San Francisco is known for its arts scene, diverse population, and thriving nightlife. But there’s a secret inside the City by the Bay that you may be unaware of – its fantastic food scene. Do the chefs of San Francisco aspire to be trendy? That much is uncertain. What seems more likely is a focus on creating delicious dishes with seasonal ingredients. As a result, these eight culinary wonders were born, and we as a nation are better (and slightly more potbellied) because of it.
Have you recently enjoyed (or rolled your eyes at) a 12-dollar piece of toast? It’s lathered in avocado, possibly drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with feta cheese, and topped with a poached egg (don’t forget the freshly cracked artisanal peppercorns)? This phenomenon pays homage to the city’s ties to making really, really good bread. While the idea of spending upwards of 10 dollars on toast might sound ridiculous to some, the money truly goes where your mouth is, because this dish is freaking delish. However absurd it may be, the expensive toast trend has swept the nation – resulting in a lot of Americans chowing down on gourmet toast for breakfast in place of their traditional eggs benny.
The Mission Burrito
California is celebrated for its natural beauty and progressive take on democracy, but the state has perhaps no greater achievement than its mouthwatering Mexican food. It is important to note, however, that it’s not Californians who should be credited with their take on the cuisine, but the Mexican immigrants who call the state home.
Thanks to Mexican transplants, California has an abundance of delicious food at its fingertips. And there is no South of the border specialty more appreciated than the mission burrito in San Francisco. Whole essays have been constructed about its origins and importance, debates have raged over which mission burrito is the heaviest, and Southern California locals fume at the notion that the mission is superior to the California burrito.
The burrito in question originated in SF’s Mission District (which was once heavily populated by Latinos), and has been sending locals and tourists into spice-laden food comas since its inception. The key component is a freshly steamed and pressed tortilla that allows for more folding flexibility, and the rest of the ingredients? They can try to be recreated around the country, but they’ll never be the same as the Bay Area’s.
Chowder in a Bread Bowl
Although San Franciscans can’t lay claim to clam chowder (Hey, Rhode Island!), they do get points for serving it up in an innovative way. The City by the Bay’s famous Pier 39 has popularized serving hot bowls of “chowda” in warm, crusty bread. Ask yourself, is there anything better than sopping up bits of soup with sourdough? The answer, of course, is no. The rest of the country has taken heed, with bread bowls now available everywhere from high-end restaurants to chains such as Panera.
Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
In 1928, a genius with a sweet tooth put a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two oatmeal cookies. Wait! He didn’t stop there – he proceeded to dip his saccharine creation in chocolate. This is the story behind George Whitney’s It’s-It cookie-ice cream sandwich. Although the origins of the ice cream sandwich itself are murky, cookie-ice cream sandwiches have taken off at rocket speed. California creations like CREAM and the The Baked Bear serve up the treat year-round, but It’s-It is still a Bay Area fave that can be found at most major grocery stores.
Cioppino was perfected in San Francisco. We’ll give you a moment to pull your jaw up from off the floor. While the dish was certainly influenced by traditional Italian cuisine, San Franciscans are credited with creating the fishy dish. Back in the day, the city’s North Beach neighborhood was heavily populated by Italian immigrants, and many of them worked as fisherman or cooks in the neighborhood. One day, fate smiled down on the Italians, which led to the mixing of fresh fish, tomatoes, wine, herbs. The aromatic fish stew was born and the rest is fragrant, filling history.
We’d bet that the inventor of the fortune cookie didn’t foresee the creation being so popular, or being so hotly contested. A trial was held in 1983 to determine who was the rightful creator of the cookie, and Makoto Hagiwara, manager of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, won the case. Nowadays, it’s custom to receive a fortune cookie at the end of a meal in any and every Chinese restaurant across the country – a stroke of good luck, to be sure.
If the idea of a burrito-sized sushi roll makes you cringe, you’re not alone. However, there are those monstrous Bay Area locals and people around the country who have fallen head over fins for the sushirrito. The 2011 opening of the Sushirrito restaurant in San Francisco reflects the city’s need for filling food that can be eaten anywhere – and it is now eaten everywhere. From California to New York City, the fish-filled roll-up has won the hearts of the wasabi loving masses … no word on how sushi chefs in Japan feel about the meal.
Is there any pleasure purer in life than enjoying a piping hot plate of garlic fries on a sunny day? Dan Gordon of Gordon-Biersch is credited with creating the O.G. garlic fries, and serving them up at his restaurant in Palo Alto. Though they didn’t technically get their start in San Francisco, Gordon-Biersch eventually opened an S.F. location and started serving them at the AT&T ballpark (a.k.a. home of the San Francisco Giants). Since that fateful day, baseball stadiums, breweries, and bars around the country have given into the call of the masses and put crispy, hot garlic fries on their menus. Thank you, Dan Gordon, we salute you.