Whenever I think of home I think of the deliciousness that awaits me on Clement Street and the surrounding blocks in the Inner Richmond. Whether I’m craving dim sum, Vietnamese spring rolls, Korean kimbap or Russian hamentashen, I have learned to skillfully convince whomever I’m with to accompany me on getting some serious comfort food in one of my favorite neighborhoods.
The Inner Richmond has a reputation for having some of the best Chinese, Vietnamese and Burmese food, but this neighborhood is not just about Asian cuisine. Tucked between the Chinese markets, boba shops and pho cafes there is Hawaiian, Turkish, German, Polish and Russian. I could literally never leave this area of the city and be extremely happy (not to mention always full).
Clement Street, one of the main arteries in this area is often referred to as a smaller version of Chinatown, but I disagree. Yes, it has some Chinese restaurants and markets, but it is so much more. One of this neighborhood’s endearing charms is that it still has been able to retain a more intimate environment and does not cater to tourists, as its larger counterpart tends to.
Hope you’re hungry. Here are a few of my favorites.
Wing Lee Bakery
This small restaurant is my first choice for dim sum take-out on Clement Street, since it’s always consistent in freshness and deliciousness. Some of my favorites include the shrimp dumplings (with and without chives), the fried rice dumplings, fried turnip cake and sweet rice cake for dessert. Best part? It usually coast around $10 for two people, so go crazy and get a little of everything.
Tip: There are a few tables, but I highly recommend taking it to go and having an impromptu picnic in Golden Gate Park a few blocks away, especially if Karl the Fog has taken a day off.
Genki Crepes & Mini Mart
I feel like a little kid every time I enter this tiny shop, since I’m always overwhelmed with all the dessert options. There are dessert crepes, egg puffs, imported Japanese treats all vying for my attention. The crepes usually win me over, since they have the possibility to be stuffed with goodness like green tea ice cream, cheesecake or custard. There are also savory crepes, but I prefer the dessert ones more. Get a crepe with green tea ice cream or if chocolate is more your style get the nutella crepe with vanilla ice cream and strawberries. If you do make it past the dessert counter, there is a small, but impressive selection of Japanese snacks.
Tip: If you are a green tea fanatic like me make sure to pick-up green tea KitKats if they are in stock. A very wise choice.
First Korean Market
I always gravitate towards this tiny, unassuming shop for savory pre-made Korean favorites like freshly prepared kimbap. I am actually obsessed with their kimbap and always find an excuse to stop here, even if I just ate.
Tip: If you see someone in front of you in the line take the last of something, don’t be afraid to ask for more, since they can happily make it in the back.
Cinderella Bakery & Cafe
If I’m not in the mood for a giant crepe to polish off my evening, this Russian bakery is my Plan B. The hamentashen (fruit-filled cookies) are my favorite, but you cannot go wrong with any of the other choices. Also the savory pastries like the piroshkis (with beef) or pirogi (mushrooms and clear noodles) are quite addicting.
Tip: Come with a group so that you can have an excuse to try a little of everything, since the dessert menu is massive and everything is delicious in its own right.
Little Vietnam Café
There are many Vietnamese options in this neighborhood, but this family-run shop is one of my favorites because it has many fresh takeout options. I really like their massive spring rolls, but there is also pho, rice plates, banh mi and plenty of Vietnamese dessert options.
Tip: I recommend getting take-out, even though there is some limited seating both inside and outside. Golden Gate Park is a mere three blocks away and perfect for people-watching.
Ever since I lived in Krakow, I have been trying to find places to satisfy my frequent Polish food cravings. In Boston, it was Café Polonia and here in San Francisco it is this cozy Eastern European restaurant. Every time I eat here I feel like I am back in the Old World, transported to one of my relatives’ homes and filling myself with the comfort food that I crave like golabki (stuffed cabbage).
Tip: Try the Polish beer Okocim, for a light refreshing beverage that will go nicely with all the heavy carbs you are guaranteed to ingest.
Burma Superstar might be where all the hype is for Burmese cuisine in this neighborhood (and rightfully deserved) but an alternative to long lines and close dining quarters, yet equally delicious dishes is at this Burmese restaurant. I’m partial to the Mandalay Special Noodle, Basil Prawns and highly recommend the classic Tea Leaf Salad.
Tip: Make sure to save room for the mango sticky rice for dessert.
It’s no secret that I’m enamored with Hawaiian cuisine and finding a place that serves loco moco when I’m on the mainland is essential. This fusion restaurant is ideal for brunch with Island twists on classics dishes like Chicken and Waffles (with chicken katsu), Apple Banana pancakes with crushed macadamia nuts or staples like the loco moco.
Tip: Save some room for the malasadas, a Portuguese donut coated in nutmeg, sugar and cinnamon.
What are some of your favorite Inner Richmond spots?