Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Superstar located in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco is a show-stopping combination of peanuts, lentils, romaine, fried garlic, and fermented tea leaves.
Memphis is having a moment right now. There’s a real urban revitalization happening, and as a Memphian I couldn’t be prouder. So there’s a teeny tiny part of me that feels bad about this post, because it’s a confession of my love for another city. But I write about food, and San Francisco, my second favorite city, deserves some ink.
The City by the Bay is my home away from home. I lived there for three years, so my love for the city’s food (from every corner of the world), the mild weather (layers and a jacket will do year-round), and the gorgeous bay landscape (different views every square mile) is still intoxicating.
Of course, San Francisco comes with a hefty price tag whether you live there or just visit, which we did last week for a friend’s wedding. That being said, I wanted to share my favorite places to eat in the city. (Please note: This list is a work in progress. I’ve only included a handful of places I’ve been and loved, and they aren’t in any particular order.)
This past week we explored Clement Street in Inner Richmond where I heard the food was amazing. Good Luck Dim Sum is a food lovers’ paradise. Unassuming, authentic, hot, fresh and cheap (nothing over $2), it’s a local secret. Think steam billowing, overflowing dim sum. A cracked door to the back kitchen revealed a team of chefs kneading, rolling, and stuffing pork buns.
Down the street we almost passed by Burma Superstar, but a glance at the menu revealed impressive national recognition for its Tea Leaf Salad: peanuts, seeds, lentils, romaine, fried garlic and tomatoes artfully arranged and topped with fermented tea leaves sourced from Burma. Yes, we were full, but there was no way we couldn’t try it. They serve coconut water straight from the coconut with a straw (when you finish, they cut off the top so you can eat the coconut with a spoon) and the fresh-squeezed ginger lemonade hit the spot.
Not far from the breathtaking Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill is a small Italian gem with authentic Tuscan cuisine. Nob Hill Café is only open for dinner, and they don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait. It’s worth it. While we are talking Italian, Tommaso’s in North Beach is another must-try. They don’t take reservations either, but the oven-fired pizzas and classic Italian fare (out of this world lasagna) are worth the wait.
A couple of years ago while walking around the city I discovered Rickhouse, an artisanal cocktail heaven that only uses fine spirits, fresh juices, and local produce. I had a libation epiphany at Rickhouse. Okay, the vest-clad, curled-mustache bartenders here fit the hipster cliché, but each drink offers a serious sensory overload.
Cafe de la Presse has been a go-to for lunch with consistently great French fare located in Union Square directly across from the gates to Chinatown. Sit outside. Order the onion soup.
Tyler Florence’s restaurant Wayfare Tavern in the Financial District is an unforgettable fine-dining experience serving traditional American cuisine, but elevated. Organic fried chicken is a customer favorite. They also have a great raw bar with exquisite oysters.
The House is a hip eclectic Asian fusion hot spot in North Beach. It’s small, so make reservations. Try the pomegranate pork chop, wasabi noodles, deep-fried salmon roll, or grilled sea bass with garlic ginger soy.
During our recent visit we splurged (hey, we missed the city, and we love great food!) and headed to Michael Mina’s Michelin-starred RN74. We started with blue point oysters topped with champagne mignonette, cucumber and borage (delicious single leaf that gave the barnacles a bite); a kona kampachi crudo with green apple, parsnips, jalapeno, and lapsang souchong (a Chinese black tea); and gremolata-crusted bone marrow with bacon marmalade. For dinner we ordered the roasted Sonoma duck breast with butternut squash gratin, huckleberries, and Tokyo turnips.
Great food in San Francisco isn’t hard to find. It’s worth the extra effort to seek out the hidden gems; they’re in every neighborhood at every price point. You’ll leave with a more memorable experience than if you head straight for the mediocre tourist traps (Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., no offense). And if you have time for nothing else, hit a Giants game and order the garlic fries.