I've lived in San Francisco for a while, but am still blown away by Golden Gate Park. Lush with greenery, peppered with killer museums and gardens, and completely gorgeous, the park stretches several miles from the top of the Haight all the way out to the ocean. And no matter how many times you may visit it, there's something new to discover—an art exhibit at the De Young Museum, Nightlife at the Academy of Sciences, elaborate miniature boat races on Spreckels Lake, destination-worthy music festivals, or, if you're so inclined, epic 420 celebrations on Hippie Hill.
No matter your park day preferences, there are some things you can be certain of: one, you should definitely bring a jacket. The rare unicorn of a heatwave day aside, the fog will usually come rolling in each afternoon, and it will get cold. Two, you're going to want sustenance, and you're going to want it to be delicious.
Fortunately, the park is flanked by two of the city's best eating neighborhoods—the Sunset and the Richmond. Known for delicious dim sum, steaming bowls of pho and ramen, and sizzling Korean barbecue, these are neighborhoods that are so worth exploring, whether you're a first time visitor or a lifetime resident.
But the last thing you want is to find yourself wandering too far afield; say, accidentally hiking 40 minutes through freezing cold fog in pursuit of Korean fried chicken (been there, done that). So, we've compiled a handy guide to some of the best spots to eat that are just a 10 minute walk from some of the park's more destination-worthy sites. You'll find delicious grab and go items for picnicking purposes, and sit-down destinations to unwind (and warm up).
The Sunset Side, Stanyan to 18th
Headed to the Botanical Garden, Academy of Sciences, Shakespeare Garden, Kezar Stadium, Koret Children's Playground, or the Carousel? These spots are all within two blocks of the park on the Sunset side—no further south than Judah Street.
For a Fun Diner Breakfast: Art's Cafe
There are the diner breakfasts that simply fill you up, and then there are those that have you dreaming about them for weeks to come. Art's Cafe offers one of the latter type, with an evil genius creation: the hash brown sandwich. It's a reverse-engineered omelet, with a crispy, flaky pancake of hash brown housing cheese and meats, with your eggs served on the side.
This dish has the potential to be a terrible, greasy failure. But at Art's, the potatoes are shredded fresh and crisped up into a lacy delicacy. We love the Beef Teriyaki Hash Brown Sandwich ($7). It's actually stuffed with Korean-style beef bulgogi, and the meat is tender, with a wonderfully savory, slightly sweet flavor from the marinade. Prepared on the same flat top as the potatoes, it picks up crisp bits of char. It's sandwiched with meat-fat-coated sauteed onions and shredded cheddar cheese—the bottom layer of the hash brown absorbs the dripping meat juices, but the top remains crispy. A side of fried eggs were nicely runny, adding even more richness to each bite.
Art's has a charming, old school ambiance to go along with your breakfast. The space is tiny, so don't be surprised if you've got to wait a little—the restaurant is made up of one counter facing the open kitchen (all the better to watch your hash brown sandwich come together). The counter itself is covered with postcards mailed from devotees as far away as Bali, and as close as Sausalito.
For a Snazzy Mexican Brunch or Dinner: Nopalito
An offshoot of Divisadero's ever-popular Nopa, Nopalito has become our go-to for leisurely brunches, mezcal cocktails, and multi-course dinners that play like a dream trip through Mexico. Each dish showcases sparkling-fresh ingredients and careful technique: it's the kind of place you can take your parents or other out-of-town guests that you want to impress.
Don't miss the refreshing Ceviche ($13): ample use of a vibrant salsa verde gives it a flavor profile similar to aguachile, and buttery slices of ripe avocado complement the dish's bright acidity well. The Carnitas ($17) is shareable and hauntingly good, with delicate flavors of citrus and cinnamon lacing each rich fall-apart bite. Start with an order of Totopos con Chile ($6)—freshly fried tortilla chips are coated with a sweet, smoky, salsa de arbol, sprinkles of cotija cheese, and a liberal pour of crema. But really, there's no bad order here. At brunch or lunch, you'll find excellent versions of Chilaquiles ($10); dinner finds a deeply flavored Mole Coloradito con Pollo ($16). Be sure to sample the mezcal cocktails (all $9), too—we love the Killer Bee, which blends Del Maguey Vida mezcal with honey and lemon.
Nopalito has been known to fill up, and fast. But you can call and get your name on the wait list while you hang out in the park to ensure you get a table quickly.
For a Hot Bowl of Pho: Yummy Yummy
Foggy San Francisco days are best treated with a steaming bowl of pho, and Yummy Yummy is a good place to grab one near the park. The family-friendly restaurant feels very much a part of the neighborhood; you'll see old friends catching up over noodles and families tucking into an order of spring rolls.
Go for the #3, classic Pho Tai ($8.25 for a medium). The beef itself is fine—it arrives nicely rare and is thinly sliced, but has some overly fatty parts. Yummy Yummy's broth, though, is the star—rich with a substantial amount of body and a clean, clear flavor. The rich, savory beefiness is well balanced with anise. Fresh basil and jalapeño are welcome additions, but oyster sauce and sriracha are both unnecessary.
For a Sandwich: Yellow Submarine
This spot is a long-standing San Francisco establishment—the no-frills shop, with a playfully painted cartoon menu, has been around for 40 years. And their well-balanced, flavorful 'Boston-style' sandwiches are a testament to their longevity.
We like the pepper steak ($6.99 for a medium, which is plenty big), a griddle-cooked steak and cheese sandwich with grilled green peppers. "Everything" includes pickles, tomato, lettuce, onion, oil and vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, and cheese, served on a soft, just-toasted roll. From the pliant roll to the juicy, salty steak, the sandwich is a study in flavor and texture contrasts, the cold crunch from the vegetables nicely balancing the the melting cheese and tender meat. Don't skip the pickles; the vinegary punch of flavor is excellent, and is even more accentuated by Yellow Submarine's tasty house made hot sauce.
There are is a decent-sized seating area should you want to eat your sandwich right away, or take it to go and eat it in the park.
For Wings: San Tung
If you've been drinking or...other things...in the park, a craving for fried chicken is more likely than not. And San Tung's Original Dry Fried Chicken ($10.50 for 12 pieces) is so loved that the sizable Chinese restaurant has become known for long lines and long waits (they even opened a sister restaurant next door to fit in even more chicken lovers).
Back to those wings. Despite being "dry fried" they are a decidedly saucy dish—the sticky-sweet sauce has a subtle kick, thanks to a blend of garlic, ginger, and roasted red peppers. Chicken pieces are meaty and tender, and coated with a nicely textured, freshly fried crust. They're particularly good with a dollop of vinegary chile sauce, that nicely balances the wings sweet and salty flavors.
We suggest stopping by during off hours. Keep in mind that San Tung has a $7 minimum per person, so you'll want to consider ordering an extra plate of wings for the table.
For Cali-Style Pizza by the Slice: Arizmendi
Owned and operated by a worker collective, Arizmendi draws lines for its tasty breads and pastries each morning. But we like to stop by at lunch time: their daily vegetarian pizza special, freshly baked and available by the slice ($2.50) or whole pie. The sourdough crust is nicely chewy, and the rotating cast of seasonal toppings ranges from classic (red onion, olive) to California creative (fresh chard, roasted cauliflower, and yes, even beets.)
Check out the monthly pizza calendar in advance if you're so inclined, or throw chance to the wind and try whatever they're offering that day.
Need more options? We've heard good things about Pasion for brunch and tapas; Koo and Kazu Sushi are local favorites for sushi; Social Kitchen + Brewery has great beer and decent bar food; The Little Shamrock is a dependable Irish bar, complete with board games; and if you're in the park on a Sunday, you can stop by the Inner Sunset Farmers Market for fresh produce and other snacks.
Sunset Side, 18th and Beyond
Going to the Polo Field, 45th Avenue Playground, Murphy Windmill, or Elk Glen Meadow? These spots are all within two blocks of the park on the Sunset side—no further south than Judah Street, between 18th and Great Highway.
For Coffee and Toast: Trouble Coffee Company
There's been a lot of talk about the $4 toast trend. Let me say it loud, and say it proud—I love the fancy toast. It's filling, delicious, and features some of the best bread San Francisco has to offer. The toast at Trouble Coffee was not only the first of its thick-sliced, amply topped breed, but it's also damn delicious (and, for the record, just $3). Trouble's cinnamon toast, made using bread from Just For You Bakery in Potrero Hill, is heavy on the cinnamon and generous with the butter. It evokes childhood memories, but tastes even better than what you had growing up.
Pair your toast with a well-made cappuccino, or, if you're feeling feisty, a whole, fresh coconut. Trouble is tiny with very limited seating space, but they have a parklet made of driftwood just outside, where you'll find neighborhood regulars and still-salty surfers enjoying their toast, too. (The story behind Trouble is worth reading if you're so inclined).
For Falafel: Sunrise Deli
A good falafel sandwich isn't all that common in San Francisco, but we're fans of the one at Sunrise Deli, and it's conveniently located just a block from the park. Go for the Avocado Falafel ($6.49) which, in addition to a generous serving of freshly fried, flavorful falafel, includes creamy slices of ripe avocado. The pita's also stuffed with lettuce, bright, ripe tomatoes, deliciously briny pickled cabbage, and a great freshly made hummus that's heavy on the tahini and lemon. Definitely ask for a side of the house made hot sauce—it adds some tang along with heat.
Sunrise Deli isn't necessarily a destination for the atmosphere alone, but there's plenty of space to sit, and friendly guys behind the counter, too. Should you decide to take your sandwich into the park, be sure to grab some forks and plenty of napkins—the pita has a hard time standing up to all those fillings, and will likely split open before you're through.
For Amazing Shaanxi Chinese: Terra Cotta Warrior
If you love the hand pulled noodles at New York's Xi'an Famous Foods, and haven't yet found a San Francisco replacement, you'll be delighted to discover this Outer Sunset gem. It's no hole-in-the-wall noodle shop: this is a full-on restaurant with attention given to decor, the kind of place you could bring a date or your parents, if they have adventurous taste.
The noodles are impeccable; the flavors that accompany them are big, bold, and memorable. We loved the Shaanxi Mian-Pi ($3.95), a seemingly simple dish of cold knife-cut noodles, doused in a savory, garlicky chili oil. The toasted chili flavor comes through, along with a heady dose of cumin—more flavorful than spicy, and paired with fresh cucumber and bean sprouts, it makes a refreshing hot-weather dish.
But don't leave without trying the Qishan Minced Pork Noodles ($8.25), a noodle soup for the ages. This features silky, ropey hand-pulled noodles; their heft and chew belies their freshness. According to the owner, each bowl actually includes one long noodle, to symbolize a long life. The porky, mushroomy broth is wonderfully sour, thanks to the inclusion of rice wine vinegar. It's topped with a pour of chili oil (but don't worry, it looks much spicier than it tastes).
Need more options? If you're just looking for beer and a massive plate of nachos, head to the Taco Shop at Underdogs; they've got a a pretty good tequila selection, too. Out of town guests might have fun feasting on Vietnamese-style roast Dungeness crabs and garlic noodles at Thanh Long—it's not a cheap night out, but it's a fun, buttery meal, bib required. Outerlands has just recently reopened after renovation, and we're eager to check out the new menu soon.
The Richmond Side, Stanyan to Funston
If you're visiting the Conservatory of Flowers, De Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden, or Academy of Sciences, consider this your guide to food nearby on the Richmond side of the park. We drew the line at Balboa Street in order to feature spots that are a truly easy walk. But, should you want to wander further afield, you'll find a wealth of options on Geary and Clement Streets, including Korean barbecue, Burmese cuisine, and all the dumplings you can eat.
Grab a Sandwich: Arguello Super Market
A turkey avocado sandwich on Dutch Crunch bread is pretty much the quintessential San Francisco sandwich. Arguello Market's excellent version ($7.99 with cheese and avocado), will help convince you it's worthy of the honor. Arguello roasts their turkeys on a rotisserie spit, yielding meat that's consistently moist and flavorful. The sandwich has layers of white and dark meat, and their Dutch Crunch bread is sweet and fresh. I like mine with avocado and pepper jack—lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayonnaise, mustard come standard.
There are tables outside the market, but this is perfect picnic food for the park. Arguello has a nice selection of cheese, spreads, and beer for your picnicking purposes, too.
For a Cafe Lunch or Dessert: Cinderella Cafe
Cindarella Bakery is a charming Russian cafe with outdoor seating, freshly baked pastries and bread for sale, and a great menu of sandwiches, soups, and Russian classics. We're a little obsessed with the sweet cheese blinchiki ($6.50), two delicate pancakes stuffed with lightly sweetened cheese and served with jam and sour cream. The crepe-like pancakes are pliant and tender, and have a lightly crisped bottom thanks to a gentle pan-sear in butter; the cheese is delicate and tangy. They're shockingly good with a dip in the thick sour cream—we're all about the cold and hot, sweet and sour contrast.
Looking for lunch? There are also blinchiki with savory fillings like mushrooms or ground beef, or you can sample a plate of boiled vareniki served with sour cream, or in a dill-laced broth.
For Breakfast or Happy Hour: Velo Rouge
There's a lot to love about a low-key all-day cafe, a spot where you can order a hearty breakfast and swing back around later for happy hour. Velo Rouge, perched right on the eastern end of the park, is one such cafe, with an all-day breakfast menu, cozy atmosphere, and a happy hour ($3.50 draft beers, like Trumer Pils and Ranger IPA) that goes until 8 p.m.
For breakfast, we love the McCallister Scramble Sandwich ($7.95), a hearty pile of three scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled onions, mushrooms, fresh spinach, and feta. Buried under there is a toasted English muffin, and you'll find breakfast potatoes alongside. The eggs are well-seasoned, and the spinach is fresh and just lightly cooked. If you're inspired to return for happy hour, you may well find some live music, too.
Richmond Side, toward Great Highway
If you're near the Redwood Memorial Grove, Marx Meadow, Spreckels Lake, Bison Paddock, here's where to eat close to the park on the Richmond side, as far north as Balboa.
For a Pork Bun on the Run: Jook Time
Jook Time is a zero-frills option for tasty Chinese bites to-go; you'll have a hard time hitting $10 for a veritable feast. Go for the pork buns ($1.85 for 3), available in both baked and fried form. The fried bun is particularly excellent—yeasty and fresh-tasting, it's loaded with a sweet pork interior (that's actual pork, not meat-like goo). A topping of sesame seeds adds texture and a nice nutty flavor. The baked bun is good, too—the bread is similarly fresh tasting, and the pork abundant. The fried sesame paste bun is delicious enough that we went back for seconds.
If fried buns aren't your comfort food of choice, a bowl of jook ($2.00 for a regular) makes a hearty snack. The rice porridge studded with chicken and fish, or pork and egg. It's well seasoned and savory on its own, but wonderful with a few dollops of their super garlicky, salty hot sauce.
For a Dumpling Lunch or Dinner: Shanghai Dumpling King
Just across the street from Jook Time is your spot for a full dumpling meal. This spot (which has only a few more frills than Jook Time) is no secret, and you may have to wait for a table, but your patience will be rewarded when plates and baskets of steaming hot dumplings head your way.
The Shanghai Steamed Dumplings ($5.95 for 10) are ok, don't have enough broth inside to make for truly perfect soup dumplings (their wrappers are a little thick, too). But the Pan-Fried Pork Buns ($5.50 for 8), are not to be missed. These thick, pillowy buns have a soft, giving texture that contrasts wonderfully with their crisp pan-fried edges; the sweet, mellow pork is filled with meaty flavor. Dip the buns in the accompanying black vinegar to amplify that savory flavor.
For Ramen: Miki
Foggy park day? Don't despair, eat soup! Specifically, Tonkatsu Shio Ramen ($10.33) at Miki's. The broth is rich and flavorful without being overwhelming—it's lighter than some tonkatsu broths, and not as tongue-coating. The noodles are springy and fresh, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds adds a lovely nutty flavor, too. The slices of pork on top aren't amazing, but still, this is a bowl of ramen we'd happily eat again, and Miki's is a cozy respite from the cold.
For Coffee and a Snack: Cassava
Cassava is adorable: the cafe has tons of natural light and sidewalk seating, plus a feel-good vibe that makes you want to linger over breakfast or lunch. Some, but not all, of the menu has a Japanese twist, and you can wash it down with Ritual Coffee or a glass of mulled wine.
We liked the Braised Pork Shoulder Sliders ($12 for 2), two nicely-sized little sandwiches served up on toasted Semifreddi challah buns. The pork itself is on the sweet side thanks to a hibiscus apple cider glaze, but the texture is meltingly tender. The flavor benefits from a swipe of hot sauce, if you're into that kind of thing.
For Cheap Dim Sum: KL Restaurant
KL Restaurant is a little under the radar online, but this seafood-centric dim sum restaurant is full of families and neighborhood locals during weekday lunch hours (but not so crowded that you won't get seated right away). There's a checklist menu to fill out rather than trays and carts; it's an easy way to get a quick, affordable bite. There are offerings for just a few bucks and the most expensive dim sum items top out at $5.95.
Not everything's a winner, but we loved the Steamed BBQ Pork Rice Noodle ($3.55), a generous serving of slippery, pork-filled rice wrapper. The slightly sweet pork filling takes nicely to the savory soy it's served in, but the highlight is the noodle wrapping: hot and melt-in-your-mouth delicate, so good we craved a second round.
For A Family-Style Chinese Feast: Hakka
If you worked up an appetite while you were in the park, Hakka is a great spot to come, order too much, and share everything. The unostentatious, family-friendly restaurant has a sizable selection of familiar (and less-familiar) stir-fry and noodle dishes, homestyle favorites like pork belly with salty preserved vegetables, and fried treats like salt and pepper pork chops.
Don't miss the Fried Pumpkin Strips with Salted Egg ($7.95), a generous plate of fried squash coated in a funky salted-egg batter. It comes piping hot and freshly fried, with a delicately crisp exterior and creamy, sweet insides. Avail yourself of the chili oil that's present on each table. The egg adds an umami hit that reminded us a bit of Cheetos, making it very hard to stop going after more and more slices.
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