Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind. – Anthony Bourdain
Now, I am no Anthony Bourdain, but I do love good food and good cocktails and occasionally swear like a sailor. I recently relocated back to Hong Kong after spending a few months in San Francisco and while I was there, developed a repertoire of “go-to” restaurants and bars in my neighbourhood, SoMa.
While I would argue that the food scene in San Francisco is lagging behind Hong Kong and New York’s, these places were absolute gems in my book and I will be back to stuff my face. Looking for even more hidden gems? Click here for more recommendations if you want to get off the beaten path in San Francisco!
1. 54 Mint
Hands down, my favorite restaurant. I could eat here night after night. The staff are incredible and the food is outstanding. As you probably know if you read this website, I love Italy and Italian food. The food and wine here never disappoints – they have amazing daily specials and change their menu every few weeks – you must eat here if you visit San Francisco. Try the pinot grigio (it’s pink!) and always order dessert.
Must-haves: The sformato (flan), carbonara, gnocci al ragu (these are like clouds of joy in your mouth), pannacotta and tiramisu.
2. Gitane (Closed)
Nestled in a side alley off Kearny Street, Gitane serves up French-slash-Spanish dishes. A good friend took me here the first time and told me I had to try the bon bons – prunes stuffed with goats cheese and wrapped in bacon – I was dubious. Goats cheese is not really my thang. But boy was I wrong. All of the dishes I’ve had here have been delectable and the ambience is very unique – classy, a little glam, but laid back at the same time.
*Update: Heartbroken that Gitane has shut down as the landlord did not extend their lease!
Must-haves: Bon bons, papas bravas, peach and burrata salad, brussel sprouts, chicken ballotine, goat cheese cheesecake.
One of the things I desperately missed about Hong Kong while I was away was cheap and cheerful Asian food. I am a notoriously picky eater and I don’t eat raw fish, but ironically, Japanese is one of my favorite cuisines. While Pabu is not exactly the most frugal place to dine at, the food is top notch and they have an amazing Japanese whisky selection.
Must-haves: ‘Happy Spoon’ oyster (my brother swears this is a “party in your mouth”), karaage, pork belly skewers, miso black cod (!!!)
4. Zero Zero
Lots of hype around this place – someone told me Jay-Z was an investor, but I’m pretty sure that’s BS. Nevertheless, the food here is incredible and the pizza here is some of the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had my fair share of pizza in this lifetime. I rarely dream about food (that’s a lie), but I constantly dream about the braised short rib radiatore with brussel sprouts, chili flakes and mint. See below. Do you see what I mean? This places fills up fast, so book ahead of time.
Must-haves: braised short rib radiatore, avocado bruschetta, the castro pizza.
And onto the bars…
5. The Barrel Room / The HogsHead Reserve
A rustic little speakeasy tucked away downstairs at the back of The Barrel Room – walk straight through the wine store and head down the stairs on the left. You’ve time traveled back by a few decades, congratulations. There are plush leather couches, a room with a bank vault and a cash-only (I repeat, cash-only) bar with excellent cocktails. A great spot for happy hour, and stay for dinner upstairs so you won’t have to wander (AKA stumble) too far!
Novela was dangerous. As in, dangerously close to my apartment building – approximately 15 steps away. The bar is incredibly spacious and offers beautiful cocktails and wine. It’s a no-brainer. The only minor downside is that the bar and bartenders get busy, fast, so you really have to want that cocktail!
An art gallery that transforms into an after-hours bar. Need I say more? The space is massive with two separate bar areas so your glass will never be empty, drinks are decently priced and the artwork changes every couple of weeks. A great place for happy hour.
Bonus: StrEat Food Park / District Six
Why oh why don’t we have food trucks in Hong Kong? A fun little food truck park with a rotating lineup of food trucks – such a great place to sit and eat, drink and soak in the sunshine on a nice day. This place hosts fun events and is pet-friendly too – a great way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon!
What are some of your favorite places to eat & drink in San Francisco? Comment and tell me about it below!