San Francisco usually makes it onto lists of the “Top 10 Best, Most Exciting, Fun Cities in the World.” While I had flown to this great city by the Bay a few times when I was still working for computer companies in Manila and visited for social events, it was only recently that I got to experience San Francisco’s culinary scene.
It just so happens that my eldest daughter Trisha and her family now live in Livermore in the Tri-Valley, only about an hour from the city. When my youngest daughter April (based in Melbourne, Australia) had to train at her company’s San Francisco head office, we found the chance to explore the area. Trisha’s daughter, Daniela, who works as a scientist at a San Francisco company, volunteered to take us on an unforgettable 2-day tour, during which we enjoyed these great San Francisco food and dining experiences.
1. Clam Chowder And Sourdough
Pier 39 On Fisherman’s Wharf
Daniela took us on an Uber ride to Pier 39, pointing out the floral door, the famous carousel ride, the wooden boardwalk, many exotic shops, the huge heart, the giant crab sculpture, and the great bay views. But when the barks, honks, grunts, growls, roars, moans, or whatever else they call those sounds grew louder, we knew we were approaching the seals that have made the unique pier home for years.
Pier 39 is in the famous neighborhood called Fisherman’s Wharf. We spotted colorful street art, a view of the mystical Alcatraz, and old WWII ships on display.
But it is best known for its restaurants and food outlets. We avoided those offering crabs because that’s what was planned for dinner. But my granddaughter insisted we stop for snacks at the Boudin Bakery for their remarkable flagship sourdough bread perfectly paired with classic clam chowder. At certain times you can even see the bakers at work through a 30-foot observation window and ask questions (and get answers) through a two-way intercom system.
2. Chocolates And Chocolate Ice Cream
A walk past the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park would usually give you a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but this day she was hiding. The road took us up to Ghirardelli Square, a lovely shopping area with captivating arches and classy shops. We entered the lower level and went straight up to the marketplace at the second level. And there we bought plenty of chocolates to bring home. We also could not resist the different versions of chocolate in decadent ice cream!
3. Roman-Style Pizza And Craft Beer
Afterward, we met April for lunch at Delarosa, a popular pizza place near her office on Market Street. It was buzzing with activity, just like a festive Italian party, with all the millennials taking lunch breaks from their high-tech jobs. That’s what the restaurant is known for: “Communal-style all-day dining, 7 days a week.” Their interpretation of great craft beer (and also Italian and Californian wines and other craft cocktails) paired with their Roman-style pizza has definitely made a mark with the young and the young-at-heart.
4. Dim Sum
Another Uber ride took us to Chinatown. Whoa! Beyond the Dragon Gate unfolded an area bustling with alleys filled with all kinds of cultural products from the East: Home décor, gadgets, souvenirs, produce, baked goods, dry goods, et cetera. We found plenty of cocktail and karaoke bars, food joints, etc. as bright-red round lanterns hanging over the streets contributed to the festive atmosphere. Ornate buildings and temples made for great photo-ops, too.
Then she led us to her favorite little bakery, Good Mong Kok. There are no tables or chairs. You fall in line, order your dim sum selections, and eat standing outside on the sidewalk. They are truly exceptional (and inexpensive) dim sums. We ordered so much that, reserving our appetite for the grand crab dinner that night, we took home a lot for the next day’s breakfast. San Francisco’s Chinatown is America’s oldest and is the largest outside of Asia. Don’t miss this unique experience.
5. Vietnamese Roasted Crabs And Garlic Noodles
At last, it was time for the grand crab dinner! Crustacean is the sister restaurant of Thanh Long, the classic Vietnamese restaurant that has served its famous roasted crab with garlic noodles for ages. Thanh Long blossomed into a multi-million-dollar empire after the family arrived in 1975, fleeing the Communist takeover of South Vietnam. It was hailed as San Francisco’s first Vietnamese restaurant, regularly patronized by celebrities such as Harrison Ford.
A friend — the CEO of the computer company that supplied equipment to the organization where I oversaw automation — introduced us to this culinary experience. She treated me and my young daughters to this popular spot in the late 1980s. Since then, my children have gushed that it was the best meal they have ever had anywhere in the world and have dreamed of going back. I took them to the more accessible and upscale sister restaurant that was added to meet the huge demand. Yes, we each devoured one huge crab, complementing bites with oozing forkfuls of divine garlic noodles. Do this at least once in your lifetime.
6. Indian Food
San Francisco is also a fashion mecca, so the next day my granddaughter took us to some favorite stores. First was Uniqlo (whose brand ambassadors included tennis icons Djokovic and Federer) to see what all the fuss is about this Japanese brand. We discovered the company secrets in plain sight: great designs and outstanding materials. Afterward, she took us to JINS, another Japanese brand for fashion eye frames frequented by millennials. I found some styles for me (I guess that at 74, I still feel 34). The store closed in August 2022 as online sales soared.
Finally, it was time to pick up April for lunch. Curious, I wanted to see the secrets of Zendesk, one of the most successful innovative high-tech companies in customer service (Uber and Airbnb are two of its biggest clients). We discovered some reasons. The creativity of every employee is unleashed with modern, fully-stocked food/bar areas on every floor. There are nooks for two, areas for bigger groups, and even a creative studio. Desks and chairs are available for every style of working: standing up or slouching over a laptop (my preference).
Lunch brought our focus back to our happy little family. April chose Little Delhi, and my husband could not agree more. They both love Indian cuisine. Classic dishes enjoyed by the people of New Delhi for decades are offered at this modest but impeccably themed place. Even the taste of Old Delhi, famous for its layered parathas — a type of bread fried on a griddle and made without yeast — is served here. Daniela and I found some great options and we all had a great time.
After lunch, Daniela took us to a place I never knew even existed: Japantown. It is a sprawling, two-wing two-level mall of everything Japanese: décor, gadgets, clothing, art, food, cosmetics, etc. I loved the imposing giant pagoda at the entrance, the wall mural of colorful Japanese umbrellas, the red bridge/stairs connecting the two floors, replicas of temples, and other Instagrammable spots. Daniela had to get a specific cosmetic item, best for Asian skin, at an outlet, but it was at the store selling matcha ice cream in tons of different flavors where we lingered the longest. I had the green tea version, of course — four scoops!
8. The Filipino Homecoming
Finally, for dinner, we met the rest of the family at Max’s, that classic Filipino restaurant we have loved since my children were born. It is known as “The House that Fried Chicken Built,” with as many as 170 branches in the Philippines. I have tried to replicate their whole fried chicken, which is crispy on the outside, moist inside, and not breaded, but I have failed each time. There are already 14 international branches of this successful restaurant, including six in the U.S., five in Canada, and others in Australia, Dubai, and Kuwait. With other authentic Filipino favorites in their menu selection, it was a trip back home, a family feast of Filipino food. I understand that Filipino cuisine is gaining popularity. This is where to try it.
9. Dessert And Merienda
Right after lunch, Daniela took us to Auntie Em’s Fine Foods and Pastries just next door. Actually, she ships items to me from this store that I love. It specializes in Filipino delicacies for desserts and merienda (snacks). I took the chance to buy a dozen of my favorite ensaymadas (pastries) to bring home. And there are others like kakanins, empanadas, leche flan, bibingka, haleya, etc. You must sample those made from ube (purple yam). The spate of internet articles about it probably indicates that items made from it are also gaining popularity.
We owe these nine amazing food experiences in San Francisco to one of the best tour guides we could ever have. Our millennial granddaughter not only knew the city (and its food) well, but she lovingly gifted us with her precious time and wonderful company.