Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in San Francisco Episode Recap


It’s no secret that San Franciscans love their city. This was more than evident when I arrived at Bloodhound, which feels like a cross between a hunting lodge and chic lounge, for a viewing party for famed author & traveler Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in San Francisco. In countless bars around the country you’ll find people gathering over beers and buffalo wings watching “the big game,” but only in San Francisco will you find a bar full of people anxiously and excitedly watching the newest episode of a Travel Channel show.

Scattered amongst the crowd was a collective of local media, chefs, cooks, famous bloggers (hello), and many others, a Who’s Who of people who would care about watching this episode of No Reservations in San Francisco.

After a bit of socializing and cocktailing, the episode began and all eyes immediately turned to the TVs, curious to see what Bourdain thinks of our fair city. For many of the chefs and people featured on the show, it was an anxious experience knowing that Bourdain could single-handedly thrust them into a new tier, for better or worse.

He visited many well-known and highly respected restaurants and eateries, and a couple not-so-well known, to me at least. A few segments really stood out to me:

Pirate Cat Radio Café – A cafe that broadcasts free radio without a license from the FCC, they serve vegan treats and a Maple Bacon Latte, which is what Bourdain tried. It’s a double espresso latte made with maple syrup and bacon, which he enjoyed. I’m also glad we share the same viewpoint as he says, “I’m famously unenthusiastic, shall we say, about vegans.” Aren’t we all?

Tadich Grill – He met with Oscar, who joins him at other stops during his tour of the city. Oscar, whom I’d met at the viewing party and is a really nice guy, had this beautiful metaphor for San Francisco:

The thing about San Francisco, it’s like a beautiful, mysterious woman. Will you ever possess her? No. But, keep company with her. There’s more than enough because you realize there are layers that you’re still not gonna get to. You think you’ve figured everything out, you haven’t.

Bourdain with Oscar in Tadich Grill

House of Prime Rib – I immediately questioned his decision to go there, with so many other great places to get juicy slabs of meat and classic cocktails. Then I realized that it didn’t matter where he went, it wasn’t just about the food (which he thought was great and I agree). House of Prime Rib is a classic institution that is very San Francisco in its own right, hearkening back to the old days of San Francisco before vegans and organic free range locally grown cruelty free everything took center stage. Plus, the salad, bread, creamed spinach, and prime rib are ridiculously good. Bourdain summed it up when he said over his prime rib and martini, “This is the American Dream right here.”

R & G Lounge – I was really curious about where he would go in Chinatown, and I was surprised and excited when I saw R & G Lounge. I used to frequent this place A LOT when I worked in the Financial District. Don’t let its fancy looks fool you, it’s not P.F. Changs, this is a legit Chinese restaurant that serves up great food, especially the dungeness crab that was featured.

That’s It Market – I’ll admit, I didn’t know about this place and am slightly embarrassed since I claim the Mission to be one of my favorite neighborhoods, especially to eat! He described the Mission as “a traditionally welcoming place for the displaced and disenfranchised.” That’s It Market is a liquor store that houses a countertop and grill, where they make The Cuban, an insane 7 lb (wtf!?) torta stuffed with everything. I definitely have to go check this place out, eating inside a liquor store sounds like too much fun, even though Oscar says, “There isn’t enough Lipitor in the world.” The best part was when Bourdain and Oscar went to the beer fridge and grabbed a Tecate and Modelo, at least they kept it real!

Red’s Java House – One of my favorite in places in town to grab a burger when I get the urge (the other being Darla’s in the Inner Sunset), I was thrilled to see Red’s Java House get some love. It’s a no-frills place where you can grab a good burger, chili cheese fries, and a beer without worrying about the “locavores” (those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food) clamoring for justice. He calls it a “wonderful, old school, high fat, high protein, beer for breakfast kind of a place” and also says, “An espresso is nowhere to be seen” and “any time you begin to doubt the wonderfulness of San Francisco, really, all you gota do is come here.”

Bourdain’s final thoughts on San Francisco:

What do I really think about San Francisco? I know it to be a great food town, a great chef town, a place with a sense of humor for sure, as the locals endure my merciless poking fun at them with regularity. What do I really know of San Francisco? Well, you saw the show, you tell me. I can say with assurance only that I always, always have a very good time here.

There were other great places he visited and liked that I didn’t mention, including Sebo, the Ferry Building Farmers Market, Zam Zam Club, Oakland taco trucks, and Incanto. One thing in the episode I could have done without was the in-your-face product placement for the Ford Mustang zipping up and down the hills of San Francisco. Even though Bourdain acknowledges that San Francisco is “a tough town for a stick shift,” I could have done without the shots of a sporty domestic car darting around town. At least it wasn’t a wimpy hybrid! Perhaps that was intentionally ironic?

There are also a couple things I would have loved to see in the episode that were not featured. He did cover the fact that San Francisco likes to drink (a lot!), but it would have been cool if he took a deeper look into the huge mixology scene we have going on, and visited some of the well-known bars leading the way. Also, if it were filmed this year instead, they would have been forced to include a segment on the exploding street food scene. That would have been awesome to see the Creme Brulee Cart and Magic Curry Kart get some exposure on TV!

Overall I felt like it was a good episode that represented San Francisco pretty well. He visited different neighborhoods and ate different cuisines, which is exactly what San Francisco is all about. You can easily film an entire neighborhood in one episode of No Reservations, but they did a good job of taking a cross-sectional view of the city and presented it in a way that gave viewers a nice taste of what San Francisco has to offer. Locals know, however, that it barely scratched the surface and like Oscar said, “There’s more than enough because you realize there are layers that you’re still not gonna get to. You think you’ve figured everything out, you haven’t.”

If you watched the episode, what did you think? If you haven’t, set your TiVo to catch a replay!

Special thanks for John Birdsall from SF Weekly’s SFoodie blog for the invite to the viewing party! Photos courtesy of Travel Channel, L.L.C.

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Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in San Francisco Episode Recap
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68 Responses to “Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in San Francisco Episode Recap”

  1. 1 joe mendoza

    There was also some bizzare food eaten at a place called Incanto or Encanto.

  2. Yeah, Chris Cosentino of Incanto is very well known and respected for his use of offal in his cuisine. I’d love to eat there one day when I’m feeling adventurous!

  3. I loved the fact that he showed some of the street kids up on Haight Street. Now that’s San Francisco reality right there!!

  4. Kathleen – Definitely! I thought that was awesome they showed them, you don’t get much more San Francisco than that. Too bad the Tenderloin crackheads didn’t get some airtime. lol!

  5. 5 k2wally

    i dont think it was an implied product placement for ford, but more so an homage to the movie, Bullitt with Steve McQueen and the famous car chase in the green mustang. One of my favorites episode so far from the series. Go San Francisco!

  6. 6 Jacob

    Wow R&G Lounge? I remember when we used to make food runs there for appried financial.

  7. 7 rommel

    oh man he went to R&G haha. that place is bomb. i used to go there all the time as a kid.

  8. 8 B.obTuce

    Was kinda hoping he’d mention the Tamale Lady. For those who don’t know her, she put her kids thru college selling tamales at all the best Mission and Lower Haight bars. IMHO, she’s an SF icon (ie; highly driven, true individualist) like Emperor Norton, Shanghai Kelly, Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Herb Caen or Frank Chu.

    Bourdain’s show often hits upon the theme of street food being the way to really suss a place. If you watch the rockumentary below, you’ll see her passion for her food and her people, and you’ll see her people’s passion for her and her food.

    Some Links;
    Tamale Lady Bio –
    Tamale Lady’s B’day vid clip (30 sec.) –
    Tamale Lady Rockumentary –
    Tamale Lady by Rube Waddell –

  9. Hey Bob, great point on The Tamale Lady! Completely slipped my mind. She really is a local icon and deserves any and all recognition.

    Great links there! Everyone should check them out if you’re not familiar with The Tamale Lady.

  10. 10 mucho_comida

    When first watching the episode, it looked really good and we were excited to see our wonderful City showcased. In retrospect, after having the time to think about it, it sort of fell flat and really didn’t represent how locals really feel about the food & dining scene. With the exception of Sebo and Incanto, everything else shown was pretty much touristy or run-o-the mill (for SF).

    Leaving out the entire mixology scene…Fail. (Martinis???)

    I understand his anti-locavore ideals, but to leave this out when talking about SF dining is just stupid. I totally agree with his feelings on A. Waters and her ‘holier-than’ attitude, but she started something that obviously has caught throughout the country. To not pay some homage to the beginnings of that just didn’t feel right.

  11. my favorite quote from Anthony Bourdain blog post about SF

    “San Francisco, underneath a gossamer thin veneer of granola is in fact, a two-fisted drinking town… restaurants you could call “institutions” that defiantly refuse to suck, and in an ever tidier, cleaner, Disneyfied world–where even New York’s Times Square looks like a theme park, still, a delightfully nasty, dirty, beautiful, carnivorous, vice-filled town”.

    This is why I love San Francisco!


  12. I love Anthony Bourdain, he is totally HOT! Does anyone know the name of the Taco Truck he went to in Oakland on Imperial Blvd? I have got to try some of those home made tortillas.

  13. 13 Edwin

    Re: Amy…I think it is called “Taqueria La Cumbre” but I couldn’t really read it. Who knows the name of the sushi joint…Sushi Sabot? Sushi Sable? couldnt catch it and haven’t done any real research yet. Cheers all from Idaho from a Cal grad who met his wife at Berkeley REI and returning for 12th anniversary trying to a spectacular one day whirlwind culinary especial day!

  14. 14 Edwin

    Oh and re: Tamale Lady
    THat woman saved my life more times at Zeitgeist than any of my friends!

  15. 15 Gene

    Hi Edwin! Thanks for checking out my blog! That sushi place is Sebo, in Hayes Valley. AMAZING place, definitely make it a stop. Make sure you get the omakase menu and leave it up to the chefs. Very cool guys there. Where else are you planning on going?

  16. 16 Dave on 30th

    If you don’t get why he was ripping around town in a Mustang, please go watch the movie Bullitt.

  17. 17 Kimboi

    The Mustang footage was a waste, but at least it had a tiny bit of cool as a reference to a well-known part of SF’s image (the car chases over hill and dale–as Dave notes above). But the Tecate product placement was just too too lame and in-your-face, and the fuzzing out of competing products in the store’s cooler was really idiotic. Next: Corvettes pixellated out of shots.

    Some of Tony’s material was just too trite for words, all the “San Francisco is the mountaintop of crunchy” (or however he put it). Tony undercut his cred as a no-bullshit guy with a brain when he put that crap in the script. I find it hard to accept that he really thinks that.

    OK, Salt-and-pepper crab is a tasty dish, but not nearly as tasty as just plain ol’ boiled/steamed Dungeness crab.

  18. 18 Kimboi

    A-and another aspect of the script that was jiver-than-jive: “North Beach is SF’s seedy underbelly.” Come on! Tony knows from personal experience that there are places like the Tenderloin and Sixth St. and ought to be able to tell that Broadway is a very different scene. Again, it undercuts his cred.

  19. where is Sushi Sable located – can’t find it anywhere – is it out of business?

  20. 20 motomomx3

    I’m glad Travel Channel reran this episode, it’s one of my favorites next to his trips to Italy. An earlier post above said that the sushi restaurant was Sabo. I looked it up at and the photo looks the same as the restaurant in the episode. I’m dying to go try it but don’t get across the Bay as often as I would like…maybe this is some tasty motivation…?

  21. 21 Greg Renstrom

    It was my favorite Show it had tremendous variety, fun, and I was swept up into the experience. The content was favorable too considering that Tony Was perhaps Very Drunk during the Prime rib and Gods knows how many Martinees he had! He was serley his words and the poet guy was gone talking about the deep meaning of potery it ROCKED~

  22. 22 Suzanne

    Anthony, Very much enjoy you. You are coming to Santa Rosa with Eric Ripert. You do skewer Guy Fieri, and rightfully so. Guy is a wonderful contributer to the community also. Please work that in. Thanks, Suzanne

  23. 23 nellie

    I just saw Oscar on the street today. I shouted out his name and he looked back and saw me with a confused look like ‘I don’t know her. Why is this Asian girl shouting my name?’ So I caught up to him and told him I saw him on Anthony Bourdain’s show and that I liked his quote on how SF is like a beautiful and mysterious woman. He blushed and said it was the beer talking, lol. He seems like a really nice guy!

  24. 24 ken harper

    As Dave noted, the Mustang was a not-so-subtle reference to the iconic Steve McQueen role as SFPD Lt. Bullitt. But they really should have had a Dodge Charger chasing Anthony around town.

  25. 25 ken harper

    On our last trip to The City we went to R&G because of the segment. And yes, we had the salt & pepper crab with a lichee martini.

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