Chef Melissa King is a culinary legend in the Bay Area, but certainly not just here. You’ll recognize her as a finalist from Season 12 of Bravo’s Top Chef and right now, she’s competing on the current Top Chef season of All-Stars: Los Angeles.
Over the past few years I’d seen Melissa’s name on collaborations with my favorite SF-made-foods: a Chef Melissa King x Nana Joe’s Chef’s Blend Granola with yuzu and matcha, and the beloved series of Humphry Slocombe x Chef Melissa King ice cream pints in flavors like Hong Kong Milk Tea, Coconut & Shoyu Caramel, and Mango Mojito.
When we saw a pair of worn-in slides on Melissa’s feet in a few of her instagram posts, we were pretty honored. She agreed to meet us in our shared neighborhood, the Sunset district of San Francisco, on a (classically drizzly) spring Saturday to pick up specialty groceries and get a bite at favorite local spots.
Thanks for making it happen Melissa!
After a stop at Snowbird Coffee—she gets the Spanish honey latte—Melissa met us on 9th Avenue. We passed Green Apple Books and Tartine on our way into Queens Market, a recently-opened specialty Korean superette.
On the way in we noted a dreamy deli case, filled with fresh kimchee and bulk ferments: to name a couple, Fennel Kimchee with shaved fennel/sea bean/shallot/Takanotsume chili/anchovy sauce and Organic jujube-infused fermented soybean paste (plus about 10 more choices). Melissa made a point to stop on the way out for take-home kimchee.
In the back of the shop there are stacks of vegetables from local farms, curated for Korean cooking, and a rainbow of chips and ramen: my inner 8-year-old wanted to try them all. Melissa noted that Queens is a great addition to the neighborhood—specifically, she and many friends love that the shop is introducing Korean foods and vegetables to a broader audience.
At a shelf lined with big jars of heirloom chilies and dried beans, we inquired about some appealing dark red dried fruits—Melissa filled us in on dried Korean jujubes. They’re the same fruit as the Chinese red date, and used in traditional Chinese medicinal bone broth (Melissa’s family heritage is Chinese; her parents moved from Hong Kong to L.A. in the 60s, a distinct influence on her cooking style that combines the Bay Area’s best ingredients with modern techniques and Asian flavors).
On the way out, we asked: how did you get a pair of Mohinders to begin with? It’s a very San Francisco answer. At Outside Lands Music Festival in 2018, Melissa wandered up to our Mohinders booth with mutual friend Dawn (of S/he Apothecary) and bought a pair on the spot. She came to love how they get better with time and break in, and now wears them around town and while traveling.
Next up was lunch at a shared favorite: women-owned, colorfully laid-back Yo También Cantina on Hugo + 3rd. We are obsessed with the Venezuelan-Californian bowls and sandwiches Isa and Kenzie design and whip up, plus their housemade salsa picante and library of read-while-you’re-there art books.
Melissa ordered the Jammy Sammy (Jammy egg, provolone, fra’mani rosemary ham, house green sauce). We got the weekly rice bowl and a Pepper Dawg cookie because why resist.
P.S.— right now, locals can hit up Yo También, order online for curbside pickup!
Very full and stocked with kimchee and veggies, Melissa headed back home for the perfect Saturday activity—cooking up ribs on a foggy afternoon.
Where to find Melissa
Right now – Thursday nights on Top Chef Season 17! • At her May 30 online cooking course: learn the Top Chef-winning Coconut Corn Soup recipe
Anytime – Chefmelissaking.com • @chefmelissaking
Where we went
Queens Market on 9th Avenue, San Francisco • Yo También Cantina on Hugo Street, San Francisco