A LITTLE BACKGROUND
San Francisco has far too many good restaurants to permit listing them all here. Those included are excellent in some way. Don’t be reluctant to try places discovered while wandering. If the people dining inside look animated and happy, give it a try. It is amazing how infrequently a bad meal is served in this food-fanatical town. Even hotel restaurants (some are described briefly in the “Hotels” section), which are often best overlooked in other cities, are usually good here. They don’t call San Francisco “Food City” for no reason. In fact, it is said there are more restaurants per resident in San Francisco than in any other city in the U.S.
Do try some of the local food specialties. The fortune cookie, Irish coffee, and martini were all invented here. Pisco punch, an unusual drink made with Peruvian brandy, dates back to the Gold Rush. Sourdough bread is credited to Isidore Boudin, a French immigrant who in 1849 got some sourdough from a gold prospector and mixed it in with his French bread to produce the world’s first sourdough French bread. The Lactobacillus sanfrancisco sour culture has been kept alive in a mother dough for more than 150 years now, and was saved during the 1906 earthquake when a Boudin family member scooped it into a bucket before running out into the street. Dry salami is made by several local companies, including Molinari (visit the source) and Cariani, which both date back to the 1890s. The original Swensen’s Ice Cream shop still operates at Hyde and Union streets dishing out its Sticky Chewy Chocolate and Turkish Coffee specialties, though vanilla remains the favorite.
It’s-It--an ice cream sandwich made with oatmeal cookies, vanilla ice cream, and a coating of chocolate--was developed in 1928 at long-gone Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park. The confection is sold now in grocery stores. Another frozen delight, the Popsicle, was created on one very cold San Francisco night in 1905 when 11-year-old Frank Epperson carelessly left out some powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick. Green Goddess salad dressing was created in 1923 at the Palace Hotel by chef Philip Roemer, who named it after a play of the same name by William Archer. More classic San Francisco dishes include Crab Louie and cioppino seafood stew. Double Rainbow is the ice cream of choice, Anchor Steam the beer (take a tour of the factory), Calistoga (from the Wine Country) the mineral water, Dungeness the crab (named for the town north of Seattle), Ghirardelli the chocolate, and Torani the flavored syrup.
Note that a state law makes it illegal to smoke in any California restaurant or bar, or in any public place of business. Valet parking averages around $7 to $10.