Two CHOW editors on a caloric extravaganza exploring innovation, novelty, and deliciousness. RSS
See Where We've Eaten!

What’s Innovative About San Francisco?

We arrived in LA yesterday afternoon, where we’ll embark on the next phase of CHOW Tour: Innovation. But before we get too caught up in it all, what was the takeaway from San Francisco? After playing tourist in our home city for a week, visiting and in some cases revisiting the city’s most groundbreaking food businesses, what were our overall impressions of what characterizes SF’s version of innovation?

  • Proto-Hippie Earth Love
  • It’s gone way beyond talking about what farm your food comes from. SF chefs are exhibiting hardcore signs of nature worship: cooking over an open fire, smoking with foraged hay, serving giant piles of flowers. Prediction: This time next year we’ll be drinking wine out of communal ram’s horns.

  • Foam Is Still In
  • Guess what? It’s still around, rebranded as emulsion.

  • San Francisco: Still Anti-Fashion
  • Like a beautiful woman who only wears ratty sweatshirts, San Francisco never wants to look like it’s trying too hard. Four Barrel Coffee with its salvaged interior; Mission Chinese Food, inside a divey Chinese restaurant; and Heart wine bar, where expensive wine is served in Mason jars. Prediction: Old newspapers will replace white tablecloths.

  • Eccentricity Is Rewarded
  • In the city that gave birth to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Burning Man, is it any wonder that some of the most popular new food businesses serve stuff like bacon-flavored doughnuts, bourbon and cornflake ice cream, and kimchee-topped French fries?

  • Pillows and blankies
  • The more expensive the restaurant, the more pillows and blankets they had for the diners.

  • Vegan Mexican Food
  • Some innovations just don’t work.

  • The Burrito as a Metaphor of the Self
  • Are you an El Farolito person? Or La Taqueria? Rice or no rice? Super veggie or super meaty? Or maybe you’re a Chinito? These questions are of more importance than they probably should be.

    Finally, if something’s west of Market Street or east of the Bay, it might as well not exist. San Franciscans are provincial. No matter how good something is, they’re unlikely to make the trek to the Richmond District or, God forbid, Oakland, to try it, unless they are hardcore Chowhounds.