Thursday, 5 May 2011

I left my heart (and stomach) in San Francisco

I spent a fabulous although very broke summer in San Francisco in the late nineties and at the time the fanciest eating out I did was at local Mission district Mexican burrito places where the most English they could speak was to warn this gringo that the salsa I was pointing at was not for me. Everyone I knew lived in the Mission District or Tenderloin, the most run down parts of the city that had and still have some of the best food.

Although I have been back a few times for work, it took me a long time to get back for a proper holiday which I did recently for a long weekend. San Francisco is a good trek from Dublin, but has enough to see and do to keep you happily busy for a weekend. This is before you even start to look at the loads of fantastic eateries in the city. 

San Francisco has a heap of high end restaurants, but for me, I always think of it as my favourite city in America for good Mexican, Chinese and Italian. The best bit is that all of this can be had at very reasonable prices. If you are planning a trip this list might help you with some ideas, but Ive tested out some of these and others here to give you a hand too.

worth a visit when in sf

My first stop once off the plane was to check in to the lovely, central and fairly reasonable Hotel Vertigo (of Hitchcock fame). Then we got on the road to the House of Nan King. The first time I visited this place was about 6 years ago when fresh off a long haul plane which had robbed me of my sense of smell, taste and ability to concentrate long enough to read a menu. One of the older waitresses took pity on our table and asked whether there was anything we didnt eat and then told us she would bring us plate after plate of food to share until we told her to stop.

the best calamari ever

This place almost permanently has a queue outside the door, but is worth the wait for their delicious and very much no frills food (3 of us with beers and 4 or 5 mains came to $60). The calamari were melt in the mouth tender with a beautiful spicy lime sauce, the sesame chicken with sweet potatoes was also to die for. Im sure there are other places in Chinatown that are good, if not better, but this is the place I go on my first night every time - its exactly the kind of mothering you need after flying long haul.


The following morning after a bit of a walk and a cable car ride (it had to be done), we went to the outdoor market at the Ferry Building (open Thursdays and Saturdays) for lunch. I had, without knowing what they were, promised my lovely American friend that I would go to the Primavera stand and eat some Chilaquiles. We need a place that does these in Dublin, they would bring those with near death hangovers back from the brink, they could certainly get the country moving again. I hope the picture does them justice - perfectly scrambled eggs, the softest refried beans, salsa, sour cream and softened tortillas.

not from burger king

There was also some chicken burger eating and some browsing through the lovely shops in the market building. There is a particularly good kitchen ware shop here along with a shop that specialises in Tasty Salted Pig Parts and a very fantastic coffee shop called Blue Bottle Coffee. An hour or two later and any shred of jetlag you had will be long gone. If you are visiting San Francisco, this is the only pier area you should visit - avoid Pier 39 at all costs!

a gazillion fantastic flavours

Over the next few nights my dinners were all Italian, first pizza and cocktails at the lovely Beretta and then the following night the most amazing fresh Italian pasta at Delfina. The pork sugo with pappardelle pasta was so good that it was one of the first things that I endeavoured to copy for a dinner party when I got back home. If you cant make the trip to San Francisco, I would certainly recommend giving this recipe a try. Delfina, Beretta and the best ice-cream in San Francisco all sit within a few blocks of each other in the Mission district (which coincidentally is also the best place to get yourself a burrito should there be a queue at any of the above).

bi-rite creamery icecream

Bi-rite creamery, which is a name that sounds far too much like they do discount ice cream which consists more of ice than anything dairy, will have a queue right out the door. Sometimes this queue will curl back on itself a few times, but it is very much worth the wait for their handmade organic icecream. The flavours, as you will see above, will give you plenty to think about while you wait.

pecan banana bread french toast

On our final day in San Francisco we had decided to cylce across the Golden Gate bridge and as such we needed a good hearty breakfast. Not all that far from the hotel we found what Yelp told us was one of the best places for breakfast in San Francisco. Dotties True Blue Cafe, is so popular that it has a sign outside the door to remind you to be polite and not ask the waiters to get customers that have finished eating to leave, that you will be awarded the same respect when you are finished. Even on a grey Monday morning in February this place had a good 30 minute a queue outside. This is no surprise when you finally get a peak of whats in store inside. They have a massive menu of breakfast foods, all prepared in front of you as you wait along with breads made onsite. I had an amazing French toast made with a type of pecan corn bread which was definitely the best French toast I have ever eaten. I wanted to grab something from every other plate nearby. On looking it up to see if they have a website I found the following video which will definitely have me going back there. Do not cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz or climb any of those hills without first coming here!

Ill be heading back to California this weekend with the fabulous Peggy for some dining experiences on the other side of the scale. More to come shortly.


  1. That French Toast looks amazing. I'm definitely going to have to try it out based on that video of Dotties True Blue Cafe. And the Pork sugo with pappardelle pasta from Delfina looks incredible. Now, if I could only get to San Francisco too it would be a hat trick!

  2. I've never been to San Francisco but it's number 1 on my wish list of places I want to visit. My dream holiday would be 2 weeks in California, split between San Fran and the Napa Valley. Until then, I enjoyed living vicariously through your post! Sounds like you found some really fab food.

  3. Thanks Kristin - Im going again tomorrow for work, but am flying early enough that I have planned dinner in Chez Panisse tomorrow night and a very quick trip to Napa Valley on Sunday. Hoping I can get all the photos up for some time next week!

    Martin remind me of the pork sugo next time I invite you for dinner - its divine!

  4. Was there recently for a month and had a ball - next time maybe try Weird Fish in Mission - for the fun of not knowing what you're ordering and Brenda French Soul Food - wonderful fried chicken and other Southern foods

  5. This is making me so nostalgic for San Fran. I'd add Humphry Slocombe's to that ice cream list (also in the Mission) and Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin / Civic Centre are for the best banh mi - something we also need to bring to Dublin! Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley also worth checking out.

  6. Feeling a bit jealous!!!

    Delighted you had such a good time.

    Brownieville Girl

  7. Deirdre you have put a goo on me to go back to San Fran

  8. Nice, I am now absolutely starving and its less than an hour since I had dinner !


be nice and leave a message