Five Tenderloin Hot Spots
A small neighborhood nestled between Union Square and Civic Center, the Tenderloin is a San Francisco favorite for visitors and residents alike. Beloved for its affordable housing, artsy vibe, lively bar and restaurant scene, and incredible roster of galleries, there’s no shortage of great places to check out in this neighborhood. Iconic, vibrant and a little gritty, the Tenderloin has always attracted artists.
Author Dashiell Hammett has used the neighborhood as the setting for many of his novels, and it was a destination for several Beat writers in the 1950’s. Its Black Hawk nightclub saw performances by jazz legends like Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. The neighborhood’s murals and galleries have garnered national attention, and it also encompasses part of the theater district, including destinations like the Orpheum, Golden Gate, Curran and Geary.
It’s no surprise, then, that our favorite spots in the Tenderloin are places that reflect the neighborhood’s artistic heritage and eclectic style. Here are just a few must-visit places in an enclave that’s edgy and teeming with cultural assets:
THE place to go if you enjoy caramel, chocolate, or chocolate and caramel mixed together. Hooker’s is a haven for all who enjoy a salty, buttery, bite-sized treat with their afternoon coffee. These amazing caramels don’t get stuck in your teeth and have been featured on the Cooking Channel and the Martha Stewart Show. They’re handmade, produced in small batches, crafted from the finest ingredients, and not-to-be-missed.
A home goods mecca offering a chic blend of items, from sleek furniture to rugs, lighting, pottery and other objects d’art. Here you can find a marble table that doubles as a Ouija Board, cloud-inspired chandeliers consisting of nests of frosted globes, and “feathered” resin skulls by the French artist Laurence Le Constant.
Now open by appointment only, this quirky bookstore is worth the extra effort. Stocking a stunning supply of rare and out-of-print books, the store specializes in first-edition paperbacks, particularly literary classics and pulp fiction detective novels. The store employs a unique organizational system, with oddball categories such as “Juvenile Delinquency” and “Catholic Guilt.” It also offers vintage posters and magazines. It’s a great destination for collectors, readers drawn to the obscure, and those looking for fun, rather exotic gifts. And, if calling ahead proves too inconvenient, there’s always Argonaut Bookshop, an antiquarian book store specializing in the history of California and the American West.
So many great bars have emerged in the Tenderloin over the past few years, but this is one as playful and offbeat as its surroundings. Royale features rotating musical performances by local bands, art exhibits along the walls that are changed out monthly, a changing menu featuring the food of the city’s best pop-up kitchens, and eccentric events like opera singing contests, drunken spelling bees and Beatles karaoke.
Fantastic restaurants and varied cuisines are abundant in the Tenderloin, and the neighborhood has standout purveyors of Burmese, Ethiopian, Asian fusion, Afghan, Creole, Southern, Thai, Japanese, and other types of food. But it’s still best known for one of its longest-standing neighborhood staples, Saigon Sandwich. A cheap, takeout-only, no-frills Vietnamese sandwich shop, Saigon Sandwich may not have a website, but it’s consistently featured on San Francisco “best of” lists and has been called possibly “the best banh mi in America” by The New York Times. The pork and the combo are both standouts.
After that, there’s plenty more to explore in this ever-evolving area. Be sure to check out the Tenderloin Museum for a full picture of the district’s colorful past, and you won’t need to look far to uncover a slate of great restaurants, bakeries, galleries, rooftop bars, and more.