Food is a massive thing in San Francisco. There are a thousand places to grab amazing bites to eat throughout the City. Our guide to what to eat in San Francisco is definitely a tourist guide, rather than a list of obscure eateries with niche menu items. We are focusing on the Dishes that are Synonymous with the City and will be for the foreseeable future. Like NYC Pizza or Philidelphia CheeseSteaks, San Francisco has an array of Delicacies enjoyed by locals and tourists by the bucket load.
As with any US City, there is a multitude of nationwide Chain restaurants throughout the City so you will always find something to eat, but as with any visit anywhere, it’s always part of the experience to try the local cuisine. So here is our list of the tourists Must try items in San Francisco.
Overall San Francisco has one of the best Cuisines out of any USA city. With the focus on fresh quality ingredients and utilizing locally caught and grown produce, from Fresh Sea Food to local beers and wines and amazing bread and chocolate of the City, San Francisco is a Foodie Paradise!
Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl
Head down to Fisherman’s wharf and you will see people all over with Large hollowed-out Breas loaves filled with Soup. The Soup is actually Clam Chowder and thick, rich Seafood Broth. While Clam Chowder was originally from the east coast the dish has been widespread across the United States for many decades now.
The Serving of the soup in a Bread bowl is what makes this San Francisco’s own delicacy. The serving method adds drama and convenience to the dish, giving you both bowls and dipping bread in one! Just about every restaurant or cafe on fisherman’s wharf will serve these up cheaply, while the bread bowls tend to be uniform the quality of the chowder can certainly vary. Most restaurants will let you try first, and if not…think about skipping that place!
Boudin’s bakery was the originator of this Dish and still serves some of the best. Should you not be a fish fan know that most Clam chowders are not very Fishy, and often most outlets will have a non-seafood variant on the menu as well, so you don’t have to miss out on the occasion.
Sour Dough Bread
Even if you don’t go for a bread bowl you should still check out San Francisco’s incredible Sour Dough Bread! Brought to the City by French Immigrants (you may notice a theme developing, if not, you will!) the bread is now a City Staple. First Mass-produced by the Boudin Bakery, Sourdough loaves are now available in every grocery store throughout the area. And they taste fantastic, enough to have you searching every local Artisan Bakery for a suitable alternative once you get home.
Cioppino is a Hearty Italian Seafood Style Stew introduced by Italian Dockworkers and Sailors. Any restaurant down near Fishermans Wharf will offer its very own “best in the City” version of the dish. Which one is actually the best is always open to fierce debate.
The Contents of the Stew can vary traditionally it was meant to be whatever the fisherman could scrounge should his catch have failed. So there is no right or wrong. It’s always a good selection of seafood, such as Crab Scallops Shrimp, clams, and mussels.
Best Served with Sourdough bread.
Chinese – China Town
San Francisco’s China Town is the largest and one of the oldest outside of Asia. So it’s no surprise that Chinese food is HUGE In San Francisco. It is also very very good. So it should definitely get on your must-eat list.
Western Chinese Food
Many people credit the birth of Western Chinese food to San Francisco. What this means is the Chinese food we all eat today doesn’t bear that much similarity to the food actually eaten in China. This was because when the first Chinese settlers arrived the ingredients they were used to, simply were not available. They attempted to recreate the dishes from their homeland with what they had to hand. This developed into a whole different cuisine that spread around the western world. It may not be 100% authentic but it’s certainly delicious, and it’s perpetuated for long enough to be authentic in its own right!
Chinatown is crammed with fantastic Chinese restaurants, and many will require either a reservation or a long wait! The house of Nanking, R&G Lounge, and Hunan home’s restaurant are all very popular and very good. You can find more in our Chinatown Guide.
As for dishes Salt and Pepper Crab is fantastic, made with local Live Dungeness Crab, It takes some eating but is utterly delicious. Sesame Chicken and Chicken Potstickers are also favorites of ours, but really the menus are so diverse it’s hard to narrow it down. Most items are good in their own way.
Not to be sought out, but after your Chinese meal, you will receive a now commercially produced fortune cookie, A True Chinese tradition right? Wrong, The Fortune cookie was thought up in San Francisco’s China Town, and as such gets a quick honorary mention on this list, a good factoid for you after your dinner too.
Dim Sum is small Bitesize pieces normally a type of Chinese dumpling.
Dim Sum was certainly NOT Born in San Francisco. The Chinese have been eating it for centuries. However, San Francisco is credited with popularising it in the west as a whole meal in itself. Now San Francisco is populated with many world-class Dim Sum Restaurants where you can feast on as many small Chinese delights as you like.
Not your regular burrito, this is a specific style of burrito originating from the Mission District of San Francisco. It’s now spread Statewide but you should try and get the original while here. Larger and more “stuffed” than its diminutive cousin It makes a great hearty lunch.
Available from a multitude of Taquerias across the City. We don’t even want to begin to get into the argument over which is best!
Finally a true local delicacy. These Crabs are still caught locally in an active fishery. Normally boiled and served whole. Locals stand outside key side stalls on fisherman’s wharf expertly picking the crabs. Our attempts have always been a little more amateur.
Often an ingredient in Cioppino, and many other dishes. There are many ways to enjoy this Crab if the idea of picking one apart doesn’t appeal! Check out any Fisherman’s wharf restaurants, they will all serve Crab in one form or another.
Anchor Steam Beer
The Anchor Brewing Company is one of the oldest in the USA. Easily Pre-dating prohibition. The Brewery obviously closed down during those dark days. But it was one of the first to Reopen once Prohibition ended.
The Brewery is one of the very few remaining to produce “California Common Beer” Sold under its Trademark as Steam Beer. This highly Fizzy beer is a San Francisco classic and well worth searching out. Not that you will have much trouble, just try a supermarket!
Anchor also Brew quite a few other beers all of which are very good, but none have the same History as the Steam Beer. There are also plenty of local breweries making many Excellent Beers. All well worth Sampling. Being British American Beers tend to get a very poor rep over here. But in recent years things have changed dramatically and there are many fantastic Beers out here now and the Craft beer industry is booming!
Wine is not San Francisco’s strong suit. Grapes would not grow well in the city even if there were room and the industry has never really gotten off the ground. Hardly surprising when just a stone’s throw over the bay are two of the BEST wine-producing regions in the world; Napa and Sonoma.
These Regions and the Whole Wine Country Area, just over the Bay from the City, produce some of the finest wines in the world. If you can’t make a trip over there to experience Napa firsthand at least make sure you grab a good bottle at a San Francisco Restaurant, or even a Wine Shop or Supermarket! A good wine seller will be better able to advise you, whereas aa in the supermarket you will be on your own!
Another Historic San Francisco Brand. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has been making and selling chocolate in San Francisco since 1852! Its brand and Presence can be felt throughout the City and particularly down near Fishermans Wharf and Ghirardelli Square an Official Landmark.
The Chocolate itself is very high quality and well worth trying. Available in many different varieties, there should be something for any chocolate lover.
You may have noticed a great many of San Francisco’s Delicacies are Influenced by immigrants of one type or another, Why is that? Simply because San Francisco was built by immigration. San Francisco, wasn’t a city, just a mere township, until the foreign workforce flooded in and built it into what it is today, much like most of America. As there were no real local food influences the immigrants brought their own ways and adapted them to what was available and the good dishes caught on and spread. Leaving San Francisco as a food-lovers Paradise…Enjoy.
The Food Truck scene in San Francisco is huge. Rents on Restaurants are high and start-ups, another thing common to San Francisco, have long taken to Food Truck to get their business off the ground. Food from these Passionate chefs and would-be restauranteurs is outstanding often beating anything you can get in a restaurant. Imaginative, exciting tasty, and actually really quite cheap.
The food truck scene in San Fran is so big they have even started ganging up on the restaurants, check out SOMA StrEat Food Park or SPARK Social SF for a collection of food trucks all in one spot, or see where the Off the Grid events are when you are in town! Or you will just find them dotted around town, especially over the weekend. Look for huge queues and you know you are on to a winner.
Have Your Say
Have you Anything to add you think we have missed? as you can tell this list is very tourist-based. So we are not looking for the latest fad foods but if there is a Classic San Francisco dish you think we have missed let us know. Just drop us a comment below, or if you have anything at all you wish to discuss.