Take a food-focused tour of one of the West Coast's most celebrated cities.
San Francisco local Kimberley Hasselbrink, the multi-talented photographer, cookbook author and recipe developer behind The Year in Food, takes us on a tour of her favorite San Francisco stops. Stay tuned after the guide for three of our favorite recipes from Kimberley’s new book Vibrant Food (Ten Speed Press, 2014).
San Francisco is, by most accounts, a pretty phenomenal city. Nearly every neighborhood here is its own complete hamlet, a mini-town existing within the larger borders. And, despite the hills, it’s an incredibly walkable city: you can find nearly everything you need in a one-mile radius from most places. I have grown to love the frequent fog and wind as an essential element that contributes to the unique character of this city.
The Bay Area is known as a great food destination, and rightfully so: we have access to some of the best produce on the planet, a mild climate year-round that makes fresh produce so readily available and abundant, and a population of folks who care about where their food comes from and how to make it taste unbelievably good. In this San Francisco City Guide, I will take you on a tour of my favorite food-centric haunts.
PoMi (Potrero Mission Border)
This is my neighborhood. It’s not officially called PoMi, but it’s a fitting descriptor for this little pocket that straddles the borders of the Mission and Potrero Hill.
Stable Cafe is my other favorite neighborhood place for coffee, though I typically go there more for hangin’ with friends—they have a gorgeous enclosed patio with dappled sunlight and a tiny nursery tucked in back that sells intriguing succulents and exotic plants. It’s a great spot for passing the hours with a book or in good conversation.
Slow Club is my neighborhood place. It’s less than two blocks from my house, making it an easy visit for many a weekend brunch and weekday dinner. I always sit at the bar if I can, or outside on a warm day. Order the sweet potato-studded Turkey Hash with two perfectly poached eggs, or their amazing take on huevos rancheros, the Ranchero, for a deeply satisfying brunch. I used to eat the Flatbread at least once a week before giving up wheat two years ago. By all accounts, it remains reliably a great dinner choice with a glass of crisp rosé. Their Caesar Salad is my favorite.
As a freelancer, Coffee Bar is where I go when I want to feel like I’m really participating in the nine-to-five work week. It’s a buzzing, busy, laptop-filled spot, and all of your bases are covered on the food (and drink) front. They have great breakfasts—I often go for the simple oatmeal—and their salads are big, flavorful affairs, hearty and awesome. You can get fresh-pressed juices if you need a pause from coffee, and a glass of wine or beer in the evening after a productive day on the laptop.
This neighborhood, cozied up against the eastern edge of San Francisco along the bay waterfront, has long been regarded as a little gritty, but with the wild tech boom in full swing, it’s seen a lot of revitalization. There’s a slew of amazing places to eat and drink here, some long established while others are new and popping up almost monthly.
Piccino is everything you want in a dining experience: gorgeous, Italian-inspired dishes with the best of California’s produce, and a stellar wine menu. It’s bright and open and airy and I can’t think of a bad spot to sit—whether tucked in near one of the many windows, at the bar, or outside.
Serpentine, sister restaurant to Slow Club, is another favorite. There’s a familiarity between the two menus, but they’re executed entirely differently. Feast on a few briny Miyagi Oysters with one of their bright, refreshing house cocktails, then go to town on their ridiculously good Chickpea-Battered Calamari. I’ve never had an entree I didn’t love here.
Technically more Potrero Hill than Dogpatch, Plow might be the ultimate brunch destination in San Francisco. It’s worth the 30-minute weekday wait for their crispy potatoes alone. They offer gluten-free almond flour pancakes, which is a rare treat at a restaurant, and even a chia seed pudding for the virtuous. But it’s their huge, pitch-perfect, classic brunch plates that they’re so beloved for.
The Outer Sunset is a chilly, foggy little enclave that doesn’t feel very much like a city. With houses awash in shades of pastel that are offset by the grey sky and ever-present scent of the ocean on the air, it’s cozy and quaint and a welcome pause from San Francisco’s dense center. Head out there if you like windswept, blustery beaches (I do), and a bowl of hot soup to appreciate when you’ve had your fill of brisk ocean, wet sand and frozen fingers. There’s one block out here that’s got three great establishments all worth a visit.
Outerlands is a stellar spot, filled with cozy, washed out wood, reminiscent of the idyllic, beachy vibes of Big Sur, and it has recently re-opened, with an expanded dining area and revamped menu. Come for their impressively tall sandwiches on house-made bread, a warm bowl of soup, or their inspired vegetable sides. Pop into the General Store while you wait for a table.
Trouble Coffee is famed for their generous slices of cinnamon toast, fresh young coconuts, and owner Giulietta Carrelli, who has an incredible story. It’s noted as the spot that started the toast trend in San Francisco. Also worth trying is the Lavender Earl Grey tea.
Western Addition/Nopa/Alamo Square
My two favorite places for Mexican food are here, in this amorphous pocket that used to be called Western Addition but is now shifting into a cluster of smaller pocket neighborhoods with fancier names: Nopa (North of the Panhandle) and Alamo Square. Well, one of the restaurants is New Mexican, not Mexican, but it satisfies the same cravings for corn tortillas, slow-roasted meats, and vibrant, piquant salsas. It’s the Mission District that has a proliferation of inexpensive tacos and burritos on nearly every corner but these are the spots I always recommend for my favorite tacos.
The Mill has received a lot of attention over the past year for its $4 toast. Don’t listen to the haters. They have a number of great baked goods of all stripes available, as well as a fine cup of coffee. It’s the ambience, though, that I love best. Sitting at the long communal table, you might strike up a conversation with the person next to you, or overhear an altogether too private conversation, or run into a friend and have an impromptu catch up. I love public spaces where we’re encouraged to engage with those around us; it feels like community and I love that.
Green Chile Kitchen
This quintessential neighborhood spot has some seriously great, unfussy, fresh and delicious food. Anyone jonesing for a dose of New Mexico’s famous Hatch chiles will find it in spades here. Everything’s great: their tacos, salads, tamales, stews, stuffed poblanos all hit the spot.
Nopalito is the younger sister to this neighborhood’s most well-known restaurant, Nopa. Go there, and be prepared for a line; it’s worth it. Or come here, and be prepared for a slightly shorter line, and enjoy some inspired, creative Mexican food. Their Totopos, Caldo Tlalpeño (a comforting soup of chicken and vegetables), and Carnitas are among my favorite. Their cocktails are excellent.
The Mission District
The proliferation of restaurants in the Mission boggles the mind. The good thing about this phenomenon, though, is that it keeps chefs and restaurateurs on their toes, and we, as diners, are on the receiving end of all that care and innovation and creativity.
This venerable, tiny grocer with a phenomenal deli is a San Francisco institution. If you’re in the neighborhood on a warm day, duck in on your way to Dolores Park. (Note: Dolores Park is under construction for the foreseeable future, so hoof it up to the top corner of the park. Stunning views abound.) Everything you need for a perfect picnic is here: exceptional cheeses of all kinds, the best local fruit, and reliably delicious food coming out of the deli. Grab a pre-made salad to-go from the back cold case; spin around and find yourself a frosty beverage, and you’ve got a perfect afternoon in the making.
Bar Tartine is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. The menu is consistently creative and innovative without feeling too out there to be inaccessible. The Smoked Potatoes with Black Garlic, for instance, are unlike any other potato dish you’ve ever had, yet intriguingly familiar because of the potato’s ubiquity in food. That’s sort of how the entire menu hits; striking combinations of flavors and ingredients that would have never occurred to you but feel so right (and so damn good) once you tuck into them. It’s a delight to discuss the wines with their sommelier. Be sure to ask!
Heirloom Cafe is my other favorite San Francisco spot. It’s got a gorgeous interior with tall ceilings and a casually classy vibe. The food is consistently excellent; the menu showcases our best local produce and meat, and the wine selection is well-curated and consistently good drinking. Everyone is so dang nice here, and that goes a long way.
Want more from Kimberley? Be sure to pick up Vibrant Food—an absolutely stunning ode to colorful, seasonal ingredients. Below, we have featured three recipes we adore: A colorful Pimm’s Cup, fragrant Summer Squash Pasta with Green Goddess Dressing and a simple Cherry Buttermilk Clafoutis.
A classic Pimm's Cup elevated by summer fruits and herbs.
Trade traditional pasta noodles for squash noodles in this pretty ode to summer.
Sweet-tart cherries lend some summer flavor to this beautiful and straightforward clafoutis.