Where you absolutely must go for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next time you visit the City by the Bay.
TRAVEL ADVISORY | With so many fabulous restaurants to choose from, San Francisco can be frustrating for tourists who travel to eat. I visit every November, and each time I go I try new places—but first I schedule a return meal at my three favourite eateries. Each one is a bone fide cult classic, and not one need be stratospherically expensive.
Breakfast: Tartine Bakery & Cafe—Some connoisseurs claim that this establishment makes the best bread in North America, but unless you line up outside the bakery around 5 p.m. when the bread comes hot from the oven, you aren’t going to bag a loaf. The easiest way to get a piece of Tartine’s bread is to order toast for breakfast at the café (It isn’t listed on the menu; you need to ask for it), though you will be tempted by the range of stellar pastries to choose from, like the blackberry confection pictured above. www.tartinebakery.com
Lunch: Swan Oyster Depot—The late great food writers M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard were admirers, and so are the 900-plus diners who have written mostly five-star reviews on Yelp. The Swan Oyster Depot is a must-do place for lunch. Half fish market, half restaurant, this 80-year-old seafood emporium serves bowls of Boston-style chowder and all manner of unbelievably fresh seafood—cracked crab, every kind of oyster on the half shell, sea urchin, whatever—to diners who belly up to the old-fashioned marble counter that seats just 20 people on stools.
The Swan doesn’t take reservations and lingering over lunch is encouraged, so unless you get lucky, you’ll wait in line outside to get in. But that’s part of the experience too. Two weeks ago, our all-we-could-possibly-eat seafood meal, which included free treats, came to just $46 for the two of us. www.swanoysterdepotcom
Dinner: Chez Panisse—If you have never eaten at Chez Panisse, you must. If you have, try it again and reconnect with Alice Waters’ culinary vision. This is the place where “California-style cuisine” originated in 1971, and pilgrims come from around the world to savour innovative dishes made from fresh, organic, local-as-possible ingredients. This cooking philosophy is commonplace now but was revolutionary when Waters started out.
There are two dining rooms at Chez Panisse. Upstairs in the café (pictured here), guests order à la carte and can enjoy a three-course meal for as little as $32. Downstairs in the formal dining room, the chef will decide what they’ll eat. Depending on the night of the week, a downstairs meal will cost between $60 and $95 a person. Visit www.chezpanisse.com. —C. Rule
Photos: Courtesy Tartine Bakery, bootsintheoven.com, Chez Panisse