I've had occasion over the last few months to meet several new residents of San Francisco, recently moved here from Britain and Australia. Foreign newcomers to San Francisco all seem to have received the message that this fair city offers a bountiful landscape of food and gourmet artistry, and as a result, they arrive at SFO with an expectation of ubiquitous freshness and local variety. But at first inspection of the nearest neighborhood market, new arrivals may be shocked to find that the most common grocery offerings in San Francisco are still the same chain-supermarket garbage as the rest of the States -- industrial, agenda-laden mediocrity.
Luckily, the blessings of the city aren't too far under the surface. For the recent newcomers I've met, I've written the following short list, and it's proven to be a helpful grocery orientation to buying food in SF. Geared towards the new resident with limited access to a car, it's brief and incomplete, and doesn't delve deeply into the food subcultures writhing throughout the Bay Area (ie, there's no nose-to-tail meat or black market raw milk cheese here), but as a quick start guide, it'll steer a newcomer away from Safeway and into the comforting arms of some simple stores selling simple and good food. For the sake of local authenticity, I've left off the venerable and indispensable Whole Foods, choosing instead to focus on more regional and local purveyors.
And now, the Quick Guide to San Francisco Groceries: