Top Restaurants in San Francisco
To hear the locals rave, you’ll never drink better coffee or eat a better burrito or share a more authentic pizza than you can here. San Francisco, for its relatively compact size, packs a culinary punch that larger cities never will.
1499 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
In the buzzy Mission neighborhood, Al’s Place is the creation of former Ubuntu chef Aaron London and does genius things with seafood and vegetables, especially vegetables—vegetarians love this spot. This is one of the hottest restaurants in the city: Its menu is inventive, and the dishes come out tasting as rich in flavor as their menu descriptions. Take the french fries, for instance. Rather than just being cut, fried, and seasoned, these are made from new potatoes grown on-site, brined for four days in 68-degree water with cabbage leaves and salt, then fried in rice bran oil and served with smoked apple barbecue sauce. The resulting fries taste crunchy on the outside, creamy in the center, and slightly pickled. And all this work is just for a side dish! Imagine what goes into the main dishes, which include an excellent green pea curry with black-lime cod and pickled strawberry. The interior decor is unassuming and doesn’t detract from the food; it’s a modern, hip version of a cafeteria, with tile floors, white walls hung with paintings, and wooden tables and chairs. The dining experience is complemented by an excellent cocktail and wine list.
1658 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA
If one is going to throw around the word “iconic,” let’s make sure it’s used appropriately. As with Zuni. The awkwardly shaped restaurant—it’s in a narrow storefront with wider spaces on the mezzanine—was opened in 1979 by Billy West. West’s best move was hiring chef Judy Rodgers in 1987. She put in a brick oven—and thus the Zuni roast chicken was born. This dish, more than any other (except perhaps the Caesar salad), defines Zuni. The chicken is roasted in the brick oven and served over a bread salad: greens with chewy bread croutons. Simple, perfectly cooked, and seasonal. Rodgers died in 2013, but the restaurant soldiers on without her. The menu changes with the season and with what the local farms are growing, and will doubtless explain the provenance of your meat. Rdgers, along with her peer across the bay, Alice Waters, pioneered California cooking, and the cooks who have passed through here have gone on to define today’s vibrant restaurant scene.
309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA
Burma Superstar lives up to its name. Opened more than 20 years ago, the Inner Richmond restaurant has gained a following for such specialties as hand-wrapped samosas filled with meat and potatoes, chili lamb, and traditional rice salad. Known for its curries and use of spices, Burmese cuisine combines the flavors of India, Laos, China, and Thailand. All these influences come together seamlessly on Burma Superstar’s wide-ranging menu, which features home-style dishes prepared with traditional recipes. The restaurant also has locations in Oakland and Alameda. Reservations aren’t accepted.
600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
With no sign above its unassuming storefront, Tartine is most easily recognized by the line that snakes out its door and down Guerrero Street. People patiently wait for flaky pains au chocolat (the best outside Paris, in my opinion), decadent banana cream tarts, and hot-pressed sandwiches stuffed with fillings like smoked sheep cheese and quince jam. The bakery’s James Beard Award–winning pastry chefs also turn out loaves of stone hearth–baked bread, available every day after 4:30 p.m. Nurse a coffee and nibble on a croissant at the communal table, or take picnic provisions to nearby Dolores Park.
8 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
Long before it was a tourist mecca filled with souvenir shops and selfie sticks, Fisherman’s Wharf was the industrial hub of San Francisco, crisscrossed by railroad tracks and home to lumberyards and a booming fishing industry. Nunzio Alioto arrived in 1898 from Sicily and set up a fish stall at No. 8 Fisherman’s Wharf, where he sold cracked crab and shrimp to other Italian workers. He also met and married a local girl named Rose. When Nunzio died at the age of 49, Rose rolled up her sleeves and took over her husband’s business, laying the foundation for what is now one of San Francisco’s oldest family-run restaurants. Rose was one of the first restaurateurs to create a fish stew called cioppino, one of San Francisco’s signature dishes. No surprise, Alioto’s menu is seafood- and Italian cuisine–focused, and peppered with a number of Alioto family recipes, such as the Risotto Alioto with prawns and scallops, and the Rigatoni Bolognese. The most popular dish, and rightfully so, is Nonna Rose’s Famous Crab Cioppino, a heaping bowl of local Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, and prawns in a perfectly seasoned broth. Don’t forget to wear the bib—you’ll need it.
1058 Folsom Street
Deli Board, a small SoMa joint, is nirvana for sandwich lovers, with offerings made from the best ingredients found this side of Cleveland, which is where owner Adam Mesnick grew up. Design your own creation from a selection of bread, meats, and extras (pickles and cherry peppers are a must), or order one of his predesigned, prenamed beasts, which are piled-high combinations of meat, veg, sauce, and extras. Zeke is a Californian’s favorite, with turkey, avocado, bacon, cream cheese, pickled onion, sprouts, and mayonnaise on a French roll, while the Leroy Brown satisfies carnivorous cravings with Romanian pastrami, turkey, kosher salami, American cheese, Muenster cheese, pepperoncini, pickles, and homemade sauce. Check the website for daily specials, or just drop in to stock your picnic basket.
576 Haight Street
The radical philosophy at this friendly Haight Street place is that good barbecue is not about the sauce. You read that correctly. If you’ve been smothering your meat in barbecue sauce, you’ve been doing it all wrong. Real Southern-style barbecue, the pitmasters at Memphis Minnie’s will tell you, gets its flavor from seasoning and the smoke generated during the low-and-slow cooking over burning logs or coals. That’s why at Memphis Minnie’s the on-site meat smoker works 24/7, and the delicious smoky aroma hits you before you open the front door. The menu reads like a finger-licking road map around the country’s barbecue hot spots: Texas-style beef brisket cooked 18 hours, smoked fried chicken, smoked pastrami, St. Louis–style ribs, and Cajun andouille sausage. The pulled pork is so tender and flavorful, you’ll be amazed you ever ate it any other way or dared to cover it with sauce. Pair your meat with a few homemade sides such as coleslaw, mac ‘n’ cheese, and pit-smoked beans, and you’ll see Memphis Minnie’s is a change-the-way-you-think-about-barbecue experience.
428 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
Walk around the city and you are likely to stumble upon a food truck that dishes out some incredible grub. San Francisco residents love these modern chuck wagons, including native Carlos Muela, who opened SoMa StrEat Food Park in 2012. Its location under a freeway might feel like an unlikely spot to gather, but that hasn’t stopped locals from coming seven days a week to a space that serves as beer garden, communal dining space, and party spot all at once. Customers sit at picnic tables under strings of Edison bulbs and nibble selections bought from a rotating fleet of some of San Francisco’s best food trucks, including treats like crème brûlée, burgers, fish tacos, and eggs Benedict. The already festive atmosphere gets even more energized on nights when there is live music, or on days when the Giants or the 49ers games are broadcast on large TV screens.
515 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
This popular Mexican-food mainstay in the heart of San Francisco‘s Mission District is one of two places in the city that claim to have invented the Mission-style burrito (the other is El Faro): a hefty, elephant-leg-size wrap distinguished from other burritos by its size and the inclusion of rice and other ingredients. The restaurant was first opened as a meat market in 1967 by Mexican immigrants Raul and Michaela Duran, who are said to have served their first burrito in 1969 after noticing that local workers needed a substantial yet portable meal. The Mission Burrito was born, containing most of the food groups: protein, vegetables, dairy, and grains. The Durans converted their meat market into a full-time restaurant in 1972. Taqueria la Cumbre offers a full menu of Mexican food, all made fresh. The burritos are made assembly-line style. (Fun fact: When the Durans first came to San Francisco, they hired a high school kid to make flour tortillas before school. The kid, Jorge Santana, would go on to be a popular musician, like his brother Carlos.)
28 Waverly Pl, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
You enter Mister Jiu’s off of Waverly Place and step first into the dark and dreamy bar, a perfect place to pause for one of the restaurant’s inventive cocktails. With the mood set, follow the hallway, which gives way to the light and bright dining room that overlooks the lanterns and Chinese signs of Grant Avenue. Chef Brandon Jew and his talented team buzz around the open kitchen, whipping up small and large dishes of organic, locally sourced meat, fish, and vegetables. The cuisine makes modern versions of old classics: instead of the usual white doughy wrap, pork buns here are served on Dutch crunch rolls; hot and sour soup is served with Dungeness crab; and shui jiao dumplings are filled with lamb. Banquet-style dining is encouraged—how else will you get to test out that old-school Chinese restaurant mainstay, the lazy Susan, built into each round teak table? A prix fixe menu and à la carte ordering are available. Within six months of opening, Mister Jiu’s earned a Michelin star.
1570 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
There’s no need to fly all the way to Italy to try the pie that earned first place at the 2007 World Pizza Cup. Just head to North Beach and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, where chef-owner Tony Gemignani was the first American to win the title. Gemignani serves only 73 of the prize-winning Margherita pizzas a day, but the seven ovens in the kitchen make a broad selection of styles, including Sicilian, Roman, New York, St. Louis, and even a Detroit-style pie—a square pizza made with Wisconsin brick mozzarella cheese. To find Tony’s, either follow the scent of baking crust or look for the line of eager customers awaiting entry to the no-reservations corner eatery.
2 Marina Boulevard
Greens was founded by the San Francisco Zen Center in 1979, and the original chef, Deborah Madison, shifted the idea of vegetarian cuisine from bland sustenance to sensational tastes. Chef Annie Somerville took over in 1985 and elevated Greens to the lauded perch it sits on today in San Francisco’s competitive restaurant realm. Greens was groundbreaking by using local ingredients from fresh farms and dairies long before it was trendy to do so. The 130-seat restaurant in Fort Mason has views all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The menu changes seasonally (so come back often) and presents dishes such as poblano chili stuffed with goat cheese, avocado, and crème fraîche; roasted figs and burrata; or a pappardelle pasta with English and snow peas. After three decades in San Francisco, Greens still blazes a vegetarian trail, and food-savvy San Francisco knows a good thing when it tastes it.
2534 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
The date-night dinner-and-a-movie standard has been taken to a new stylish height at this acclaimed restaurant in the Mission District. Grab a table on the patio under the strings of lights to dine on seasonal California cuisine while films flicker on the back wall. It’s romantic, and easily one of San Francisco’s most unique dining settings. But don’t think of Foreign Cinema as just a gimmick. The stellar cuisine is the real scene-stealer here, which is why Foreign Cinema is consistently ranked as one of the city’s best restaurants. Chef Gayle Pirie and her partner, chef John Clark, have transformed this into a destination restaurant. Reservations are still tough to get, especially for Saturday night and Sunday brunch, but plan ahead and you’ll be glad. From fresh local oysters on the half shell to caramel pecan sticky buns to a popular sesame curry fried chicken, the food is always as stellar as the setting, making date night or brunch with friends an event you won’t soon forget. The adjacent wine bar, Laszlo, is perfect for predinner drinks or nightcaps.
601 Union Street
Original Joe’s has the same birth year as another pretty famous San Francisco landmark: the Golden Gate Bridge. Both are definitely worth checking out, but only Original Joe’s will serve you a hearty Italian meal in a red leather booth. Back in 1937, the restaurant was a 14-stool counter on Taylor Street where immigrant and family patriarch Tony Rodin served Croatian-Italian-American comfort food. Original Joe’s is run by the third generation of the family. A fire destroyed the first location in 2007, but the corner spot in North Beach that opened five years later can’t be beat. Inside, the family’s San Francisco history is revealed by walls hung with black-and-white photos, letters, and other ephemera. The menu showcases some of Tony’s recipes, such as eggplant parmigiana, Joe’s meatballs, and veal parmigiana. Those counter stools are there, too, saved from the fire and brought over to the new Original Joe’s.
1000 Great Highway
With killer views of the waves crashing onto Ocean Beach, the Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant is one of the best places to grab a bite and watch the sunset in San Francisco. Before its current incarnation, the 1925 Spanish revival building served as a beach changing room, an Army outpost during WWII, and a VFW hall. The disused building was shuttered in 1970, but spared for its landmark WPA murals and mosaics. Come to see the murals, and stay for the food and Ocean Beach views. Upstairs, above the visitor center, the Beach Chalet Restaurant serves fresh fish and steaks. Downstairs, opening out to Golden Gate Park, the sunny and more casual Park Chalet offers burgers or fish and chips, and live music on weekends.
1 Pagoda Place
Hang Ah Tea Room’s brick facade and missing letters may not be much to look at from the outside, and the interior’s low ceilings, fluorescent lights, and basic furnishings won’t win awards, either, but the inexpensive dim sum served inside makes it worth a visit. It’s too small for rolling carts, but you can order soup dumplings, barbecue pork buns, shrimp dumplings, pot stickers, and many other freshly made, shareable bites. The menu has rice, noodle, and vegetable dishes, too. Hang Ah, established in 1920, calls itself the oldest continually operating dim sum restaurant in the United States and has been owned that whole time by the same handful of families.
2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA
A writer walks into a bar. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but when it happened at the Buena Vista on November 10, 1952, a new drink was born. Stanton Delaplane, a longtime columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, walked in on that chilly November day and told the bar owner, Jack Koeppler, about a warm whiskey-and-coffee concoction he’d tasted in Shannon, Ireland. The oft-told story goes that the two men spent the evening measuring and mixing and testing in an effort to re-create the drink. Eventually, the recipe was mastered, and seven decades later, the Buena Vista’s Irish coffee is as legendary as San Francisco fog. Bartenders in crisp white jackets line up glass goblets on the bar and make up to 2,000 Irish coffees per day.
240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA
Few restaurants more than 150 years old can be called trendy, but in innovation-crazy San Francisco, there is novelty in the classics, and Tadich Grill is the classic. The late Chronicle columnist and unabashed San Francisco-lover Herb Caen was also a frequent visitor. There’s a martini named after him, made with vodka, or as he called it, Vitamin V. The serious nature of the restaurant’s wood paneling, brass fixtures, and waiters in starched white aprons is matched by the food. No need to tinker with classic recipes for fried sand dabs or crab Louie, and the oysters and Hangtown fry are fine the way they have always been. The cioppino is by far the most popular dish on the menu, with about 27,000 bowls dished out a year. People come to Tadich Grill because they know what they’re getting: friendly service, great seafood, and a taste of San Francisco itself.
One Ferry Building #3, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA
Chef Charles Phan’s restaurant Slanted Door helped elevate Vietnamese cuisine in the United States, introducing it in all of its nuance and complexity to diners who may have tried pho soup only once, if that. When the original location closed in 2002, it came as a blow to the city’s dining scene, but fortunately Phan reopened at a new space in the Ferry Building. What also distinguishes Phan’s cooking is the use of products from local purveyors (lamb from Anderson Ranch, beef from Prather Ranch) and the occasionally surprising ingredients that would shock the purist (candied pecans in a grapefruit-and-jicama salad, roasted clams in a soy-milk broth).
4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122, USA
Outerlands is an Outer Sunset institution. The small restaurant near Ocean Beach serves local, organic cuisine in a rustic-chic setting. Covered floor-to-ceiling in warm, rough-hewn wood, the interior invites lingering over an artisan cocktail or a ginger-lemon apple cider. Lunch and dinner feature such refined but hearty options as cast-iron grilled cheese brushed with garlic oil and slow-cooked lamb shank with nasturtium leaf pesto. The weekend brunch draws a crowd and is worth the often lengthy wait. Standouts include the Dutch pancakes and the house-roasted turkey. You can always make the most of waiting for a table and head to the beach for a quick jaunt before you indulge.
1529 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115, USA
Nicole Krasinski describes the novel concept of her restaurant State Bird Provisions as “dim sum and a great hors d’oeuvre party morphed into one experience.” She and her husband, chef Stuart Brioza, prepare beautifully executed California cuisine such as pork-fried farro and boquerones on sesame pancakes. They then serve it on trolley carts, dim sum style. Each night, diners can choose from 12 to 15 seasonally inspired dishes in addition to the menu of six larger items, such as the State Bird—fried quail topped with Parmesan cheese. “It’s fun for the diners, but also it lets me be more spontaneous and creative in the kitchen,” Brioza says. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.
950 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
This 70-year-old Polynesian-inspired bar at the Fairmont Hotel is part Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean and part theme party with potent drinks. The bartenders mix rum cocktails of their own creation and showcase guest-star concoctions from local bars such as the famous margarita from Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, and the Punchbowl from Smuggler’s Cove. What really sets the Tonga Room apart, however, is the divine tiki-kitsch decor with thatched roofs and an hourly rain shower (thunder and lightning included) that sprinkles the central blue “lagoon,” the Fairmont’s former indoor pool. On weekend nights, a live band decked out in flowery shirts provides entertainment.
450 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
Soaring high above Union Square on the 21st floor of Kimpton’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Lizzie’s Starlight (formerly Harry Dention’s Starlight Room) still offers its signature 360-degree city views, but its new interiors are worth a second look, too. Windows have been expanded and the decor glammed up and modernized with wispy white curtains and a cool color palette to usher in a new era of sophisticated drinks and dancing. Even the name is new, and “Lizzie” is a nod to the alleged affair between Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth I. You can still count on classic and creative cocktails served in vintage-style barware, but the real star of the menu might be the food, which is anything but your average bar-bite bores. Do-not-skip delights include the caviar cannoli filled with whipped crème fraiche, and the ribeye and fried oyster skewers. If you love desserts, try the candied apple filled with apple butter mousse.