By Nick Dudler
Mini-golfing inside a restaurant? Entrees that spawn from an aquaponic farm? A restaurant where the food doesn’t cost a penny? Explore 6 of the most unique and emblematic eats of the San Francisco food scene! You’ll find the quirky, the kitschy, and everything in between. The only thing they have in common? They’ll leave you hungry for more!
Best Food Truck: Off the Grid
Schofield Rd, San Francisco, CA
Only food trucks have the ability to turn a parking lot into a place of dining, conversation, and familiarity. Off the Grid SF has turned the Fort Mason Center into a gathering place with a totally SF vibe, complete with craft cocktails, live entertainment, and a beer garden. The idea was born with the goal to use underutilized spaces in the city, and it continues to attract thousands of visitors weekly. The event runs every Friday evening from March through October, featuring over 30 trucks each week!
What’s my plan of attack for this taste bud overload? Sampling! VIP tasting tickets go for $25, giving you 4 tastes of 10 selected favorites. My stomach was oh so satisfied after an onslaught of black bean pupusas, chimi fries, tocino musubi, and a nutella dessert I ate so quickly that I forgot the name. I’m already thinking about next Friday!
When to go: Fridays, 5-10PM
Most Environmentally Friendly: The Perennial
59 9th St, San Francisco, CA
Critics have called this “the most environmentally friendly restaurant in the world.” I had my doubts at first, until I realized that literally every detail of the restaurant was designed with the earth first. Virtually all of their produce comes from an aquaponic farm in Oakland. The floor tiles are made from recycled computer monitors. Seats and tables are fashioned from wood reclaimed from trees that had fallen in nearby neighborhoods. Even the citrus notes in your vodka soda are the result of a hydrosol distilled from the bar's leftover citrus zest. It tastes better than it sounds, trust me.
Are you not the type of person who wants to listen to someone preach about "progressive agrarian cuisine?" That’s fine, too. As soon as you open the menu you’ll find the perennial motto: “We’re happy just to tell you about it. Or you can just enjoy yourself.”
Apparently, the idea for The Perennial was born when the co-owners made a joke to potential investors in a pitch about a new restaurant idea. “Let’s be crazy, and then they’ll say no, and then we won’t have to do any more work,’” owner Karen Leibowitz said. “But then they said yes.”
When to go: Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-9PM
Best Vibes: Karma Kitchen (Berkeley)
1700 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA
This stop is just a hop and skip over in Berkeley, but it’s worth the short Bart trip over!
At Karma Ktichen, you never pay for your meal. What? Yes, you heard right. The price on your bill always reads $0.00. A note is written below: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you and we invite you to pay-it-forward for those after you.” Seriously, everything on the menu is free. As the owner calls it, this meal is an “experience in empathy.” The store is completely run by volunteers, and all the money paid goes towards food for the next month.
Serving Himalayan and Nepalese fair, this is the perfect place for the starving college student. Typically there are a limited number of items, but it’s all you can eat! Karma Kitchen is only open Sunday afternoons, so get in the door and feel the love!
When to go: 11AM-2:30PM, every last Sunday of the month
Best Place to Bring the Kids: Urban Putt
1096 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA
Think that windmill hole last week was intense at your local putt-putt course? How about a hole that simulates the San Francisco Earthquake on a miniature scale? Or a mechanical orchestra that plays in response to your shot placement? Or high-tech kinetic sculptures whisking the ball around the room?
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill putting green. It was built by a master group of sculptors, architects, and welders with over $50,000 from Kickstarter.
This is the place to go if you need something for the whole family. Putting for the kids, mechanical masterpieces for those geeky dads, and some seriously solid classic fare to look forward to at the end of the course. Deep dish pizza, fried chicken & waffle skewers, and mini-corn dogs are just a couple of my favorites.
Lines can be long on weekends since it’s first come first serve. But don’t worry--if you’re waiting long for a putt and get thirsty, the bar is only a few greens away. There are even convenient cup holders for your drink along the course. Seriously, is there anything this place doesn’t have?
Ages 0 to 5: Free
Ages 6-12: $8.00
Ages 13 and up: $12.00
When to go: Find out when to eat and putt here.
Most Artistic: In Situ
151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA
Sorry, Instagram fanatics--this food doesn’t need a filter. San Francisco is known for its art, and at In Situ, an offshoot of the Moma museum, you’re eating from an edible canvas. The menu is fastened with a museum admissions tag-- you might wonder if you’re still in the gallery!
The idea behind In Situ was born from head chef--and artist in his own right--Corey Lee. He recreates some of the most iconic, game-changing plates from chefs around the world. (Chef’s Table fans, this one’s for you!) Like the galleries, he brings together the world’s creations in a single place, and the dishes rotate seasonally.
The menu features items like guinea fowl larb salad, lamb manti, and wasabi marshmallow. If you’re not the type of person to go crazy over affilla cress or cucumber jelly, at worst you’ll end up with a nice centerpiece for the table.
When to go: Find all the hours here!
Most Iconic: Tonga Room
950 Mason St, San Francisco, CA
Anthony Bourdain called the Tonga Room “the greatest place in the history of the world.” This restaurant has tiki-kitsch written all over it, with faux-coconut cocktails, a lagoon, and a live band playing from a floating thatched-roof hut. If you don’t feel immersed enough, just wait for the simulated “monsoons”-- indoor rain complete with thunder that rolls through during your meal.
How did the Tonga Room end up in the Fairmont Hotel, you might ask? As the story goes, in 1929 the Fairmont built a 75-foot indoor swimming pool on its Terrace Level, which became an attraction for celebrities. The hotel then commissioned Mel Melvin, Metro Goldwyn Meyers leading set director, to turn it into a tiki bar. Whoever came up with this outlandish floor plan for an otherwise perfectly normal hotel is a genius because the tiki bar has hardly had an empty seat since! Oh, and don’t jump in the pool, or you might have a short stay in this tiki paradise.
When to go: Find complete hours on the website!