Food & Drink

The Best Brunches in SF, According to Chefs

Published On 10/16/2015 Published On 10/16/2015
Drew Tyson/Thrillist
Courtesy of Joe Starkey
Courtesy of Bar Tartine

Chef Chris Jones of Gaspar Brasserie

His pick: Bar Tartine (address and info)

The Francophile chef behind the FiDi’s swanky Gaspar Brasserie is all about Bar Tartine’s ever-changing three-course fixed brunch menu because each course includes individually plated components that allow you to taste “lots of interesting bites and flavor combinations.” At $35 a person, it’s a pretty good deal too, especially since making any decisions should really wait until Monday anyway.

Courtesy of Bar Agricole

Chef Thomas McNaughton of Ne Timeas Restaurant Group

His pick: Bar Agricole (address and info)

If the chef behind some of the best restaurants in the city ever gets a Sunday morning off from slinging delicious brunch burgers at Central Kitchen, he’ll be on Bar Agricole’s sunny back patio washing down the “simple but good food” with Thad Vogler’s amazing cocktails. As McNaughton says, “brunch is more about the booze anyway.” Couldn’t agree more, chef.

Courtesy of 20th Century Café

Chef Staffan Terje of Perbacco and Barbacco

His pick: 20th Century Café (address and info)

Hayes Valley
Chef Terje is a fan of the low-key and relaxing weekend vibe at this corner bakery, which features delectable, traditional pastries from Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. He even calls pastry chef/owner Michelle Polzine “one of the most thoughtful pastry chefs in SF” -- high praise coming from the chef who’s worked at some of California’s finest Italian restaurants for more than three decades. Chef Terje’s must-orders: the Reuben sandwich, which comes with handmade sauerkraut, the honey cake, and chocolate chip cookies.  

Chef Gayle Pirie of Foreign Cinema

Her pick: Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood Restaurant (address and info)

As the chef behind one of the city’s most beloved restaurants, Gayle Pirie knows good food. So when she suggests Hong Kong East Ocean for its SF skyline views, turnip cakes, sticky rice in lotus leaves, shrimp dumplings, and vegetarian goose even though it's very cheatingly not in SF (it's in Emeryville!), we’re WAY more likely to get on BART.

Grant Marek/Thrillist

Chef Ron Pei of Chino

His pick: ABV (address and info)

If he’s not grabbing a quick cup of coffee and Russian dumplings at Inner Richmond’s Cinderella Bakery, the Chino chef is hitting up one of his work neighbors: ABV because it has “hands down one of best brunch menus in town.” We have a feeling the kimchee fritters, pimento cheeseburger, and fry pies have something to do with it.

Courtesy of Dragon Beaux

Chef Jeff Banker of Bluestem Brasserie

His pick: Dragon Beaux (address and info)

Yet another dim sum recommendation comes from the new chef at Bluestem Brasserie, who hits up Koi Palace’s sister restaurant Dragon Beaux for the “creative” carts of chef-loving goodness.

Chef Ryan Pollnow of Aatxe

His pick: Ton Kiang (address and info)

After a busy night at Aatxe or a late night with friends, Chef Pollnow is recuperating over a dim sum feast at this Richmond classic. It’s his hangover meal of choice because you don’t have to choose from a menu, but rather only “decide when to tap out.” Smart man.

Marla Bakery
Courtesy of Huxley

Melissa Perello of Octavia and Frances

Her pick: Huxley (address and info)

The acclaimed chef is a fan of Sara Hauman’s “small, but thoughtfully curated” brunch at the tiny Tenderloin restaurant Huxley, quickly gaining a following for its sweet and savory toasts on Jane bread. Chef Perello suggests ordering ALL of them (there are five, including a killer avocado).

Chef Daniel Corey of Luce

His pick: Gallardos Mexican Restaurant (address and info)

The Luce chef turns to this family-run Mission mainstay for the “hangover-curing” pozole, birria, menudo, and chilaquiles on the sunny sidewalk. (Add a michelada cocktail or fresh-squeezed juice to brunch up this Mexican spot.) Chef Corey also suggests ordering the machaca (dried, spiced meat that’s been rehydrated so it’s super tender), as he says this is the only spot in the city that gets the traditional dish right.

Chef Carl Foronda of 1760

His pick: Nopalito (address and info)

Chef Corey, if you’re reading this, meet Chef Carl Foronda, your brunching soulmate. when he’s not working brunch at 1760, he’s also dining on chilaquiles, birria, pozole, and micheladas on the other side of the city at Nopalito. Maybe you guys should go halvsies next time!

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Amy Copperman is a regular contributor for Thrillist, currently suffering from a serious dim sum craving. Tell her where your favorite chef brunches on Twitter: @acoppergirl.

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1. Park Tavern 1652 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

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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2. Zuni Cafe 1658 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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.

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3. Foreign Cinema 2534 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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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4. Bar Tartine 561 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Bar Tartine sports a 15,000lb bread oven that churns out delicacies like a goat cheese melt alongside smoked potato salad, eggplant & white bean hummus. And, of course, the bar itself offers a selection of house-made cocktails, wine, and beer.

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5. Bar Agricole 355 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Set in a former warehouse in SOMA, Bar Agricole is a cocktail bar-restaurant hybrid that serves cool Northern Californian food (Marin oysters, roasted Dungeness crab, grilled flatbreads) and equally cool cocktails. Decorated with glass sculptures and furnished with wine barrel chairs, the massive restaurant is split between a 4,000sqft interior and a 1,6000sqft garden, which is accessible through a glass and steel facade. If the food and drinks weren't so spot on, the sleek aesthetics would certainly steal the show.

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6. 20th Century Cafe 198 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Hayes Valley isn’t exactly a grand European capital setting but we can work with it, especially for this immaculate café that literally could've been a set for a scene in The Third Man. Michelle Polzine’s parade of never-too-sweet, never-not-satisfying Sacher tortes, linzertortes, and Russian honey cake are all musts, and don’t underestimate the savory items in the midst of the pastries. Your long lost search for a bonafide homemade bagel ends here.

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7. East Ocean Seafood Restaurant 1713 Webster St, Alameda, CA 94501-2135

Like dim sum’s home (Hong Kong), Alameda is an island. East Ocean Seafood boasts an incredibly comfortable (and oddly civilized) cart-filled dining room. The classics are winners, like delicate dumplings screaming with Dungeness crab (now in season!), or the funky marinated seafood and pork wrapped in bean curd skin. Finish with durian custard-filled pastry puffs, which are like beignets gone haywire.

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8. ABV 3174 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Though ABV is more than just a great whiskey bar, its whiskey menu isn't to be forgotten. You’ll find a surprising and thorough list of rare Scotches, Japanese whiskies, bourbons, ryes, and cask-strength bottles. Its bar snacks are definitely worth writing home about too, and -- it should be mentioned -- it serves an impressive brunch on the weekends. Win!

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9. Phở Tan Hoa 431 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

With meat so tender it falls right off the bone, this Vietnamese restaurant will satisfy all your pho cravings. Make sure to get there fairly early because they don't stay open late -- it's not proper Vietnamese custom.

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10. Ton Kiang 5821 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

Ton Kiang is a Geary standby that's been around forever; a two-story classic that is one of the few Hakka Chinese restaurants in the city. The dim sum is mostly made up of the usual BBQ pork buns and shrimp-stuffed eggplant, but explore the carts and you’ll encounter some unique selections: light-as-air green chive and shrimp dumplings or foil-wrapped chicken.

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11. Koi Palace 365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

At 500 seats strong, Koi Palace is huge (and, subsequently, doesn't have dim sum carts). Shanghai crab broth- and pork-filled dumplings are the studs, and your best bet is to order in a large group so you also get a whole fried crab with the dumplings. Make sure to go on a weekday, when there’s no wait!

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12. Monsieur Benjamin 451 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

The options can get a little pricey at this Hayes Valley French spot, but they're worth the price for a pleasant ambience and tastes that definitely live up to the hype, such as their "fully dressed" hamburger and steak frites.

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13. Dragon Beaux 俏龍軒 5700 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

While nearby Clement St is inundated with walk-up dim sum shops, Dragon Beaux presents a more comprehensive sit-down option on Geary. The modernized dining room is a go-to for standards like shrimp dumplings and shu mai, but also nuanced dim sum options like fried quail and a delectable abalone cake. Not feeling dim sum? It’s cool, you can order the hotpot. There’s even a whole fish option.

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14. Marla Bakery 3619 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

Marla fills more than one niche -- show up for coffee and a donut in the morning, or come in at night for dinner options like pork chops with bulgur wheat and sautéed king trumpet pioppini mushrooms. We highly recommend Marla's to anyone who is looking for a cute place to eat outside.

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15. Namu Gaji 499 Dolores St, San Francisco, CA 94110

This New Korean American restaurant is a family affair, owned by three brothers who utilize ingredients harvested from their own farm. Korean-inflected spins on favorites, like a pickled daikon-topped double cheeseburger and Korean tacos (nori replaces a tortilla shell, and is filled with marinated and grilled bulgogi beef, kimchi salsa, and spicy aïoli, are well-worth your time during the week, but the real star is the KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) brunch dish.

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16. Huxley 848 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Designed to be a small neighborhood restaurant, Huxley is worth traveling to, even if the Tenderloin isn't where you usually think to go for dinner. Saison's former owner and Bar Agricole's former sous chef serves up a simple, rustic menu they describe as "new American bistro-style," which includes courses like wild mushroom risotto, eggplant soup, and gourmet brunch toast that's bound to have made the rounds on your social media feed already. The restaurant only has 25 seats (10 of which are at the bar), so reservations are recommended.

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17. Gallardo's 3248 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

The Chron's Top 100 features two Mexican restaurants within San Francisco (four if you factor in two Nopalito locations and the fact that Mamacita/Padrecito are different places). Back in the old days, La Taqueria would be the token burrito/taco parlor on the list and still deserves all of its local and national accolades. But really, just two?? So let’s recognize the veteran classic Gallardo's. There's nothing glitzy about the atmosphere or cooking, which's fine since you’re just here to eat enchiladas and burritos on weekdays, and menudo and birria soups during weekend brunch.

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18. Nopalito 306 Broderick St, San Francisco, CA 94117

What happens when you take cooks from the most beloved restaurant in San Francisco, and give them free reign of the kitchen? You get Nopalito, Nopa’s little brother and the passion project of its highly skilled cooks. Located in the Inner Sunset near the Panhandle, this Mexican eatery prepares traditional, organic dishes using the same fresh produce found at Nopa. Sip on pitchers of margaritas or tequila as you dig into unbeatable carnitas and zesty salads.