Hanging out in Dolores Park during the summer is as much a part of living in SF as owning seven different types of light jackets or acting like you don’t even notice those ridiculous self-driving cars anymore. And when you go, your group may not have a master planner - the one who always inexplicably seems to have some speakers, a cooler of watermelon slices and/or alcohol, and an unreleased Harry Potter manuscript with them. That’s fine though because there are a ton of options for food nearby. Here’s where to go before, during, or after your afternoon at Dolores Park.
Before You head To the park / once you’re there
You woke up early so you could stake out the perfect spot on the lawn at Dolores, and because no one is really there yet, you have time to get breakfast before you apply three coats of sunscreen. Tartine Bakery is one of our favorite bakeries in the city, and even if you came here for just a croissant, you should go ahead and upgrade to a large pastry box because everything this place makes is incredible. Load up on tarts and gougeres and maybe a full loaf of bread before heading to the grass. You might have bought all of that to share with your friends, but no one would blame you if it was all gone before they showed up.
Thanks to $22 bottomless mimosas and a patio to enjoy them on, Kitchen Story is one of our favorite places in the city for brunch. There’s going to be a wait, so get here early and when you eventually sit down, go for the pancakes. When you’re done, head over to the park and look around knowing that you might’ve had the best beginning to your day of anyone here. At least as long as someone orders the millionaire’s bacon.
Having Bi-Rite Market next to Dolores Park is like having access to Hermoine Granger’s handbag - if that handbag only held infinite picnic supplies. Come here and get some meat, cheese, and bread from Acme, Jane, and Firebrand. If you just want something small to snack on, grab a seed pretzel and use a few free samples from the butcher to tide you over. And if you want something a little more substantial, we like their sandwich with prosciutto, mozzarella, and arugula pesto on a crusty baguette.
Rhea’s more closely resembles a convenience store than a sandwich shop, and you could walk out of here with just a few jerky sticks and some lotto scratchers, but you’d be missing the sandwiches in the back. The sandwich options are printed on sheets of computer paper taped to a fridge and have names like the Wonder Woman with jerk chicken and the North Beach St. with turkey and salami. We like the Barney Rubble with pastrami, swiss, avocado, and 50 other things served on an Acme roll. Fill out your ticket at the front, pay, and wait for your name to be called before eating at the window or walking back to eat in the grass.
Until the people who run Boba Guys figure out how to put boba into k-cups, we’ll be stuck waiting in line for it. Fortunately, the lines move pretty quickly here, to the point where you won’t even have enough time to tell the story from the first bar you were at last night. On a normal day, we like the Thai tea, but if we’re taking it back to Dolores, the classic black tea is more refreshing in the heat.
While Bi-Rite Creamery is under construction for seismic retrofitting, you can still get ice cream from their truck parked outside. They don’t have all the flavors that the shop normally would, but they still have a lot of our favorites, like the salted caramel and the coffee toffee ice cream sandwiches with brown butter cookies on the outside.
The group next to you on the lawn includes a guy whose guitar playing was bearable until he decided to pull out “Wonderwall.” If you need a break from the sounds of Liam Gallagher for a bit, go on a walk to Media Noche. This fast-casual Cuban place makes great Cubanos and brisket bowls in a bright space that barely even feels like you stepped inside. Their empanadas are solid too if you want to bring some back to encourage the guitar player to take a break.
You know you’re going to overload on hummus and chips once you get to the park, so you want to balance it out with actual food beforehand. That’s when to head to Cha Ya. It’s an excellent place for everything tofu and mushrooms, and because the menu is mostly small plates, you can get a few different things to try before your day at Dolores.
After You Leave
Yamo is a little further away from Dolores than a lot of other options, but it’s worth the extra few steps to get here and the wait to sit at one of the few seats in this tiny Burmese place. All of the food here is fantastic, and we’re especially big fans of the tea salad, which has some serious after-burn, and the Yamo house noodles with pork and garlic. That alone is enough to split with two people for lunch, but because the most expensive thing here is just $6.50, you’ll want to order a lot more. If you don’t feel like waiting, they also take orders over the phone, so you can plan ahead and carry out to eat in the sun.
Your friends’ stories about office dynamics and vacuum cleaner shopping are pretty boring today (no offense), so you decided to pull out your phone and start swiping. One of your matches is actually here in the park, and instead of subjecting them to the Dyson vs. Roomba debate happening on your group’s blanket, suggest getting palomas and some tacos at Mosto instead. It’s owned by the same people as Tacolicious, but the tacos are half as expensive and they have enough tequila and mezcal here to start some sort of bottle library with. Or at least fuel the first of hopefully many dates.
There is some serious people watching to be done at Pizzeria Delfina, as nudists and people struggling with a bunch of balloons in the wind walk to and from the park less than a block away. But even if the park wasn’t close by, we’d still come here on a nice day because the front patio is the perfect place to take in the single hour of good weather we’re afforded every Saturday and the heaters make the other times good too. Once you can look away from the people passing by, order the DOP Neapolitan pie and the Panna version with cream instead of mozzarella.
By some miracle, no one in your group has split off to go to a concert or some sort of underground roller derby tournament, so now everyone wants to go get something to eat after you leave the park. This is the perfect time to head to Lers Ros. It’s always easy to drop in here with eight or so people and not have much trouble getting a table. The menu is huge, so everyone could get something different if they really wanted to, but it’s all served family style, so just split a few things. We like the pad kra pow moo krob (stir-fried pork belly) or the tom kha kai (coconut and lemongrass soup with prawns).
It’s easy to get so distracted by the music and people in the park that you forget to eat anything all day. So by the time you stand up to leave, your stomach could be growling louder than all of the boomboxes in the area combined. Stop by Taqueria Cancun, which is our old standard for when we want a burrito. And for good reason: the carnitas are solid and the burritos mojados are massive and delicious - assuming you and a small team are up for the challenge.
Garden Creamery is a few steps away from the park, but their ice cream flavors are worth going five minutes out of your way for. We like the kaya coconut jam and the Turkish coffee, but our favorite is the arroz con leche with Dandelion cocoa nibs mixed in that basically tastes like eating rice pudding in ice cream form.
The sun’s going down, but your group just got into a heated discussion about mirrors and you need some more time to debate it. Lolo on Valencia is decorated with brightly-painted car and bike parts and it’s a fun spot when you want to hang out with a few friends while you blindly assert that “mirror” is, in fact, a color. The spicy margaritas are perfect, one order of guacamole is actually enough for your whole group, and the rest of the food is shareable too - get the charred octopus to split with a few people.