San Francisco is home to a wide variety of flavours focused on savoury foods and a healthy mix of cuisine developed by Chinese immigrants. Chinatown is the centre of the culinary scene in San Francisco and is home to iconic dishes like Explosive Chicken and Chop Suey. Of course, classic Californian cuisine shines in the city, with plenty of eggs and bacon included in all sorts of dishes. Seafood is a prominent ingredient as well, thanks to the city's proximity to the shore. Check out the best San Francisco foods everyone should try.

    Where and what to eat in San Francisco?

    1

    Chop Suey

    Experience Chinese-American cuisine

    Chop Suey is a staple of Chinese-American cuisine and features a central meat mixed with eggs that are cooked quickly with vegetables in a sauce thickened with starch. The origins of this dish are disputed by scholars, but most signs point to Chinese immigrants to America bringing it to San Francisco in the early 20th century. The name chop suey literally translates to odds and ends, and you'll find quite a few different versions of the dish available across town. Stir-fried noodles and chow mein are common substitutes for the accompanying rice, for example.

    2

    Dutch Crunch

    Try crunchy bread

    Dutch Crunch is a dense, doughy bread coated in a rice flour, yeast, and sugar mixture that's brushed onto the raw dough before baking so that it's infused in the bread. The result is a slightly sweet bread with a crisp, crackled crust that makes it a premier choice for sandwiches. Dutch Crunch originated in San Francisco, but it's named for the similar Dutch version, which is known as Tiger bread. Be sure and try it while you're in town, as you're not likely to find this local favourite outside the Bay area.

    3

    Egg custard tart

    Enjoy a Chinese favourite served San Francisco-style

    The egg custard tart features a pastry crust that's filled with an egg custard made using flour, butter, sugar, and milk, and it's a staple of Chinatown. The popular dish has a sweet flavour and was brought to San Francisco by immigrants from the Hong Kong area. You'll find these treats in bakeries all across town, but the Chinatown Golden Gate Bakery is the most popular place to get them, as demonstrated by the line out the door nearly every day they're open.

    4

    Joe’s Special

    Try Original Joe's masterpiece

    Joe's Special is a unique dish that originated from Original Joe's restaurant and combines eggs, spinach, ground beef, onions, garlic, and spices into 1 massive plate. Typically, the dish is served alongside sourdough bread with garlic butter, but it's also sometimes serve on a bed of pasta or rice. Be sure to try some of the spin-off versions as well. Italian Joe's, for example, utilises Italian sausage rather than ground beef, while the Mexican Joe's replaces the ground beef with chorizo. No matter what version you try, Tabasco sauce continues to be one of the best add-ons for it.

    photo by Cullen328 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    5

    Cioppino

    Enjoy fish stew

    Cioppino is a fish stew made from a multitude of ingredients, including calamari, Dungeness crab, mussels, and more, all mixed in a tomato broth. Sotto Mare is one of the most popular places in town to find a sample, though you can generally expect large portions you'll have to tackle equipped with a bib. This dish is commonly served with large spoons and bread to help soak up some of the tomato broth once you're through the seafood ingredients. Sotto Mare may have originated the dish, but you can find it in a few other locations in town as well, making it a San Francisco favourite.

    photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    6

    Xiao Long Bao

    Try a steamed Chinese bun

    Xiao Long Bao is a popular Chinese steamed bun that has gained serious popularity in San Francisco thanks to the delicious, piping-hot flavours in this soup dumpling. Local Chinese restaurants tend to both cook and serve them in bamboo steaming baskets. As a soup dumpling, this treat differs from typical Chinese dumplings in that it contains a soupy substance inside rather than entirely solid ingredients. Most often, the dumplings are filled with pork, but you'll find variations using seafood and even vegetarian offerings. The secret to this dish is steaming it enough to turn the solid meat aspic that's wrapped inside the skin into a soup.

    7

    Hangtown Fry

    Taste a 19th-century omelette

    The Hangtown Fry is an omelette first invented during the gold rush of the 1850s that expertly mixes eggs, bacon, and the special ingredient, which is oysters. When the dish was first introduced, oysters were a luxurious ingredient; so this humble omelette by modern standards was once a sign of success. Only miners who struck gold could afford this $6 meal, which is the equivalent of $200 today. Fortunately, you can find Hangtown Fry all over the city these days in diners and restaurants of multiple kinds, many of which put their own spin on it. As long as you're an oyster lover, you're sure to enjoy it.

    8

    Crab Louie

    Experience the king of salads

    Crab Louie is a popular San Francisco salad that features crab meat and typically includes hard-boiled eggs, tomato, asparagus, iceberg lettuce, and Louis dressing. Louis dressing is an essential ingredient for this salad because its combination of mayonnaise and chilli sauce gives the salad its signature taste. You'll find variations of this salad around town that use ingredients like olives and spring onions. You can also try the Lobster Louie, which, as the name suggests, replaces the crab meat with lobster.

    9

    The Rebel Within

    Bite into a savoury muffin

    The Rebel Within is no ordinary muffin, as it solidifies the innovative nature of San Francisco cuisine by featuring a sausage muffin with a soft-boiled egg inside. This dish has changed the way many locals think about breakfast, and it's all thanks to the brilliant minds at Craftsman and Wolves. While the originators are still the best place in town to find one, you'll find similar dishes in more and more restaurants around town every year. You can typically tell that your Rebel Within is going to be good when it's served with some Tabasco hot sauce.

    10

    Explosive Chicken

    Test your might

    Explosive Chicken is not a dish to be taken lightly, as it's an Asian-style crispy chicken dish that's packed with plenty of Sichuan chilli peppers for some serious bite. This dish originated from Z & Y restaurant in San Francisco and combines American love for crispy chicken, traditional Chinese cooking, and hot chilli peppers to create something new and powerful. Keep in mind that this dish isn't designed to simply be a mouthful of heat. That would be too easy. Instead, each ingredient, from the chicken itself to the peppers, is carefully cooked, measured, and seasoned to maximise flavour above all else.

    photo by Paul Keller (CC BY 2.0) modified

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