Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Eat San Francisco: Best of the Mission in Food + Art

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Though we were in California for five nights on our trip out west two weeks ago, we stayed in Berkeley while in the Bay Area and only allotted a few paltry hours for bopping around San Francisco. Given that I spent four years living there, covering every restaurant and bar opening within the seven square-mile peninsula, this stressed me out to no end. How on Earth was I to even begin to eat my way through the delicious city, visit my old haunts and make up for lost time by discovering all that’s opened since we moved away?

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

The short answer: There was simply no way. The long answer: But I could cram in as many flavors as possible via an Avital tour.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

I’ve been on a few food walking tours in the past; among them, Savor Seattle, Bulldog Tours in Charleston and, of course, Walk Eat Nashville. Prior to that trifecta of great experiences, I never fancied myself much of a day tour kind of person.

Apparently, though, give me three hours of food and maybe a drink pairing or two (or three), and that’s all I need to change my tune.
Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

My friend Akila, who owns Atlanta Food Walks—which I’ve yet to try, but believe me it is on my list—told me about Avital Unger’s San Francisco-based company and suggested I check it out sometime. Sometime came sooner rather than later, as I knew I’d be parachuting into the Bay Area for a quick blink-and-you’ll-miss-me visit.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Even more perfect was that our lone day in San Francisco fell on a Friday, the day her tour always explores the Mission, one of my very favorite neighborhoods chock full of the city’s best murals, tacos aplenty and other Latin-inspired fare.

Our departure time was scheduled for 11am, which was perfect: We could eat a light and early breakfast at the hotel and then give our stomachs time to build up a solid state of hunger.

But first, we took our time driving into the city seeing as we were up before the sun thanks to our internal clocks being permanently set on Central Standard Time and swung by Yerba Buena Island to check out the skyline and make sure it was just as we left it.

The View from Yerba Buena Island

The View from Yerba Buena Island
The View from Yerba Buena Island

The View from Yerba Buena Island

It was indeed, and it was also every bit as windy as I remember the Bay Area being, so we moved along and spent the remainder of our time until the tour began driving through the Haight, Hayes Valley and up to Bernal Heights, one of the highest spots in the hilly city with a fantastic vantage point to boot.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco
Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Of course, as luck would have it, the rain started coming down, first slowly and then with a little more gumption, just as we were moseying on back down the hill.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

I didn’t have a proper rain jacket—it rarely rains in the Bay Area, particularly at this time of year—but being in San Francisco meant I had a light jacket and some tennis shoes, so I put them both on as we headed to our meeting place at the Women’s Building (also, funny enough, the site of where I spoke at Women’s Travel Fest last year).

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Our guide, Maddie, was bubbly and fun. There were only two others in our group, so we got to know each other quickly before heading out on foot in the direction of our first stop of the day: Mission Cheese.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

The View from Yerba Buena Island
The View from Yerba Buena Island

This cheese shop opened right around the time I left in 2011, so I’d never been there before. We sampled the Estero Gold Reserve from California’s Valley Ford Creamery and goat cheese from Avalanche Cheese Company, both paired with a Chocolate Hazelnut Porter from Heretic Brewery (so much yum). While there, we had a cheese chat with cheesemonger Alex—seriously, in my next life, I would like to earn a title such as his—and learned about how the tiniest of things such as elevation affect the kind of milk the cows produce and the overall taste of the cheese.

The View from Yerba Buena Island
The View from Yerba Buena Island

I quickly gathered that this wasn’t so much a food “tour” as a “progressive dining experience.” Avital prefers to think of it as “storytelling through food,” a far more curated event where tables at some of the top restaurants in town are reserved, guests are seated once they arrive, and they get to hear and learn the stories behind the people making the food. Best of all: no lines!

The second of our four stops was Tacolicious, where I’d dined before but was more than happy to go back. Baja-style fried Pacific Cod taco paired with a Mucho Gusto and Pasiòn margarita. SVV, who told his mom from a young age “I don’t have a sweet tooth, I have a taco tooth,” got all cat-with-heart-eye emojis when the platters of chips, salsa, guacamole and tacos were laid out before us, family-style.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Word on the street is that the tacos are so good here, they’re even opening an outpost in Mexico!

Our “main course” was down the way at La Cumbre, where we not only got to gorge on a classic Mission Style Burrito, but we got a master’s course in Burrito-ology courtesy of the owner, Eddie.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

This was one of SVV’s San Francisco-raised family’s favorite taquerias, but I’d somehow escaped ever going there before, and boy was that mistake. It was the best burrito of my life, and that Eddie is a total character. If you ever pop in and see him behind the corner, ask him to tell you a story. He’s full of them, including the TV shows that have filmed there and famous faces like President Obama and Anthony Bourdain, who are fans of his family-owned, 44-year-old establishment.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

The afternoon ended all too quickly at Bi-Rite Market, where we had freshly picked strawberries, chatted with the store manager Fergus, randomly ran into my friend and former Semester at Sea co-worker Kat, and stocked up on artisan chocolate to bring back home with me (it lasted through the end of my subsequent week in South Dakota and then was gone, TBH).

The View from Yerba Buena Island
The View from Yerba Buena Island

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Then, it was across the street to Bi-Rite Creamery, which couldn’t have been more perfect as I’d already planned a post-tour visit to the iconic ice cream shop for their famed salted caramel ice cream (probably my favorite ice cream in the world, a term I don’t use lightly).

Bi-Rite Creamery | Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

So Maddie saved me time by preventing me from making an extra stop. It was also the first time I’ve ever been to Bi-Rite when the line wasn’t out the door and wrapped around the corner, so what I’m saying is either visit via an Avital Tour or on another random Friday mid-afternoon when it’s raining.

In all, Avital’s was one of my favorite tours I’ve taken, ever, food-themed or not. It was informative—I wrote more than a dozen guidebooks on California, not to mention countless magazine articles and learned so much about the history of the Mission—it was fun, it gave me an up-close look at some of the coolest murals in town and, best of all, it was damn tasty.

Prices are $84 for food only or $102 if you include the alcohol pairings (you’d be silly not to get the full experience, don’t you think?). Given that I easily spend that per night when I go out for dinner, I thought this was great value for the amount of food and drink we each received. Each tour route also has a dozen or so stops in rotation, so you won’t necessarily repeat this exact route. I love that about the concept: It’s fun just showing up and not having any idea where you’re going!

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

I also left the tour pretty full—not uncomfortably so, but I definitely didn’t need to eat again until dinnertime. It was the perfect pace, the perfect number of stops and the perfect portion sizes at that.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Naturally, the moment our tour was over—literally—the rain stopped. But then at least we got to enjoy a sunny drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz, where we were meeting the VV clan for the next leg of our California vacation.

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

But my stomach will also remain in San Francisco. I’m already looking forward to joining in on the North Beach tour next time I’m in town, not to mention exploring LA via my stomach on the Los Angeles experiences in Venice Beach and Downtown LA. Who’s with me?

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco
Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

But first, I need to lose the five pounds that seems to have taken up residence around my mid-section these past couple weeks. Still? #WorthIt

Avital Tours: The Best Food Experience in San Francisco

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A Food Tour in San Francisco's Mission District

COMMENTS
  • May 4, 2016

    You went to a couple of my favorites. We sat at the Tacolicious bar last summer and just grazed. That Bi-Rite, tho. Downtown Nashville seriously needs to step up their game on the grocery situation. I love, love that Bi-Rite!

    • May 4, 2016

      I’ve never even liked cod tacos before, but hot damn, they were divine.

  • May 4, 2016
    Autumn

    But, what about B-Star ?

    • May 4, 2016

      Hold your horses! That came at the end of the trip 😉 Santa Cruz first, my yogi friend.

  • May 4, 2016

    Mmmmmm, La Cumbre burritos!! And Bi-Rite ice cream!!! My dream meal!

    xox

  • May 5, 2016

    I adore food walking tours! The one in Istanbul I visited last year was divine! Last weekend I visited one in Warsaw and even though the amount of food was limited it was incredibly informative. I said it once and I’ll repeat it forever after: you get to know a country best through its food! I’ll bookmark the Avital tour in case I make it down to San Fransisco one day!

  • May 6, 2016

    Mmm….Tacolicious fish tacos!

    I think food tours are the best idea ever! I did 3 of them in 2 weeks in Asia – great way to get the lay of the land and try some local cuisine. Left to my own devices, I’m not an adventurous eater, so it’s nice to have small samples and someone else ordering!

  • May 6, 2016

    Holler when you make it to Atlanta! I’ll go on Akila’s new Buford Highway tour.

  • May 7, 2016

    You hit all the spots! I know what you mean about rain but we definitely got a ton of it in March when I was there – El Niño and all. :/ 🙂

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