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All The Iconic Things You Need To Eat In San Francisco

All The Iconic Things You Need To Eat In San Francisco

New Orleans has gumbo, Philadelphia has Philly cheese steaks, and Chicago has the deep-dish pizza. After ‘delicious’, we’d say ‘iconic’ is the most appropriate adjective to attach to these much-loved eats.


While San Francisco’s most iconic regional dishes mightn’t crack a ‘top 10 in the US’ list like the deep-dish pizza, you’d be a chump to not chow down on a chowder or two while you’re in the bayside city. There are plenty more eats that the San Franciscans hold dear to their hearts, and these are just some that you’ve got to wrap your tastebuds around when in town.

BYO muumuu.

Clam Chowder


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On its own, clam chowder isn’t a truly unique San Franciscan dish. But, when it comes served in a bowl carved out of a sourdough cob, it most certainly is. The San Franciscans have claimed this carb-a-licious rendition of the potato, onion, and clam soup, as their own since 1849.

Slurping it up straight out of a bread bowl, is the best and only way to devour the thick, steaming deliciousness that is clam chowder. The only way you can possibly outdo the already amazing dish, is to order the bread bowl chowder with a generous amount of sweet, local crab meat piled on top. Just like they make it at Pier Market on Pier 39 (the sea lion pier). Their pimped-up, crab topped version of chowder (US$15.90 / AU$) is cooked with chunks of bacon through it too, because bacon makes everything better.

You’re welcome.



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If you’re wandering around The Mission, make a beeline for Panchita’s Pupusaria on 16th and Valencia. It’s the newest of the 3 Panchita’s outlets in the area, and the closest outlet to all the cute puppers getting their exercise in at Dolores Park. It’s also one of the best spots in all of San Francisco to pick up the El Salvadorian treat, the ‘pupusa’.

Essentially, a pupusa is a thick, stuffed flatbread, made of cornmeal. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but you can’t (and shouldn’t) pass judgement until you’ve tried one. They’re like the alternative, delicious lovechild of a taco and a pizza pocket.

At Panchita’s, pupusas come stuffed with plenty of melty cheese, and your choice of refried beans, jalapeños, chicken, pork, beef, spinach, or loroco. Make sure you dump a heaped spoonful of the complementary pickled veg (curtido) on top before you tuck in. It’s a flavour sensation you didn’t know you needed.

Irish Coffee


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Get chatting to any local San Franciscan, and it’s almost guaranteed they’ll tell you to go and get an Irish coffee (US$10.00) at the iconic Buena Vista Café.

It’s been said that Irish coffees made it to the USA courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel writer, Stanton Delaplane. Allegedly, the Buena Vista Café (with the help of Delaplane) was the first café to ever serve the whisky spiked, cream topped coffee in the USA.

That was all the way back in 1952.

It’s been more than 60 years since the duo perfected the recipe, and it’s still being served up the exact same way as it was back in the day (albeit, a little more expensive). If it’s not broke, why try fix it?!

You can find the iconic café on Hyde St, directly up the road from the Hyde St beach and pier.

Fortune cookies

Fortune cookies are far from the best cookie in the cookie family (that title belongs to either a chunky choc chip or salted caramel), but they’re pretty special to San Francisco. Just like ‘chop suey’, the crispy, prophetic little cookies were first cooked up in Golden Gate city.

If you happen to be in San Francisco’s Chinatown district, pop into the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to see the cookie making in action. They’re the only factory still making the cookies by hand, and one of the only factories to hand out fresh, hot samples when you visit.

If you’re going to enjoy the freebies, it’s a good idea to show your gratitude and buy a US$1.00 bag of cookies to take with you too.



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Seafood lovers needn’t look further than a big, steaming bowl of cioppino when by the bay. It’s another famed regional dish that you have to treat yourself to before leaving the city.

Just like a French bouillabaisse, the Italian-American cioppino is a ‘catch of the day’ stew. Only in San Francisco, the catch of the day is served up in a simpler, clear tomato and wine sauce. They don’t skimp on the seafood either. Generally, the stew consists of a healthy combination of locally caught crab, clams, squid, mussels, fish or prawns. How’s that for a seafood smorgasbord?

You can hunt down the local favourite at Scoma’s on the Fisherman’s Wharf. For US$42.00 you get a whopping bowl full of juicy seafood, and some giant slices of sourdough to mop it all up with.

(Lead image: Composite of image from Pier Market Seafood Restaurant / Facebook and StudioGShock / Shutterstock)

Our writer visited with support from San Francisco Travel.

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