As the foodie movement cooks on, walking food tours are sizzling.
The template is simple: Sign on to a tour, meet your fellow jaunters at a designated spot and follow the guide on a tasting tour of restaurants, markets and/or other food purveyors. Typically, groups are limited to eight to 12 people for 2- to 31/2-hour walks, visiting four to six venues for tastes and sips. Prices range from around $50 to $90 per person. Team-building corporate groups and private parties account for a big slice of the quiche, sometimes as much as half.
In a symbiotic relationship, tour operators arrange with restaurants and other food-centric stores to regularly bring in groups for half-hour or so visits. Operators rotate restaurants from a pre-selected pool of participants. The restaurants reserve space for the groups and serve signature dishes, and the owners, managers or chefs chat with the tourers. In return, the restaurants get exposure (and future business) they would not ordinarily have. From the tourers’ point of view, one attraction is the brief yet fascinating immersion into the culture and history of the neighborhoods being toured.
A dozen or so food-tour companies operate in San Francisco, one of the world’s great dining destinations. Tours explore destinations in the Mission, Haight-Ashbury and Financial districts; Chinatown, North Beach (“Little Italy”), Union Square, the Ferry Building Marketplace, Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, Oakland and others.
We connected with Avital Ungar (“I’m a foodie to the max”), who opened Avital Food Tours in San Francisco four years ago (415-355-4044, www.avitaltours.com). More than 30 restaurants participate in her four tours. We made four stops on her Mission District tour, chosen from a rotating list of 11.
“I wanted to tell the story of the district’s culinary creativity and the chefs who are pushing boundaries, and connect people to that,” she said. “ My goal is to support local businesses in a fun and unique way.”
In Sacramento, Local Roots offers restaurant, farm and neighborhood tours (800-407-8918, www.localrootsfoodtours.com). Also, the sixth annual Ronald McDonald House Red Shoe Crawl on June 28 will give tourers a choice of tastes at 60 restaurants in the midtown-downtown corridor (916-734-4230, www.rmhcnc.org).
Farther afield, Carmel Food Tours is the only company that hosts tastes-and-sips walks in the 1-square-mile village that bulges with 60-plus restaurants (831-216-8161, www.carmelfoodtour.com). For Santa Cruz and Capitola, Santa Cruz Food Tours is the place to go (866-736-6343, www.santacruzfoodtour.com).