Where to go in San Francisco and Sonoma County, according to author Rachel Khong.
Award-winning author Rachel Khong (All About Eggs: Everything We Know About the World’s Most Important Food, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel) grew up in “weird, desert-y cities” like Rancho Cucamonga, San Dimas, and Indio, but her formative years were spent in San Francisco. That’s where she first made a name for herself as the managing editor of the dearly missed food magazine Lucky Peach, and it’s where she’s now hoping to give back to fellow writers and artists as founder of The Ruby. Described as an “arts and letters–focused work and gathering space for creative Bay Area women of all definitions,” the Ruby is an effort to cement SF’s status as a hub for creative types. Here’s where Khong eats, drinks, and stays when she’s not buried in her mile-long to-do list.
Where to Eat
“I love Rintaro in San Francisco, an izakaya by chef Sylvan Brackett. His dad is a carpenter and helped build the interior, so it’s a really beautiful restaurant. It’s essentially Japanese-California food; there’s local tuna and vegetables like Tokyo turnips, but their best thing is a multi-layered pork katsu. They serve it with this amazing sauce and perfect cabbage slaw. It’s the best meal. The drinks are really well-curated, too; they have an amazing wine list, sake, beer, a melon soda, or a yogurt drink.
“I refuse to go to brunch, because I hate long lines and it’s usually stupid and mediocre. The only place I’ll line up for is Swan Oyster Depot [also in San Francisco]. It’s a little seafood counter that opens really early in the morning. Go early to beat all the tourists and you can get crab and oysters and this thing called Sicilian sashimi, which is thinly sliced scallops, salmon, and tuna, with capers, red onion, lemon juice, and olive oil on top. It’s amazing. That’s my brunch spot.
“Further afield, I have a little cabin in a town called Cazadero. It’s near the Russian River area, but closer to the coast. There’s a town named Jenner near there that has a really weird, pay-what-you-want restaurant called Russian House #1. It’s a Russian buffet with windows overlooking the river—a beautiful view. If you’re on the way to the Sonoma Coast, it’s the perfect spot because there aren’t many stops on the way. You can have a Russian feast and walk along the beach, which is great.”
Where to Drink
“I live around the corner from Ritual Coffee Roasters on Valencia. It’s changed a lot over the years. Like, there’s a new neon fixture in there, and it feels much bigger and brighter—that new-wave coffee aesthetic. They’re known for their pour-overs, but I’ll just get the hot and ready coffee because I’m too impatient. I need my coffee right now. I buy beans from them, but I’m not a nerd about it; I just like what they do. Their beans from Rwanda feel especially well-balanced and bright.
“For wine bars, I love Birba in Hayes Valley. Their list is always changing and it’s huge. They have a lot of weird stuff, too, which is great. It’s really eclectic. I can’t tell you what to order there, but don’t worry — you’ll be in good hands. They’re always pouring something different, in a lovely bar with a nice vibe. Plus, they have snacks — almonds, olives, things like that.
“As for wineries, I like Joseph Swan. It’s in Forestville and has been around for a long time. Their tasting room looks like it’s covered in weird insulation foam. It feels very Russian River to me in how rustic and charming it is. They do a pinot noir and a zinfandel and a few other things, but they’re not a huge operation. It feels very family oriented.
“Woods Cerveceria is right next to Dolores Park [in San Francisco], so it’s nice to go there on a sunny day. It’s one of those places where it feels like you’re outside because there are such big windows. They make this weird herbal beer I really like called Morpho. It’s made with bay leaf, hibiscus, and yerba mate, so it’s kinda caffeinated and definitely interesting.”
Where to Buy Groceries
“When I moved to San Francisco for the first time, I was blown away by Rainbow Grocery. It has the most insane bulk bin section you’ll ever see. You can get every kind of rice, seaweed, miso, and 10 different kinds of salt. I also love Lucca Ravioli Company. It’s a very old-timey Italian grocer that sells fresh pasta, sauces, really good pesto, and a ton of Italian wine. It feels like old-school San Francisco—like everyone working there is a little bit grumpy. I always get prosciutto and other sliced meat.”
Where to Shop
“There are so many good bookstores here; that’s the reason I moved to San Francisco. My favorite is Green Apple. The main space is both new and used books, which is something that was really attractive to me about San Francisco. I was a child of the suburbs, so encountering all these bookstores for the first time—ones that had all the new hardcovers you could want and books for a dollar—was delightful. Green Apple has their own separate cookbook and music annex, too, so it feels like paradise to me. I just love that neighborhood in general. It’s right across the street from the Kamei restaurant supply shop, so I always make a trip out of browsing books at Green Apple, then hopping over to look at weird Japanese cooking gadgets.
“I’m also a big library person. I’m a member of the Mechanics Institute, which is a private library and chess club. I love that place. It’s been around for a long, long time. It’s still a chess club, but it’s also a library where you can check out everything. I always go there for brand new books, since it has much shorter waits—if there’s any wait at all. And the membership is under $100 a year. It has all the things you’d find at a regular library, but because it’s private, it’s a really homey spot. There are desks hidden in weird places and big leather chairs. Tours are open to the public every Wednesday: They’ll take you to the library, show you the chess room, and give you the history of the place.”
“I’m really partial to the Russian River area; it still feels undiscovered. I’d get an Airbnb around the Guerneville/Forestville area. It’s right near the Sonoma Coast—the most breathtaking, beautiful part of California—but you can also taste wine in Healdsburg, and Guerneville itself is experiencing its own new wave of businesses. They recently turned an old bank building into a museum and ice cream shop [Guerneville Bank Club]. And the downtown is experiencing a little renaissance. There’s Big Bottom Market, where the sandwich board outside says ‘Oprah’s favorite biscuits.’ I don’t know where that came from, but they do have really good biscuits—I can attest to that.”