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Golden Gate Park Surrounded By Restaurant Variety
If Central Park is New York’s heart, Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s soul. A 1,000-acre rectangle wedged between Richmond and Sunset, the providentially engineered expanse of green stretches from The Haight to the sea. Flowers, lakes, museums and elbow room make Golden Gate a favorite haunt among residents and a must-do destination for city visitors. Any patch of grass in the park could serve as a leisurely picnic location, but with so many notable restaurants in close proximity, we suggest that you work up your appetite with a short walk and experience San Francisco’s stimulating culinary scene.
Haight-Ashbury abuts Golden Gate on the east end, just south of the park’s narrow panhandle. Shops full of vintage ’60s clothing allude to the district’s hippie history, but little else remains of that storied era – unless you make a beeline to the park’s Hippie Hill. If your idea of sensory pleasure tends toward the gustatory, you can still enjoy the “anything goes” attitude in The Haight’s profusion of restaurants.
Axum Café transports the heady aroma of East Africa to its airy dining room at 698 Haight Street. Meat, poultry and fish simmered in tomatoes, onions and jalapeno peppers share menu space with vegetarian entrees of chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, spinach and mushrooms livened with classic Ethiopian spices.
The Zagat-recommended Magnolia Pub & Brewery at 1398 Haight Street serves bistro-style fare on steroids alongside its cask-conditioned ales. You may actually volunteer for a knuckle sandwich here: beef knuckle on a roll delivers a punch of flavor with giardiniera and charred onion aioli. Or snack on such morsels as goat cheese-stuffed dates wrapped with bacon and drizzled with a kolsch gastrique, Scotch quail eggs and Monterey Bay sardines.
If an inexplicable force seems to draw you out of the park, it’s probably the Latin beat coming from Cha Cha Cha. This Caribbean-fusion eatery and its altars to the saint-gods of Santeria is worthy of a detour, though its location on Haight Street – at 1801, just one block from the attractions-dense east end of the park – make it an easy diversion. You can put together a tapas-style lunch – try chicken wings glazed in a guava-chipotle chile sauce, fried platanos with black beans and sour cream, and a chicken curry or ricotta-spinach empanada – or opt for a sandwich, such as the Cubano Clasico.
When the flavor diversity (or other influences) leaves you jonesing for a good ole American standby, visit The Pork Store Café at 1451 Haight Street, where homestyle favorites such as a club sandwich, BLT and grilled cheese command the table.
The park’s northern boundary stretches along Richmond, a district known for its multicultural atmosphere. Clement Street, as you head toward the Presidio, is a sort of unofficial food court of Chinese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai and Korean cuisine. For samusa soup like your “imaginary Burmese grandma used to make,” Brandon Kleinman, writing for The Blog at Huff Post, recommends Burma Superstar at 309 Clement Street.
The Asian character continues as you head west, but plenty of other cultures represent with a sprinkling of French, Spanish, Jewish, Japanese, Egyptian, Moroccan, Indian, Russian, Mexican, and yes, American, restaurants in the mix. If the thought of more than a momentary slow-down puts you on edge, grab a pork bao (or three) at Jook Time at 3398 Balboa and keep on going. This typical Chinese street food wraps barbecue pork and veggies in a tender steamed bun. SF Weekly’s SFoodie recommends this as one of the top 10 dim sum restaurants in the city. Soup sounds good at any time of the year in San Francisco, where average high temperatures rarely climb above 70 degrees. When the fog descends, you should immediately go find warmth in a bowl of ramen at Miki’s. Lauren Sloss at Serious Eats calls this restaurant at 3639 Balboa Street “a cozy respite from the cold.”
It’s easy to forget that San Francisco is, technically, a beach town. But on the ocean side of the Sunset District, a laidback surfer vibe cuts through the ever-present fog. Take advantage of the time warp and head to 4001 Judah Street, where carbs are still very much in vogue. Alissa Merksamer of Serious Eats recommends making the trek to Outerlands on a Sunday, when you can order the “much-ballyhooed restaurant’s best treat,” a Dutch Pancake. The maple syrup-drizzled popover/pancake cross comes with built-in bacon.
Harkening back to the glory days of worker’s cooperatives, Arizmendi Bakery at 1331 9th Avenue is a darling of the crowd-sourced reviews. The owner and staff turn out daily pizza specials according to a monthly menu. This isn’t the place for pepperoni or personal opinions, but if you like to take chances with sourdough crust and toppings such as marinated artichoke hearts, arugula, caramelized onions, goat cheese and sugar-plum tomatoes, grab a slice or two to go.
It’s a straight sight from San Francisco to Japan, and Yum Yum Fish at 2181 Irving Street may leave you wondering if you’ve been teleported to Tokyo. The fish market-style counter service adds to the authenticity, though Yelp reviews overwhelmingly recommend ordering your sushi and sashimi to go.
Let’s say you catch a slice of sunshine and want to eat lunch outdoors. Since you can’t go two blocks in San Francisco without passing some place selling food, you should have no trouble rounding up provisions. For the quintessential picnic fare – a sandwich – stop into Arguello Super Market for a turkey and avocado sandwich on Dutch crunch bread (which Lauren Sloss wants to make the National Sandwich of San Francisco).
Or try the meat-packed subs at The Yellow Submarine, which practically define American excess. You’ll find this Sunset institution at 503 Irving Street. For a Middle Eastern take on the sandwich, visit Sunrise Deli and order a falafel to go. You can visit either of two locations near Golden Gate Park, one in Sunset at 2115 Irving Street or the newer shop at 1671 Haight Street.