Savory ramen. Neapolitan pizza. Spicy curried samosas. Crispy Brazilian cheese bread. When you visit San Francisco, you’re in for a vacation of gastronomic proportions. Because of its harbor, its storied gold rush history, and its entrepreneurial spirit (think Silicon Valley), the City by the Bay has long been an international destination for immigrants and boasts some of the best ethnic food in the country. We’ve rounded up five San Fran enclaves known for their diverse cuisine. Start planning your tour de taste in San Francisco.
Can’t decide if you want Chinese, Indian, or Thai for dinner? Well, you’re in luck, because Burmese food blends the flavors of all three into a decadent cuisine all its own. Treat yourself to curried potato samosas, peanutty chicken satay, and mu shu pork at one of the many authentic restaurants in this northwest corner of San Francisco. The quintessential dish? Tea leaf salad, a flavorful food made with fermented tea leaves, tomatoes, cabbage, fried garlic, peanuts, chilies, and fish sauce. In fact, you’ll find tangy fish sauce, fermented vegetables, and seafood in many of the dishes. Pro tip: Use chopsticks and Chinese-style spoons to gorge on some of your new favorite foods.
Venture into this bustling neighborhood in San Francisco and you might just feel like you’re in Osaka. Why? For over 100 years, this area has been a hot spot for Japanese culture and, in particular, mouthwatering food. Take your sushi knowledge to the next level by trying an omakase (chef’s choice) menu at one of the area’s upscale restaurants; you’ll find the tender, buttery fish only slightly outshines the fragrant sushi rice. Or slurp thick ramen noodles in creamy pork-bone broth or buckwheat soba noodles in ginger sauce at tiny ramen shops, often buried in the area’s busy malls or supermarkets. For a sweet treat, try mochi, a sticky rice cake that comes in flavors like green tea and red bean.
Head to the historic and romantic neighborhood that is Little Italy to try dishes like squid ink pasta, Neapolitan pizza, and cioppino, a delicate seafood stew; you’re sure to expand your idea of Italian food. Located in North Beach, “the Little City” was home to many Italian immigrants who were drawn to the fishing wharves and brought with them the family recipes—from savory crab ravioli to sweet cannoli. After indulging in an authentic Italian meal, sip an espresso in the neighborhood that inspired Beat Generation poets and writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in the 1950s.
Brazilian steakhouses are famous for enormous skewers of perfectly tender beef, but in this neighborhood, you’ll find many more dishes to try. Brazilian food is a truly international cuisine, with influences from native South Americans as well as Portugal, Africa, and Japan. Rice and beans are a mainstay, as you’ll find in the official dish of Brazil, feijoada, a flavorful stew with beans, beef, and pork, served with rice. And every meal should start with the one-of-a-kind cheese bread: tiny air-filled and highly addictive puffs that are the perfect finger food with a round of sweet-tart caipirinhas. These popular cocktails are made with cachaça, a rum-like spirit that’s Brazil’s most popular liquor.
Established in 1848, the oldest Chinatown in North America boasts the biggest Chinese community outside Asia. Don’t miss dining on dim sum, bite-size dishes like shrimp-filled dumplings and barbecue pork buns, that are carted around the restaurant in steamer baskets for you to choose from while seated at your table. Take in the scene walking through Chinatown’s colorful streets. You’ll find treats like roasted Peking duck hanging in windows, their skin crispy and golden brown. Sip a bubble tea in wild flavors like lychee or jackfruit, served to go in hip shops filled with stylish kids in the afternoons.