Food & Drink

The 20 SF Restaurants You Have to Try Before You Die

Updated On 05/15/2017 at 05:48PM EST Updated On 05/15/2017 at 05:48PM EST
20 sf restaurants you have to try
Tartine Bakery | Eric Wolfinger
Nopa

Nopa

Western Addition

This SF classic basically does everything well. Brunch? It’s the best one in the ‘hood and one of the best in the city. Dinner? The fare is elevated and refined, yet you can get one the city’s best burgers for just $17. Great date spot? You betcha. Good for groups? Check! Great cocktails? Well, just ask SF’s best bartenders. Late-night eats? The kitchen is open until 1am for a full dinner. 

Tadich Grill SF

Tadich Grill

FiDi

As the oldest restaurant in all of California, Tadich Grill has had more than 100 years to perfect its seafood-centric menu (definitely get the cioppino). Not only was Herb Caen a regular here, but it’s probably still your best bet at scoring a celebrity sighting (like Joe Montana) in the city.

Eric Wolfinger

Delfina

Mission

While not 100 years old, Delfina did help put the Mission on the map as a hub of dining before the zip code was a realtor’s wet dream. The menu is wonderfully simple and undeniably satisfying -- think spaghetti with plum tomatoes, garlic, and pepperoncini -- which is probably why, after 17 years, it beats out exciting newbies as one of the places you absolutely need to eat at in SF.

Flickr/T.Tseng

La Taqueria

Mission

Home to the best burrito in the country. It’s science. Ask for the burrito “El Dorado-style” to get this juicy, rice-less bundle of meat and cheese thrown on the grill until the tortilla is a crispy, golden brown and everything inside has melted and mingled to what can only be described as heavenly.

House of Prime Rib

Russian Hill

A mid-century oasis that hasn’t changed since it opened in 1949, this institution is the place to go for… wait for it… prime rib (sliced at the table) and a perfectly chilled martini. Dick Whitman would approve.

Swan Oyster Depot

Nob Hill

As charming as it is old (>100 years), this narrow spot, with just 18 bar stools lining a single counter, always draws lines for its Dungeness crab, oysters and clams on the half shell, $5 bowls of chowder that rival anything in Boston, smoked trout, and whatever else the friendly fish slingers could catch that morning. Pro tip: if you come here solo, you’ll likely be able to cut ahead of the line as the owners like to keep every stool occupied during the daily lunch rush.

Flickr/PunkToad

Golden Boy Pizza

North Beach

Are you in North Beach? Is it last call? Then head straight to Golden Boy Pizza where thick squares of focaccia-like Sicillian-style pizza await to save you from a (worse) hangover tomorrow. Know that when you wait in line under the giant neon hand that points you to your saucy pizza destiny, people have literally been doing the exact same thing since 1978. You are part of history. You are legend.

THEDANG Photography

Turtle Tower

Outer Richmond

Everyone’s got their favorite pho in town, but we’re standing by the Outer Richmond’s Turtle Tower for its homey vibe, fast service, the fact that coconut water is served with chunks of coconut meat, and most importantly for its clean, yet flavorful, broth that we’re pretty sure can solve all your problems. Hungover? Turtle Tower. Hangry? Turtle Tower. Sunday scaries? Turtle Tower. Non gender specific-pattern baldness? Turtle Tower. Note: your hair won’t grow back, but guaranteed you’ll leave happier than when you went in.

Ralph Burgin

The Cliff House

Outer Richmond

San Francisco’s shape has often been compared to a clenched fist -- and under that metaphor, The Cliff House is the diamond rock on SF’s thumb just cuz it’s badass like that. In other words, it’s the gem of outer, outer Richmond, perched on the edge of the continent, and affords staggering views of the Sutro Bath ruins and rugged coastline as far as the eye can see (when it’s not foggy), otherwise you’ll feel suspended in a cloud, which is arguably even cooler! The California cuisine is decent, but you’re really coming here for the $5 Irish coffees or an elegant mimosa brunch and the breathtaking experience of being on the edge of the world.

Yank Sing

Yank Sing

FiDi

Dim sum is an SF brunch rite of passage and because there are precisely one billion places to get dumplings served from carts in the 7x7, from the hole-in-the-walls to the super-fancies, it can be hard to decide where to drag your beleaguered self come Sunday morning. San Francisco’s chefs have a lot of opinions on the matter (and they’re all legit), but if you’re looking for the iconic experience visiting relatives will enjoy, head to Yank Sing in FiDi. It’s not the most cost efficient, but it is iconic and delicious. Runner up: Inner Richmond’s Ton Kiang.

Dol Ho

Chinatown

Clear on the other end of the dim sum dining spectrum is this cramped, no-frills Chinatown haunt that’s a hangout for the neighborhood’s oldest -- and wisest -- residents. Go here for cheap shrimp & chive dumplings, chicken rice, jasmine tea, and other dim sum necessities, as well as some of the best people-watching in the city.

Kevin Alexander/Thrillist

Zuni Café

Hayes Valley

You know a place is good when you ask 15 SF chefs where you should eat and practically all of them mention this culinary talisman and its impeccable Caesar salad and roast chicken. It’s a special occasion-type spot, but there’s nothing more “San Francisco” than sipping a Ramos Gin Fizz at this pie slice-shaped restaurant while you watch folks on Market St pass by.

Tartine Bread (Chronicle Books, September 2010), photo Eric Wolfinger

Tartine Bakery

Mission

It’s been eight years (and a handful of cookbooks) since owners Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, and yet Tartine Bakery is still one of the hottest tickets in town for its bread, morning buns, and hot-pressed sandwiches. Luckily thanks to its recent partnership with Blue Bottle, you’ll soon be able to snag the award-winning pastries at several locations throughout the city, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the original sometime before you bite the dust.

Freda Banks

State Bird Provisions

Fillmore

If you can score a reservation or successfully beat the system, like so, State Bird will likely be one of your most memorable meals thanks to the fact that creative Northern California-inspired small plates come around on carts ala dim sum. Oh, and it’s got a Michelin Star, yet with plates ranging from $3 to $20, it’s still pretty affordable if you know when to tap out.

Foreign Cinema

Mission

Not only is the food impeccable and a pillar of farm-to-table excellence, but you can enjoy your meal in front of a movie that plays on the covered outdoor patio, affording plenty of opportunity for lip sync battles with your date.

Jim Sullivan

Californios

Mission

When you think “15-course tasting menu,” Mexican food likely doesn’t spring to mind. But chef/owner Val Cantu does Mexican food like no one else in the city. The innovative, ingredient-forward approach to traditional south-of-the-border flavors has earned him three-star accolades from the Chronicle and made him the only Bay Area chef on Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs list for 2017. There are only 24 seats in the restaurant, lending a cozy, intimate vibe to the elegant decor. Expect an ever-changing tasting menu ($157/per person) featuring dishes like white guava on Mapplethorpe, braised beef tongue, and an unusual take on chips and salsa.

Tosca Cafe

Tosca Cafe

North Beach

In 2014, New York restaurateurs April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman restored this North Beach legend and reopened the landmark kitchen for the first time since 1953. The retro vibe is accentuated by red leather booths, vintage photographs, and checkered floors, and the timeless Italian-American menu -- served until 1am nightly -- lending a glamorous late dinner option to SF’s relatively sleepy nightlife. Enjoy an excellent roast chicken for two and upscale renditions of bucatini or meatballs in red sauce. In its short renaissance, Tosca has fully returned to its former star-studded prestige, playing host to Jay Z and Beyoncé, and even President Obama.

Grant Condon

Swensen’s Ice Cream

Russian Hill

If you’re looking for a quintessential San Francisco experience, take the Powell-Hyde cable car to Swensen’s original ice cream shop. Located on the corner of Union and Hyde, the vintage neon sign seems to put the entire block into a time warp. Stepping into the tiny shop for a scoop of Sticky Chewy Chocolate or a sundae is essentially stepping back to 1948 when this American icon was born. There’s no seating inside but the charming neighborhood and nearby Lombard Street offers the perfect backdrop to enjoy this delicious taste of history.

Liholiho Yacht Club

Liholiho Yachtclub

Tenderloin

Ravi Kapur’s inventive menu may be rooted in his native Hawaii, but his restaurant is everything that California cuisine strives to be: creative, fresh, and ingredient-focused. This relatively new hotspot is both upscale and playful, featuring an upstairs and downstairs bar, a bright yellow open kitchen, and lighting that’s optimized for snapping great photos. Order the Clifton Special, a refreshing cocktail made with gin and coconut water, and finish your meal with the Baked Alaska. In between, fill up on Spam fried rice and the kimchee chile sauce spare ribs.

Molly DeCoudreaux

Al’s Place

Mission

Even die-hard carnivores will fall in love with this veggie-centric destination from Chef Aaron Landon, who makes innovative but simple dishes like fermented potato French fries and yellow eye bean stew. Carnivores can still order meat like pork belly and hangar steak from the sides portion of the menu, but the unique format decidedly moves vegetables front and center to your plate.

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