Cities are a lot like music: some of us go for the hits, but Marcus Samuelsson prefers the flip sides, those funky hidden tracks that are often even cooler. The celebrated chef and inveterate traveler leads us through the Inner Richmond.

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Credit: Jake Stangel

Wherever I go, I always seek out the “B sides” of town, undiscovered neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Inner Richmond. I learned about the area from local chef friends Chris Cosentino (Porcellino) and Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese), who raved about the food. Stepping onto foggy Clement Street, I can see why: Sichuan, Thai, dim sum, and Burmese restaurants line one end, while well-curated indie shops and cafés are popping up on the other. My kind of place.

Danny had told me to hit Spices (415/752-8884), a family-run Sichuan spot where a flat-screen TV streams Mandarin music videos up front while cooks are busy chopping beans in back. A Chinese version of Rihanna accompanying incredible fried tofu? That’s a win-win—especially with sides of twice-cooked Chinese bacon and spicy cabbage. All those chiles on your plate seem daunting, but trust the chefs to balance the heat. After barbecued pork buns at Good Luck Dim Sum, I stop in at Mandalay, one of many excellent Burmese restaurants here. Their tea-leaf salad and special noodles with coconut? Oh yes, chef.

The food may be what first drew young people to the Inner Richmond from pricier neighborhoods, but now start-up boutique owners are making this place their own, in ways that celebrate old and new. Seedstore carries cool threads such as Nudie jeans (from my hometown of Göteborg, Sweden), custom leather sneakers, and shoes from indie designers. At the craftsman-owned Foggy Notion, I pickup a wallet made from a recycled tennis-racket cover and a handmade feather bow tie— who doesn’t need that? You can feel the community spirit—very San Francisco—at Velo Rouge Café (415/752-7799) and the grocery/coffeehouse Village Market (415/221-0445). Village Market was doing organic long before it was a trend; they also serve the city’s best egg sandwich.

Browsing the shelves and bins at Green Apple Books & Music—an epic shop occupying two storefronts on Clement—I find an entire box of Ethiopian jazz LP’s. Now this is a sign! Here you can easily fall into conversations with strangers about obscure books, vinyl, and graphic novels. They even give away free books outside.

Craving something sweet, I head for Schubert’s, a German bakery that opened in 1911—the year my grandmother was born. Just like her, Schubert’s is full of wisdom and charm. Among the Black Forest cake and napoleons I even spot a childhood favorite: Swedish Princess cake, layered with raspberry and kirsch custard filling and frosted with green marzipan. I feel a twinge of homesickness for Sweden, but it makes me love the Inner Richmond’s eclectic culture and cuisine that much more.

Marcus Samuelsson is T+L’s new food & culture contributor. His latest cookbook, Marcus Off Duty, is out this month.

B-Sides Video: Chef Marcus Samuelsson in San Francisco

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