In the Richmond District lies “Little Russia,” with plenty of savory treats, markets to explore, and historical sights. You can spot the Holy Virgin Cathedral - the largest Orthodox cathedral on the West Coast - next to bakeries, markets, and tons of great restaurants. As someone whose family mostly lives in Russia, I found myself missing the tastes and traditions while growing up in the US. But having spent most of my life in the Bay Area, I was fortunate to discover the large Russian community (and food) here in the Richmond. Exploring the food is only half the fun though - the other half is stepping foot into spaces jam-packed with culture, history, and pretty much pickled everything. Here are 10 of the best spots to do just that.
Moscow & Tbilisi Bakery is located on Geary Boulevard in the heart of Little Russia and is filled with an array of classic pastries and snacks. The bakery has been around for over 25 years and you can find everything from cheese blintzes to poppy seed rolls here, but a staple is chebureki - deep-fried turnovers with a crunchy exterior and ground beef filling. The flakiness and juice provide a perfect beef-to-dough ratio and if you’re just looking for a quick bite, this is a great option to be out the door in minutes with a treat in your hands.
Located in the Inner Richmond, Cafe Europa serves everything from German and Polish to Hungarian food, along with plenty of traditional Russian dishes. Every time I come here, between all the classic comfort food and friendly staff, it feels like I’m eating in someone’s house - specifically a house with plenty of pierogi to go around. My personal favorite is the classic beef pierogi, which comes with a side of sour cream and green onions, but you can also substitute cabbage and mushrooms if that’s more your style.
Whether you’re craving a big bowl of beet soup, various cured meats, or just want to pick up some quality chocolate on the way home, Gourmand Deli has it all. The shop is relatively small and can be easy to miss, but it quickly became one of my favorite delis and now I always leave here with way more than I came for. This place has all the staples: moskovskaya salami, lots of pickles, and other things like sauerkraut and turnips. They also have kvass, a fermented probiotic drink made from rye bread. The consensus on whether or not kvass is actually good is pretty split, but in case you need a chaser, kompot (a sweet fruit juice) is also a good choice.
New World Market is one of the largest Russian markets in San Francisco. There are tons of prepared dishes to choose from, but if Russian salads intrigue you (and they should), you’ve come to the right place. Some good options here are the crab, vinaigrette, olivier, and shuba salads, the last of which is a dressed herring salad with vegetables and mayonnaise and is commonly served at dinner. Olivier salad is a traditional dish with eggs, peas, meat, carrots, and onions tossed in mayonnaise, and it’s my favorite chilled dish to eat with bread. It’s essentially the Russian version of a potato salad, but with even more veggies, meats, and eggs.
Red Tavern is about as close as you can get to actually eating in Russia without leaving San Francisco, and they recently started doing outdoor dining with reservations made through their site. Located on Clement Street, the restaurant serves a mix of both updated and traditional Russian dishes. We like to come here for borsch, which is especially perfect for any day when you wish it was just five degrees warmer out. Here it’s made with beets, cabbage, and beef, and is topped with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill, all of which fuses together in the creamiest and most satisfying way possible. For dessert, opt for the napoleon, a layered cake with vanilla cream, or chernosliv, a prune cake with sweet sour cream. If you haven’t figured it out already, sour cream gets added to just about everything around here - and we mean everything.
In a pre-COVID world, this place was a top choice for weddings and private parties, doubling as a banquet hall filled with chandeliers and gold paintings. Now, Russian Renaissance offers their full menu to go to accommodate your private party of one. My personal favorite dish here is the blini with hot berry sauce - the pancakes come with sour cream and berries garnished all over the plate. And yes, it’s just as good as it sounds.
Most people come to Cinderella Bakery and Cafe for sweets and warm drinks, but this place also has a lot of history, which the friendly staff will be more than happy to share with you. Mike Fishman acquired the shop after he immigrated from the Soviet Union in 1988 and has really filled it with a sense of nostalgia and warmth that hits me every time I visit. My favorite treat here is the medovik, a layered honey cake with sour cream and condensed milk. There are a lot of variations of this dessert, but Cinderella Bakery nails it every time with its light, spongy texture. Outdoor seating is limited, but available in front of the shop.
Royal Market’s wide selection and freshly-made, well, everything has made it a beloved spot in the Richmond. And as a result, you may have to get a bit aggressive and direct with getting someone’s attention since this place is often pretty busy. If you aren’t too distracted by all the different cuts of meat and sausages at the deli counter, head over to the bread section to stock up on borodinsky bread, also known as black rye bread and a universally loved favorite in Russia.
Europa Plus is located on Geary and despite competing with other nearby markets, it stands out with its endless rows of food to wander through. Prices are reasonable and the unique variety of Russian products - with everything from sunflower seeds and Russian ice cream to a huge selection of kielbasa and candy - makes it a great place to check out, regardless if you’re looking for something super specific or just want to discover a new treat to take home.
While nowhere near the Richmond District, it felt criminal to leave Pushkin off the guide. Offering an updated and unique take on Russian food, the family-run restaurant is located in an alley in the Financial District and brings in influences from other former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Georgia. From rainbow-colored pelmeni to chicken vareniki, the classic dishes here are amplified with less traditional flavors and spices to make everything on the menu really pop. Stop by for outdoor dining or order delivery through their website.