San Francisco is known for having some of the best and most innovative restaurants in the country. With fresh produce and seafood nearby, talented chefs, and a diverse population, the dining scene is vibrant and cutting edge.
Here’s our favorites:
1. Kokkari Estiatorio
Kokkari Estiatorio serves upscale Mediterranean cuisine in an old-world, rustic ambiance complete with a large rotisserie fireplace and exposed wooden beams. The restaurant has been open in the Financial District since 2001, but it has aged well and its popularity shows no sign of waning anytime soon. Chef Erik Cosselmon’s specializes in refined Greek cuisine, and his dishes are always innovative and often amazing. The signature lamb and many of the other meats are spit-roasted in the roaring fireplace, and their aromas waft through the large dining room. Three different whole fish are available, and they can be ordered either baked in the wood oven with tomatoes and olives or grilled with lemon. The more bustling front room features the cozy bar area, the busy fireplace and rotisserie, and a rustic dining room. In the back, the large Taverna room is a bit quieter and offers views of the open kitchen. Guests needing a restroom take a secretive elevator down to a dark lair below – read more here (Photo by Mighty Travels)
2. Foreign Cinema
Foreign Cinema is a combination hip, popular restaurant and foreign movie drive-in theater in the Mission District. The acclaimed restaurant opened in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1999, which is back when the Mission District wasn’t the trendy place it is today. The building was an old movie theater, so owners (and chefs) Gayle Pirie and John Clark decided to project old movies onto a neighboring building in the courtyard. The industrial space is hip and chic, with judicious use of reclaimed wood, string lights, glass, and concrete. Several Spaces are available for private dining, including an art gallery, Modernism West. Adjacent to the restaurant is Laszlo, a bar that offers after dinner drinks and a music spun by a DJ. The menu features Californian cuisine and changes according to the season.
In its early days, Foreign Cinema earned a reputation for its fabulous Persian-spiced fried chicken, and it’s still a favorite. On weekends, regulars line up for the popular brunch, which includes house-made organic pop tarts – read more here (Photo by Roland Tanglao)
3. Swan Oyster Depot
Swan Oyster Depot serves quintessential San Francisco seafood – fresh and with no frills. The restaurant has been in the same location of the Nob Hill/Russian Hill neighborhood since 1912 and is as popular as ever. The space is small with only 18 counter seats and no tables, so it gets crowded early and stays that way until closing time at 5:30 PM. The interior is long and narrow and has a diner feel to it – a long counter separates the kitchen and the seating area, and a trophy marlin, old photos and memorabilia lines the walls. The menu is hand-painted on the back wall behind the sink. The place is clean, but nothing about it is fancy. The recipes are simple – basically raw, steamed, fried, smoked, or put in a soup or salad. Nevertheless, the seafood is some of the freshest and best anywhere in the city. For drinks, there’s a few beers on tap and a few wines. Diners enjoy watching the kitchen staff working, and the service is super-friendly.
It can get crowded, so there is usually a line waiting to get inside. Waiting times fur lunch are typically over an hour. Once seated, however, the service is pleasant and diners are not rushed. Get there before the 10:30 opening time to have the shortest line – read more here (Photo by Charles Kremenak)
4. The Slanted Door
The Slanted Door is an upscale, nationally-acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant that offers inventive, modern takes on family recipe classics using quality ingredients. All of the dishes are created by Chef Charles Phan after much research and testing, and the menu ranges from Vietnamese street food to innovative Asian entrees featuring fresh and sustainable local seafood. Dishes are meant to be shared family-style. In addition to the excellent food, there is a full bar with signature cocktails and a dessert menu created by the staff pastry chef. With over 20 of Phan’s family working at the restaurant, the business is a real family affair, and the family hospitality makes for a very warm and hospitable setting.
The restaurant is located in the Ferry Building Marketplace and features a contemporary, open-space design with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooks the San Francisco Bay. There is some outdoor seating, as well. The atmosphere at The Slanted Door is relaxed and congenial, with a clientele that ranges from hipsters, to business people to tourists. The place is considered a bit pricey by some diners. It does get crowded, so reservations are recommended – read more here (Photo by Beth Kanter)
Nopa is a super-popular restaurant serving seasonal, ingredient-focused, California-Mediterranean cuisine and specializes in wood-fired dishes. The name “Nopa” stands for “north of the Panhandle” – with the Panhandle being the eastern sliver of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The area has historically been called the Western Addition, and the newer name is said to have been popularized by the emergence of the restaurant in 2006. Whatever the name of the neighborhood, it’s such a trendy place that The New York Times declared to be the next Mission District in 2012. The restaurant has grown to define the neighborhood and become a community gathering place. Chef Laurence Jossel and his wife, Allyson bring a richness to the cooking and the setting that lends itself to bonhomie and conversation. The restaurant occupies two stories of a former bank building, and the old vault serves as the wine cellar.
The restaurant is just as hot as the neighborhood. Lines form outside the door before the doors open, and people make reservations up to a month in advance. There is a communal table where walk-in diners may be able to grab a spot – read more here (Photo by Lim Ashley)
6. Bi-Rite Creamery
Bi-Rite Creamery serves small-batch ice cream in a small shop in the Mission District where they make many of the ingredients or source them from local farmers. According to GQ magazine, The best ice cream in America comes from Bi-Rite Creamery, and the secret probably resides in the quality of the ingredients. Bi-Rite makes their own marshmallows for the Rocky Road, they roast organic bananas for Roasted Banana ice cream, and they harvest honey from hives on the roof of their market for the Honey Lavender ice cream. The cream comes from the Straus Family Creamery, and the fruits come from small local farms.
Forget rice – the true San Francisco treat may just be the classic Salted Caramel Ice Cream from Bi-Rite Creamery – it rich and creamy and has just enough salt to give it some bite – read more here (Photo by John)
7. Gary Danko
Gary Danko is located in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood and offers California seasonal cuisine accompanied with impeccable service and a huge wine list. The restaurant is highly regarded – it has been deemed the best restaurant in San Francisco according to Zagat, and it was awarded one Michelin star in 2012. Chef Gary Danko has been nominated for and has won numerous awards from the James Beard Foundation, and in 2013 he was nominated for Outstanding Chef of the Year.
The restaurant opened in 1999 and is as popular as it ever was. Diners choose from three, four or five prix-fixe menu courses that touch on California, French and Mediterranean cuisines. Many of the most popular dishes, such as the Roast Maine Lobster, are served year round, while other items rotate depending on the season and the availability of local ingredients. The service is as close to perfect as it gets, balancing a meticulous attention to detail with a discriminating lack of intrusiveness. As a rarity in today’s restaurants, there is tableside service of tea, caviar, cheese, and flambéed desserts. Beautiful floral arrangements highlight the elegant, dimly-lit dining rooms, and the bathroom is the size of a spa – read more here (Photo by kennejima)
8. State Bird Provisions
State Bird Provisions opened in 2012 and quickly made a name for itself with its urban-rustic storefront setting and changing menu of American small plates served dim-sum style. The restaurant, a joint effort by husband‑and‑wife Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, was named as one of the best new restaurants in America for 2012 by both Bon Appetit and Esquire, and in 2013 it won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in the country. Food “provisions” are served tapas-style from a dim sum-like trolley or a tray, and diners choose their food from as servers take the trolleys and trays through the dining room. The menu changes daily, but items such as the deep-fried quail (the state bird of California), the cast-iron quail eggs, and the sourdough pancakes topped sauerkraut are popular mainstays.
State Bird has a nondescript storefront with a small sign out front. Inside, the decor is modern with brick walls, wood and metal accents, and local artwork. Sit at the counter for a view of the action in the open kitchen – read more here (Photo by David McSpadden)
At Frances, the bounty harvested daily by local, northern California farmers dictates what’s on the menu of this intimate neighborhood bistro. The food is modern California cuisine with some French influences, and the chef behind the creations is Melissa Perello. She rose to the rank of executive chef at Charles Nob Hill at the age of 25 before taking a few years off and regrouping before redirecting her energies into opening her own place. Frances was named as one of the best new restaurants in the country when it opened in 2010 byBon Appetit, Esquire and the James Beard Foundation. The restaurant has matured, but the excitement has not subsided – Frances still has a reservation list two months long.
Frances is a cozy and casual nook in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. The dishes are refined, yet honest and approachable – the food is expertly cooked using the best ingredients, and the flavors and presentation are subtle instead of eager to impress. The very good house wine is served in a carafe and diners are charged by how many ounces they have poured. The setting is casual and very cozy – the tables are very close together – and the noise level is high. The service is very pleasant and accommodating – read more here (Photo by torbakhopper)
10. Tartine Bakery
Tartine Bakery serves the best bread in San Francisco, and maybe even the country, from this storefront bakery in the Mission District where there’s always a line waiting to buy the fresh-baked goods. Co-owners Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, National in 2008, and Tartine has been named of the best bakeries in America by both Bon Appetit and USA Today.
Everyone knows the loaves come out of the oven at 4:30 PM, so there will be a line waiting to buy the fresh-baked bread. Get in line early to be ensured of getting bread. Don’t stop at the bread, though, as the pastries, cakes, and especially the melt-in-your-mouth browned croissants, are worth the time and effort. During breakfast hours Tartine offers quiche, muesli, and a Croque Monsieur sandwich, and during lunch-time hours they offer hot-pressed sandwiches – read more here (Photo by Mike Deerkoski)
Benu is a SoMa hot-spot offering sophisticated, forward-thinking cuisine in a warm, minimalist Japanese setting. Chef and owner Corey Lee opened Benu in 2010 after spending four years as the chef de cuisine at the famed French Laundry in Yountville, CA. His small-bite tasting menu deftly melds contemporary American and Korean influences into a complete and unique dining experience. The food is inventive and artistically presented, and the complex flavors and textures are juxtaposed perfectly. The service is meticulous and accommodating. The wine list is stellar, and the master sommelier Yoon Ha is more than helpful.
The space is clean and modern with warm, muted colors and sleek wood furnishings and oversized cushions. An outdoor courtyard invites lingering. The tasting menu changes, but generally involves about 17 courses. an optional wine pairing also includes artisan beer, sake, and sometimes other surprises. Expect dinner to take about 2.5 hours. Favorite dishes include the thousand year old quail egg, the faux shark’s fin, and the foie gras xiao long bao – read more here (Photo by Krista)
12. La Taqueria
La Taqueria is a standout Mexican restaurant in the Mission District that makes widely-acclaimed tacos, burritos, carnitas, and aquas frescas. The decor is no frills, but the food at La Taqueria is delicious, authentic, and not pricey. The secret to their success may be that that make much of the stuff in-house. Owner Miguel Jara opened the place more than 40 years ago. Before opening, he spent a year building the place by himself. He was one of the first to sell Mexican tacos and burritos in San Francisco, and on his first day in business he sold out of product by 2 PM. The staff makes as much as possible in-house, and everything is perfectly seasoned and juicy.
Travel and Leisure recently named La Taqueria one of the “Best Tacos in America,” and, in 2015, FiveThirtyEight declared them to have America’s Best Burrito in a competition that evaluated 67,391 burrito-selling establishments. The place is small and seating is limited. The burritos are constructed assembly-line style with the pico de gallo going on at the end. Somehow, all of the ingredients are able to retain their flavor after being mixed together, and the lack of rice in the burritos means the flavors are not diluted. Burritos can be ordered griddled, which means they’re thrown on the grill and browned on all sides – read more here (Photo by stu_spivack)
13. Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina
Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina are family-run, farm-to-table Italian restaurants that are next door neighbors in San Francisco’s Mission District. Chef Craig Stoll won the Best Chef: Pacific from the James Beard Foundation in 2008.
Delfina was opened by Anne and Craig Stoll in 1998 and introduced refined regional Italian food to a sleepy restaurant scene in the Mission district. Classic dishes such as Spaghetti with Plum Tomatoes are made to feel contemporary with house-made pastas and sauces, quality ingredients, and expert preparation. The bread is from Tartine Bakery nearby. The small space is nearly always packed with neighborhood regulars, and the staff is friendly and efficient.
Pizzeria Delfina was opened soon after the original restaurant in a space next door. The pizzas are Neapolitan with a thin, crisp crust, and they are topped with local, seasonal ingredients. The clam pie is a local favorite. Seating is limited, so there is often a line. There is some outside seating for when the weather is cooperative – read more here (Photo by tannaz)
Aziza is a restaurant in San Francisco’s Richmond District known for their modern, California-influenced Moroccan cuisine and their eclectic twists on classic cocktails. Owner/Chef Mourad Lahlou was born in Marrakesh and came to the United States to study economics at San Francisco State University. He taught himself how to recreate the dishes from his home country, and he opened Aziza in 2002. The restaurant has grown and adapted with the times, and it’s still a vibrant place with a passion for cooking. Lahlou has been a winner on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and Aziza has been awarded a Michelin Star for the 5 years running. The Michelin star is reflected in both the food and the exceptional service, but the price point is a little below other Michelin restaurants.
The space is warm and romantic, with dim lighting, stuccoed walls, deep red accents, and Moorish arches. Much of the seating is in small nooks. Guests can order from the a la carte menu or get a deeper experience with the 10-course tasting menu. Aziza also features a lengthy list of innovative cocktails and exceptional desserts from Melissa Chou – read more here (Photo by Jonathan)
15. Brenda’s French Soul Food
Brenda’s French Soul Food brings New Orleans’ Cajun and Creole cooking to San Francisco, with everything from four flavors of beignets to classic gumbo and red beans and rice. Brenda Buenviaje grew up in the small town of Harvey on the West bank of New Orleans and learning how to gather foods and cook as a child. After graduating from LSU, she followed her passion for cooking by working her way p the ladder in various New Orleans restaurants. In 1997, she moved to San Francisco. After gaining respect and attention in restaurant circles there, she branched out and opened her casual namesake restaurant in 2007. The response was immediately overwhelming, and Brenda’s quickly became one of San Francisco’s most popular breakfast and lunch destinations.
The place is casual and lively spot in the somewhat sketchy Tenderloin. Go on off hours or expect a wait. Once inside, start with the Beignet Flight before moving on to the heartier fare. The service is very good and the prices are reasonable. Brenda’s does serve dinner most days of the week, and it’s not nearly as crowded as other times during the day – read more here (Photo by _e.t)
Acquerello offers exquisite formal Italian dining in a romantic, white tablecloth setting in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood. The restaurant opening is 1989 as the brainchild of Giancarlo Paterlini and Executive Chef Suzette Gresham. It was a more casual Italian restaurant at it first, but it has evolved into an upscale place offering superb Italian cuisine with contemporary touches, and it’s known for it’s attentive servers and expert sommeliers. Many rare wines from their vast cellar are available by the glass. The restaurant has received many accolades for its amazing food, wine and service, and in 2015 it was awarded two stars by the Michelin Guide.
The cuisine is offered in prix fixe three, four or five course meals, or as a tasting menu. The space is actually an old church with wooden beams and ornate iron braces – read more here (Photo by Joshua Bloom)
17. Burma Superstar
Burma SuperStar has been open in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood since 1992 and serves food that is herbal, tangy, balanced, flavorful, delicious. The food is also inexpensive, and a no-reservation policy means eager crowds line up outside the door to get a table.
Many Burmese immigrated to the Bay Area after a military coup in Burma (Myanmar) in 1962. When Burma SuperStar opened in 1992, it mostly catered to local Burmese who missed their native cuisine. Current current owners Joycelyn Lee and Desmond Htunlin bought the restaurant in 2001, and hit hard times when the dot-com bubble burst soon thereafter. The restaurant didn’t really become moderately successful until 2005 when word began to spread about how good the food was, especially the vegetarian samusa soup. Today, not only are there lines waiting to get into the restaurant, but Burmese restaurants have popped up all over the Bay Area – read more here (Photo by Jen)
18. Ike’s Place
Ike’s Place opened on Halloween of 2007 in the Castro, and lines soon formed out the door and around the block, making Ike’s the most in-demand sandwich in San Francisco. The secret may just be in the sauce – “Ike’s Dirty Secret Sauce,” in this case. Ike Shehadeh is the man behind the sandwiches and its special sauce. The sandwiches come on a choice of freshly-baked French, sourdough, wheat, or the famous Dutch crunch bread, and they’re massive. are large. All sandwiches come toasted with lettuce, tomato and Dirty Sauce.
There are no fewer than 78 sandwiches on the Ike’s Place menu, and that doesn’t count the sandwiches on their “secret menu” of discontinued or specially-available sandwiches. In total, there’s over 200 sandwiches available. As good as the sandwiches are, Ike’s is nearly as famous for the creative names it bestows upon said sandwiches – think Elvis Keith, Heath Ledger, and Sneaky Kitty – read more here (Photo by AgentAkit)
Perbacco is a sleek and stylish urban restaurant serving refined northern Italian fare using seasonal and local ingredients when possible. The dishes are more-or-less classic Liguria and Piedmont fare, but the execution is what sets Perbacco apart. The salumi is house-made, and the agnolouti and raviora are hand-stuffed. The wine list is large with over 20 wines sold by the glass. Dessert should not be skipped,
Perbacco is located in San Francisco’s Financial District and the site of many power lunches, and it remains popular at dinner. Chef/owner Staffan Terje and owner Umberto Gibin have a sincere passion for the food and wine of Italy, and their restaurant has garnered praise from Bon Appetit, Town and Country, and HuffingtonPost. The place is large and lively with a marble bar in front and tables and intimate booths in the back and upstairs. Exposed brick walls, wood accents, and warm colors exude a romantic ambiance. An open kitchen lets diners see the talented chefs in action – read more here (Photo by Sibel)
20. Greens Restaurant
Greens Restaurant has been considered one of the country’s premiere vegetarian restaurants for over 30 years. Proprietor Annie Somerville was a pioneer in the use of local and seasonal ingredients and a pioneer in transforming vegetarian food into gourmet cuisine, and she has gained national recognition for both his restaurant and her bestselling cook-books. Much of the organic produce comes from The Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm near Muir Beach and Star Route Farms in Bolinas. The restaurant certainly shines the spotlight on vegetables, but the flavors are rich and complex enough that plenty of meat-loves absolutely love the food.
Greens Restaurant is located in Fort Mason an airy warehouse space with lots of reclaimed wood and local artwork and a warm charm. With large picture windows looking out over San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, the beautiful views are the perfect complement to the savory cuisine – read more here (Photo by R Barrett Hooper)
Range is a modern and cozy restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco that opened in 2005 and remains as relevant as ever. The restaurant is run by the husband and wife team of Phil and Cameron West, and pastry chef Michelle Polzine makes some of the best desserts in San Francisco. The food is a simple menu of seasonal fare expertly prepared with enough creative flourish to make it relevatory. Chef West pairs seemingly incongruent ingredients and makes them work. The space is industrial-chic warmed with muted colors and lots of wood, making Range is a great choice for a comfortable romantic dinner. The friendly bar is worthy of its own praise with a wine list that is very good and tempting cocktails prepared by true mixologists.
Quince is an upscale Italian and French restaurant in San Francisco’s Financial District run by Michael Tusk and his wife, Lindsay. In 2011, Tusk was named the winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef – Pacific. Quince has earned two stars from the Michelin Guide and it was named one of the “100 Best Wine Restaurants in the Country” for 2012 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.
The restaurant originally opened in Octavia in 2003 and moved to a larger space in Jackson Square in 2009. When the Tusks opened another restaurant, Cotogna, across the hallway from Quince in 2010, they made the decision to make up the ante at Quince into more upscale, complex dishes while letting Cotogna specialize in the more casual pasta dishes. The fortuitous move made Cotogna instantly popular and allowed Tusk to fine-tune his culinary talents on more refined fare at Quince. The space at Quince is romantic and intimate, and the menu changes daily. The service is intuitive and attentive, and the dishes are beautifully plated with food that practically bursts with interesting flavors and textures. Diners can choose between a tasting menu or a four course dinner. The recently-renovated space features beautiful artwork, fresh flower arrangements, and Venetian glass chandeliers – read more here (Photo by Jan Mark Holzer)
Boulevard is a beautifully designed and popular French/New American restaurant located on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront and the Bay Bridge. The restaurant began as a neighborhood bistro over twenty years ago and has gradually transitioned into a destination restaurant. Boulevard has also earned one star from the Michelin Guide, and, in 2012, the restaurant won the James Beard Foundation’s award for Outstanding Restaurant. Renowned Chef Nancy Oakes runs the show with a longtime team that includes director of operations Kathy King and designer Pat Kuleto.
Expect an all-around wonderful dining experience at Boulevard. The menu consists of popular mainstays, plus interesting seasonal additions, all with a subtle balance of flavor and texture. Everything is beautifully plated and pleasing to the eye. The space is warm and comfortable with muted colors, dim lights, and deep woods, and the atmosphere lends itself to a relaxing, enjoyable meal. Walk-ins and solo diners will enjoy siting at the counter that faces the open kitchen. Boulevard is on the pricey side, but the service and food are first class – read more here (Photo by Class V)
24. Zuni Cafe
Zuni Cafe serves fresh California cuisine – much of it in a wood-fired oven, and has been a favorite restaurant of San Franciscans for over twenty-five years. The Market Street bistro opened in 1979, making it an ancient relic by San Francisco restaurant standards. Zuni originally served Southwestern cuisine in a small storefront location. In 1987, Judy Rodgers, who was an early disciple of Alice Waters, took over as chef and transformed the menu to include more Mediterranean and New American fare. Over the years the restaurant has expanded numerous times and added a brick oven. Judy Rodgers passed away in late 2013, but the restaurant has carried her spirit well.
The airy space has an open kitchen and a comforting vibe. The perennial favorite of Zuni diners is juicy, smoky chicken roasted in the wood-fired oven. The gnocchi, burgers, shoestring potatoes, and raw oysters also stand out. Zuni Cafe offers a nice selection of beers, wine, coffee and teas – and they are famous for their Bloody Mary – read more here (Photo by rulenumberone2)
25. House of Prime Rib
House of Prime Rib is a traditional, clubby English-style steakhouse in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood famous for prime rib and martinis. The landmark restaurant has been open since 1949 and and still maintains an air of timelessness. The cozy dining rooms are dimly-lit and appointed with leather banquettes, warm fireplaces, and dark wood accents. The house-aged, corn-fed prime rib is house-aged for 21 days before being roasted and carved table-side from stainless steel domed carts. The House of Prime Rib coats each piece of meat with coarse rock salt before roasting, which keeps the juice inside while making for a nicely seasoned crust on the outside.