In the home of green goddess dressing, Mission-style burritos, farm-to-table everything, and the toast-as-menu-item phenomenon, there’s a lot of noise when it comes to what to eat. This guide will help you get to the real San Francisco treats out there.
In the technological and artisanal utopia that is San Francisco, every food form seems to have reached its highest self. There are Vietnamese stir-frys made entirely from local ingredients (right down to the secret finishing touch of local butter), vodka sodas born out of bar waste, and—should the craving for a bagel arise—you’ll probably find a small-batch creation, made on the premises. Oh, and a robot making burgers.
As far as single item food experiences go, don’t miss the Dungeness crab Louie at Swan’s Oyster Depot, La Taqueria’s Mission-style burrito, or b. patisserie’s pastry revelation: the kouign amann.
As you know, Eater puts out tons of maps detailing the top places and things to eat and drink in the Bay Area. Below, we cherry pick the top one or two points on our most popular maps to help time-starved eaters prioritize which spots to visit. (If you’re planning ahead, take a look at these 17 hot openings slated for fall of 2018.)
Cable car in the Russian Hill neighborhood. [Photo: Shutterstock]
Hot Restaurant: The hottest of the hot right now remains Angler. It’s the second restaurant from Joshua Skenes, chef of three-Michelin-starred Saison. Unlike Saison, it’s a la carte, but just like Saison, it’s an upscale romp through Bay Area ingredients and techniques, with a focus on seafood.
Essential Restaurant: And if you need to narrow down the Essential 38, hit up Lazy Bear for new-school fancy San Francisco dining and lunch at Zuni Cafe for the most classic single dining experience in town. Mister Jiu’s is a newer addition to the list, bringing California vibes to a menu of Chinese dishes like Dungeness crab cheong fun and Dutch crunch barbecue pork buns. For a seriously old school experience, head over to House of Prime Rib, where salads are prepared tableside, chefs in toques carve meat in carts roaming the dining room, and martinis are the “specialty cocktail.”
Pizza: Pizzetta 211 is the gem of the pizza map. If you can’t get there when they open to snag a table, Pizzeria Delfina is the San Francisco classic you shouldn’t miss. Down in North Beach, Golden Boy offers excellent Roman-style slab pies until 12:30 a.m.
Smitten Chocolate Ice Cream. [Photo: Facebook/Smitten Ice Cream]
Ice Cream: If you must narrow down the ice cream map, hit up Smitten for the unparalleled mouthfeel of liquid nitrogen ice cream, or Bi-Rite for OG seasonal treats. Out in the Mission, Humphry Slocombe rocks the more esoteric flavors, including “secret breakfast,” made with bourbon and corn flakes.
Sushi: The most essential sushi spot on our sushi map: Akiko’s. If you’re looking for a more wallet-friendly and neighborhood-y option, try Saru Sushi Bar. For a San Francisco take on sushi, complete with local fish and a hip interior, check out Robin in Hayes Valley
Beer: If you only go to one Bay Area brewery, know that Cellarmaker is the San Francisco microbrewery aficionados return to again and again. Fat Angel is a great local secret for beer lovers. Toronado is the OG craft beer bar in town, still cash-only after 30 years in business.
Bar: For one of the city’s hottest new bars, head to the newly-opened Last Rites, a modern tiki bar with ominous “crashed on a deserted island” vibes. Meanwhile, on the Essential Bars map, check out the Interval at Long Now, an off-the-beaten-path bar that doubles as a library and literary salon. And for the new hotness in cocktailing, go here.
Tiki: The Bay Area is known for its dedication to the art of tiki. Check out these excellent bars where mai tais, bamboo, and flaming drinks can be found. Though not strictly tiki, Bon Voyage is the newest hotspot in the Mission, with an entire section of slings, and some very cool custom tiki mugs.
Iconic: You probably also want to check out The 31 Iconic Dishes and Drinks of SF.
These are the key areas of the city every self-proclaimed food person needs to get acquainted with — complete with what to eat and drink in each.
At a cafe in North Beach. [Photo: Flickr/Christopher Michael]
Despite its place as a token “Italian” food neighborhood, you’re not going to find the city’s best pasta in North Beach (hit up SPQR for that). But North Beach has nooks to explore and old-school charm to spare. Stop for a coffee at Caffe Trieste, a cannoli at Stella Pastry, and a beer at The Saloon (1232 Grant Ave.; hint: it’s not really about the beer). If you come hungry for Italian-American fare, get the cioppino at Sotto Mare or the pizza from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. If you just want a satisfying meal, Original Joe’s is a guaranteed good time with a strong local feel. Also: you will not find focaccia better than the freshly baked slabs coming out of Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton St.; Tuesday through Saturday mornings). Finally, Comstock Saloon is the hood’s cocktail destination, and Spec’s across the street is its divey mainstay.
Mission District murals. [Photo:shutterstock]
In the late 1990s, Mission dining was just getting onto the map with new places like Delfina and the original Slanted Door. Now, The Mission’s exploding dining scene is home to our city’s most renowned restaurants: Places like Tartine Manufactory, AL’s Place, Californios, Lolo, Foreign Cinema, and Craftsman & Wolves (stop in for this bad boy). Not to mention: taquerias. Walk down 24th Street to get a taste of the neighborhood’s Mexican foundation. Walk down Valencia Street to bask in the hood’s gentrification — complete with $12 chocolate bars, $10 smoothies, and your booze-serving standouts: The Monk’s Kettle (beer and Californian fare), Beretta (cocktails and pizza) and ABV (drinks and snacks). The ideal day starts with a morning bun or some croissant variation at Tartine Bakery, continues on with a taco from one of the spots in our handy sidebar, includes a stop at True Laurel for a cocktail and fried mushrooms with dip, and wraps up with a dinner of smoked duck at The Morris, and a drink at a very excellent dive bar like Lone Palm.
Biergarten in Hayes Valley. [Photo: Flickr/Edward Blake]
On the forefront of San Francisco’s rising rents, the de facto fashion district of San Francisco has a lot to offer on the bougie food front. Visit the site of the original Blue Bottle coffee kiosk for a New Orleans iced coffee; Souvla for a lamb sandwich and baklava-topped Greek soft serve; and Miette for California-French pastries that are (almost) too pretty to eat. Or stop by Petit Crenn, the casual spot from chef Dominique Crenn of two Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn, for a light and elegant French lunch. For an aperitif (or two), head to The Riddler, the neighborhood’s stylish new Champagne and caviar bar. Then try to squeeze into a bar seat at Rich Table around 5 p.m. for chef-driven cocktails and a mouthwatering California take on a NY strip steak. Planning head? Snag a seat at Nightbird, chef Kim Alter’s elegant tasting menu restaurant, and end with a nightcap at the adjacent Linden Room.
Dim sum spread from Hong Kong Lounge in the Richmond District. [Photo: Amy T./Yelp]
The Richmond & The Sunset:
“The Avenues,” as locals refer to the Golden Gate Park sandwich made by these two adjacent hoods, are beloved holdouts from “old San Francisco” — before Square, Facebook, and Uber were running everyones’ lives. Here you will find the best enclave of Chinese food in the city, along with pockets of super authentic Russian, Korean, and Japanese foods. Fans of dim sum should troll Clement Street with a portable dumpling from Xiao Long Bao in hand. Or go for the full lazy susan experience at Hong Kong Lounge or Dong Bei Mama. New hotspots include Pearl and Violet’s in the Outer Richmond. Don’t miss Ebisu for sushi and izakaya fare, Chili House for mouth-igniting Sichuan fare, Outerlands for a surfer-like point of view on farm-to-table seasonal eating (also amazing for brunch), and Trouble Coffee for the original toast that started it all.
It’s not always picture-perfect, but if you’re willing to brave the city’s infamously SRO-addled streets, you’ll be rewarded with some of San Francisco’s best Thai food at the original Lers Ros, fabled banh mi at Saigon Sandwich, and Vietnamese fare — including but not limited to seven courses of beef for a mere $18.95 at Anh Long. There’s also been a recent flood of trendy newcomers breathing some new life into the neighborhood, specifically Japan’s Hitachino Beer & Wagyu, gin steampunk fantasyland Whitechapel, and two polished supper clubs: The Saratoga, and late-night jazz enclave Black Cat.
A flour tortilla wrapped around various and (sometimes) sundry combinations of meat, cheese, beans, and rice. Always wrapped in tin foil. Usually a gut bomb.
For all intents and purposes, this is the San Francisco version of a cortado, a.k.a. espresso cut with milk. You can order it at any Blue Bottle location, but don’t expect to see it on the menu.
Creator of the aforementioned Gibraltar terminology, among the progenitors of the third wave movement. They make delicious coffee, calibrated to the San Francisco palate, which favors more acidic brews with berry and citrus notes. The coffee chain made news years ago when it announced that it sold the majority of the company to Nestlé.
The first San Francisco brand to apply French bread technique to the region’s native sourdough yeast (c. 1849), Boudin now makes loaves in the shapes of lobsters and crabs for San Francisco beginners to ogle on Fisherman’s Wharf. Mostly in malls, airports, and other touristy places, they make a mean soup bread bowl too.
The man behind award-winning farm-to-table tasting menu spot Coi, Patterson (affectionately known as D-Patt) now presides over a mini restaurant empire that’s remained firmly rooted in local ethos as it’s expanded. He’s now partnered with chef Reem Assil on Dyafa in Jack London Square, where Assil is serving Palestinian dishes at lunch and dinner.
Since opening her two-Michelin-starred namesake, Atelier Crenn, the French chef has shot to stardom. She has since filmed an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix, opened her casual restaurant Petit Crenn, and debuted Bar Crenn, an upscale wine bar serving the recipes of French masters next door to Atelier Crenn.
Little-known outside of Northern California, this is a prized sandwich bread among locals. It’s dense and doughy with a crunchy, crackly top — the result of a coating of rice flour, butter, sugar and yeast before it’s baked. The result is a semi-sweet, crisp exterior with a fluffy interior that’s perfect for any and all sandwich combinations. (Check out some of SF’s best sandwiches here, many of which are available on this saintly bread.)
Starting with the original Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street, co-founders Chad Robertson and Liz Prueitt are expanding their empire in the Bay Area and beyond (a bakery in Seoul is now serving morning buns in Korea). Tartine Manufactory is the biggest and brightest so far, with beautiful breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and bread, pastries, and coffee all day. A manufactory in LA, coffee roastery in Oakland, and a cafe in downtown SF are all on the horizon.
Toast, avocado and beyond:
Fancy toast abounds here in the Bay Area, possibly a direct result of a bevy of talented bakers like Josey Baker, Tartine, Acme, and more. From coffee shops to high-end establishments, toast can be found topped with avocado, soft boiled eggs, artisanal nut butters and jams, and also more avocado. Don’t start complaining about what it costs, either: running a business in San Francisco is no easy feat, and high-quality ingredients don’t come cheap.
Food Network personality, swoon-worthy phrase maker, Florence is the chef-owner of Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco. (NB: If you go to Wayfare Tavern, get the steak tartare.)
In 2010, Mina famously turned the hallowed Aqua into his eponymous Michael Mina Restaurant. He’s now one of the most successful restaurant entrepreneurs in the country with various concepts, including Bourbon Steak an, across the U.S. See also: Mina Test Kitchen, PABU, International Smoke.
Xiao Long Bao:
These little dumplings, also known as soup dumplings, are thin-skinned darlings filled with meat and broth. Most frequently served at dim sum restaurants, they’re a Bay Area favorite from Chinatown to the Inner Richmond and beyond. One of the city’s favorites is Yank Sing, though many argue that China Live is the new XLB hot spot. Here’s a list of dumpling destinations around town.
Liholiho Yacht Club, State Bird Provisions, Lazy Bear, Mourad, Frances, Rich Table, Chez Panisse, Nopa (brunch), Californios, Mister Jiu’s; House of Prime Rib
Follow the Stars
Though Michelin stars aren’t always the end-all, be-all of restaurant ratings, they’re still a good indication of what’s hot and high-quality. San Francisco is glittering with stars, with seven three-Michelin-starred restaurants calling it home (more than NYC, in fact). Check out the full map of starred restaurants here.
Head Out of Town
If you’re only stopping in SF on your way to out-of-town adventures, here are some excellent day trip guides, from the Russian River, up the coast of Marin, to Sonoma, Napa, and Monterey. Beautiful landscapes, coastal views, oysters, and adventure are only a short drive away in any direction.
Take Advice From Eater Critic Rachel Levin
Eater’s San Francisco critic Rachel Levin eats her way through the Bay Area, averaging three anonymous visits per review and rating them from zero to four stars (no half stars). Check out all of her reviews here for more intel and guidance on where to dine.
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Eater San Francisco is updated multiple times every weekday with breaking news stories (restaurant openings, closings, etc.), features, and more. Here are a few ways to stay in the loop:
- Keep an eye on the Eater SF homepage. New stories will always show up near the top and flow down toward the bottom of the page as they get older, while important recent stories will stay pinned right at the top. Also, check out our big sister, Eater.com, for national and international food news.
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- Interested in upcoming restaurant openings? Here’s our 2018 openings primer.
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