Vietnamese, Ice Cream & Pizza: One Perfect Day in San Francisco

Recently, I spent two blissful days in Napa Valley, which I chronicled here and here. It was hard to leave places like Bouchon Bakery, Bottega and about a million wineries behind, but I had another sunshiney (slash really foggy) day in San Francisco to look forward to before we headed to visit friends in Orange County for the weekend (life is tough).

With way less than 24 hours to explore the city (5 a.m. flights out of SFA are fun!), we hit the ground running upon our arrival.

And since it was lunchtime, we headed to San Francisco's best un-kept secret: downtown's historic, 245-foot clock tower-topped Ferry Building. You would never know that inside the Bay Area's main ferry terminal lies a bustling indoor marketplace.

Housed in the gorgeous, European-style building's former baggage area is an expansive, open hallway flanked by shops and carts featuring local goods, top-notch produce and butcher markets, and some of the city's best casual dining spots and upscale restaurants.

I felt like a kid in the candy store, wanting to take it all in. But first things first; we were hungry.

We marched the stretch of the building, feverishly peeking at and ooohing over a few menus before we laid eyes on the prize: a chalkboard menu chock full of Vietnamese street food at Out The Door.

It wasn't until later that night that I put together that the counter-service kiosk was the casual little sister of acclaimed chef Charles Phan's The Slanted Door. Had I not been so hungry, and bothered to actually take in my surroundings, I may have even seen the nationally rated restaurant right around the corner. Now the name made sense.

Imagine your favorite Asian-style food cart blended with the best of California's farmers' markets and you have Out the Door; just like its older sister, the lunch spot champions local, organic and sustainable ingredients.

We started off sipping cane sugar colas and noshing on spring rolls plump with shrimp, julienned veggies and fresh herbs, dipping each bite into the bold-flavored, rich peanut sauce.

Next, we shared a vermicelli bowl with five-spice chicken that was so tender and moist, it rivals any other I've had to date.

That's not to say this stopped me from sneaking bites of our Hoi An Meatball Banh Mi, the sandwich special of the day. Diced jicama and juicy pork made the meatballs a dichotomy of texture, soft and crunchy meat packed inside perfectly crusty bread along with a light tomato and fish sauce, pickled carrots, sliced cucumber and a healthy amount of fresh cilantro; maybe too healthy for my liking -- I picked off a few leaves, but continued to devour the sandwich despite it.

With happy stomachs, we were now free to roam the marketplace. We popped into shops and chatted with local merchants, sampled the best and most buttery brittle that I've ever had in my life (it was smothered in rich, smooth dark chocolate, so -- no-brainer there) and picked up some amazing roasted pistachios from G.L. Alfieri Farms (Habanero for our friend, Lemon & Chile for ourselves).

Top secret it's-totally-not-all-over-the-Internet-okay-fine-I'm-lying insider tip: If you're lucky enough to be in San Fran on a Saturday, be sure to check out the huge farmers' market both in front of the Ferry Building and out back by the bay.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the city and contemplating biking the bridge, but ultimately settling for a brisk walk to Lombard Street, the Wharf and, finally, Ghirardelli, where we sampled this...

While the Peanut Butter & Hot Fudge Sundae was insanely good for a bite or two, there was way too much peanut butter smothered throughout for me to take any more. And thank God, because we were still going out to dinner that night and I wanted to look forward to it (brb I have to do 1,000 sit-ups).

That night, we headed to North Beach, San Francisco's Little Italy, for wine and pizza at the cute and quirky Tony's Pizza Napoletana, owned by Tony Gemignani, owner of the International School of Pizza and 11-time World Pizza Champion winner. How many times can I say "pizza" in a sentence?

The menu, not just limited to pizza (another!), was expansive and not for the faint of heart. The restaurant serves up pies made in countless variations of ovens and temperatures; there's the 900-degree wood-fired oven, the 700-degree electric oven, a 550 gas oven, and the list goes on.

This is all before you even decide what you actually want on your pizza. It may seem like a lot to some, but I was in heaven. The complimentary breadsticks -- soft, doughy and served with a trio of flavored olive oils -- and our bottle of velvety red wine kept us in good spirits while deciding.

With affirmation from our server, we went with our guts: the Coal Fired New Yorker, half with toppings, half without.

Made with a blend of organic 00 unbleached flours and baked in a 1000-degree coal-burning oven, the dough is chewy, crisp and just thick enough to hold the plethora of toppings. Sweet and tangy hand-crushed tomato sauce and gooey, milky mozzarella shared the pie with spicy pepperoni, garlicky fennel sausage, light and fresh ricotta, woodsy oregano and chopped fresh garlic.

And just for good measure, Tony's makes this pie about 500 times larger than the head of an adult male.

I love me some pizza, and I can say without a doubt this is some of the best I've had. I'd go back to San Francisco just to have it again.

...Oh, and to see the bridge.

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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano