San Francisco is a city of cultural neighborhoods and it’s no secret that the diverse culinary landscape reflects this.
That being said there are some cuisines that are better than others. Yes, we have North Beach, but I crave decent Italian food from Boston on a regular basis. Due to our closer proximity to Asia, San Francisco does unsurprisingly well with Asian cuisine.
Sourdough and It’s-It’s might be iconic San Francisco foods, but the following cuisines are important to understand the cultural fabric of the city.
Here are seven cuisines that should not be missed.
The choices for Chinese are extensive here in San Francisco, from dim sum to wonton noodle soup. Rule number one is avoid touristy parts of Chinatown and instead head to the Richmond or Sunset for take-out dim sum at places like Gold Luck Dim Sum or Wing Lee Bakery (personal favorite). For sit-down there’s Koi Palace (which is technically outside of city limits in Daily City). R & G Lounge is a great place for a serious feast (bring a whole group so you can sample everything). Their signature salt and pepper crab is worth the hype and the price. For low key but delicious won ton soup Hon’s Wun Tun House is so good.
Walking through the Outer Richmond on Geary Street you are bound to hear Russian, almost more than English. Welcome to the area of the city affectionately called “Little Russia,” and one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite to eat. There are many Russian bakeries and markets along this stretch, but it’s important for me to make two crucial stops: one at the Moscow & Tbilisi Bakery for piroshkies and then a little further away at my all-time favorite: Cinderella Bakery & Cafe for Siberian Style Pies (mushroom and clear noodles) and Hamentashen cookies (always cherry).
For the cheapest and best bahn mi there’s Saigon Sandwiches in Little Saigon, where there’s no seating, but the view is better anyways a few blocks away on the lawn in front of City Hall. There are many restaurants in the Richmond and Sunset districts, like Kevin’s Noodle House, which seems fitting since a steaming bowl of noodle soup is the best thing to ward off the chill of a foggy day.
Disclaimer: the Mexican food is nothing like that in Socal, but there is something to be said about the Mission Burrito, a giant torpedo of beans, cheese, choice of grilled meat and assorted sauces. The main factor that separates this from a regular burrito besides it size is the absence of rice. It has been popular since the 1960’s and still is king as far as Mexican food is concerned in these parts, including favorites like El Farolito.
For me Korean and fog go hand-in-in, probably because the majority of the Korean restaurants are in the Sunset and Richmond district. There’s Han Il Kwan that has been holding court forever on Balboa Street and welcomes hoards of Korean tourist to sample its BBQ (that’s when you know it’s good). Little Korean Market on Geary Street is the perfect place to pick up premade bibimbap to eat picnic-style a few blocks away in Golden Gate Park (bring your parka).
After the military junta took over Burma in 1962, thousands of Burmese immigrants fled to the Bay Area. Slowly Burmese food has become a staple in San Francisco since the early 1980’s and really took off with the citywide favorite: Burma Superstar (I dare you to walk past this restaurant and not be tempted by the aromas drifting out of the crowded entryway). Although Burma Superstar is good, I prefer nearby Mandalay Bay, which has been serving delicious curries, noodles and rice dishes since 1984. They must be doing something right, plus there is no hour-long wait.
Peurvian cuisine like ceviche and comfort food in the form of pollo a la brasa (marinated rotisserie chicken) is plentiful here in San Francisco, with places like Limon, and Limon Rotisserie. The fusion flavors of this cuisine are a newer welcome addition to the food scene here in SF.