Sustainable, Local, Casual: The San Francisco Catering and Restaurant Scene
- Leena Trivedi-Grenier
- 3 Min Read
From a plethora of locally sourced farmers markets, to scores of innovative fine-dining and fast casual restaurants, there is no doubt that San Francisco is a food lover’s paradise. As the Telegraph reports, it’s the unique combination of “quality local ingredients and avant-garde thinking” that makes the San Francisco restaurant and catering scene stand out among others in the country.
Here’s everything you need to know about trends in the area and the caterers and chefs from the San Francisco restaurant scene.
Defining the San Francisco Catering Scene
The first and most prevalent characteristic of the San Francisco restaurant and catering scene is the demand for high quality ingredients. This is possible because there are so many local farmers and producers. And, there is a longer growing season compared to other parts of the country.
Kory Cogdill from Tacolicious agrees that customers and chefs are interested in locally sourced, organic, and sustainable food options. The catering menu at Tacolicious is a taste of the region, featuring producers like Petaluma Poultry (chicken chile verde taco) and Rancho Gordo in Napa (midnight black beans with oregano and garlic).
According to Nathan Clark, executive chef at Presidio Foods Catering, “Customers are better educated, as far as food goes. So they are looking for specific farms or purveyors to be called out.”
He says they want their food to be hyper-local — from fewer than 100 miles away. So many caterers and restaurants partner with local farmers or run their own farm. For example, Presidio Foods Catering has 16 garden plots through the Presidio that grow herbs, flowers, and vegetables. They purchased 10 cows from True Grass Farms in Valley Ford, which they use nose-to-tail in their catering menu. It’s in their merguez sausage for albondigas in a toasted chili and almond date sauce, their achiote marinated flap meat tacos, and all the way down to beef fat for frying potatoes and savory pie crust.
Customers also demand more options for dietary restrictions, like gluten-free or vegan dishes. Variety is especially important to corporate clients, like tech companies, who feed their employees several meals a day.
“Tech companies want healthy and diverse food options that keep employees interested,” notes chef James Chand, owner of Curryous. This is important, because as Clark confirms, the many tech companies that call San Francisco home make up a large part of the San Francisco catering customer base, constantly holding gatherings, holiday parties, and summits that need food.
Local Catering Trends
When it comes to recent San Francisco catering trends, two in particular stand out:
- Fast Casual: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the fast casual trend is on the rise, at places like Tacolicious. “As a casual concept, we have noticed that more customers really enjoy a casual (catering) experience, especially for weddings,” Cogdill shared. In fact, a lot of fast casual restaurants around San Francisco are expanding their catering options because, as Cogdill explains, the need is there and it helps expand the restaurant’s brand.
- Diverse Range of International Cuisines: San Francisco is home to expats from around the world. And it is definitely reflected in the catering scene. “There are caterers from Africa and different parts of Asia that we haven’t heard from before,” Chand says. “And we are able to try their food.” Curryous perfectly exemplifies this trend. They serves Indian Fijian food, a fusion cuisine created by Indian immigrants in Fiji. From his rourou — a Fijian-Indian stew made from spinach, ginger, and coconut milk — to his jackfruit masala, with chowkhal dhaal (yellow split peas with black mustard seeds and cumin) and tandoor roti, you can experience the subtle masalas of the island in the comfort of your breakroom.
“If you are looking for something (specific to a certain cuisine), you will most likely be able to find it locally,” Chand shared.
Caterers Worth Knowing
To a get a taste of the fast casual trend in the San Francisco restaurant scene, Cogdill recommends checking out local fast casual restaurants that have expanded their catering options. At 4505 Burgers and BBQ, you can get some of the best smoked barbecue in the Bay area, like their bacon stuffed hot dogs and their smoked, dry rubbed pork spare ribs. They are so tender and so flavorful that the sauce is totally optional.
Another great fast casual restaurant to check out is Bun Mee. They offer innovative takes on Vietnamese sandwiches called banh mi. The assorted sandwich platter is incredibly popular, with fun options like grilled five spice chicken with caramel mayo and the sloppy bun — a sloppy joe made with red curry paste.
Andrew Ghetia, 4505 Burgers and BBQ restaurant’s Area Director, suggests Namu Gaji, a modern Asian-inspired restaurant, for another fast casual option. They serve crowd favorites like okonomiyaki, a savory pancake with kimchi, cabbage, scallion, and bonito and “KFC-Style” chicken bites with a sweet and spicy tare sauce.
Or, Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen offers a taste of international cuisine in the Bay area. Try the Venezuelan arepas — little corn bread pockets stuffed with a variety of tasty fillings. In particular, the vegetarian arepas, stuffed with grilled tofu, avocado, and sweet plantains are a local favorite, as are the shredded beef pabellon, filled with beef, sweet plantains, a black bean spread, and queso fresco. And for dessert, the yuca beignet bunuelos are a decadent treat. They are little fried donuts served with dulce de leche dipping sauce.
And when it comes to standby, trustworthy caterers, Clark suggests checking out McCall’s. He calls it say it’s one of the most well-known caterers in the city and kills it when it comes to h’ordeuvres, like their homemade pigs-in-a-blanket, and the short ribs with creamy polenta and crispy onions.