(Image credit: Kimberly White / Getty Images)
San Francisco is, without question, one of the greatest culinary destinations in the world. With more than 3,500 restaurants in the San Francisco metropolitan area, there are more restaurants per restaurant than any other region in the country. The fascinating city on the bay attracted even more attention around the world at the end of last year when, for the first time in history, two exceptional restaurants were awarded the coveted Michelin three-star rating. In addition, San Francisco has two of the country’s three female chefs with a two-star Michelin rating. However, with thousands of great restaurants to choose from, only a select number of exceptional restaurants can be featured here. Here’s a San Francisco foodie guide that highlights the best restaurants, cafes, and even food trucks in the city and their respective neighborhoods.
Tadich Grill (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
The financial district
One of the most important financial centers in the country has a variety of excellent restaurants. Campton Place, Coi, Kusakabe, Michael Mina, and Quince are all Michelin-starred restaurants in the neighborhood. Coi is technically located in North Beach, although it’s just a block from its two-star Michelin equivalent, Quince, run by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Tusk.
The financial district is also home to the oldest restaurant in town and the third oldest in the country – Tadich Grill, which has been in business for more than 160 years and is right across from Michael Mina. Lovers of classic French cuisine should also head to the city’s French Quarter on Belden Place for restaurants like Plouf, Café Bastille and Sauce. Other notable restaurants in the financial district include Wayfare Tavern, Kokkari, Pabu Izakaya, and Brasserie S&P in Loews Regency San Francisco, formerly Mandarin Oriental.
Ferry Building Marketplace (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
On the eastern border of the financial district along the Embarcadero is the historic Ferry Building, where food lovers can choose from. Though it still serves as a ferry terminal, most of the interior is inhabited by a cluster of local businesses, including cafes, restaurants, and a variety of craft shops selling cheese, bread, ice cream, chocolates, and other quality groceries. The most notable restaurant in the Ferry Building is The Slanted Door, an Asian fusion restaurant that was named the country’s outstanding restaurant last year by the prestigious James Beard Foundation and is run by Charles Phan, who himself won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef is.
The Embarcadero, with its spectacular views of San Francisco Bay, is also home to several other fine dining restaurants, many of which are primarily located between the Ferry Building and AT&T Park. Some of the best include Americano, One Market, the Michelin-starred Boulevard, the quirky Franco-Japanese restaurant Chaya, and two of the best spots for seafood – Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse.
Gary Danko (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
Despite the large amount of tourists, Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-see in San Francisco, especially for first-time visitors. As you would expect, there are several restaurants ranging from cheap to very expensive food. The best-known restaurant is the Michelin-starred Gary Danko, which is run by one of the great chefs of the world-famous Relais & Chateaux.
A foodie tour of Fisherman’s Wharf should also include the world-famous crab stalls, Ghiradelli Square, Boudin Bakery, the legendary Buena Vista Café and Fisherman’s Grotto, the first restaurant to open in this coastal neighborhood.
La Taqueria (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
Many of the best foods preferred by locals are found in the city’s oldest neighborhood. The Mission District is the best place in San Francisco for Mexican food. This neighborhood is the birthplace of the classic Mission Burrito, and some taquerias have received national attention, such as El Farolito, Taqueria Cancun, El Tonayese, and La Taqueria, best known for serving America’s best burrito.
There are many other restaurants and shops in the Mission District that foodies need special attention. Among them are the Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Maruya, the remarkable Flour + Water, Mission Chinese Food, the Tartine Bar, the Foreign Cinema, Indochine Vegan, and Delfina. After all, despite the chances of long lines, foodies looking for cheap food can’t miss these places – Bi-Rite Creamery, Ike’s Place, Wise Sons Deli and arguably the best bakery in town, Tartine Bakery.
Mark Hopkins Hotel (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
One of the most famous neighborhoods in the city is also home to some of the most famous restaurants and eateries. A recommended food tour would start near Grace Cathedral, first past The Big 4 Restaurant, located in the landmark of the Scarlet Huntington Hotel. Heading east on California Street be sure to check out the Mark Hopkins Hotel and its Top of the Mark Restaurant and then head to the Fairmont Hotel for the world famous Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. Next stop is the Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters, then an optional visit to Parallel 37 at the Ritz Carlton.
Foodies interested in more Michelin restaurants should also check out Keiko à Nob Hill, the two-star Michelin Acquerello with famous owner / cook Suzette Gresham and La Folie in the Russian Hill neighborhood. Not far from Acquerello are the major businesses Swan Oyster Depot, Bob’s Donuts and the House of Prime Rib. For vegetarians and vegans, Millenium in Lower Nob Hill is one of the best spots in town.
Tony’s Pizza (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
This lively neighborhood just beyond Chinatown offers a variety of Italian restaurants, pizzerias, old world delis and trendy cafes. While some restaurants are better than others, Sotto Mare, Trattoria Contadina, and E ‘Tutto Qua are recommended. Of all the great pizzerias in Little Italy, Tony’s Pizza Napolentana is probably the most famous and well known. Just steps from Washington Square Park, this pizzeria is run by eleven-time world pizza champion Tony Gemignani. Other notable places to eat are Liguira Bakery, Victoria Pastry, Vesuvio Café, Original Joes, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Café Zoetrope. Visitors looking for an excellent Chinese restaurant in neighboring Chinatown should check out Z and Y Restaurant, a 2015 Michelin Bib Gourmand selection that houses two American presidents.
Garden Court (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
SoMa, also known as the South of Market, is home to four Michelin-starred restaurants – Ame at the St. Regis Hotel, Luce at the Intercontinental Hotel, and San Francisco’s only three-star restaurant – Benu, led by Executive Chef Corey Lee and Saison. Joshua Skenes runs the most expensive restaurant in town. Other excellent restaurants include the incomparable Garden Court at the Palace Hotel, RN74, the Agricole Bar, the Buckhorn Grill at Metreon, the Public House at AT&T Park, and the aforementioned Boulevard, Chaya, Waterbar, and Epic Roasthouse, all south of Market Street .
Johnny Foley’s (Image credit: Randy Yagi)
Last, but not the least, is the neighborhood that might actually be the first to be visited. Union Square is the main location for upscale shopping, Broadway shows, and an eclectic selection of restaurants. Across historic Union Square Park is the announced Westin St. Francis with another Michael Mina restaurant – Bourbon Steak on Powell Street, as well as the rotunda in Neiman Marcus with its stunning glass ceiling on Geary Street. Geary is also home to one of the city’s most haunted Japanese restaurants, the affordable but Michelin-recommended Katan-Ya and the popular Lefty O’Douls. Finally, foodies will visit Johnny Foley’s one block south of Geary and the fabulously unique Farallon one block north.
Off The Grid (Image credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
San Francisco’s best food truck
Part of what makes San Francisco a culinary destination is the ubiquitous but amazing food trucks. Most of the locals have a personal favorite, but SoMa Streat Food Park is an interesting place. The chairman, Roli Roti and Senor Sisig, are some of the best known for high quality street food. The very popular “Roaming Mobile Food Extravaganza”, known as Off the Grid, offers food trucks, carts and food tents. Off the Grid appears in many locations in San Francisco, including the hugely popular Presidio Picnic every Sunday near the Walt Disney Family Museum and every Friday night at the Fort Mason Center.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer who covers all things San Francisco. In 2012 he received a media scholarship from Stanford University. You can find his work on Examiner.com Examiner.com.