Skip the freezing winter weather of Russia and instead head to Little Russia in San Francisco to get a feel of the country. Little Russia extends from 17th and Geary, near the Russian Renaissance Restaurant, to the golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church at Geary and 27th. This stretch, as well as neighboring Clement and Balboa streets, is home to many Russian restaurants, shops and bakeries. To be further immersed in the culture, the Russian Festival takes place one weekend every February at the Russian Center. For 25 years the center has hosted this vodka infused weekend of music, dance, food and art.
Russian Renaissance Restaurant (5242 Geary): At one end of Little Russia is the Russian Renaissance restaurant, founded in 1958, which serves hearty Russian meals as well as vodka shots, wine and Eastern European beer. There is live music Friday through Sunday which often inspires diners to dance and adds to the jovial atmosphere. Smoked fish, dolma wrapped lamb, beef stroganoff and other traditional Russian food fills the moderately priced menu.
Call ahead to assure the restaurant is open to the public, it is also rented for private parties.
New World Market (5641 Geary): One of the largest Russian food stores in the city, this shop has been selling smoked meat and fish, Russian groceries and entrees for 29 years. Smoked sausages and fish are made in house, as well as ready-made meals. Co-owner of the store Nonna Sukhovitsky said, “We make fresh salads and entrees with no preservatives and we have vegetarian options.” And if you’re not sure what a dish tastes like, free samples are generously given out.
Troika Gifts (6300 Geary): Gifts, jewelry, paintings and Russian dolls and china fill the shop from floor to ceiling. The wide array of items is worth a browse for the casual shopper or the Russian collectible enthusiast.
Moscow & Tbilisi Bakery Store (5540 Geary): The bakery is known for their affordable and delicious piroshkies, as well as other baked goods like the poppy seed roll, blinses, bird milk cake and fresh bread. Friendly service and Russian music add to the experience.
Holy Virgin Cathedral - Russian Orthodox Church (6210 Geary): The 24 carat golden onion domes of the cathedral, finished in 1965, are one of the most visible Russian aspects of the neighborhood. The grand interior, covered with mosaics and icons and lit by a large chandelier is only open during services, and photography is not permitted. Services are held every day and worth a visit, for worship or to appreciate the architecture.
Russian Center (2460 Sutter St) and Russian Festival: For one weekend every year the Russian Center hosts an event to celebrate Russian American culture. Traditional music and dance fill a large theatre on one level and a marketplace below is filled with Russian gift items, baked goods and food. Multiple vodka bars boast a wide selection of homemade infused shots, including root beer, chili pepper and mango. On the first night the festivities continue late into the night with a dance party for the younger generation.
The Russian Center was founded in 1929 by Russian immigrants to keep traditions alive through the generations. The center hosts balls, dance ensembles, operas and is home to a museum of Russian culture.
Photographs by Beth Laberge for SF Weekly