Go for the Caribbean flavors; stay for the rum cocktails
Alta only closed a month ago, but the space has already been transformed into Kaya, a modern Jamaican restaurant where you’ll find friendly service, Caribbean-California food, and addictive rum cocktails. The dinner menu is a mix of “small eats” like salt fish fritters, grilled wild Gulf shrimp, and sautéed string beans with thai chili pepper sauce (order all of those), and “big eats,” that include jerk chicken with plantains, rice, and peas, oxtail stew, and black pepper crab. There’s also brunch on the weekends.
The food is tasty, but where Kaya unexpectedly shines is with its cocktail program. The drinks are heavily focused on rum, and have a distinct tropical vibe, but aren’t so sugary sweet that you can’t order more than one. Favorites include the rum-filled coconut (an actual coconut filled with rum, coconut water, and lime), Natural Mystic (rum, lime, coconut, almond, cumin), and the Deep Dub (coconut rum, pineapple, anchan, almond). There are also a couple of rum punch bowls that serve four, as well as beer and wine.
The space has the same layout -- a big bar, open kitchen, and tables along the walls -- but now boasts a fresh coat of bright blue paint and artwork from Caribbean artists. Overall, Kaya is a fun, casual spot with food and drinks that will leave you feeling satisfied.
Your new go-to for when you’re craving cocktails and ribs
This chic new cocktail and dining destination in the former Hecho space is named after “El Botellón,” which are informal street gatherings for drinking and socializing in Spain. And while you’ll be doing your drinking and socializing inside the restaurant so that you don’t get arrested, the vibe definitely captures that fun, casual feeling.
As far as Botellón’s food goes, you might have a hard time figuring out how to label it, but worry less about the labeling and more about putting those insanely delicious house-smoked ribs and lamb pops with tzatziki sauce in your mouth. There’s also an insanely delicious stone hearth pizza... and ahi tuna tartare that shouldn’t be missed.
The cocktail selection Botellón is exactly what you’d expect from a new SF restaurant: thoughtful and handcrafted with a good mix of classics and creative newcomers. The Stranger (Averna Amaro, Rittenhouse rye, lime, agave, mint, angostura bitters) is a must-order, and the boozy slushies are certain to be a huge hit. Thanks to a stylish front lounge and a long bar, Botellón feels just as welcoming to stop in for one of those as it does for a sit-down dinner.
Whiskey cocktails and a Japanese garden with fire pits
The Hotel Kabuki just underwent a huge renovation, and while you might not care about the rooms, you’re definitely going to care about the new lobby bar with its rustic-Zen setting, Japanese garden with fire pits (opening in March), progressive cocktail menu, and Japanese- and California-inspired bar bites.
The cocktails are focused on the art of fermentation and distillation with an emphasis on Japanese whiskey and sake, though you can also expect a good selection of Japanese beer. The food is intended to complement the drinks, and includes dishes like fire-charred shishito peppers, a braised short rib wrap, and veggie tempura. Basically, if you like snacking and sipping in a swanky setting, the Bar at Hotel Kabuki is your new spot.
The insanely popular global Japanese chain has finally arrived in SF
If you want to slurp down the legendary ramen noodles at this worldwide ramen chain, first you’ll need to be prepared to wait in line. Sure, this location on Yerba Buena Lane has 86-seats, which makes it one of the bigger outposts, but legendary ramen is legendary ramen, and the people love legendary ramen. Luckily, once you’re seated, you’ll find the wait was definitely worth it.
The menu is almost exactly what you’ll find at other Ippudo locations (though it’s much more extensive than the one in Berkeley), which means you you’ll finally be able understand all of the hype around the 18-hour tonkotsu broth. You just need to decide if you want your ramen shiromaru (the original), akamaru (a bolder flavor with spicy miso paste), or karaka (spicy), and how you’d like your noodles (from soft to very firm).
Even though you’re at Ippudo for a piping hot bowl of rich and creamy ramen, be sure to also partake in the sake (there’s a bar in the front), which comes in a range of options from “fragrant and luxurious” to “classic and aged.” And also plain old “hot,” in case you’re that person.
An island oasis with comforting food and stunning views
Treasure Island is experiencing a renaissance and this new comfort-casual restaurant built entirely of recycled shipping containers with panoramic views of the SF skyline, Bay Bridge, and Golden Gate Bridge is basically the Sistine Chapel of the isle. This “island oasis” is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner six days a week with a menu that will satisfy all of your comfort food cravings. Think brioche French toast, a fried egg sandwich, lamb riblets with sweet chili glaze, a short rib “shepherd’s pie,” Dungeness crab melt, and a double-stacked cheeseburger on a sesame brioche roll.
And, of course, there’s a full bar featuring tons of local purveyors. What better way to soak in the views after a satisfying meal and a game of bocce (there’s a bocce court and a putting green) than with a drink in hand?
A two Michelin star Mexican restaurant with cuisine so unique, you may not even realize you’re eating Mexican food
This tiny but elegant family-owned restaurant offers an elevated take on Mexican food unlike anywhere else in the city (if not the world). The flavors are intense, and the entire experience of the $177 to $197 seasonal 16-course tasting menu (the 12 to 16 courses change every season) feels special from start to finish. The restaurant is small (only 22 seats) and very dark, filled with vibrant art and leather banquettes. Unfortunately, reservations are almost impossible to get, but if you do, opt for the $97 drink pairing. It’s well worth it.
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 Michelin starred restaurant serving family-style a la carte dishes that are never boring
You’ll have a slightly better chance of getting into this follow-up to State Bird Provisions if you’re willing to sit in the 30-seat bar area, which only accepts walk-ins. The family-style a la carte dishes are contemporary, creative, but never pretentious, and the wine list is well worth delving into.
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.
The only place to go when you’re craving a Cuban
If a trip to Cuba isn't in order, escape to this "Cuban Counter" in the Mission for Cuban sandwiches in a bright, airy setting that will make you feel like you're on vacation… for the duration of the time it takes you to devour your delicious Cubano, anyway. The simple menu features four types of Cubanos (made with traditional pork shoulder, smoked ham, fried chicken and coconut slaw, and avocado eggplant) four bowls (mojo pork shoulder, slow-braised brisket, roasted mojo chicken, and "sin carne"), and a handful of snacks like croquetas, empanadas, and ceviche. Your best bet is to order the Media Noche, which is like a traditional Cubano but served on sweet brioche. Pair it with a cold cerveza or a glass of sangria concocted by the folks at Wildhawk.
A lively spot serving up fantastic New Orleans’ classics
If you're looking to experience all of the fun of a night in New Orleans without hopping on a plane, head to this lively Creole/Cajun spot in the Mission where you can indulge in boozy cocktails reminiscent of what you'd find on Bourbon Street (Sazeracs, hurricanes, French 75s, and even a daiquiri). The real star of the show, however, is the food. The charbroiled gulf oysters, Creole BBQ shrimp, grilled rabbit sausage, blue crab salad, blue crab-stuffed flounder, and jambalaya all taste like they came out of a kitchen in NOLA. The bar menu also kills it with pimento cheese and fried pickles, and you can order off it until 1am on weekends.
Indian cuisine and cocktails with a California twist
There's only one way to describe this progressive Indian-inspired restaurant: sexy. It starts with the decor -- opulent velvet banquettes divided by mesh gold curtains, a long marble bar with bright-blue accents and lighting, and colorful tile and accents throughout, but that's just the beginning. The cocktail menu is a fun play on taste that features 12 drinks based on the six rasas (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent), all of which feature a blend of Indian ingredients, homemade shrubs, and spices meant to "help achieve a balance of body, mind, and spirit." The food is also phenomenal and unlike any Indian cuisine you've tasted before. You can order a la carte, or go for the $80 tasting menu featuring dishes like the liquid egg bhurji, crispy lamb ribs, asparagus a la plancha, short ribs vindaloo, and carrot halwa cake.
Exhibition kitchens, specialized stations, and affordable prices are just part of the reason this is one of the hottest dining destinations in the city
All of the bars and restaurants that will eventually live in this 30,000sqft, multi-story building aren't open yet, but if what's happening on the first floor is a sign of what's to come, we'll likely be spending a lot more time in this "interactive culinary and cultural destination." As of now, there's the Oolong Cafe, a 25-seat counter-service cafe where you can drink artisanal teas and snack on Chinese pastries; and the Market Restaurant, which features an open kitchen and specialized stations for dumplings and dim sum, Chinese charcuterie and barbecue, noodles and rice bowls, live seafood, and wok stir-fry. Our favorite part? It's affordable. You can fill up your stomach and drink a beer all for under $35.
A San Francisco classic for steak and martinis
If you haven’t been to this nearly 90-year-old steakhouse in a while, now’s the time to change that. The Daniel Patterson Group took ownership of the restaurant last year and gave it a slight refresh, but a basement fire in the spring gave him the chance to take that refresh to the next level. Everything looks the same (in other words: don’t wear red unless you want to disappear into the walls and leather booths), and the service is still friendly and impeccable, but there are new bar snacks, house-made pastas, and seasonal cocktails to try. Plus, the steaks and martinis remain some of the best you’ll find in SF.
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.
Sexy date spot with quality cocktails and a fantastic burger
This super-sexy two-story cocktail bar and restaurant is the perfect spot for first-date cocktails -- you’ll enjoy those upstairs at the backlit bar surrounded by steel beams, exposed brick walls, and a dramatic multi-tiered chandelier -- or a third date dinner, which you’ll experience downstairs in the intimate dining room. For cocktails, choose from a selection of “lost and forgotten” spirits, like Chartreuse, Fernet, and Pimm’s (or any of the other 800 spirits available). For dinner, share playful, but elevated dishes, like Toga tots with chorizo and Fiscalini Cheddar cheese, seven spice chicken sliders, and, of course, the two-patty burger, which is easily one of the tastiest in SF right now.
A cozy bistro for when you’re in the mood for oysters and wine
This Parisian-inspired wine bar and oysterette from the culinary geniuses behind Marlowe, Park Tavern, and Leo’s Oyster Bar, is the perfect spot for a date... or just the perfect spot to eat some incredibly fresh, flavorful seafood, while sipping on wine or beer. The menu is made more for snacking, but with options like caviar, crustaceans, and crudo, a trio of tartares (scallop, beet, and côte de bœuf), cheese and charcuterie plates, several different deviled eggs, and three tartines (foie gras and jam, tuna conserva, and avocado), it won’t be hard to fill up. Though it might get a little pricey.
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.