I just got back from a great trip to San Francisco. I was the most interested in food that’s harder to get on the East Coast. On top of that list is the burrito, which is what transplanted Californians here seem to miss the most.
We stayed in the Mission District, which felt a bit like ground zero for a burrito odyssey, although we ended up only going to two places, because the second one was good enough that we weren’t interested in gambling elsewhere. The first place we went was El Matete on Bryant between 22nd and 23rd, where we got pozole and a carnitas burrito. The pozole was a bit meh, but the burrito was yummy. Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, on 24th between Bryant and York, was better. I actually wasn’t crazy about the eponymous tamales, but the burritos were delicious and they had a great piquant chipotle salsa.
The other cuisine we were excited about was Burmese, which isn’t easy to find in NYC. We first went to Mandalay, on California between 5th and 6th Avenues in the Richmond. The dishes we got were nice but not mind-blowing: a ginger salad, a tea salad, and a lamb dish (I don’t remember what). What was much better was Yamo Noodles, a proverbial hole-in-the-wall place on 18th Street just west of Mission. There’s barely any room to sit in there, and we had to get our food to go, but it was sublime, probably the best meal of our trip. We got the house noodles with pork, the tea salad, and a summer roll, which were all blissfully flavorful.
We can get donuts on the East Coast, of course, but I think that California tends to be more artisanally-donut oriented. Dynamo Donuts, on 24th Street between York and Hampshire, had unfailingly tasty donuts, including maple bacon, my favorite.
The other sweet thing we indulged a lot was ice cream, which San Francisco seems to pride itself on, although I thought that some of it was overrated. Humphrey Slocombe, at 24th and Harrison, seemed to be more interested in wacky flavors (bourbon and cornflakes) than deliciousness. Joe’s, on Geary in the Richmond, was nothing special. Bi-rite, however, on 18th Street just east of Mission Dolores Park, was great. Even the vanilla was special there. I’d also add that I got salt peanut cookies there, which were amazingly tasty, achieving an optimal blend of sweet and salty.
The last California-specific treat was a visit to the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building. Now, we do have good farmer’s markets in New York, but you just can’t get things like oranges and strawberries there. A graze through the farmer’s market is well worth it, although I was disappointed in a sausage sandwich at one of the stands there. Hog Island Oysters is also located at the Ferry Building, and it’s a treat if you like oysters.
We checked out PPQ, a Vietnamese restaurant on Clement Street in the Richmond District, for their crab dish bathed in garlic, which we loved on a prior trip to San Francisco, although for some reason it didn’t feel so special this time around. The same goes for the spring rolls in vermicelli there. I don't know if they've gone downhill or we were just there on an off-day.
For an upscale meal, we went to Commonwealth, on Mission just south of 18th Street, and ordering the tasting menu. I was pleasantly surprised at how flexible they were about a substitution I wanted to make with it, and the food was really tasty.
We also got a Sunday brunch at Star Belly in the Castro on 18th Street, which was fine for stuff like pancakes and bacon for when you that kind of thing. FWIW, I drank a lovely mimosa there, too.
I also got a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich from Luccia’s at 22nd and Valencia which wasn’t anything to write home about.
Finally, I got a very tasty meal at Gajalee, a Goan restaurant on Valencia between 16th and 17th Street. I’m not so savvy as to the distinction between Goan food and most the dishes one finds in Indian restaurants in the U.S., and just ordered lamb vindaloo and a shrimp thali, which were both spicy and non-greasy.
I probably didn’t go to places that most SF ‘hounds don’t already know of, but I’m hoping that this report can be helpful for out-of-towners looking for a good sample of SF chow.