Since 2007, I've lived in the suburbs outside of San Francisco, but for 10 years off and on before that, J. and I lived in almost every neighborhood in San Francisco. While we lived there, we explored the city top to bottom seeking out the best places to eat, drink and shop.
If you're going to BlogHer Food and you have some time to spend exploring the 7x7 mile area that makes up most of San Francisco proper, I suggest getting away from the crowds (BlogHer Food, tourist, and otherwise) that will be descending upon the Ferry Building, A16, or Tartine, and checking out some hidden treasures.
For me the best part about seeking out good things to eat in San Francisco involves not being afraid to get down and dirty in the neighborhood trenches. Luckily, despite its hills, San Francisco is a very walkable city. You can cover lots of ground in not very time and find plenty of good things to eat along the way.
(Note: Be sure to bring a jacket because though San Francisco may be in California, it has a climate all its own, and that climate is usually chilly. San Francisco also has micro-climates so it may be 80 deg and sunny in the Mission but 60 and foggy in the Inner Sunset.)
This series is a work in progress started at midnight on a Wednesday night. As I think of more things, I will note them, and future installments will cover my favorite restaurants and bars. I am purposely leaving off the places you will find on every other foodie guide to San Francisco. Hopefully you find this useful.
For the first installment, let's start with markets. Here are a few of my favorites:
Alemany Farmer's Market. It doesn't have the glitz and glamour (or the tourists clammoring for over-priced cheese and cupcakes) that the Ferry Building does, it just offers up a dazzling array of produce and other food items and lets the quality and variety speak for itself. It's the best farmer's market in the city. Full stop. No fancy venue needed. Go early and bring lots of cash--there are no banks around the market. Also, go hungry because there are lots of vendors selling yummy things to eat.
Rainbow Grocery: It's a natural foods co-op grocery store on crack. Their bulk section is amazing as is their selection of natural kitchen products, cleaners, and beauty products. It is worth a trip if you want to see the Costco of health food stores. Don't expect to find any meat products here. It's all veg, all the time.
New World Market: One of the biggest Russian markets in the city. Get your caviar, vodka, stuffed cabbage, black bread, yogurt, homemade pelmeny, and a stunning array of deli meats, sausages, and salads here. Their borscht and quick-pickled cherry tomatoes are out of this world. Ask for samples of anything you want. They are very friendly.
Just outside of San Francisco in Daly City is Kukje Market. Where else but a Korean market will you find groceries, cosmetics, home electronics, books, music, and a full-service restaurant all in one place. Worth the field trip, trust me.
Bryan's Fine Foods in Laurel Heights. Yes, it's expensive, but sometimes you just want to walk through a pretty neighborhood market where the meat looks like it's been edited by a food stylist. Real butchers and fishmongers work here and when they wait on you, you feel as though you are stepping a back into another time.
New May Wah Chinese Market on Clement Street. Clement Street is the "real" Chinatown where the locals shop. This market has it all when it comes to Chinese ingredients including live seafood, preserved duck eggs, noodles, dried mushrooms, a huge selection of rice wine, and all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables. I highly recommend strolling the stretch of Clement Street from 2nd to 12th Avenue. You will come across "bakeries" where you can stuff yourself on assorted dimsum for under $5, delicious pho, and wonderful housewares stores like...
Kamei Restaurant Supply. They carry anything you could ever want to outfit a kitchen. From dishes to knives. From rice cookers to stock pots, they carry it all and for really low prices. Need a spider or a Chinoise? A bain marie or a chafing dish? A wok or a pressure cooker? A sashimi knife or miso soup bowls? This is the place. Warning: you might need an extra suitcase if you shop here.
Ichiban-kan. A Japanese dollar store in the heart of Japantown (which seems to be slowly becoming a Koreatown). Yes everything in here--from shampoo to socks to stationery--is from Japan, but the signage is usually pretty good at explaining what it is you are buying. It's a great place to buy chopsticks and dishes. And ramen and Pocky.
Lucca on Valencia. You can smell this place from a block away. It's where I go to get ravioli during the holidays and prosciutto sandwiches (JUST prosciutto on bread e basta) any other time of year. It is a wonderfully old school Italian market and deli, just like in the movies. You can ignore the cheese and pasta salads in the deli case nearest the door. Head down to where the meats are in the back. That's where it's at.
Lucky Pork Market. If you happen to be poking around the Mission one day (one of the sunniest and warmest neighborhoods in San Francisco), be sure to stop into the the Lucky Pork Market. They have great meat, yes, but they also carry lots of hard-to-find Mexican/Latin American cooking ingredients. It's also where I buy lard when I make tamales.
Tomorrow I'll start in on restaurants beginning with Chinese, a cuisine that San Francisco is known for, except my suggestions will take you far away from Chinatown.
To be continued, so please keep checking back!