Chocolate specked with sea salt, fresh bread and cheese, copper cocktail tools, jams, jellies, and pickled everything. These are the kinds of specialty goods sold at San Francisco’s best artisanal food shops. Grocers with soul, where spaces long on style come together with a smartly curated selection of small-batch brands to create one very special shopping experience. So for our San Francisco series, we’re serving up six of our favorites, places that locals should frequent and visitors should carve out time for, even if only for a sandwich. Some of these shops moonlight as liquor stores, others house-make all their own charcuterie, and others will change the way you look at condiments—forever. But all champion local produce, seasonality, and brands made carefully and with love. After all, the way to your heart is through your stomach.
Union Larder – Russian Hill
During the day, Union Larder’s a wine shop, lunch stop, mercantile, and the site of the occasional wine not?? mid-week workday rosé. But after dark, it morphs into full-blown wine bar—buzzy, loud, and alive, with people perched on leather stools and the overflow vying for a table corner to rest their wine glass. Owners Jay Esopenko and Melissa Gugni, who also own Little Vine (more on it below), definitely know what the people want. Designwise, the space—a 1920s parking garage and mechanics shop—is a knockout with arched windows, custom light fixtures, vintage cabinetry, and floor-to-ceiling shelves holding top-shelf munchies, bar accessories to please any aspiring at-home mixologist, and so much wine.
Insider tip: Though presented almost as oh, you know, some bites to go along with the wine—Union Larder’s menu offers up enough for a multi-course dinner, prepared in a pint-size kitchenette right there behind the bar. Top marks for the wagyu-beef meatballs, short-rib poutine, Porcini-mushroom grilled cheese, and housemade charcuterie.
Local Mission Market – Mission
Located in a trending part of the Mission District (Heath Ceramics and its new Tartine Manufactory are about four blocks away), this farmer-focused market takes local to the next level. Nearly all their produce comes from within a 100-mile radius: mushrooms from Moss Landing, organic cheese from Point Reyes, berries from Watsonville. And in this former factory space of poured concrete floors and original redwood beams, food is art. Strung peppers decorate the walls, infused olive oils gleam from glass vats on shelves, and fruit is sold from vintage produce bins. But it’s not just about the ingredients. Behind the scenes, market chefs are scratch-making everything from fresh bread to pastas and stocks to full grab-and-go meals like southern fried chicken and curried tofu.
Insider tip: If you can’t get enough of the goods, their site is a trove of recipes that do the basics one better—think carrot-ginger soup and skirt steak marinated with garlic and chiles.
The Market – Mid-Market
Though social-media powerhouse Twitter is a paragon of cutting-edge tech, they’re headquartered in a beautiful Art Deco building, once the San Francisco Furniture Mart design center. After a multi-year renovation, the building’s ground floor opened as a 22,000-square-foot food funland with soaring ceilings and fire pits out back. There’s a grocery, a wine bar, Blue Bottle coffee and Project Juice shops, and stands slinging everything from Mexico City-style al pastor tacos (charred pineapple and all) to freshly shucked oysters to slices of potato-and-bacon pizza. It’s frequented by a lively if tech-oriented crowd (Twitter, yes, and Uber’s HQ is just down the street). Eataly was the inspiration here, which means that you can come by for a drink or dinner, pull together a next-level picnic, buy a live plant, or complete your week’s shopping.
Insider tip: You can booze and browse as part of the market’s #DrinkWhileYouShop program, which lets you purchase a $4 glass of beer or wine and drink it as you’re filling your cart.
Epicurean Trader – Bernal Heights
What do you get when the former head of Levi’s retail franchises worldwide and his designer wife decide to open a larder a few blocks from their house? This spot. The curb appeal is undeniable—it’s painted black with tiled steps to the front door lined by fresh flowers for sale. Inside, the space leans industrial-chic, but still manages to pull off warm and inviting. You think it’s just going to stock small-batch artisanal goods—and it does—there are chocolates from Compartes, bitters from The Bitter Housewife, and ceramic jars, cutting boards, and candles. (Their aim was to stock the types of small, made-with-love brands that have a hard time getting in with bigger retailers.) But they also do a mean liquor trade. The back room is completely dedicated to hard-to-find labels that would make your old booze-hound grandpappy proud.
Insider tip: They host weekly liquor tastings, usually on Friday or Saturday afternoons. One week it might be mescal, another fernet.
Ferry Building Marketplace – Financial District
New York has Chelsea Market, San Francisco has the ferry building, a late-1800s beaut of a building (complete with clock tower) right on the water. It is the place that locals take visiting friends and family (and enjoy the hell out of themselves while there). Inside, the marketplace is bustling—always—with as many people taking pictures of the vaulted, skylit ceiling as shopping. Stalls lining the corridor sell kitchenwares, pottery, apothecary goods, freshly baked breads, charcuterie, artisanal jams and jellies, and all the fresh produce your heart could desire. Interspersed with the stalls are mini-me versions of favorite Bay Area restaurants— Hog Island Oyster Co. for briny oysters; Out the Door for spring rolls and steamed pork buns; and Gott’s Roadside for cheeseburgers, onion rings, and milkshakes.
Insider tip: Free walking tours are offered on Saturdays and Tuesdays by San Francisco City Guides.
Little Vine – North Beach
Union Larder’s older sister is a beloved pipsqueak of an artisanal grocery in the heart of North Beach. It’s stuffed with fresh-baked baguettes from Acme bread, cheeses haphazardly stacked like Jenga blocks, pantry staples, and hard-to-find specialty items. A rolling ladder offering access to the uppermost of the floor-to-ceiling shelves gives Little Vine the feel of a tottering old bookstore, only instead of dusty old volumes, there are artfully arranged canned and dry goods, condiments, pickled everything, and a healthy wine selection. A deli counter in the back whips up gourmet sandwiches of the day from pastrami to spicy turkey. Pretty much, #goals for your corner bodega.
Insider tip: Come here for picnic fixins’ then take your haul over to Washington Square Park, one of the city’s first (2017 will see its 170th birthday).
All images are courtesy of Spot.com