Leaving is hard to do. I think as I get older, saying goodbye to a familiar place feels more challenging than it used to. I left Portland 12 years ago and barely looked back. I was too busy looking forward to a new adventure in California. In the 12 years since I left my home state, I’ve lived in Southern and Northern California, and have fallen in love with life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today my husband and I are embarking on a new adventure in Portland. I’m excited at the prospect of living as a fully formed adult in Portland, being geographically closer to my dad and reuniting with my friends.
The hard part is leaving an area in which I love. The Bay Area has lots of faults — crazy expensive cost of living, ridiculous traffic and cold summers. But with those faults are also the amazing things that made me fall in love with almost everything about the Bay. Cultural diversity, sun in the winter months and a vibrant food scene are at the top of my list of things I love.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to compile what I considered my bucket list of things I wanted to say goodbye to in the Bay Area. As I started thinking about the list, it grew to unmanageable proportions. There just aren’t enough days in the week or room in my stomach to hit them all. I will say, I have eaten a lot in the last two weeks.
Below is my bucket list of things I couldn’t miss before leaving the Bay Area. Farewell California, it’s been a great run.
Fried Chicken, Ackee and Salt Fish at Miss Ollie’s (Oakland)
I don’t know much about Afro-Caribbean cuisine. But what I do know is that the food at Miss Ollie’s never disappoints.
The ackee and salt fish is something that I hadn’t heard of before trying it at Miss Ollie’s. I became really interested in the dish after I first tried it. Ackee and salt fish is a kind of savory scramble that includes salt cod sautéed with onions, scallions, red peppers and ackee, a tropical fruit whose flesh looks like scrambled eggs and tastes like mild green tomato. Thick slices of fried plantain serve as a stiff, starchy base for the dish.
My husband makes my favorite fried chicken, but Miss Ollie’s is a close second. The skin is cooked crisp to a deep bronze, the juicy flesh is a nod to the power of brining. What really sets this fried chicken apart is the seasoning. A mix of vinegar-soaked herbs are stuffed under the skin and deep inside the meat itself, so it’s as though each piece of chicken has been perfumed with a particularly delicious sauce. The fried chicken at Miss Ollie’s is a beautiful thing.
Urban Walk at Lands End (SF)
Stunning views, stands of cypress trees and ocean as far as the eye can see make for my perfect urban walk/hike spot.
At Lands End sometimes I feel like I can reach out and touch the Golden Gate Bridge. Other times, Karl the Fog shrouds the views. It’s my favorite place to go on a perfectly clear SF day to view the ocean, Sutro Bath ruins and the Golden Gate Bridge. Pure SF beauty.
Sourdough Bread at Raymond’s Sourdough Outlet (South SF)
Raymond’s is by far my new favorite sourdough bread. Thanks to a friend who introduced me to the world of Raymond’s, I’m now a fan. I stocked up on four loaves to take to Portland.
At the bakery the bread is baked throughout the day, and inevitably there are warm loaves on the shelf. Each loaf comes in a paper bag. I love opening the bag and inhaling the wonderful sour tangy aroma. Sourdough really is a Bay Area specialty.
Urban Walk at the Mosaic Steps (SF)
The mosaic steps are a neighborhood gem that seem to have gained a tourist following in the last few years. Regardless, it’s still one of my favorite semi-secret spots.
It’s nestled in an unassuming neighborhood at 16th and Moraga in the Sunset District. The sweeping ocean views from the top of the stairs are a treat. When I walk up the stairs I like to pause often to admire the beauty of the mosaic panels. Many neighbors made donations to sponsor the named fish, bird and animal tiles. It’s a nice place to watch the sunset or view the ocean on a non foggy SF day.
Hamburger at NOPA (SF)
One bite of NOPA’s hamburger will make you forget that any other burgers exist and keep you coming back for more. I can’t explain what it is, but NOPA has perfected the burger.
Maybe it’s the pickled onions or the soft bun. I probably will never pinpoint why it tastes so good, but it does. I also appreciate that NOPA’s kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. in an early dining city like SF.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream at Bi-Rite Creamery (SF)
Many ice cream pilgrims line up and wait in the cold of the SF summer for Bi-Rite ice cream. I used to scoff at them shivering in line. Until I tried the salted caramel for myself.
Bi-Rite has perfected the slightly burnt caramel to salt to cream ratio. I’ve stopped making fun of those who wait in line, and have instead joined them.
Beef Roll at House of Pancakes (SF)
The name conjures many an IHOP joke in my mind and I always feel funny telling people that my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city is called House of Pancakes. Don’t be deterred by the name, this place is legit if you’re looking for quality northern Chinese food, including about a dozen variations of savory Chinese pancakes.
Picture a green onion pancake with thinly sliced seasoned beef rolled into a burrito. The beef is seasoned similarly to how my mother-in-law makes her braised beef, and the green onion pancake is nicely fried but not too laden with grease. It’s a snack I sometimes dream about.
Montanara Pizza at A16 Rockridge (Oakland)
Resist the urge to eat your way through the pizza menu at A16 and instead start with the Montanara. After enjoying this lightly fried, smoky pizza, you won’t want to try any other pizza. Ever.
It’s a pizza you’ll smell before it hits your table due to its smoked tomato sauce. Fried dough topped with creamy burrata and basil make for a heavenly combo.
The Sundae, or really anything at The Ice Cream Bar (SF)
The Ice Cream Bar serves soda fountain classics like floats, malts, sundaes and milkshakes. I really believe you can’t go wrong with anything you order there.
A vintage soda fountain with marble counter feels like you’re stepping into a different era. The comprehensive menu is packed with old-time treats like egg creams and sassafras floats, and it’s hard not to love getting your drinks served by a “soda jerk” in uniform. I’m talking starched white clothes, black bow ties and old fashioned white hats.
Among my favorites, and there are many, is the sundae. I know, it sounds boring, but the house made ice cream, seriously dark chocolate sauce, homemade whipped cream topped with marcona almonds and a morello cherry is not your typical sundae.
Chicharrones at La Espiga De Oro (SF)
A friend recently introduced me to La Espiga De Oro’s chicharrones. I only wish I had known about it before. Or maybe my cholesterol level is in better shape because the fried treat is a late comer to my SF must eat list.
You order the chicharrones at La Espiga De Oro’s counter. You can order a piece or two, or a pound. The pork meat attached to the skin is unforgettable. It’s a salty-sweet, alternately crisp and deliciously soft pork treat. Each piece is melty, fatty and slightly messy.
2 thoughts on “a love letter to SF”
Awe, it is hard to go, but what an adventure ahead! We will miss you guys and hope we will see you again soon. You guys are awesome and I can’t wait to hear about your life in Oregon! Come see us anytime!!!!
-Heidi, Mike and Kids
Thank you for sharing several of these bucket list favorites when we visited this summer – now on our list of favorites too – especially the beef pancake rolls and the steps… It was fabulous to hang out with you there, but we feel fortunate that you are coming north to Portland and we can explore the food and fun scene here that has evolved over the years since you were last here. It will be a lot of fun! In spite of the gray skies, it will be brighter here with you and Henry in town!