San Francisco, CA, USA

This entry should be called: San Francisco, in which Elizabeth concludes her California food pilgrimage. I accomplished what I set out to do, loved every minute of it, and left feeling incredibly inspired.

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San Francisco
Of this entire trip to the Bay Area, I was able to eat really well in a really short amount of time. It shouldn’t be a surprise: San Francisco is an major, international city. San Francisco is also known for being an expensive city, and while I do not believe that cost and quality are correlated (or should be), that might be part of the reason why it’s clear to me than San Francisco’s taste is discernible. Like in Japan, the bar is raised for the average standard of quality that is accepted. Fine by me.

(See, for examples, two places I visited: the ethically-sourced coffee that is roasted in house at Four Barrel Coffee and the ethically-sourced bean-to-bar chocolate factory at Dandelion Chocolate. Both were stellar, and both make it a priority to know their farmers.)

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Latte and hibiscus-beet donut at Four Barrel Coffee, with coffee roasting in the background
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Dandelion chocolate – and factory
First on my list of places to go to in San Francisco: Tartine. While many will argue which bakery produces the Bay Area’s best sourdough—one of San Francisco’s famous icons, food or not—there was no question in my mind that I was going to Tartine. As someone who bakes bread, and appreciates quality and commitment to craft, Tartine is a shining example of the return to that which is artisanal, authentic, handcrafted, natural. (This trend’s merits are, of course, up for debate, but suffice it to say I’m on board.)

So when we made our well-planned trek to the inconspicuous, unmarked bakery in the Mission, we were pleasantly pleased that the obligatory waiting period in the line that wraps around outside was actually not terrible. When we got to the baked goods case I was overwhelmed by choice but, knowing that any choice would be a good choice, ended up with two tarts. They did not disappoint.

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Pumpkin pie and chocolate-hazelnut tart

The best part though was the bread. After securing two loaves, we headed back to our airbnb and tore into the country loaf—Tartine’s classic sourdough loaf. (The other loaf I got was an oat porridge.) Technically, all the loaves at Tartine are sourdough, since they are made with sourdough starters (naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast that feeds on a mixture of flour and water) instead of baker’s yeast (the packets you can buy in the grocery store). San Francisco’s sourdough is famous throughout the world and has been in continuos production since the gold rush era (1840s), unlike most other cities whose bakeries shifted to producing breads made with dry yeast.

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Tartine Bakery’s Country Loaf
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Tartine Bakery’s Oat Porridge bread

Both loaves I got were superb; I can honestly say it was the best bread I’ve ever eaten. The outside was burnished and crusty, the interior was warm, moist and almost melted in my mouth. The loaves were huge too! So I had a lot to bring back to Chicago. It was funny carrying two huge loaves of bread on the plane with me when I left San Francisco (one of which was half-eaten), but I’m sure the TSA agents at SFO are no strangers to seeing loaves of bread pass by them. Sourdough is a great souvenir, right ?!

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Pulling out loaves at Tartine

San Francisco is equally as famous for its burritos, especially Mission Burritos (aka San Francisco burritos). Mission burritos are essentially meat, beans and rice (likely extra rice) in a huge flour tortilla, wrapped in foil. Believe it or not, but up until this trip, I had never eaten a burrito before in my 30 years of life. I know. Shame, right? But, I had my first burrito at a great little taquería (Taqueria Vallarta on 24th St) in the Mission after a night spent dancing… so at least I did it the right way. And although I could not finish it,* it was incredibly satisfying.

*Who can!? That’s part of the reason why I’ve never had a burrito before, they’re gigantic!

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My first burrito ever, in the Mission, just as it should be
San Francisco is an incredibly diverse city, with strong influences from immigrants from China. I enjoyed walking around Chinatown and the Japanese Tea Gardens. Added bonus: awesome treats and meals including

  • Matcha and wagashi, good enough to rival what I had in Tokyo and Nikko, in the stunning scenery of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
  • Salt and pepper crab in Chinatown. (Dungeness crab season should have started in mid-November on the west coast, but unfortunately it’s been delayed because a toxic algae problem.)
  • Fortune cookies from the Fortune Cookie Factory, this tiny little place with just a few workers rapidly folding wafers around pieces of paper to make the cookies. Supposedly, fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco.

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Matcha tea and wagashi in the Japanese Gardens
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Salt & Pepper Crab
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Making fortune cookies in Chinatown
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Fortune cookie in Chinatown
San Francisco is a lovely place to visit, and I’ve been happy to experience something new each time I’ve gone. Like eating a burrito! Life changing!

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