San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in America, so it’s a good idea to get a taste of different available cuisines before you plonk yourself in a restaurant without looking at the menu. A San Francisco food tour is the perfect way of going about this; gaining first hand knowledge of where to go/not to go from a born and raised local, tasting some of the vibrant and cultural dishes at a number of establishments, and learn about the history of this iconic city.
The first stop on our tour is Vital Tea Leaf, a Chinese tea store in the heart of the district. A long bar runs through the middle where the owner pours you samples of teas the proper way, no tea bags, no kettle, and certainly no milk or sugar. The owner is a frank and plain-spoken man, he talks about the various health benefits of tea as he pours us Iron Goddess green tea, Ginseng Oolong, red tea, black tea, and white tea, all while hilariously mocking the way English and American people have ruined tea for good.
Up next, still in the main street of Chinatown, is Eastern Bakery. Here we have a platter of traditional Chinese dishes; pork dim sum cooked the 1800s way, rice cake, shrimp soup dumpling, a sesame roll, and savoury pork buns. We also try their famed mooncake, that is apparently so delicious they ship them back to China! This small and authentic Chinese restaurant is the type of place often overlooked in favor of a more Westernised establishment, but it goes to show that stepping out of your comfort zone almost always pays off.
On the walk to our next stop our guide Brian tells us all about the history of Chinatown, how the Chinese came here during the mid 1800s in search of gold, and the original neighbourhood limits that the residents were confined to. We walk through Chinatown’s Living Room, gaze up at Corporate Goddesses, learn why the Transamerica Pyramid building is shaped the way it is, and head down the historic Ross Alley.
This brings us to the first of two stops that aren’t usually included on the route; the Fortune Cookie Factory. There is something a little sad about finally discovering how fortune cookies are made (it’s surprisingly simple), but getting to write our own fortune and have it sealed inside a freshly made cookie makes it all worth it. We also get a little freebie bag of cookies to take home!
Pot & Noodle on Jackson St is the second ‘surprise’ stop on the tour, still within the Chinatown district. Even though it’s barely 6:30 in the evening, the place is completely packed, and we have to wait to be seated while the waitresses rushes around with steaming plates of meat and noodles. To keep us entertained Brian gives us a chopsticks lesson, and explaines the history of potstickers, a traditional Chinese dish. We are then served up green onion pancakes, Shanghai wine chicken, spicy pork belly, and a basket of potstickers.
Heading out of Chinatown, it’s time to get our dessert caps on. Brian first gives us a pep talk on how to order cannolis (ask how long they’ve been sat out, if it’s longer than 30 minutes, ask for a fresh one), before we tuck into a fresh chocolate chip cannoli at Stella Pastry & Cafe. This leads us nicely into Z Cioccolato where the owner himself chats to us about the history of the store, and the very unique (and delicious) way they make fudge. We are treated to a goodie bag with a piece of dark chocolate and orange fudge, nutty turtle fudge, and Heath English Toffee flavor.
Traditionally, once you’ve had your dessert there’s no more eating, but not on this tour. Our seventh and final stop is Mona Lisa, a large Italian restaurant known for its homemade pasta and pizza. The owner personally serves us their classic margarita pizza, accompanied by a large glass of red wine that finishes off the evening nicely.
If you want to experience the best of San Francisco but are unsure where to start, then this is definitely the way to go! For some great culinary tours and other memorable experiences check out Experience Gifts.