Food & Drink

50 Things You Need to Eat in San Francisco Before You Die

Published On 06/18/2015 Published On 06/18/2015
Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

1. Rossini

Burger Bar

Address and Info

Union Square

San Francisco’s most expensive sandwich overflows with an embarrassment of luxurious ingredients: “Kobe style Wagyu” beef from Australia, a mega-chunk of foie gras, shaved black truffles, and a black truffle sauce. You’ll feel like a million bucks and will also win Instagram for life. Oh, by the way, it’s $65, which defines decadence, but you're worth it.

2. Secret Breakfast

Humphry Slocombe

Address and Info

The Mission

HumpSlo has lots of sexy ice cream flavors but they all take a way-way-WAY backseat to this grande dame. Secret Breakfast folds bits of caramelized cornflake cookies into a bourbon base that is lush and rich without tasting (too) boozy. It’s actually perfect for breakfast even though the shops don’t typically open until 11am; you can hit the outpost in the Ferry Building as early as 8am on Saturday mornings, though, which you will now that you've read that sentence.

3. Kouign amann

b. patisserie

Address and Info

Pac Heights

One of the best-selling calling cards of this charming Pac Heights bakery is the kouign amann (“queen ah mahn”), an example of fine Viennoiserie made of multiple layers of butter- and sugar-covered pastry dough baked up into a delicate celebration of caramelization and custard. The way it shatters on first bite... yup.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

4. Fried veggie po-boy

Brenda’s Meat & Three

Address and Info

Western Addition

Get up on this sandwich whether you’re a vegetarian or not because it is San Francisco’s most interesting remix of the New Orleans standard -- a standout even among Brenda’s solid meat and seafood choices. Cornmeal-crusted cauliflower, okra, and yams are drenched in vegan chipotle remoulade to create this filling 'boy.

5. Macadamia-crusted mac 'n' cheese

Palm House

Address and Info

Cow Hollow

It takes a lot for a writer who has burned out her macaroni and cheese palate after judging not one but TWO amateur mac & cheese battles and who's sworn the stuff off for pretty much life. Like, fuck mac 'n cheese for real. But crust it on up with some fatty nuts and it’s a game-changer for sure. Can you feel the brand-new day?

6. “Ham”Burger

Cockscomb

Address and Info

SOMA

Chef/owner Chris Cosentino and his young son Easton came up with the idea to blend ham and beef for the burger at his approachable new SOMA restaurant. The blend yields surprisingly juicy results, dude. Dad serves it with grilled onions, Gruyere cheese, Dijon, and fried potatoes. Pro tip: you should go ahead and put an egg on it.

ANAR Restaurant

7. Dolmeh

Anar

Address and Info

SOMA

There are stuffed grape leaves and then there are the transcendent dolmeh at this family-owned traditional Persian restaurant in SOMA. They’re stuffed with ground beef, rice, and split peas and topped with sweet, tart barberries and if they told you they were served as a dessert instead of an appetizer before the awesome main course kebabs and stews you’d totally believe ‘em.



8. Detroit-style red top

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

Address and Info

North Beach

Despite the titular Napoletana, there are several regional pizza styles at play at Tony’s. If you’re a fiend for fried dough and double cheese, you’ll happily eat way too much of the puffy, deep, and square Detroit-style red top, notable for its thick racing stripes of marinara. Brick cheese is layered on the bottom of the pan and on top of the dough for glorious heart-stopping potential.

20th Century Cafe

9. Russian honey cake

20th Century Cafe

Address and Info

Hayes Valley

A labor-intensive nine-layer Russian honey cake (also called Krasinski torte) is a particularly efficient way for fiends to mainline sugar when the urge is just that strong. The layers of cake taste as if they've been soaked in caramelized honey, and they're sandwiched together with honey buttercream. The slice is slim but fat in flavor. Mmm... fat flavor...



10. Carnitas

Nopalito

Address and Info

Inner Sunset and The Panhandle

Nopa’s haute Mexican offshoot deals legit crack in the form of a giant hunk of pork that’s been braised in orange, milk, cinnamon, beer, and bay leaf, accompanied with a little cabbage salad, spicy pickled vegetables, and tomatillo salsa to pile into tortillas with it. It's braised until it’s so tender it falls straight off the bone and into your mouth. It’s best experienced in slow motion so you catch all those flavors.

11. Chocolate snacking cake

Charles Chocolates

Address and Info

The Mission

This square, layered cake spanks other chocolate cakes both for superior flavor and value. The word snacking implies modest eating but this is an honest-to-goodness mountain of brownie-like cake with chocolate and mocha ganache. It’s inspired by owner Chuck Siegel’s summer camp memories, proof that we were all clearly going to the wrong summer camps.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

12. Louisiana andouille pizza

Pauline’s Pizza

Address and Info

The Mission

OG pizza parlor Pauline’s has a Cajun-style pizza with a light and bubbly crust that isn’t easily duplicated elsewhere around town, which earns it a spot on this list. This particular pie is topped with andouille sausage, red bell peppers, green onions, and a fontina cheese that’s so creamy you will not actually miss the mozzarella.



13. The Real Korean Tacos

Namu Gaji

Address and Info

The Mission and The Embarcadero

Another brilliant ethnic repurpose of the taco concept, this one using nori as the tortilla replacement. Filling options include tofu and chicken, but it's all about the interplay of Korean marinated and grilled bulgogi beef, kimchi salsa, and spicy aïoli.

14. Dried porcini doughnuts

Rich Table

Address and Info

Hayes Valley

Melted raclette (a cow’s milk cheese) and dried porcini mushroom shards push these sinkers straight over the line of common decency and into food fantasy territory. If you've never had a savory donut, first, we don't even know you, and second, this is the best way to pop that cherry.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

15. Oboro tofu

Eiji

Address and Info

The Castro

Even if you're averse to the blocky and boring forms of tofu found at the grocery store, ask for the made-to-order oboro tofu and your perception will shift. It’s kind of like white, unsweetened flan, all warm and jiggly in a wading pool of soy milk made fresh at the restaurant. Soy sauce and toppings like bits of ginger, daikon radish, green onion, sesame seeds, and ribbons of shiso leaf are customizable options to enhance the delicate flavor.



16. Tacos tropical

Loló

Address and Info

The Mission

Thinly sliced rounds of jicama are used in place of tortillas for the most creative tacos in town. The crunchy vegetable is a clever alternate vehicle for such a ubiquitous dish. Crowned with crispy panko-breaded shrimp and mango salsa, you’ll be tempted to recreate this dish at home but you won’t be able to without injuring yourself (jicama’s The Worst).

17. Pomme d'amour

Knead Patisserie

Address and Info

The Mission

The signature pastry from the bakery arm of Local Mission Eatery is a vanilla crème brûlée loaded into a puff pastry that's been streaked with crunchy salted caramel. It's beautiful, evil, awesome, and frightening.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

18. State bird with provisions

State Bird Provisions

Address and Info

Fillmore

Quail is the California state bird and the namesake inspiration for this eclectic and perpetually packed restaurant. Here the quail is crusted in a uniquely awesome batter that has inclusions like pumpkin seeds and house-made croutons before taking a bath in some hot oil and swimming atop a tangle of lemon-stewed onions. You’ll probably need to order two. Wait, no, you'll DEFINITELY need to order two.

19. Coconut black rice pudding

Kin Khao

Address and Info

Union Square

Forget the fried bananas, this Thai dessert is served family-style with coconut milk, caramel, and a crunchy mix of brown rice, sesame, and peanuts to put on top. Its ability to stun the eater senseless even after a meal of savory delights should not be underestimated.

20. Kitfo

Sheba Piano Lounge

Address and Info

Fillmore

Get in touch with your blood-boiling inner carnivore with this luscious Ethiopian steak tartare drenched in spiced, clarified butter. Ironically, even though the meat is uncooked, the menu states that the dish takes an extra 15 minutes to prepare. It’s worth the wait, especially if you’re chilling at the table by the fireplace.

21. Braised lamb “abgoosht”

Fly Trap

Address and Info

SOMA

Abgoosht is a popular dish in Iran, the home country of Chef/owner Hoss Zaré, who is always on a quest to infuse Mediterranean food with Persian influence. The lamb is braised until stupid tender, the kind that a fork just needs to quiver near to fall in a stew of chickpeas, potatoes, turmeric, and preserved lime. It’s served with lavash squares and torshi, an addictive pickled relish.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

22. Coffee crunch cake

Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop

Address and Info

Japantown

For 40 years, this small bakery inside the Super Mira Market in Japantown has sold this homage to a “koffee krunch kake” that was served at Blum’s, a defunct chain of Bay Area soda fountain/bakeshops that was popular in the '50s and '60s. Light, sponge-like layers of coffee-flavored cake are frosted with whipped cream and garnished with shards of honeycomb-like coffee candy. It sells out by 11am daily, which is simply justification to eat cake for breakfast.

23. Custard French toast

Nopa

Address and Info

Western Addition

Brunch should be an occasion to pamper oneself to the point of sheer obnoxiousness, and thick slices of butter-bombed French toast filled with silken custard are an exemplary way to achieve this crucial goal. Dish creator Chef Amy Brown now operates Marla Bakery in the Richmond District.

24. Frito pie

Chile Pies

Address and Info

The Panhandle

This New Mexico-style junk food hack is served in a split Fritos bag with (or, for vegetarians, without) ground beef and pinto beans, and is dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, New Mexican red chiles, and sour cream. It’s some tasty white-trash business, to be sure, and you need to slum it.

25. The Bird

Bacon Bacon

Address and Info

Ashbury Heights and Upper Haight

There are few things more boring than a turkey sandwich unless it’s The Bird. It’s layered with provolone, coleslaw, avocado, and chicken-fried bacon (!!!!) for a sweet combo of textures and flavors. The thick and satisfying chicken-fried bacon is not to be confused with Bacon Bacon’s bacon fried chicken, which is like regular fried chicken only with bacon-studded batter.

26. Sweet Southern Lady

Crème Brûlée Cart

Address and Info

The Mission, FiDi, and The Castro

Crème brûlée used to be known as a lazy dessert item for restaurants without imagination, but this cart, truck, and shop that originally started from a makeshift set-up in Dolores Park elevates the confection with the crackable candy shell into something fun. A vanilla bean base gets candied pecans and bourbon caramel sauce on top. Like all desserts should.

Flickr/kanuck

​27. Kryptonite

Ike’s Place

Address and Info

The Castro

Assuming you're not Superman (you're not are you???), you'll need this hero of a sandwich, it’s got six different meats inside: corned beef, roast beef, pastrami, ham, salami, and turkey. Oh, but that’s not all, layer those with avocado, bacon, beer-battered onion rings, extra pepper Jack cheese, mozzarella sticks, pesto, and jalapeño poppers. And good night.

Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

28. The Rebel Within

Craftsman and Wolves

Address and Info

The Mission

This Scotch egg-style bad boy conceals a poached egg inside a bacon, Asiago cheese, and scallion muffin. It's served with the yolk still runny, but toast it up and it becomes a whole other taste sensation to experience. Diminutive in size, it’s satisfying as heck. Also: get two.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

29. Pastrami cheese fries

Wise Sons Deli

Address and Info

The Mission and SOMA

This is a fairly genius combination because you’ve got a whole meal right here in one go: thick, soft fries piled high with chopped pastrami, Reuben sauce, green onions, and a kicky relish to pull it all together. Now we’re talking animal style!

30. Gaeng pa pla

Hawker Fare

Address and Info

The Mission

The closest your city-dwelling self is going to get to the jungle might very well be via the “jungle curry” on the menu at James Syhabout’s ambitious Thai restaurant. Catfish, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, galangal, and shallots swim in a bath of deep red oil, leaving an addictive funk and burn behind.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

31. French fries

Al’s Place

Address and Info

The Mission

Listed under the “Snackles” section of the menu at this meat-on-the-side restaurant (huh??), these thin-cut potatoes were called “fermented French fries” but that was quickly dropped because it sounds kind of gross. But they’re incredibly not-gross, they’re just brined in vinegar (and probably some secret stuff) for a few days to give them that salt and vinegar potato chip-type irresistibility. They’re served with a nice sauce made from smoked apples because San Francisco.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

32. Frozen Greek yogurt

Souvla

Address and Info

Hayes Valley

Screw your mother’s fro-yo shop and come to this charming Greek cafe for frozen Greek yogurt topped with crumbled pieces of baklava, a dessert made of phyllo dough layered with walnuts and honey. Ask them to add some sour cherry syrup too and welcome your new dependency issue.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

33. Tuna poke

Liholiho Yacht Club

Address and Info

Tendernob

Your broke or relatively broke ass probably isn’t going to Hawaii anytime soon, but you can get a transportive taste of the islands at this welcoming restaurant that rocks a potluck vibe. Raw, melt-in-your-mouth tuna poke is one of the only traditional items here, plated beautifully on an edible nori seaweed cracker and garnished with sesame oil and radishes.

34. Noodles with peanut sauce

San Tung Chinese Restaurant

Address and Info

Inner Sunset

Everyone’s always giving all the shine to the dry-fried chicken wings at this Sunset institution. But the restaurant’s spectacular homemade noodles drowning in a rich peanut sauce with scallops, shrimp, onions, peas, and some key crunch from water chestnuts quietly rules. (Get the wings too, though.)

35. Marlowe Burger

Marlowe

Address and Info

SOMA

So nice, they serve it thrice! At three places, that is: Marlowe and both its sister restaurants -- The Cavalier and Park Tavern. Topped with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, and horseradish aioli, you should already be heading to the location nearest you. It’s probably most fun to consume it in the dimly lit English pub environs of The Cavalier, though.

36. Kaddo

Helmand Palace

Address and Info

Russian Hill

It’s really not cool that pumpkin has become the domain of the basic bitch and been almost universally ruined. The only pumpkin dish in San Francisco still keeping it real is the baked baby pumpkin appetizer topped with ground beef and yogurt sauce at this Afghan restaurant. It can be served vegetarian or vegan (the latter without sauce). Reclaim the pumpkin here.

Naked Lunch

37. Foie gras torchon sandwich

Naked Lunch

Address and Info

North Beach

With the recent overturn of California’s ban on the sale of foie gras, this North Beach sandwich has been resurrected from the dead, Jesus-style. A generous lobe of foie is combined with smoked duck breast, oven-dried tomato, butter lettuce, and a sprinkle of truffle salt.

39. Paper masala dosa

Udupi Palace

Address and Info

The Mission 

Described on the menu as a “jumbo thin rice crepe filled with spiced potatoes and onions,” the paper masala dosa at this South Indian vegetarian restaurant is more than jumbo, it’s actually insanely big -- like a baseball bat or something. It only marginally and awkwardly fits on your table, which is pretty fun in itself.

Delica

40. Roast beef nigiri

Delica

Address and Info

Embarcadero

A sliver of seared roast beef, arugula, and shallots blanket a pat of sushi rice for a unique nigiri available at this streamlined Japanese deli counter in the Ferry Building. It’s served chilled, which really makes the flavors come together. While a lot of sushi joints have stunt rolls with meat inside, this is an elegant and affordable alternative with more than novelty value.

41. The Best Indian Pizza

Zante Pizza & Indian Cuisine

Address and Info

Bernal Heights

If the idea of combining Indian food with pizza sounds scary, ever notice how pizza-like good Indian naan bread can be? Zante’s has done all the work for you here, combining a fine Indian meal of tandoori lamb, chicken, and prawns with spinach, eggplant, and cauliflower, all on an edible pizza plate. They already call it “The Best Indian Pizza” for a reason.

42. Cragel

House of Bagels

Address and Info

RIchmond

This incredibly fun twist-up of a croissant and a bagel comes in crazy flavors like Nutella and jalapeño, but the plain, original version best shows off this wondrous hybrid. Bonus: there’s no Cronut-like line.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

43. California croissant

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Address and Info

Tenderknob

So coveted are the hybridized pastries at this upstart hipster bakery in the Tenderknob, someone infamously broke into the place and stole the recipe book, leaving the cash. (Either that, or they are PR geniuses.) As zany as it sounds, a wasabi- and ginger-spiked salmon sushi roll without rice stuffed into an airy croissant is one of the best non-corner store sandwich options in the vicinity, a surprisingly harmonious concoction that really comes together when drizzling soy sauce on it. No guys, really.

Tamara Palmer/Thrillist

44. Quattro forni

Capo's

Address and Info

North Beach

Tony Gemignani’s Chicago mob-style pizzeria only makes 20 of these thick, square-cut pizzas per day. The name comes from the four different ovens that put in work on this bad boy, including coal- and wood-fired beauties that impart fluffy, chewy, and crispy textures, plus a final oven that gives the bottom a sizzling fry-up not unlike a donut that’s fresh out of the oil. There’s a basic version with mozzarella, garlic, and oregano, or you can tart it up with prosciutto, arugula, and Parmesan; both are wonderfully intense.

45. Tiger tail

Uncle Benny's Doughnuts

Address and Info

Outer Sunset

You’ve already no doubt sidled up to Bob’s Donuts in the middle of the night to soak up your confusicants with delicious, fresh-out-the-fryer sinkers. Now you’re ready to venture out to the Avenues and eat a donut the size of your arm, a glazed, twisted treat stuffed with chocolate, cinnamon, and walnuts. Fun fact: an actual adult tiger’s tail can be over 3ft in length.

46. Saffron linguine & clams

Scala’s Bistro

Address and Info

Union Square

When you need to escape the schlock of Union Square tourists and shopping (see: always), duck into the Sir Francis Drake’s restaurant for some handmade pasta. The linguine is infused with saffron for an unbelievable golden color and rich flavor, an elegant bed for garlic-amped Manila clams, roasted tomato, white wine, and spicy Calabrian chile.

47. Bao de chicharon

Chino

Address and Info

The Mission

You’ve probably had plenty of Chinese steamed pork buns in your time in San Francisco (you have, RIGHT??). Well, they do ‘em differently out in La Mission at Chino, where Mexican influences intermingle on the plate, resulting in a soft, fluffy Chinese bao stuffed with fried pork skin (chicharrones), pork belly, avocado salsa, and pickled onions. A perfect foil to one of Chino’s inventive alcoholic boba tapioca slushies (paging 50 SF Things You Need to Drink in SF Before You Die).

48. Peking duck pizza

Mozzeria

Address and Info

The Mission

Most of the pizzas at Mozzeria are in the Italian-leaning Neapolitan style, but this is a remarkable Asian detour. Topped with hoisin, sesame seeds, green onion, and cucumber, it's strongly reminiscent of a savory Chinese green-onion pancake. Incidentally, Mozzeria is owned and operated by a hearing-impaired couple who both employ and attract other members of the deaf community to the restaurant, thus all the note-writing and use of sign language.

49. The Drifter

Basik Cafe

Address and Info

Polk Gulch

Superfood-packed, sorbet-like acai bowls are all the rage in tropical places like Hawaii and Brazil, but their deliciousness made it into the fog this year with the debut of new shops like this Hawaiian import. A hint of raw cacao blended into the acai fruit with cashew milk and toppings like raw cacao nibs, almonds, banana, and strawberry make a bowl called The Drifter taste naughty even though it’s mega-healthy. Who knows? It may just buy you another day or two to get through this list.

Flickr/queenkv

50. Rainbow salad

Burma Superstar

Address and Info

Richmond

We promise we’re not trying to fuck with you by telling you to eat a damn salad before you die. We're telling you to eat THE damn salad: 22 different ingredients (including dried shrimp, green papaya, potato, rice noodles, flour noodles, and fried garlic) go into this colorful Burmese beauty, which is mixed for you tableside and will impress the hell out of your date.