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Hog Island

20 Iconic Dishes and Drinks of San Francisco

Classic food and beverages from classic San Francisco restaurants and bars

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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 18 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.

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Chowder in a Bread Bowl at Boudin Bakery

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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

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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.

Ellen Fort

Focaccia at Liguria Bakery

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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

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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.

Cioppino at Sotto Mare Sotto Mare

Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co.

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There’s a good reason you’ll often find a long queue outside the Hog Island Oyster Co. outpost at the Ferry Building. Slurping down a platter of briny bivalves inside the iconic waterfront building makes for a uniquely San Franciscan dining experience. Of course, if you can pop up to the Marshall Shore to get your fix straight from the source, you absolutely should. But the Tomales Bay-born Sweetwaters still taste excellent when enjoyed with a glass of Champagne in hand and a view of the Bay Bridge in the distance.

Hog Island

Liberty Farm Peking Style Roast Duck at Mister Jiu’s

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San Francisco has a number of places to sample a roast Peking duck, but Mister Jiu’s version gives the classic dish extra oomph. Liberty Farm’s ducks serve as the star, with chef Brandon Jew employing different techniques 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.

Liberty Farm Peking Style Roast Duck at Mister Jiu’s. Lauren Saria

Prime Rib at House of Prime Rib

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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.

Lauren Saria

Xiao Long Bao at Yank Sing

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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

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The ultimate old-school donut shop, Bob's provides 24-hour service to the tired, hungry, and occasionally drunk denizens of Polk Street. All the 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

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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 beautifully laminated dough. The bakery sells a plain version, but the joy comes in exploring other flavors and seasonal offerings, such as the black sesame version which lands around Chinese New Year.

b. patisserie

Kalbijjim at Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup

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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.

A heaping bowl of beef stew. Luke Tsai

Tea leaf salad at Mandalay Restaurant

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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.  

Lahpet thoke at Mandalay Omar Mamoon

Margarita at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant

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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.

Exterior neon sign of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood

Roast Chicken with Bread Salad at Zuni Cafe

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It's hard to say more about this one than has already been said. Zuni’s 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 make this dish special. Share it with someone you love, or steal all the salad when someone you hate isn't looking.

Miracle pancakes at Zazie

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We won’t promise the so-called Miracle Pancakes at Zazie will change your life, but there’s a strong chance they could turn around your morning. This brunch spot in quiet Cole Valley usually welcomes crowds of brunch-goers who pack its skinny dining room and lush back patio for benedicts and plates of these light-as-air, seasonally changing pancakes. Bonus points for the fact that this is a cooperatively worker-owned restaurant, as well.  

Zazie

Hoagie at Palm City

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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 Outer Sunset to order one of the wine shop and restaurant's super-stacked sandwiches; there’s no wrong order, 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.

Hoagie from Palm City Patricia Chang

Salted Caramel Ice Cream at Bi-Rite Creamery

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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

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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.” They come laced with a generous portion of garlic and an umami-packed sauce that has remained a secret family recipe for years. They’re best enjoyed with a massive Dungeness crab — also cooked with ample garlic.

Pork sisig Crunch-a-dilla at Señor Sisig

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Filipino food is having a moment in the Bay Area for sure, but Señor Sisig has been holding it down since 2010. What started with a single food truck has since grown into a mini-empire, and there’s perhaps no dish to better exemplify the company’s pioneering spirit than its Crunch-a-dilla, a riff on the Taco Bell Crunchwrap. Here it’s stuffed with pork sisig, cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, sour cream, and guacamole with a side of creamy nacho cheese for dipping on the side. 

Señor Sisig

Carnitas Burrito at La Taqueria

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San Francisco’s burrito scene is incredibly stacked, and fans love to argue over which taqueria does the Mission burrito best. Taqueria Cancun might be the dark horse candidate for the prize, but the most famous is likely La Taq. This spot’s Mission burrito should be stuffed with 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.

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.

Ellen Fort

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.

Cioppino at Sotto Mare Sotto Mare

Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co.

There’s a good reason you’ll often find a long queue outside the Hog Island Oyster Co. outpost at the Ferry Building. Slurping down a platter of briny bivalves inside the iconic waterfront building makes for a uniquely San Franciscan dining experience. Of course, if you can pop up to the Marshall Shore to get your fix straight from the source, you absolutely should. But the Tomales Bay-born Sweetwaters still taste excellent when enjoyed with a glass of Champagne in hand and a view of the Bay Bridge in the distance.

Hog Island

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. Liberty Farm’s ducks serve as the star, with chef Brandon Jew employing different techniques 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.

Liberty Farm Peking Style Roast Duck at Mister Jiu’s. Lauren Saria

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.

Lauren Saria

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 Street. All the 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 beautifully laminated dough. The bakery sells a plain version, but the joy comes in exploring other flavors and seasonal offerings, such as the black sesame version which lands around Chinese New Year.

b. patisserie

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.

A heaping bowl of beef stew. Luke Tsai

Tea leaf salad at Mandalay Restaurant

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.  

Lahpet thoke at Mandalay Omar Mamoon

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.

Exterior neon sign of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood

Roast Chicken with Bread Salad at Zuni Cafe

It's hard to say more about this one than has already been said. Zuni’s 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 make this dish special. Share it with someone you love, or steal all the salad when someone you hate isn't looking.

Miracle pancakes at Zazie

We won’t promise the so-called Miracle Pancakes at Zazie will change your life, but there’s a strong chance they could turn around your morning. This brunch spot in quiet Cole Valley usually welcomes crowds of brunch-goers who pack its skinny dining room and lush back patio for benedicts and plates of these light-as-air, seasonally changing pancakes. Bonus points for the fact that this is a cooperatively worker-owned restaurant, as well.  

Zazie

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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 Outer Sunset to order one of the wine shop and restaurant's super-stacked sandwiches; there’s no wrong order, 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.

Hoagie from Palm City Patricia Chang

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.” They come laced with a generous portion of garlic and an umami-packed sauce that has remained a secret family recipe for years. They’re best enjoyed with a massive Dungeness crab — also cooked with ample garlic.