Very few will dispute the fact that San Francisco is a foodie haven. It has always been so. But, today there is so much more to the local food scene than delectable crab and fresh oysters at Fisherman's Wharf, dim sum in Chinatown, chocolate, sourdough and martinis. California is where the locavore movement was born, and we have Alice Waters to thank for it. She opened Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley in 1971 and sparked a movement that swept the nation. There is a world of local flavor to be found, and farm to table restaurants are the hottest spots on the local dining out menu. Ranging from small eateries that grow their own lettuce and herbs to neighborhood bistros that have been serving up fresh, seasonal, hyper-local specialties for decades, San Francisco is a gourmand's paradise and a locavore's dream destination.
If you have the time and the transportation, why not day trip it from Napa down to Monterrey and explore the coast farm to farm. If you’re staying city-side, you can satiate your hunger and explore San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods with a "Hop On, Hop Off" tour".
These are some of our favorites:
Originally the location for a cafeteria that served hungry sailors before they shipped out during World War II, the newly refurbished waterfront bistro at 1300 Battery on the Embarcadero is a great destination for a totally different experience. It's the very essence of local, and is an architecturally slick reincarnation of Fog City Diner that opened here in 1985.
With bar selections that include American spirits from local distilleries, a changing array of 16 wines on tap and a great selection of artisanal beer, Fog City appeals to the "come for a drink and a snack crowd" as much as to hearty food patrons who enjoy the cooking show as much as the view and the historic ambience.
Seasonal, local cuisine prepared by chef/owner Bruce Hill is headlined by oysters on the half shell, featured during happy hour M-F from 4 to 6 p.m., as well as on the lunch and dinner menus. Small bites to large plates produced in the exhibition kitchen include Ahi tuna tartare, a fresh-caught grilled fish, local calamari and wood oven clams. Fog City also serves hearty fare, including pork, lamb and beef, and a wide array of imaginatively prepared sides like deviled eggs, kale, local cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and eggplant baba ganoush. If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, there are old-fashioned doughnuts and frozen custard too!
Chef Mark Sullivan is justifiably proud of the house-made charcuterie and the seasonal produce dished up at the Cafe, and the specially cured meats available to take home from this "local deli." It's also known for artisan coffees, freshly baked cookies and "fisherman's mussels," the perfect destination for comfort food with a twist! Try the Spruce burger, pastrami sandwich, warm olives or French fries with remoulade. Nothing disappoints here.
Located in an old house in Presidio Heights, you'll also find a "proper" dining room at Spruce as well as several private rooms available for special events and small functions from casual luncheons to elegant cocktail receptions. Spruce has become such a favorite that even President Barack Obama chose to dine here quietly during a visit to San Francisco. Reservations are encouraged, as you never know whom you might be rubbing shoulders with.
Local Mission Eatery
On almost every list for fine dining, as well as one of the mainstays for the farm to table crowd in San Francisco, Local Mission Eatery is a restaurant that sets the bar high in every category. Since it opened in March 2010, they introduced a Market in 2013, becoming the first handmade and locally sourced food market in the area. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, and you can find regulars gathering to sample the bounty of each season.
The founders of the Eatery, Chef Jake and Yaron, who is a resident of the 24th St. neighborhood, personally grow, select and order all of the herbs, fruits, vegetables and cheeses for the restaurant. All of the seafood is fresh, wild and sustainably fished. The cheese, dairy and eggs arrive from nearby farms. Local Mission serves only central and northern California wines as well, and features a monthly wine dinner to pair favorites with special dishes.
While these restaurants may be the "top hitters", there are scores of additional farm to table restaurant options, including Sons & Daughters on Nob Hill, a "somewhat secret" 28-seat fine restaurant that offers a single daily tasting menu for a fixed price, with optional wine pairings available. Its sister restaurant, Sweet Woodruff on Sutter St., serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and offers take-out if all of its 20 counter seats are filled. An 83-acre restaurant-farm located in the Santa Cruz Mountains serves both.
Another “not to be missed” is Mustard's Grill in Napa, a homey, welcoming spot that has been run by Cindy Pawkyn since 1983. The small restaurant garden has also grown to more than two acres. Mustard's became an acknowledged "clubhouse for the area," prompting the opening of Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena.
In San Francisco, “Farm to Table” is more than a catchy concept, and alliances between area growers, farmers and artisanal producers are strong and vibrant, as a result. For many restaurateurs, that means a weekly, or even daily, menu adjustment. Fresh fruit and vegetable offerings follow the seasons, and innovative chefs dance to their own drums, creating dishes that draw on the best of what's available. The distinguishing philosophy at all of these restaurants is the reliance on fresh and local. It is a movement that is reinforcing the idea of what a community is and invites you to sit at the table.