You Can Get Reservations for Free Dinner in Taco Bell's Insane Test Kitchen
Rustic, casual Italian 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, a new restaurant on Divisadero from chefs David Nayfeld and Angela Pinkerton. The second-floor spot -- something you definitely don’t see much of in SF -- has an industrial feel (the building was an auto body shop previously), but is warmed up thanks to lots of skylights, red leather booths, and colorful tile and wallpaper throughout.
The menu at Che Fico is all about rustic, casual Italian fare with a heavy California influence. That includes “San Francisco style” pizzas, including one with pineapple, red onion, and fermented chili (all fired in an oven imported from Naples), and pastas that categorized by handmade, machine made in-house, or dried. The food feels affordable for SF, though it does feel weird to call $16 to $24 pasta and $17 to $21 pizza “affordable,” but this is who we are now. Don’t expect to walk in without a wait -- luckily, there is plenty of standing room at the 15-seat bar, which is a refreshing feature in an SF restaurant.
An elegant French wine bar from the first women in the US with two Michelin stars.
If you’ve been lucky enough to eat at (the not unexpensive) Atelier Crenn or (the slightly more affordable, but still pricey) Petit Crenn, then you’re aware of how amazing chef Dominique Crenn’s creations can be. So let’s talk about Bar Crenn, the stunning French wine bar inspired by the Parisian lounges of the 1930s.
The décor, for starters -- velvet curtains, antique armchairs, and settees, sparkling chandeliers, exposed brick -- is stunning and creates a welcoming living room vibe. And the food -- pâté en croute ($15), brioche with whipped beef fat ($10), pied de cochon ($24) -- is limited, but exceptional. You can also opt for a three-course carte blanche ($85) experience or a caviar tasting ($165). Lastly, we’ll hit the wine. The list features mostly expensive French wines, but also some reasonably priced California and New World choices that pair exceptionally well with the dishes.
A welcoming wine bar with great Italian food
Cole Valley wine bar, InoVino, now has a sister wine bar and restaurant in Russian Hill that specializes in high-altitude Italian wines and Italian comfort food. The menu is quite extensive with most of the dishes you’d hope to find at an Italian restaurant: chicken liver pâté bruschetta ($10), salumi and formaggi ($24), six seasonal pastas ($17 to $21), and a couple of “secondi” options for when you’re laying low on carbs.
The atmosphere is cozy and welcoming (romantic even, if that’s what you’re looking for), the servers are knowledgeable and professional, and even the most weary San Franciscan has to admit that it’s fun to eat a meal and watch the cable cars glide up and down the hill. It looks like Claudio Villani has another hit on his hands.
Bar food served in a flamboyant environment with nightly entertainment
Considering Hamburger Mary’s, the gay-themed burger and restaurant chain, was founded in SF in 1972, it’s been a real bummer that the city hasn’t had a franchise since 2001. However, now you can experience all of the flamboyant service, drag queen performances, charity bingo, and karaoke you want because there’s a new Hamburger Mary’s in the Castro.
The menu isn’t nearly as fabulous as the atmosphere, but it will do wonders to fix a hangover (fried pickles, five “big and juicy” burgers, deep-fried Twinkies for dessert), and that’s not nothing. Plus, it really is affordable. The burgers are only $12.99 and the cocktails range from $7 to $10, and include Mary’s Appletini, a watermelon cooler, and a bunch of other drinks you won’t find on the menu at any of SF’s fancy craft cocktail spots. MInd you, we say that as a good thing.
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, 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 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
If you like cocktails and you often find yourself with a case of the munchies, then True Laurel, the cocktail bar from Lazy Bear’s chef/owner David Barzelay and partner/bar director Nicolas Torres, is your dream come true.
The focus is on the drinks (you can absolutely go to True Laurel and just order those), but don’t be shy if you need a little help ordering since some of the ingredients aren’t instantly recognizable. Still, they’re all phenomenal, which makes shelling out $14 or $15 for each one bearable. But 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.
True Laurel doesn’t take reservations, but so far the wait has been minimal... cxpect that to change as the word continues to get out.
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.
Like almost all of the other restaurants in Paganini’s empire, Barvale is casual and affordable, but still feels special enough for a date or a night out with friends. Maybe not your parents though because it’s definitely loud in there. Still, 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.
Personable, attentive servers, a lively vibe, quality cocktails, and delicious food, all at an affordable price... Barvale is definitely a place we’d love to go back to again and again... if only everyone else didn’t feel the same way. Reservations aren’t accepted. so get there early or expect a wait.
1. Californios3115 22nd St, San Francisco
2. Delfina3621 18th St, San Francisco
3. Leo's Oyster Bar568 Sacramento St, San Francisco
4. Nopa560 Divisadero St, San Francisco
5. Liholiho Yacht Club871 Sutter St, San Francisco
6. Octavia1701 Octavia St, San Francisco
7. The Progress1525 Fillmore St, San Francisco
8. State Bird Provisions1529 Fillmore St, San Francisco
9. Al's Place1499 Valencia St, San Francisco
10. Bellota888 Brannan St, San Francisco
11. Rich Table199 Gough St, San Francisco
12. Lord Stanley2065 Polk St, San Francisco
13. Media Noche3465 19th St, San Francisco
14. Alba Ray's2293 Mission St, San Francisco
15. ROOH333 Brannan St, San Francisco
16. China Live644 Broadway, San Francisco
17. Alfred's Steakhouse659 Merchant St, San Francisco
18. RT Rotisserie101 Oak St, San Francisco
19. The Saratoga1000 Larkin St, San Francisco
20. Petit Marlowe234 Townsend St, San Francisco
This elegant Michelin-starred spot in the Mission is a take on Mexican food unlike you've ever tasted. The hallmark of Californios is the multi-course tasting menu and the additional wine pairing. The menu is always changing, but you can expect lots of seafood, meat, and if you're lucky, foie gras ice cream. Reservations are hard to score but once you do, you're in for an intimate night (the restaurant has only 22 seats including a chef's counter) of truly haute Mexican food.
Open since 1998, Delfina is credited for putting the Mission on the map as San Francisco's epicenter for innovative, critically-acclaimed dining. The Italian menu is wonderfully simple and undeniably satisfying. Case in point is the signature dish: spaghetti with plum tomatoes, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and pepperoncini. The unassuming small space is packed to the brim every night with neighborhood regulars and culinary-minded tourists.
From the team behind Park Tavern, Cavalier, and Marlowe, Leo's has a swanky mid-century vibe and exotic Hawaiian touches (think lush ferns against mahogany paneling, whimsical floral patterns, and mother-of-pearl chandeliers). Meanwhile, three bars (raw, cocktail, and Champagne) and cozy banquettes beckon you away from your desk for an early happy hour. If you're in the mood to lunch it up like Roger Sterling, you can derail your day earlier than usual with Mr. Nicholas' Liquid Lunch cocktail, a top-shelf martini served with olives and pickled vegetables -- which doubles as a great start to dinner.
Nopa is a San Francisco institution that does everything really, really well. It's the best brunch in Western Addition and one of the best in the whole city. Its burger is perfect with pickled onions and French fries, especially when eaten at the bar. It's a one-stop-shop for a date, a birthday dinner, or dinner with your parents. Plus, the kitchen is open until 1 AM for a full dinner. Yeah, this place wins at everything.
Liholiho Yacht Club is a pop-up restaurant that found a permanent home in Nob Hill...and isn't a yacht club by any means. The kitchen serves a mash-up of Hawaiian, Californian, and Southeast Asian flavors, led by dishes like poppy seed steamed buns with beef tongue, tuna poke on a nori cracker, and twice-cooked pork belly. Aside from an à la carte menu, there's a family-style tasting dinner that's served at the Ohana Table, a communal table in the front of the restaurant.
Much like The Empire Strikes Back only made you appreciate “Star Wars” that much more, Octavia, the sister restaurant to Frances, will make you appreciate Chef Melissa Perello the most. The concept is similar: refined home cooking. In this case, home cooking just means simple, without any fancy tricks, and utterly delicious. The menu changes every day, but look/plead for things like chilled squid ink pasta, Atlantic sea scallops with crispy prosciutto, and chili-doused deviled eggs.
With lines out the door every night at State Bird Provisions, it’s no wonder the team launched a follow-up to the perennial hotspot spot. If State Bird is all about small plates, The Progress emphasizes communal eating. Snag a seat at the lazy Susan-equipped Balcony Table that perches above the restaurant and get ready for a six-course, family-style feast of classic Californian food.
State Bird Provisions opened in the Fillmore in 2013, won the James Beard Award for best new restaurant, earned a Michelin star, and has been one of city's hottest spots ever since. After you score a reservation, State Bird will likely be one of your most memorable meals ever thanks to the fact that creative Northern California small plates are served from dim sum carts. The atmosphere is fun, the food is affordable (plates range from $3 to $20), and the dining experience is anything but ordinary.
Aaron London proves that meat doesn't have to be the main event at his vegetarian- and pescatarian-centric restaurant in the Mission. Al's Place won a Michelin star a year after opening for its menu of truly inventive dishes, like cured trout with potato and smashed turnip and the best poached egg you'll probably ever eat. That the restaurant is reasonably priced -- most dishes hover below $20 -- is all the more reason it's garnered fans from all over San Francisco.
From The Absinthe Group (Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, Boxing Room, Comstock Saloon), Bellota is a destination for Spanish food. Set in a Soma warehouse, the restaurant is heavily focused on paella. There are a few different variations to choose from, and the charcuterie board is well worth exploring. There's an all-Spanish wine list too, but before you order a bottle, try one of the gin & tonics.
Rich Table's reclaimed-wood decor belies its menu of eclectic American dishes, which range from rainbow trout and rabbit leg to hangar steak and cured hamachi. There's also an impressive wine list, a range of beers on tap and in bottles, and handcrafted cocktails.
Lord Stanley is run by cooking power couple Rupert and Carrie Blease and has once again upped the ante’s ante with a light and airy 40-seat dining room. Lord Stanley’s menu has European influences infused with some tricks the duo picked up working at New York hot spots like Per Se and Blue Hill. Plus, as is the European way, there's a no-tipping policy.
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, housemade pastas, and seasonal cocktails to try. Plus, the steaks and martinis remain some of the best you’ll find in SF.
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 housemade 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.
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.
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.