San Francisco – An Education in Food from Mr. Orr

The San Francisco Bay Area is a massive expanse, with not only diverse people, but diverse eats as well. It is a foodie’s dream locale; one will never run out of cool places to explore and new foods to try. If you are reading this blog, clearly you like to explore and eat; well, I am no exception. My name is Jeremy Orr and I came to the Bay Area at ten years old. I went to high school here and went to college just over the hill in Santa Cruz (go Slugs!). After a little travel in my first career, I have settled in the East Bay as a teacher. I have made friends all over the Bay, leading an active life, and in the process have come across some great dives, hidden gems, and eateries that are known by all, but are so good I have to rave about them anyway. If you live in the Bay Area, or are just here for a brief time, there are a few places that you have to try if you want to get a Bay Area food education.

My Home, My Heart, My East Bay

  1. Zachary’s Pizza. I have been to Chicago. Their deep dish wasn’t as good as Zachary’s. It’s been voted best pizza in the Bay Area something ridiculous like ten years running. They are located in Berkeley, Oakland and San Ramon. For the true Zachary’s experience, you have to go to the Rockridge location in Oakland (it’s right on the Berkeley border). Get the “Stuffed” with your favorite toppings, you won’t be disappointed.
  2. Fenton’s. You know the end of the movie “Up,” when they are sitting on the curb eating ice cream and counting the cars? Yea, that’s Fenton’s. Pixar’s nod to the famous creamery that is just around the corner from their offices. It’s right on Piedmont Ave in Oakland. You can go for dinner, they have a huge menu of all the classic diner food (I recommend the grilled cheese!) but don’t forget to leave room for dessert- the banana split is the perfect cap to a clear night up at the Chabot Space and Science Center Observatory after gazing at the stars with your beau.
  3. Taco’s El Unico. Yes. You heard me. I am sending you to a taco truck. Best burrito in the East Bay. Not only are they tasty, they are big and cheap. Only problem: the ambiance of 98th Ave in downtown Oakland. DISCLAIMER- if you are female, do not go alone. They are parked in a lot with a car wash/mechanic two blocks east of San Leandro- perfect for picking up and taking to an A’s game, but not for the faint of heart.

We’re Going Down, We’re Going Tech, the South Bay

  1. Trials Pub. Not a whole lot of room for dining and not a large menu, but if you are in downtown San Jose, you have to stop in at Trials. The sausage rolls are to die for. Decent curry, burger, and fish and chips round out the perfect pub menu. But, the real reason you go is the sausage rolls. Don’t cheat yourself. And of course, great atmosphere and beer selection.
  2. Maggianos. Great Italian food located in Santana Row, an upscale outdoor shopping center. Always a wait for a table, but so worth it. Huge portions and super authentic. Take it from a guy who lived in Italy for a time before moving to the Bay. If that weren’t enough, right next door, Kara’s cupcakes. Perfek.
  3. Google. Seriously. If you know someone that works for Google, be nice to them. They have cafeterias and restaurants all over their South Bay campuses and best of all, it’s free. Problem: you have to have a Googler (Goog? Googlator? A Google employee!) escort you. Thankfully I know two. Last time I met JB for lunch, I had the chef rolling me a burrito when she pointed out black pepper encrusted filet medallions topped with goat cheese. Then for dessert, ice cream sandwiches with the Google logo imprinted in the chocolate. I know.

Up and Around, Commuter Towns, the Peninsula

  1. Fleming’s. A steak house with several locations, but the one I have been to several times is in Palo Alto. So if you are ever visiting Stanford (smarty pants) check out the “Beef Filetmington.” Yea, that’s right, an 8oz filet done like a beef wellington. Oh. My. Word. Who never thought of this!? Wrapping a steak in puff pastry?! What?! Yes, Please!
  2. Mr. Pickle’s. Hands down my favorite sandwich shop in the entire world (and conveniently located for me to pick one up on my way to go sail out on the Bay). They use a pesto sauce on their turkey, bacon, cheddar (The Tom Turkey) that is killer. Pick up a Mr. Pickle’s t-shirt while you are there. They are classic and everyone will think you are a cool kid who is in the know.
  3. Duarte’s. Ok, technically not the Peninsula, or even in the greater bay area, but so worth the drive, especially if you are an adventurous foodie. This restaurant is in Pescadero, 20 minutes south of Half Moon Bay. This town is a food anomaly! It’s one block long and has the best food in the world, I am not exaggerating. Norm’s market makes fresh artichoke bread that you will slap your mama for. Yea. Duarte’s is the real draw though; primarily a seafood restaurant but they have something for everyone. What you must get is the soup. My friends all call it “THE SOUP.” They make a cream of green chile or a cream of artichoke soup; get it mixed together- called the half and half. Ah-mazing. Served with a basket of warm, homemade bread. Stop at the beach a mile away and make a day of it.

The City.

  1. Taylor’s. If you are on the Embarcadero, make sure to stop in. Located in the ferry building- Pier One at Embarcadero and Market- Taylor’s always has good beer on tap, great burgers, and monstrous onion rings. Sitting outside on a sunny day is essential, as the location of Taylor’s makes for great people watching.
  2. Cha Cha Cha. A fantastic tapas restaurant, with a full bar and great vibe. Jerk chicken, platanos, and of course a big pitcher of Sangria are musts, but go with a group so you can sample it all! It’s right on Mission in “the Mission” (caution! Hipster crossing!). It can be super crowded and hard to move, but that’s why you go there and a sign of how good it is. Great service too: the Maitre D’ took such good care of us the last time we were there.
  3. That Takes the Cake. What? Cupcakes aren’t just for girls! I’m a man and I love cupcakes! And being that I do, I am going to make a bold statement…best cupcakes in the Bay. So freaking good. Plus, on Saturday nights, they do cocktails from 7-9. The cupcakes have liquor in them! It’s on Union St. in the Marina. I recommend the double trouble. It’s got a rolo on top.

I could go on, especially in the city- like if you are at a Giants game, SBC pizza is the place to be for cheap slices and large pre-game beers- I love living here. The weather is wonderful, the people are pleasant, and the food, the food is fantastic.

If you are ever in the Bay Area and would like some private tutoring, Mr. Orr is available. FYI, I drink on the job.

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  1. Geoff Orr Reply

    There is also a Taylor's Refresher at the Oxbow Market in Napa, which is from the same architects that redid the Ferry Building. Also full of great Artisan food.

  2. Ah, I love this! The Bay area has some of the best food and I can't wait to sample yet again on my annual trip…um, with Doni ;)

    Great list!

  3. Jeremy Reply

    Thanks Grace! I had so much fun writing this! As I said, if you need a tutor, for you and Doni, I think I can schedule you in!

  4. Wow, this is a great list! You definitely picked some of my favorites. I love Taylor's even though I'm not a burger person! I LOVE that you included a wonderful Taco Truck in Oakland. I lived in San Francisco as a kid and we lived in Fort Mason where my dad was stationed. My mom worked on Oakland. I have been back numerous times. I would have to add Greens, a great Dungeness Crab feast place for anyone who's never eaten that type of crab, and Boudin's. :) I will keep this list handy next time I go… which will be in September!

  5. I love Zachary's! I've been there so many times!!

  6. SF is a kind of city that has way too many to be named in terms of food options. :)

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