They say an army travels on its stomach, and so too sometimes do tourists or even locals. An interesting way to explore a city, even your hometown is a food tour. So when Viator invited us to try one of their tours to explore nearby San Francisco we chose a food walking tour of the North Beach neighborhood, the Taste of North Beach Evening Food and Wine Tour.
Viator’s idea was to encourage locals to take advantage of tours usually filled only with tourists to experience their own city differently or to see sites that they may have put off seeing. Our tour had one recently arrived San Francisco resident, 3 friends from Colorado and Wyoming, and a couple from Vermont.
Our walking tour included local history as we started in the former colorful Barbary coast neighborhood where during the gold rush an unwitting sailor might stop by for a drink and end up on a boat to Shanghai. Our meeting point was in front of the clothing store that housed a local whiskey distillery at the time of the 1906 earthquake. Much of the city may have burned but you will be relieved to know that the brave firefighters were able to save the whiskey.
We started the eating and drinking part of our tour with a Pimm’s Cup and a house-made Charcuterie Plate at 15 Romolo. 15 Romolo is a trendy â€œhideawayâ€Â that specializes in cocktails and appetizers and other small bites. A Pimm’s Cup is a gin cocktail. I would have told you I was not a fan of gin, but part of the point of a food tour is trying new things, and, to my surprise, I would order one again.
Our next stop was historic Tommaso’s which has the oldest brick oven on the west coast. They make a great brick oven pizza. Their pizza has been ranked as high as the 3rd best in the nation. We had wood-fired Italian Pepperoni and Spinach Parmesan Pizzas as well as a private label Syrah wine, and we would definitely come back some other time for pizza here. Tommaso’s restaurant is named after its second owner Tom Chin who was the chef for the original owner but thought that an Italian version of his name might sell better in the Italian neighborhood that is North Beach.
We made a quick stop at a bordello turned stationery store where you can still see a small section of some of the brick-lined tunnels below the neighborhood that used to be used by smugglers, bootleggers, and other unsavory characters such as politicians. Corinne, our guide, pointed out some of the public art or notable buildings in the neighborhood like the home of Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios.
Ferry Plaza Seafood has not been in North Beach for years like Tommaso’s but moved out of the Ferry Building a few years ago because of rising rents. They brought with them their recipe for White Clam Chowder with a red tomato swirl. It is somewhat like a mix of New England and Manhattan Clam Chowders, which an improvement for someone like me who is not a seafood fan. Our guide Corinne offered those of us who had not tried an oyster a chance to â€œwinâ€ a taste of a freshly shucked oyster. We had to guess how many species of oysters there are (5 for those of you scoring at home). I â€œwonâ€ and got to decide if I would try the oyster or if one of the other two reluctant oyster virgins would get that â€œhonorâ€. What’s the point of a food tour if you can’t try new things? I had my firstâ€¦ and last oyster.
Dessert was much more rewarding as we headed to Cavalli Cafe for fresh-filled cannoli. Our guide called as we headed over so that the cannoli would not sit too long with the filling in them and get soggy. Sometimes when you try a new restaurant or a new food your exploration gets rewarded. This was one of those times. Cavalli’s serves a cannoli that was at least in the top two that I have ever head. Definitely worth a stop in North Beach.
The tour we did alternates between different restaurants so your tour may vary. Corinne also recommended:
- Tony’s Pizza Napoletano for a â€œWILD pizza experience (prepare for a 2-hour wait)â€
- Sotto Mare for â€œold school family Italian seafood – try the Cioppino!!â€
- Comstock Saloon for â€œanother taste of the Barbary Coast atmosphereâ€
- State Bird Provisions â€Very cool set up with dim sum-style carts serving Tapasâ€
- Park Tavern â€œdefinitely order the Pouletâ€
- Pizzetta 211 â€œdefinitely get the San Marzano tomato [pizza] pie â€
The same tour operator runs a food tour of the Missionâ€¦ that might have to be our next experience in the city. Why should tourists get all the fun?