Freshly shucked oysters at Waterbar near the Bay Bridge. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
By Michelle Locke
San Francisco is a city with serious food game, whether playing as multi-starred cuisine served in a white tablecloth hush or a simple crab cocktail eaten amid the boisterous clamor of Fisherman’s Wharf.
And with the Super Bowl heading to nearby Santa Clara, the hungry hordes hankering for a taste of the local food scene won’t be disappointed.
If you’re lucky enough to be among them – whether you’re looking to dine on one of the city’s iconic standbys or venture into cutting-edge cuisine – here’s a guide to 10 foods and drinks San Francisco is famous for and where to find them.
Take a tour of local beer history at Anchor Brewing Co. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Anchor Brewing and San Francisco have a history that goes all the way back to 1849, when German brewer Gottlieb Brekle arrived with his family. The brewery weathered earthquakes, fires, and Prohibition just fine, but almost went under entirely when mid-century Americans developed a taste for mass-produced beer. In 1965, Fritz Maytag saved the place from bankruptcy, bringing back Anchor Steam Beer and writing a new chapter in suds history. You can get a first-person look at the brewery via tours available most days except holidays. The tours cost $15 per person, take about 90 minutes, and conclude with a tasting. Reservations are required. Another option is the 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant (563 2nd St.), which has a selection of house beers served with traditional pub grub.
This is the fish stew created in San Francisco by Italian fishermen in North Beach in the late 1800s. They’d toss into a pot whatever seafood was left from the day’s catch — crab, shrimp, clams, fish, etc. — along with onions, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, wine and herbs. Italian restaurants started serving the dish and soon it was part of the region’s culinary lexicon. A solid bet in North Beach is Sotto Mare (552 Green St.). Tadich Grill (240 California St.) also is a good choice.
Many a San Francisco visitor has stopped for an Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Cafe. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
This is a fully caffeinated city with coffee shops on just about every block. For something out of the ordinary, try Ritual, a pioneer in the craft caffeine movement. The flagship location is 1026 Valencia St. in the Mission District. Blue Bottle, which began across the bay in Oakland, has a spot in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. And for coffee with that little extra kick, try the famous Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe in Fisherman’s Wharf (2765 Hyde St.)
You can pick up a traditional crab cocktail at one of the many vendors lining Fisherman’s Wharf. For a different take, try it roasted and served with garlic noodles at Thanh Long (4101 Judah St.). Like your crab crispy? Get it shelled, battered and deep-fried at the R&G Lounge in Chinatown (631 Kearny St.).
Oysters on the half shell are a longstanding San Francisco tradition. For an elegant take with a great view of the Bay Bridge try Waterbar (399 The Embarcadero). Starting Jan. 30, dinner will be accompanied by a free light show with the return of the Bay Lights, a display that flashes nightly on the west span of the bridge. Also on the waterfront is Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry Building.
Some San Francisco sourdough bread at Fisherman’s Wharf. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
The region’s tradition of sourdough — bread leavened with a wild yeast starter or “mother” dough — dates back to the Gold Rush. Boudin Bakery, established in 1849 — according to bakery history the original “mother dough” was saved in a bucket during the 1906 earthquake — has a veritable shrine to sourdough at its Fisherman’s Wharf location (160 Jefferson St). It includes a museum and demonstration bakery. Another good place to try this crusty creation is Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St.).
Whether you’re parched from purchasing Pradas and other goodies from the boutiques of Union Square or simply resting up from an afternoon of window shopping, The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus is a fun spot to enjoy the elegant refreshment of afternoon tea. Set under a stained glass dome with views of Union Square, the restaurant serves teas, starting at $45, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 2:30 to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday (150 Stockton St., Level Four). Or try the Samovar Tea Lounge at Yerba Buena Gardens (730 Howard St.). English tea service starts at $24.
If you like Tiki bars, a stop at the Fairmont Hotel’s Tonga Room is mandatory. Set around what used to be the hotel’s indoor swimming pool, the bar features rain shows, live music, and more kitsch than you can throw a tiny paper umbrella at (950 Mason St.). Another option is Smuggler’s Cove, which has more than 400 rums (650 Gough St.).
Eatsa offers some high-tech vegetarian food. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Into veggies with a vista? Greens Restaurant is not just a vegetarian restaurant, it’s a high-end spot that has been nominated for best overall restaurant in America in the James Beard Awards and is set in historic Fort Mason Center with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands (2 Marina Blvd., Fort Mason Center Building A). You also can find bountiful produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Markets held Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays. For a futuristic take on food, try Eatsa (121 Spear St.). There are no waiters or cashiers here. You place your order on wall-mounted tablets, then wait for one of the illuminated cubbies lining one wall to display your name in lights, indicating your order’s ready. Eatsa specializes in quinoa-vegetable bowls in myriad combinations. All are vegetarian and some are vegan.
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