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Hoagie from Palm City Patricia Chang

25 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 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.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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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.

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.

Espresso at Caffe Trieste

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Long before hipster coffee shops popped up in every neighborhood, Caffe Trieste was fueling the Beats with its buzzy wares. Later, Francis Ford Coppola wrote The Godfather in this very shop, hopped up on the same heady brew. It's certainly an argument for the creative mojo engendered by a cup of Trieste espresso.

Explosive Chicken at Z & Y Restaurant

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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.

Explosive Chicken at Z & Y Restaurant

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 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.

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. All their donuts are great, but the apple fritter, perfectly crisp-soft and laced with plenty of cinnamon and tender apples, is a standout.

Afternoon Tea at Garden Court

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No, it's not setting any new culinary standards, but in terms of ridiculously beautiful rooms that will make you feel insanely fancy, the Garden Court is the one to beat. Come here for a ludicrously expensive afternoon tea, and you'll feel like the Queen as you daintily bite into your finger sandwiches and scones.

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 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.

b. patisserie

Spruce Burger at Spruce

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This is a legitimately famous burger a veritable urban legend to its name (can a burger really have the power to induce labor?) so there’s no question whether or not the Spruce Burger achieves icon status in San Francisco. You’ll know it when you see it by its English muffin bun; it also sports a patty made from a proprietary blend of brisket, short rib, and sirloin. Fanciful garnishes include turmeric-pickled zucchini, pickled red onion, and thrice-cooked fries on the side. Order it at the bar for a casual meal.

The Spruce burger Spruce

Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake at Yasukochi's Sweet Stop

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Since 1974, Tom Yasukochi has faithfully recreated a classic cake from his San Francisco childhood — the sticky sweet Coffee Crunch Cake sold at the erstwhile local bakery and restaurant chain Blum's. But the operator of Yasukochi's Sweet Shop inside the Super Mira store in Japantown learned to bake under deeply unhappy circumstances. He and his family were sent from San Francisco to a Japanese internment camp during World War II, and during that period, near Salt Lake City, Yasukochi recalls learning to bake as his father worked in the kitchen. After the war, he and his family returned to San Francisco. Later, he perfected the Coffee Crunch Cake with the help of a former colleague who once made candy for Blum's. It's particularly popular around Thanksgiving, so if you want a whole one, be sure to call ahead.

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.

Braised short rib stew at Daeho Luke Tsai

Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Superstar

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Mandalay in San Francisco may have the most authentic version of Burma’s tea leaf salad in San Francisco, but Burma Superstar’s adaptation (with its addition of romaine lettuce) is what transformed it into the popular, packaged version that’s seen around the Bay Area today. The fermented tea leaves remain central to the salad with its unique flavor, and is tossed with lettuce, vinaigrette and a melange of crunchy bits like toasted peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and fried yellow split peas to round out the salad.

A tea leaf salad from Burma Love in a wooden bowl. Burma Love

Dungeness Crab at PPQ Dungeness Island

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Dungeness crab season is A Thing here in San Francisco, and PPQ Dungeness Island is one of San Francisco’s most celebrated spots to have crab. There’s a couple of reasons for this: there’s at least five different dungeness crab preparations to choose from (roasted, peppercorn, chili, Cajun, and curry among them) and crab is served year-round, thanks to both local crab fishing and the ability to source from Washington during the off season.

Crab at PPQ PPQ Dungeness Island

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 (along with Tommy’s extensive tequila collection).

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. 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

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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 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.

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.” 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).

Pan Dulce at La Victoria

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A stroll along 24th Street isn't complete without a pan dulce from this adorable Mexican bakery, in business since 1951. They've hipped things up in recent years with fancy new-school pastries and De La Paz coffee, but the original treats are the best.

Carne Asada Super Burrito at Taqueria El Farolito

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Farolito, patron saint of the Mission's hungry drunks, is open late at night, which is the best time to eat their gloriously messy, greasy, flavorful, delectable carne asada super burrito — with rice, thank you very much. Waiting in line for 30 minutes for one of these is a great immersion into San Francisco's melting pot. The burrito does not discriminate, especially when you are imbibing.

Carnitas Burrito at La Taqueria

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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.

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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.

Espresso at Caffe Trieste

Long before hipster coffee shops popped up in every neighborhood, Caffe Trieste was fueling the Beats with its buzzy wares. Later, Francis Ford Coppola wrote The Godfather in this very shop, hopped up on the same heady brew. It's certainly an argument for the creative mojo engendered by a cup of Trieste espresso.

Explosive Chicken at Z & Y Restaurant

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.

Explosive Chicken at Z & Y Restaurant

Liberty Farm Peking Style Roast Duck at Mister Jiu’s