A much-needed breath of fresh air in a neighborhood that takes itself a lil' too seriously
If there were one bar in the Financial District where we could check out anytime we liked, but could never leave, it would absolutely be Hotel San Francisco, a lively new spot that's playful, fun, and far cooler than any other bar in that neighborhood… and possibly the entire city. The vibe is sexy and irreverent with neon Hotel California lyrics on the walls, a palm-leaf mural on the brick back bar, teal velvet and pink leather barstools, portraits of musicians like Biggie Smalls, and a bathroom covered in skulls (you will take pics). The food menu is a mix of shared plates ($8 to $16) like tempura veggies and chicken liver pate, and less-shareable plates ($16 to $25) like an Aussie lamb burger and fried chicken sandwich. The cocktails ($12 to $14) include seasonal house originals and house-aged classics, the latter of which is served with a “sidecar” in a glass bottle etched with the Transamerica Pyramid that is not yours to take home despite the fact that around 30 people have already done so. Happy hour (4-6pm) is definitely the time to go, but just know that despite your best-laid plans, there’s a good chance you’ll still be livin’ it up at the Hotel San Francisco well after the sun goes down.
Mad Men vibes, retro libations, and ‘60s cocktail party fare
Swing into the ‘60s at this mid-century modern cocktail bar from a bunch of SF industry vets. The Beehive is the perfect way to get a small understanding of how your parents partied -- minus the women doing all of the work and the whole dropping keys into a bowl thing. Sip on whimsical cocktails that pay homage to a time when people were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out (including a drink featuring a house-made Tang), and snack on elevated dishes inspired by 1960s cocktail parties, like deviled eggs, pigs in a blanket, a homemade Spam rillette with pineapple chutney and Ritz crackers, and of course, fondue. The space is big (it fits 100 people) with distinct sections, including a 23-seat bar, high-top communal tables with views into the kitchen, and a sleek lounge where you could easily waste away the evening. Basically, there’s something for everyone, which is why we see The Beehive getting a lot of great... buzz.
A pop-up bar benefiting the people affected by the St. Patrick’s Day fire
On St. Patrick’s Day this year, a four-alarm fire destroyed five North Beach businesses. The soon-to-be Lillie Coit’s was not one of them, but the folks behind the bar -- that’s set to open later this year -- couldn’t stand by idly. They transformed the space into a pop-up that pays homage to the restaurants, bars, and liquor store that burned down, and are giving 100% of the proceeds to the affected employees.
The food is affordable and varied, with dishes like crispy spring rolls ($7.50), a wagyu beef burger ($14), sausages ($17), and fish and chips ($18). And the cocktail menu ($12 each) is so great that we’re going to be sad to see it go when Doors Open closes in July.
Modern French cuisine and a prix fixe menu
Technically Nico is not a new restaurant, but the move to Jackson Square brought about a lot of changes, including lunch service for the movers and shakers and the fact that dinner (for now) is only served on Saturdays. The menu no longer changes daily, but is still elegant and driven by what’s available at the farmers market. Lunch is two courses for $32 or three courses for $38, and dinner is either four courses for $62 or six for $75. Whichever you choose, if it’s available, definitely order the brioche with peas and razor clams. Nico is also serving cocktails, a welcome addition to the restaurant, especially considering how tasty they are. Le Chat Noir (gin, apple brandy, génépy, meringue, activated charcoal) is not only Instagram-worthy, it’s also delicious.
A nice rooftop bar with a beer garden vibe
Sometimes you want a fancy cocktail and food to match, and sometimes you want a beer and a frozen boozy beverage. While the former has been available at 25 Lusk for years, now you can go upstairs to the rooftop to get the latter. This new rooftop bar has a very casual vibe, fun drinks, and great food. The skillet burger is not to be skipped, and neither is the spicy frozen passion fruit margarita, or the bottled piña colada -- both of which come in large format for when you and your friends manage to snag the semi-private cabana lounge. As for weather? Don’t worry. Even though you should still bring your puffy jacket because it’s SF, there are windscreens and heaters, so you won’t ever get (too) cold.
Traci Des Jardins first-ever bar (that’s only open on school nights)
Have you finished all of your homework? Are your clothes laid out for tomorrow? If you answered “yes,” then you have our permission to make your way to School Night, the first-ever bar from Traci Des Jardins. School Night is inside of The Pearl, a popular event space, and is therefore only open Sunday through Wednesday (though you can rent it out the other nights of the week). There’s plenty of seating and an industrial (but warm and inviting) vibe. Said vibe is definitely helped by the cocktail offerings, which focus on hand-crafted pisco, agave, and whiskey drinks ($12 each), as well as the Latin-inspired bites from Des Jardins that are centered around a wood burning oven.
Sorrel started as a weekly (always sold-out) pop-up from chef Alexander Hong (Jean Georges, Quince), but lucky for everyone in SF, it’s now found a permanent home in the space where Nico used to be on Sacramento Street in Pac Heights. Like any high-end restaurant in the city, the menu features quality local ingredients, and will change with the season. The food is California-inspired, but there’s some Italian influence in there, hence a whole section of handmade pastas and a sourdough focaccia that blends the best of both worlds and shouldn’t be passed up. While you could easily go into Sorrel and drop a couple hundred bucks on a meal, the thing we appreciate most is that it’s also quite possible to go in for a plate of pasta and a glass of wine and get out for $40. Considering how amazing the food is and the fact that we’re in San Francisco, that’s actually quite a steal.
Rustic, casual Italian that’s worth the month-long wait for a reservation with “San Francisco style” pizza.
San Francisco has an abundance of excellent Italian and pizza restaurants, but there’s always room for one more, especially when that one more is Che Fico (“Kay-Feeco”), a new restaurant on Divisadero from Matt Brewer and chefs David Nayfeld and Angela Pinkerton. Pro tip: Line up before it opens to grab a spot at the communal tables or bar or go late night. Reservations are NOT easy to grab. The menu at Che Fico is all about rustic, casual Italian fare with a heavy California influence throughout. That means “San Francisco style” pizzas, including one with pineapple, red onion, and fermented chili (all fired in an oven imported from Naples). Try this regardless of your feelings about pineapple on pizza.
There’s also insanely delicious pastas that are categorized by handmade, machine-made in-house, or dried, and a selection of “Cucina Ebraica,” small plates that are reflective of the Jewish-Italian tradition, like chicken hearts and gizzard salad and grilled chopped duck liver. Still not convinced? Try the caciocavallo and realize it’s the best (and most bizarre) deconstructed version of a grilled cheese sandwich (it’s fried) you’ve ever had in your life. And remember: don’t expect to walk in without a wait -- luckily, there’s plenty of standing room at the 15-seat bar.
One of SF’s best Italian restaurants… that always books well in advance
Go here for the spaghetti with plum tomatoes, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and pepperoncini. Does it seem crazy that we’re recommending you pay $15 for a plate of what sounds like very basic spaghetti? Totally. But once you taste Delfina’s signature dish, you’ll be a believer. After all, there’s a reason it’s been on the menu for 16 years.
A stylish destination for upscale cocktails and fresh seafood
The folks behind Marlowe, Park Tavern, and The Cavalier are at it again, and we have to say we hope they never stop. Leo’s Oyster Bar is reminiscent of the cocktail and oyster bars of the golden era, when martini lunches and glamorous dinners were a regular thing... and it’s the perfect spot for a first date, 50th date, or an intimate dinner with friends. The raw bar has everything you could ever want (oysters, clams, crab legs, uni, and more), but we’re obsessed with the oyster carbonara, the crudos, and the lobster roll on brioche. Alternative dining plans: Grab a seat in the "Champagne Room" and order the Mr. Nicholas’ Liquid Lunch... a vodka or gin martini served with olives and pickled vegetables.
Home to SF’s most popular burger and fantastic cocktails
Everything’s really good at nopa, but there’s a reason it's famous for its hamburger, and that’s because it’s one of the best in the city. If you go for brunch, order a piece of the custard French toast to share with the table. Trust us on this one.
Strong drinks, food unlike anything you’ve ever eaten, and a reservation book that fills up fast
You probably don’t even know it, but when you use the phrase "California cuisine," you’re totally describing the food at Liholiho Yacht Club, despite the fact that chef Ravi Kapur’s menu is heavily influenced by his Hawaiian heritage. It may sound confusing, but when you take your first bite, it’ll all make sense. Oh, and it’s also the only SF restaurant to be nominated in the 2016 James Beard Awards Best New Restaurant category... which, yeah, means you’re going to have a hard time getting in.
An elegant, yet casual spot with a fresh rotating menu
Sara Hauman (Huxley, Mister Jiu's) recently took over as chef de cuisine at the Melissa Perello-led Pacific Heights restaurant, and she’s knocking it out of the park with dishes that are somehow both refined and rustic, as well as elevated yet approachable. The menu changes often, but if the calamari with kimchi is available, it’s a must-order, though truly everything on the menu at this small, elegant neighborhood spot is worth a try.
A very popular, very hip restaurant where dishes are served up dim sum-style
Your best shot at getting into this incredibly popular restaurant is as a walk-in right when the doors open at 5:30pm. Just be sure to arrive hungry and with an open mind: The food lives up to the hype, but the dining experience is anything but traditional (in a good way). Servers roam the dining room with pushcarts and platters of delicious small bites dim sum-style, which means you get to try lots of different dishes, many of which won't be familiar, but all of which will be delicious. No matter what, don't miss the CA state bird with provisions… otherwise known as fried quail.
Northern California’s produce is the hero at this laid back Mission restaurant
If you know nothing about Al’s Place, you might easily walk by it, assuming that it’s a low-key, if super-popular, neighborhood joint. What you wouldn’t be able to tell from just a quick glance at the tiny space on the corner of Valencia and 26th St is that it took first place on Bon Appétit’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants in America in 2015. It can be hard to get a reservation, but the 18-seat patio that recently opened has offered some relief for diners hoping to get a taste of the vegetable- and seafood-focused dishes. Right now the menu is divided into "Snackles," "Cold/Cool," "Warm/Hot," and "Limited Availability," and even though we’re kind of over cutesy menu organization, the food at Al’s Place is so good, we totally don’t mind.
If you can’t make it to Spain, you can at least get a sample of the country at Bellota
This Spanish-inspired restaurant, the latest from The Absinthe Group (Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, Boxing Room, Comstock Saloon), is already a huge hit with SF diners who are making it clear that they’re ready for more glamorous dining experiences. At 5,300sqft, the former warehouse space is quite sizable, and is able to offer the best of all worlds: counter seating for those who want to watch the action in the open kitchen, where there’s a wood-fired oven and spit for roasting meat; cozy booths for people who want a more intimate experience; and a bar and lounge area with a large U-shaped bar and live music on the weekends. You really shouldn't come here without ordering one of the four kinds of paella, or from among the huge selection of imported charcuterie and cheese. There’s also an all-Spanish wine list, but before you order from that, try one of the Spanish-focused cocktails, including one of the three "Gin Tonics."
California cuisine at its finest and one of the best dining experiences in SF
It can be hard to get a reservation at this Hayes Valley spot, but it’s worth planning ahead of time to dine there. The space and vibe is totally casual, but the California cuisine is beyond inventive (our favorites include the sardine chips, porcini doughnuts, and any pasta that’s on the menu) and all in all, it’s consistently one of the best dining experiences in SF. Pro tip: If you can’t wait for a reservation, but need that porcini doughnut, it’s now available at AT&T Park... which is really the perfect excuse to get tickets for a Giants game.
An upscale spot perfect for a date, anniversary, or special occasion
This stylish restaurant was named the No. 3 Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit in August of 2016 and has received one Michelin star every year since it opened -- so you might have a hard time getting a reservation. That said, it’s worth the wait to eat the refined British- and European-influenced cuisine that tastes as beautiful as it looks. Favorite dishes include the onion petals and sherry vinegar, wagyu tartare with sunflower seeds and chanterelles, and slow-cooked short rib with confit Yukon gold, trompettes, and red wine jus. Though you might as well go for the tasting menu.
Exhibition kitchens, a sexy Scotch bar, and affordable options are just three reasons this is one of the hottest dining destinations in the city
This 30,000-square-foot building has something for everyone. Drink artisanal tea and snack on Chinese pastries at the peaceful Oolong Café; feast on affordable and seasonal Chinese food at Market Restaurant (which features a bustling dining room with specialized stations and an exhibition kitchen); sip on Scotch-centric cocktails at the very swanky Cold Drinks, or, if your wallet can afford it, dine at Eight Tables by George Chen, a beautiful restaurant with an exquisite $225 tasting menu.
A fast-casual spot serving some of the best (if not the best) rotisserie chicken around
This new counter-service spot from the folks behind Rich Table is a perfect choice if you’re looking for a meal that’s casual, affordable, and insanely flavorful. The menu is simple: rotisserie chicken ($10 for a half) and cauliflower ($9), a couple of sandwiches on house-made Dutch crunch (get the pork with charred cabbage and fried onions for $12), as well as a gorgeous salad, and sides like umami fries. There’s also beer and wine, as well as soft serve for dessert. Can’t make it to Hayes Valley? Great news: It’s available for delivery.
Hands-down the sexiest rooftop bar in San Francisco
Charmaine’s, the new bar and lounge at the Proper Hotel on Market Street, is the rooftop hangout San Franciscans always knew we needed. The terrace is quite large with lots of cozy seating around fire pits (a must in this town), and the interior lounge area, designed by Kelly Wearstler, is just the right amount of quirky without being over-the-top. Charmaine’s isn’t where you go to eat a fancy or robust meal (do that at Villon in the downstairs lobby), but there are enough options to keep you happily sated. The market veggies with avocado baba ganoush are a healthy way to start so that you won’t feel guilty about moving right on to Charmaine’s hot dog, the charcuterie plate, and churros -- or an ice cream sandwich for dessert.
Oh, and one more thing we know you care about: the cocktails are by Josh Harris and Morgan Schick of BV Hospitality (you may know them from a little bar called Trick Dog), and will be every bit as top-notch as you’d expect.
Smoke and live fire are the heroes of this hotel restaurant
When you step into Gibson inside of the Hotel Bijou, the first thing you’ll notice is how glamorous it feels (especially for SF). The look leans heavily on Art Deco with lots of gorgeous tile, shiny gold accents, and leather booths and banquettes. But if you look a little closer (specifically at the mural on the ceiling where the cherubs are sporting tattoos and Calvin Klein briefs) you’ll get your first clue that Gibson doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The kitchen is lead by Robin Song (Hog & Rocks) who has focused the menu around the wood-fired hearth in the open kitchen and intends much of the food to be eaten with your hands. While the menu is elevated, it’s not meant to feel pretentious… if you sit at the bar, you can even order some chicken nuggets to pair with your caviar. And even if you’re not going to eat at the bar, it’s definitely the place to start your evening. The cocktails are inventive and feature savory ingredients in unexpected ways.
A cocktail bar with craveable food from the folks behind Lazy Bar
The focus at True Laurel is on the drinks -- which makes shelling out $14 or $15 for each one bearable. And what makes it even more bearable is that the food -- which we lovingly describe as elevated stoner food -- is absolutely affordable. None of the dishes (which average around $12 or $13) are huge, but if you get a couple to share, you’ll be set. The problem will be choosing which ones to order. Whatever you do, don’t skip the Dungeness crab and aged Cheddar fondue or the TL Patty Melt (which has a special sauce). And save room for warm chocolate chip cookies (with a side of milk for dunking) for dessert.
A Spanish tapas spot that's fun, affordable, and always has a wait
We want only the very best for restaurateur Adriano Paganini, but it is starting to feel a little uncanny that he has yet to open a restaurant that doesn’t find instant success. A Mano, Belga, Beretta, Delarosa, El Techo, Flores, Super Duper... the list goes on and on, and now there’s one more to add: Barvale, a Spanish tapas restaurant that opened on the Divisadero Corridor in December.
Barvale is casual and affordable, but still feels special enough for a date or a night out with friends. It’s loud in there, but who really cares if you can hear what people are saying when you’re sipping a generously sized $12 gin and tonic and eating delicious, well-executed dishes like croquetas de jamon, pulpo with fingerling potatoes, olives, and pimenton, and a paella that is only $18 and comes perfectly portioned for two or three and doesn’t take 45 minutes since it’s cooked in large format. Reservations aren’t accepted. so get there early or expect a wait.