11 Essential Women-Led Restaurants in San Francisco
From French and Laotian cuisines to soul food, brunch eats, and more.
We all know who runs the world (girls), so it’s no surprise that some of San Francisco’s best restaurants have women at the helm. In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to celebrate some of these badass women who are adding flavor, innovation, and heart to SF’s culinary scene. All of these exceptional female-owned and/or female-led spots provide a fantastic dining experience, and, it’s worth adding, will benefit now more than ever from your support.
We wanted to give you a list of eateries that you can act upon right away, which is why we’ve omitted some of our favorite women-powered spots that remain temporarily closed, like Octavia and Frances (chef/owner Melissa Perello), Boulevard (executive chef/owner Nancy Oakes), and all of the restaurants from the Big Night Group (Marlowe, Park Tavern, Leo’s Oyster Bar, Petit Marlowe, etc.). But we’ve got nothing but love for all of the women who have to be extra hard-working, determined, and creative to thrive in this male-dominated industry.
Here are San Francisco’s essential women-owned restaurants to support this Women’s History Month and always:
Cow Hollow, Hayes Valley, Cow Hollow
Here’s something remarkable: Dominique Crenn, the woman behind these three highly regarded restaurants, was the first-ever woman-identified chef in the U.S. to receive three Michelin stars (for Atelier Crenn). In 2016, she was also awarded “Best Female Chef” by San Pellegrino. But Crenn dismissed the distinction, saying, “It’s stupid. A chef is a chef.” Mic drop. Of course, food that good comes with a price. At Atelier Crenn, the set menu arrives in the form of a poem, and a meal for two runs around $700 for two people (and that doesn’t include wine). If you’re looking for something just slightly more affordable, you can take advantage of pared-down tasting menus ($245 per person) or a luxurious meal kit with Chef Dominique’s favorite menu items ($155 per person).
How to order: Make reservations for the Winter Terrasse tasting experience or purchase a Crenn Kit Luxe on Tock.
Besharam was originally a partnership between Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group and Chef Heena Patel, but the food and hospitality really started to shine when Patel took over complete creative control in 2019. Patel didn’t start cooking professionally until later in her life, but you’d never know it from her oh-so-satisfying Gujarati-inspired Indian food. During COVID, Besharam has pivoted to a takeout and delivery model with a rotating three-course menu featuring some of her greatest hits, like dry coriander chickpea fritters and pepper chicken with parathas for soaking up the sauce, as well as a couple of a la carte options and creative cocktails. We can’t wait until things return to normal and we can share a meal in the colorful space again, but until then, this will absolutely do.
How to order: Order on Tock for pickup or delivery.
Chef and owner Brenda Buenviajé grew up in New Orleans eating crawfish and gumbo, and, lucky for us, brought that style of cooking with her when she moved to San Francisco. She owns Brenda’s French Soul Food with her wife Libby Truesdell and has been feeding the masses indulgent meals since 2007. Brenda’s is best known for its brunch (get the fried chicken benedict on biscuits with a side of grits), and sweet and savory beignets, but also puts out a satisfying dinner service with options like chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, chicken etouffée, and more of that (made with a secret recipe) fried chicken.
How to order: For pickup, call 415-345-8100. Delivery is available through Caviar and DoorDash. Brenda’s French Soul Food doesn’t have outdoor dining, but its sister restaurant, Brenda’s Meat and Three on Divisadero does.
Foreign Cinema is an iconic SF restaurant perhaps best known for its charming open-air patio with twinkle lights and movies playing on the wall, but it wouldn’t have survived for 20+ years if the food weren’t also ambitious, a little playful, and consistently delicious. Chefs and co-owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark met working at a restaurant near the Civic Center and then went on to work at Zuni, first as line cooks and then co-chefs de cuisine, eventually taking over to save Foreign Cinema which was floundering at the height of the first dotcom bust, and we are all happier San Franciscans because of it. Especially after a few cocktails at brunch.
How to order: Foreign Cinema is seating people at the restaurant and is also offering brunch and dinner to-go. If you’d prefer the latter, call 415-648-7600 to place your order.
Amanda Michael opened Jane on Fillmore ten years ago because she wanted to create a casual restaurant that served healthy, flavorful food. And as soon as the doors opened up, the lines started forming. Luckily, they move fast, although good luck snagging a seat during prime lunch hours. Still, it’s worth it for the big, satisfying salads, paninis served on homemade sourdough, and “healing” teas (the “hangover helper” truly does help—trust us, we know). Jane on Fillmore’s instant success allowed Michael to open two more locations—Jane on Larkin and Jane the Bakery, where you’ll find all kinds of housemade bread and pastries. She also recently took over/rescued one of SF’s most beloved and nostalgia-inducing dessert destinations, Toy Boat (now called Toy Boat by Jane).
How to order: The counter-service restaurants are currently open for those who want to dine-in. To-go orders can be placed online ahead of time, and delivery is available via ChowNow, DoorDash, Caviar, GrubHub and Toast Take Out.
Lalita Souksamlane and Wassana Korkhieola opened the first Osha Thai in San Francisco over 20 years ago and at one point had six locations in the city, but a little over five years ago, Souksamlane decided she wanted another restaurant that served the food she grew up eating and cooking in a Thai town right on the border of Laos. Enter: Lao Table, a gorgeous restaurant with modern takes on authentic Laotian cuisine. The food is fresh, flavorful, and pretty to look at (even if you’re having it delivered).
How to order: Reserve a table by calling 415-278-9991 or on Yelp Reservations. Order takeout here or get it delivered via UberEats, Postmates, and DoorDash.
Kim Alter was at the helm of several Daniel Patterson kitchens for four years, but she really took flight when she opened Nightbird, her first solo project, and the very cozy adjoining bar, Linden Room. The elegant restaurant is known for its frequently-changing five-course tasting menu that features Alter’s passion for whole animal butchery and local landscape. On March 21, Nightbird is participating in the James Beard Foundation’s virtual community dinner Taste America, with a three-course meal that includes a beef filet or King Trumpet mushroom confit entree, Roscoe’s asparagus as an appetizer, and a chocolate cake with caramelized chocolate mousse and passion fruit for dessert.
How to order: Nightbird is currently offering a three-course meal kit (as well as cocktails and wine) for takeout, as well as a burger pop-up, Nightburger, for takeout and delivery. Order on Tock.
Follow the sounds of jazz on Bayview’s main drag and you’ll discover a swanky 1920s-inspired supper club run entirely by at-risk and formerly incarcerated youth. Old Skool Café is the brainchild of founder and CEO Teresa Goines who used to be a juvenile correction officer and wanted to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration that impacts so many young people. She thought the best way to do that would be by opening a restaurant that creates community and jobs, and so Old Skool Café, with its Roaring ‘20s-inspired vibe and its menu of international soul food was born. And, wow, did her plan work. The recidivism rate for youth at Old Skool Cafe is 10%, compared to the national 78% recidivism rate.
How to order: Old Skool Café is currently offering curbside pickup and delivery via DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats on Thursday through Saturday from 5 pm to 8 pm.
Terzo and Rose’s sit right across the street from each other and are go-to dining destinations for anyone who lives in or near Cow Hollow (but are well worth the trip for everyone else). Terzo is known for its Mediterranean small plates, a menu that changes frequently, and a crispy onion side that is dangerously delicious. Rose’s is more casual and offers simple Italian pastas and pizzas (if you go for brunch, the breakfast pizza is a must). They are both owned by Laurie Thomas, who somehow in her “spare” time also serves as Executive Director for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, as well as an honorary board member of Meals on Wheels. Owning one successful restaurant in San Francisco is a feat of its own, but owning two and advocating for the restaurant community seems like the kind of work that should come with a cape.
How to order: Make a reservation for Terzo here and for Rose’s Cafe here.
Pretty much every San Franciscan knows about Zazie’s famous and decadent brunch (which tastes even better when enjoyed on their adorable back patio), but what every San Franciscan may not realize is that it’s owned by a woman who created one of the best employee benefit programs you’ll find at any non-union restaurant. Jen Piallat started in 2000 as the General Manager at Zazie and bought it from the previous owner five years later. During that time, she’s found success with a tip-free menu (25% of every menu item at Zazie is paid out directly to staff as revenue share) and retaining staff in large numbers, in part because of her benefits program, which includes fully-funded health and dental insurance, a 401(k) retirement plan with employer match, paid family leave, and paid sick leave. And while brunch is definitely the restaurant’s claim to fame, the often-overlooked dinner is also a delight. In 2020, Piallat decided to move to Napa to focus on her restaurant Lovina in Calistoga. She sold it to three long-time employees, but remains a 25% owner and consultant.
How to order: Zazie is serving brunch and dinner on its back patio and in its parklet, and is also offering takeout, which you can order on Toast.
Daisy Barringer is an SF local who is always looking for her next delicious meal. Share your favorites with her on Twitter @daisy.