Satisfy Your Inner Foodie On a San Francisco Culinary Tour
Taste the magic of the Bay Area on a customized, behind-the-scenes tour of iconic food venues in San Francisco and beyond.
San Francisco and the greater Bay Area are ground zero for food trends in the United States. Think Alice Waters and Thomas Keller, vegetarian restaurants, organic and sustainable farming, seasonal and locally sourced restaurant menus, and slow food.
Each of these chefs and movements either got started in the Bay Area or came to prominence here before gaining traction elsewhere. (A favorite of many of us here at TravelMuse is Greens—one of the first upscale vegetarian restaurants in the country to open, in 1979.) Try telling someone about sustainable and locally sourced dining a few years ago, and they’d look at you cross-eyed. Today, these now-established trends are all over the country (and the mainstream press) and are practically a prerequisite for new dining establishments.
So when planning your San Francisco vacation, if you have any foodie tendencies at all, you should pay homage to at least a few of the Bay Area’s culinary landmarks, and one way to do so is on a personalized food tour.
In The Kitchen With Lisa
One such tour is In The Kitchen With Lisa, led by Lisa Rogovin, a self-titled epicurean concierge who is passionate about food and wine. She loves to discover restaurants and stores that sell good, simple products using the freshest ingredients possible—and to share her findings with others.
I met Rogovin, who once worked for Gourmet Magazine, just after she launched her company early last year. A few months prior, she had returned from an eight-month journey around the world that took her to many of the world’s top food and wine regions, covering five continents and 14 countries. (She’s a true travel muse!)
“I had such wonderful experiences [on my trip] meeting culinary and cultural experts, visiting wineries and learning about local traditions, recipes and ingredients,” says Rogovin, “and I wanted to come home and offer something similar for San Francisco, which has such a rich foodie history.”
She honed her skills prior to her world tour by putting together similar private tours for guests of the Four Seasons San Francisco, at the request of then general manager, Stan Bromley, who had asked her to share her food knowledge and connections at the Ferry Building Marketplace.
Ferry Building Marketplace and Organic Farmer’s Market
The Market to Restaurant tour is based on Rogovin’s tour she created for the Four Seasons: a behind-the-scenes look at the Ferry Building Marketplace and Farmer’s Market—famous for being one of the first markets dedicated to artisanal, locally produced, seasonal and sustainable produce. It’s a must-stop for chefs and anyone who loves handmade fresh products. Tour participants meet chefs and store owners; enjoy food, wine and chocolate tastings; and get in a little culinary education, along with lunch.
Stops include Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bakery, Miette Patisserie, McEvoy Ranch, Recchiuti Confections, Ferry Plaza Wine Mercant, Boccalone Salumeria and Far West Fungi, which claims to be the country’s only mushroom store, to name a few.
Berkeley: Gourmet Ghetto
Rogovin recently added the public tour to what is dubbed the Gourmet Ghetto, the area in North Berkeley where Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, birthplace of California Cuisine, and the original Peets Coffee & Tea (opened in 1966)—a model for the future Starbucks—were founded. “It’s really fun and there’s so much food!” says Rogovin.
During the three-hour tour through the historic culinary mecca, the group will stop and have the chance to savor artisan treats at several noted venues, such as Peets in Walnut Square, the eclectic food shops at Epicurious Garden, the Vintage Berkeley Wine Shop, the area's weekly all-organic North Berkeley Farmers Market, Love at First Bite, raw food mecca Café Gratitude, the Juice Bar Collective and Imperial Tea Court (for tea history and tasting). Selections change seasonally.
Additional Tours and Booking Info
Rogovin offers several other custom tours, include ones where chefs accompany the group to the market then give a cooking class and luncheon at their restaurant; and trips up to West Marin county and Napa Valley.
The Berkeley Gourmet Garage tour is In the Kitchen with Lisa’s only public tour. It costs $60, lunch included, and takes place Thursdays, from 2 to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Sign up via e-mail (email@example.com) or call 415-806-5970 to reserve a spot. All other tours are custom and need to be arranged in advance. Market to Restaurant starts at $150 per person, two-person minimum, lunch included. An abbreviated tour of only the Ferry Building starts at $85. Napa and West Marin tours start at $200.
(Click here for Lisa Rogovin's Top 5 San Francisco Dining Experiences.)
Bonus: 5 Top San Francisco Dining Experiences
If you don’t have time to take an In the Kitchen with Lisa tour, here are five not-to-be-missed restaurant experiences that Rogovin recommends for your next San Francisco vacation.
Kokkari. Upscale Greek cuisine.
“I love this restaurant so much I got married there,” says Rogovin. She insists on ordering an assortment of the spreads—taramosalata, melitzanosalata, tzatziki, favosalata and tirosalata—to enjoy with the homemade pitas.
200 Jackson St., at Front; lunch weekdays only, closed Sundays. www.kokkari.com
Kokkari’s sister restaurant in Palo Alto. Calif., Avvia Estiatorio, is a TravelMuse favorite too.
Nopa. California cuisine.
Start with the cocktails, which are made with fresh juices and herb infusions. The community table makes for a festive (read: loud) atmosphere.
560 Divisadero, at Hayes. 415-864-8643. www.nopasf.com
Bar Crudo. Raw food.
The menu is practically all seafood, half raw, the other half cooked. Order on blind faith—everything will be sublime. There’s also an incredible selection of beers and great wine pairings. Rogovin says the owners are getting ready to open another location in the city. Stay tuned for details.
603 Bush Street, at Stockton; tel. 415-956-0396. Closed Sundays. www.barcrudo.com
Zuni. California cuisine.
Go here for the quintessential California dining experience. Chef Judy Rogers is the Alice Waters of San Francisco, says Rogovin, and follows the philosophy of sourcing ingredients from nearby farmers and using the best quality meats, fish and vegetables. Order the chicken salad—immediately upon arrival as it takes an hour to prepare.
1658 Market St. (btwn Franklin and Gough). Tel 415-552-2522. Closed Monday. www.zunicafe.com
Swan Oyster Depot. Seafood.
Very no frills and down to earth; open only for lunch. Go when you have time as there are no reservations, and there’s always a long wait for a seat at the marble slab counter. Be patient, and stand for as long as it takes, she says, as the fresh fish is well worth it.
1517 Polk St., btwn California and Sacramento). 415-673-1101. Nob Hill. Closed Sundays.
chinatown should add chinatown tasting
Chocolate Walking Tour I took a chocolate walking tour in San Francisco which was fabulous. We started out at the Ferry Building, where we visited two chocolatiers, made our way up Market Street with a stop at Citizen Cupcake, and ended in Union Square. In all, we visited 6 chocolate boutiques. The guide was very knowledgeable as well as approachable. I spent a beautiful autumn day in the city that I love sampling treats that I love. What more could I have asked for? I would highly recommend this tour! _tour.html