Look at that beautiful sunny weather that we no longer have in Toronto! Back in July, I went to SF for a week to visit family members and I have now finished all the restaurant blog posts (links will be provided below), so the rest of the SF-related posts will be about sightseeing.
Some of the tips which I hope will be useful for you guys if you are planning to go to J-town:
- There are multiple ways to get to J-town by public transportation so definitely check Google Map for directions beforehand. If you guys are going to be in SF for a week or more with no rental car, I strongly recommend getting a clipper card, which is similar to a metropass in Toronto. However with a clipper card, you can load an x amount of money and each ride will cost you $2.50. The “subway trains” also act as streetcars and bus so they’re pretty convenient and efficient! With that said, be careful and know which train letter you will have to get on, since all trains will be going on one path when you get closer to the city and split up once you are out of the city.
- Shops in J-town close at odd hours or days, so plan out which store or restaurant you would like to visit and check the hours in advance.
- I found that most of the restaurants open at 5PM, so if you aren’t planning to have dinner here and would like a quick meal, check the food court or the Japanese grocery stores for bento boxes!
The moment you see the pagoda, you know you are at Japantown!
Did you know that San Fran Japantown is one of only three J-town remaining in the US today?! The main focal point of J-town are the Japan Center and shopping center that are filled with shops and restaurants for you to check out here. With that said, by the time I was here the street was kind of… dead, so I recommend going during the two major festivals held each year, which are the Cherry Blossom Festival (April) and the Nihonmachi Street Fair (August).
I was browsing through Yelp for recommendations at Japan Town, and Benkyodo bakery was rated as a “must-try” so of course this was my first stop!
Benkyodo Company has been opened since the establishment of J-town in 1906, which means this place is 109 years old!! Please note that the shop accept cash only, and go early for the best selection as most of the goodies are usually gone by 2PM (from Yelp reviews).
Initially I thought I entered the wrong bakery lol, because there was a small diner that sell fries & hot dog on the other half of the shop (pictured below). The candies selection were quite overwhelming for me, especially when I don’t really eat candy…. And I’m pretty sure you can find most of these in T&T back in Toronto.
So the mochi seems to be the best seller here as they are freshly made in house daily. If I remember correctly the mochi were around $1-2/each and they were being sold in boxes as well. I really wanted the strawberry mochi as it had actual strawberries inside, but it was already sold out by the time I arrived, so I settled for the mung bean mochi.
I forgot to took a picture because I was too hungry, and there was no restaurants opened yet when I got there (4:30PM!!?!). The mochi tasted fresh and both the skin and filling of mochi were soft, smooth and not overly chewy. It was not too sweet either and the mung bean flavor really came through, just lovely!
I didn’t enjoy the pastry as there was more dough than fillings, and I hated how mushy the fillings were. In general I prefer to have some real “bites” for the filling, rather than just a spread of a sweet paste.
BELLY GOOD CAFE & CREPES
Another one of those must try in J-town! This shop was located in the food court of the mall (same mall as Daiso) and there was a constant line up every time I passed by here.
Just like Millie Creperie in Toronto (review here), this shop offers both savoury and sweet Japanese-style crepe. With that said, there is a wider range of selections to choose from here, and from Yelp pictures, the staff put a lot of attention on the decorations of each crepe! The crepes were also affordable as they were under $10/each and you can actually let the staff know whether you want it on a plate or cone. The shop also sells bubble tea and ice cream as well.
I decided to order the crepe with flan and no ice cream, as the weather in SF that day was terrible.. The wait wasn’t too bad as it took around 10 minutes for my crepe to be made, and note that these were easily shareable between 2 people! They had to be almost twice the size of the crepes at Millie Creperie. American. That’s why. (I joke :p).
While the crepe was super adorable and made a great Instagram-worthy pic, I felt it was a bit overhyped. The crepe was a bit too soft and flappy, it didn’t really held up well without the cone paper and fell apart when I tried to eat it. I liked the crepe at Millie Creperie more as the texture was right, not too thick and not chewy/doughy at the same time. The flans were delicious though and it was not too sweet, so the entire crepe itself didn’t feel overly sweetened either. With that said, I was disappointed to find the ingredients filled up around 1/3 of the crepe, and the rest was empty. Lastly, the decorations…. I can’t remember what they used (other than pretzel) but it had a very strange texture and taste, it was like eating sweet wax..
KINOKUNIYA BOOK STORE
A very fun store to browse around when you are in J-town! If you are a manga/anime lover, you will love the first floor of the bookstore as they had tons of manga collection, posters, figurines and any anime-related items. The second floor offered a large range of books in English, Japanese and Chinese, as well as gifts! The store was well organized, clean and spacious. The prices here were a bit more expensive, which is understandable as some of the items are imported.
Across from the bookstore, there was a shop called Pika Pika where you can take pictures in the photo booth and decorate it, just like the ones you would find in Japan! Outside of the Japan Center, within 10 mins walk you can also find another “mall” called New People. The mall had a mini movie theater, an escape room and stores that carry imported Japanese clothing with a focus on Harajuku street fashion and lolita subculture.
If you are looking for some quick snacks or you were just amazed at everything in J-town (like me) and wanted to try everything, check out Kissako tea stand. The owner was a lovely Japanese lady and she told me everything in store, even the mochi were handmade by her!
The shop wasn’t much of a store-front, it was more like a small shack by the stairs and they don’t have much seating. Price was very reasonable and cheap! Other than snacks, the shop also offered lunch menu items such as sushi and bento boxes.
The mochi was super chewy and delicious, glazed with a sweet soy sauce and was more sweet than savoury, I highly recommend it!
I can’t remember how much was the mochi here nor what filling did I get, but I remember I didn’t enjoy it as much.The mochi here was more dry and doughy than the one I got from Benkyodo bakery.
The orinigi here was perfectly packed with rice & fillings. With that said, I found the rice to be on the bland side but the sour and salty umeboshi (pickled plum) helped to add some flavor to the rice ball.
Woohoo!!! I have heard of Daiso for so long now but unfortunately there isn’t a store in Toronto yet :(. If you don’t know what is it, Daiso is essentially a Japanese dollar store and I believe there are two locations in San Francisco, however I preferred this location as there were more varieties.
Other than the normal household, cosmetics and snacks, you will run into weird… Japanese things.. and it only get weirder as you scroll down :p.
I didn’t know this was a thing LOL, not so sure how useful it is.
Afraid of plastic surgery and need bigger boobs? Don’t worry this will take care of it.
Funny story: I actually bought 5 of that and 5 of the boxes below….you can imagine the face of the cashier when he saw these. Derp. The instruction was in Japanese and the picture wasn’t really helping, so I hope the following steps would be helpful if you decide to buy this (LOL):
- Take the non-inflated boobs out of the box.
- Stick onto your tshirt or .. nip..
- Squeeze (literally) for 5-10 minutes until the boobs get bigger.
- Wear a shirt and enjoy your big boobies.
I’m joking about the last part, the “boobs” shape were really awkward and these wouldn’t stick on if you already have boobs. You have to be really flat like a plasma TV for these to stick on. Ok that’s enough boob for today, children.
Self-explanatory… I guess…. I don’t think you guys need instructions for this… LOL.
Overall I think J-town was a fun place for strolling around and some shopping. Was it worth a visit? I say yes if there are festivals going on, otherwise I thought it was a little bit boring and it’s not a must-go-to-place if your schedule is packed with other destinations.
Related San Francisco post:
[Chinese/Food truck] The Chairman
[Cafe] Andytown Coffee Roasters
[Winery/Napa Valley] Black Stallion Winery
[Italian/Napa Valley] Tra Vigne
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