Everywhere You Need to Eat Right Now in San Francisco
From Filipino-Californian cuisine to classic Cantonese, Detroit-style pizza, and more.
Here we go again—time for another ride on the pandemic rollercoaster. The Delta variant has thrown our hot girl summer for a loop, leading to a worrisome uptick of cases and a return to an indoor mask mandate in the city. But there is good news to be found. San Francisco remains one of the most vaccinated cities in the U.S., and those vaccines are proving to be remarkably successful in fending off infection and, most importantly, serious illness and hospitalization. But it remains an unimaginably challenging time to run a restaurant in San Francisco, with business owners coping with staff shortages while having to enforce their own policies about employee and customer vaccination requirements.
But just as these restaurateurs persevere through seemingly endless challenges, we remain just as resolute in supporting them and making sure they’re still around when all of this is eventually over. Currently, San Francisco is allowing outdoor and indoor dining, with masks still required indoors whenever you are not eating and drinking. We’re not out of the woods yet, so continue following COVID best practices and be kind to restaurant owners and staff who, like the rest of us, have been through hell and back over the last year.
These 20 restaurants, all of which opened in 2020 and 2021, continue to prove how essential this industry is to our city. So do yourself a favor and start booking those reservations ASAP.
The gist: Chef Francis Ang was born in San Francisco, but spent much of his early years in the Philippines. While earning accolades in fine dining kitchens, including Gary Danko and Fifth Floor, Ang became increasingly committed to exploring his culinary heritage, culminating in an award-winning pop-up, Pinoy Heritage, in partnership with his wife, Dian. Abacá, which opens in the Kimpton Alton Hotel on August 16, is the sister restaurant to that pop-up, showcasing an elevated, playful menu of Filipino-California cuisine and cocktails in a sleek, plant-filled space.
The food: Feast on a wide array of shareable small plates, including a selection of barbecue skewers featuring house-made longganisa pork sausage and seasonal vegetables, scallop pancit centered around handmade noodles and seasoned with bagoong-laced XO sauce, and lumpias served with apple ketchup and fermented mango. Craving something more substantial? Don’t skip thy dry-aged rib eye, prepared bistek-style and topped with crispy alliums.
The cost: Prices range from $7 summer vegetable skewers to the $42 ribeye.
Empress By Boon
The gist: This long-awaited high-end Cantonese destination opened in June after a number of pandemic-related delays in the former Empress of China space. The historic Chinatown banquet hall, known for ornate interiors and striking city views, was built in the 1960s and closed in 2014. This iteration, helmed by Malaysian-born, Michelin-starred Chef Ho Chee Boon (formerly the international executive chef of Hakkasan) has preserved much of the original’s special occasion-worthy vibes spread across multiple distinctive spaces —intricate lattice work and a striking wooden pergola have been restored alongside modern touches, including brightly-hued leather booths, sleek tilework, and a marble-topped, horseshoe-shaped bar.
The food: Empress by Boon is currently offering a prix-fixe menu only, with dishes including black truffle-topped zucchini and prawn steamed dumplings, curry-spiced crispy chicken, and grilled ribeye with tofu in spicy, numbing mala sauce. Look out for a la carte options moving forward.
The cost: The prix fixe menu is $68 per person.
The gist: This Valencia Street space has sat empty since 2015, when longtime neighborhood staple Luna Park closed up shop. Now reborn as Luna, the modern American brasserie aims to be an all-day destination for the Mission, with a menu of comfort food classics, cocktails, and a simple, warm-yet-modern space featuring wood paneling, a communal table, and eye-popping wallpaper.
The food: Creative, approachable fare from a Wayfare Tavern-alum is the name of the game here, with a menu anchored by mains like stuffed roast chicken, a marsala-style pork chop, and naturally, a chuck and short rib burger on a brioche bun. Expect a touch of whimsical decadence with starters like buttermilk fried burrata topped with a sunny egg, and oysters “Hellafeller,” loaded with creamed kale, corn, pickled mushrooms, and herbed cornbread crumbs. Brunch takes a similarly playful ethos, with healthy and hearty options including “vitality porridge,” topped with blueberries, avocado, and an acai gastrique, fried chicken and savory waffles topped with black truffle syrup, plus a serious menu of brunch-friendly drinks (including slushies, spritzes, and bottomless mimosas).
The cost: Starters are $12 to $16, and mains are $19 to $34. Brunch starters are $12 to $16, and mains are $14 to $24.
The gist: Husband-and-wife team Nick Cobarruvias and Anna Sager Cobarruvias opened this follow-up to their acclaimed Mission restaurant, Son’s Addition, in May. Chef Nick, who did stints at Jardiniere and Marlowe, is channeling the comfort foods of his childhood in the form of thoughtfully sourced, carefully executed Mexican dishes and a tequila- and mezcal-centric drinks menu. The simple space is sparse but lively thanks to family photos on the wall, a tropical mural, and festive, blue papel picado adorning the ceiling.
The food: House-made masa is the star of the show here, which Chef Nick nixtamalizes in house for freshly made tortillas, tostadas, and more. Sample it in the form of tacos loaded with slow-cooked beef and laced with guajillo chile or roasted sweet potato; a huarache topped with avocado and maitake mushrooms; or starters including fresh salsas and aguachile. Larger dishes include hamachi collar topped with tomatillo salsa and a pork tenderloin served with a pecan-based mole. Don’t skip the charred cabbage, seasoned with chile de arbol, pecan dukkah, and smoked bone marrow.
The cost: Starters are $7-$15, tacos and tostadas are $11-$16 and mains are $20-$26
The gist: Chef Dennis Lee and his daughters began experimenting with making pizza in their Outer Sunset home in the early days of shelter-in-place. Their sourdough, “Detroit-ish”-style pizzas quickly took off on Instagram (orderable by DM), leading to a rabid following throughout the city. Now Lee, already a fixture in San Francisco food thanks to his beloved Namu restaurants, has made his entry in the pizza game permanent with an expansive restaurant, beer hall, and NFT gallery off Market Street, and a late-night slice shop on Divisadero in the former home of Namu Stonepot.
The food: SSP Beer & NFT Gallery features Lee’s delicious versions of square-shaped, crispy edged Detroit-style pizza, with toppings ranging from classic cheese and pepperoni to bulgogi and bonito flakes, not to mention the mind-blowingly good mapo tofu pie, plus round, “New England” style pies. Also on offer: chicken wings, and an entire separate menu of Filipino fare called Uncle Tito’s (with pork sisig and lechon porchetta sandwich, among other things), and a selection of Namu Stonepot favorites including Korean-style street dogs, bibimbap, and okonomiyaki. The slice shop focuses on pizza, available by the pie or by the slice.
The cost: Whole pizzas are $22 to $37, slices are $4.50-$7.50. Namu fare is $7-$15, and Uncle Tito’s is $5-$21.
The Red Window
The gist: Holding court on Columbus, just off Washington Square Park, Red Window, the latest project from mixologist Elmer Mejicanos (Tony’s) and chef Adam Rosenblum (Causwells) is a bustling ode to Spanish tapas and Basque pintxos culture, complete with a menu of low-ABV cocktails.
The food: Pintxos, available by the piece, mix classics like ham and cheese croquettes and gilda (anchovy, pickled pepper, and olive) skewers, with playful twists on tradition (see: a chicken and chorizo-laced “paella popper”). Round out a meal with shareable tapas classics (tortilla espanola, patatas bravas) and larger-format stunners including a seafood-filled brothy rice dish and pork shank with white beans and broken herb sauce.
The cost: Pintxos are $3-$4, tapas are $6-$19, and mains are $29-$38.
New Belgium Taproom & Restaurant
The gist: Just in time for baseball season, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing has opened a massive new brewpub in Mission Bay, complete with ample outdoor seating and a view of Oracle Park. In addition to their well-known beers, try a rotating selection of locally-inspired small batch releases.
The food: Beer-friendly fare is the name of the game here, from chicken wings spiced with Calabrian chile and honey to globally-inspired tacos served on paratha. Don’t sleep on the cheese-stuffed Wagyu beef burger, or the San Francisco-inspired, bacon-wrapped Mission Dog, topped with beer onions and jalapeno slaw on a brioche bun.
The cost: Appetizers are $5-$12, tacos and tartines are $8-$11, and salads and sandwiches are $13-$18.
La Cocina Municipal Marketplace
The gist: San Francisco-based nonprofit incubator La Cocina has long focused on supporting immigrant and women-of-color-led food businesses. Now, their long-awaited food hall has opened, with six standout food offerings, and a bar called La Paloma. The newest addition: Fluid Coffee Cooperative Cafe, a coffee pop-up from trans activists JoJo Ty, Santana Tapia, and Shannon Amitin.
The food: Take yourself on a delicious world tour with Creole fare from Boug Cali, Salvadoran pupusas from Estrellita’s Snacks, halal North African classics from Kayma, standout Mexican fare from Los Cilantros and Mi Morena, and delicious Senegalese offerings from Teranga.
The cost: Prices range depending on the vendor, but snacks and sides start around $4, with full meals topping out at $16.
The Tailor’s Son
The gist: The latest opening from Back of the House Inc. restaurant group, The Tailor’s Son showcases comforting, Northern Italian fare alongside classic cocktails in the former Elite Cafe space.
The food: The menu leans heavy on the vegetables, with ample antipasti currently showcasing summer’s bounty, including a fritto misto featuring fennel and asparagus, and a spinach sformato rich with truffled pecorino. Other menu highlights include fresh pastas and a dedicated risotto section with four options on offer, including one made with squid ink and another with bone marrow.
The cost: Starters and snacks are $12-$15, and pastas, risottos, and mains are $17-$26.
The gist: Wood-fired pizza, wine, and coffee combine at this Outer Sunset spot, centered around a 5,000-pound wood-fired oven. Currently open for dinner, with a nice selection of cocktails and Italian wine to go with your pies, expect coffee and pastries in the coming weeks.
The food: Three-day, cold-fermented dough forms the base for a selection of blistered wood-fired pizzas, with toppings ranging from simple cheese and pepperoni pies to more ambitious options like the Slow n’ Low, which comes topped with spicy tomato sauce, kale,
slow-braised pork shoulder, Calabrian chiles, and housemade pickled onions.
The cost: Salads are $14, and pizzas are $17-$24.
The gist:Chef Rob Lam opened Lily in the Inner Richmond as an homage to his Vietnamese heritage, but has upped the ante on classic dishes with top-notch ingredients and playful presentations in a subtly sumptuous space complete with leather banquettes and a carved wooden lattice ceiling.
The food: From a French dip-style banh mi, served with a side of pho broth for dipping, to a heritage barbecue pork noodle bowl, loaded with grilled meatballs, belly, and shoulder, Lily’s cuisine is all about big, luxurious flavors (see: duck confit egg rolls) balanced with fresh herbs and zippy sauces.
The cost: Appetizers are $12-$16, and mains are $16-$28.
The gist: This takeout and delivery-only restaurant has put together a menu of Chinese American classics, thoughtfully and flavorfully executed by Chef Eric Ehler.
The food: Tuck into classics like General Tso’s chicken, wonton soup, pepper steak, and mapo tofu with vegan Impossible meat, all cooked to order and iterated to remain as texturally sound as possible through the takeout experience. Definitely try the house-made Umami Crunch on anything and everything.
The cost: Appetizers and soups are $7.95-$8.95, and mains are $11.96-$14.95.
The gist: This long-awaited full-service restaurant from star pastry chef Belinda Leong has opened just down the block from her beloved B. Patisserie for in-person dining and takeout.
The food: The menu boasts “French-ish” classics like seasonal pate and salmon rillettes, hearty mains of truffled pork tenderloin and braised beef short ribs, plus a lobster grand aioli, featuring cold, poached lobster with miso-laced aioli for dipping. Desserts, which include both dark chocolate and tropical fruit-laced mousses, are not to be missed.
The cost: Starters and salads are $15-$18, with mains ranging from $26 (for pork shoulder confit) to $45 for lobster. A three-course menu is also available at $39 per person.
The gist: Housed in the former Jardiniere space, Baia, a collaboration between Chef Matthew Kenney and Kyle and Tracy Vogt, is now open for dinner and brunch in Hayes Valley, boasting a seasonal menu of cravable, entirely plant-based Italian fare.
The food: The menus offer vegan versions of Italian-American classics including cacio e pepe pasta and pizza, eggplant parmesan, fried mozzarella sticks, and garlic knots, plus sandwiches and scrambles for brunch. Italian beer and wine, plus cocktails, are also available.
The cost: Appetizers are $10-$17, pasta and pizzas are $17-$25, and mains are $22-$27.
The gist: The latest offering from the Absinthe group, Arbor has remade Arlequin Cafe, and its wonderful back garden, into a fast-casual restaurant with a low-key emphasis on plant-based offerings.
The food: Find comforting classics, including chili cheese fries, mac and cheese, and a double cheeseburger, alongside equally satisfying vegan options, including a double patty bean burger loaded with garlic tahini sauce and a hearty slice of heirloom tomato. Wine is available on tap, and by the bottle from Arlequin Wine Merchant next door.
The cost: Small plates are $6-$10, salads and sandwiches are $8-$16.
The gist: The much-loved Mexican restaurant from the Nopa family has opened a small takeout window with additional outdoor seating on 18th Street in the Mission, serving a limited menu of Nopalito classics and a few new offerings.
The food: Find Nopalito favorites, including a seasonal market salad and totopos tossed in salsa de arbol, plus a loaded rice and bean bowl with your choice of protein, and a plate of melt-in-your-mouth carnitas.
The cost: Totopos are $9, meals are $12-$25, ice cream is $5-$8, the carnitas plate is $25.
The Vault Garden
The gist: Hi Neighbor Restaurant Group opened this 100-seat socially distanced outdoor restaurant in the plaza of 555 California Street, outside of The Vault restaurant.
The food: Expect a menu of high-class comfort food, featuring everything from a double pattied burger with Fiscalini cheddar and special sauce to caramelized scallops served with ginger lobster sauce (plus caviar and oysters for good measure). Brunch offerings include sweet treats like beignets and a cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing, plus hearty fare like eggs Benedict and chicken fried steak served with country gravy. Whenever you dine, be sure to try the fresh-baked Parker House rolls.
The cost: Dinner mains range from $20 to $48 for a dry-aged steak, brunch dishes are $16-$26.
The gist: Married couple Monica Wong and Dennis Cantwell, previously of staple SF restaurants Zuni, Nopa, and A16, opened this low-key neighborhood bottle shop and bar selling beer, natural wine, and stellar sandwiches that have quickly earned a following far beyond the outer avenues in a light-filled, welcoming space.
The food: Palm City’s long-awaited opening has come with a menu of fresh, wine-friendly fare including hearty, seasonal salads, addictive spicy cheese dip, stone fruit paired with unctuous slices of speck, and salty-pungent anchovies. Never fear, though: the loaded hoagies that brought them city-wide acclaim, all served on custom-made sesame seed-topped rolls from Rosalind Bakery, are still on offer. Don’t miss the Italian American, a pile of thinly sliced mortadella and and finocchiona topped with arugula and cheese on an 'nduja mayo-slicked roll, or the roasted cauliflower hoagie, spiced with ginger lemongrass aioli and hot honey, and a favorite for vegetarians and carnivores alike.
The cost: Starters and salads are $8-15, and hoagies are $15-16.
How to book: Walk-ins welcome for dine-in and takeout (no advance orders).
The gist: Reem Asil opened the San Francisco location of her Oakland-based bakery in the former Mission Pie space in March 2020, and suffered another setback in the form of a massive fire in December. But the bright, airy cafe that puts a modern twist on Arab baked goods is back, with a full menu of hot, prepared dishes, sweet and savory pastries, and beer and wine available.
The food: Fresh-baked mana’eesh, or ten-inch flatbreads topped with everything from za’atar to sumac-spiced chicken and seasonal vegetables, are on offer, along with a selection of mezze, salads, and ka’ik, toasted sesame bread sandwiches loaded with slow-cooked lamb and Oaxacan cheese, falafel and house-made pickles, and more. Don’t sleep on the weekends-only Arab brunch menu, which features shakshuka, a sujuk scramble, and classic ful mudammas.
The cost: Breads, pastries, and flatbreads are $3.50-$15, mezze are $8-$10, salads and topped ka’ik are $10-$15.
The gist: Chef Brandon Rice, former Chef de Cuisine of much-lauded Rich Table, had been gearing up to open his own restaurant, Ernest, when the pandemic hit. After offering Ernest at Home, a high-end takeout experience, through the ups and downs of 2020, the restaurant—now just Ernest—has finally opened for dinner.
The food: Expect a lively, regularly changing menu of globally influenced shareable dishes, like beef tartare seasoned with nori and ikura, lo mein prepared carbonara-style with sea urchin, and pork tonkatsu served with heirloom tomatoes and green goddess. Want to avoid the painful process of decision making? Let the kitchen put together a feast for you and your table.
The cost: Snacks and starters range from $9 to $21, mains are $23 to $39, or have the kitchen cook for you, for $95 per person.