One of the most powerful motivations for leaving the house is the promise of a little treat. A sip, a snack, a bite, a nosh — all are a deeply essential part of the ritualistic exercise I’ve created for myself anytime I step foot outside my front door. At this point, it’s Pavlovian. Exit home, receive treat. And now that it’s finally feeling like summer in San Francisco, I’m able to participate in the ultimate version of this ritual: walking and snacking at the same time.
A walkable city is a joy for myriad reasons. People who live in them are likely to be happier. They’re likely to live longer. And by following my lead, they’re likely to eat danker snacks more regularly.
The concept of a Walk and Snack might seem simple, but I’ll elucidate just to make absolutely certain we’re on the same page. You have somewhere to go. Maybe it’s a party. Maybe it’s a dinner. Maybe it’s work, or maybe it’s just to go pick up flowers for yourself. You decide to walk (you’re in a walkable city, after all). You give yourself enough time to walk to your destination and build in an extra fifteen minutes — this step is crucial — and then you map it.
Now, check out your route. If the food gods are on your side, ideally, there will be one food stop, but if they really like you, then two food stops along your path. What you’re looking for here is food that can be consumed on the go. The point is not to stop, sit, and eat. The point is to pause, grab, and continue on your journey. It’s all about enjoying the city and your snack, along with the weather and your neighbors, all at the same time. Sandwiches and pizza slices are obvious choices, but don’t limit your imagination here — many foods can be walked and snacked upon at the same time.
The ultimate beauty and pain of living in a city is that the old guard can be taken for granted while newer upstarts appear and disappear more quickly than the X on top of the Twitter building. There are the stalwart corner stores with good sandwiches and bakeries with fresh conchas, alongside street meat and fruit stands coated in Tajin and chamoy that have weathered many a storm. Other, newer places like AL’s Deli, with its perfectly portable stuffed latkes, have proved less resilient. This is, in some small way, where walking and snacking comes in. Grab a bite, take it to go, and support all local businesses. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Walking through the Castro? Stop at Rossi’s Deli for deviled eggs that are delicious, dense, surprisingly portable, and were on the menu long before they’d come back in vogue all over the Bay. In the mood for something a little more whimsical? Stop into Giddy Candy on the corner of 16th and Market. A free-standing candy store outside of a mall? A dream!
If you’re moving through the Mission, you’d be an idiot to pass up an elote stick from Snackeria de la Mission or fruta picada from one of the many freestanding fruit stands in the area. But you also can’t go wrong with an empanada (or two) from Venga on Valencia or anything from Dianda, King’s, or La Mejor.
In the Richmond? With such limited seating inside, Good Luck Dim Sum almost demands you walk and snack. Golden Boy Pizza in North Beach basically requires you to as well, with its convenient window for ordering. Open on both ends, tacos may only be available to the most agile of walker-snackers, but Tacos Del Barrio makes it worth the effort.
Big salads or slurpy soups are obviously less optimal for a walk and snack, but that doesn’t immediately disqualify noodle shops and salad counters, either. Chả giò is far more portable and just as much of a reason to stop into Pho 2000 in the Tenderloin. And whereas I’d avoid the Automat breakfast sandwich for fear the egg might slip out on my walk, the french fries with Automat sauce are perfect should you be walking from Alamo Square toward the Richmond or NoPa to Cole Valley (or whatever route you find yourself on).
As we head into summer in San Francisco, which we don’t really get until October, there isn’t a better city for a walk and snack. And there’s no better way to taste a place than to keep yourself free from the confinement of a table. Yes, still make reservations and find time for table service, and yes, still tip well, but also release the injudicious belief that dining out is only for dining in. In this 7x7 city, there are an estimated 4,500 restaurants, and you’ll never even make a dent if you don’t stop in on foot. So get out there, get eating, and don’t be afraid to make a couple of stops along the way.