A Taste of San Francisco

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A Taste of San Francisco
There's perhaps no better dining city in the country than San Francisco, but we're kind of biased here. Whether you want a simple cup of coffee, a stellar Michelin-starred dining experience, or a brunch thing, the options are as endless as they are satisfying. Pull up a chair and take a bite out of San Francisco.
Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger/Locanda
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    The Award Winners
    Seriously, it's hard to go wrong when eating in San Francisco, but if there's one word you need to learn before dining at the city's coveted eateries, it's this one: reservations. They can be hard to come by at places like State Bird Provisions and SPQR, and the myriad others that swirl with stars, awards, and accolades such as Quince, Atelier Crenn, Mister Jiu's, Gary Danko, and Zuni Café. The top vegetarian delight in the city is Greens, a longtime San Francisco favorite, but Al's Place, with its meat-on-the-side menu, is holding its own. For date night or just dinner in a dreamy setting paired with excellent food, book a patio table at Foreign Cinema.
    Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger/Locanda
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    North Beach
    Other cities have Little Italy but San Francisco has North Beach, a neighborhood with restaurants that would make Mama proud. Pizza lovers swoon over Tony's Pizza Napoletana where a champion pizzaiolo (Tony) makes a variety of styles including Detroit, Roman, and his prize-winning Margherita. Liguria Bakery has been selling its focaccia, cut in 8 x 10 inch slabs and wrapped in stiff white paper, since 1911. Follow your nose to Sotto Mare, known for its hearty bowls of cioppino, while Original Joe's serves up heaping portions of Italian-American favorites. You can dine at Fior d'Italia, the oldest Italian restaurant in the city, or slip into the red leather booths at the legendary Tosca Cafe, reopened in 2013. Order the meatballs (they're not on the menu, but they're good).
    Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    San Francisco’s Food-Truck Scene
    The city’s food-truck phenomenon has rolled into town, and just as you'd expect in such a food-savvy city, this four-wheeling food scene offers some of the best eats around. Check it out at the summertime Presidio Picnic, presented by Off the Grid, a group that sponsors food-truck gatherings around the Bay Area, including in the Mission and at Fort Mason's Friday night market. The year-round SoMa StrEat Food Park and Spark Social SF are anchored in their locations but host different food trucks each day, keeping the choices, like the food, fresh.
    Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    Drinking in San Francisco
    Satiate your thirst for San Francisco with a tour of Anchor Brewing Company, which begins with tastes of the beloved beer in the on-site taproom (there is also a beer garden across the street). If you haven't acquired a taste for sake then introduce yourself at True Sake, once America's only shop dedicated to the Japanese drink. Don your best floral shirt, because tiki-drink culture is alive and well at happy hour at popular spots such as Smuggler's Cove, Tiki Haven, Pagan Idol, and the indelible Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar. Learn the story of how the Irish coffee was made famous at the Buena Vista. Sample from the tequila collection (and join the tequila club) at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant, or sip Francis Ford Coppola wines at the teeny bar at his Cafe Zoetrope, located in the same building that houses his production company. Cocktail lovers can grab a stool at any number of bars across the city where mixologists show off their skills. Some to consider are Trick Dog, Alembic, Pacific Cocktail Haven, and Mezcalito. For a nightcap, take the elevator to the Top of the Mark for the 100 Martini Menu and bridge-to-bridge views.

    Courtesy Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
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    Get in the Kitchen
    A little know-how goes a long way, and several schools let you learn about food and give you delicious homework. The Cheese School of San Francisco offers an array of classes and events, from how to pair with wine to sniffing out a perfect Brie. Learn knife skills, Chinese noodle making, and more at the San Francisco Cooking School, or head to the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito for one-day classes that cater to kids and adults. If rubbing elbows with a famous chef is up your alley, spend a weekend with James Beard Award–winning chef Joanne Weir in her Pacific Heights studio-kitchen, learning tricks and tips. Bi-Rite Market's 18 Reasons schedules a wide variety of classes, including mastering sauces and making Peruvian ceviche. You can up your barista game at home after a workshop from Four Barrel Coffee. San Francisco Baking Institute's one- and two-day courses teach you how to bake your own daily bread (or macarons, or croissants).
    Courtesy Cheese School
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    Coffee Culture
    San Francisco is a coffee town, and choosing a favorite inspires rivalries that would put the Hatfields and McCoys to shame. The bottom line is, the coffee is good at whichever caffeine temple you worship in. For some it's the industrial-chic vibe of Sightglass in SoMa, while others swear by their daily Blue Bottle, whose cafés and kiosks have sprung up all over town. Enjoy your coffee with a little something sweet on the side at Tartine Bakery or boosted with Irish whiskey at the Buena Vista.
    Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger/Four Barrel Coffee
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    Restaurants with a View
    There's something about a great view that seasons a dining experience just right, and San Francisco has some killer ones. Book a window seat at Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant for an up-close gander at the waves crashing onto Ocean Beach. The casual bistro and fine-dining restaurant of the historic Cliff House look out onto the Pacific Ocean and the ruins of the Sutro Baths. If you find yourself hungry at Fisherman's Wharf, the family-run Alioto's has an upstairs dining room overlooking the boats that haul in fresh catch each morning. For premier vegetarian cuisine, Greens has been San Francisco's go-to for more than three decades and has marina and Golden Gate views. If you're up for a ferry ride, some of the best views of the city are from across the bay in downtown Sausalito or Tiburon.
    Photo courtesy of Scott Chernis/San Francisco Travel Association
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    America's oldest Chinatown is full of history and delicious discoveries. The newly opened China Live is a one-stop marketplace for Chinese food, with shops, several open kitchens, a tea lounge, and a soon-to-open high-end restaurant. Follow your nose down Ross Alley to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory, or find your way to America's oldest dim sum restaurant, Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House, on Pagoda Place. Mister Jiu's serves up contemporary Chinese dishes (and boasts a Michelin star); the bar lures customers with cocktails like Wealth, Happiness, and Prosperity. The Golden Gate Bakery makes the best egg tarts in the city, while the moon cakes at Eastern Bakery are coveted, especially during Lunar New Year.
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    San Francisco does food well, and if there is one meal that locals excel at, it's brunch. San Franciscans plan their weekends around it, and restaurants have risen to the challenge. For oysters and white wine with Bay Bridge views, head to Waterbar, where 5 cents from each oyster sold goes to a local charity. Foreign Cinema is also big on oysters, with about 10 different kinds to slurp, but the caramel pecan sticky buns and house-made Pop Tarts are reasons to return again and again. If shrimp and grits, bananas Foster, French toast, and music are your Sunday style, look no further than 1300 on Fillmore's epic Gospel Brunch. Brenda's French Soul Food does brunch New Orleans–style, with out-of-this-world sweet and savory beignets. Outerlands often has a line outside waiting for weekend brunch, and you'll understand why after you try the Dutch pancakes, salt cod porridge, and ginger-lemon apple cider.