Which Incredible New Pastries Is Top Chef's Gail Simmons Raving About?

While shooting Top Chef, Gail had unbelievable pastries in SF, and other eats that are among the world's best.

I found plenty of time for eating and drinking around San Francisco when we were shooting Top Chef Season 13 in the city—in addition to my well-documented feasts at Craftsman & Wolves, Hogwash and Tosca Café (see those Culinary Adventures featured here!). There are so many extraordinary tasting menu-style restaurants in the Bay Area, many of which are the best in the country, if not the world, for what they do. But with all the rich, fancy food I consume on set, I crave more casual, unfussy meals when I’m “off duty.” Here are just a few of my fave San Francisco bakeries, restaurants, bars, home and kitchen décor shops, as well as a few sites for leisurely exploration, often visited with my toddler in tow. (Some of these photos are my own, so please pardon the random quality!) My top 11 spots, in no particular order:

1B Patisserie

This serene bakery has great coffee, breakfast pastries and other drool-inducing treats as well as lunch throughout the day. I am a sucker for their flawless kouign aman and berry peach almond croissant.

2Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse attracted an over-the-top instant and cult-like following for their daily “Cruffins” (yup, a mashup of croissant + muffin), which surprisingly deliver on flavor and Instagram-ability. Also don’t miss their doughnuts, brioche and seasonal Danish.

3March San Francisco

My absolute favorite home décor store, specializing in stunning tabletop and kitchen design goods, art and ceramics. I wish I could live here!

4Embarcadero Ferry Building

Besides the dizzying array of delicious food stalls and counters at the Embarcadero's Ferry Building Marketplace (Cowgirl Creamery, Frog Hollow Farm, Boulette’s Larder, Mijita, The Slanted Door, Hog Island Oyster Co, Prather Ranch Meat Co., to name only a few), I am a super-fan of Heath Ceramics, which has a small storefront here selling beautifully handcrafted tabletop ceramics made just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito.

5Japanese Tea Garden

The best-kept secret, right inside Golden Gate Park. Go for tea and snacks and wander around the most exquisite garden, full of sculptures, koi ponds and pagodas. It’s the most romantic and lovely hideaway, and also great with kids. 

6Mitsu Teahouse

San Francisco’s Japan Town is bursting with undiscovered treasures and tucked-away finds, from unique supermarkets to udon shops. My most recent obsession is this teahouse, specializing in bubbletea with cotton candy on top!  Mine was yuzu-flavored sugar insanity!

7State Bird Provisions

Veteran San Fran chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s homage to their home state of California, serving seasonal, contemporary American food, mostly dim sum-style (small plates passed on trays and carts throughout service). The namesake fried quail (the state bird of CA) is outrageously tasty too.

8Frances

Chef Melissa Perello has been cooking some of the city’s best food for over a decade, and at Frances she somehow makes you feel as if you are eating in her home kitchen. The room is so tranquil and the service so easy-going, and the menu is focused on simple, expertly made dishes using the very best ingredients. If only it was in my home neighborhood, I would be there every week.

9Bar Tartine

One of the most ambitious restaurants I’ve eaten at in a long time, Bar Tartine brings “homemade” to a new level with a menu based around their own aged cheeses, yogurts, pickles of all kinds, butter, and of course their famed breads. Fermenting is religion here and the result is some of the tastiest, most exciting food imaginable. This is the future of food people, and I am all in.

10Rich Table

 A fun, creative, family-style restaurant by a husband and wife team who spent years at some of the city’s best restaurants before opening one together. The scene is rustic and cozy, but the menu pulls influences from around the world in the most unpredictable ways. Case in point: their sardine chips!

11Mikkeller Bar

I could have sworn San Fran was a wine-drinking town, but I guzzled more craft beer here when we were shooting than I ever had before. This was one of my favorite spots to do it, a famed microbrewery with something to appease even the snobbiest beer geek, and a food menu perfect for grazing while you drink. Because of this beer, I’m now officially a fermented sour ale evangelist…. 

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