San Francisco can lay claim to inventing everything from sourdough bread to fortune cookies, so it's no wonder that some of the nation's most iconic culinary history originates within these 49 square miles. It’s difficult to pick the most iconic dishes, snacks, and drinks of this fair city without repeating every spot on our 15 restaurants every San Franciscan must try, but this list covers both the icons and soon-to-be-icons — and hey, sometimes you just need to burn your idols to make way for new ones.Read More
19 Iconic Dishes and Drinks of San Francisco
Classic food and beverages from classic San Francisco restaurants and bars
Chowder in a Bread Bowl at Boudin Bakery
Locals may not eat it much, but you can't deny that when the rest of the nation thinks "San Francisco," this is the first food that comes to mind. Sure, clam chowder is an East Coast invention, but sourdough makes it that much better, and you can't argue with warm, hearty soup on a chilly summer day by the water.
Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Cafe
Sure, it's a tourist obsession, but the Buena Vista does make a damn good Irish coffee. Also, it combines coffee and alcohol and dark wooden bars, three things San Francisco adores.
Focaccia at Liguria Bakery
It's hard to explain what strange alchemy goes into Liguria's focaccia, but it might be magic. In any case, it certainly compels people to get up early and stand in line for a slice or two before they sell out, and has since 1911. Eat your pizza focaccia warm from the bag, or head down the street to equally historic Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store to enjoy it in an oven-baked meatball sandwich.
Cioppino at Sotto Mare
At Sotto Mare the cioppino is portioned for two, so either bring a big appetite or a friend. The rich tomato-based broth is filled with Dungeness crab parts, mussels, calamari, and more, served in a metal bowl with ladles, bibs, and a loaf of crusty bread. It's best consumed within the tiled, narrow, and deeply decorated dining room that's been serving this classic for decades.
Explosive Chicken at Z & Y Restaurant
A favorite of legendary chef Cecilia Chang, the explosive chicken is a showstopper. Deep-fried chunks of chicken are presented atop a terrifying pile of dried chili peppers, indicating that this dish means business. However, the heat isn't overwhelming (don't eat the peppers though, they're for decoration) and the chicken is flavorful. Just reserve a table ahead of time — the secret is out on this one.
Liberty Farm Peking Style Roast Duck at Mister Jiu’s
San Francisco has a number of places to sample a roast Peking duck, but Mister Jiu’s version gives the classic dish extra oomph worth exploring. Liberty Farm’s ducks serve as the base of this dish, with chef Brandon Jew employing different techniques to the duck — such as air curing, lacquering, and then smoking the bird — before serving it alongside Chinese pancakes and peanut butter hoisin. There’s a one-hour wait for the duck to arrive tableside, so plan accordingly.
Prime Rib at House of Prime Rib
Sure, it'll cover your sodium intake for the week, but who can resist the juicy, carved-from-the-cart prime rib at HOPR? Accented with a mound of creamed spinach, plenty of au jus, and some Yorkshire pudding on the side, it's a ticket to meat heaven.
Xiao Long Bao at Yank Sing
We know, we know: Yank Sing is expensive (much more so than Shanghai Dumpling King). But their soup dumplings are off the chain, freshly flavorful and perfectly thin-skinned. Plus, you get the interactive element of trying to consume them without scalding the interior of your mouth, which takes real finesse and some artful nibbling skills.
Apple Fritter at Bob's Donut & Pastry Shop
The ultimate old-school donut shop, Bob's provides 24-hour service to the tired, hungry, and occasionally drunk denizens of Polk. All their donuts are great, but the apple fritter, perfectly crisp-soft and laced with plenty of cinnamon and tender apples, is a standout.
Kouign Amann at B. Patisserie
It’s no secret that Belinda Leong has perfected the kouign amann (and is lovingly dubbed the queen of kouign amann) and her bakery B. Patisserie reigns as the best place to sample the sugary, crunchy shatter of the kouign amann’s beautifully laminated dough. The bakery sells a plain version, but the joy comes in exploring other flavors, such as chocolate and other seasonal flavors, such as the black sesame version which lands around Chinese New Year.
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Kalbijjim at Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup
The lure of the kalbijjim is evident as soon as your eyes see the stone pot making its way toward your table, gorgeously burbling away. The added touch of the cheese being torched to perfect meltiness is another feast for the eyes, before finally tucking into the dish featuring tender beef short ribs.
The tea leaf salad at Mandalay, an old-school Burmese restaurant in the Inner Richmond, is all about the glorious blend of various textures. The base is, as the name implies, Burmese tea leaves, which are slightly bitter and very herbal. They get mixed with a diverse mix of crunchy components including roasted lentil seeds, ground shrimp, fried garlic, green peppers, sesame seeds, and peanuts. The end result is a kaleidoscope of salty, tangy, and savory flavors that make each bite a real ride.
Margarita at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant
Margaritas can feel like familiar fare at any local restaurant, but the version at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant has been dubbed a “modern classic” with its addition of fresh lime juice, agave syrup, and Herradura tequila and removal of Curaçao. The Tommy’s margarita is now a widely known and respected version served at many bars, but this remains the original worth savoring (along with Tommy’s extensive tequila collection).
Roast Chicken with Bread Salad at Zuni Cafe
It's hard to say more about this one than has already been said. The brick-oven-roasted chicken, with its crisp skin, is fantastic, but it's the chunks of crisp bread, arugula, and currants coated in chicken jus that really makes it special. Share it with someone you love, or steal all the salad when someone you hate isn't looking.
Hoagie at Palm City
Palm City has become a veritable sandwich destination, recognized for having some of the best hoagies this side of the Mississippi. So trek out to the ever-foggy Outer Sunset to order one of the wine shop and restaurant's super-stacked sandwiches; there’s no wrong order, perse, but you’d be wise to go with the Italian American, which is absolutely loaded with mortadella, finocchiona, mozzarella, parmesan, shaved onion, arugula and spicy n’duja sauce.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream at Bi-Rite Creamery
San Francisco really has become an iconic ice cream city, from Mitchell's and Swensen's to, now, Bi-Rite. The salted caramel is toasty, rich, and perfectly delicious paired with any of the creamery's other flavors. Equally iconic: the line that appears on hot days and wraps down the block. In a pinch, check out the adjacent soft-serve window for a quicker fix.
Garlic Noodles at Thanh Long Restaurant
New York Times food writer and recipe developer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt praised these garlic noodles by the An family as “a San Francisco treat.” The noodles come laced with a generous portion of garlic and an umami-packed sauce that has remained a secret family recipe for years. (And if we may sneakily add on another dungeness crab recommendation besides PPQ, this is another great place to try crab, alongside the aforementioned noodles).
Taleggio Scarpinocc at Flour + Water
The taleggio scarpinocc is a staple of the Flour + Water pasta tasting menu and for good reason. It’s a masterclass in the stunning simplicity of fresh pasta done well and prepared with premium ingredients. Flour + Water is, perhaps, the city’s finest maker of fresh pasta, known for a repertoire that spans some 83 various shapes, and the scarpinocc, which hails from Lombardy, vaguely resembles a shoe with a delicate little dent in the middle. It’s served, always, with cheese and then dressed in simple butter emulsion and topped with tangy taleggio and a generous drizzle of acidic balsamic vinegar.
Carnitas Burrito at La Taqueria
Rather than risk the ire of burrito partisans by including only one of the two biggest hitters, we decided to have them both on this list. Next but equally well-loved: La Taq's world-beating carnitas, served with the perfect liquidy ratio of beans and salsa (but no rice) in a warm tortilla. There's a reason this won America's Best Burrito.