San Francisco Food Tour

I moved to Helsinki from San Francisco, California just under two months ago. While I’ve had the opportunity to try and have grown to love Finnish foods such as korvapuusti (cinnamon buns, sprinkled in pearl sugar instead of coated in icing, like in North America) or riisipiirakka (rice pastries originating from Karelia, in Eastern Finland), there are some foods that I can’t help but miss. San Francisco has so much to offer and this list only covers a miniscule portion, but I hope it comes in handy if you ever visit the City by the Bay!

  1. Burritos

If there’s one thing I miss, it’s the burritos. San Francisco is lauded across the United States for its burritos, with articles upon articles debating which taqueria has the best burritos in the city. Most of them are located in the Mission District, a historically Mexican neighbourhood. My personal favourite is Pancho Villa, which has won awards across California for its salsas (they have an entire wall dedicated to certificates and medals). I usually get the prawn burrito, while my brother loves their carnitas (pork). They also have a wide selection of agua frescas (fruit/flower juices mixed with water and sugar). Other highly recommended taquerias include La Taqueria, The Little Chihuahua, and El Farlito. Fusion has also been popping up in recent years, with sushirritos from the aptly named Sushirrito (I don’t think I need to explain this), and Mexican-Filipino from Señor Sisig, which incorporates traditional Filipino ingredients and meats into burritos.    

     2. Asian food

Helsinki has some pretty good Thai and Nepalese food, which is something that took me by surprise. But as the cold starts to set in, the fact that I can’t get a big, hot bowl of pho is massively kind of disappointing. In San Francisco, everyone has their hole-in-the-wall restaurant where they go for pho, dumplings, or ramen. There are hundreds of Asian restaurants across the Sunset and Richmond districts in the Western part of the city, but there is of course Chinatown, Japantown and the Tenderloin (for Vietnamese) nearer the city centre. I'm partial to Vietnamese and Chinese, so I'll be recommending those, but you can find literally any Asian cuisine your heart desires, from sushi to curry to kebab.

For Vietnamese, there’s Kevin’s Noodle House, which has some of the tastiest broth in the city. Other favourites for pho are Yummy Yummy and Pho Phu Quoc (I also strongly recommend their imperial rolls and vermicelli dishes). If you’re downtown and want a quick bite to eat, there’s also Saigon Sandwich which has some of the best bahn mi in the country for less than $6. For dim sum, I usually go to this place where hygiene standards are a bit questionable, but it’s a mere 10 minute walk from my parents’ and I’ve been going there since I could barely form sentences. But people rave about Good Mong Kok Bakery in Chinatown, where the lines are long and parking is nonexistent, but the food is so, so worth it, especially the shrimp har goa (dumplings) and pork buns.

     3. Ice Cream

Why is she putting ice cream on the list? Finnish ice cream is great! I agree, and I especially love how Finland has a lot of protein-rich ones. But some of the places I’m going to mention are recognized nationally, so you know they’re special. Bi-Rite Creamery has two locations, one of which is right off Mission Dolores Park (which is in the Mission District, so after getting a burrito you can head to Bi-Rite). They strive to use organic, local and/or sustainable ingredients whenever they can, and offer unconventional flavours such as honey lavender and black sesame. In addition to ice cream, they also sell cookies and cake.

Salt and Straw is another ice cream shop that sells unconventional flavours. While it’s based in Portland, Oregon, each of its locations offer flavours unique to them, and rotating seasonal flavours. The two San Francisco shops, located in the trendy neighbourhoods of Pacific Heights and Hayes Valley, have unusual flavours such as Sightglass Coffee Cashew Praline and Bone Marrow and Smoked Cherries. Don’t worry, they still have classic ones such as cookie dough and vanilla. Of course, these are all made whenever possible with locally sourced, organic, and sustainable ingredients. Other great places include Smitten, where they make the ice cream in front of you with liquid nitrogen, CREAM, which specialises in ice cream sandwiches and has since expanded outside of the San Francisco Bay Area due to its success, and Mitchell's, a local favourite since 1953 and serving flavours inspired by the Latino and Filipino population of its neighbourhood. 

    4. Bakeries

Nothing is wrong with Finnish rye bread, but sometimes I just miss the bread from my local bakeries. Arizmendi is located in the Sunset district, and is a worker-owned cooperative. People line up in the mornings before the doors open to get the day’s first breads, but the raved about items are, wait for it, its pizzas. Hoodline, a local news site, ranks Arizmendi at #13 nationally, which is impressive for a small bakery. The pizza menu changes daily, offering simple pies such as tomato sauce with pesto to more hearty ones such as potato, mixed greens, cheese, and rosemary oil. You can find the daily menus on their website.

Acme Bakery is based in Berkeley, just outside of San Francisco. It only operates four bakeries, one in San Francisco and another in Berkeley, but primarily targets restaurants and markets, which I believe actually makes the product more accessible. The bread is crispy on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside, and if you’re lucky enough to get a freshly-baked loaf, it almost melts on your tongue.

You can’t make a list of San Francisco bakeries without mentioning Boudin, or sourdough bread for that matter, which is what Boudin is known for. Founded during the 1849 California Gold Rush, the chain continues to bake its sourdough breads using the yeast starter from then. While maybe not my first choice for bread, I would never turn it down, and it's a nice, cheap, and very San Francisco souvenir to bring back home. My cousins in Colorado love it and always bring a loaf or two back when they visit.

Other notable bakeries include La Boulangerie de San Francisco, whose pains au chocolat I used to eat every Friday after school, Tartine, a French-inspired bakery critically acclaimed across the country, and Arsicault Bakery, which rose to fame in 2016 after Bon Appetit magazine named it the Best New Bakery in the country.

Bonus:

If you really want to go down the tourist route, get a sourdough bread bowl with clam chowder on Fisherman’s Wharf. You can get one at any of the restaurants or stalls along the street. There’s even a Boudin where you can watch the bakers make the bread. If you eat outside though, be sure to not let the seagulls steal or knock over your food!