Five of San Francisco's Feistiest Culinary Characters


One thing our city has never been short on is dyed-in-the-wool characters. This is a proud history: from Emperor Norton to the Brown Twins, we’ve been blessed with a long line of some of the biggest personalities and eccentrics around. Here are five in our local culinary scene who are keeping things colorful.

The Tamale Lady (aka Virginia Ramos)

The Tamale Lady is a fixture at San Francisco bars, with her cart of fresh, hot tamales served with sass and love to the many boozehounds who adore her (and have been saved by her). Lately there has been some drama about where she can sell her tamales, so stand by—you can follow her on Twitter for updates (and some chuckles) to hold you over until your next hug from her.

Celia Sack of Omnivore Books 

Okay, so she can't exactly feed you, but she sure will sell you some amazing books to inspire you to get your butt in the kitchen, or at least understand the history of baking in Normandy. While a visit to her store is an awesome outing, it's her sassy Twitter feed that is comedy gold, full of customer (and life) commentary that will crack you the hell up.

Flora Gaspar of Da Flora

This quirky and romantic little gem in North Beach serves some creative interpretations of Venetian food, and the sweet potato gnocchi have cult status. The owner, Flora, can be a bit prickly and does not suffer fools gladly (read: tourists with fanny packs and no reservations), but get on her good side (start by paying cash) and she'll take good care of you in what's the equivalent of her parlor.

The Sancimino Family of Swan Oyster Depot

Swan Oyster Depot has been on Polk Street since1912, and the Sancimino family has owned it since 1946. If you love fresh seafood, yeah, their worn marble counter is the place to go. But it's all about the brothers' friendly banter and big laughs that will keep those lines long for another century. These guys have chatter down to a science. Nothing like lunch and a show.

Mary Risley of Tante Maries Cooking School

Beloved local chef and teacher Mary Risley has been teaching cooking at Tante Marie’s for over 30 years. Her rather famous tell-it-like-it-is style is evident (and hilarious) on her YouTube channel, which includes such classics as Just Put the F*cking Turkey in the Oven and Fed Up with the Holidays?. Let's hear it for salty ladies who can also teach you how to season everything just right.


Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe and get more food news and gossip at Follow her on Twitter: @tablehopper.

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