San Francisco: Where to go
5800 Geary Blvd.
Chef Mourad Lahlou’s contemporary take on the food of his homeland garnered him a Michelin star, a first for a Moroccan restaurant in the United States. Gracious service accompanies his basteeya, duck confit wrapped in pastry and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Creating a buzz since January: Mourad, the chef’s plush new baby in SoMa.
1 Mission St., 415-543-6084
Award-winning chef-owner Nancy Oakes serves her refined American cooking in a romantic belle époque setting that takes in views of the Bay Bridge. Open — and beloved — since 1993.
Cafe @ Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510-548-5049
Alice Waters’s ground-floor dining room and set menu get more attention, but insiders prefer the upstairs cafe, with its a la carte list and wood-fired oven. The three-course menu du jour is a seasonal deal at $32. Sign of the times: a shout-out to ceramicists on the daily-changing script.
3870 17th St., 415-621-3870
A tribute to the chef Melissa Perello’s grandmother in a slim, unfussy dining room in the Castro. Spinach and green garlic soup with Parmesan sablé is a poem to spring; Sonoma duck breast with toasted farro, figs and walnuts reveals a Mediterranean bent. Another detail worth toasting: The house white and red wines are poured by the ounce for $1.50.
2 Marina Blvd., Fort Mason Building A, 415-771-6222
Set in a former machine shop with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city’s most famous vegetarian restaurant opened 36 years ago. Yet its menu — colorful spring rolls, a vivid Indian sampler, asparagus pizza brightened with lemon zest — tastes very much of today.
55 Cyril Magnin, 415-362-7456
Combine the talents of a Bangkok-born blogger, Pim Techamuanvivit, and a former Manresa chef, Michael Gaines, and you get a gem of a Thai eatery in the Parc 55 hotel. Hits include Pretty Hot Wings — chicken, tangy with tamarind — and lovely rabbit meatballs bobbing in green curry balanced with coconut milk.
3416 19th St., 415-874-9921
Guests are asked to buy tickets and prepay online for a shot at one of two communal tables and a dinner party that stretches a dozen or so courses long. The evening starts with snacks on the mezzanine and continues in a lofty hall where every dish is announced by a cook. Worth your while: sweet pea custard with mint sauce, and rabbit and snails with stinging nettles.
470 Pacific Ave., 415-775-8500
Everything about the restaurant created by chef Michael Tusk, an alumnus of Chez Panisse and Oliveto in the East Bay, spells luxe: the hush, the theater-length curtains, the delicate stemware, the $200, nine-course, French-Italian tasting menus that revel in the garden (or not; your choice). No detail escapes the restaurant’s attention. Dishes come with house-baked breads tailored to specific courses, and the confections trolley is the Rolls Royce of sweets delivery systems. Did we mention that one staff member’s sole task is to polish those fragile glasses?
240 California St., 415-391-1849
Much of the charm of one of the city’s longest-lived, no-reservations landmarks comes from the white-jacketed servers, straight out of Central Casting, and the scenery, all dark wood, snug alcoves and epic counter. Some dishes (sand dabs and crab cake) don’t taste as good as they used to, but you can count on the cioppino to brim with seafood and the rice custard pudding to make you smile.
49 Stevenson St., 415-541-4949
101 Spear St., 415-781-1111
Deemed an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation, this iconic Chinese brand, started in 1958 and with two locations, bustles with dim sum carts and chopsticks hoisting steamed pork buns, pearly shrimp dumplings and Peking duck. With some 60 dishes offered every day, there’s no getting bored.
1658 Market St., 415-552-2522
If there’s one restaurant that sums up the city, it’s this airy, two-story magnet for socialites, bohemians and other local characters. Musts include the fresh lime margarita, Caesar salad, roast chicken for two (be patient, it takes an hour) and espresso granita.
355 11th St., 415-355-9400
The handcrafted cocktails here in the SoMa neighborhood all cost $15 — and prove worth the price. The food (ricotta toast with brandied prunes, pork and lamb meatballs with fried herbs) is equal to the drinks. Belly up to the long bar, or grab a seat at the enticing front patio.
3010 20th St., 415-471-2999
The menu at this industrial-looking Mission bar changes twice a year. One visit, the selections are based on a Pantone wheel; another time, they’re printed on record jackets. Currently, patrons are handed what looks like a Chinese menu. Surprise No. 1: Tequila blends well with absinthe, carrot and lemon. Surprise No. 2: The choice hamburger shows up in a hot dog bun.
CAFES AND BAKERIES
Blue Bottle Coffee
Now available on two coasts and in Japan, this popular coffee roaster/cafe got its start in Oakland, where founder James Freeman vowed to sell only coffee that had been roasted within the past 48 hours. Lines form wherever the pour-over coffee is sold, including the Ferry Building.
2821 California St., 415-440-1700
Pastry chef Belinda Leong re-creates a Parisian salon de thé with her first-class croissants, macarons, tartines and kouign-amann, the last a sugar rush by way of Brittany. My current fascination, tomato sablés, brings to mind cheese straws gone to finishing school. “My favorite!” cries a clerk. “I even keep them in my car!”
Craftsman and Wolves
746 Valencia St., 415-913-7713
This sleek Mission bakery is a shout-out to artisans, recognizing the challenges they face in pursuit of their handiwork. Here, the handiwork includes the Travel Cake, made with coconut and roasted banana, and the Rebel Within, a sausage-cheese muffin that breaks open to reveal a soft-cooked farm egg. For the road: dark sipping chocolate, yuzu-almond caramels and pâtes de fruits in such intoxicating flavors as blood orange-campari and pineapple-mezcal.
270 Seventh St., 3014 20th St.; 415-861-1313
The SoMa flagship of this sibling-owned treasure (now with a newer, smaller location in the Mission) brings together the company offices, a handsome roaster and a sleek coffee bar under one timbered roof. Credit the airy feel to Sightglass’s predecessor, a sign manufacturing shop.
SHOPS AND MARKETS
550 Divisadero St., 415-551-7900
3639 18th St., 415-241-9760
If Bi-Rite doesn’t make you want to cook, no store will. Set off with an art deco front, the family-run shop — now in two locations — bursts with artisanal goods and produce, meat and fish that farmers and ranchers deliver themselves. From the kitchen: house-smoked salmon, and risotto made from scratch. Don’t miss the ice cream (inside the newer Divisadero Street shop and across 18th Street from the original location).
Ferry Building Marketplace
1 Ferry Building, 415-983-8030
Set off with a soaring clock tower based on one in Seville, this is a crown jewel among the nation’s food halls. The shops inside — Acme Bread Company, Cowgirl Creamery, McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil — carry some of our favorite labels, while the eateries entice with fresh seafood (Hog Island Oysters) and first-rate Southeast Asian fare (Slanted Door). On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the outside plaza plays host to a fabulous farmers market whose shoppers include some of the Bay Area’s top chefs.
Omnivore Books on Food
3885a Cesar Chavez St., 415-282-4712
Rare-books specialist Celia Sack removed the preciousness of shopping for old food works by putting everything on display, encouraging people to touch the wares and turning the shop into a meeting place for authors. The 2,000 or so titles run the gamut, including a 1753 edition of “The Compleat Housewife” by Eliza Smith ($500) and a copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” signed by Julia Child ($1,200). Omnivore also stocks the best contemporary cookbooks, including hard-to-find titles from chefs and restaurants in Europe and Australia.
The (Twitter) Market
1355 Market St., 415-767-5130
The founders of this collection of gourmet food counters and grocery aisles gathered at the base of the Twitter building want shoppers to think of the destination as the Eataly of Northern California. Items from fish to flowers are available in the sprawl of the former San Francisco Furniture Mart — for a price. An organic cold-pressed juice will set you back $10.