An Opinionated San Francisco Food Guide for the Uninitiated

by Abel Lin

Lazy and need someone just to yell at you to tell you what to do? Welcome.

Let’s get these out of the way:

  • Public Transportation from the airports (OAK or SFO) is terribad. Unless you’re willing to spend a $40-$70 cab ride (depending on the competency of your driver slash getting stuck on the pleasures of 101), you’ll be taking BART. It is not rapid, it is not ideal.
  • Layer up. Because we’re on a peninsula, the weather during night and day is +/- 20 degrees, easy. Top it off with sudden wind bursts and fog rolls, it’s funsies.
  • People are weird here, a lot homeless. Compared to other major metropolitans, San Francisco is a bit more “weathered” (read: old), not as aesthetically pleasing, and there is a healthy population of homeless people here. Because of the current tech boom that’s occurring in Silicon Valley, there is a wide disparency between engineers/investors and lifers that have arrested Mission since the 80’s. To label it as “socioeconomic tension” is just surface area.

That said, bar none, it is one of the most health-conscious, high quality of life food-cities in the United States. New York is generally the “what you pay is what you get.” Here in San Francisco, even if you were a total nub you actually have a very high chance of wandering into a restaurant that serves pretty awesome food for a very reasonable price. It’s weird.

Without further ado, here are the five must-eats for the full palette of San Francisco.

5. Prime rib at House of Prime Rib, Nob Hill. 

The old guard of San Francisco. Husky restaurant with amazing salads, amazing cuts. Reservations are a must. An awesome alternative is Swan Oyster Depot, also in Nob Hill. Lunch only though.

$~37 for the House of Prime Rib Cut; takes up a dinner or lunch.

4. 1 Ferry Building on Thursdays and Saturdays preferably. Embarcadero. 

It’s next to the piers, it’s an amazing food center for San Francisco. You can almost not go wrong with anything that comes from here. Notables: II Cane Rosso, Slanted Door, Gott’s and Hog Oyster Island get my nods. If you’re on a layover or need a day to kill, look no further. Oh sorry, there is probably one of the best Farmer’s Markets here too on Thursdays and Saturdays. Bonus: Alcatraz Tours are nearby. Please book the night tours in advance

$ Spend majority of budget here; can easily take up an entire day.

3. 18th Street Pentakill. Mission. 

The only time you were ever slip into hipster regime, but it’s worth it. You can check out Tartine Bakery (pictured), Delfina (both sides), Bi Rite Creamery, El Farolito, Ike’s Place, and Dolores Park for the whole day. This is the option for those who don’t have the budget to really blast Embarcadero, but prefer a more desperate, artsy feel of the city.

$3.75 to ~$75 at Delfina; can easily take up an entire day.

2. The Meal.

Yeah, the dress shirt and heels come on. Aziza, Benu, Range, Zuni Cafe (pictured), or Foreign Cinema (brunch only) come to mind. In this author’s humble opinion, Gary Danko and Michael Mina get too much hype. Be one of the cool kids. Reservations are a must.

$~75 – $400 for two. Easy.

1. Secret Breakfast at Humphry Slocombe, Mission. 

Humphry represents all the innovation, love, and weirdness of San Francisco. You simply cannot find an ice cream shop like this any where else in the world, let alone the United States. All the good and bad of this city has been poured into this shop. If you love this, you’ll love San Francisco. The true test.

$3.75/two scoops

Bonus: Chinatown and North Beach. Golden Gate Bakery, Fortune Cookie Factory, and Don Pisto’s.

Let me know what you think of the picks and whether there was something/someone I have dreadfully wronged. I’ll try to answer the questions I get in the comments as well if you’re more into other genres.

Related: 5 Must-Try Burgers in San Francisco