Food & Drink

How to Get Into SF’s 25 Hardest-to-Get-Into Restaurants

Published On 08/10/2015 Published On 08/10/2015
Melanie Duerkopp/Courtesy of A16
Flickr/Tristan Tom
Coqueta
Flickr/Jennifer Yin
Eric Wolfinger/Courtesy of Delfina
Flickr/Jennifer Yin
Flickr/Jennifer Yin
Courtesy of Frances
Flickr/Jared Goralnick
Flickr/Bill Holmes
La Folie
Liholiho Yacht Club
Eric Wolfinger/Courtesy of Mourad
Courtesy of Nopa
Courtesy of Park Tavern
Ed Anderson/Courtesy of The Progress
Mariko Reed/Courtesy of Quince
Rich Table
Flickr/Kirill Mazin
SPQR
Flickr/Katherine Lynch
Tosca
Flickr/Leslie Wong
Flickr/rocor
Flickr/torbakhopper
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1. A16 2355 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123 (The Marina)

More than any other restaurant, this Campania by way of Marina stalwart helped transform San Francisco into an Italian-crazed city a decade ago. A typical night at A16 starts with burrata, includes a few orders of the Neapolitan-style pizzas and infamous pork meatballs, and ends with a cheese plate. Add Shelley Lindgren's wine program, which wins dozens of awards yearly, and you've got one of the best pizza, pasta, and wine combos in the city by the bay.

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2. Boulevard 1 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105 (Financial District)

Located within walking distance of the Embarcadero and the twinkling Bay Bridge lights, Boulevard is owned by Executive Chef Nancy Oakes and was a recipient of Zagat’s San Francisco Bay Area’s 'Most Popular Restaurant' award. Boulevard is upscale yet relaxed -- a perfect spot to take out-of-town relatives or host a celebration -- with a well-curated wine list and daily cheese selections. There are plenty of options for vegetarians, but the filet mignon and Kurobota pork chop are standouts.

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3. Coqueta Pier 5 - The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105 (Embarcadero)

Born from a Top Chef Masters vet, Coqueta (which means “flirt”) is an idyllic spot for creative and refreshing cocktails, festive tapas, and a gorgeous view of the Bay. Sit outside in the semi-enclosed patio or snag a seat at the glassed-in bar -- either way, you’ll be enjoying Spanish and Basque small plates that are vibrant and flavorful alongside sumptuous sangria in an unbeatable setting.

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4. Cotogna 490 Pacific Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133 (Jackson Square)

20-feet from white-table-clothed-Quince in the Financial District, Michael Tusk gets casual at Cotogna with fresh, seasonal antipasti, traditional Italian pasta, pizzas, and proteins straight from the brick oven, and simple sweets and sides. Take a seat in front of the wood-fired oven to watch the cooks prepare your meal, sit across from your date at one of the intimate tables, or share a communal table with the neighborhood folks. Get the pasta's (we’re looking at you, raviolo filled with a luscious runny egg) and any grilled lamb, pork, or fish dish. The accessible wine list (all $50 by-the-bottle and $12 by-the-glass) and reasonably priced menu makes this a perfect low-key yet impressive date spot.

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5. Delfina 3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

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.

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6. Flour + Water 2401 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

The pizza and pasta at Thomas McNaughton's Mission gem has consistently attracted a full house since opening in 2009. The Neapolitan-style pies are nothing short of excellent, and though the flavors change daily, you can expect a classic Margherita and meatier pizzas like salumi with Mangalitsa pancetta, stracciatella, broccoli rabe & Calabrian chili. And then there's the pasta. In a perfect world, you'd try each one on the menu and luckily, Flour + Water has a pasta tasting menu.

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7. Foreign Cinema 2534 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

The Mission's Foreign Cinema projects movies every night and serves a Californian menu with an oyster selection for the books. Where else can you find date-worthy dinner, one of the best brunches in the city (hello, house-made pop tarts), patio seating, and screenings of classic movies all under one roof? Trust us: this James Beard-nominated restaurant is one of the most important places you need to eat at in your lifetime.

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8. Frances 3870 17th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Located on a quiet residential block in the Castro, Frances is a tiny Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by the superbly talented chef Melissa Perello. The seasonal, market-driven menu changes often but you can always expect an appearance from Perello's smoked bacon beignets, a house signature featuring delicately fried balls of dough studded with bacon and served with a creamy maple creme fraiche dipping sauce.

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9. Gary Danko 800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Fishermans Wharf)

If it's upscale fine dining near the Fisherman's Wharf you want, it's Restaurant Gary Danko you should have. Known for his fine cuisine, cheese selection and wine list, Gary Danko can give you the classical dinner night you deserve.

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10. Kokkari Estiatorio 200 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Had Jonah Hill had any sense in Get Him to the Greek he would've been referring to this Greek establishment which serves up goat stew, grilled octopus, whole fish, and spit-roasted lamb and suckling pig.

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11. La Folie Lounge 2316 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Russian Hill)

Helmed by legendary chef Roland Passo, Russian Hill's La Folie is one of San Francisco's most elegant restaurants. The French menu is filled with crafted haute cuisine dishes (lobster terrine, edam cheese soufflé, sweetbreads), all of which pair beautifully with a comprehensive wine list and South American-inspired cocktails. La Folie's Lounge next door is one of the poshest adult watering holes in San Francisco with bar snacks like truffle oil popcorn and smoked salmon lollipops.

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12. Liholiho Yacht Club 871 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Nob Hill)

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.

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13. Mourad 140 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105 (Financial District)

Mourad Lahlou is one of the best chefs in the country. The Iron Chef America alum opened the Michelin-starred Aziza in 2001 and in 2015, took a step up with Mourad, which now also boasts a Michelin star. This is fine Moroccan cuisine, cross-pollinated with the best of what California has to offer. The Moroccan family-style dining dishes (La’Acha), like a 72-hour braised short rib, are a memorable experience.

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14. Nopa 560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (Alamo Square)

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.

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15. Park Tavern 1652 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

If you're looking for a restaurant in North Beach packed with San Franciscans of all neighborhoods, head to Park Tavern. This upscale spot is homey and bustling, and the food is part Southern comfort, part English pub. Every table gets the famed lamb-and-beef Marlowe burger and a starter of smoky deviled eggs, but those in the know will get an extra order of eggs to put on their burger. Park Tavern is also a bonafide brunch hotspot with the best Bloody Marys and a menu filled with griddled goods (pancakes and more pancakes) and savory eggs. And that burger.

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16. The Progress 1525 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115 (Western Addition)

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.

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17. Quince Restaurant 470 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Jackson Square)

Quince, in operation for more than a decade, offers an always original blend of seasonal Italian and French cuisine shepherded under the vision of owner and executive chef Michael Tusk. The quaint eatery's modern, luxurious layout takes enjoyment of your Michelin-starred meal to another level.

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18. Rich Table 199 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Hayes Valley)

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.

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19. The Slanted Door 1 Sausalito - San Francisco Ferry Bldg #3, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Embarcadero)

Traditional Vietnamese cuisine infused with Bay Area spirit, The Slanted Door, according to its visionary owner/executive chef Charles Phan, is a restaurant that "refused to cut any corners."Using local, fresh ingredients, patrons experience a variety of meals given a modern, subtle twist.

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20. SPQR 1911 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115 (Pacific Heights)

In the early days, SPQR was A16’s forgotten sibling, but then Matthew Accarrino arrived and conquered the creative Italian narrative with Caesar-like gusto. Now you get a Michelin-starred tour de force of pasta artistry that has ignited a storm of followers nationwide. Bucatini “straw and hay” graces your table, as do pasta species you’ve never encountered made with cacao nib or Meyer lemon. Get the chicken liver pâté and something with pig ear, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go for the pasta tasting menu (that’s five courses of, you guessed it, pasta).

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21. State Bird Provisions 1529 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115 (Fillmore)

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.

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22. Tosca Cafe 242 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

Tosca Cafe feels more like an under-the-radar mom-and-pop restaurant than a Michelin-starred Italian destination. Open until 2am, it's a prime spot for late-night dining, especially since reservations are necessary and hard to come by during peak dinner hours. The menu features unforgettable dishes like pork shoulder steak, grilled polenta with roasted mushrooms, and seafood stew.

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23. Tadich Grill 240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

Tadich Grill isn't just SF's oldest restaurant, it's California's oldest restaurant. Everyone from Jack Nicholson to Joe Montana has dined there (Herb Caen was a regular in his day), but no matter who you are or how important you think you are, there are no reservations and everyone waits in line. Tadich Grill is known for its seafood -- get the oysters Rockefeller, the pan-fried sand dabs, or the seafood cioppino -- and never disappoints when you're in the mood for a delicious throwback meal.

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24. Wayfare Tavern 558 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

Wayfare Tavern, owned by Tyler Florence and helmed by Executive Chef/Michelin Star-earner Joey Elenterio, feels like a private club/gastropub with its extensive dark wood and leather finishes. It's known for its “ridiculously good fried chicken,” but be sure to taste other seasonal menu must-haves, such as the baked macaroni and cheese, the burger, and the deviled eggs. Pro tip: make a reservation to sit upstairs, where it's a bit quieter.

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25. Zuni Cafe 1658 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Soma)

A culinary talisman for over thirty years, Zuni Cafe on the ever-bustling Market Street continues to serve New American cuisine with French and Italian influences. With a menu that changes daily, the element of surprise is never lost -- all while using the freshest, most sustainable ingredients.