San Francisco is my favourite place on Earth. The expression you see above is one of a very happy chappy. A man who is in a city full to the brim with some of the finest eateries surely to have ever graced the face of the planet. A decade ago now I spent a 3 month period working there, and can honestly say not once had a meal that was sub par.
Back in the year 2000, I visited SF for the third time with friend Claire. Much as I had come to expect, each meal we had was of the highest quality, but nothing could quite prepare me for the wonderment that would end up in my digestive system on the final day of this trip.
I had become quite curious about this foodstuff know as the 'burrito' that I had seen and heard of on this trip. Sure I had tried out standard tex-mex back in the UK (fajitas, etc, or anything drowned in salsa and cheese) but had yet to get my lips around one of these tasty looking bad boys. Friend and US resident (our 'girl in the know') Tamora took us to her favourite takeria in the downtown area of San Francisco, near Union Square. I ordered my chilli beef burrito, with avacado, cheese, sour cream and the spiciest salsa.
We stood outside the place and Tamora and Claire began to chat about our trip, what had been the highlights, when we would be back. When I think back on it their voices seemed to fade with every mouthful of Mexican meaty goodness that I gobbled down. Pretty soon, around the time the heat from the spicy salsa kicked in, I was having a food epiphany:
This was truly the most amazing thing I'd ever eaten! Seriously where had these things been all my life? Why oh why had I left it until the LAST DAY of my trip to try one? I had truly opened a door that could never be closed.
'James, James?Are you OK?'
Voices seemingly in the distance (as if being shouted down a manhole) reached my ears. I snapped out of my trance-like state and responded 'this is incredible!'. I had not prepared myself for the inevitable 'food coma' that can result from a burrito. After getting through about half of the thing I felt like I had eaten two Christmas dinners. In a move that I regret to this day, and with our cab to the airport about to arrive, I discarded of it and threw it in the bin.
Cut to about two hours later. Claire and I are seated on a British Airways flight back to London, and are trying to decided on what entertainment to watch. I was debating between Disney's 'Tarzan' and old episodes of 'The Young Ones'. Out of nostalgia I plump for the latter, but as the episode begins (the one where Neil can't stop sneezing) a chilling realization crept over me. When would I eat something so glorious again? This was the butt end of the nineties, when Mexican dining in London meant Chiquitos or a plate of nachos in a pub (if you were lucky). Not only would I have trouble tracking them down at home, but WHY OH WHY did I throw that thing away?
This is America - they're 100% cool with you bringing leftover food onto planes! (At least they were back then, this may have changed now). Having recovered from my food coma I was now jonesing for that burrito like there was no tomorrow - and I just had images of my dear, wonderful bundle of food joy crumpled up and decaying in that San Francisco trash can. I learnt a valuable lesson - a burrito is for (at least) a day, not just for lunchtime.
This story has a happy ending. I returned to SF many times and never again did I waste a meal with such reckless abandon. Not only that but since 2006 burrito places have been springing up around London like Gremlins multiplying in an ocean. Good times!
This is just one of many great food memories I have of San Francisco. Below are some pictures and details of some other great places you should hit up if you ever lucky enough to set foot in this fine city:
The Cubana Sandwich, That's It Liquors, 2699 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
From the outside this may appear to be simply an (admittedly awesome looking) off license. However the place also does food - and the near legendary Cubana sandwich. This thing was quite the talking point when I visited back in 2010 so I had to go and see what the fuss was about. Combining tons of avacado, egg, frankfurter, ham and mayo, it was damn tasty. Just so you know the above pic is of just one half of this mighty sarnie (I had to share it with a friend).
Philly Cheesesteak, Busters, 366 Columbus ave, San Francisco, CA94133Bus
Busters is a wonderful little cheesesteak place located in the bustling heart of the North Beach area. The yellow and black stylings of this deli are adorned with images of old movie stars (chief among the Buster Crabbe) and there are plenty of guides and flyers so you can read up on what sights to see on your trip to the city. Prior to visiting Busters I had only had a cheesesteak from Subway. This was the real deal. Succulent streak piled high and drowned in delicious melted jack cheese, spiced up with the addition of jalapenos and peppers. Walking home from work this was a great meal to pick up on the go. It tasted even better after a pub crawl on Haight Street ;)
They have a rather splendid website, check it out:
The Super Burrito - La Cumbre, 515 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA94110
Having sampled it elsewhere, I still believe that no-where does Mexican cuisine as good as SF. The Mission is like mexican munch Disneyland, from what I've experience it's actually pretty difficult to get a bad burrito in these parts. Hence I am going to highlight the last one I visited, La Cumbre - as featured on 'Man Vs Food'. Like Adam Richman I sampled their 'super burrito', a real big daddy of tortilla wrapped goodness. The chicken contained was fresh and succulent, the rice was soft, and the guacamole acted as a good cooling counterpoint to the spicy salsa. Whilst being inferno level heat you can also really taste the flavour of the salsa, it doesn't just act as paint stripper for your mouth. Last, and by no means least - it passes the ultimate burrito wrapping test, it stands on it's own:
The Milf - Ike's Place, 3489 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94114
'Ike's Place' is kind of a sandwich place on Steroids. Located towards the Castro District, this deli serves up subs of legendary proportions. Ike also has gone the distance and given the sarnies names as colourful as the many fillings of the subs themselves. Here are some examples:
Hot Momma Huda
For more of their awesome names head over to http://ilikeikesplace.com/
On my visit I went for the Milf - chicken escalope, spinach, ham and mayo. It took awhile for them to serve it up (I think as the couple next to me had ordered the giant mofo that is the 'Doomsday') but when it did it didn't disappoint. The perfect way to fuel up before a day of squandering money on clothes, movie tickets and coffee in the Castro!
Za Pizza, 1919 Hyde Street@Green, San Francisco CA 94109
Za Pizza is the perfect place to stroll on down to when cooking is out of the question and a great spot to just hang out and people watch. It's a stone's throw from my normal place of residence in 'Frisco so I became quite the regular there for a period. Check out the pic above - that's just one slice! About the same size as a regular pizza in the UK and for a very reasonable price. So reasonable in fact that after getting through it when the waitress asked 'would you like another sir' I went for it. Hence:
This was an olive and mushroom slice. Really tasty and helped soak up the two pints of Sierra-Nevada I had in there (there's a great range of beers on tap). If it's your bag they show sports on the TV, overall a great little establishment to hang out. More info on their website: http://zapizzasf.com/
These are just a few examples of some places to check out in this glorious city. Every time I go I seem to discover a new aspect to the city, it really is the gift that keeps on giving. I'm hoping to make my 11th visit in 2014 so be ready for more posts on Californian cuisine adventures!