First Look at Bay Area Dining Scene, Plus Umami Burger, Cafe Castagna and More!

View from Lombard Street

In one word: YUM. That pretty much sums it all up right there for what San Francisco and the East Bay/Northern California area has to offer in the way of food. You definitely pay for it, but the consistently “great” food is worth it. Unlike DC, it’s rare to have an “okay” meal here- you kind of expect any restaurant to at least be good, even great, nine times out of ten. The standards for fine dining and quality of food are definitely higher than in the DC area also, just taking in some of the intense reviews on Yelp and Google. Unlike New York and DC, however, the $5-$10 “great” options are few and far between. I’m getting used to paying $12 on average for sandwiches and a standard $60-70 tab for two people at what are known as “inexpensive” restaurants.

However, the freshness of the food, and the diversity of influences (French, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Middle-Eastern, etc.) found in the cuisine here are unbeatable. Also, at most restaurants all the calories are listed right on the menu. Talk about keeping you in-check! I have found this to be somewhat devastating actually hahaha. We signed a six-month lease in one of the newer areas of San Francisco- South Beach- it was basically built up during the .com and software heydeys and has some newer buildings with amenities and is located right by the Bay Bridge and Giants Stadium– bridge being key for my commute which is a ways outside of the city. Since we didn’t have a place to live for a bit, and we still don’t really have any furniture, we’ve been dining out like crazy, and taking in different parts of the city- which is good because the area we live in definitely lacks that San Francisco originality somewhat, but does have its own charms (bay views, waterfront dining, farmer’s markets, and newer buildings). I hate giving full reviews on places I’ve only been once, so I’m just going to give a quick run-through of some of the stuff we’ve had so far:

  • Tres: Our first meal in the city, this is a great restaurant for margaritas since they specialize in Agave tequilas. They had some pretty authentic Mexican selections with a LOT of spice! Their margaritas go down pretty quick because of the punch in the food, so be careful! We went on a Friday night and it was definitely very crowded (lot of software developers after work hitting the bar). Nothing spectacular on my first time, but the margaritas were realllly good and the food was pretty tasty!
  • Umami Burger:An LA-based gourmet burger chain with an SF location in the Marina area (think the Georgetown area of DC). They had some decent wines by the glass and their sides were unreal- parmesan truffle fries and sweet potato fries dusted with cinnamon sugar. I had the truffle burger which was cooked to perfection. Their condiments, such as the Umami ketchup (sweet, almost nutmeg taste to it) and roasted garlic aioli compliment the food well.
  • 21st Amendment Brewery: Super crowded on a Friday night also, and full of after-work people, this place has amazing brews. The food is your standard bar food, but the fish and chips looked delicious– I pretty much just enjoyed the beer here and opted for a boring quesadilla.
  • The Tipsy Pig: I didn’t dine here, but I had the BEST cocktail I’ve had in a long time. It reminded me of the strawberry limeades at Austin Grill that I used to be addicted to. The drink is called a Strawberry Fields and its made with Russian Vodka, simple syrup, fresh strawberries, soda water and lime and served in a mason jar. The food looked pretty decent from afar though and I had my eye on some cheddar and thyme biscuits!
  • Off the Grid: Pods of delicious food trucks in San Francisco gather at different sites with fantastically yummy food. We ended up at a site in the Mission off Valencia street, and tried these amazing fried pulled pork BBQ spring rolls from Mama’s Empanadas. Definitely need to go back and sample all the other options at some point.
  • Zeitgeist: We got the idea to head here from Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover. So touristy, I know. This bar is awesome though. Patrons are definitely your typical hipster crowd in the Mission and cyclists who come for a beer after a long ride (they even have places to hang your bikes while you drink in your spandex- hott!). The inside isn’t much, but there’s a huge outdoor biergarten and blaring rock music. Great beers on tap. That’s another sidenote- the beer selection here is UNbeatable. Racer 5, Laguantias, quality IPAs, Pilsners, Wheats, everywhere you go, on-tap!! While at Zeiteist, we also got to see the infamous Tamale Lady: she’s been selling tamales for over 15 years in the Mission and SOMA districts and they are fantastic.
  • Cafe Castagna: Ahhhh!!! I get so excited every time I think about this place. It has been my favorite so far. It’s owned and operated by two French brothers from Nice, Stephane and Jerome Meloni. It’s a small little contemporary bistro on Chestnut Street in the Marina district. They used to operate a large, upscale restaurant in Pacific Heights called Restaurant Cassis, but it suffered after the crash and they decided to down-size and move to busy Chestnut Street. The restaurant has French and Italian influences with homemade pastas and beignets and crepes. The brothers were very friendly and chatted us up (we dined at the counter facing the kitchen). You can tell the entire staff takes pride in their little bistro and work, and they were pleased to see we enjoyed the food and were having a good time. I had the mariniere mussels with fries (true, thin-cut french fries with garlic aioli and mustard for dipping) and my beau had the gourmet burger: 1/3 lb. organic grass fed Piemontese beef, tomato confit, caramelized onions, brie cheese on a Ciabatta roll. Amazing!!! This place definitely has its own charm and I can’t wait to go back and try the steak au poivre and some of their pastas. The reviews on Yelp are mostly 4-5 stars, and you know it’s good when a lot of the patrons are French themselves, or older visitors of the old Cassis who come out to the Marina to try the new brothers’ restaurant. On our way out we left to friendly shouts of “Bon Soir!! Merci Beaucoup!” Seriously, love.
  • Horseshoe Tavern: A dive bar on Chestnut Street that we headed to after our meal at Castagna. This place has decent beers on tap and the bartender was hilarious. While we were waiting for some friends to meet up, we noticed a guy placing a bet with the bartender. For $40 you get a chance to draw a celebrity’s name from a coca-cola box. If that celebrity is the next to die, you get to collect your winnings hahahahaha. Unfortunately, the dude pulled good ‘ole Chef Emeril Lagasse- BAM! Sorry, had to. It is possible poor Emeril may pass from a high cholesterol intake, but others are strong favorites: Betty White and Nancy Reagan for example. The list in and of itself is enough to make you laugh.

Still getting settled, but very excited about what other food adventures this city will bring!!