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Original San Francisco Dishes/Recipes

Our fabulous city is noted as the mother to a great number of original foods such as Green Goddess Dressing, Crab Louis Salad, Irish Coffee and the Fortune Cookie. Do any chowhounds out there know of others? Maybe there are resources on them. I think it would be neat to have a list of these and maybe learn a little about the foods made famous by our city by the bay.

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  1. Chop suey in the mid 1900's due to the Chinese laborers working on the U.S. transcontinental railroad here or said to be because the Chinese ambassador Li Hung Chang’s cooks while he was visiting New York.

    The big overstuffed burrito?
    Sourdough bread?

    7 Replies
    1. re: Lori SF

      I'm sure you mean 1800's as the gold spike, joining the East and West, was pounded in 1869 at Promontory Utah. Part of the California connection was Leland Stanford the elder.

      1. re: Lori SF

        Unfortunately all of San Francisco's wonderful innovations (does Sourdough bread count?)... were undermined by the absolute ruining of the Burrito (aka Mulita) =)

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Well the mulita was created by Mexicanos so at least it's an authentic mutation. Same goes for a lot of immigrant food like pizza, chop suey, etc.

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            ha ha funny I said Sourdough, what about it used a bowel to eat clam chowder out of and not the red kind?

            1. re: Lori SF

              I don't think even Andrew Zimmern is up for eating clam chowder out of a bowel...

            2. re: Eat_Nopal

              Sour dough invented in SF? Ever heard of levain?

          2. hangtown fry - I think it's a gold miner dish
            celery victor (a bit obscure, but delicious), from the chef at the St. Francis whose name was Victor.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Absonot

              Hangtown fry
              You put down your poke (bag of gold) and take your chances on which version of the story you want to believe.

            2. Crab Louie, the Martini and the Fortune Cookie. The martini is actually from Martinez. The fortune cookie was invented by a Japanese American for a tea ceremony in Golden Gate Park. Crab Louie is bit more contentious...some say Seattle, others SF.

                1. re: Carrie 218

                  hum don't know I grew up thinking it was pismo beach?

                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                    Well, if the Mai Tai of Trader's Vic origin is going to be credited, don't forget crab rangoon also from the same place.

                    While It's It is definately San Franciscan, I never heard the popsicle was invented in the area.

                    While it is not a menu creation, sand dabs are very local ... found at Tadich's, Sam's and various Fisherman's Wharf restaurants.

                    Rice-a-Roni, crab Rangoon, fortune cookies, Mission burritos ... amazing that SF became a food city.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Just passing along a source, Krys -- don't shoot the messenger!

                        I'd add Crab Louis to your list of embarassments, as well. Why pour all that goop over perfectly good crab?

                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                          Whew, there's a real case of the tone being misunderstood in print. I went back to read if it could be construed as cranky. I was writing it in a bubbly sort of manner, I was surprised about popsicles and just thought some of the things we are famous for aren't something to especially be proud of. Has a San Franciscan ever eaten Rice-A-Roni regularily? Well, a Chowhound San Franciscan ... even a foodie San Franciscan.

                          Yeah, I'll probably get a million Rice-a-Roni love responses.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Rice -a- roni is based on a very delicious Armenian recipe for rice pilaf with vermicelli. Like crab Louie it became famous because when made with fresh ingredients and love it can be a great dish.

                            2. re: Xiao Yang

                              Crab Louis's history from SF is debatable. While Helen Evans Brown, in her cookbook West Coast Cook Book, states the following on the history:

                              "Just which Louis invented this West Coast specialty I am not prepared to say, but only because I don't know. I do know, however, that it was served at Solari's, in San Francisco, in 1914, for Clarence Edwords gives their recipe for it in his epicure's guide, Bohemian San Francisco. However some credit the origin of Crab Louis Salad to the chef at Seattle’s Olympic Club in Washington. In 1904, when the Metropolitan Opera Company played in Seattle, Washington, Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), considered the world's greatest tenor, kept ordering the salad until none was left in the restaurant's kitchen."

                              And the reason for the "goop" is that 100 years ago, crab was peasant food. Meaning, only the poor would eat it plain while being rich meant you could have it dressed up.

                              1. re: Carrie 218

                                Just like lobster was considered fit only for servants and prisoners in old New England!

                              2. re: Xiao Yang

                                a little bit of Louie dressing made with homemade ketchup and homemde mayonnaise (you nose in the air foodies would only use aioli I suppose), minced shallot and lemon juice can really enhance freshly picked dungeness crab meat

                            1. re: Nancy Berry

                              My mom used to make it sometimes when I was a kid, but I haven't had it in ages.

                              Now i'm getting nostalgic....

                                1. re: Xiao Yang

                                  Thanks to "The Streets of San Francisco"

                                  1. re: Lori SF

                                    Actually, R-a-R goes back to 1958, so we get to celebrate its 50th this year.


                                  2. Of course, the real trick is, where can one go to sample some of these more obscure dishes (if anywhere)?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: waldrons

                                      For starters, the Flytrap has Hangtown Fry (for lunch) and Celery Victor (for dinner).


                                      John's Grill has both Hangtown Fry and Joe's Special


                                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                                        The Flytrap also has Chicken Jerusalem(!) Haven't seen that in years. Don't know if it's an SF original, (it could be - it features artichoke bottoms). It used to be common in upscale restaurants.

                                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                                          Brenda's makes a super Hangtown Fry.

                                      2. There is always controversy about the origin of cocktails, but the Lemon Drop was supposedly from here, too. I know people will contest this because it sounds French, but Creme Brulee also originated in SF. That's really true.

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: trowbridge

                                          Also European-sounding, caffe latte originated across the Bay in Berkeley, invented by Leno Meiorin at the Caffe Mediterraneum.

                                          I bet Sharuf remembers "The Med."

                                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                                            The Med -- big seedy-looking place full of boho-style slackers eager to sell you their poetry books. Is that the place? Is it no longer there? Haven't been to that end of Berkeley in a long time.

                                            1. re: Sharuf

                                              Caffe Med is still there...although it has gotten run down. Still I like it for reasons unrelated to coffee. It was always open on weird holidays and was quite nice when no one was there. I remember having Xmas breakfast there one year during break.

                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                What do you mean "Gotten Run Down?" That's probably the way I would have described it around 1962, when I first set foot inside. I think it was as Sharuf described the day it opened.

                                                1. re: Xiao Yang

                                                  I mean it's gotten worse. Age and time does that.

                                                  1. re: ML8000

                                                    Cafe Med has been there since my parents were students at Berkeley in the 1940's. No wonder it looks run down! It used to be the only place to get espresso outside of North Beach.

                                                2. re: ML8000

                                                  The Med's current owner has reportedly cleaned things up somewhat:


                                              2. re: Xiao Yang

                                                The Latte (Cafe con Leche) has been common in Latin America for at least 100 years (all the classic Cafes in Veracruz are about 100 years old) and I bet it has a much deeper history than that... perhaps Leno just invented the clever European sounding name?

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  There's some overlap in the terminology, I think. I believe Cafe con Leche is the same as Cafe au Lait, which is coffee and milk; somewhat different from Caffe Latte, which is made with espresso. I'd always assumed Caffe Latte originated in Italy, but who knows?

                                                  1. re: jlafler

                                                    I am not sure about elsewhere but I am 99% certain that in Cuba & Veracruz (both famous for their Cafe con Leche) they use espresso.

                                                    1. re: jlafler

                                                      I first had cafe con leche in Mexico City in 1963. It was cafe au lait.

                                                  2. re: Xiao Yang

                                                    Caffè latte might well have been invented here. Italians have something called a latte macchiato (a glass of steamed milk with a shot of espresso thrown in), but that's not the same thing.

                                                2. No one has mentioned It's It yet, have they???? The BEST ice cream treat in America!

                                                  13 Replies
                                                    1. re: Lori SF

                                                      You've never heard of an It's It? You must be masquerading as a San Franciscan!

                                                      1. re: JasmineG

                                                        what a tragedy lori! you're missing out. be sure to wave at the factory on your left as you drive down 101 after sfo. they were my snack of choice at the high school cafeteria, either coffee or mint. i wish they sold those cookies on their own too! that was the best part.

                                                        1. re: artemis

                                                          They'll never taste as good as they did at Playland-at-the-Beach, which at the time was the only place you could get them.

                                                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                                                            Remember the Hot House? The only Mexican restaurant that served french bread instead of tortilla's with your meal.

                                                            1. re: chipman

                                                              I still crave the Hot House cup tamale. Especially after a few beers. The closest I have found to their sauce (remember it--orange brown with just the right amount of spiciness) is, believe it or don't, Safeway Select Enchilada Sauce.

                                                              1. re: Pendolino

                                                                Re: the Hot House sauce. A friend told us to take a can of red chili sauce and mix with a can of campbell's cream of chicken soup - and it tastes great and very much like the Old Hot House sauce... try it.

                                                            2. re: Xiao Yang

                                                              It's true, they fresh dipped them there, but if you get a fresh batch at the store they're still the most incredible store bought ice cream treat in the country! Truly San Franciscan! So glad they got a mention.

                                                            3. re: artemis

                                                              It's It has a factory outlet in Suisun City where you can get the pre-made ice cream bars for about $1 each and the cookie dough, pre formed and frozen, for $9 for 48 cookies. I have both chocolate chip and white chocolate chip with macademia nuts in my freezer.

                                                              1. re: ola

                                                                It' Its are oatmeal cookies, NOT chocolate (or white chocolate) chip cookies, sandwiched around vanilla, coffee, chocolate, or mint ice cream and then covered with chocoate. Never heard of chocolate chip or macademia nut It's Its.

                                                                1. re: Nancy Berry

                                                                  It's not and It's It it's a Chips It.
                                                                  You Need Bill Clinton to define it in that sentence.

                                                                  1. re: Nancy Berry

                                                                    The owners started a cookie dough company that specializes in wholesaling to cafeterias,/schools, etc. and they sell more variations to the It's-It Oatmeal cookie.

                                                            4. re: Lori SF

                                                              My husband works at Google, where they have custom-made Its its, using (I think) organic ingredients. They taste just the same, thank heaven!

                                                              For the uninitiated: Ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies, dipped in chocolate. Sigh.


                                                          2. A number of good replies...
                                                            Does Strawberries Romanoff count?

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. Great thread! I'll add Joe's Special, Warm goat cheese salad, jelly bellys (unless you're rooting for Los Angeles), Green Goddess dressing, and a ton of other extinct specialties.

                                                              19 Replies
                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                warm goat cheese salad invented here? I had that in France, not like 30 years ago or anything, but i'm pretty sure the French were doing that before it caught on here, don't you think? i'm just curious, not trying to argue...

                                                                1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                  It's credited to Alice Waters, and described as one of the most influential dishes of the 80's after NY Times published it. Her wiki page lists it under "culinary innovations", and the biography Alice Waters & Chez Panisse by Thomas Mcnamee describes it as "unprecedented", and classic California cuisine.

                                                                  It could very well be there are old French cook books with similar recipes, in which case it would be like the case of the Jelly Bean and the Jelly Belly.

                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                    ah, ok. i would have thought she'd first tried it on her life-changing trip to France, but maybe she was just inspired. thanks.

                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                      Do you know the date of the NYTs publication?

                                                                      1. re: Paul H

                                                                        1983. It's available online.

                                                                        The recipe itself predates publication, of course.

                                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                                          Its my guess that the french were putting goat cheese on their salads long before the 1980's. There are some classics of french cooking that involve cheese on salad. Alice has long been fond of the french methode, and her wonderful cookbooks reflect that. Her innovation was retooling french recipes to use local ingredients instead of imported ones. For this, we owe her a debt of gratitude. We can thank her for the locavore movement too.

                                                                          1. re: zard

                                                                            "Her innovation was retooling french recipes to use local ingredients instead of imported ones."

                                                                            Not exactly an innovation in food so much as an innovation in marketing, but she did usher in a popularized rebirth of a kind of California Cuisine that was much different from the mostly lost Barbary Coast version.

                                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                                              exactly. as you pointed out, her wikipedia page lists this as a "culinary innovation." but it also lists "fruit bowls" as another culinary innovation. she clearly didn't invent that!

                                                                              1. re: ikb

                                                                                well, to be fair, some have argued that she innovated the single uncut fruit on a plate. most cooks had felt obligated to cut up the fruit before her trailblazing simplicity.

                                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                    The single nectarine on a plate story came from Zuni.

                                                                                    Back in the day, meals downstairs at Chez Panisse included European-style fruit service where they put a bowl on the table and you took what you liked.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      i had the lone peach on a pedestal platter at Chez Panisse, upstairs. My birthday dinner, stands out in my mind very distinctly. Probably 1998-1999.

                                                                                      Chez Panisse
                                                                                      1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                                                          2. re: mariacarmen

                                                                            Thomas McNamee, who spent a lot of time researching his book, describes the warm goat cheese salad (still on the Cafe menu every day) as "apparently unprecedented." The French generally don't mess with their cheese the way Americans do.

                                                                            1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                              i think mariacarmen is right.

                                                                              alice waters didn't invent warm goat cheese salad - she just discovered an entirely different culture already eating it and popularized it here.

                                                                              1. re: ikb

                                                                                Most of the things that Chez Panisse introduced to the Bay Area were imports, but that's an original.

                                                                                The French wouldn't think to put salad and cheese on the same plate. Those are two different courses.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  that actually does make sense. But they DO do it now. I had it in Paris in 2000 - it was my first meal off the plane.

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    there is actually a new york times article about this. goat cheese wasn't even really produced in america in the 1970's. what alice waters did was commercialize the goat cheese created by a woman named laura chanel. by putting this on her menu she popularized goat cheese for americans.

                                                                                    but i think most people would agree salade au chevre chaud is french not american!

                                                                              2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                Jelly Belly is a brand name for jelly beans. They did come up with a lot of original flavors.

                                                                                Green Goddess dressing might have been near-extinct for a while, but it so has been enjoying a revival in recent years.

                                                                              3. "Fortune cookies are almost certainly originally from Japan."


                                                                                1. The Junior Leage of San Francisco publishes cookbooks for fundraising purposes. San Francisco Flavors, published in 1999, offers tested recipes for lots of local favorites. Here is a link to purchase the cookbook from the jlsf.org website:

                                                                                  1. Has anybody else had their families so devoted to Malfatti as us?
                                                                                    The story about Malfatti is that Mrs Armanino of The Depot Hotel, in Napa was in a hurry, having a bad day,had a storm blow over the tray of ravioli that she was making i, it's not really important. what is is that she couldn't make pasta that day. Seizing initiative, she mixed the ravioli stuffing, beef parmigiano, parsley, chard, bread crumbs, with the eggs and flour, mixed it well, and made little finger sized Malfatti. Malfatti in English is badly made. She boiled them , like ravioli, and then dresed them with her famous sugo, gave a bit of parmigiano, hence Malfatti.
                                                                                    I'm making Malfatti for a family gathering next week.
                                                                                    Thanks for listening.

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Bodegadawg

                                                                                        Italian immigrants brought recipes for malfatti with them from Italy, so I don't think that counts as a local specialty unless it's diverged significantly from the original (as cioppino has from cacciucco / ciuppin).

                                                                                      2. IRISH COFFEE- Try the Yerba Buena Cafe, The inventors of the irish coffee 50 years old! Its all in the way the mix the cream. Next best- The Cliff House at the beach.As for Crab Louiis Salad- Try Westlake Joes, The Best dressing (NOT THAT CAN STUFF) You will leave satisfied, And Not Hungry!

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: UNCLE FUNK

                                                                                          Irish coffee was invented by Joe Sheridan at Shannon Airport in the 1940s, and the concept was brought to the Buena Vista by SF Chronicle columnist Stanton Delaplane in 1952.


                                                                                        2. BBQ oysters are generally attributed to the Tomales Bay area.

                                                                                          1. I believe creme brulee was invented by a chef in SF. Everyone thinks it's French and will argue with you on this.

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: trowbridge

                                                                                              The earliest known recipe appeared in a French cookbook published in 1691.


                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                Yeah but I bet the Americans were the first to put Butterfingers or brownies in it.

                                                                                            2. Is it, or is it not true that Fior D'Italia in San Francisco's North Beach is home to America's oldest Italian restaurant? It relocated to Mason Street after a devastating fire at its original location on Washington Square that was home to the now-closed Joe Dimaggio's Italian Chophouse.

                                                                                              Fior D'Italia
                                                                                              2237 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                                                              12 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: rossheiney

                                                                                                  Probably true that it's the oldest Italian restaurant in the US that's still in business at other than its original location. I don't think they've invented any dishes. The first Italian restaurant in SF was probably Bazzuro's.


                                                                                                  1. re: rossheiney

                                                                                                    Fior is old, but that claim has always been suspect. It's unlikely it's even the oldest Italian place in SF, let alone the US.

                                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                      Lupo's, now called Tomasso's, was the first brick oven pizza on the West Coast AND the site of my parents' first date.

                                                                                                      1. re: ola

                                                                                                        Lupo's was the first pizzeria on the West Coast period.

                                                                                                      2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                        Fior d'Italia's claim is solid enough that the oldest Italian restaurant in Philadelphia admits that it's the second-oldest in the country (by 14 years):


                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          How funny. I was going to say, I don't remember Fior's claim until the 80's. 1986...which conveniently made them 100 years old that year.

                                                                                                          Geographically speaking, it's a little unlikely the first or oldest Italian food establishment was on the West Coast, though of all the operational restaurants, nobody else appears to be making the claim.

                                                                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                            Through 1890, there were more Italian immigrants on the West Coast than in New England. There were almost certainly earlier Italian restaurants in San Francisco (some sources date Bazzuro's to 1850), they just closed long since.

                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              Ellis Island really isn't nearby.

                                                                                                              San Francisco does have some of the oldest bars in the country, including The Little Shamrock, so it's possible.

                                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                The Little Shamrock is 46 on this list.
                                                                                                                People put up poorly researched lists of all kinds, like this one covered in ads
                                                                                                                which might leave one to believe otherwise
                                                                                                                I have no knowledge about the oldest italian restaurants.

                                                                                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                  Still the 3rd oldest on the entire West Coast, right after SF's own Saloon, and Oakland's Heinhold's.

                                                                                                                2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                  Prior to 1890, immigration was handled by the individual states, not the federal government. The Ellis Island immigration station didn't open until 1892.

                                                                                                                  The oldest still-extant taverns in the US predate the founding of Mission Dolores.

                                                                                                      3. The Hot House restaurant on the boardwalk served the most delicious and fabulous enchaladis and tamales.

                                                                                                        On weekends you waited in long lines but no one complained...we knew what was awaiting us. Would pay to get the recipe for their sauce.

                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: JackieHindenBenson

                                                                                                            Here you go. Instead of a check, invite a few friends over, buy some extra beers with the money, and have a good time.

                                                                                                            The Hot House Enchilada Sauce
                                                                                                            Annaliese Keller

                                                                                                            This is a similar recipe for the enchilada sauce once served at The Hot House, a San Francisco landmark in the 1940s known for great enchiladas in the Richmond Ocean Beach neighborhood.

                                                                                                            1/2 cup butter
                                                                                                            1/2 cup oil
                                                                                                            3 15 ounce cans tomato sauce
                                                                                                            1 cup flour
                                                                                                            2 tablespoons chili powder
                                                                                                            3 tablespoons cumin
                                                                                                            2 tablespoons oregano
                                                                                                            1 6 ounce can tomato paste
                                                                                                            3 tomato paste cans full of water*
                                                                                                            1 28 ounce can Las Palmas chili sauce


                                                                                                            In a large saucepan, melt butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin and oregano and continue stirring until mixture is smooth. Stir in tomato paste, water and chili sauce and cook until thickened.

                                                                                                            *Chicken or beef broth may also be substituted, depending on your filling.