18 Iconic Restaurants to Try 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.
1658 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102, United States
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. Rodgers, 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, United States
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, United States
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.
1058 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103, United States
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.
515 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110, United States
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.)
One Ferry Building #8, San Francisco, CA 94111, United States
Blueberry Boy Bait may sound like a B-side song from an alternative band, but it’s actually just an ice cream flavor offered by Humphry Slocombe, a small shop in the Mission District. Owner and former pastry chef Jake Godby has made the name Humphry Slocombe synonymous with flavors and ingredients not often found in ice cream or sorbet. Case in point: best-seller Secret Breakfast, the flavor that launched a thousand Humphry Slocombe fans, a combo of homemade cornflakes and bourbon. Traditionalists will be happy to find “normal” flavors, too, but it’s Godby’s “march to your own drum” ethos that brings out his best work and keeps people lining up for creative scoops. Pick up a copy of The Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book, with 40 recipes you can re-create at home.
28 Waverly Pl, San Francisco, CA 94108, United States
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, United States
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.
Building A, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94123, United States
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, United States
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 St, San Francisco, CA 94133, United States
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.
1621 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109, United States
There are plenty of fancy doughnut shops. You know the type, the ones that count bacon or basil in their ingredient list. But if you’re looking for an old-school bastion of fluorescent lights and pink boxes full of fried dough, this is the spot. A family-run joint that has supplied prework breakfast and postbar bingeing since the 1960s, Bob’s draws a crowd day and night for the fresh doughnuts made from scratch. Bob’s bakes all the nostalgic favorites: glazed, chocolate, sprinkles, sugar, and fresh apple fritters, and crumb-topped doughnuts. You might also notice a giant doughnut in the window. Like a dare, this doughy beast invites you to take Bob’s Big Donut Challenge. Finish the beast within three minutes, and you’ll get your money back plus a Bob’s Donuts T-shirt and bragging rights, not to mention an inevitable stomachache.
1000 Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94121, United States
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.
2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109, United States
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.
2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109, United States
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.
4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122, United States
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, United States
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, United States
The Tonga Room & Hurricane Room remains a kitschy yet fun institution in San Francisco’s bar scene. While they serve food, the main attraction here are the (strong) and flavorful tiki drinks and the fully immersive decor: tables surround an indoor “pond” complete with a boat, and every hour a fake rain storm pours rain and thunder down from the ceiling.
If you like rum, you won’t want to miss their iconic mai-tais.
If you like rum, you won’t want to miss their iconic mai-tais.