When my job required me to fly to San Francisco I knew I had to make the most of it. After all, it’s not every day that you get to travel to California! I took two extra days off to ensure I could see (and eat) everything that I wanted to. There was a huge part of me that was nervous travelling without my lovely ShakerFries, but I decided to embrace the experience and by the end was fully comfortable with travelling and dining alone. SF hasn’t got much to offer in the way of halal cuisine, although I must say, if you are a seafood fan you really will not miss the meat at all!
Whilst in SF I ate a range of cuisines, and will list here the different types of food I tried as well as a list of places I didn’t get to dine at, but would have if I had time. Here goes…
1. Z & Y Restaurant
SF has one of, if not the most largest Chinese population outside of China. That is why I knew I had to visit Chinatown to see what was on offer in the way of food. Z & Y Restaurant has been recognized by everyone from the Michelin Guide. It’s owned by chef Han Lijun, also of Chili House in the Inner Richmond, and his partner Michelle Zhang. Obama is just one in a long list of dignitaries and world leaders for whom Lijun has cooked: He’s even prepared dinner at Z & Y for President Deng Xiaoping, who led the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to 1989.
Although the well-worn dining room may seem unremarkable and the service standard, the crowds are undeterred, and you can certainly expect to queue here. Be warned, that there are a lot of pork dishes on the menu, but a large range of seafood dishes are also available.
Some like it hot, and here they are in heaven. Be forewarned again: timid palates should steer clear of the super-spicy Sichuan dishes that have made Z & Y a Chinatown smash hit. Nearly every dish is crowned with chilies, from the huge mound of dried peppers that rests atop tender, garlicky bites of fried crab to the flaming chili oil anointing tender, flaky fish fillets in a star anise-tinged broth with Sichuan peppercorns aplenty.
Travelling solo meant that I could only try 1 dish, and so of course I went for the infamous garlic and chilli crab. This was probably one of the best things I ate in SF. Although you have to work hard to crack the crab meat out of the shell, I certainly revelled in the fruits of my labour. The exterior batter was salty and peppery with a garlic kick, and the meat was tender and buttery. I would highly recommend this dish! I just wish I could have finished it.
2. Brenda’s French Soul Food
Chef-owner Brenda Buenviaje blends New Orleans–style Creole cooking with French technique to invent ‘French soul food.’ When visiting, you can expect updated classics like cayenne-spiked crawfish beignets, fluffy cream biscuits, and impeccable fried catfish Benedict. Long waits on sketchy sidewalks are unavoidable – but the wait is totally worth it. I compared the weekend brunch menu to the weekday breakfast menu and it was relatively similar, so avoided a lot of the queues by going on a weekday morning just after opening time. The surrounding area near this restaurant is notorious for its high drug and crime rates, so if you do visit, stay safe and grab a taxi (or a Lyft, which is equivalent to Uber in SF).
When I visited I grabbed the chocolate Beignet (which fried dough stuffed with a rich chocolately filling in this case), with the watermelon ice tea and the fried catfish Benedict with grits, which is made from corn that is ground into a coarse meal and then boiled. The service was brilliant and the food was MINDBLOWING, although I must say, I’m still on the fence as to whether I like grits. Next time (if there is a next time) I would opt for the potato hash. The catfish bene was crispy on the outside in a pepper batter, and tender on the inside, and the ‘biscuit’ it was served on was like nothing I have tasted in the UK: crumbly and buttery.
Again pork is on the menu but there are plenty of seafood and vegetarian options for you to try. Be warned, all the portion sizes in the US are huge, and I barely finished a meal when I was in SF!
3. Home SF cafe
Home cafe is a contemporary coffee shop which has 2 branches in SF. They are known for their classic & unique latte drinks, plus creative toast options. I went for the birthday cake latte for around $5, which was incredibly colourful, and tasted even better. The lattes in general in SF tasted creamy and were always served in a huge cup so I was a happy bunny! Home cafe is perfect if you want to sit and read or do some work. It’s almost always busy, but is still a pleasant environment to be in. I would highly recommend visiting if you have some time 🙂
4. Fog Harbor Fish House
If you love seafood, Fog Harbor Fish House is a must. Fog Harbor Fish House offers the quintessential San Francisco waterfront dining experience and was the first 100% sustainable seafood restaurant and San Francisco Green Business to open in Fisherman’s Wharf. The classic, cozy dining room features award-winning panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Located amidst the hustle and bustle of Pier 39, this place is almost always busy, and if you are travelling with a group, be prepared to wait. I actually recommend making a Yelp reservation well ahead of time if you want to avoid the queues. I heard after visiting SF the steak served here is actually halal, but I’m not entirely sure it’s true so if you are going to opt for this I would check. In my opinion this isn’t the place to visit if you want the steak anyway, as all the seafood served is so fresh!
Here I tried the cioppino which contained Dungeness crab (SF speciality), fresh fish, shrimp, clams, scallops and mussels, stewed in a seafood tomato broth. This dish is a local classic, and whilst I appreciate not all muslims eat shellfish, if you do, this dish is for you! If you don’t eat shellfish, there are still tons of fish options on offer, and you will not be disappointed.
Note: I made the mistake of ordering the blue cheese garlic bread for starters too which was super tasty but the portion was so huge that I was unable to finish! Plus my cioppino came with garlic bread…so yeah..again don’t make the mistake of over-ordering!
5. Tartine Manufactory
Tartine Manufactory is located in the ‘Shoreditch’ of SF known as ‘The Mission’. It is a chic, industrial space with a bakery, Californian cafe, coffee counter, and ice cream window. Once again, queues are long on the weekends as everyone is dying to try their brunch, and once again, it is well worth the wait (reservations only available for dinner).
Tartine is French in origin,and tartine literally means “a slice of bread.” This open-faced sandwich tends to showcase the quality of the toppings by giving them a stronger spotlight. With that in mind, tartine was exactly what I ordered on this Saturday morning when I met the lovely Pari (@thecentralsteppes) for breakfast. To be more specific, I went for the apple, cranberry, ricotta, seed brittle, and vanilla tartine. This was just exquisite, and was much lighter than the other meals I had tried so far, and so I actually finished this meal! It was beautifully presented and the crusty bread was made fresh in-house. the taste of the vanilla, ricotta and fruits came together beautifully. From what I understand they have a seasonal menu which frequently changes, but there are lots of vegetarian options and pastries on offer.
6. U: Dessert Story
Also located in The Mission, U: Dessert Story is located right next to U: Kitchen Story. I believe U:Kitchen Story is the predecessor to the dessert joint next door, and had a long queue outside for ‘brunch’ at 1pm. I wish I got to dine at the restaurant before I left SF! The dessert restaurant is relatively new and has an Asian dessert menu (all without alcohol) with many novel dishes like Japanese and Korean shaved ice in red bean paste and chocolate lava with matcha ice cream, Young Coconut Pandan Crepe Cake. I went for the Honey Bean Toast with vanilla bean ice cream, almonds, mixed berries and banana. My decision was purely based on aesthetic and in hindsight I should have tried something else. The good thing is the dessert wasn’t sickly sweet, but somehow I still didn’t enjoy this dish as much as the Jasmine rose tea I had with it. For $20 I’m not sure how much I valued this particular experience, but next time I would try their crepe cakes as these seem to be more popular!
7. Curry Up Now
Curry Up Now is again located in ‘The Mission’ near Carrion Alley which has a range of politically inspiring murals and wall art. This was the first time I ate halal meat, as all dishes here are halal, although alcohol is also served. Curry Up Now has an extensive Indian/Chinese/Mexican fusion menu, with dishes such as aloo gobi tacos, and Indian-inspired poutine fries. I thought I would play it safe by ordering 3 starters for dinner, in the hope that I would finish my food, but that just didn’t happen! I ordered the angry idly manchurian which was in a hot Indo-chinese sauce. Although it didn’t initially look all that appetising, this was probably the best thing I tried. I also tried the criss cut sweet potato fries and the Dynamite Tangra Wings which were coated in a spicy Indo-Chinese sauce and topped in chilli ghost dust. I really enjoyed these and the wings were particularly juicy! I Wish I could have sampled more. In fact, the burritos in the The Mission are famous, and if I had the palette for Mexican food in general, I would have tried these.
Boudins are The Original San Francisco Sourdough. Today, they still bake their sourdough fresh every day using the same mother dough cultivated from a gold miner’s sourdough starter. You will find several branches of Boudin’s in SF. I visited the large bakery branch in Fisherman’s wharf and tried one of the most famous dishes in SF: clam chowder served in a sourdough bread roll. It was creamy and delicious and I certainly recommend this place for lunch if you want the full SF experience!
9. Farmhouse Kitchen
Farmhouse Kitchen is a Thai eatery for classic curries & noodles, plus rarer street foods served in an airy, rustic-chic space. It’s almost like the Thai TGI Fridays, with elaborately dressed waiters and waitresses and and even more elegantly adored walls. The menu is more extensive than Thai eateries you will find in the UK and again, although not halal, there are plenty of seafood and vegetarian dishes on offer.
I had the Thai ice tea and the coconut cream latte with my meal and both were SO tasty. The latte was very sweet but has an aromatic chai flavour which I loved. For starters we tried the Ahi Scoops (Pan-seared sesame crusted Ahi tuna (raw fish), cucumber, seaweed salad, Crispy yam, dill, lemongrass, and chili lime). This was SO tangy and tasty. I really enjoyed this dish and I’m not surprised that it’s one of the favourites!
For mains I ordered the King Kua prawns which as labelled as spicy. I thought I can handle spicy.. The dish was made with SPICY fresh red turmeric roots sprinkled with kaffir lime leaves & young coconut meat. Served with garden vegetables and blue flower rice. Now.. back to the SPICY thing… although fragrant and tasty this was SO HOT I literally had to just eat the prawns and coconut with the rice. I was literally breaking out into sweats and my eyes were tearing! So just a note.. if it says spicy it means it! That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this dish, although I wish I had gone for my friends choice of Mieng Kum Kung instead (crispy crusted Tiger Prawns, leafy green wrapped with a zesty mixture of lime, ginger, onion, roasted coconut & peanuts, Tamarind reduction).
I highly recommend this place for the food and experience. Again located in The Mission, as all good food places are, and is almost always busy!
10. Cracked and Battered
This family-run restaurant was only open for 6 months when I visited and was only open from 8.30am from 2pm. It is one of the only places I visited whilst in SF that served high-quality halal meat, and had a cosy and homely atmosphere. Since opening, Cracked and Battered has become known for their chicken and waffles, which happens to be my weakness! I must say, these were one of the best portion of chicken and waffles ever! The chicken was juicy and the batter was peppery on top of the most spongey and soft waffles I have ever tried. I wish I could have trie the lemon ricotta pancakes and the burgers from here…But ALAS! My small tummy let me down.
Be warned, not everything is halal here. Just the fried chicken and ground beef. No pork is served but alcohol is. Turkey bacon and sausages are served but it is not halal. The owner told me he runs this place with his dad and brother, and that halal meat is just not widely available in SF (there are just 2 suppliers). Nonetheless…This place is a hidden gem and well worth the visit for brunch
11. Halal Food Guys
After trying this gyro and chicken bowl I realised that Halal Guys is actually coming to the UK (yay!). I won’t say too much on this except it was tasty, filling, cheap and worth trying especially in a grab and go/lunchtime situation.
12. Halal Wings Plus
If you’re desperate and need some fast food/halal meat fix then by all means, try here. I had the 10 honey wings and a portion of fried for $13 dollars which isn’t bad. Although the sauce was tasty, unfortunately the chicken had virtually no meat on it, was a dull grey colour on the inside, had weird fatty growths coming off the wings, and was toooo crispy as if it had been overcooked. I didn’t enjoy this as my last meal, but perhaps the burgers will be better from here.
Other halal/fish places to eat (I didn’t try these):
- Ziggy’s burgers
- Luke’s Lobster
- Woodhouse Fish Co.
- Oasis Grill
- Chaat corner
- Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
- Bang San Thai Cuisine
- Aicha Moroccan Restaurant
Where I stayed:
I stayed at Hotel Fusion on Ellis St. which was an excellent location as it was near the cable car turnaround. You can buy a 3-day cable car pass for $15 which will take you to a few of the sights like Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Lombard street. You are also a couple of minutes walk from Union Square, Halal Guys, and Westfield. The hotel is clean and the staff are friendly.
Although some things are in walking distance, I recommend you download the Lyft app, especially if you are short on time and need to get from A-B quickly. This app is like Uber and if you share taxis you meet new people and it’s half the price!
Places to visit:
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Alcatraz Prison
- Fisherman’s Wharf/Embarcadero
- Pier 39
- The murals @ The Mission District
- The cable cars
- Trek down to Baker/Marshall Beach
- Union Square
- Bay Bridge in Embarcadero