Can you believe I’d never had a bahn mi sandwich before taking a food tour of Hayes Valley with Gourmet Walks in San Francisco? I had seriously been missing out. A bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich made with traditional ingredients like pickled carrots, cucumber and jalapeno. It’s all the rage on the culinary scene lately, with pop-ups emerging on every corner claiming to make the best of the bunch.
There’s no better place to try a bahn mi sandwich than San Francisco. A major port to Asia, it is one of the few places that has both a Chinatown and Japantown. The oriental influences are strong in this coastal city, and that leads to a wide variety of asian cuisine for guests to enjoy.
I had the pleasure of navigating the city with Gourmet Walks, a company specializing in food tours. They only partner with the best, and are a must-try for foodies in the Bay Area. In fact, on my tour we were accompanied by professional recipe creators for cooking companies and magazines. It was evident we chose wisely.
Here’s what you need to know to taste your way around one of San Francisco’s hippest areas!
About Gourmet Walks
Gourmet Walks San Francisco receives consistently high reviews on TripAdvisor because of their knowledgable staff, high-end partners and generous portions. Tours typically last 3 hours, but you will barely notice the time passing as you make your way through the neighborhood, learning while snacking along the way.
For instance, I had no idea that Hayes Valley was meant to serve as an alternative to brick and mortar shops to make it easier for newer brands to emerge. They buildings are more transitional in nature, made from shipping containers, and there’s a zoning exception in place on behalf of the Hayes Valley Community Association that limits the region to businesses with 11 locations or less.
Gourmet Walks initially started as a chocolate tour (because who doesn’t love chocolate?) but expanded to include tours of Alamo Square, Fillmore Street, Russian Hill and more. You can view the calendar and reserve your spot on their website. Hurry, spots book quickly and they limit the tours to ensure you get all the attention of a small group.
Where is Hayes Valley?
Hayes Valley is a charming neighborhood tucked away near Alamo Square and South of Market. It is easily accessible my MUNI, Uber or even walking if you’re in the vicinity. In recent years, Hayes Valley has morphed into the artistic hub it is today, with rotating art sculptures throughout the main park, Patricia’s Green.
On a nice day, you’ll hear musicians playing for tips and kids laughing in the children’s park. This is a favorite spot among locals, and a vast improvement from the freeway that once occupied the land.
Stops on the food tour
The food tour includes 7 stops in all. At the beginning, you’re given a list of all the partners, including their address and telephone numbers. You eat at about 3/4 of the places listed.
Our tour specifically included everything from cured meats to falafel to gingerbread cupcakes. I always worry when I go on a food tour that I’ll leave hungry, and this was especially true in San Francisco since I’d skipped breakfast that morning and went in ravished. I was happy to see that my fears were unfounded, and that I left stuffed and contended thanks to Gourmet Walks.
Benefits of a guided food tour
While you can surely stop at all these restaurants yourself, there are some added benefits to going in a group. First, you’re often greeted by the owner or manager in order to get a better introduction to the restaurant. Your guide can answer question on the spot. Our guide, Maria Antonia, had been living in the area for years and was excited about every new spot that had opened up during that time.
There’s also an added benefit as a solo traveler since you meet so many other people on a food tour. The size is manageable enough for you to get to know everyone and walk at your own pace.
Finally, it’s ambitious to go to so many places in a short period of time. Going on a tour encourages you to make the most out of your visit and experience dining options you would not have seen otherwise.
Know before you go
It’s advised that you wear comfortable shoes and show up 10 minutes before your tour is set to depart. Don’t fill up beforehand, and make sure to let your guide know if you have any food allergies or preferences.
Bring cash to tip afterwards, though your meals are paid for and included in the price of your ticker. Also, bring a bottle of water.
Our last stop included beer and wine, but there was a soda-option for anyone with a non-alcoholic preference.
Overall, I definitely recommend spending part of your day with Gourmet Walks San Francisco. And if, like me, you finally get to try a bahn mi, your taste buds will thank you.
Till next time, safe travels!
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*Disclosure: I was provided with a discount on my tour. All opinions are my own.