Words and Photos by Marissa Wu
“When the lights go down in the city, and the sun shines on the bay, I want to be there in my city.”
Journey really was onto something in 1978, but instead of (as they did) waxing poetry about the cityscape and lost relationships, I’ll be crooning about all of the food the city by the bay has to offer.
My food obsession with San Francisco is somewhat new; I didn’t really begin exploring until my junior year of high school. If I’m a junior in college now, let’s just round up and say it’s only been a four-year affair. It’s the best affair I’ve ever had (not that I’ve had any others). The following tour is a rift on my original, with a couple additions I couldn’t bear to leave out. Doing so would have been a grave injustice.
I suggest that you make this a walking tour. You burn calories, eat delicious food; it’s a win-win. Go on a nice sunny day so that you can stop and admire the flowers. You’re bound to run into one florist or another. That’s part of the charm.
Begin at Miette. French for “crumb,” this European-inspired confection shop delights all with its happy pink façade and selection of fine European candies and chocolates. But, what you really want (besides the dreamy, melt-in-your mouth -- not an exaggeration -- shortbread, fluffy marshmallows, and rainbow gummies) is the gingerbread cupcake. I think beer is involved. Stout, to be exact. This cupcake is the recipient of a “best cupcake award.” The exact competition and year I can’t remember, nor is it of any consequence. The intense gingerbread is cut by the sweet cream cheese icing, and it’s something every good gourmet should experience exactly once in her life. Why once? Because at $3.75, these aren’t exactly potato chip material, but once is enough; you’ll be dreaming about these and taking your friends to try them, too.
Wander over to the Mission, home of colourful, intense, quirky murals and art, and stop at Tacolicious. It’s a small, delightful space with shaded, airy patio seating. Fall in love with the bright orange chairs, and stay for the tacos. Did I mention the empanadas? I can personally recommend the fried cod tacos. Light, crispy, and sprinkled with fresh lettuce, it was a delicate plate that did not overwhelm, despite being fried.
A few paces away is possibly one of my favorite spots: Tartine. This is the gem of Elisabeth Prueitt, James Beard Award nominee and winner. It’s easy to see why. Her bakery easily cranks out the best croissants in the city. Maybe the country, and I can say that because I’ve eaten my share of croissants. It’s the most delicious juxtaposition: A flakey, buttery, impossibly delicate shell shatters at first bite, leaving shards of pastry to the wind and revealing the buttery, feathery layers beneath. The shop’s also made a name for itself with the morning bun. My biggest food sin was probably not ordering this until my second or third visit. If you don’t order it, it will be yours, too. Essentially croissant dough in cinnamon roll form, the cinnamon is accompanied by a hint of citrus and a generous amount of sugar. Crispy, flakey, lightly sweet; I’m certain that it is the pastry of the moment. I love dessert for breakfast.
If you still have room for dessert (which you will), Bi-Rite Market and Creamery is Tartine’s neighbor. Housed in separate buildings but catty-corner from each other, stop at the market first and admire the flowers. Put your nose in them and swoon over the vibrant colors. Watch out for the bees. Then, scurry over (before the line becomes long) to the creamery and order a scoop of honey lavender ice cream. All other ice cream flavors can wait. Delicate, sweet, intensely floral, this ice cream is an experience in both taste and smell. The lavender really knocks you in the nose, making the flavour sophisticated, yet playful.
If you’re feeling really ambitious (or just really full), march over to Ghirardelli Square for ice cream. It’s far, though, and I won’t judge you if you Uber there. Just do two things: Order the raspberry sorbet and make your friend order something with hot fudge. You need both, but not together. You must experience the sorbet for its strange but endearing quality of being simultaneously sweet, tart, creamy, and dairy-free. It’s mysteriously thick and not at all icy. It’s basically like cutting through butter. Fruity butter. Count me in. You need the hot fudge, however, for its richness and intensity. If you like toppings, go ahead and throw the sorbet and fudge together. The fudge will cut the tartness of the sorbet, and you’ll swoon.
By the time you’ve finished the tour, the sun may be setting over the bay. Take a leisurely stroll by the Marina, feel the wind in your hair, and sigh contentedly. And, if you’re still hungry…Bund in Chinatown awaits!