Gluten-Free Travel - San Francisco, CA

Friday, August 10th, 2012 | click here to comment

Since about forever, I’ve been obsessed with the notion of moving to California, the Bay Area to be exact. I'm a born and bred New Yorker, but something about the West Coast always calls out to me, even to this day. 

Instead of going overseas for vacation this year, I decided to head west and really figure out if I could put down roots in a place I hadn't visited in close to 5 years. Since I was going to be out that way anyway, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to visit friends in Portland and Seattle, two places I had never been before.

I learned a lot during my trip (including where I might want to end up moving one day), but one clear indicator was that a move to the West Coast would in no way be limiting when it comes to food. If there is one thing that you West Coasters' got right, it's a love of food and a breadth of options for everything from vegan to gluten-free.  

Our 10-day trip (with a toddler in tow) started out in San Francisco, which I was beyond excited to return to after all these years. Unfortunately the weather didn't really cooperate with us for most of our time there and more often than not it was gray and chilly. I seem to have developed a healthy dose of fear for driving on the hills in the city since the last time I visited San Francisco. In fact, I flat out refused to drive at all for fear that I would mess up and my car would go careening backwards down some insane hill. Major props to anyone that drives and parallel parks in San Francisco - oh em gee. 

After an extremely delayed flight into SFO (thanks fog!), we were all cranky and hungry. The first stop on the agenda was a cute Latin American spot called La Fusion. They don't have a gluten-free menu, but they were beyond friendly and accommodating of my requests. Plus, there was AMPLE sangria to be had, which dulled the pain of over 12 hours of travel (most of it spent waiting at the airport). 

{To read more about my experience at La Fusion, click here.}

The next day was a bright and early start thanks to my east coast internal clock that made me think it was 9 AM when it was really 6 AM. I love traveling to the west coast for that very reason. Yes, you're absolutely tired by 9 PM in the evening, but you're up at 6 AM feeling completely refreshed and can make the most of the entire day.

The first order of business for us was breakfast. I had done some research on gluten-free breakfast options and found that Dottie's True Blue Cafe offers gluten-free pancakes. What I didn't know was that Dottie's was profiled recently on Diners, Drive-In's and Dives and thus had developed quite a name for itself, and wait times that would make your head spin. We arrived a mere 20 minutes after it opened - mind you this was 7:50 AM on a Sunday morning, and the line was already out the door and snaking around the corner. A great sign if you're looking for a good place to eat, but the kiss of death when you have a hungry toddler on your hands. 

{To read more about my experience at Dottie's, click here.}

When lunchtime rolled around there was only one place I wanted to go: In-N-Out Burger. In fact, any trip I take to the west coast inevitably ends up at In-N-Out at one point or another. The San Francisco outpost is down by Fisherman's Wharf, a place I normally try to avoid because it reminds me too much of Disneyworld and Times Square, but for In-In-Out I would brave almost anything. 

For those who aren't aware, In-N-Out has a not-so-secret menu including an option that is bunless, called Protein Style. It's all of great burger goodness you expect from In-N-Out, but without a bun. Instead they wrap the burger in several huge pieces of iceberg lettuce. Albeit messy, it's amazingly good and of course, gluten-free. For the full secret menu, read this stellar post on Serious Eats, complete with photos. 

If there is one thing San Francisco is known for, it's an incredible array of Asian eats. There is a huge Asian population in the city and because of that you can find almost any niche restaurant your heart could desire. Hawaiian? No problem. Mongolian? Yup. Cambodian? You got it. My Asian kryptonite is Vietnamese food. I can't get enough of the rich and fragrant pho soup, and if I had my druthers, I'd snack on spring rolls all day. I was elated to discover there is a Vietnamese restaurant in the Castro that has gluten-free options on their menu and you better believe I was front and center to eat there for dinner. I immediately loved the atmosphere when we walked in. It's cozy, subdued and trendy. They have booths along the wall that could comfortably seat four people, or two adults and one completely sprawled out toddler, like *ahem* us. 

{To read more about my experience at Zadin, click here.}

The next day was low key with a stop by the Ferry Building Marketplace to check out Mariposa Bakery and stock up on snacks. Holy deliciousness guys! If you live in SF you are extremely lucky to have Mariposa at your disposal. I bought their donuts, some Penguinos and even tried one of their PopTart knock-offs. Everything was good, but the donuts were by far my favorite. They were light and fluffy cake-style donuts. I wanted to eat them all in one sitting, but paced myself over a couple of days and had to stock up again before I left San Francisco. The other amazing find at the Ferry Building was Blue Bottle Coffee. Hands down their soy cappuccinos are the best I have ever had. The coffee itself is rich and flavorful, and the soy milk they use is creamier than most, making for one satisfying cup of coffee that will have you pleasantly high on caffeine for a few hours…and craving more later on.

mariposa bakery

mariposa bakery

mariposa bakery

Brunch was decided on the run in a flurry of Yelping. I initially wanted to eat at Don Pisto’s, but when we arrived the line was out the door and snaking towards the corner. I didn’t have it in me to wait so we took to our phones to find a place nearby that we could satiate ourselves at. We ended up at La Boulange, which is the type of place I would normally avoid because it's all about bread. It reminded me very much of Le Pain Quotidien with the wood interior and simple wood tables. Let’s not forget the copious amounts of bread everywhere either. I was a little skeptical about finding anything to eat when I saw the La Boulange Salad on the menu, I was sold.  If there is one thing I can be sure of, it’s that frisee, lardons and fried eggs make for a wonderful combination. That and a side of fries was all I needed to keep me happy until dinner. 

gather restaurant

Dinner that night was at Gather, a cute restaurant in Berkeley which focuses on fresh, seasonal food. The trip to Berkeley was mostly uneventful except for a very nerve-wracking drive over the Bay Bridge when we realized we had no cash to pay the toll. Luckily, you only have to pay the toll going INTO San Francisco and not out, so that was a relief. 

{To read more about my experience at Gather and view more photos, click here.}

For all of the times I've been to the Bay Area, I've never done any proper wine tastings in Napa Valley. My love for wine has only increased with age, so I made a point to find some wineries to check out on our second to last day in San Francisco. I figured since I couldn’t get a reservation at The French Laundry, that I would at least be able to console myself with copious amounts of wine. 

We started the day at Domaine Carneros, a winery founded by Champagne Taittinger which is one of my favorite brands (sorry Veuve!). The property was beyond gorgeous with a huge château overlooking their vineyard-covered hills. I felt like I could stay there forever, nibbling on finger foods and sipping sparkling wine. Alas, we wanted to make the most of the day and visit a few more wineries. 

Feeling bold after a couple of wine flights, we went on to Opus One, which is another beautiful property with an air of ancient Greece made modern. They specialize in cabernet, which is not really my preference when drinking wine, but we were there and wanted to enjoy the view so we paid the $35 (!) for ONE glass of wine and hoofed it up to their roof deck which overlooks the property and has a quite stunning view of the surrounding area. I’m not sure if the view or the wine were quite worth $35, but we had a lovely time and considering they were about to close, we thought it was nice of them to accommodate us…and take our money of course. ;) 

Drinking wine can work up a hunger, so we drove around trying to find a place to eat and stumbled upon the Oxbow Public Market which didn't exist the last time I was in Napa. We pulled into the lot thinking it was a supermarket, but were delighted to discover that it is actually a bustling market space full of restaurant stands and gourmet shops. I wandered around the entire market with moon eyes, gaping at all of the delicious looking food and decided right then and there to do a food crawl. Plus, several establishments touted "gluten-free" proudly, which just made me giddy with excitement. 

{To read more about my experience at Oxbow Public Market and view photos, click here.}

Our final day in San Francisco (July 4th!) started off pretty damn well I must say. We hit up Don Pisto's again, but this time got there early enough to be first in line for brunch. 

{To read more about my experience at Don Pisto’s and view photos, click here.}

We had no plans after brunch, except for wandering around enjoying the sights. Some will think this is a cop out, but I ended up going to Pica, Pica Maize Kitchen for dinner (again!), except this time in SF. I was so freaking obsessed with that corn pancake sandwich that I had to have it again. Was it just as good as the first time? Not quite, but it was still pretty darn tasty. The pancake and the pork were executed better in Napa, but the SF version was still solid and worth a visit. 

There are so many incredible restaurants in San Francisco, and so many of them offer gluten-free options that one could easily spend a week wandering around sampling food here and there. I lost track of how many places I saw touting "gluten-free" either on signage or menus that I just took it for commonplace and assumed every place would accommodate a gluten-free eater, which in most cases is true. 

Gluten-freedom has come a long way over the past few years, and with cities like San Francisco at the forefront creating awareness, things can only get better. 

Portland is up next for a post. Check back soon to read about my experience there.

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