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If San Francisco hasn’t made your culinary bucket list, then there are some historic San Francisco restaurants that will make you write it down and move it to the top. Restaurants have romanced these hilly streets with innumerable flavors for more than a hundred years. San Francisco happens to have more restaurants per capita than any other American city as well as the oldest restaurant in California. Epicures with a penchant for historical tidbits must explore this food haven for its impressive story.
Where to begin with the hotbed of counterculture that birthed the team name 49ers? The mid-eighteenth century saw pandemonium erupt as the discovery of gold drew thousands (referred to as the “forty-niners”) to San Francisco’s shores. Despite the earthquake and fire of 1906, the cosmopolitan metropolis took the 20th century by storm with its growth, leftist culture and technological advancements.
Revered by Hollywood and literary luminaries, San Francisco has a wealth of history for readers and movie buffs. If you can’t put down your ravaged copy of Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl,” or if you re-watch films like “Vertigo” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” then this city will thrill you. The best way to explore an urban hub of history is through the sights, scents and tastes of timelessly popular restaurants. Make your way over the Bay Bridge and enter San Francisco’s kitchen. Since you may find yourself overwhelmed by the plethora of choices, here are three historic San Francisco restaurants you should make a point to visit.
Here it is, the oldest restaurant in San Francisco – actually, in California. It’s also the third oldest in the United States. Though currently closed, they look forward to opening once the mayor allows for at least 50% indoor seating capacity. Three Croatian immigrants founded Tadich Grill, though it began as a tent labeled “Coffee Stand” set up on Long Wharf in 1849. Now known for their fresh seafood and centrally located in the Financial District, Tadich Grill is easily accessible by foot, cable car, bus, ferry or car. They encourage casual to dressy casual, although you’ll probably see business attire throughout the restaurant.
While higher-end eateries tend to have limited menus, Tadich Grill serves more than 75 entrees. They don’t take reservations, but they pledge to seat you at the perfect table. Of course, like any historic San Franciscan restaurant, famous customers often frequented this spot. Ever heard of Clark Gable, George Lucas or Joe Montana? They likely sat somewhere in the same dining room some years ago. Follow Tadich Grill on Instagram for menu and pandemic-related updates.
We get it, you would die for the perfect sourdough bread – though you needn’t sacrifice yourself thanks to Boudin Bakery. As this San Fran staples claims to have the Original San Francisco Sourdough, bread connoisseurs should prepare themselves for a mouthwatering gustatory experience.
You might ask what’s so special about this particular sourdough? The tangy flavor seduces even sourdough skeptics with the strain of wild yeast called Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis that flourishes in San Francisco’s unique climate. Isadore Boudin perfected the family recipe in 1849. Boudin Bakery has four locations within the city. The original bakery lies on Fisherman’s Wharf, and it’s accompanied by the Boudin Museum and a Boudin Bistro. The Embarcadero, Union Square and Richmond house are the other three locations.
If you’re longing for a more substantial meal than a chunk of bread, then order a sourdough bread bowl teeming with Boudin’s soup du jour. From vegetarian chili and creamy broccoli cheddar to smoked chicken and classic tomato, they have soup for every mouth, whether vegan or meat-loving. For a more particular taste, try the sourdough pizza or the baguette burgers. Nobody bakes bread like the French. And lucky for us, not all of the French choose to stay in France.
Though technically not a restaurant, this North Beach bar has to make the list in honor of revered Beat writer and iconoclast Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s recent passing. Its success lies in the symbiotic relationship with Ferlinghetti’s independent bookstore City Lights Bookstore. Glowing books hang overhead as you walk down Columbus Avenue and pass establishments emanating a strange mélange of Italian Renaissance Revival style, artsy grunge and dark academia drenched in hard liquor.
If you drool over the Kerouac and Burroughs aesthetic, then bring a tattered copy of “Naked Lunch” and head over to this corner of San Fran for book browsing and an evening of drinks. Vesuvio’s took the beatnik stereotype – a parody of the Beat Generation – and ran with it. They hired artist Wally Hedrick to perch himself by the window and paint while dressed in the classic beatnik fashion: beard, beret, open-toes shoes and turtleneck.
Whether you think of beatniks as comedic or inauthentic, you’ll obsess over the drinks, the art and the people. Pour over the list of eco-friendly cocktails and order the Jack Kerouac; served in a bucket glass and mixed with rum, tequila, cranberry juice and lime. Seeking some liquid inspiration? Try the absinthe with caution – this hazy liquor is arguably the most famous drink among writers and artists for its reputation of causing hallucinations and eliciting creativity (and sometimes even killing off said writers and artists).
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