The Quintessential San Francisco Dining Guide
Whether you're in San Francisco for business, a local or just in town for a weekend - San Francisco has something to stimulate every single one of your senses. As a lifetime Bay Area local, I often struggle to think of where to go for a night out or when entertaining guests and it's not because there aren't options, it's actually because there are so many places to choose from it can feel overwhelming. Lists like these help break things down, introduce you to new places and remind you of oldies you might have forgotten about.
While this list doesn't even begin to cover the greatness San Francisco has to offer when it comes to food + drink, it is a great place to start and a guide that will serve up a well-rounded experience of one of the most charming and eclectic cities in the world.
BREAKFAST, BRUNCH + LUNCH
If you can’t imagine a meal without bread, you are in the right place because San Francisco does bread right (with a plethora of gluten free options too). Tartine Manufactory is not only an Instagrammer's dreams, but home to incredible sandwiches, baked goods, salads, ice cream, coffee, etc.
Devil’s Teeth Baking Company
If you prefer walking beach side and enjoying the coastal side of San Francisco, there is no better way to start your day than by grabbing a Devil’s Teeth breakfast sandwich and walking down to Ocean Beach. If you plan to go during the weekend, prepare yourself to wait in line.
If you prefer starting your days with coffee and toast, then you've got to check out The Mill, the place that might have just invented fancy (slightly overpriced) toast.
Plow is one of my favorite spots for brunch. They do so many things right, but their lemon ricotta pancakes are at the top of the list. This place is a little out of the way, but the views and adorable Potrero neighborhood are worth the drive. The wait here is sometimes an upward of two hours. Prepare to wait or put your name down earlier while you explore surrounding areas.
Craftsman and Wolves
Craftsman and Wolves is home to one of the most instagrammed dishes in San Francisco. The Rebel Within is a sausage cheese muffin with a soft boiled egg baked inside. Devouring one of these bad boys is a must while in San Francisco.
Swan Oyster Depot
Swan Oyster Depot is affectionately known as one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite restaurants in the world. Yes, you read that right. This place is an absolute quintessential San Francisco dining destination. Whether you want to indulge with mouth watering crab, uni, scallops or oysters - Swan Oyster Depot is the place you need to go to (skip Fisherman's Wharf, trust me). You'll need to prepare yourself to line up long before they open to get in (and also take advantage of the freshest catch).
Foreign Cinema is Californian Cuisine served right. One of my favorite restaurants in the city, for both ambiance and food, this beautiful gem in the mission is a must. I prefer their brunch over dinner any day, so plan accordingly.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
It hasn't even been 3 years, but this Tenderloin pastry shop has captured the hungry eyes of Instagrammers across the globe. Mr. Holmes Bakery has hands down, some of the best branding and social media presence I've ever seen for a bakery. While the photos and their famous cruffin are enough to get you there, their incredible baked goods and filled treats will have you coming back for more (chocolate passionfruit, apple pie, honey lavender bourbon orange
Hog Island Oyster Bar
In the mood for bay views, bubbly and oysters? Located at the back side of the Ferry Building, Hog Island Oyster Bar this is the perfect spot to sip some rosé, people watch and enjoy a stroll around the iconic marketplace once you're stuffed to the brim with delectable seafood.
I have a total love affair with this place. It can seriously do no wrong in my eyes. While, I may argue that Mission Cheese can also pass for dinner (fellow cheesemongers will agree)...it really is the perfect lunch or people watching + cocktails spot. Wine, local beers, charcuterie, cheese, amazing sandwiches - they've got it all. It doesn't hurt that their branding is totally on point and their outdoor seating area is adorable. Located on trendy, gentrified Valencia Street in the Mission - you'll be able to stroll around and peek into the adorable shops once you're stuffed to the brim with wine and cheese.
One of the newer additions to the San Francisco dining scene, Media Noché has quickly gained popularity thanks to their killer branding and decor that's gone absolutely viral on Instagram (yes, this is home to that flamingo mural you've seen everywhere lately). Besides the adorable interior and exterior, the food is actually pretty stellar. My favorite? Their black bean and cheese empanadas, but trust me...they have something for everyone.
B. Patisserie is hands down my favorite bakery in San Francisco. This place serves up the best pastries outside of France...not kidding, even one bit. Pastry chef Belinda Leong absolutely slays in the kitchen and has perfected the Kougin Amann, which is what the bakery is most famous for. The line moves quickly and has something for both savory and sweet lovers - they're tartines (served with a small salad on the side) are incredible too and will definitely hold you over.
I'm a huge boozy brunch fan, especially when it includes a bottomless cocktail situation. Chubby Noodle (who happens to have an incredible Spotify Playlist listed under their name) is lively, accommodating and always a heck of a good time. For $37, you'll get unlimited drinks (with the most adorable rubber duckies floating in each glass) and dim sum over the course of 2 hours. They accept reservations for large parties in advance, so definitely plan on calling a week in advance to secure your table.
Arguably the best brunch in San Francisco (the highest rated on Yelp, at least), Zazie is what all your breakfast dreams are made of. From benedict to loaded omelettes to the fluffiest pancakes you've ever had - food so good you'll forget you waited so long for a table.
COCKTAILS + HAPPY HOUR
Grilled octopus, foie gras stuffed olives, lengua tacos and all the cocktails you could ever dream up. This neighborhood is the embodiment of what gentrification has done to the Mission. Whether you love it or hate it...ABV will help you love it a little more.
The closest you can get to a "rooftop" bar in San Francisco, Jones is always on my list when it comes to lounging outdoors with a group. Hip, swanky decor paired with a good crowd and solid menu of cocktails, food, wine and beer - you're guaranteed to enjoy yourself at Jones.
Top of the Mark
Go for the view, a martini, and some spiced nuts. It’s not the hippest, but it’s a classic, classy place to gaze at the beautiful SF skyline. Top of the Mark really the best view in town, especially when paired with some live jazz and a companion.
The Buena Vista
The Buena Vista is an oldie, but goodie...no, like literally it's over 100 years old (San Francisco staple since 1916). Famous for their Irish Coffee, which has been on their menu since the cocktail's inception in 1952. They've got a solid, class menu with good vibes and views.
I like keeping Sens on this list because it's one of the only moderately priced places with a "rooftop," great open seating to accommodate big groups, affordable wines by the bottle and a killer view of the Bay Bridge and SF waterfront. It's hard to find a place on the waterfront that isn't overpriced and gimmicky - for that, Sens will always make my list.
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
This old school tiki bar is located in the bougie Fairmont Hotel, but it's just so great in the best way. I love to describe The Tonga Room as a grown-up Rainforest Café with a band that plays in the middle of the hotel's former indoor pool. Come for their punch bowl, stay for the incredible people watching, live music and dance floor. It's gonna feel like you're inside the club of a cruise ship, but embrace it and you're guaranteed to have an incredible night with friends.
Newer to the San Francisco libation scene is the very Instagram-friendly brainchild of a group of boss babes, including Jen Pelka and Shannon Waters. Located on an adorable corner of Hayes Valley, The Riddler is a champagne bar that serves caviar, popcorn and an incredible tater tot waffle to name just a few. Don't expect to get a table right away at this popular new spot, but be prepared to enjoy the chic atmosphere when you do manage to snag a few seats.
Blackbird is one of those neighborhood watering holes that's worth going to even if the Castro/Duboce Triangle isn't your particular neighborhood. The super friendly bartenders serve up fun cocktails with themed menus like "Game of Thrones" and hip hop-inspired "B-Sides" (The menus change with the season). Head there between 5 and 8 p.m. on weekdays for happy hour, but know you'll likely still be there long after it's over.
Bourbon & Branch
Modeled after prohibition-era speakeasies, you won't be able to walk into Bourbon & Branch sans password (provided to you when you make a reservation online). Expect to be seated in one of their hidden rooms, nestled behind secret bookcases and walls that open up along the way. Each bartender's goal is to serve you a drink you've never had, based on your likes and dislikes. While you'll want to document and share your experience in what feels like a time machine on social media, you probably won't be able to...cell phones are forbidden (and so are loud voices). Pro-tip: They offer cocktail classes that make for excellent team building events!
You've probably figured out by now that I'm a big fan of a good tiki bar. Smuggler's Cove's is a little less tiki and a little more pirate with a selection of over 400 rums. Be prepared for a line that wraps around the building, not just because it's popular among locals and tourists alike, but since it's pretty small with a tight capacity. he cocktail menu is extensive and they take a long time to make, so ask a bartender to steer you in the right direction.
Oh, Trick Dog...what a beautiful establishment (and I swear that this has nothing to do with the fact that they did a Biggie vs. Tupac themed menu in 2015). Their perfectly crafted cocktail menu changes every sixth months with themes like hip hop battles, unsolved mysteries, zodiac signs, SF neighborhoods. This place is packed, but for real good reason. It's also hipster AF in the very best way, which is something we all pretend we don't love but secretly do. Go here STAT.
Wine Down SF
I am completely, totally, beyond obsessed with Wine Down SF...and not just because of all the gold accents in their space. Wine Down serves up a small, curated and rotating list of wines from independent California producers. They host games and events (you're gonna wanna try out their Blackout Bingo game that's not just fun, but encourages you to get your palate out of it's comfort zone) that are frequently updated on their website. My favorite thing about the ladies behind Wine Down SF is how they have purpose and passion for everything they do that goes beyond just pouring good wine by supporting other small minority and women-owned businesses as much as they can. Their website shares their mission way better than I could ever articulate, "Most importantly, Wine Down is and always will be a place for people to gather—in good times and bad—and feel welcome, comfortable, and appreciated. There’s a lot of bad, scary, and upsetting things happening in the world right now, and we don’t want to just sit on the sidelines and let it happen. As minority women business owners, we want to help create a world that values, protects, and champions women, people of color, LGBT communities, immigrants, and everyone in between. To date, we’ve partnered with and raised money for Planned Parenthood, the Women’s March, and Girl Scouts of Northern California."
DINNER IN THE CITY BY THE BAY
I'm a sucker for a Chinatown. I'm not quite sure why, but any city that has a Chinatown is likely to have had a visit from me. Mister Jiu's is a beautifully decorated and swanky Michelin experience serving up Chinese food with a modern Californian spin. The food is incredible, the ambiance is adorable and the view of Chinatown is just perfect. Be sure to make reservations and request a window seat. You're gonna want to Instagram the view of the lanterns when they're lit up.
With a joyful atmosphere, incredible burgers and pork chops, Nopa offers locals and travelers unforgettable culinary experiences. Since everybody loves this place, you should make reservations in advance.
State Bird Provisions
One of the places everybody wants to go to, but not many succeed is State Bird Provisions. Unless you know a way to hack their reservation systems, you should try to get in by showing up at 4:30 pm (weekdays) or 3:45 pm (weekends). State Bird Provisions is tied for my favorite restaurant in the city (I can't get enough of their savory sauerkraut pancakes that remind me of my birthplace, Strasbourg, and their duck liver mousse).
With its low light and smoke-stained ceilings, Tosca Café is one of the coolest restaurants in San Francisco, not only because of it's history but also thanks to it's delicious dishes. Located between the Financial District and North Beach, this restaurant embodies quaint San Franciscan charachter. Make sure you don’t leave without having a few cocktails, as well.
Liholiho Yacht Club
One of my absolute favorite restaurants in the city...and it's not just because I have a huge chef crush on Ravi Kapur (I have been following him since his pop-up days) and an Instagram crush on his beautiful wife, April, who happens to post the most incredible Bay Area #foodporn photos. Liholiho Yacht Club is one of those places where it’s hard to find a table, but you can almost always get a comfy seat at the bar (although, I've had great luck with an early or super, super late walk-in). With its incredible Hawaiian-inspired dishes and the lively atmosphere, Liholiho is perfect for a romantic dinner, but also for a night out with your friends.
P.S. - Ask about their off-menu fried rice...it's to-die-for.
Are you ready to have a culinary experience that you can’t have in any other city? Check out Burma Love and taste the interesting Burmese cuisine. The food is great, the location is centrally located in the Mission and the atmosphere is lively.
P.S. - You've got to order their tea leaf salad. I promise you'll love it.
New to the SF dining scene, A Mano ("by hand" in Italian) is Adriano Paganini's latest restaurant (Flores, Delarosa). The Hayes Valley space is pretty expansive with indoor and outdoor seating, making it fairly easy to get a table within an hour (even for a large group). In addition to their generous selection of pastas, savory appetizers and sweet desserts - they've also got a full bar with exceptional cocktails and Italian wines (on tap and by the bottle).
Brenda's French Soul Food
Brenda's Cajun menu might just be comparable (if not better, IMO) than what you'll find in New Orleans. Their popular crawfish beignets, gumbo, mac and cheese and fluffy biscuits are not just scrumptious, but reasonably priced. You'll be hard pressed to get a table at Brenda's French Soul Food on a weekend with the brunch crowds, but you'll have better luck during the week for lunch or dinner. The team behind this restaurant has also opened a more casual spot on Divisadero, Brenda's Meat & Three, that is less crowded but just as great.
This Mission eatery is always bustling and there's no denying why...the food is off the chains. They serve everything from antipasti (you HAVE to order the walnut bread burrata topped with mushroom-truffle honey), gnocchi, pizzas, pastas, risottos and daily off-menu specials. I always reserve Beretta for when I have guests or clients in town who are pickier eaters - you can't go wrong with good Italian, amirite?!
Always consistent (they literally have the best Kale Caesar in the city) and filled with good people enjoying great Italian fare, handcrafted cocktails and a great playlist. With two very central locations (The Marina and Yerba Buena), Delarosa is a great choice to grub in between a day of shopping, museum visiting and/or sightseeing.
Leo's Oyster Bar
If you squint hard enough while inside Leo's Oyster Bar, you might just feel like you're in Miami, Havana or Palm Springs. Besides my obsession with their perfectly curated space and decor, they've got the most enjoyable cocktails and bites. Be prepared to spend some hard earned cash to leave here full or just stick to cocktails and oysters at the bar.
Eating at Mission Chinese is memorable in all the right ways. While the ambiance might not be what you're exactly expecting, you'll never forget their Kung Pao Pastrami, Chicken Wings, Chongqing Chiken (mispelled on purpose) Wings, Matcha Meyer Lemon Noodles and Salted Cod Fried Rice.
You can't come to San Francisco and not have killer Chinese food, so I'm going to include the new-to-the-scene, very trendy and Instagrammable Dumpling Time. Chef Do Leung is leading the charge with a variety of asian dishes at the Omakase Restaurant Group's (Omakase, Okane, Live Sushi Bar) latest eatery. While they're known best for their King-Dum soup dumpling (seriously the most giant Xiao Long Bao of all time), there are many other dishes that will leave you satisfied and glad you paid a visit.
This is quite possibly my most favorite restaurant in all of San Francisco, if not my favorite sushi place in the world. Nobody knows the art of sushi and fish like Chef Roger Chong (who I believe is the most interesting and knowledgeable man alive). You MUST sit at the sushi bar when coming here to really experience the greatness of Zushi Puzzle. Chef Roger has a devoted following of regulars, some who travel from all over the Bay Area to sit at his sushi bar (so, make sure you have a reservation in advance). Chong prides himself on having longtime relationships with fisherman around the world, so be sure to ask him for off-menu specials - just tell him what you like and don't like and ask him to surprise you. I've never had something here that I didn't fall in love with. My favorites? All of the toro (hamachi toro served Italian style, as Chef Roger calls it is especially memorable, the "Best Handroll Ever," and his homemade Kobe Popcorn Sorbet (think Jelly Belly's Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bean). Don't come here expecting to get a quick bite, come when you've got the time to relax and go where Chef Roger takes you on a culinary journey you can only have in San Francisco.
House of Prime Rib
If House of Prime Rib was a person, it'd be Tony Soprano. It's totally over the top with ginormous portions that seem outlandish, but it's a total San Francisco classic (and one of Anthony Bourdain's favorites). Prepare to go back in time about 30 years when you step foot into House of Prime Rib, the restaurant that serves one thing and one thing only...Prime Rib. You'll choose meat temperature, cut, mashed or loaded potatoes, and martini or manhattan. Each dish comes with a salad prepared at your tale, creamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding and potatoes. Save this place for meat lovers and/or a fun special occasion.
Lazy Bear is the perfect collision of great branding, experiential marketing and SF's emerging hipster chef culture. The restaurant is a ticketed experience than needs to be planned in advance (although, tickets are much easier to get your hands on now than when it first opened). From the moment you enter Lazy Bear, you know you're in more a memorable evening. Your night will begin with a cocktail hour that includes a seasonal spiked punch and passed appetizers in the beautifully decorated balcong, before you head to the dining area where you'll pick a seat at one of the two long, gorgeous communal dining tables. Chefs will explain each dish to all in attendance and tell you about the ingredients, the inspiration behind the flavors and even introduce you to come check out how it's all put together in the open kitchen. You're going to leave totally and completely stuffed after enjoying the multi-course, set menu that you've paid for in advance. Lazy Bear is an experience that you likely won't partake in more than once or twice, so be sure to choose a special occasion and/or deserving someone to accompany you.
One of my favorite French chefs, Dominique Crenn, is behind this adorable, family-style neighborhood eatery. The multi-course prix fixe menu at Petit Crenn revolves around seafood and the flavors of Brittany. Reservations are required, but you might just be able to snag a seat at the bar (and a view of the open kitchen) if you walk-in.
Spruce might just be the only "fine dining" restaurant that I have/would want to visit more than once. Great, service, lively yet refined vibes, extensive wine list and just all around really epic dishes. They're most famous for their burger (that can also be ordered off the bar menu), so you don't necessarily have to break the bank to dine here (unless you decide to add foie gras on top).
Loving Cup is absolutely one of my favorite places. Hand-churned to order frozen yogurt with ingredients that are blended-in? HEAVEN! My personal favorite? Vanilla yogurt with raspberries and circus animal cookies mixed in.
Dandelion Chocolate is a hipster chic slice of dessert heaven that embodies everything that's wonderful about the San Francisco food scene. They offer tours, tastings and fun classes from time to time too. Great place to grab a hot beverage, chocolate or cookie (you gotta have the s'mores cookie...trust me on this one).
There are few people who can say no to ice cream and, if you are not one of them, you've got to check out Bi-Rite Creamery. Don’t let the line scare you away because the ice cream and snacks inside are worth the wait. Fan favorite? Salted Caramel.
Smitten Ice Cream
Smitten Ice Cream is famous for it's liquid nitrogen, made to order approach to ice cream. If you've never had it, definitely give it a go. With flavor like earl grey, TCHO and pretzel cookie dough - you won't be disappointed. My favorite? All of the locally sourced and unique toppings (hello TCHO crackle).
Salt + Straw
I have been a fan of this Portland-founded ice cream shop for years and couldn't have been more thrilled when it popped up in my Pacific Heights neighborhood. Salt & Straw sources local ingredients from Bay Area producers like Sightglass Coffee and Berkeley Olive Oil to create it's one of a kind flavors (see: Green Apple Mayo Sorbet). Be prepared to stand in a long line for your scoop, but know you won't be disappointed...especially if you're an adventurous foodie