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Local Tastes Of The City - A Foodie's Guide To San Francisco

Ben Hall

There’s no doubt that San Francisco is one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world, and its status as a culinary centre has spawned a new way to experience its charms. Walking the city streets is a magical experience in itself, but eating your way through its suburbs is the best way to get to the heart and soul of the city.

  • What is it: A collection of walking tours of some of San Francisco’s most famous suburbs, including food and drinks.
  • Highlights: Seeing how fortune cookies are made on the daytime Chinatown tour, while the handmade chocolates on the North Beach/Little Italy tour are to die for.
  • The Details: The Local Tastes of the City Chinatown and North Beach/Little Italy tours cost US$x59 for one person including food, and can be booked at

The Experience

The North Beach/Little Italy tour is perhaps the pick of what’s on offer: Caffè Roma on Columbus, where the Azzollini family have blended and roasted their own coffee beans to produce the perfect cup for three generations; XOX Truffles, also on Columbus, for the finest handmade chocolate by chef Jean-Marc Gorce in 27 unique flavours; and the Italian French Bakery on Grant which reputedly the best bread in San Francisco and baked in a century-old oven. Of course, samples of all the delectable food and coffee is offered at each of the stops and it pays to start these tours with an empty stomach. In fact, it’s well worth skipping breakfast or lunch to leave room for some of the amazing cuisine on the tour.

The characters behind these businesses also make for an interesting discovery, like Frank from the Palermo Delicatessen on Stockton, whose meats and cheeses are legendary on the West Coast and are obviously inspired by his ancestral home in Sicily. Meanwhile Victoria Pastry on Filbert, which is family owned since 1914, is also Italian-inspired with unique and mouth-watering creations thanks to its fantastic bakery, and Caffè Trieste on Vallejo is a great coffee joint where writers, artists and poets hang out and listen to live music. It’s renowned as the place where Francis Ford Coppola wrote Godfather I and II; he wrote Godfather III somewhere else which is why the great man reportedly said it flopped. The famous Purple Onion Club on Jackson is the final stop, and the venue where artists such as Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller, Barbra Streisand and Richard Pryor cut their teeth. 

In stark contrast to the North Beach/Little Italy food tour with its Italian focus, the Chinatown foray is naturally a fascinating look into San Francisco’s strong Chinese heritage. With one of the most famous “Chinatowns” in the world, it’s little wonder this tour is also extremely popular; and again, it’s advisable not to eat before going on this one, to leave room for the great food. The sights, sounds, smells and history of Chinatown are captured perfectly along with some of the area’s residents who’ve shaped the area into what it is today.

The Eastern Bakery & Restaurant on Grant is the oldest Chinese bakery in San Francisco and they specialise in dim sum dishes. This kickstarted our tour and we were served a selection of moon cakes,  steamed BBQ pork buns, steamed sesame balls, Chinese pancakes, shrimp dumplings, white cake and Chinese “tamale". It’s all very authentic, with local Chinese residents filling the shop, and the food served with piping hot tea on formica tables. The Wok Shop on Grant doesn’t serve up food, but it does give a good insight into the methods used to cook Chinese food. This place obviously specialises in Woks and its staff claim to know everything there is to know about Chinese cooking.

And if you’ve ever wondered how fortune cookies are made, down one of Chinatown’s back alleys is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, where they make 1000 cookies per hour on one machine, and then the women on the assembly line have six seconds to fold them before the dough turns hard. The dough contains eggs, flour but they won’t reveal their other “secret” ingredients. The Chinatown tour is not all about food, though, and along the way some of the area’s major sights are explored along with its characters including Jun Yu's Barber Shop on Ross Alley, which dates back to 1966, and has catered to many celebrities including Clint Eastwood, Michael Douglas and Matt Dillon.

The final stop on the Chinatown tour is usually the Vital Tea Leaf on Grant, which is a tea bar, not a tea shop. At first legendary owner, Uncle Gee, may seem a bit bonkers, as he welcomes his customers manically into his tea bar but this is simply because he’s genuinely enthusiastic about the thousands of blends of tea he serves up - and he loves people. “Sit down! Sit there! I’ll find something nice for you, you wait and see. My tea will make you strong.” He’s also generous with his samples, his mission to educate the world on correct tea making. Uncle Gee’s tips for tea making is to first rinse the tea leaves in water to wake the leaves up, and it removes the caffeine, impurities and the tannin. He also says you should not put boiling water on tea leaves and it should not simmer for too long. Water should be hot but not boiling, and it should sit for just one to two minutes, and leaves should be recycled. Whatever you do, do not ask him for milk or sugar, as this is about the only thing that will get you barred from his tea bar.

Local Tastes of the City Tours - Overview 01:08

Overview of Local Tastes of the City Tours

  • Local Tastes of the City Tours - Overview
    Local Tastes o...
    Overview of Local Tastes of the City Tours

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