As the preeminent culinary destination in America’s #1 food city, San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza sits at the center of the food universe. Essentially an upscale food mall, it has gone from an abandoned relic to some of the most expensive retail space in San Francisco, and Mayor Willie Brown’s historic renovation of the building (the guy wasn’t all bad, I guess) has transformed it into one of the city’s architectural icons. The Saturday Farmer’s Market has become one of the hottest weekly events in the city, drawing thousands of people to the Embarcadero landmark to stock up on the Bay Area’s finest comestibles. I never miss the Saturday market, and can’t praise it highly enough. But you don’t have to wait for Saturday – any day of the week, you can find a wealth of tasty things at the Ferry Plaza. Here are ten of my favorites.

Delica – Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet)

This place has done a brisk business since its opening in 2004, and its no surprise. Their inviting open kitchen is immaculate, making it clear they have nothing to hide in the preparation of their food. Their concept fuses healthy Japanese cuisine with a California sensibility, and the ingredients are all seasonal, non-GMO, organic, and sustainably grown. The food is consistently delicious: from Japanese beef curry to salmon rolls, vegetable tempura and chicken dumplings with sweet chili sauce, it’s hard to go wrong here. Top marks are reserved for the Tonkatsu: lean pork cutlet perfectly battered and deep fried, and served at room temperature with a drizzling of oh-so-perfect house-made sauce, these are heavenly. One is also the perfect size for an indulgent 2-bite snack. Just eat it.

Out The Door – Saigon Roast Pork Sandwich

Ok, I know what some of you are thinking: “There is no way I’m paying ten bucks for a Vietnamese sandwich.” And you have a point: one of the appealing things about bahn mi is the diminutive price tag. If you’re in the right place, you can get a great one (take a bow, Saigon Sandwich) for about $4. But my argument for the Slanted Door version (Out The Door is their takeout portal, located behind the main restaurant) is a qualitative one. Owner Charles Phan’s dedication to sourcing means everything going into this sandwich is pristine. When it comes to pork that is no small matter – and the rest of the ingredients shine as well. Along with Phan’s stellar roast pork, we’re talking all the classic bahn mi accoutrements here: fresh cilantro, shredded carrots, jalapeno slices, and of course a perfect French roll. It all adds up to a damn tasty sandwich. Grab one, go out back and eat it staring across the Bay – that view alone has got to be worth the extra six bucks.


Out The Door’s Saigon Roast Pork Sandwich

Far West Fungi – Maitake Mushrooms

Probably the most well-designed store in the Ferry Building, Far West Fungi has been bringing mushrooms an other forest products to San Francisco since 2004. It’s truly a beautiful store, with the best selection of mushrooms I’ve ever seen. Chanterelles, black trumpets, shiitakes, yellow oysters, morels – if it’s in season, they’ve got it. They even sell mini mushroom farms that let you grow your own at home. It’s a bit pricey, but owner John Garrone is a swell guy that has a tendency to throw a couple extra in the bag, so it usually works out. My hands-down favorites are the maitake (my TAH kay). Known to most English speakers as hen-of-the-woods, they are referred to as ‘the medicinal mushroom,’ and widely praised for their beneficial effects. I eat them because they are delicious: they look delicate, but they are sturdy in the pan, holding their shape for a great presentation on the plate. Pair them with roasted brussels sprouts, calamarata pasta and parmigiana reggiano for a perfect Fall dish. I’ll bring the wine.

Della Fattoria – Pumpkin Seed Bread (Saturday market only)

The bakers at Della Fattoria are the #1 reason I never miss a Saturday farmer’s market at Ferry Plaza. The make a lot of delicious things, but what brings me back every time is the bread: whether its the rosemary meyer lemon, the Sicilian semolina or the polenta bread, rest assured you are going to be knocked out. Everything they do is fantastic, but if I had to give it up for one item (and the premise of this article means I do) it would be the Pumpkin Seed Bread. Like all their breads, this slightly sour loaf is made with natural starter, and covered liberally with pumpkin seeds. Blessed with a perfect crumb, it makes the perfect toast, and because of the natural starter, a loaf will last you all week long. Along with Tartine, Della Fattoria was named one of the top five bread bakeries in America by the New York Times a while back, and I concur. Bonus tip: try the caramel bread pudding, made with day-old croissant. Yes, please!


A Selection of Della Fattoria’s Breads

Humphry Slocombe – Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

Full disclosure: I used to have an ice cream problem. It’s true – back in college, I used to wipe out a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one blissful sitting. As a result, the stuff has been in my personal no-fly zone for over a decade. There are few exceptions to this prohibition, but Humphry Slocombe’s Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream is one of them. Made with Blue Bottle Giant Steps beans and sweetened with condensed milk like traditional Vietnamese coffee, this is coffee ice cream like no other. (They let you try anything you like, so make sure to get a taste of Secret Breakfast, too – it’s made with bourbon and corn flakes.)

Anna’s Daughters’ Rye Bread – Hot Chocolate (Saturday market only)

If you patronize the Saturday market at the Ferry Plaza, you’ve probably seen Marianne Weiner serving hot chocolate to the crowds at her stand in front of Boulette’s Larder in the building’s south corridor. She doesn’t just make hot chocolate; she’s also the founder of Anna’s Daughters’ Rye Bread, specializing in rye bread and crackers, and she’s been at it for 20 years. All of her products are great, but I go for the  Hot Chocolate: rich and satisfying, and cut with freshly whipped cream sweetened with a touch of vanilla, it’s a wholly satisfying indulgence that I never tire of. What’s that, too much chocolate for you? No worries – they’ve got half cups. Enjoy!

Craftsmen & Wolves – The Rebel Within (Saturday market only)

Essentially a soft-boiled egg baked into a sausage and cheese muffin, these babies are one of the best portable breakfast options ever conceived. At $7.25, they are anything but cheap, but man are they good. The bakers have figured out a way to finish them without hardening the yolk, meaning you get the payoff when you bite into the center, the rich golden yolk threatening to spill from the corners of your mouth as you eat. These are an absolute must-try – but grab a napkin for the money shot.


The Rebel Within

El Porteño – Fugazetta Empanada

Argentine food is something I don’t get enough of, and my way of making up for it is an occasional visit to El Porteño. A good empanada is hard to beat in the handheld meal category, and these are very good. My personal go-to is the Fugazetta Empanada, filled with aged cheddar, shaved organic onions and oregano – a marvel every time. I’ve tried half the menu and it’s all great, and they come up with seasonal variations to keep things interesting: for a sweet and savory treat, try the Acelga, with Swiss chard, gruyere, pine nuts and raisins.


The beautiful empanadas at El Porteno

Acme Bread Company – Pain Epi

One of the Ferry Building’s original anchor tenants, Acme has been baking some of the best bread in the Bay Are for 33 years. Steven Sullivan, who started out baking bread for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, created a new standard for bread in the Bay Area when he opened his first bakery in Berkeley in 1983. At the beginning, they offered only four products: Pain au Levain, Sweet Baguettes, Challah and Upstairs Bread. Today they bake over a hundred bread and pastry items, but special honors are reserved for their Pain Epi. A perfectly airy, crisp iteration of this French classic, Acme’s is a perfect accompaniment for a cheese plate, the pull-apart sections obviating the need for a bread knife. Pick one up, and walk over a couple of doors to…

Cowgirl Creamery – Fromage Blanc with Green Garlic (on Acme rustic baguette)

Another anchor tenant, Cowgirl Creamery has been slinging cheese at the Ferry Plaza since 2004, and they’ve got one of the the best selections in San Francisco. Sure it’s pricey, but they’ll happily let you taste anything you like, and if you are into the fromage this is like being a kid in a candy store. They’re currently wrapping up a remodel to upgrade and open up the space, and less than two weeks ago, they were acquired by Swiss dairy giant Emmi. Original founders Sue Conley and Peggy Smith will remain at the helm, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more great things from this bunch.

My favorite is their Fromage Blanc, but this one does require some assembly: first, grab a stalk of green garlic at the farmer’s market (these are the long green ones, and they’re in season now). Chop it up fine, add it to a bowl of the creamy fromage blanc, and stir well. Voila! – you’ve got one of the most delicious things ever to be spread on a baguette. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to pop in to Cowgirl to taste some cheese. Pick out a couple you like, and head over to…

Honorable Mention: Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

A hopping little wine bar in the center of the building, FPWM has been around since 2004, and though they don’t serve much of their own food, they do let you bring it in as long as you’re drinking. This policy sets the stage for truly epic post-farmer’s-market picnics – I’ve participated in several over the years, and there are few better ways to waste a Saturday afternoon. With 25 wines by the glass or taste, they‘re sure to have something you like. Jason is behind the bar on Saturdays, and he’ll keep you laughing until you realize that you’re hammered, and it’s just 3:30. Cheers!