San Francisco restaurants offer a diverse culinary landscape, blending innovative flavors with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The culinary scope of San Francisco is world-renowned, attracting tourists from all over the globe to savor the taste of some of the best food and drinks out there. From the quintessential sourdough to the unparalleled innovation in the kitchens of San Francisco, the city has come a far way in offering the finest tastes and flavors. Here are our top picks for 10 iconic food and drinks that every visitor must try when in the city.
America’s first craft brewery was founded here in 1896. The name Anchor Steam harkens back to a time when brewers worked in primitive conditions, using the cool climate of San Francisco’s rooftops in lieu of ice to cool the wort. The warm liquid would steam when exposed to the night air, and the name stuck. Today, visitors can tour the brewery and enjoy tastings of this iconic San Francisco beverage.
Ironically, the Irish coffee was not popularized on the Emerald Isle. Instead, it found its commercial fame in San Francisco when Jack Koeppler, co-owner of Buena Vista, enlisted the help of international travel writer Stanton Delaplane. Koeppler’s challenge was to recreate a renowned “Irish Coffee” from an airport in Ireland. Through experimentation, they perfected the blend of hot coffee, Irish whiskey, and whipped cream. Nowadays, the Buena Vista Cafe on Hyde Street reportedly serves up to 2,000 Irish coffees a day!
No trip to San Francisco is complete without a bread bowl full of chowder from the Boudin factory. The Original San Francisco Sourdough (as Boudin calls itself) is the longest continually operating business in the city, having baked bread since Isidore Boudin perfected the recipe in 1849. The flagship factory on Fisherman’s Wharf serves not only bread bowls but also animal-shaped loaves for the little ones.
The Mission-style burrito has its roots in San Francisco’s Mission District, a neighborhood strongly influenced by Central American culture. Distinguished by its generous size, the Mission burrito features additional rice and a variety of toppings, including sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. Numerous taquerias across the city offer this San Francisco-style burrito. For an authentic experience, consider trying El Farolito or Taqueria La Cumbre.
Established in 2008, Humphry Slocombe has risen to fame as a highly acclaimed ice cream destination in San Francisco. Despite regularly adjusting its menu to incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients and unconventional flavor pairings like Candy Cap-mushroom and peanut butter-curry, the shop is renowned for its inventive classics. Notably, the Secret Breakfast Ice Cream, a distinctive blend of bourbon and cornflakes, has become a staple. Given its popularity, especially as a boozy delight, it’s advisable to arrive early to secure your treat before it potentially sells out.
Traditionally the working place of Chinese and Italian immigrants, Fisherman’s Wharf is now a seafood lover’s paradise that reflects its multicultural history. Cioppino, an Italian-American seafood stew, was invented to use up leftover seafood. Today, it’s a widely popular dish. San Francisco is also famous for Dungeness Crab when it’s in season each winter, as well as oysters. Be sure to try the oysters at Fog Harbor Fish House while you’re on Fisherman’s Wharf. Most restaurants still source their fish and crab from the boats of local fishermen.
From takeaway spots like Golden Gate Bakery to sit-down restaurants like Lai Hong Lounge, the bustling streets of Chinatown are the best spot for dim sum. Traditionally eaten for breakfast, dim sum is an assortment of bite-sized pastries, steamed dumplings and vegetable-based dishes. Nicer sit-down places serve tea with the food, while the waiters make rounds between the crowded tables with pre-cooked selections. You can also order fresh dishes from the menu.
The martini was actually invented at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. However, the hotel was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, so the next best place to have a martini is in North Beach, a bastion for Italian food with a lively bar scene. Have a hearty dinner at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana or Original Joe’s before downing a classic San Francisco cocktail. This northern neighborhood overlooks the birthplace of the Martinez cocktail, the eponymous city just visible far across the bay. Eventually, the Martinez — a combination of gin, vermouth and maraschino liqueur — dropped the liqueur, and the modern martini was born.
While we’re on the topic of North Beach, you can’t miss a quintessential beatnik experience. North Beach was a hub for the Beat movement in the 1950s, and Caffe Trieste on Vallejo St. was a favorite gathering place of figures like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The coffee shop walls are also lined with photographs of its Hollywood connections. A number of actors have been known to frequent Caffe Trieste, and Francis Ford Coppola supposedly wrote much of The Godfather script there.
During the 1850s, Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli, an Italian immigrant, initiated his chocolate-making venture at the historic Pioneer Woolen Mills. In the 1960s, the factory relocated to San Leandro, prompting concerned San Franciscans to acquire the property. Fearing the potential demolition of the iconic factory, they transformed it into the quaint retail plaza seen today. Visitors can still observe the original chocolate manufacturing equipment while indulging in delectable hot fudge sundaes and delightful squares of Ghirardelli milk chocolate.