My 24 Hours in San Francisco – Part 3 (The Mission and more tea)
At the end of my last post I had just finished up a relaxing experience at Samovar Tea Lounge and was now ready to explore another area of San Francisco. My destination was The Mission area on SF. The Mission is perhaps one of the best-known areas of San Francisco, it really has its own unique feel, vibe, and look. Right when I emerged from the BART station (took the subway to get there) I could immediately feel the how different this area was, I walked out into a loud and busy intersection with street performers and various vendors. The whole atmosphere of the place felt a little more wild and energetic than the previous areas of SF that I had visited, however it did not feel touristy at all.
My goal for visiting The Mission district was two-fold: 1) to experience this iconic area of SF 2) to find two restaurants, a pizza shop and ice cream parlour, that had been recommended to me the previous day. I am not one to shun the advice of a food-loving local! So with that I set off on my quest to find the Bi-Rite Creamery, one of SF’s most famous ice-cream shops. Along the way I got a little lost and ended up going through a lovely half-hour walk through some of the hills of SF. It was great to see a more residential area of the city; the homes themselves were all beautiful and there is just something about how all the buildings seem to roll with the landscape itself that is just amazing to see. All that being said, it is TIRING to walk all those hills, especially in beautiful sunny weather when you are dressed in dark jeans and a dark t-shirt because everyone told you how cold it can get in SF when you were packing! With all the food I had been sampling today though, I didn’t really mind the exercise!
So after that long walk in the sun, I felt ready when I finally arrived at Bi-Rite Creamery. This place is an SF icon and there is almost always a line-up out the door. Thankfully the service moves pretty fast so I didn’t have to wait long for my frozen treat. Everything about the ice cream at Bi-Rite is handmade. According to their website, the ice cream is made in small batches on-site, and all the wonderful baked goods that go into the various ice-cream flavours (brownies, marshmallows, etc.) are hand-made in the bakery right next door! The full line-up of ice creams changes every day, however they are known for a few staples, in particular the salted caramel and balsamic strawberry flavours. After much deliberation I decided to get two flavours: salted caramel, and “malted vanilla with peanut brittle and milk chocolate pieces”.
Both flavours blew me away. I have never had ice cream before that was so fresh tasting and had such…real…flavour. Bi-Rite uses only the best real ingredients in their ice cream and it really shows. The flavours are pure and subtle at times, and they don’t just overwhelm you with sugar like many other ice creams. Even the malted vanilla didn’t overwhelm with pieces of peanut brittle and chocolate, they were there to add to the overall flavour, not to dominate it. This is how ice cream really should taste and it is an experience I will remember for a long time. I think this is a perfect example of the difference you get from using pure and real ingredients, it truly shines through in the final product.
Now having enjoyed my ice cream I set out towards the final planned stop on my food tour of SF: Pizzeria Delfina, supposedly one the best pizzas I would ever taste. The pizza shop was actually just down the street from the ice cream so I figured I would go and wander around a bit first to put some space in between the two! Just down the street from Bi-Rite Creamery was the Bi-Rite Market (same owners), the most amazing grocery store I have ever been inside. The Bi-Rite Market commits to forging strong relationships with local food producers who they buy from. They stock high quality local meat, cheese and produce, as well as many locally produced “dry goods” such as delicious chocolate, wine, and preserves. It is a fully stocked grocery store but is really so much more; many of the food items had little cards near them explaining their origin and containing information about them. This is a true example of a grocery store done right, I can only hope that more shops like Bi-Rite open up in other cities to help foster an appreciation of not only good food, but where that food comes from as well.
After wandering around for a while I made my way back to Pizzeria Delfina for some delicious food. The shop is actually quite small with limited sit-in room, however they also do take-out. They do not sell single slices, only freshly made pizza made to order. I had no desire to eat a full personal pizza myself, but I figured as my last big meal in SF I would go ahead an order anyway and eat what I could. Pizza is actually one of my favorite foods; I try not to eat it too often and would rather save it for special occasions in good restaurants that get it right (not always easy as a University student), Pizzeria Delfina is one of those restaurants. The menu of pizzas changes daily, and they also offer some amazing looking appetizers and sides. I particularly wanted to try the spicy cauliflower but I knew I didn’t have the stomach room for it.
I sat at the bar where you could easily see into the open kitchen and watch the staff at work. They had a very nice table setting as well which I appreciated. I ordered the vegetarian pizza they had that day, which was a white pizza with broccoli rabe and one other green that I can not remember on it. There was also some great cheeses and garlic in the pizza. Like seemingly everywhere else in SF, Delfina uses local seasonal ingredients in their food, and it really shows. The pizza was cooked perfectly, thin and crispy crust with lots of good cheese on top. The pizza tasted incredibly vivid and fresh, you could clearly tell that good ingredients went into this dish, and the great thing about pizza is that it really lets those ingredients shine out. I was definitely not disappointed with this experience and would recommend it to anyone visiting SF. Just make sure to get their early as it is constantly busy!
After Delfina, I had a few hours to kill before I had to head to the airport. I decided I would take a long slow walk all the way back to my hostel to pick up my bags. This really let me see a lot of the city, and I was happy to go for a walk on a sunny day after all that food! Along the way I stopped in a few other areas of the city to look around; one in particular that I was eager to see was the Hayes valley area known for its great shops and restaurants. If I had more time I definitely would have liked to check out the food at some of these places, but I guess I will have to save that for another trip! After making it back to the main downtown area I still had some time to kill, so I decided to go back to Samovar Tea Lounge for one last cup of tea and to relax a bit before heading to the airport.
I once again sat outside to enjoy the beautiful view and weather and this time ordered one of the green teas on the menu called Ryokucha, a delicious genmaicha tea blended with some matcha powder. Genmaicha is a traditional type of Japanese tea made by blending green tea with toasted rice. This was ideally a “poor man’s” tea and was used to make valuable green tea supplies last longer. Today many people drink genmaicha without realizing it, it is the type of tea served in sushi restaurants all over the country. It would however be a mistake to judge all genmaicha but what you taste at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, this stuff can be seriously good, especially when mixed with a bit of matcha (a unique type of green tea which is powdered and dissolved in the water itself) for some added flavour complexity (and health benefits). Genmaicha’s signature taste comes from the toasted rice, which gives it a nutty flavour and full body, some people describe it as a meal in a cup. The Ryokucha was served very nicely and is a beautiful vibrant green (probably due to the freshness of the tea leaves combined with the matcha). I immensely enjoyed this tea and it was a perfect way to end an amazing day in SF.
So that’s pretty much it for my SF adventure, I headed to the airport shortly after to catch the red-eye flight home. I couldn’t be happier with how much I managed to accomplish in the short 24 hours I had in SF. I had some pretty high expectations for this city and I am happy to say it did not disappoint. I think there is truly something special about this city; it’s atmosphere, people, and general appreciation of life really struck me and I will remember it for a long time. I hope to be able to come back for a longer period of time to see the rest of the city, there are many areas I still didn’t get to. Looking back on these three posts I feel that I should mention that I normally do not eat this much in a day, but exceptional cities with exceptional food combined with tight time restraints = the need to indulge a bit. I would definitely recommend SF as a travel destination to anyone, and I can’t wait to go back myself.
Thanks for the memories San Francisco!