France’s roots in San Francisco run deep, and this hidden subculture has set the stage for plenty of bistros. Due to the massive amount of French immigrants during the gold rush, San Francisco has evolved into the Paris of the Pacific. This transition happened mostly under the radar, which is why it is a little known fact even amongst Americans. Despite this obscurity, the effects of the French migration to San Francisco during the 19th century can’t be ignored. Over 65,000 French people live in this sprawling metropolis, and multiple streets are named after French entrepreneurs.
Like many cultures who moved out West, the French started eyeing California after gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada foothills. This bonanza had a major impact on San Francisco, since its population surged from 800 inhabitants to over 25,000 in one year. The American President James K. Polk publicly announced that the West had “gold in abundance”, and this news rang out around the world. For the French, the promise of riches couldn’t have come at a better time. In 1848 France was in a perilous state, which caused thousands of them to flock to America.
The French migration began in 1849, and many of them ended up in San Francisco. Between 1850 and 1852, over 15,000 Frenchmen undertook the grueling 6-month boat ride to the Bay Area. Due to the heavy costs of the trip, these were mostly middle to upper class citizens. They moved to Commercial and Grant Street (formerly Dupont Street) and set up a thriving French community. By this time, 6,000 of San Francisco’s population of 36,000 were French. Another wave of over 3,000 Frenchmen were sent to San Francisco in 1853, which was a devious plan by Napoleon III to get rid of political rivals.
The final wave of French migrants cemented France’s influence in San Francisco. In the early 1850’s, over 90% of the French population in the Bay Area were male. They had already introduced booming businesses that sold French goods, but they couldn’t neglect their needs for female company. Many shrewd French women travelled to America and founded successful gambling halls and brothels that catered to this market. From the savvy Eléanor Dumont to François Louis Alfred Pioche, this wave of entrepreneurs made a profound impact on San Francisco. Pioche had a street named after him in the Excelsior neighborhood, and his company PGE (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) is a household name.
San Francisco is one of the culinary capitals of the world, and French bistros are a key element to their booming restaurant industry. There are 4,415 restaurants in San Francisco alone, which equates to 1 restaurant for every 100 residents. Out of these 54 have Michelin stars, and the number one tourist activity in San Francisco is visiting restaurants. For a newcomer, this lineup of dining options can be overwhelming. The amount of bistros is just as daunting, which is why we compiled a list of the best bistros in San Francisco. This city is bursting at the seams with French cuisine, so discover the best places to enjoy it!
Best Bistros in San Francisco
Bistro #3: L’Ardoise – For those who want to pair French classics with an unbeatable wine list, this is the venue to try. Translating to “slate” or “chalkboard”, this venue broadcasts its menu on a chalkboard. Despite this open advertising, this is a surprisingly intimate place to dine. Their epic list of wines is complimented by a truly revolutionary selection of French meals. From their coq au vin to duck confit, this bistro can make the most jaded connosiour feel like they are in France.
Bistro #2: La Folie – When examining this bistro’s impressive offerings, the longevity of the business is no longer a mystery. After moving to San Francisco from Lyon, the culinary capital of France, Chef Passot opened La Folie in 1988. He was trained by some of France’s most infamous chef’s, and this professional influence is showcased in their menu. Customers can indulge in butter-poached lobster, cheese soufflé and a slew of mouth watering entrées. This bistro is an amazing find, so treat your taste buds to some truly memorable French cuisine.
Bistro #1: Restaurant Jeanne D’Arc – When Claude and Micheline Lambert moved to San Francisco, they inadvertently became a cornerstone of the community. This restaurant has been operating since the 60’s, so it’s firmly cemented into the local dining industry. It’s named after of the patron saint of the French city Orleans, which is the owners’ home town. Even though the story behind this bistro is illustrious, it can’t compete with the menu. Braised rabbit and Grand Marnier soufflé are just a few examples of the tantalizing dishes they offer. This bistro provides a fascinating way to experience genuine French cuisine in America, so don’t miss it on your next trip!