Cozy Up: Best Spots for California Comfort Food in San Francisco

Photo courtesy of used in book.
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

San Francisco is universally recognized as a city of fine cuisine and artistic design. Many would argue the most successful design is the simplest one, and the simplest design for a good meal is homestyle. There's no question that the complex, ancient sauces of Chinatown are a must-try, and the rich, sultry risotto of North Beach cant' be missed. But when you just want a meal to end with a satisfied belly, plain and simple, then you're in the mood for some homestyle. 

If homestyle means BBQ to you, then try the delectable ribs and sausages at Hi Lo BBQ in the always interesting Mission District. If you want a sense of where locals find their comfort food, the buffets at either Tommy's Joynt or Lefty O'Doul's on Union Square are legendary troughs. 

Whatever spot on your list you pick, you'll get what we all want from homestyle cooking: simple foods that fulfill the simple purpose of filling up our bellies without any fancy fuss. Although the city by the bay is know for restaurants, it's also known for historic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and iconic Coit Tower - both destinations that take time and energy to get to. So fill up your belly with some homestyle and get walking!

9. Hog and Rocks

As the name indicates, this Mission favorite likes to pair oysters with ham. Not just any ham, but the finest proscuitto, from Iowa to Spain to Italy and all parts in between. And not just any oysters, but both locally grown and carefully selected varieties from all over the world. The best part of sitting down at a restaurant that specializes in oysters and hams is that you can be certain that both a re exceptionally fresh and unbelievably tasty. If you're looking for a little more savory than your average oyster bar can offer, head to Hog and Rocks.

8. La Traviata

As the name would indicate, this Italian restaurant takes opera as seriously as it does cuisine. Polished woods and opera-themed art set the scene for a wealth of delicious dishes, including veal, poultry, seafood, and pastas. Expanding the options are such specialties as gnocchi, sweetbreads, parchment-baked salmon, and grilled eggplant. The family-owned place is a great destination for romantic dinners too. The convenient location near 24rth and Mission puts you right by several MUNI stops and a main BART stop, so this restaurant is accessible no matter where you're staying in San Francisco. After dinner, the never-ending energy of the Mission District is right at your feet.

7. San Francisco Soup Company
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Soup is on the menu year round in San Francisco, a place that can stay in the high 50's for much of August. If you find yourself in downtown San Francisco on one of those days when it feels like the wind and fog are barreling right through you, head to San Francisco Soup Company for a bowl or cup of their organic Southwestern Corn Chowder or organic Smoky Split Pea. On a chilly day, the best part of this grab and go item is that it will warm both your hands and your insides. And since all coups come with a generous hunk of sourdough bread, this quick and inexpensive meal will give you all the energy you need to tackle San Francisco's hills.

6. Yamo
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If you want an Asian restaurant with plenty of space and attentive service, Yamo's may not be for you. But if you'rw willing to sacrifice some of the atmospheric frills that accompany most residents for an excellent, thoughtful meal, then try Yamo's. Located in the city's ultra-hip and busy Mission District, Yamo's is a cramped place where take-out is the best plan. Be sure to sample the unique and popular tea-leaf salad. Noodles can be served either hot or cold. If you are able to find a seat, it's a delight to watch the cooks work their magic on the hot stoves.

5. Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Within this small, bright eatery, you'll find some of the city's best sausages. Choose from kielbasa, knockwurst, Italian, chicken or weisswurst, or live boldly by sampling wild boar with chutney or smoked duck with figs. The variety is impressive and served on French rolls with toppings like sauerkraut, spicy peppers and grilled onions the dogs are incredible. Sodas and chips also find a place on the menu, and since the grill is small, most people place to-go orders or even take their selections next door to the Toronado Pub, which stocks great microbrews. On Tuesday, Rosamunde makes awesome juicy cheeseburgers as well.

4. Park Chow

Constantly bustling, this restaurant along the southern edge of Golden Gate Park offers a cozy, relaxed atmosphere. It also dishes up top-quality Italian food, friendly service, and great prices. A favorite with both locals and visitors, it has the feel of a comfortable lodge, perfect for cocktails and dinner by the fireplace or a casual lunch on the heated outdoor porch. Menu items include hamburgers, steaks, wood-fired pizzas, seafood linguini, and poultry. The bar has an impressive offering of local beers on tap, as well. And after you've stuffed your belly full of comfort food, Golden Gate Park is just across the street, ready to offer that after-dinner stroll.

3. The Melt
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"Life is complicated enough... so a simple, affordable meal like grilled cheese and soup is an easy way to make people happy." So says the founder of "The Melt," Jonathan Kaplan, who also invented the Flip phone. The first "Melt" opened in 2011 and, like most simple but good ideas, it's been a great success. Don't go too far past the name to understand this restaurant: they take good bread and good cheese and melt them together. The creativity comes in soup combo, such as "The Italian Job," which features Fontina and Provolone on Garlic Bread paired with a Sausage and Pepper Soup. Yum, yum and yum.

2. Hi Lo BBQ
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At first glance, San Francisco's Hi Lo BBQ seems like just another addition to the restaurant-crazed Mission District, which sees 'Grand Openings' on a regular basis. But if you take the time to look- and smell - a bit more closely, you'll find out why Hi Lo is a trend that will not go away. How many restaurants, after all, name their ovens, as is the case with "Precious," the 7,000 pound Oyler Pit Oven from Mesquite, Texas that cooks Hi Lo's heritage breed meat? Heritage breed meat is a highly valued local meat that comes from a diverse stock to insure quality. Open daily from 5-10 pm.

1. Tommy's Joynt
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Tommy's Joynt opened on the corner of Geary and Van Ness (a.k.a. Route 101) back in 1947 with budget prices and a strong dedication to overflowing carnivorous sandwiches and entrees of pulled pork, oxtails, and spareribs. Luckily, things haven't changed since then and this local landmark remains a must for San Francisco visitors. Expect boisterous cooks (tip: know what you want before going in), red and white checked tablecloths and an extensive beer selection. Locals love Tommy's, too, so it's a great spot for tourists to get the inside scoop on the "must-see" spots in the city. Long bar for the social and plenty of dark booths for the private.