As many before us have pointed out, the 1989 earthquake did have one salutary effect: the eventual removal of the Embarcadero Freeway, which freed up the waterfront and gave us back the Ferry Building (at Embarcadero and Market, www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com), which is now not only a transportation hub, but also a foodie paradise. In addition to hosting the four-times-weekly farmers' markets (Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the biggest, Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the place is stuffed with more than 30 restaurants and food-oriented shops. Inevitably some of the building's tenants show up elsewhere in our Best of San Francisco® issue, but here's a hearty sampling of our other favorites.
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants & Wine Bar
No. 23, 391-9400, www.fpwm.com
As a welcome and welcoming adjunct to its thoughtfully stocked 3,000-square-foot store, which features wines from smaller producers around the world, this shop offers 15 to 20 of its current favorites in a 2-ounce taste, a 5-ounce pour, or by the half or full bottle at its 20-seat wine bar or its cafe tables. The list changes every week or so, and often features a flight of several wines built around a theme (German whites, perhaps, or for the “Wednesday Winemaker” tastings, the wines of the presenting purveyor). We often see clever shoppers, bags of produce piled around their feet, sitting down to enjoy a glass with a nibble of the Red Hawk cheese they've just purchased at Cowgirl Creamery (space No. 17) and a freshly baked epi picked up at Acme (No. 15).
No. 45, 834-0344, www.delicarf1.com
Visiting this sleek, modern space is like making an instant trip to Japan: It's the first stateside branch of a popular Japanese deli, in this incarnation featuring organic ingredients. You can pick up a four- or five-item pre-made bento box, or choose from the a la carte menu, which includes salads (hijiki, Japanese-style potato salad, and lotus and burdock root, among others), soups (perhaps celery root or salmon miso), Kobe-style fried croquettes (potato, shrimp, or beef), and signature sushi rolls and curry bowls. We love the crisp panko-crusted tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet).
Ferry Plaza Seafood
No. 11B, 447-4226, www.ferryplazaseafood.com
There are few pleasures more quintessentially San Franciscan than claiming a seat at the broad white marble counter here and enjoying a bay view, a glass of crisp white wine, and a plate of fresh seafood, perhaps Dungeness cracked crab, shrimp Louie, or roasted wild salmon — at the same time. The kitchen uses produce from its marketplace neighbors; the wine comes from Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants; and there's also a takeout counter, at which you can pick up raw materials or prepared specialties including crab cioppino and stuffed clams.
No. 47, 397-3354
For those who bemoan the loss of North Beach's distinctive Italian delis, there's a new one in town, affiliated with the one of S.F.'s best, Molinari. There are times when nothing is better than a fat Italian deli sandwich, and Mastrelli's is the place to pick one up, assembled from your choice of the salamis, mortadellas, hams, and other meats and cheeses on offer in its snug space. The walls are crowded with lots of other imported Italian canned goods and packaged ingredients to take home, including tomatoes, tuna, anchovies, pasta, rice, olive oils, and olives.
Mijita Cocina Mexicana
No. 44, 399-0814
Traci Des Jardins of Jardinière and Acme Chophouse, one of the city's best chefs, combines her love of seasonal organic ingredients and the cooking of her Mexican grandmother to excellent effect. Soft tacos can come with carnitas, carne asada, fried fish, or grilled vegetables. The menu also includes queso fundido, quesadillas, chicken tamales, and the best albondigas soup we've ever had, the rich broth overflowing with small, fluffy meatballs. The big, airy room, with an open grill at one end, is filled with long, rustic wooden tables and benches and lined with colorful bottles of hot sauce. On weekends, the brunch menu features chilaquiles and other egg dishes, including a Saturday special inspired by the farmers' market.