Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in San Francisco Right Now

Updated On 06/10/2019 at 05:26PM EST Updated On 06/10/2019 at 05:26PM EST
The Vault
The Vault | Kevin McCullough

new and noteworthy

The Brixton on 2nd | Grace Sager

The Brixton on 2nd

SoMa

The popular Union Street spot now has an outpost by the ballpark
SoMa may feel like a strange place for The Brixton to open its second location since it lacks the neighborhood vibes of Cow Hollow, but thanks to Giants fans, tech company employees, and the people who call the area around Oracle Park home (there are a few), the new locale has already found its audience. This new version feels more grown-up than its Union Street counterpart. The space is open and comfortable (and much bigger than the original) thanks to communal tables, a lounge area in the front, outdoor seating with a huge retractable door, and a 24-foot bar with leather bar chairs. But the star of this iteration is the food (the menu is almost entirely different), especially the fried baby back ribs with sweet chili sauce, the chili con queso, and the North Carolina-inspired Brixton deluxe burger (pimento cheese, chili, pickled chow chow), that is a must-order, but is definitely something you should plan on sharing unless you want to send yourself into an immediate food coma. If you’re aiming for something a little healthier, the roasted brassicas with house cashew cheese, hits the spot and doesn’t require a post-meal nap. The cocktails are also fantastic; just don’t order the Macho Margarita (Patron silver, roasted jalapeño and habaneros, agave, lime) extra spicy unless you can actually handle the heat.

Che Fico Alimentari

NoPa

An Italian wine bar, grocery, and salumeria downstairs from the very trendy Che Fico
We were bummed when Theorita, the upscale diner and bakery concept below Che Fico, shuttered just a few months after it opened, but its replacement, a casual wine bar with California-Italian cuisine, has helped us get over it quicker than we expected. Theorita, who? On paper, Che Fico Alimentari is described as a neighborhood wine bar, and we suppose it is; it’s just that we can get a seat at our neighborhood wine bar any night of the week. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at this 60-seat restaurant and retail space that has already been discovered by the masses as a fantastic place for casual, classic pastas, meat and cheese from around the world, and affordable wines from Italy. Don’t be discouraged though. If you’re willing to eat a little later, you can usually score a reservation at 9 or 9:30pm and the restaurant tries to hold spots for walk-ins. Oh, and whatever you do, order any kind of house-baked bread and/or sweet treat, all of which come from Che Fico’s enormously talented pastry chef, Angela Pinkerton.

One65

One65

Union Square

An ambitious six-floor French culinary complex with four different dining and drinking options
When we first heard about One65, a dining destination from James Beard Award-winning Michelin Star chef Claude Le Tohic that is over 25,000 square feet and lives on six different floors, we were a little skeptical... but now that we’ve been there, all of our doubts have disappeared. Only three of the four interconnected restaurants opened in May, but that’s more than enough to get you started on your journey.

The first floor is home to ONE65 Patisserie & Boutique and is where you’ll go for French pastries, chocolate confections, and ice cream, all made in-house, as well as coffee, and casual breakfast and lunch offerings. ONE65 Bistro & Grill is located on the third floor and that’s where you’ll indulge in French “comfort” food, like frog legs and escargots, steak tartare, and an omelette cocotte. The bistro is light and airy with lots of seating by the front windows, but the place to be is at the chef’s counter where you can see everything happening in the open kitchen. That being said, the fourth floor is our favorite spot. That’s where you’ll find Elements, a dark and moody lounge with leather banquettes and oversized chairs, and a great cocktail menu based on, you got it: earth, water, air, and fire. You can also get the entire bistro menu there (there’s a dumb waiter that goes back and forth), so if you can’t snag a seat at the chef’s counter at the Bistro, head straight there. As far as the fifth and sixth floors? They are home to O’ by Claude Le Tohic, a luxurious fine dining restaurant and we won’t know much more about that until it opens in June, but we have a feeling it’s going to be très incroyable.

The Vault | Kevin McCullough

The Vault

Financial District

The food at this fine dining spot is so good, you won’t even be annoyed about the trek to the Financial District
If we could afford to, we’d eat at this fine dining restaurant beneath the Bank of America building (in what used to literally be a bank vault) at least once a week. And we’re pretty sure that it will soon have a long list of people with expense accounts who do just that. The Vault feels like the kind of place wealthy financial types go, but as we settled into our spacious leather booth in the moody and masculine dining room, we realized we weren’t mad about that. For those looking for something a little less formal, there’s a bar and lounge in the front that’s equally as sophisticated, but with a more casual vibe. Drink a martini at the marble-top bar or share the seafood platter at the live edge wood communal table. Speaking of that seafood platter (oysters with Meyer lemon-jalapeño granita, halibut crudo, shrimp cocktail, Fort Brag uni, and chilled Maine lobster salad), it’s up there among the best in SF, but we’re not surprised since chef Robin Song (Gibson, Hog and Rocks) is heading the efforts in the kitchen. Truly, everything we ate was not only perfectly executed, but elicited shrieks of delight, especially the dry-aged Liberty Farms duck, chicken liver mousse and Parker House rolls, and the mushroom tortolloni. Even the vegetables felt really special. NOTE: We haven’t been to The Vault for lunch, but we hear the double patty Vault Burger, which is only available at that time, is also extremely good.

Willkommen

Castro

SF’s foggy weather is never an issue at this indoor beer garden
The folks from Black Hammer Brewing bring the outside in at their new German-inspired beer garden inside of a new development on Market Street. The industrial space is warmed up with lots and lots of foliage, huge windows, and communal seating in the form of picnic tables and a live edge wood communal table (live edge wood tables are so hot right now). There are 26 taps, many of which pour German-style beer brewed by Black Hammer in SoMa, and are gluten-reduced. There’s also food in the form of sausages from Rosamunde, a couple of salads, pretzel sticks with beer cheese, and cheese spaetzle.

all-time best

Bon Voyage | Aubrie Pick

Bon Voyage

Mission

An adventurous new bar and restaurant from the guys behind Trick Dog. What more do you need to know?
Josh Harris and Morgan Schick of BVHospitality and The Bon Vivants could have opened this much-anticipated bi-level Mission spot without a whimsical narrative to explain the thought process behind the vintage treasures, exotic animal sculptures, giant disco ball, tropical cocktails and artwork, and menu of Chinese food, but that wouldn’t be very on brand for the creative duo whose other Mission bar was recently named to the “World’s 50 Best Bar” list for the fifth year in a row. These guys don’t do anything without a story.

In the case of Bon Voyage, Harris says the inspiration is “a guy who lives in a hotel and travels throughout Southeast Asia and Africa in the 1950s, moving his way across the world, collecting art and mementos from his journey who ends up in 1970s Palm Springs, where he buys a house to fill with his worldly treasures and throws killer disco cocktail parties and serves Chinese food.” Specific? Absolutely. But it makes perfect sense when you’re ensconced in your seat at the downstairs or upstairs bar, on the back couches in the mezzanine, or at one of numerous hi-tops and tables throughout, sipping expertly crafted cocktails, and enjoying Chinese dishes “from the wok,” as well as an assortment of dumplings and buns. Don’t skip the pork belly baozi, the glazed pork riblets, or Szechuan green beans. Best of all? You can order it all -- the drinks and the food -- until 2am.

Kaiyō | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Kaiyō

Cow Hollow

Colorful, creative, and flavorful Japanese-Peruvian (just don’t call it “fusion”) cuisine
Kaiyo, the new Nikkei-inspired restaurant on Union Street, may very well be putting out the best (and most beautiful) food we’ve eaten in all of 2018. Nikkei is Japanese-inflected Peruvian food that first came about when Japanese workers went to Peru to build railroads in the 1880s, although Kaiyo’s version feels very California thanks to the focus on amazing local ingredients.

Truly, everything on the menu is worth ordering, but you absolutely cannot skip the Hokkaido scallop tiradito, the Japanese bluefin tuna, the smoked duck breast sashimi with shaved foie gras torchon, the Japanese mentaiko pasta with clams and pork, or the cusquena-brined Mary’s chicken. Kaiyo’s vibrant interior perfectly pairs with the colorful dishes and cocktails, and though we do love the bright green living wall and yellow leather banquettes, it’s hard to resist the heated patio if seats are available.

Angler exterior | Bonjwing Lee

Angler

Embarcadero

A casual seafood-centric spinoff from the team behind Saison
Chef Joshua Skenes is known for being one of the best in the Bay Area, but until recently, in order to eat his food, you had to be willing to drop $298 for the tasting menu at Saison. Now, with the opening of Angler, a “sea-life focused” restaurant that revolves around a 32-foot, wood-burning fireplace, anyone who’s willing to spend $12 to $28 for appetizers and $20 to $48 for mains (everything is a la carte) can savor locally sourced seafood and meat served raw (try the antelope tartare) or “simply roasted over the embers.” There are two dining rooms in the spacious restaurant, both with great views of the Bay Bridge, but only one with a taxidermy bear.

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.

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.

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.

Swan Oyster Depot

Lower Nob Hill

You can’t call yourself a San Franciscan unless you’ve eaten at Swan
There’s always a line down the street to get into this tiny seafood market and lunch counter, but this is one (up to two-hour) wait that’s worth it... assuming you like super-fresh crab, oysters, shrimp, lobster, clams, and uni that is. Good luck deciding what to order, though you can’t go wrong with one of the seafood salads, the Sicilian sashimi (not on the menu), and the seafood cocktail. Seriously though, you really can’t go wrong with anything because again: super-fresh seafood. Even the hot chowder, which we only ever skip because great chowder's pretty easy to find in SF.

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.

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.

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.