Self-Guided Russian Hill Walking Food Tour

October 7, 2015

Every neighborhood in San Francisco is filled with taste treats, well-respected restaurants, and bustling bars, but I have a special place in my heart for Russian Hill, the hood I have called home for the past five years. The Russian Hill neighborhood extends from Columbus Avenue up the hill and back down it to the main faraway, Van Ness. Broadway and North Point Streets are the Southern and Northern boarder streets. However, there are a few delicious spots on this walking food tour that aren’t technically within this parameter, but no matter. You’ll most definitely enjoy the good eats at all of the following places.

Assuming that you will partake in food or drink at each of the stops, our self-guided walking tour will take several hours. Start in the mid-afternoon and walk your way through appetizers, dinner, and dessert. It will visit five distinct establishments — four restaurants and one iconic ice cream parlor. No walk is more than twenty minutes long.

  1. Swan Oyster Depot
  2. La Folie Restaurant & Lounge
  3. Union Larder
  4. Stones Throw
  5. Swensen’s Ice Cream

Swan Oyster Depot in Russian Hill San Francisco

1) Swan Oyster Depot

Swan Oyster Depot is a San Francisco institution that has been serving locals and tourists fresh-shucked oysters for over 100 years. If you’ve ever watched any of Anthony Bourdain’s culinary travel shows, you’ll definably remember Swan; every time he comes to the city by the bay, he enjoys a platter of seafood at the oyster house. The depot specializes in the freshest seafood around, from oysters on the half shell to cracked Dungeness crab. The menu is basic — it’s all fresh raw seafood with a few smoked fishes dishes and salads — and the San Francisco treat, clam chowder thrown in for good measure. Note that there’s almost always a line at Swan, so come prepared to wait. When you get close to the front you can order a pint of Anchor Stream or glass of bubbles while you wait for a spot to clear at the counter. The atmosphere is unpretentious and casual. There’s no frills, the walls are covered in old photos and newspaper clippings, and the staff works with military precision, but it’s some of the best seafood you’ll ever taste. Address: Phone: 1517 Polk Street (in between California and Sacramento Streets) Phone: (415) 673-2757

La Folie Restaurant & Lounge in Russian Hill

2) La Folie Restaurant & Lounge

Twenty seven years ago French native Roland Passot opened La Folie Restaurant & Lounge. It immediately became an award-winning spot for excellent French contemporary cuisine made with local ingredients. Today, the chef serves updated classics, like foie gras with caramelized peaches and spiced peach consommé and lobster risotto with mushrooms and corn, on a fixed-price tasting menu. Since this is a walking food tour, you probably won’t want to eat an entire tasting menu as you’ll be too full to enjoy food at the remaining three stops. However, you can enjoy all that Passot has to offer at the La Folie Lounge. The bartenders at the sexy lounge shake up a mean basil lime gimlet made with New Amsterdam gin and green chartreuse. The extensive wine list is primarily features French varietals and there is even a sparkling pear cider to sip. Snack on Passot’s addictive truffled popcorn, gougeres with emmental cheese, or burrata with aged balsamic and toasted hazelnuts. Address: 2316 Polk Street (at Green Street) Phone: (415) 776-5577

Union Larder wine bar in Russian Hill

3) Union Larder

At the next stop, Union Larder, you’ll enjoy another glass of vino in an entirely different setting. Walk into Hyde Street’s recently opened wine bar and shop and you’ll feel like you walked into a modern day hot spot in a European capital. Dried cured meats hang from the ceiling above the open bar. Organized clutter is everywhere you look and the vibe is industrial and unfussy. A long metal bar runs along a wall of windows which over look Hyde Street and the passing cable car line. The seats are backless circular leather stools and the wall opposite the window is covered in a dizzying array of wine and artisinal eats. There’s black truffle potato chips from Spain, champagne mustard from San Diego, and charcuterie from Oregon. Grab a stool and a glass of wine off the list, which is updated weekly. If you’re planning a picnic in the next couple of days, stock up on provisions. In need of a snack? Order something decadent and scrumptious like uni pate or gruyere, cantal, and taleggio fondue. Address: 1945 Hyde Street (in between Union and Green Streets) Phone: (415) 272-7567

Stones Throw Restaurant in Russian Hill San Francisco

4) Stones Throw

After all this wine, I bet you’re ready for dinner, right? Head up the street (away from the Bay) on Hyde and you’ll come to a charming restaurant front that is painted a sunny yellow. The small restaurant is a neighborhood hot spot, so if you’re with a large group, you may have to wait. Grab a beer from the extensive list that includes Spanish pale lager, French cider, and South Carolinian saison among many others. Once you’re nestled into a cozy table, you’re in for a real treat. The food at Stones Throw is phenomenal. Start with chef Jason Halverson’s signature dish, puffed potato and eggs with cauliflower mousse, chives, and crispy chicken skin. It’s basically a potato croquette filled with an oozing egg yolk, but it’s mind-blowingly good. The housemade squid ink pasta with clams, calamari, shrimp, and tender greens is a revelation of rich pasta and briny seafood. These items are never taken off of the seasonal menu that changes frequently, so you know they are absolute culinary perfection and definite must orders. . Address: 1896 Hyde Street (at Green Street) Phone: (415) 796-2901

ice cream cone at Swensen’s in Russian Hill

5) Swensen’s Ice Cream

Resist the urge to order dessert at Stones Throw and instead walk to the final stop on this whirlwind Russian Hill Walking Food Tour, Swenson’s Ice Cream. Although Swensen’s dreamy ice cream is served at over twenty locations world wide, the Swensen’s of Russian Hill was the original and first shop — they’ve been slinging scoops of fresh-churned ice cream to the denizens of Russian Hill since 1948. As the first American ice cream parlor to serve all-natural ice cream, Swensen’s, with it’s old school menu boards that have to be manually changed by hand, is as classic as it gets. The only problem you’ll encounter while at Swensen’s is deciding what flavor of ice cream to order. Sticky chewy chocolate or strawberries bananas ’n cream? Turkish coffee or almond praline delight? There’s the ideal flavor for everyone, so ask the friendly staff to give you a taste until you’re really ready to commit to that scoop of macadamia nut ice cream. Address: 1999 Hyde Street (at Union Street) Phone: (415) 775-6818

Other noteworthy mentions:

*Cheese Plus If you’re in need of cheese, stop by this all encompassing cheese shop and pick up everything from local favorites by Cowgirl Creamery to hard to find international cheeses. (address: 2001 Polk Street; phone: (415) 921-2001)
*Belcampo When in need of a meat-centric meal, you can’t beat Belcampo, a butcher shop and restaurant that focuses on raising happy, healthy animals. (address: 1998 Polk Street; phone: (415) 660-5573)
*Seven Hills In the mood for Italian? Seven Hills is a tiny, but tasty restaurant that serves up rich plates of housemade pasta. (address: 1550 Hyde Street; phone: (415) 775-1550)
*Blue Barn Lunch lovers will go gaga for Blue Barn’s jam-packed salads, healthy sandwiches, and hearty soups. (address: 2237 Polk Street; phone: (415) 655-9438)
*1760 Enjoy cocktails and innovative cuisine in a lively atmosphere at this Polk Street hot spot. (address: 1760 Polk Street; phone: (415) 359-1212)