What to Eat in San Francisco: 13 Treats You Should Not Miss
San Francisco is undoubtedly one of the world's great cities. Surrounded by the incredible scenery of the San Francisco Bay, this city has been a center of immigration ever since it was founded. And as all those different cultures met and merged, some truly excellent food traditions were born.
San Francisco certainly has its share of unique food items you have to try while you're in the city. As a city on the Pacific rim, San Francisco's cuisine is heavily influenced by the flavors of Asia. But you'll also find European influences here, including Spanish, Irish, Italian, and other well-loved cuisines.
Drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in San Francisco, and you'll be ready to try some of the city's favorite treats. Check out our guide to the best street food in San Francisco if you want to eat on the go. After all, this is a city perfectly capable of keeping you busy for days on end.
Alternatively, you can sample iconic San Francisco food in some of the best vegetarian San Francisco restaurants and know you're taking part in another great California tradition: eating ethically.
Whatever you like to eat, chances are good you'll find some great San Francisco menu items to try. So drop off your bags and bring your appetite to this incredible food city.
San Francisco Food: Irish coffee
If you want to start your day with a warm cup of coffee and a little bit of Irish cheer, head to the Buena Vista Cafe. This San Francisco institution has been serving up Irish coffees since 1952. The secret to their success? They use only the best quality ingredients, including fresh cream from local dairy farms and Tullamore Dew whiskey imported from Ireland.
There are few better ways to chase away the chill of a foggy San Francisco day than with this enlivening drink. And if drinking spirits first thing in the morning seems a little over-the-top, just remember, you're on vacation. The normal rules don't apply.
San Francisco Food: Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl
San Francisco is a seafood lover's paradise, and no trip to the city would be complete without trying some of the fresh local catches. One of the most iconic dishes in San Francisco is clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. This hearty soup is perfect for a cold day, and the sourdough bread provides a delicious way to soak up all the flavors.
Clam chowder is more normally associated with the East Coast of the United States, but San Francisco has put its own spin on this seafood dish by putting it inside a sourdough bread bowl.
Many of the best places to get clam chowder are near Fisherman's Wharf, so you can make a day of it and explore this historic area while you're there. Just be sure to come hungry, as these bread bowls are usually pretty big.
San Francisco Food: Dungeness Crab
Another must-try seafood dish in San Francisco is Dungeness crab. This delicate, sweet crab is usually served simply, either boiled or steamed and is often served with a garlic mayonnaise dip. It's the perfect light lunch or dinner and a delicious way to enjoy some of the freshest seafood around.
You'll find Dungeness crab on menus all over the city, but one of the best places to try it is Swan Oyster Depot, a no-frills seafood counter serving fresh seafood since 1912.
San Francisco Food: Mission Burrito
The Mission-style burrito is a San Francisco staple and something you won't find anywhere else. This gargantuan burrito is stuffed with rice, beans, meat, cheese, salsa, and sour cream and is often so big it has to be wrapped in aluminum foil just to stay together.
If you're looking for a true San Francisco experience, head to La Taqueria in the Mission district. This unassuming taqueria has served up some of the best Mission burritos for over 40 years. Be warned, though, the line can get pretty long. But trust us, it's worth the wait. The mission burrito is as much a part of San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars climbing Russian Hill, so make sure you try this incredible feast — even if you need to split one between a couple of people.
San Francisco Food: Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream
Ice cream may not have been invented in San Francisco, but this legendary ice cream shop is very much a part of the Bay Area food scene. Humphry Slocombe ice cream is made with unique and interesting flavors, like Secret Breakfast ice cream(a bourbon and cornflake flavor) and Jesus Juice (a red wine sorbet).
If you're feeling adventurous, go for the foie gras flavor. Or, if you want something a little more traditional, try the honeycomb or the blue bottle Vietnamese coffee. Whatever you choose, you're in for a treat.
San Francisco Food: Sourdough Bread
You can't come to San Francisco without trying some of the famous sourdough bread. This tangy, chewy bread is a staple of San Francisco cuisine and has been made in the city for over 150 years.
One of the best places to get sourdough bread is at Boudin Bakery, a San Francisco institution that has been baking sourdough bread since 1849. Swing by for a loaf to take home, or get a sandwich made with fresh, warm sourdough bread. Either way, you're in for a treat. Of course, you can also get that iconic clam chowder in a sourdough bowl here, so you can cross two classic San Francisco treats off your list in one go.
San Francisco Food: Dim Sum
San Francisco is home to the country's oldest Chinatown, and there may be no better place in the entire United States to try Chinese food. San Francisco, CA, has long been a center of Chinese immigration, and so you'll find all manner of traditional Asian foods here, from spicy miso Ramen to pork belly to whole roasted duck to pork buns. You'll find Cantonese dishes sharing space on the menu with Szechuan cuisine and items from outside China too.
But one of the best ways to enjoy Chinese food in San Francisco is to eat dim sum. This Cantonese tradition involves small bite-sized dishes served in steamer baskets or small plates. Dim sum is typically eaten for brunch, and it's the perfect way to sample a little bit of everything.
Some of the best dim sum in San Francisco can be found at Yank Sing, where you'll find over 100 different dim sum items to choose from. From shrimp dumplings to fried turnip cakes to chicken feet, there's something here for everyone — especially if you're a little adventurous.
Really though, you can't go wrong anywhere in Chinatown. Step into the dining room of any traditional restaurant or enjoy outdoor dining at a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood joint, and you'll find something to wake up your taste buds in this vibrant neighborhood.
San Francisco Food: Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
Ghirardelli Square is one of San Francisco's most iconic landmarks, and it's also home to Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. This historic chocolate company has been making some of the best chocolate in the world since 1852, and today you can visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory and Museum to learn about this delicious treat's history.
Of course, you can also just stop by for a quick sugar fix. The Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop serves up delicious ice cream sundaes, shakes, and other sweet treats. Or, if you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, try the chocolate-tasting flight at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Marketplace. This is the perfect place to indulge your sweet tooth.
San Francisco Food: Seafood at Fisherman's Wharf
We already talked about the crab and the clam chowder. But as you'd expect from a coastal city, there's much more to try and San Francisco. And while Fisherman's Wharf may be overrun with tourists, it's still one of the best places to find seafood in San Francisco, even if you can expect to pay a premium to eat in this busy area.
One of the best places to eat at Fisherman's Wharf is Alioto's, a family-run seafood restaurant that has been serving up fresh seafood since 1925. The menu features all the classics like clam chowder and Dungeness crab, but there are also plenty of creative seafood dishes to choose from. Even better, the views of Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island can't be beat.
San Francisco Food: Rice-a-Roni
No list of San Francisco foods would be complete without mentioning Rice-a-Roni, the city's official dish. This tasty treat was invented by the Rice-A-Roni company in 1958, and it quickly became a household name. Today, you can find this San Francisco staple in nearly every grocery store across the country.
But if you want to try the original, head to Little Italy. This North Beach neighborhood is home to some of the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco, and many of them serve up Rice-a-Roni as a side dish. So order a plate of pasta and enjoy a little taste of San Francisco history.
San Francisco Food: Chicken Tetrazzini
San Francisco has certainly seen its share of Italian immigration, and that has left an indelible mark on the city's culinary landscape. There are even Italian dishes that were invented right here in San Francisco, and chicken tetrazzini is one of them.
This dish was invented at the now-closed Index Restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District. It's a creamy chicken and pasta dish that is usually served with a side of bread or garlic toast. While you can find this dish all over the city, it's definitely worth checking out some of the best Italian restaurants to see how they do it.
San Francisco Food: Cioppino
Another Italian-inspired San Francisco creation that originates from the Italian immigrant district of North Beach, cioppino is a fish stew that is usually made with a variety of seafood, including Dungeness crab, shrimp, scallops, and clams. It's often served with a side of bread or pasta, making it a hearty and filling meal.
If you're looking for a great place to try cioppino, head to Sotto Mare. This North Beach institution has been serving up this seafood stew since the 1950s, and they definitely know how to do it right. You can't go wrong with any seafood dishes on the menu, but the cioppino is a must-try. Eat in so you can also enjoy their lovely dining room.
San Francisco Food: Xiao Long Bao
We talked already about dim sum, but there's another Chinese-inspired dish you have to try in San Francisco. Xiao long bao, also known as soup dumplings, are steamed dumplings that are filled with a variety of fillings, including pork, chicken, and vegetables. They're usually served in a small bamboo steamer, and they're the perfect thing to eat on a cold day.
If you want to try xiao long bao, head to Yank Sing. This popular dim sum restaurant has locations all over the city, but the one in Rincon Hill is definitely the best. Be sure to get there early, as the line for this popular spot can get pretty long.
It's not hard to see that San Francisco offers an incredible experience for foodies. The traditional dishes of the Bay Area like prime rib, Irish coffee, and mission burritos can keep you happily eating your way through the city for a long time. But the truth is, whatever you like to eat, you can get it here. From simple classics like fried chicken to more innovative options like tea leaf salad, you'll find all manner of delicious treats to sink your teeth into.
And thanks to its enviable natural surroundings, San Francisco also offers some excellent ways to burn off all those calories you consume. Go for walk through Golden Gate Park or head to one of the surrounding parks to tackle the best hikes in San Francisco, and you won't need to feel guilty about everything you've eaten in the city.