It’s official. I’ve lived in San Francisco for a year. That’s approximately 1/6th of the time I’ve wanted to live here. So, whether I feel crazy for giving up comforts of home or like I’ve won the lottery because I left winter behind; whether
rain shine or shine (there’s no rain here), I’m proud I made it. Starting over in a new place is certainly difficult. But doing so in a friendly, colorful, warmer-than-Boston city like San Francisco is probably as easy as it gets.
It’s as if the easy way of life on this coast is hidden, kept like a secret from other parts of the country. It’s a secret consisting of sun year-round, of day trips to the mountains and evenings on the beach; of warm days and cool nights, of blue haze and cotton candy skies; of spending the morning reading in a coffee shop; it’s the secret of letting whatever gives you pleasure take precedence over the other stresses of life.
There were some major adjustments to make in the food culture as well. The following are my observations about San Francisco’s food through my East Coast lens.
1. Your coffee is cooler than you.
Remember when I thought Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee was drinkable? Ha! The coffee that baristas are brewing here in the Bay puts Dunkin’ to shame, and then some. In fact, they would be embarrassed to know that some of the East Coast’s most popular beans consider themselves the same product. Artisanal coffee is a way of life here, as are the chic, minimalist coffee shops and hipsters that come with it. And the coffee is s.t.r.o.n.g. Like, watch-your-digestive-system, pucker-worthy strong. Say goodbye to that Starbucks vanilla hazelnut latte you love. Not only is sugary flavoring not an option at these hangouts but if you buy coffee from a corporation your friends will never talk to you again. The only flavor question you’ll be asked here is: “Was that almond milk or regular?”
Pictured above is Trouble Coffee. (Just take a look at that link and tell me I’m not right about everything I just said.) Have you ever sipped from a fresh coconut along with your coffee? Well, here you can. Trouble Coffee is an unassuming joint down the street from Ocean Beach, where city meets the Pacific Ocean in a marriage of fog, immigrants and surf. Trouble Coffee has an interesting story behind it that you can read here. There’s no menu at the shop, but if you order the ‘Build Your Own Damn House’ you get a coffee, cinnamon-sugar toast and a fresh coconut. Why? Because this is what owner Giulietta Carrelli survived on during the troubled parts of her life before starting this coffee shop, which she preferably calls a ‘community space.’
The Bay area is home to multiple coffee roasters that deserve a mention here, such as Philz, Blue Bottle, and Sightglass. But among all the forward thinking brands and their shops, Trouble Coffee epitomizes the ‘don’t take life too seriously’ mindset, not because it’s ‘cool,’ but because that’s the value on which it was built.
2. Burritos rule.
The only form of fast food that’s acceptable in this city comes wrapped in a tortilla, with exceptions made only for In-n-Out. It makes such sense that In-n-Out, which offers a healthier fast food burger, comes from this coast. Everyone here is health-obsessed and doesn’t eat animals whose health records are undisclosed. This is all great, of course. Hooray for happy pigs and healthy humans who are kicking takeout containers and plastic cups to the wayside. But somehow the burrito has managed to sneak its way into the diets of all SF residents. And by sneak I mean largely situate. Mission Street is the most iconic street of the Mission neighborhood, which is one of SF’s most iconic and historically rich neighborhoods that’s still majorly exudes Mexican influence. What does this mean to us now? There are literally hundreds of taquerias on this street. Someday I will count them all.
Pictured above is one of El Farolito‘s finest. This joint claims to be one of the oldest and most loved burrito joints, but so do they all. Shout out to Taqueria Cancún and La Taqueria at 25th and Mission, which claims (possibly accurately) to be the “Original” taqueria. It was awarded for the best burrito in the country. One word: chorizo.
3. You can always sit outside, which makes life happy and fun.
Nothing brings a city to life more than its streets bustling at night, made festive with people sitting out on the sidewalks under string lights, laughing from their dinner tables while music from the bars drifts out of their open windows. In the Northeast, this is only possible for three months of the year, and defined as the term ‘spring fever.’ In San Francisco you can have this festivity, or ‘fever,’ year-round. it doesn’t matter if it’s May or January, you’ll find a day you can enjoy your lunch in the sun and your wine by moonlight. Actually, probably the only time you won’t want to sit outside is in July. Then, it’s too cold – something about the mountains and ocean and fog.
Meet Stable Cafe, the cutest little garden cafe thing you’ve ever seen. It’s attached to a succulent shop (plants whose name I didn’t know until I moved here) which allows you to quite literally enter a different world when you step off the street into this oasis. Stable Cafe has a great gazpacho and a great wine-with-sandwich deal at lunchtime. But you can eat a stale cracker in this place on a sunny day and it’ll be the best cracker of your life.
4. Cupcakes are officially dead, but even healthy people love Donuts (and ice cream).
No one cares about cupcakes here. Their glory days as a trend have come and gone, or quite possibly never existed in the Bay area. But I’ve witnessed some slight excitement about donuts, even from the health nuts. Whatever, I’m not changing my blog name. Revolution, I say!
Dynamo Donut + Coffee creates some interesting flavors, such as passionfruit milk chocolate and lemon Sichuan. It’s also won itself lots of donut accolades. Dynamo is worth a try. A donut is a donut is a donut. However, I’m sensitive about my sweet things. There’s no place like (your favorite donut shop at) home. I still think the maple bacon masterpiece at Union Square Donuts of Somerville, MA is the best donut I’ll ever have.
5. This is an exciting place to care about food.
In an artistic, eclectic, open-minded city like San Francisco it can feel like anything could be possible. And in a temperate, socially and food-conscious region like Northern California, and the whole Northwest for that matter, it feels like in the food world anything is possible. It’s exciting place to be if you care about food. California is responsible for most of the country’s produce as well as a sensibility for humane treatment of its farm animals. It’s known for its vineyards, it’s close to Oregon’s breweries and Portland’s pioneering food trends, and lest we forget Seattle’s coffee.
San Francisco itself is filled with farm-to-table restaurants, it’s home to Michelin-starred restaurants, it houses pop-up restaurants, supper clubs and speakeasies. In any neighborhood you have a range of new expensive craft food and drink to dive joints that’ve been there forever and are just as crowded.
I’m pretty sure more restaurants exist in the Mission neighborhood than do in all of Boston, and are new eateries open all the time. Here, everything feels more mixed together. It’s hard to know what’s ‘cool’ because ‘cool’ doesn’t really exist since everyone does their own thing and it’s ‘cool’ to do what’s not ‘cool’ and, well, you get the point…
Pictured above is Outerlands. A popular restaurant known for its drift wood interior, amazing brunch and ‘California cuisine.’ Its fresh ingredients and changing dishes, its modern design and paintings along the outside walls, its proximity to the beach; to me it all epitomizes one thing: California. Shh, it’s a secret. Don’t tell.