Deep dish is to Chicago as ______ is to San Francisco?
January 30, 2013 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Every year for the Super Bowl we make food from the teams' hometowns. This is our seventh year, and it's the first time we've had difficulty finding a food for a team! (Although two years of Hoosier Pie was no fun for anybody.)

Baltimore's easy (crab cakes! tempeh crab cakes! french fries with Old Bay!), but we are stumped about San Francisco. It seems odd, since it's this very culturally important city - like, it was way easier to find food from Pittsburgh and Green Bay - so I think we're just missing something.

Things we have considered and are not super interested in:
- Chinese food (we are trying to eat things we don't already have all the time, and Chicago has lots of good Chinese food)
- Sourdough bread (see above; also this just seems insufficient - unless there is some kind of spread/dip/sandwich people in SF eat sourdough bread with??)
- Burritos (again...Chicago, which, no offense, has better Mexican food than SF)

We're also not looking for specific brands of regular things, or for really general suggestions like "California cuisine" or "fish".

So help me out: what are some foods that are quintessentially San Franciscan? Appetizers, entrees, desserts - anything goes. Bonus points for recipes!
posted by goodbyewaffles to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A round loaf of sourdough bread. The insides are scooped out and clam chowder served within the bread. That's about the most touristy San Franciscan treat I can think of.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think this Bold Italic article sums it up perfectly. Have fun!
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Cioppino is the first thing that comes to my mind about SF. Dim Sum too, but good luck with that.
posted by karlos at 3:33 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cioppino, like others have said.
Garlic fries. I am sure that Chicago has perfectly nice garlic fries (they're not exactly rocket science), but they started here.

P. S. It's probably better not to insult an area's food when you're asking for help!
posted by wintersweet at 3:38 PM on January 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Yikes. I'm sorry, that came off douchier than I intended. We asked some friends in Northern California about this and got a chorus of "burrito burrito!!!" which is great and tasty, but also ubiquitous, and as easily associated with any other city with lots of Mexican people. ...which is all. I have been to SF like two times, and I definitely don't know enough about the food to insult it.

Garlic fries sound delicious. Maybe we have them here but I have not seen them :)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:50 PM on January 30, 2013

I came here to say burrito, until I saw you said not burritos.

Garlic fries.

Or dim sum, but that might just be because I had dim sum for lunch.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:52 PM on January 30, 2013

Burritos in San Francisco aren't just normal burritos.
posted by zsazsa at 3:52 PM on January 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

Sourdough bread is the thing, for sure. For extra credit, crab. Preferably with a cold Anchor Steam.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:54 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat!
posted by motown missile at 3:54 PM on January 30, 2013 [11 favorites]

I guess this is more of an edge-of-the-PNW-thing rather than specifically SF, but Dungeness crab is really a Thing here.

Drinks-wise, San Francisco accounts for 25% of US fernet consumption according to Wikipedia. (warning, it has a, distinctive taste).
posted by phoenixy at 3:57 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The chorus of "burrito" (which is what I thought of, too, as a San Franciscan) is because what most Americans call a burrito was invented here. So we do get to take some credit ("no offense" ; ) over other cities on that.

Sourdough bread bowl scooped out with clam chowder or cioppino inside. Sand dabs. Dungeness crab.

Very good wine (Napa and Sonoma are 40 mins away and key to the Bay Area).

Irish coffees, or any super-artisanal roast single-cup pourover.

See's Candies or Ghiradelli chocolates.

Crab Louie. Fortune cookies.

Lots of fusion food here - korean burritos.
posted by amaire at 3:57 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's Its! (Ice cream sandwiches made from oatmeal cookies -- sublime, and very SF.)
posted by ottereroticist at 4:13 PM on January 30, 2013 [11 favorites]

How about Zuni Cafe roasted chicken & bread salad? It's not a "San Francisco" dish per se but it's a very famous dish from a very famous restaurant in San Francisco.
posted by acidic at 4:17 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: I don't think you should try to make San Francisco style burritos at home. There are a lot of ingredients that go into each component, and all the components get served together just so, including the specific kind of tortillas and the way they're heated and wrapped, and I don't think the home-cooked result would be anything like what you get at the taquerias here. (But you should definitely try them next time you are out here to see what's special about them.)

Cioppino is easy and delicious. Clam chowder in sourdough bowls is a perfect game day food.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:17 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: You could make fondue and a hot seafood dip for your bread. SF has lots of great local cheese.
posted by ApathyGirl at 4:18 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

some brands that are more or less local... Ghirardelli chocolate (local); Laura Chenel cheese (semi-local); Cowgirl Creamery (pretty close); Scharffen Berger (used to be Berkeley based, now owned by Hershey)
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:22 PM on January 30, 2013

Unfortunately shipping on It's Its is ludicrously expensive.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: I always associate San Francisco with gelato. Maybe to make it even more SF-ish, you could use Ghirardelli or Scharffen Berger chocolate to make it!

(Obviously this is the dessert option. I always do the dessert option.)
posted by too bad you're not me at 4:27 PM on January 30, 2013

I know you said no burritos, but The California Burrito, stuffed with french fries, is something I've never seen outside this state. (But apparently more of a Southern Californian thing than a Northern one.)

Otherwise, I second Napa wine. Along that general theme, you could slice avocados and put them on bread. Or set up a salad bar that's like a farmer's market.
posted by tinymegalo at 4:30 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: I think there are a number of good suggestions here, but I want to add that garlic aren't just an SF food--they're an SF SPORTS food. They are the regional treat at the stadium here, like how you can get BBQ in Kansas City or wings in Buffalo.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 4:33 PM on January 30, 2013

If you're going the chocolate route... Scharffen Berger is gone from the area, but you can use Tcho instead -- they sell it in Starbucks now so you should be able to find some locally.

(Also, if you use Ghirardelli, make sure to pronounce it with a hard G (Gear-ar-delly), not the soft one that I hear so many people from not-SF use).
posted by brainmouse at 4:33 PM on January 30, 2013

Response by poster: OK, I stand totally corrected. After all these answers and further internet investigation, I rescind any doubts/negativity about SF burritos/Mexican food. (I feel really bad now! The last two places I've lived are Chicago and L.A., and it seems I have gotten judgey.)

Also all of these suggestions are wonderful - thank you!! Some kind of dessert involving Ghirardelli chocolate is sounding pretty compelling...mmm. And garlic fries. Because two kinds of french fries is always better than one.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:35 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: Tourists to SF are practically greeted with a sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder.

Hangtown Fry is very classic SF, but it's probably not great party food. Plain ol' oysters might work, though, and we do love our oysters.

We're big on crab here, too, though it's Dungeness crab rather than the blue crab from Baltimore. If you're worried about it being just like a previous year, it really does taste different than blue crab. You could also put a San Franciscan spin on it and use it in cioppino or serve it with a loaf of sourdough and some white wine. Or dump a bunch of garlic butter over it. (We loooooove our garlic. The garlic capital of the world is just a few hours south, and we've got a very famous tourist trap restaurant called The Stinking Rose dedicated to garlic everything. So yes, garlic fries are a great option, too--especially since they're super-popular at local sporting events.)

The martini was supposedly invented in SF, and italian sodas as well as lattes with a shot of flavor syrup were popularized at an old Italian cafe here. And I know you're not looking for Chinese, but chop suey specifically was invented right here. And most of the world's fortune cookies come from SF's Chinatown as well.

Tcho Chocolates (so much better than Ghirardelli, sorry!) and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses are made in SF and likely available at your local Whole Foods.

You should be able to find lots of inspiration in this list of things to eat in SF before you die.

An easy way out: California wines, olive oils, and olives.
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:37 PM on January 30, 2013

Yeah, the quick and easy version would be California wines, olives, and olive oil. I'd suggest a good California cheese, but I'm not sure how hard it is to find good California cheese in Chicago. I mean, lots of mass-produced supermarket cheese is made here, but that's not what I'm talking about.
posted by smoq at 4:48 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: I know you said no brand names, and it's been mentioned above, but you really have to look into Rice-a-Roni. There are several commercials on YouTube if you haven't heard of it, or it's jingle, before. The tune for "Rice-a-roni, the San Francisco treat!" is really quite catchy and was ubiquitous at one time.

A classic version of the commercial is at ~4:24 here.
posted by amtho at 4:53 PM on January 30, 2013

A propos Hangtown Fry, how about an oyster loaf? Perfect football food.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:56 PM on January 30, 2013

I am sure that Chicago has perfectly nice garlic fries

A Chicagoan, I've never heard of garlic fries. We have cheese fries.
posted by goethean at 5:39 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

joe's special!
posted by brujita at 5:53 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd suggest a good California cheese, but I'm not sure how hard it is to find good California cheese in Chicago. I mean, lots of mass-produced supermarket cheese is made here, but that's not what I'm talking about.

You could probably find some if you went to a cheese shop and asked (er... not that I can think of a cheese shop in Chicago, but there are some), but as someone who moved from Chicago to Berkeley, it never occurred to me to think of cheese as something made in California because you don't see it. I never stopped finding the "Happy cows come from California" ads strangely surreal. And, uh, I hate to break it to you (and seemingly the entire population of California), but there's nothing super special about cheese from California on the whole.

It's not at all San Francisco-specific, but I'd never had avocado before moving to California. In a similar vein, if you want an adventure, you can make your own bubble tea. (Definitely not from San Francisco, but more common there than Chicago. It's not hard exactly, but the directions on the internet vary quite a bit and if you can't read the packet because it's in Chinese...)

Italian soda's a good shout.
posted by hoyland at 6:05 PM on January 30, 2013

If you want a salad, I would recommend kale. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I do not know anyone who loves kale like San Franciscans.

Bay Area cheese includes Humboldt Fog, which you ought to be able to get at a Whole Foods. They may have cheese from Cowgirl or a Pt Reyes Blue, too.
posted by dame at 6:35 PM on January 30, 2013

Candlelite, on the far far North Side of Chicago, has killer garlic fries.
posted by Fig at 7:06 PM on January 30, 2013

Sorry dame, but Humboldt Fog cheese is not from the Bay Area. It is from Humboldt Country, about 6-7 hours north. While Humboldt Fog is a fantastic cheese, if you end up going with cheese, I would look for Cowgirl Creamery, which actually IS from the Bay Area and is absolutely delicious.

My vote though, as a native to the SF Bay Area and currently living in Oakland, is on Cioppino in a sourdough bread bowl. Mmmmm cioppino.....
posted by ruhroh at 7:15 PM on January 30, 2013

To clarify: Joe's special is hamburger, spinach and onions scrambled with eggs.
posted by brujita at 7:42 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Googling yields several recipes.
posted by brujita at 7:43 PM on January 30, 2013

I agree with brujita: Joe's Special is a San Francisco invention dating back to the 1920s.

Also, Irish Coffee
posted by blob at 7:45 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: Besides the battle of the Harbaughs, this Superbowl also pits two cites famous for crabs against each other. Delicious steamed Maryland Blue crabs vs. boiled dungeness crabs.
posted by 445supermag at 7:48 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just gonna throw out Artichokes. Before they became a staple crop in California (Monterey County, mostly), most people in the US had never had one. Maybe some delicious artichoke-garlic dip? Definitely Sports Food.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 8:05 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will be disappointed if you don't track down a bag of Utz Crab Potato Chips. That's also Balmer, hon.
posted by bardic at 9:43 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: (Psst. A pretty solid SF-style burrito in Chicago can be found at Ino's.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:33 PM on January 30, 2013

Just to set the record straight: clam chowder in San Francisco is Boston or New England clam chowder- it's not a local dish. It's a convenient thing to serve on the wharf in a bread bowl, but that's only become a thing in the last few decades. Major commercial clamming in California dried up by the 1950's as clam populations dwindled from overfishing. Cioppino is the local seafood dish, and dungeness crab is the traditional accompaniment to sourdough bread. Our other local bread is dutch crunch. Along with Irish Coffee, Pisco Punch and the Blue Blazer are local cocktail creations.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:34 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I dislike SF and think its foodie scene is overrated, but no way does Chicago have better Mexican food than SF. (LA does, of course, but that's a given.) :-)

Ok, that out of the way, I'd say that the thing about California food, especially norcal food, is that it's a) very fusioney, b) very seasonal/local/organic/produce-ey. The quintessential California chef if someone like Alice Waters. So maybe just a californized-version of whatever you want?
posted by paultopia at 1:20 PM on January 31, 2013

Jelly Belly jelly beans are made in a factory just north of SF. I will always associate them with that area after visiting.

But that's a brand name, so can you really count it?
posted by tacodave at 3:09 PM on January 31, 2013

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