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Make no mistake, San Francisco is one of America’s top food cities. Some of the biggest landmarks are restaurants; and for some visitors, chefs like Daniel Patterson are just as big a draw as Alcatraz. In fact, on a Saturday, the Ferry Building—a temple to local eating—may attract more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge: cheeses, breads, "salty pig parts," homemade delicacies, and sensory-perfect vegetab
vegetables and fruits attract rabidly dedicated aficionados. You see, San Franciscans are a little loco about their edibles. If you ask them what their favorite season is, don’t be surprised if they respond, "tomato season."
Chefs are drawn to the superb ingredients plucked from the soils. Chances are that the Meyer lemons, fava beans, or strawberries on your plate that are preserved, pureed, or pickled were harvested this morning or within the last 48 hours. The briny abalone, crab, oysters, squid, and tuna that are poached, seared, smoked, or carpaccio’ed are caught just off shore. You will also get to taste unusual varieties, like lollipop kale, agretti greens, and Yuzu citrus. (The biggest downside is that some San Francisco menus come across as precious not delicious, a name-dump of ingredients.) But this is definitely post-carrot-and-peas paradise, unless, of course, you’re talking heirloom carrot sorbet.
Today the most interesting kitchens are using these ingredients in regional cuisines, like Korean, Japanese, Italian, or South American. So get ready to dig into kung pao pastrami, porcini doughnuts with raclette béchamel, and yucca gnocchi. That fig-on-a-plate reputation? That’s so last decade—as is foie gras, the sale of which is incredibly controversial throughout the state.
But the playground isn't just in haute cuisine kitchens. Culinary hot spots are just as likely to be a burger, pizza, or barbecue joint—with a few classically trained chefs dedicating their lives to making a better Margherita. And you can just as easily find superb bahn mi, ramen noodles, and juicyal pastor tacos in the kitchens of Little Saigon, Japantown, or the Mission District, with allegiances running strong. A carnitas burrito can cause serious family feuds (especially, say, if your husband likes El Farolito and you’re more a La Taqueria diehard).
And for the record, we do like our wine. Sure, Napa Cab is sold here, but these days wine lists are filling with French organic wines and making room for craft beers, ciders, and sakes, with a strong cocktail movement using herbs and regionally distilled spirits. Whatever you pair with your brisket, let’s drink to San Francisco’s best food decade yet.
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