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9 Best unique foodie experiences San Francisco Bay Area (2024)

People in San Francisco take food very seriously. Eating here is more of a ceremony than a pastime and we don’t go out just to eat. We go out to live a foodie lifestyle. We want events catered around catering. We want to use all 6 senses to get to know where our food came from and who loved it before we did. 


We want unique. foodie. experiences. for every mood - and The City delivers. We have some of the best culinary experiences, from casual to fine dining, inside or outdoors, for the laid-back and posh, alike. 


Here are the 9 best unique foodie experiences for every genre of eater in the San Francisco Bay Area:


TLDR


1. Meat Carnival: for the carnivorous


If the name of this event summons imagery of a savage, carnivorous experience where you eat meat straight off the chopping block with your bare hands - then it’s aptly named. But there’s more.  


Every month, 20 Michelin-affiliated chefs come together in the famous wine region Napa Valley, under Chef Itamar Abramovitch, to man 8 stations in a Canterbury-lit outdoor venue. 


chef standing outside of a large oven at a butcher block
Guests are greeted by the oven station

An industrial-sized smoker houses hundreds of pounds of prime, high-quality meats such as A5 Wagyu and bone marrow that will be topped with caviar. 


marbled fat meat with caviar on top, sitting on a butcher block
The caviar servings get larger as the night goes on

There’s an energy here that’s different from traditional food productions. Much of this is the adrenaline is from the guests, who only recently started coming to the event with even a vague idea of what to expect - thanks to social media. They pour through the narrow entryway after their pep talk, a fresh wine glass in hand and with a giddy enthusiasm traditionally reserved for children. 


chef stands behind the butcher block while guests film him preparing the dish
Guests pull out their phones to record the action


“It’s Steak and Blowjob Day - the man’s Valentine’s Day, so I had to come this month,” said repeat Meat Carnival patron, Jeremy, holding open his jacket so I could see his shirt embroidered with a picture of a steak and the name of the newly observed holiday. I met him at my first Meat Carnival on March 14th. He and his girlfriend come all the way from Modesto as often as they can, and it turns out they’re not the only people delighted to regularly spend the $195 per person for an all-you-can-eat all-you-can-drink meat extravaganza.


The other contributor to the elated mood is the chefs. They’ve left their table manners at their day jobs because during Meat Carnival - they’re showmen. They’re in constant communication with the crowds - teasing them, feeding them hand-to-mouth style, and often letting them step behind the butcher block to help prepare the dish.


Chef Itamar and SF Foodie Influencer preparea dish with an open flame
Chef Itamar and SF Foodie Influencer prepare the next dish with an open flame


Guest chefs have started taking an interest in the event, as well. Just last month both Chef Jim Modesitt of Big Jim's BBQ and Peter Jacobson, as seen in Netflix Chef's Table, made an appearance, the former putting on an impromptu show with a lamb and some Budweiser.


Chef Peter Jacobsen getting a glass of whiskey
Chef Peter Jacobsen


They’re having fun, and it shows.  


Chef Itamar has perfected the art of organized chaos in this ad-hoc kitchen. A mini-Gantt chart lays out the menu, but in practice allows for a large margin of deviation, at the discretion of the chefs. It’s a creative, collaborative environment. You’ll often hear the chefs talking to each other about the inventory, timing, and simply what they want to make next. It almost seems haphazard, but if you know anything about commercial kitchens you realize that it’s very well-thought-out, and the secret sauce is in the preparation. 


chef stands smiling over a block of meat and a birth certifiacte for A5 Wagyu
Chef Kenny is a proud parent to Quality Grade A5 Wagyu


While Meat Carnival is a 3-day event that begins on Thursday, the team starts preparing the Sunday before. The first day is about 20 hours and they get shorter from there. By the time the actual carnival comes around everything is locked and loaded, and all there is to do is have fun with it. The chefs feel a sense of ownership and it shows in their playful demeanors; sometimes bordering mischievous. 


When: Monthly, for 3 days Thursday - Saturday 6:30 PM -10 PM - it sells out months in advance so please plan ahead

Where: Napa, at different locations, revealed the week before

How much: $195 pp


2. Spark Social: for the casual outdoor food trucker



Spark Social is a 3-city block-long outdoor family foodie haven. Anchored by famous Filipino fare Señor Sisig, this spot has about 20 food trucks at all times, a bar with beer and wine, fireplaces with marshmallow roasting kits, a 2-story ‘truck’ with seating for about 40 people (closer to 60 standing), a San Francisco-themed mini golf course, giant yurts that people rent out for birthdays and family gatherings, and an ownership that throws events on the regular. You’ll often see yoga classes, (family-friendly) DJ sets, dog days, and sometimes the park is closed or blocked off in parts for tech company offsites. 



The weather is usually nice in this neighborhood, and there’s a lot going on in this area. Crossfit Mission Bay and the soccer fields are next door, and the Chase Center is across the street, so it’s a great place to come if you want to eat but you’re also in the market for an outdoor reset or a game of mini. 


When: Daily 11 AM - 9 PM

Where: Mission Bay Neighborhood

How much: Bougie food truck prices


3. Berber: for the unambitious jet setter


Belly dancer dancing behind man sipping his cocktail
Belly dancers perform during the brunch sets

Need an Arabian Nights vacay but short on travel funds? You’re in luck. Berber's High Tea Brunch Experience is a 9-course spread of North African food and drink complete with a smell of incense and real-life belly dancers, and it doesn't require a plane ticket. Step out of the cold city and into the sofa brunch affair for unlimited loose leaf from Maroma Tea Shop, Nebra Neapotizers, and live entertainment. 


After the mains, if the belly dancing and pitchers have you feeling a little jazzed, feel free to prance up to the bar and get one of bar manager Aaron Perez's famous drinks. He made us the Fixation, which is a fig coffee-infused mezcal cocktail, and even the mezcal hater in our group was smitten.


I, an avid bourbon hater, took the dare and tried the Bedouin Blend with honey, saffron, and bourbon, and I was taken. 


And you know it's not Sunday Funday without dessert, so make sure you go back for the spice cake before you go home from your North African staycation.


When: Their High Tea Brunch is every Sunday with seatings at 10AM and 12:45 PM

Where: Polk Gulch

How much: $120 pp out the door


4. Daiji Yacht Club: for an authentic Japanese experience


Japanese chef talking to people sitting in his yacht
Chef Daiji talking to guests in the yacht

If you haven't figured it out by now, cookie-cutter restaurants are out and unique, intimate, inclusive foodie experiences are in. 


Daiji Yacht Club is an accessible Japanese fine dining experience - on a yacht - docked in the South Beach Harbor, between San Francisco's newest neighborhood Mission Rock in the historic Embarcadero.


They do a 14-course omakase nigiri and a kazeki-style brunch option. 


Japanese kazeki-style brunch
Japanese kazeki-style brunch

“We incorporate some sashimi and the freshest nigiri of the season,” says Chef Benjamin, right-hand-man of Chef Daiji.


I can speak to the freshness of the fish. These guys are out on the boat in the AM and cooking in the afternoon. But amazingness of the food aside, it was just a really special experience to be up close and personal with Japanese omakase chefs and to have access to so much knowledge about seafood and Japanese culture. Not to mention that you're looking out to a world-class view. 


Benjamin enjoys spending time with Americans who are eager to learn more about Japanese culture and that particular style of cooking: “There's a lot of different stories that I could be able to share. It's a little bit different than going to a regular restaurant. Born and raised in Japan, growing up with my mom's cooking taught me how to improvise a lot of flavor.” 


There's no membership required to dine at Daiji Yacht Club and the best part about it is that “whatever happens on the boat, it stays on the boat.”


When: Various times, please see the website

Where: South Beach Harbor, behind Oracle Park

How much: About $200 pp before tax and tip 


5. Epic Foodie Bike Ride: for the outdoorsman 



San Francisco is basically an endless hit list of awesome touristy things to do. Like any city, the list is based on food, drink, and culture. And with pretty much the best biking weather in the world, my strong recommendation is to do the world-famous foodie bike tour, starting in San Francisco’s newest neighborhood, Mission Rock, heading across the Golden Gate Bridge, and ending at the Ferry Building. 


Here is the outline of stops, and you can get all the info on the tour of perpetual indulgence in this article: San Francisco’s Most Epic Foodie Bike Ride



When: Anytime the weather is decent 

Where: starting at Oracle Park, ending at the Ferry Building

How much: Bikes are $25/ day if you need to rent. Other than that just food and drinks.


6. Lazy Bear: for the posh


man looking out the window from behind a glass with orange lighting
Romantic setting at Lazy Bear

If you want to feel rich for a night and poor the next day, I've got your spot. 


Lazy Bear surprisingly started as a popup and has pivoted into a brick-and-mortar super bougie take on comfort food. If you pre-game, make sure you don't mistake the reserve wine list for a regular one. It's $500. 


The experience starts in their lounge, where you can watch the chefs prepare the food in an open kitchen, drink some cocktails, and make friends. The dinner is about 15 courses and they give you a cute little book with a tiny little pencil so that you can write down all the ingredients that you find interesting, notes hidden under other flavors, etc… (I’m not sure what I was supposed to write in that book but I was too embarrassed to ask)


Have you heard of goeduck? Pronounced ‘gooey duck?’ I’m not sure where the name comes from, it’s actually a species of very large saltwater clam, and it looks disgusting, but is amazing with caviar. 


It ends up being a lot of food and you’re pretty full toward the end, but you have to make room for the Meyer lemon, served ice cream and bubbles on top.  


When: Tuesday through Saturday

Where: The Mission District

How much: Expensive. The bill for 2 people who drink will be $1000


7. Treasure Island: for those willing to brave a 10-minute ferry ride


Built for the World Fair in 1936 with intentions to be an airport, the mythical-sounding island located in the middle of the Bay Bride has had 90 years of ebbs and flows, but this hidden treasure is making a comeback. 


The trip starts with some maritime nostalgia on the ultra scenic 10-minute ferry ride from San Francisco’s Ferry Building. The ride has stunning views of the city skyline and the Bay Bridge and you’ll disembark to some really cool venues. 


view of the san francisco skyline from the SF - Treasure Island ferry
Scenic ferry ride from The City to Treasuere Island

The recommended first stop is a Bohemian Vibes waterfront restaurant called Mersea with the best poke bowl I've ever had and affogato that's out of this world. The atmosphere and the staff are relaxed, but it's apparent in the food that there's a lot of tender love, care, and high-quality ingredients put into it.


Mersea's whimsical outdoor patio with a view of the San Francisco skyline
Mersea's whimsical outdoor patio with a view of the San Francisco skyline

“I came up with the menu and it's really comfort food. It's things that evoke your childhood,” says Executive Chef and Restauranteur Parke Ulrich.


food on a table - ham & cheese croissant, pulled pork sandwich, and salads
Mersea brunch spread: ham & cheese croissant, pulled pork sandwich, Caesar salad, and ahi poke bowl

Between the live music and Golden Hour Bar (a collaboration with Gold Bar Distillery), Mersea can be kind of an all-day event. 


After Mersea, head back to where you disembarked. That large white art deco-style building is the historic Pan Am airport turned Gold Bar Whiskey Distillery. It feels like somewhere where you would run into the Rat Pack, and they also have some really cool current partnerships. 


“We became the official whiskey of the 49ers... That's Tom Raffman…. This is a cocktail that we made in collaboration with Joe Montana…” Director of Marketing & Partnerships Sam Thumm rattles off the distillery’s belt notches as he shows me the collateral, mostly in the form of alcohol. 


art deco style bar Gold Bar Whiskey Distillery
Gold Bar Whiskey Distillery bar

Their menu is whiskey,  but they also have cocktail flights and some really interesting cocktails, such as the Deep Umami made with sea kelp, and a full kitchen with food inspired by the history of Treasure Island and the building. Make sure you get the dumplings that come with barrel-aged whisky-infused balsamic soy sauce.


My favorite drink was the Treasure Island because it was so good, but also because I got gold in my teeth and I got to put #RichPersonProblems on my Instagram. 


Treasure Island is underrated and overlooked, but it's not going to be that way for long, as the Treasure Island Development Authority has made some major advancements over the last year and are looking to a horizon with condos, affordable housing, and more bars and restaurants. They already have a music festival and a monthly market with great food, shopping, and live music. And with the best view of San Francisco that San Francisco has ever seen, it's mind-blowing that this island sat so desolate for all these years. 


When: Anytime

Where: Treasure Island - exit off the Bay Bridge 

How much: free! But you should eat and drink, which costs money 


8. Eataly: to eat shop learn


caviar, wagyu, and red wine on a table
Eataly's Terra spread

If you need to go grocery shopping but don’t want to do the same old, weekly trip to Whole Foods, make a day out of it at Eataly Silicon Valley, in San Jose. 


Despite the name sounding like a horrible attempt to make the establishment sound Italian, it actually is super Italian. Like establish in Italy before it opened here. And it shows when you walk in to be greeted by that beautiful accent from much of the staff. 


It’s a really cool experience to eat, shop, and learn, not necessarily in that order. Here’s how to do it:


When you walk in the ground floor is a bakery, where you can grab pasticcini (little tiny cakes and other Italian snacks) to try or to bring home. (they’re great for parties). The gelato is amazing. Gelato chef Patrizia Pasqualetti is from Italy and while she has imported her methods of making gelato, she brings home the locally-produced ethos of Eataly by using strictly Californian ingredients such as organic milk from Straus Creamery, and flavors made from California’s best seasonal fruit.


The second floor is wine from front to back. They have a cute little bar where you can taste with the sommelier (there’s nothing like drinking wine while an Italian person talks to you) and they have really great wine discounts often so check the website for the next one. 


 wine tasting bar decorated for the holidays
Eataly's floor 2 wine tasting bar during the holidays

After you’re toasty make your way to floor 3 - this is where the magic happens. Their terrace restaurant - aptly name Terra - is just as delicious as it is beautiful.


beautiful restaurant with lots of plants
Eataly's terrace restaurant, Terra

The food here is pretty upscale and pricey, but worth it. La Pizza & La Pasta is next door and is more casual but just as good. 


After you eat, if you’ve got more in you, do one of their cooking classes. It’s usually done in the middle of the market and very informational if you want to learn how to properly prepare pastas or pizzas made from fresh ingredients - local and from Italy. 


Cooking pasta from scratch with a chef
Cooking pasta from scratch with Chef Antonio Giodano


So now you’ve eaten - a lot. And regardless of weather or not you choose to learn, you must shop. The market is kind of like Old World quality meets New World excess. The ingredients are very high-quality, much of the wheat coming from Italy but all of the produce sourced locally. Homeostasis. The and the staff is all very well-versed in their products and if you’re a shopper you could spend hours here. 


Check out the holiday Eataly blog if you’re going around the holidays! 


When: Different everyday so check the website 

Where: San Jose

How much: Above average prices 


9. (bonus) Speakeasy SF: for after you eat


man wearing roaring 20 suit and hat, standing in the street
Don your finest roaring 20s at Speakeasy SF

When was the last time you couldn't just Google something and you had to go on what's essentially a scavenger hunt, giving secret passwords to strangers in the street so you could find out where to go even though you don't know exactly what to expect when you get there? 


Well, Speakeasy SF is an immersive theater experience and it's taking you back past that time to about a hundred years ago. When it was the Roaring Twenties and everything was about excess and celebration in the face of uncertainty. 


So I'm not even actually a fan of theater, but this experience completely changed my mind about what theater even is. This speakeasy (I won't go into exactly what that means in this case) it's so complex that it feels like you're in an underground city.


“This is the craziest idea I've ever had a few other crazy ideas in my life too,” says Speakeasy SF creator Nick “Ollie” Olivero. 


This incredibly well-thought-out world - just for the night - mixes reality and showmanship in a way so that you are the play. 


You don't really know right away who's an actor, although there are some cues, like a man reading a 100-year-old newspaper at the bar. 


“I want them to expect the unexpected,” says Nick


This production is a San Francisco homegrown experience. You won't find this special or unique of an experience anywhere else, even on Broadway. 


Speakeasy is not actually a foodie experience but I put it here because it needs to be more visible to Bay Area people looking for more - experiences! And my reco for this night does include food. Speakeasy is located next door to the Anthony Bourdain-famous burger spot, Sam’s Burgers, which just opened a Mediteranen burger joint-esque establishment next door to it. I would try something from both. They’re inexpensive, quick, and good


Note that things happen when you're doing highly legal activities literally underground, which means you never know when Speakeasy SF will shut down. Except you do because it's on their website. It ends in June so make sure you get there before it’s over. 


When: Through June 2024

Where: North Beach, San Francisco

How much: $65 pp and drinks are about $18



 

If you have any questions on the best unique foodie experiences in the Bay Area or want any other recommendations leave them in the comments and I’ll respond!


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