San Francisco is one of the hottest foodie cities in the country, with new restaurants popping up so quickly it can be difficult to keep up with the openings.
But before gourmet chefs were flocking to the city by the bay, there were classic dishes that San Francisco is known for and still does well. Here’s a guide to these iconic dishes and the best places to find them.
Burrito | La Taqueria
The Mission-style burrito became popular in the 1960s. Named for the Mission district, the burrito is distinguished by its large size and extra rice, then wrapped in aluminum foil and taken to go. These generous servings can be found at hundreds of taquerias throughout the city, and there are heated debates among locals about where to find the best burrito.
La Taqueria is a classic and popular spotin the Mission. Order the super burrito “El dorado-style” to get your burrito slightly grilled to melt the cheesy insides and brown the outside to crispy perfection.
Toast | The Mill
In the city that basically invented the gourmet toast trend, there are plenty of places where you can find it on the menu. The Mill is one of the best. Serving Josey Baker Bread with a rotating menu of bread types and toppings ranging from seasonal jams, cream cheese and cinnamon and sugar. You’ll pay anywhere from $4 to $8 for the indulgence, but, trust us, it’s worth it.
Bread | Tartine Bakery
Nothing beats a loaf of freshly baked bread, and Tartine is the place to get it. With a cult following, Tartine loaves are crusty on the outside and soft in the middle. Plan to wait in line at the bakery and get there early before they sell out.
Soup In A Bread Bowl | Boudin Bakery & Cafe
Though bread bowls may not have originated in San Francisco, the ritual of eating chowder out of a sourdough bread bowl is a heavenly indulgence on a chilly evening. Boudin has been serving crusty soup in bread bowls for over 160 years and is a perfect spot to enjoy this quintessential San Francisco dish.
Dumplings | Hong Kong Lounge II
With the close proximity to Asia, San Francisco has one of the largest Asian-American populations in the country. As a result, there is fantastic Asian food to be found throughout the city. The Inner Richmond neighborhood is home to many delicious Asian eateries. When you have a hankering for tasty dumplings, head to Hong Kong Lounge II to fill up on soup dumplings, pork potstickers and BBQ pork buns.
Roast Chicken with Bread Salad | Zuni Cafe
A San Francisco institution for nearly 40 years, Zuni Cafe is still one of the hardest places to get a reservation in the city. Serving American cuisine with French and Italian influences, their roast chicken with bread salad is an iconic dish, and still immensely popular all these years later. You’ll want to bring along a dinner date you enjoy to split the meal with - its served as a dish for two and takes about 60 minutes to prepare.
Oysters + Dungeness Crab | Swan Oyster Depot
This no-frills raw bar in Nob Hill is the best place to get super-fresh seafood (oysters! Dungeness crab!) in an authentic, low-key setting. Fair warning: the word is more than out on this counter seating-only spot so you should be prepared to wait about an hour. But take the line as a good sign because it's a sign of thenumber of repeat and extremely loyal customers. The oyster selection rotates daily, and is a mix of East and West coast options. And, when in season, the Dungeness crab is served boiled with your choice of cocktail sauce or mayo. Btw, if you want to avoid the lines, you can get your crab to go!
Irish Coffee | Buena Vista Cafe
A decadent mix of coffee, whiskey, sugar, and cream, Irish coffee is a popular way to warm up on a foggy San Francisco day. Buena Vista perfected the recipe in 1952 and now serves up to 2,000 Irish coffees a day to locals and tourists alike. This cafe is a great pit stop when you’re out exploring the tourists spots in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Martini | Top of the Mark
This classic cocktail originated near San Francisco in the town of Martinez back in the the Gold Rush era. The recipe as we know it came to be in the 1880s and continues to be popular today. Head to the Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins Hotels were a wide range of martinis are served with a side of 360-degree views of the city.
Cioppino | Sotto Mare
This traditional fish stew is typically made from the catch of the day, and often includes a combination of crabs, clams, shrimp, scallops, and mussels mixed in a tomato and wine sauce. At Sotto Mare in North Beach Italian-style seafood is all that’s on the menu. They serve up authentic and fresh cioppino, making it one of the best places in the city to try this original dish.
More California On Salt & Wind
- Where To Eat, Shop, and Stay In Palm Springs
- California Has Its Own BBQ Style And It's Legit
- Where To Find The Best Fish Tacos in San Diego
Did you know we lead boutique food and wine tours for food lovers? Come join our next Salt & Wind trip!
P.S. If you liked this story, you'll probably like our newsletter too!
Opening photo by Marie France Latour