10 Iconic San Francisco Eats & Drinks That Every Visitor Must Try | San Francisco Travel
Crab legs are stacked in a white bowl and sprinkled with fresh dill.
Crab legs are a true San Francisco treat. 

10 Iconic San Francisco Eats & Drinks That Every Visitor Must Try

From San Francisco sourdough to the Mission burrito, the City by the Bay offers a bevy of famous eats that you can't experience anywhere else.

As the song goes, "If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." We're going to amend that statement to say that you should also be sure to bring some stretchy pants. That's because San Francisco is a culinary mecca on par with some of the greatest cities in the world. From San Francisco sourdough to the original Mission burrito, the City by the Bay offers a bevy of famous eats that you can't experience anywhere else. Eight eats not enough? Check out our list of iconic eats by neighborhood.

Irish Coffee from Buena Vista Cafe

Ironically, the Irish coffee was not popularized on the Emerald Isle. It was commercialized in San Francisco, where Buena Vista Cafe co-owner Jack Koeppler challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help him re-create a highly touted "Irish Coffee" served at an airport in Ireland. The two experimented, ultimately crafting the perfect combination of hot coffee, Irish whiskey and whipped cream. Nowadays, the Buena Vista Cafe on Hyde Street reportedly serves up to 2,000 Irish coffees a day!

A row of Irish coffees served at The Buena Vista Cafe.

Sourdough Bread from Boudin Sourdough

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a bread bowl full of chowder from the Boudin factory. The Original San Francisco Sourdough (as Boudin calls itself) is the longest continually operating business in the city, having baked bread since Isidore Boudin perfected the recipe in 1849. The flagship factory on Fisherman's Wharf serves not only bread bowls but also animal-shaped loaves for the little ones.

Bakers make sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery in San Francisco.

Mission Burrito in the Mission District

The Mission-style burrito originated in San Francisco's Mission District, a neighborhood dominated by Central American culture. Noted for its jumbo proportion, the Mission burrito includes extra rice and other goodies, such as sour cream, guacamole and salsa. Hundreds of taquerias serve San Francisco-style burritos in the city. Try El Farolito or Taqueria La Cumbre for a true San Francisco burrito experience.

A mission-style burrito, wrapped in foil and cut in half, is shown to the camera.

Secret Breakfast from Humphry Slocombe

A wildly popular ice cream joint, Humphry Slocombe has become a San Francisco icon since it started scooping in 2008. Although the menu routes regularly to accommodate fresh seasonal ingredients and off-the-wall flavor combinations, such as Candy Cap-mushroom and peanut butter-curry, they're known for innovative staples like their Secret Breakfast Ice Cream, a unique combination of bourbon and cornflakes. This boozy treat is a hot seller, so get there early in case it sells out. 

Seafood at Fisherman's Wharf

Traditionally the working place of Chinese and Italian immigrants, Fisherman's Wharf is now a seafood lover's paradise that reflects its multicultural history. Cioppino, an Italian-American seafood stew, was invented to use up leftover seafood. Today, it's a widely popular dish. San Francisco is also famous for Dungeness Crab when it's in season each winter, as well as oysters. Be sure to try the oysters at Fog Harbor Fish House while you're on Fisherman's Wharf. Most restaurants still source their fish and crab from the boats of local fishermen. 

Close-up shot of a pile of cooked crabs with lemon slices on a platter.

Dim Sum in Chinatown

From takeaway spots like Golden Gate Bakery to sit-down restaurants like Lai Hong Lounge, the bustling streets of Chinatown are the best spot for dim sum. Traditionally eaten for breakfast, dim sum is an assortment of bite-sized pastries, steamed dumplings and vegetable-based dishes. Nicer sit-down places serve tea with the food, while the waiters make rounds between the crowded tables with pre-cooked selections. You can also order fresh dishes from the menu.

A variety of dim sum dishes at San Francisco's Yank Sing restaurant.

Martini in North Beach

The martini was actually invented at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. However, the hotel was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, so the next best place to have a martini is in North Beach, a bastion for Italian food with a lively bar scene. Have a hearty dinner at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana or Original Joe's before downing a classic San Francisco cocktail. This northern neighborhood overlooks the birthplace of the Martinez cocktail, the eponymous city just visible far across the bay. Eventually, the Martinez — a combination of gin, vermouth and maraschino liqueur — dropped the liqueur, and the modern martini was born.

A server wearing a bowtie presents a tray of cocktails at Absinthe Restaurant in San Francisco.

Espresso at Caffe Trieste

While we're on the topic of North Beach, you can't miss a quintessential beatnik experience. North Beach was a hub for the Beat movement in the 1950s, and Caffe Trieste on Vallejo St. was a favorite gathering place of figures like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The coffee shop walls are also lined with photographs of its Hollywood connections. A number of actors have been known to frequent Caffe Trieste, and Francis Ford Coppola supposedly wrote much of The Godfather script there.

A person's hand holds a coffee drink with the exterior sign and storefront of Caffe Trieste in the background.

Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square

In the 1850s, Italian immigrant Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli started his chocolate-making company at the old Pioneer Woolen Mills. After the factory was moved to San Leandro in the 1960s, a group of San Franciscans purchased the property, fearing the iconic factory would be demolished, and turned it into the small retail plaza it is today. Visitors can still view the original chocolate manufacturing equipment while sampling gooey hot fudge sundaes and delicious squares of Ghirardelli milk chocolate.

A chocolate sundae sits in the foreground with Ghirardelli Square in the background.

Fried Squab at Four Kings

This well-known San Francisco pop-up has permanently settled in Chinatown, offering an exploration of Cantonese-inspired cuisine that is anything but stuffy or pretentious. Four Kings' new location allows for the next evolution of its founders' culinary dream, with clay pot meals, fried squab, and fried pepper steak, all created by fearless SF cooks Franky Ho and Michael Long.

Fried Squab at Four Kings

5 Iconic Eats in San Francisco

A bartender serves a patron a cocktail at a bar in San Francisco.

From freshly shucked oysters to a deliciously sweet "secret breakfast", take a look at these must-eats and drinks in San Francisco.