San Francisco has gone through various incarnations, that all make up the vibrant city as it is today. From being known to celebrate the arts and creativity, to being the hub of gay pride, to stimulating start ups and becoming tech-central. One thing is clearly apparent in the modern day metropolis: The food scene is bloody fantastic. With applications such as Yelp, and Trip Advisor, you’re unlikely to find a bad egg (or an overcooked one), however there is the risk of highly rated restaurants to be an odd mix of ‘quantity is king’ or somewhat trend driven reviews. Here’s a Melburnian’s perspective, of some of the stand out places to eat and stay in San Francisco.
Craftsman and Wolves
A boutique bounty of baked goods, Craftsman and Wolves will have you umm-ing and ahh-ing over too many tasty choices. Simple and understated, the fare focuses on minimal ingredients, and quality flavour. With three locations across San Francisco, the self-touted contemporary patisserie is a popular pastry pit-stop. We’d recommend something sweet and something savoury off the constantly changing menu, and if you’re keen to go full Americano, the filter coffee is great, too.
Contemporary farm to table dining has never been more impressive—or laid back—than at Commonwealth. This classy and comfortable dining spot in the Mission District of San Francisco, is where Chef Jason Fox presents refined and unique flavours with a definite wow factor. A menu that changes with the seasons, and a heck of a well-thought out wine list to match, it’s no surprise that Commonwealth is packed out, even on week nights. There are A La Carte menu options available, but with the six-course tasting starting at $80USD, (add $50 for wine matches) it’s a unique and engaging experience that won’t break the bank. The icing on the cake is that $10 of every tasting menu sold is donated to local charitable initiatives. Consciously dine for the common wealth, and indulge in the richness of food, wine, welcoming hosts, and a darn memorable experience.
Listed in Bon Appetit and GQ as one of America’s Best New Restaurants, The Perennial is using a progressive farming ethos to situate itself as one of San Francisco’s most unique contemporary restaurants. From an aquaponic greenhouse, to a sustainable interior design, although their ethics are loud and proud here, it doesn’t get in the way of some fantastic food and creative combinations. The pumpkin seed bisque with crisp sun choke, Nikita pears, cardamom and lemon oil is rich, smooth and silky, while the pastured lamb with kale, kohlrabi, lamb fat carrots and Cuban oregano is tender and impressively flavourful. Would go back.
Cool down like a cucumber after queuing in the sun for some creamy cones. Bi-Rite Creamery will have a line—two actually. One for ordering, another for ice-cream photography. And how could you not? With vibrant and intense flavours such as black sesame and boysenberry, you can’t stop at just one scoop. Top tip: Cross the road diagonally and enjoy your summery treat in the glorious Dolores park, perfect for people watching!
Sons and Daughters is definitely on the pricier side, but this tag comes with absolutely ZERO regrets. Decadent is the only way to describe the intimate and stylish experience, which comprises of a stunning seven-course degustation. The wine pairings are unique and uncommon, and the dishes scream seasonal creativity. As a guest, there’s no way to describe it other than: you feel special. Special, as in, you’ve been lucky enough to experience a truly delightful culinary moment, and no bloody rain is going to ruin your parade. A phenomenal dining experience, if you’ve got the cash to spend.
Wall to wall with cheesy puns, this cute Fromagerie in the Mission District is the place to brie. Mission Cheese has multiple cheese flight options, charcuterie and other small bites (look out for freshly baked cookies with milk!). The small and casual snack spot is bustling with friendly staff who are happy to recommend a vino for your vacherin, or a cold brew to pair with your camembert.
It’s all about bean to bar at the moment, and Dandelion Chocolate will immerse you in a decadent journey through the origins and techniques that make chocolate one of the best things to exist, ever. Their huge open kitchen is part-factory, where you can watch the workers as they take you through the chocolate making process. Enjoy chocolate flights, pick from the wicked a la carte menu, or take home a treat from their retail range. Positioned in between Mission Cheese and Craftsman and Wolves, we don’t care if you’re stuffed full of pastries and cheese, make Melbourne proud, and save room for chocolate.
If you’re looking for accommodation that’s a little different from your standard kick-your-feet-up hotel, try out the quirky and cool Kimpton Buchanan in Japantown. Decorated with rich deco furniture, and vibrant yet classy artwork, the feel is one of a boutique, modern day, gentleman’s cigar lounge—without the obnoxious smell or associations of course. The best part is it’s pooch friendly! So even if you’re an international traveller, chances are you’ll run into a furry friend in the lobby for a brief bout of exuberant cuddles.
Quirky bar Oddjob is not one you’re likely to miss. It sticks out on the street like a vibrantly painted sore thumb. On the inside, it’s all dark wood and classy saloon vibes. The cocktails are stunning and unique creations. From the Honeysuckle Rose with basil vodka, honeysuckle simple, lemon and rose lemonade, to the ironically labelled ‘Shy Creature’ with American gin, white lotus snake oil, white grape, lemon and ylang ylang. Save time to savour the sips here, grab a booth by the generous windows, and relax in the calm and slow paced lounge.
Smack bang in the heart of the city: It’s not just a selling proposition for the Axiom. With cable cars right outside the door, the subway down the steps, and Union Square quite literally, on the front step, it’s fact. Other than conveniently located, The Axiom is downright funky, with modernity written all over it. From the hotel information and room service menus on the TV (to go paper free), to the refillable jugs by the water filters on each floor, to the neon pink ‘work it’ sign in the gym; there’s nothing dusty about this diva.
Humble and contemporary cuisine in a classy setting. The standout mention for Octavia is the warm reception from floor staff. Set amongst residential iconic San Francisco architecture in Lower Pacific Heights, Octavia spills it’s warm light out onto a fairly quiet street—but it’s bustling inside. Soft lighting and cosy seating help accent refined and crafted food. Seasonality is highlighted in the brief but enticing menu, and the wine list is just as elegant as the food. Lookout for unique tastes such as the blueberry ice cream profiteroles.
Napa Valley is the definition of a luxury, indulgent holiday. A brief drive out of San Francisco, and you find yourself amongst wineries, castles and mighty-fine produce. Here’s a few highlights, that are pretty much non-negotiables you need to fit into a day or weekend trip.
Thomas Keller, most famously known for The French Laundry (also in Napa), is responsible for this really, really, ridiculously delicious bakery. There are usually queues out the door, but you know it’s going to be good when locals are lining up alongside visitors. Baguettes, cookies, pastries, toffee, macarons, you name it, it’s phenomenal. Keller really takes these baked beauties to the next level. Don’t believe me? This GRAM writer went back twice in a 24 hour period, and I’d put money on it that you will, too! Clearly a recipe for success, you can find iterations of the Bouchon Bakery in New York, Las Vegas and Beverley Hills.
The Farmstead is the restaurant element of Long Meadow Ranch winery and cattle-ranch. Situated just off the main road, the cuisine is a wonderfully fresh blend of modern flavours with rustic appeal. Wander through the orchards and veggie crops before or after your meal, or really spoil yourself, and try the (highly recommended) chef’s table. You get a guided tour of the crops and estate where you can pick in-season produce, learn about the history of Long Meadow Ranch, and enjoy dining in an intimate setting. The chef will take you through your decadent degustation, of a menu devised that very day—paired with wine, of course! The warm, local asparagus soup with an olive-oil poached egg, spiced yoghurt and citrus, paired with a chardonnay was pretty as a picture, but also one of those dishes that entice you to close your eyes and try to contain the moan. If you’re going to have a meal at one winery in the Napa Valley, make it this one.
Oxbow Public Market is the place to go for food and beverage related gifts (to yourself). From chocolate to pasta to spirits. Wine, cheese and ice cream. You name a gourmet item of choice, we’ll tell you to go to the Oxbow Public Market. The market is open seven days a week, and evenings are buzzing, with a food court of restaurants in full swing. Slurp down some oysters or mull some wine over an epic cheeseboard. You’ve got to be quick to find a perch though, especially on Tuesday which is Local’s Night!