I was recently in the extremely fortunate position to be weekending in the fabulous city by the bay, the city that rocks, the city that never sleeps: San Francisco.

San Francisco is of those cities that everyone – from friends and family to Jack Kerouac and the Beat crew (and indeed San Franciscans themselves) – tells you is ‘ahhhmazing’, ‘beautiful’, ‘awesome’, ‘so cool’. Well, maybe Kerouac used slightly more eloquent language to describe his “fabulous white city on her eleven mystic hills”, but the overriding outtake from the literary iconoclast (thanks Wikipedia) is the same – go there.


SF postcard


As a renowned foodie hub in the mystic state of California, I was pretty confident the city was going to appeal to me. My only problem was where to start. With only four nights and two full days in San Francisco, I wanted to see as much of the place as possible and eat some great food on a ‘it’s getting towards the end of the month and I shouldn’t be using my credit card’ kind of budget. Another consideration was the fact I’d be alone for most of the time, and as much as I like making friends, the prospect of dining alone for a whole weekend in an unknown city can be a little daunting.

With a few recommendations of places to eat and drink in my back pocket, I stepped off the plane hungry and excited to see what this place had to offer. And she didn’t disappoint. Here’s my round up of a five of the things I ate and drank that my taste buds loved the most. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, and I can’t wait to return so I can visit the umpteen other places I didn’t have a chance to check out but it gives a little flavour (sorry) of my dining experiences in the city:

The humble and oft-scorned Brussels sprout has done well in America, seizing the opportunity to flourish in the land of opportunity. Whilst here in the UK sprouts are generally ring-fenced for Christmas time and shown little love even then, in the US, I noticed them on many menus, which – as a keen championer of all types of veg – I loved. One of these menus belonged to Marlowe, a little gem of a restaurant that happens to be just down the road from my company’s SF office in SoMa (South of Market), so it was rude not to visit when I was there. Marlowe is a pretty small and informal dining-room style venue with a mouth-watering bistro menu, from which my friend and I were instructed by our SF colleagues to try the Brussels sprout chips. As a kale crisp obsessive (see ‘The Kale chips shelves at Whole Foods, below), I was jumping about in my seat about the prospect, and they were – dare I say it – every bit as good as their dark green crunchy curly cousins.


Brussells crisps


Light and crispy (as you would hope) with a touch of lemon juice and sea salt, these little petals of goodness were incredibly moreish, and were served as a generous portion to boot. A definite San Francisco highlight for me, and a dish I’ll be attempting to replicate at home in London, the sprout-hating capital of the world.

It’s also only fair to also mention our delicious mains – The Marlowe Burger (‘the best burger in the bay area’ according to the San Francisco Chronicle), which is to be fair one of the best burgers I’ve ever tried – served with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon and horseradish aioli, and the Warm Rock Shrimp Roll (my favourite of the two – it comes with Napa cabbage slaw, basil, mint, citrus aioli, smoke and chilli, mm mm mmmm).


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  • Quinoa hash at Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery

Fuelled by a powerful combination of a white wine hangover and jet-lag, on Saturday morning I felt HUNGRY, so after soaking my tongue in a pint of water for an hour, I gingerly made my way from my hotel on the outskirts of the Tenderloin District (home to a large proportion of the city’s six thousand homeless residents) to Magnolia, a bustling pub in the middle of Haight-Ashbury. This district is known for its hippie history – it’s where the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’ started (ironic, bearing in mind Haight is prounounced ‘hate’) and where psych-rockers Jefferson Airplane called home. However in 2014, most of the hippies have moved out to make way for young professionals who now reside in the vibrantly colourful Victorian houses – known as painted ladies – in the area. Judging by the squeeze it took to get in through the door at Magnolia and the chalk-board list of names waiting for tables, most of these same young professionals fling open their smartly painted doors every Saturday morning and head to this commendable boozer for a beer over brunch.


Credit: INETours.com

Credit: INETours.com


Sometimes dining alone can have its advantages – no-one tries to nick your chips, you don’t get food envy and your mouth has a chance to be totally at one with food as it’s not preoccupied with chatting. Also, you can often dodge the waiting list to be seated. The waitress/bartender plonked me at the end of a large communal table and then promptly whisked off after shattering my dreams of a Bloody Mary with a “We only serve beer and wine here”. Fair play – the drinks menu in this place is extensive, and I was kicking myself for being too hungover to try any of craft beers and vintages on offer. Food-wise, the brunch menu was enticing Americana-with-a-twist fare, featuring French toast with bourbon whipped cream, scotch quail eggs and BBQ belly and grits (a ground corn breakfast dish). These all looked delicious, but once the words ‘quinoa’ and ‘nutritional yeast’ leapt out at me, I knew there was no turning back. The Quinoa hash also came with two eggs, raw carrot and spinach, and was, by all accounts, a pretty good way to start to my weekend.


NB - not my photo, credit to Yelp.com user Heather H

NB – not my photo, credit to Yelp.com user Heather H


I wouldn’t say it was outstanding and in hindsight perhaps I should have gone for the steak and eggs to fuel the three hour walk of hungover desperation up to the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was refreshing to try a more innovative and very tasty veggie option on the menu. For me, this dining memory is as much about how alive Magnolia felt on a Saturday morning (in contrast to how dead I felt inside) and the promise of how good the beer will taste when I return (one day!) as much as the taste of the dish. A solid SF experience.


  • The kale chips shelves at Whole Foods

After my brunch at Magnolia, I headed towards the Golden Gate park (which, confusingly is not attached to the Golden Gate Bridge). En route I was stopped in my tracks by the familiar joy that rises in my throat when I see the Whole Foods Market logo (this joy generally tends to be followed about 30 minutes later by the sinking feeling of crushing guilt at having spent forty quid on ‘necessities’ like powdered beetroot, cashew nut butter, chia seed puddings and 15 gallons of coconut water). It felt almost unholy not to pray at the temple of Whole Foods whilst I was passing, so I headed in, justifying my trip as a reason to get ‘essential snacks’ for my walk. So imagine my delight when I stumbled across a pack of kale crisps, only to find that there were SHELVES of the blighters.


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It was like finding the shrine of life in the holy temple of WFM. But how was I to choose between the various flavours of Kale Krunch, Kale Krunchies and Pacific Northwest Kale Chips?! Did I go for Cheezy Chipotle flavour, Southwest Ranch or Herbs de Provence? A bag or a box?? If I ever had a ‘God Bless America’ moment during my trip, this was it. The overwhelming delight at having to make such a wonderful decision almost scrambled my brain, but in the end I went for a solid choice – Mega Green Kale Krunchies (kale coated in a mix of seeds, cashew nuts, spirulina, dill and cayenne pepper). I’m a kale chip traditionalist at heart – just give me a drizzle of lemon and perhaps a little salt – but these were very good, and I carried the novelty of these kale ‘krunchies’ home with me, quite literally. I’ve been sprinkling the kaley crumbs left at the bottom of the bag over my dinners for over a week now.


Californians love a good smoothie, and with this in mind, before I left the UK I’d already scoped out the mind-boggling array of juices and smoothies on the menu at Sidewalk Juice – a well-loved local juice bar in the Mission District (an area that is also home to some great thrift stores, gift shops and cafes and is a general hang out for the cool kids of SF). It was Sunday, and having finished up a bay-side run by unintentionally going up one of the city’s thigh-burning hills that morning, I was craving a healthy, filling and preferably dairy-free cooler to freshen me up. I was totally spoilt for choice with the menu (I even considered just getting two drinks because I couldn’t make my mind up) but let’s be honest, I was always going to pick something with my favourite leafy green brassica in it. Enter the Kale Colada.


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It was so good I forgot to take a photo until I’d almost finished it…


Drinking this ingenious blend of kale, coconut juice, pineapple, coconut shreds, pineapple sorbet and ice is like pouring down your throat that feeling you get when you’re sitting on the beach in the warm pastel Californian morning sun, the beautiful Pacific stretched out in front of you and palm trees towering nonchalantly above you. It’s a drink that makes you feel like you’re being saintly whilst also getting a whole heap of sweet and delicious love from the match-made-in-tropical-food-heaven of coconut and pineapple. I wanted this drink to go on FOREVER.


photo 3Sidewalk Juice has two branches – see their website for more info.

  • Pizza at Tony’s

After I’d slurped down my Kale Colada and taken in the view of the city at Dolores Park, I hit a weird lonely funk. I’m generally very happy to hang out with myself, but a big part of the joy of exploring a new city is being able to share the ‘wow this place is awesome’ moments, along with the slightly panicked ‘how the hell do I know when to cross the road at this massive crossroads when all of a sudden there is no pedestrian crossing WHATSOEVER’ occurrences.


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The city from Dolores Park


Having not really eaten anything that day, I was absolutely starving and weak with hunger but for some reason I just freaked out at the thought of having to go to a café or restaurant on my own and get some food. Some kind of weird loneliness anxiety perhaps, and unsurprisingly, the longer I went without food, the more antisocial I felt, to the point where I felt a little teary and embarrassed after being told I had been standing at the wrong side of the counter to pick up my (delicious) almond milk latte at Fourbarrell Coffee. This feeling continued as I passed probably hundreds of eateries on my way back to the hotel from Valencia St, and by the time I got back to my room I was almost hallucinating a plate of toast and found myself reaching for the pretty uninspiring room service menu. However, my senses kicked in and after giving myself a proverbial (and probably literal) slap round the face, I told myself to pull it together, freshened up and Googled ‘restaurants good to eat alone in San Francisco’. I ummed and ahhed about taking a cab to Nopa or Bar Crudo (both well-reviewed restaurants highly recommended for the ‘solo diner’), but in the end I settled on a walk through China Town up to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. As much as I was enticed by the thought of some delicious seafood at Crudo, I craved the good old fashioned comfort of PIZZA.

Dragging my feet through the seemingly endless blocks of Chinatown (the largest Chinatown outside of Asia – such an incredible place and I’ll have to return on a full belly!), I arrived at Tony’s and was seated at the bar. Following some brief chit chat with a local and my demolition of a basket of bread, I was ready for doughy cheesy meaty goodness.  The overwhelming choice of toppings spread out across the Romana Style, Sicilian Style, New York 22”, St Louis Style and Coal Fired pizza bases was almost too much for me to handle, but my eyes and stomach were eventually drawn to the Classic Italian ‘Cal Italia’ – asiago, mozzarella, gorgonzola and parmesan cheeses, Croatian sweet fig preserve, prosciutto di parma and a balsamic reduction – touted (so the menu told me) as a gold medal winner at the Food Network Pizza Champions Challenge. How can you turn down a recommendation like that?! To accompany my dinner I treated myself to a cocktail – The Blind Barber (Zaya rum, grand poppy liqueur, fresh pineapple and lime juices, green chartreuse, agave nectar and – what swung it for me – chocolate oatmeal stout foam). The combination of the delicious cheesy, tangy pizza and the complex cola-like concoction that looked a little bit like a pint of Guinness in a champagne coupe glass was just what I needed.


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Ok, it wasn’t the proverbial warm food hug that made everything all right again, and sure I could have done with having my friends there at that moment to chink glasses with, but it reminded me how lucky I was to be sitting in pretty great pizza joint in one of the most beautiful, awesome and ahhhmazing cities I’d ever had the joy of exploring. A fitting end to an incredible city break. San Francisco – go there.