Mateo and I are both natives of San Francisco. Although we live on the other side of the Bay Bridge now, we still love to visit our city. When we lived together in San Francisco, pre-kids, we would often go on walking adventures from one neighborhood to another. Eating delicious things along the way and taking good advantage of our hometown, rich in food and culture – many, diverse cultures.
Today was a gorgeous, sunny day and after a week’s worth of rain, it was time to get out of Dodge! Mateo and I were missing San Francisco, so we scooped up the kids and took them on BART for a walking adventure in the City. Let’s face it; any field trip with me is going to be an eating adventure too!
Chinatown and North Beach are two of our favorite neighborhoods. From the Montgomery BART Station, we walked up Grant and through the ornate, Oriental gate that leads you into Chinatown. Caleb stopped at every schlock store to try on a Chinese silk hat, paper umbrella, samurai sword, etc. We enjoyed every moment through Caleb’s eyes.
After a few blocks, we ducked into a Chinese bakery for steamed char siu bao (bbq pork bun) – one of Caleb’s favorite food things on the planet, and one of my favorites from childhood growing up in San Francisco’s Richmond District. With bun in hand, Caleb and family headed further down Grant toward North Beach. I smelled something sweet and amazing coming from another storefront, Mee Mee Bakery, and dragged Caleb inside. This tiny bakery has a retail counter in front and an old-fashioned fortune cookie machine in the back. I asked the owner if I could bring my son back to see how fortune cookies are made and he said “yes, but no pictures!” I asked why we couldn’t take pictures and he replied “company policy.” Okay, fine with us, we got to watch this old fashioned cookie making machine turn out a cookie every second. There was a vat of batter on the floor with a tube in it that sucked up the batter and blopped it out onto a heated metal square (looked like a mini crepe maker), then this contraption stuffed a fortune in the cookie and twisted it simultaneously. The cookies dropped into a bucket and were ready to be shipped out to local Chinese restaurants for post-meal consumption. Pretty cool!
We were out on Grant Street again and suddenly in the middle of a street fair stretching farther than we could see. I was excited that we might have walked into a Chinese New Year fair. I thought that Caleb and Sadie would surely love to see the dragons dancing down the street, dancers and marshal artists, musicians, and children dressed in beautiful colored costumes parading about. Instead, we happened on a commerce fair set up to help promote businesses in Chinatown. We pushed through the crowds and headed up Washington Street where I ducked into Sam Wo’s, a restaurant my family started taking me to from an early age. I grabbed an order of bbq pork rice noodle rolls and rejoined my family on the street. A rice noodle roll is a wide sheet of rice noodle that is filled down the middle with bbq pork, shreds of baked egg, and cilantro. The noodle is rolled up into a long roll, and then cut into one inch pieces – sushi style, best enjoyed with oyster sauce and a shot of hot Chinese mustard. There’s nothing quite like a bbq pork rice noodle roll and I am a sentimental fool when it comes to this treat from my childhood. I am so pleased and not at all surprised that Caleb is crazy about them too.
We finally made it to North Beach, where we headed for Washington Square Park for some time at the playground. On our way there, as we walked down Columbus Avenue, we passed the U.S. Restaurant, L’Osteria, Café Roma, and countless other North Beach establishments. Everyone and their second cousin was sitting outside on this perfectly sunny day watching the world go by, as they slurped up pasta drowning in rich sauces and sipped on espresso drinks.
Once at the park, Mateo chased Caleb around, while I pushed Sadie on the swings. We had such a fabulous time. It was at the playground that we saw this group of wild women pass us, all wearing different wigs in primary colors. They formed a pyramid on the grass and I just had to snap some photos. Just a bunch of fun friends getting together for a shower or a Sunday brunch…who knows. It was definitely a Kodak moment!
It was too bad that we were already full by the time we made it to North Beach because I almost couldn’t resist a cannoli in the window of Victoria Pastry Company, a cappuccino from Café Trieste, a baked meatball sandwich on homemade focaccia at Mario’s Cigar Store, some sliced meats from Molinari’s, and the chocolate gelato at every other storefront on Columbus!
As we were leaving North Beach and heading back to BART, I ran into an Italian bakery on Columbus for an afternoon caffeine boost. Mateo and kids waited outside and began chatting with a group of Chinese visitors who were sipping on coffee on the sidewalk seating. They had been so taken with Sadie that they asked if Mateo would let them take pictures with her. It was a very sweet scene and Sadie went along with it. I offered her up for $500, but they just laughed and didn’t take me seriously. What!?
What a great adventure we had today! In just twenty-five minutes, we were in the thick of two wonderful neighborhoods in San Francisco, so rich with history, fabulous people watching, and amazing food. We returned to the East Bay in much need of a good collective nap, but were filled with such fantastic memories from the day. How fortunate we are!