san francisco: how to spend 48 hours eating & drinking


It had been 9 years since I was last in San Francisco. I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

A lot of things had changed.

I was no longer an aspiring wine maker (although still an enthusiastic wine drinker!). I was no longer a miserable newly-wed living in San Jose, whose only bright days were the occasional day trips catching the train up to lovely SF for some decent food and a little ray of culture.

San Francisco seemed a lot quieter than I remembered. Maybe that’s because everywhere (with the possible exception of Tokyo) seems sedate compared to the pace of New York.

But she is still a beautiful, vibrant old city. I still feel at home there and can’t help but notice the similarities between herself and my home town of Sydney.

And although I was only there for 5 days, I managed to find some great food to rival the best of NYC. Yay for California!

Stonesoup Travel Update

I’ve setup a little Stonesoup Food Lovers Guide to Travel Page with a link in the side bar. There are also pages for SEATTLE, NYC and Barcelona. Watch this space for Sydney and Melbourne.

And if there’s anywhere I’ve missed in each of these places. Please let me know in the comments!

how to spend 48 hours eating & drinking in san francisco

dinner day 1. Blue Bottle Coffee
I’m not the biggest coffee drinker, but I really enjoyed being introduced to this caffeine obsessed by the fabulous Leo Babauta. Ask for a gibraltar – which is about half way between a macchiato and a latte – then follow it with the coffee of your choice. The have a few locations around the city but I quite liked the Ferry Building outlet.

lunch day 1. Zuni Cafe
It’s an institution and still just as fabulous as the first time I visited over 10 years ago. Still love the roast chicken but pretty much everything is good especially anything from the wood fired oven.

dinner day 2. Contigo
Pretty much everyone I asked in Seattle for SF recommendations put Contigo at the top of their list. There was even talk of ‘best meal we ate last year’. With mostly Spanish tapasish influences and a warm inviting space, this relatively newly opened gem lived up to some high expectations.

breakfast day 2. Boulette’s Larder
Unfortunately our plans to breakfast at Boulette’s Larder were foiled by the Saturday market trading at the Ferry Building – the only day these guys sell produce and prepared meals rather than serving. Everything looked so good I’ve decided to include it in my list anyway.

lunch day 2. Sausalito OR el Farolito

I’m giving you options here because the weather will make a big difference. If it’s lovely and sunny, like it was for us, catch the commuter ferry over to Sausalito from the Ferry Building. Go for a stroll around and either find a touristy place for lunch or pack your own picnic. There’s also a great little wine shop / bar on the main strip that does interesting and reasonably priced wine tastings.

If the weather is more on the inclement side, I’d recommend heading to the mission for some authentic casual Mexican. Loved the burritos and the tacos at El Farolito (2779 Mission St).

bonus dinner. Aziza
If time permits, and you’re a fan of Moroccan / North African food – highly recommend a meal at Aziza. With one Michelin star, it has a bit of formality in the presentation and service but the food is innovative without being too ‘out-there’. The lighting will make you feel like you’re in a dodgy dicso but it’s a small price to pay.
UPDATE: This restaurant has now closed.

If you have more time

Chez Panisse
Another old favourite, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my meal in this Berkeley stalwart. It’s pricey but the food has a wonderful simplicity about it. Very refreshing and I think much better than when I dined here 10 years ago.

Someone described Nopa as the Zuni cafe for the 21st century to me, and I’m not sure if it was some high expectations or something else. I had a lovely meal at Nopa but there was something lacking that I just couldn’t put my finger on. Go for yourself and hopefully prove me wrong.

Farmers Markets in the Ferry Building
Busy on a Saturday but wonderful to see.

Out the Door
Asian casual off shoot of The Slanted Door. Loved their green papaya salad and decent pork buns. Apparently their ban mi are excellent.

The Warming Hut
Little cafe and bookstore underneath the Golden Gate bridge.

On my list for next time

As a tea lover I’m completely devo-ed (devastated) I missed out on experiencing SF’s best tea lounge.

Bar Agricole
Gotta love the sound of a place that describes itself as a ‘modern urban tavern’.

Local food. 2 Michelin stars.

Mexican at the Ferry Market Building

Italian from Campania with Naples style wood fired pizza.

Tartine Bakery & Cafe
Another I wish I’d heard about earlier!

Casual, interesting Mexican.

Una Pizza Napoletana
Apparently a one man show that plays by his own (pizza purist) rules. Wish I had known about this earlier!

Zero Zero
Another pizzeria. You have to love a place that names itself after the Italian flour they use.



  • I highly recommend The Cheese Board Co-op in Berkeley for their divine pizza.
    Also the Marin County farmers market has incredible hierloom vegetables and yummy pastries called Bear Claws.

  • I was in SF for my first time in 2008—everything about it blew me away. I’m really excited to go back this summer! The one place on this list that I went to was Samovar, and it’s completely brilliant, so I hope you get to go someday.

    If you happen to love garlic, I HAVE to recommend the Stinking Rose. Every menu item is all about the garlic. Garlic is one of my favorite things in the world, so it was a glorious place for me. I still long for the garlic spread they put on the tables, and the endless delicious bread. I can’t even remember what I ordered because the spread was that amazing.

  • hello from s.f. ditto, you MUST go to samovar and tartine next time! the original samovar in the castro is the best and delicious does not even describe the wonderful things coming out of the tartine kitchen!

  • i absolutely adore san fran- so many amazing restaurants, fantastic wine and a wonderful locavore culture. Great list, I’ll have to save this for my next visit.

  • My boyfriend lived in SF until about 2 month ago and I already miss going there to visit! I spent 3 months there last summer and love love love Delfina and Zuni Cafe – actually got the recipe for the roasted chicken and did a post on it… it’s almost as amazing as they do it at the restaurant. Next time try to get in at Flour + Water for amazing & affordable eats in the Mission!

  • elle
    Flour + Water added to the list.

    Elan & Brett
    THe pleasure was all mine! Definitely on my list for next time too.

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