Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in San Francisco Right Now

Updated On 06/06/2018 at 04:34PM EST Updated On 06/06/2018 at 04:34PM EST
Sorrel
Sorrel | Jordan Wise
best new openings
Heather Lockwood/Birdsong

Birdsong

SoMa

One of the best tasting menus in San Francisco
This fine dining restaurant from chef/owner Chris Bleidorn (Saison, Atelier Crenn, Benu, Alinea) was one of SF’s most anticipated openings of the year and it absolutely lives up to the hype. Bleidorn’s goal is to look to cooking techniques of the past as a way to understand and bring back those methods that have been transformed or lost. That means lots of open fire and smoke, dry-aged meat (which hangs in a glass meat locker in the downstairs bar and dining area), and different fermenting techniques. So what will you find on your plate? Heritage cuisine inspired by the Pacific Northwest like Pacific scallops, creek-raised trout, and wild boar. You’ll even get a chance to watch your meal get cooked as the light and homey space has one of the most open kitchens we have ever seen in a restaurant. (Pro tip: Get a seat at the chef’s counter). Right now Birdsong only offers a 13-14-course tasting menu ($168), but like the menu, you can expect that to evolve, as there are plans to offer a la carte options once the restaurant really finds its groove.

JaneSrisarakorn/Pearl

Pearl

Outer Richmond

A cozy neighborhood spot that’s worth traveling to
From the people who brought you the mouth-watering pies at Pizzetta 221 comes Pearl: a seasonally-driven restaurant serving homemade pasta, fresh seafood, and cocktails in the evening, and coffee and wood oven-fired bagels in the morning. Unlike Pizzetta 221, which only has four tables and always has a wait, this bright and airy space with leather banquettes lining the wall has seats for 40. There’s also a large bar in the center of the room, perfect for popping in after work to enjoy any of the delicious starters, like the halibut crudo, chicory Caesar, wood oven-baked ricotta, and blistered shishito peppers, with a perfectly concocted cocktails, all of which were named and inspired by flowers and plants native to the area.

Kassie Borreson/Fotografie

Merchant Roots

Western Addition/Fillmore

An artisanal food shop with a twist
Apparently a restaurant with multiple personalities is all the rage this month, and we approve. This clean, modern space (with touches of nostalgia) is a craft grocer by day and a ticketed fine dining restaurant by night (come July). During the day, you’ll find some of the tastiest freshly house-made pastas, sandwiches, salads, cheese, and charcuterie in the city, as well as gourmet pantry items and wine (which you can also order by the glass). In the evening, take one of eight seats at The Table to experience chef Ryan Shelton’s themed tasting menu that will rotate every four to six weeks, but is promised to be “abstract and always exciting.”

Wooden Spoon

Wooden Spoon

Duboce Triangle

Your new favorite brunch destination
This new breakfast and lunch spot from the people behind Woodhouse Fish Co. and West of Pecos has already landed a spot on our Best Brunches list thanks to a large menu that offers something for everyone (not a lazy idiom, we promise), a sleek space that feels made for daytime dining, and good coffee and cocktails. Dishes include toasts with toppings like house-made gravlax and dill crème fraiche (and one with avocado, obviously), biscuits and gravy, Swedish pancakes, a Benedict with thin-cut bacon on a biscuit, grilled cheese, a couple of salads, and a corned beef open-faced sandwich with house-made sauerkraut and Russian dressing. See? We told you there was something for everyone.

best of the best
Courtesy of Che Fico

Che Fico

Western Addition

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.

Delfina

Delfina

The Mission

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.

Leo's Oyster Bar

Leo's Oyster Bar

Financial District

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.

NopaSF

nopa

Alamo Square

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.

Liholiho Yacht Club

Liholiho Yacht Club

Nob Hill

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.

Aubrie Pick

Octavia

Pacific Heights

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.

State Bird Provisions

State Bird Provisions

Fillmore

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.

 Molly DeCoudreaux

Al's Place

The Mission

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.

Kelly Puleio

Bellota

SOMA

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."

Danny Brooks

Rich Table

Hayes Valley

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.

Antoinette Bruno

Lord Stanley

Russian Hill

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.

China Live

China Live

Chinatown

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.

Courtesy of Kassie Borreson

RT Rotisserie

Hayes Valley

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.

Noah Webb

Charmaine’s

Mid-Market

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.

Alison Christiana

Gibson

Union Square

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.

Wes Rowe Photography

True Laurel

Mission

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.

David Martinez

Barvale

Western Addition

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.