for great Americanised Chinese food (which we were), then WELCOME to Hunan Home’s!
We ordered a selection of dishes to share, and our favourites were the chilli wontons, the xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and Gary’s Kung Pao beef. My lemon chicken was suuuuper sweet and I don’t think a lemon came within 6 feet of it, so I’d avoid that one.
The staff were all Chinese and spoke little English, but everyone was friendly, the service was quick, and the interiors are warm and cosy (if a little dated).
The Stinking Rose
North Beach/Little Italy
The most touristy of all tourist spots, and every true San Franciscan will tell you to run a mile, but I’m not a true San Franciscan and I happen to think it’s really fun!
The Stinking Rose is San Francisco’s (in)famous Garlic Restaurant. And when I say “garlic”, I mean ALLLLL the garlic. Garlic wine, garlic bread, garlic pasta, garlic ice cream…
The wine was gross (our lovely waitress recommended trying a sip before ordering a whole glass, and I’m very glad I took her advice!), but the food was actually delicious. We started with a hot pan of roasted garlic cloves in oil, served with warm bread for dipping/mashing, and it was sublimely good. It’s a dish I keep meaning to recreate at home because we both really loved it.
I had the garlic pepperoni pizza for mains, which was satisfyingly greasy, but Gary’s garlic meatballs with spaghetti were the star of the show. I’ve actually heard (shockingly!) good things about the garlic ice cream as well, but by that point we were both too stuffed to try it.
We thought it was going to be kinda pricey, but actually, it was only slightly more expensive than most other places we tried. One to keep in mind if you fancy something a little different!
Blue Mermaid Restaurant
You can’t come to San Francisco and not eat chowder from a bread bowl. It’s like coming to London for the first time and not having fish and chips or afternoon tea.
There are restaurants offering chowder all the way along the main street on Fisherman’s Wharf, but the Blue Mermaid had the best reviews of any I could find online, so I went there. It’s fairly reasonably priced (especially considering you’re in Tourist Central here!), and has the bonus of sheltered outdoor seating if you want to make the most of the weather.
Clam chowder might be the more famous option, but I ordered the local crab and corn chowder and really enjoyed it. It was creamy and hearty, full of soft chunks of vegetables, and with lovely fresh crab meat sprinkled on top. The soup soaks into the bread, so you end up with this lovely crunchy crust and soft chowder-flavoured crumb in the middle. Delicious!
Hog Island Oyster Co
My last meal in San Francisco!
We sat on the terrace of the Hog Island Oyster Co outside the Ferry Building, and ordered a half portion of clam chowder each, some fries, and a selection of fresh and grilled oysters to share.
If you’ve never tried a grilled oyster before, I’d definitely recommend this place for your first time! The chipotle bourbon glaze is sweet and smoky and a little spicy, and even Gary (who hates oysters) loved these.
The clam chowder was great as well, and the view over the Bay is lovely. Definitely one for a bit of a special occasion, as it’s a little pricey – but it’s worth it.
Sausalito (over the Golden Gate bridge)
If you’re hiring a bike to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, go the extra mile (literally) and take a ride down to the little town of Sausalito. It’s a gorgeous little seaside town, very East-Coast-USA, and it was Gary’s fave part of our trip.
Follow the road along the seafront, and stop at Bar Bocce for pizza and pineapple cider on the beach. It gets VERY busy, especially on a weekend, so be prepared to queue, but it’s worth it.
I had the mushroom pizza, with fontina cheese and roasted garlic, and Gary tried the pork sausage with fennel and gorgonzola. We waited almost an hour for our food, but honestly it was such good pizza, and we had such a lovely time chilling on the beach, that we honestly didn’t care.
PS. We actually heard about this place from a couple we were sharing an Uber Pool with down to the harbour. We got chatting, asked them for food suggestions, and this was the first place they mentioned!
BONUS: BARS AND PUBS
Great Irish pub in the Financial District. Good beer, lovely wine choices, very busy with the after-work crowds, but has a great buzzy atmosphere.
Very cool hidden pub with outdoor alley seating. Inside it’s a proper old-school Irish pub, with wooden panelled everything, and very cool decor. It was empty when we arrived, but the outdoor seating area was packed an hour later (once it hit 5pm).
North Beach/Little Italy
Gorgeous little bar in the North Beach part of town. The decor is relaxed and achingly cool, and apparently it was a popular hangout for Jack Kerouac. Try the happy hour cocktails, then step next door and pay a visit to the awesome City Lights Bookstore next door.
Great craft ale pub in the hippie district of Ashbury Heights. Excellent pints, good wine, and really creative pub snacks. There’s a brewery on site, which you can peek at through the floor, and if you can grab a table by the windows, it’s a perfect people-watching spot.
(We managed to time our visit with an annual naked protest, which was an interesting experience!! ?)
Brewcade is fun fun fun. We went here after our Wing Wings dinner, and even though we’d planned on trying a few other places, we had so much fun that we just stayed here and played vintage arcade games all night instead. Try the flavoured wine slushies – my fave was the peach!