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Ian's List: The Best of San Francisco

San Francisco has long been known for some of the best food in America. This has been because of our wonderful mix of ethnicities, our agricultural bounty, and the philosophy of pioneers like Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse), who thirty years ago, realized that the best cooking is done with fresh seasonal and very local ingredients. It is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Waters changed the way many cook and eat in America. Her acolytes now cook in many great San Francisco restaurants, and she encouraged small farmers to produce varieties that are never seen in supermarkets. This demand has greatly contributed to the astonishing number of artisan food makers here in the Bay Area. Ian's list is an attempt to note some of the very best food, food producers, and related products and services available in San Francisco today. The emphasis in this list is on takeout food and ingredients. This may change and I will attempt to keep it reasonably current. For restaurants, see Restaurant Reviews (below).

The Best of San Francisco: Dining and Food

  • Farmer's Market: The Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market (Ferry Building, Embarcadero at Market St), Saturdays, 8 am to 1 pm. Without doubt, the best farmers' market in California. Expensive, but if God planted a garden, this is where he (or she) would sell the produce. Unsurpassed selection of organic fruits, vegetables, breads, pastries, seafood, meats, condiments, and flowers, all sold by the growers and producers. Many varieties of fruits, vegetables and other foods never seen in the supermarkets. A number of restaurants have set up outdoor food booths for great breakfasts. Glorious in summer and fall, and always a fun scene. Cuesa.org and FerryPlazaFarmersMarket.com
  • Chocolate: (1) XOX Truffles. Traditional hand dipped truffles. 754 Columbus (at Greenwich), 421-4814. xoxtruffles.com
    (2) CocoaBella Chocolates. Outstanding selection from artisanal chocolatiers in Europe & America. 2102 Union (at Webster), 931-6213. CocoaBellaChocolates.com
    (3) Michael Recchiuti. Very high quality molded chocolates. Sold at the Farmer's Market and a few retailers. RecchiutiChocolates.com
  • Bread: Acme Bread, sold at the Farmers' Market and many better food stores. Their levain is second only to Poilane (Paris).
  • Ice Cream / Gelato / Sorbets:
    (1) Bi-Rite Creamery. Artisanal ice creams and sorbets made from Straus dairy products. 3692 18th St. 626-5600. BiRiteCreamery.com
    (2) Humphry Slocombe. Outstanding ice cream, no preservatives, with very assertive flavors. 2790 Harrison,  550-6971.   HumphrySlocombe.com      
    (3) Tango Gelato. Almost like Florence. 2015 Fillmore (at Pine), 346-3692. TangoGelato.com
  • Bakeries:
    (1) Citizen Cake. Spectacular desserts. Expensive but among the best in the city. 391 Grove (at Gough), 861-2228. CitizenCake.com
    (2) Tartine Bakery. American classics and inspired creations. 600 Guerrero (at 18th St), 487-2600. TartineBakery.com
    (3) Boulangerie. Very French (I'ci tout est au beurre) with first rate pastries. Three locations: 2325 Pine (at Fillmore), 2310 Polk (at Green), 1000 Cole (at Parnassus).
    (4) Noe Valley Bakery. High quality classics. 4073 24th St (at Castro), 550-1405. NoeValleyBakery.com
  • Seafood:
    (1) Seafood Center, 831 Clement (at 9th), for live crab and lobsters.
    (2) Bryan's, 3445 California (Laurel Shopping Ctr), for fresh seafood.
    (3) Real Foods, 2140 Polk (at Vallejo), for fresh seafood.
  • Meat:
    (1) Harris' Restaurant, 2100 Van Ness (at Pacific), 673-1888. Fine aged beef, all cuts. HarrisRestaurant.com
    (2) Bryan's, 3445 California. High quality meat.
    (3) Real Foods, 2140 Polk (at Vallejo.) Outstanding meat from small organic producers.
  • Pizza:
    (1) Pizzeria Delfina, 3611 18th Street, 437-6800; and 2406 California (at Fillmore), 440-1189. The best Neapolitan pizzas in the city. PizzeriaDelfina.com
    (2) Pizzetta 211, 211 23rd Ave. (at Clement), 379-9880. Small, funky space, but outstanding thin crust pizzas.
    (3) Gialina, 2842 Diamond (at Chenery), 239-8500. Again, sparkling thin crust pies. Gialina.com
    (4) A16, 2355 Chestnut (at Scott), 771-2216. Good Neapolitan pizzas, from real brick ovens. A16SF.com.
    (5) Pauline's, 260 Valencia (at 14th St.), 552-2050. Great thin crust pizzas. PaulinesPizza.com
    (6) Pane e Vino, 1715 Union (at Octavia), 441-2111. Good thin crust pizzas. PaneEVinoTrattoria.com
    (7) Flour + Water, 2401 Harrison,  826-7000.  Excellent thin crust pizzas and great pastas. FlourAndWater.com
  • Dim Sum: Ton Kiang, 5821 Geary (at 22nd). Best dim sum in the city. TonKiang.net
  • Soup: Greens, Fort Mason (Bldg A), 771-6222. Great vegetarian restaurant with superb takeout food, particularly the soups. GreensRestaurant.com
  • Restaurants: My favorites, all very San Francisco, none fancy, not super-expensive, but consistently first rate, innovative food: A16, Chapeau, Citizen Cake, Clementine, Delfina, Desiree, Flour + Water, Fringale, Greens, Hayes Street Grill, Hog Island Oyster Co., Incanto, Pesce, Piperade and Zuni. Ethnic: Bodega, Dosa, Helmand, Kiss, Limon, Mai's, Maki, OTD, Sebo, Slanted Door, & Ton Kiang.
  • Restaurant Reviews: Patricia Unterman's (of Hayes Street Grill) reviews have long been the best and most critical look at restaurants, food shops, and producers. No one serious about food can afford to miss her. Less comprehensive than Zagat's but far more intelligent and reliable. Subscribe to Unterman On Food. Her new book, San Francisco Food Lover's Guide, is indispensable. Available in all bookstores and at the Hayes Street Grill.

The Best of San Francisco: Movie Houses and Bookstores

  • Theaters:
    (1) Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). A great, fully restored 1925 movie palace that specializes in fine older and foreign films. CastroTheatreSF.com
    (2) Landmark. A small chain focused on first run independent and foreign films. Includes the Clay, the Bridge, the Lumiere, Embarcadero, and Opera Plaza in San Francisco plus a few others in Marin, East Bay, and the Peninsula. landmarktheatres.com in SF.
    (3) Kabuki, 1881 Post (at Fillmore). Recently purchased and nicely renovated by Sundance; indie and foreign films. Sundancecinemas.com/kabuki.html
    (4) Balboa, 3630 Balboa (at 38th Ave). Restored neighborhood theater screening foreign and indie films. balboamovies.com
    (5) Presidio, 2340 Chestnut (at Scott). Good foreign and indie films. LNTSF.com/presidio_theatre
    (6) Vogue, 3290 Sacramento (at Presidio). Purchased and renovated by the SF Neighborhood Theater Foundation. SFNTF.org
  • DVD's:
    (1) Le Video, 1231 9th Avenue (at Lincoln). Easily the largest selection of foreign, independent, and older films in the city. levideo.com
    (2) Film Yard, 803 Divisadero (at Fulton). Great seelction of foreign and older films in a funky place.
  • Bookstores:
    (1) William Stout Books, 804 Montgomery (at Jackson). Probably the best architectural book store in America. stoutbooks.com
    (2) Books, Inc., 601 Van Ness (Opera Plaza) and 3515 California (Laurel Shopping Center). Large, comprehensive bookstore with very knowledgeable staff. BooksInc.net
    (3) Get Lost Travel Books, 1825 Market (at McCoppin). Large selection of travel books with friendly staff. getlostbooks.com

Other Links

  • GreenCine: DVD movie rentals by mail, with over 10,000 titles with a focus on indie, art house, classics, foreign, anime and Asian cinema. greencine.com.
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