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San Francisco Travel Guide

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San Francisco Restaurants

Make no mistake, San Francisco is one of America’s top food cities. Some of the biggest landmarks are restaurants; and Alice Waters is probably just as big a draw as Alcatraz. On a Saturday, the Ferry Building may attract more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge. This temple to local eating sells cheeses, breads, "salty pig parts," homemade delicacies, and sensory-perfect vegetables and fruits

that attract a rabidly dedicated group. 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, too, 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, puréed, 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-dropping list of ingredients.) But this is definitely post-carrot-and-peas paradise, unless, of course, you’re talking heirloom carrot sorbet.

While Ms. Waters left things simple, today there’s play. Chefs are blurring lines, combining fresh ingredients with Korean, Japanese, Italian, or South American recipes. 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 now banned in California.

But the playground isn't just in haute cuisine kitchens. Culinary hot spots are just as likely to be a burger, pizza, or sandwich joint—with a few classically trained chefs dedicating their life to making a better pastrami. And you can just as easily find superb bahn mi, ramen noodles, and juicyel 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, sakes, and cocktails shaken with herbs and regionally distilled spirits. Whatever you pair with your smoked trumpet mushroom Reuben, or Napoletana pizza, let’s drink to San Francisco’s best food decade yet.

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