Long ago, in another era and career that involved cubicles and quarterly reports, a colleague sat his khaki-clad butt on my linoleum desk and asked me the question that would ultimately lead me straight out the front door.
“What would you do, professionally, if you could do anything?”
The answer came immediately. “I’d write.”
Working beside me day after day, he’d witnessed the frowning and temple rubbing–my career frustration hadn’t escaped him.
At my response, he stood up and put a hand on my shoulder.
“Do it,” he said. “Go find what you love and fill up on it.”
Twenty years later, not a day goes by that I don’t sit down to a blank page and feel grateful for that conversation. Today, I write for a living and have been blessed with bylines in some of the best publications in the world. It never gets old–especially when the subject matter combines three things I love to muse over—people, places, and food.
When the opportunity to pen Unique Eats & Eateries of San Francisco came along, it was impossible to say no. San Francisco is that place, for me, where food and memory are inextricably linked.
It’s Zuni Cafe, where my husband, my best-friend, and I spent hours laughing on a sunny afternoon after missing our boat to Alcatraz. It’s convincing out-of-town guests to wait in line at Swan Oyster Depot because the seafood is that good. It’s hitting up a taqueria with my daughter on the way home from the airport after a summer abroad so we can savor the Mexican cuisine we’d craved. It’s the fresh pasta and sauce from Lucca Ravioli where I shopped often to impress my Italian in-laws. It’s The Grove, a place I had my first “date” with one of my now closest friends. San Francisco is hundreds more meals, places, and memories. If you ask any resident I’ll bet he or she will have a different list of addresses and equally personal reasons for loving them.
While writing Unique Eats and Eateries of San Francisco, I discovered something else, too. It is a city full of enthusiastic, open-minded, and curious diners, and there is an endless supply of new spots to satisfy them. It’s hard not to be hypnotized by a city that buzzes at this level of culinary velocity.
But what also crystallized was that San Francisco is a city full of gutsy and benevolent chefs and restaurateurs, revelatory food, classic dishes tied to local history, and iconic restaurants that seem to get better with age. Our city is truly a textured, three-dimensional, world-class dining destination with talented people pulling the strings.
A common theme emerged, too: the pursuit of “soulful endeavors,” as Tawla’s owner Azhar Hashem so elegantly stated. Azhar told me she’d left a successful career at Google to bring the food of her Jordanian childhood to her adopted city, our city.
Todd Masonis had a similar story. He sold his tech company and paved his future in chocolate, which became more than just a treat for him. Roland Passot launched his now Michelin-starred French restaurant with a little savings and a name–La Folie–sparked by his wife’s comment that he must be a little crazy. Then there were the people behind Bi-Rite Market, Mission Pie, and Saint-Frank, who live by the ethos of supporting the communities, farmers and families, near and far, behind their products. My chest fills with pride thinking about all of them. Is it any wonder Tony Bennett left his heart here?
Literally thousands of restaurateurs, purveyors, food craftsmen, and food lovers populate this city, all committed to the pursuit of their own soulful endeavors. I wish I could tell you about all of them, because each surely has a tale worth recounting. I didn’t write this as a “best of” book, but I think the locations I have included are run by some of the best people in the city, and anywhere. I like to think of Unique Eats & Eateries of San Francisco as an appetizer for what San Francisco dining is—passionate, fun, irreverent, compassionate, and uniquely ours.
May the book serve you a toothsome slice of this uncommonly edible city, and whet your appetite to make memories, find what you love, and fill up on it.
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