It's Worth Getting Sloppy For This Grilled Cheese Taco
Brazilian: Sunstream Coffee
From the outside it looks like any ol’ random coffee shop, just with a Brazilian flag outside, but on the inside you’ll be transported to Ipanema, especially when you’re mowing down a quintessential açai bowl (and it’s a huge bowl!) and the various croquette-like pastries that are totally meant to be snacks for teenagers but are Brazilian staples because 1) they’re cheap, 2) they’re fried, and 3) they’re great pre-samba fuel. No meat on a skewer, thankfully. Even more thankfully, there’s a hot dog with tomato sauce, potato chips, corn, and peas... ON the dog.
Chinese: Terra Cotta Warrior
China’s array of cuisines is huge: dim sum, xiao long bao, and so on. But it’s important (and delicious) to learn about the niche cuisines, like that of Shaanxi. And there’s no better place to learn about them than Outer Sunset’s Terra Cotta Warrior, worlds away from the Chinatown crush.
You’ll go to the TL’s Tadu, you’ll eat raw beef tartare and lamb tibs served directly on a car wheel-sized platter covering acres of spongy, bitter “injera” bread, you’ll wonder why anyone still uses utensils ever, and you’ll reconsider the whole vegetarian thing.
We don’t have much in the way of stereotypical French cafés, but we do have a lot of terrific California-French hybrid bistros (Nico, Bouche, Aquitaine, Sous Beurre Kitchen, Gaspar, et al.). Somewhere in the middle is Chapeau!, the Inner Richmond legend to know when it’s duck confit and escargot hour. Besides, any restaurant with a name ending in an exclamation point has to be pretty exciting, right?
Hayes Valley’s beloved corner of Munich is more than just a place to get boots of beer (though you should get those, too), thanks to a hearty menu and an inviting, ever-changing interior. We’ve got a lot of good places in town for sporting your lederhosen, like Schroeder’s and Leopold’s and Walzwerk, but none of them have been as good for as long as Suppenküche -- a neighborhood anchor that is as good today as it was a decade ago.
Kokkari is the runaway best sit-down, formal Greek dining room in the city but in the spirit of budget cuts and austerity (hello, Athens government!), let’s keep things a little bargain-friendly, shall we? Enter Souvla, a Hayes Valley fashionista’s look at Greek wraps. Do not skip the Greek fries, do not skip the Greek yogurt, and do not skip any of the four star-studded wraps.
Sure, this is San Francisco’s only Guamanian restaurant, but it actually still manages to earn the ‘best’ moniker. It’s exclusively a fixed-price five-course affair (not cheap at $65 but you get a few free bites tossed in), and hopefully one that includes the short rib dish “kadu” and the shrimp patty.
We’ve been told many times that Liholiho Yacht Club is NOT exclusively Hawaiian, so we won’t include it here (but definitely go there if you’re looking for NOT exclusively Hawaiian food), but instead Grindz, which does fantastic Tiki-free Hawaiian food.
Very few people in SF knew a thing about regional Indian cooking before Dosa opened on a not-as-hip Valencia a decade ago. Even now, San Francisco Indian restaurants boast a few bright spots, but too often still mostly do ho-hum lunch buffets and decent tandoori chicken skewers. Dosa is a beacon of brilliance, teaching us all what fiery, fresh South Indian cooking is about. Service is smooth, the Fillmore location is big brasserie-style grand and the Valencia original is as intimate as a tea parlor. Of course you’re getting a dosa and the city’s best gin and tonic.
This is THE most stacked category of the list by a factor of . SPQR? Flour + Water? Cotogna? La Ciccia? Delfina? A16? You can’t go wrong. (Actually you can if you just go to North Beach and pick a random place on Columbus. Then you’re screwed, buddy.) We’re going with this stalwart in the FiDi -- the pastas are the definition of al dente and it’s formal enough to wear a tie and casual enough for a first date. The real reason we’re going here right now: octopus. It’s the pork belly of 2015, a ubiquitous protein that's always mediocre. Except Staffan Terje’s version at Perbacco.
Japanese: Izakaya Rintaro
Just try not to relax at Rintaro. Sorry, you can’t. You can’t be stressed here. There’s no more serene venue to dine at in San Francisco and the tranquility really sets in when you start tasting the purity of the yakitori and the careful balance of flavors in the concluding broth with hand-rolled udon. The much celebrated, painstakingly made omelet frankly isn’t all that great, but don’t panic; the sashimi, salads, and everything else could be at a Chez Panisse in Kyoto (the chef/owner is an Alice Waters school alum). Try to sit on the patio if it’s open; it’s a magical oasis in the Mission-SoMa border no man’s land.
Laotian: Maneelap Srimongkoun
And the award for longest url ever goes to... this place. Southeast Asian cuisines from Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore are the darlings of daring eaters everywhere in search of funk, heat, and passion. Sexy cuisines, if you will. Laos brings the same profile of bright, layered flavors with a little extra underdog edge. Just skip the Thai dishes -- if you’re going to learn about Laotian cuisine, go all out with stuff like pork rice balls and Laos sausages.
What’s the best reason to visit the Twitter building if you don’t work there? The whoa-Nellie!-spicy vegetarian laksa from Azalina’s, a stall in The Market in Market on Market near Market behind Market. Azalina’s story is a great one, having worked from being an aspiring La Cocina incubator program entrepreneur to now having her own spot in a primo address. And now we all can’t get enough of the laksa or pineapple tea salad.
There’s a citywide chorus that sings the happy praises of Nopalito’s unmatched carnitas, superior tortillas, beautiful salads, and the pozole all others are judged by. It's closely followed by the likes of Lolo and Padrecito, but Nopalito just does everything SO WELL, except a burrito -- last we checked though, we’ve got a few places catering to that need on, we don’t know, EVERY BLOCK. Also: between Nopalito and Tommy’s, Nopalito makes the better margarita. Yup. Nopalito. Next question.
Warm up by the fireplace with lamb chop kebabs and pounds of free lavash bread, and if you haven’t tried a Persian “jeweled rice” dish like the “adas polo,” with a host of spices, lentils, dates, and raisins, you are in for a special night. If San Francisco’s rent prices and never-ending bureaucratic red tape are getting to you, come here and get away from it all.
Portuguese: Cafe St. Jorge
Lisbon is really Europe’s San Francisco. Portugal’s capital has the hills, the street cars, the liberal attitude, the seafood, and even a knockoff Golden Gate Bridge. So we need a little tile-covered corner of Portugal, and we’ve got it thanks to the sun-splashed slice of la lengua at Cafe St. Jorge (named for Lisbon’s castle). You can get avocado toast and quinoa bowls, sure. But come on, man: sardine and fava bean crostini! A ham-Portuguese cheese-banana panini! And pastéis de nata, the less-sweet, superior predecessor of the ubiquitous dim sum egg custard tarts! Just be aware, the cafe can look like Coffee Bar when it comes to laptops crowding. Because we’re in San Francisco, not Lisbon, remember?
Ramen: Izakaya Sozai
We’re drawing a line in the sand and making the biggest declaration in San Francisco: Who. Makes. The. Best. Ramen. And it’s the Sunday lunch-only chicken ramen at Nojo in Hayes Valley. Wait, it just closed? OK, it’s really Hapa Ramen. Hold up, that’s gone? What’s going on here? Do we even have ramen in San Francisco anymore? Of course, there’s always the gold standard for tonkotsu ramen, preceded by a parade of weird grilled meats on a skewer and fried things you’ll regret later. Sozai, after three sake rounds, is as warming and comforting as a big, friendly bowl of ramen.
Russian: Red Tavern
Heyyy, let’s go get some Russian food, everybody! *Pause* *Everyone has the same stoic face as Putin* OK, so Russian food doesn’t quite have the jazz of New Orleans cooking or the beauty of sushi. But it’s not that bad! Really, it isn’t. Please go to Red Tavern and get some borsch, stuffed cabbage rolls, a few pelmeni dumplings, plenty of vodka, and the massive platter of bliny with smoked fish and salmon caviar.
Senegalese: Bissap Baobab
Peanut butter is great but we all need to get past middle school and graduate to peanut sauce. Enter the cuisine of West African countries, including Senegal. A Senegal staple is the curry peanut sauce called “mafe.” It comes with chicken but do yourself a favor and opt for the tofu since it’s the ultimate sauce absorber. By the way, this place is also a jazz club/dance club in the evening called Little Baobab. Great cuisine, great music, and dancing. Yes please.
South African: Amawele’s South African Kitchen
You’ve had enough Chipotle for the year. The same with that robotic quinoa shop, the bland salads, the fast-casual burgers... ugh, the plight of the FiDi worker bee. Alas, happy hour is only five hours away or shorter if you operate like yours truly. Amawele’s will absolutely break up the usual monotony at noontime and provide a lesson in a cuisine we’re 99% sure you don’t know anything about except that chenin blanc grows well near Cape Town. It’s a food court-like, fast-casual set-up (competing with the formidable Yank Sing) run by twin sisters originally from the city of Durban.
Spain loves its tapas crawls -- one bite here, one bite there, and before you know it you’re starving but have plowed through countless glasses of Sherry. We don’t need to bother with the crawl. Even if Contigo was in Barcelona, not quiet Noe Valley, the locals would park instead of crawl. We’ll give props to Coqueta, Bocadillos, and Zarzuela but not much more than that thanks to the anchovy toast and the coca flatbread with figs at Contigo. Do note the Paella Tuesdays where your table gets four dishes and the city’s best paella for $38. Talk about crazy-good buys, especially when combined with some sparkling sangria and manzanilla en rama.
We can’t think of a better pre-show warm-up than sipping homemade lemon horseradish aquavit, while munching on some gravlax and so-much-better-than-IKEA-it’s-not-even-funny Swedish meatballs. Pläj isn’t a visionary like Noma but it’s got some spunk. It’s a real-deal destination spot that can be the performance alone for an evening. It’s the heart of Sweden in the heart of SF, just with techies instead of blonde models.
It’s your favorite ride at Disneyland, the world’s coolest-looking mountain, and San Francisco’s oh-so-homey and romantic fondue address. Obviously a cheese fondue is necessary but shall it be Gruyere? Raclette? Vacherin Fribourg? Then continue to beef fondue. And CHOCOLATE FONDUE for dessert that’s sooo much better than the chocolate fountain at your office's holiday party. Luckily, the calves liver à la carte is not served as a fondue. Just imagine that! Stick to cheese.
Thai: Hawker Fare
We’ve had a lot of impressive growth in vibrant Thai flavors the past few years, sort of mirroring the expansion of the genre’s Papa Bear, Lers Ros. No more impressive though than this new Valencia corridor anchor that used to be the sad Amber Dhara. The big Northern Thai Isaan flavors are Jimi Hendrix guitar riffs here. They scratch and claw. There is no more fun menu to eat through in the city right now than this one. Plus (and it’s a big plus) there's a secret cocktail den upstairs.
Vietnamese: Aux Delices
Wait, we mean The Slanted Door, right? With all due respect, we are closing that door because 1) do you really need another recommendation for there?, and 2) eh, it’s so loud and crowded and the food can waver -- it sometimes is a chore. San Francisco has some knockout spots for pho and even more to satisfy your bánh mì fix. And you usually get to play some fun Tenderloin dodge-and-go games en route. Aux Delices is a civilized, friendly spot on Russian Hill that allows you to have a premier small bowl of pho for an appetizer, then cover the whole country of Vietnam (and some of France, because colonial days!). It’s a charmer for couples but preferable to bring a big group -- too many tempting dishes to count. And trust me, you do want to really get your feast on.
1. Sunstream Coffee2884 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
2. Terra Cotta Warrior2555 Judah St, San Francisco
3. Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen484 Ellis St, San Francisco
4. Chapeau!126 Clement St, San Francisco
5. Suppenküche525 Laguna St, San Francisco
6. Souvla517 Hayes Street, San Francisco
7. Prubechu2847 Mission St, San Francisco
8. Grindz Restaurant832 Clement St, San Francisco
9. Dosa995 Valencia St, San Francisco
10. Perbacco230 California St, San Francisco
11. Izakaya Rintaro82 14th St, San Francisco
12. Maneelap Srimongkoun4995 Mission St, San Francisco
13. Azalina's1355 Market St, San Francisco
14. Nopalito306 Broderick St, San Francisco
15. Lavash511 Irving Street, San Francisco
16. Una Pizza Napoletana210 11th St., San Francisco
17. Cafe St. Jorge3438 Mission St, San Francisco
18. Izakaya Sozai1500 Irving St, San Francisco
19. Red Tavern2229 Clement St, San Francisco
20. Bissap Baobab3372 19th St, San Francisco
21. Amawele’s South African Kitchen101 Spear St, San Francisco
22. Contigo1320 Castro St, San Francisco
23. Plaj333 Fulton St, San Francisco
24. The Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant2323 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco
25. Hawker Fare680 Valencia St, San Francisco
26. Aux Delices2327 Polk St, San Francisco
This Brazilian juice/coffee shop takes a page right out of Copacabana Beach’s famed juice bars. Fresh squeezed passion fruit with acerola juice to perk you up amidst the traffic on Geary St. A full selection of Brazilian baked goods like a coxinha (cheesy fried dough filled with chicken & olives), or the simple perfection of Pao de Queijo (cheese balls that might be the best thing you’ve ever tasted...seriously.)
Ever wanted to dine on the fresh knife cut noodles the Shaanxi province and Xi’an are celebrated in China for? Well, you will now: Having had a version of sesame mian-pi in the shadow of the Drum and Bell Towers in Xi’an a year ago, there's no doubt Terra Cotta Warrior makes the superior version. Whoa what a noodle dish. In a city with more than just a few Chinese restaurants, nobody knows much about this particular regional cuisine. Time to get educated.
This small family-owned Ethiopian restaurant is proficient in just about every Ethiopian dish you’ve ever heard of. All of their entrees come with traditional Ethiopian flatbread called injera, and they even have a gluten-free variation. But the specialty here is the Kitfo. Try the “Special Kitfo” made with lean ground beef, onions and jalapeños sautéed with spices and homemade butter.
Chapeau! is an elegant French bistro that serves refined cuisine in an intimate setting. In addition to savory dishes (think bouillabaisse, cassoulet de toulouse, and filet mignon), this spot also has an impressive selection of wine.
German bierhaus 'küche celebrates constantly with German beers on tap, brats, and excessive noise levels that make you feel like you're at Oktoberfest, year-round.
Head over to Soulva for the perfect light lunch of a veggie pita and some frozen greek yogurt.
The unassuming Prubechu storefront -- still sporting the green awning from the smoothie bar that used to occupy the space -- serves up the traditional cuisine of Guam amidst a collection of nearby Mexican restaurants on Mission St. The main menu is largely composed of vegetarian dishes, usually cooked in coconut milk as they are in Guam. But try the four- or five-course tasting menu for a more comprehensive look at what the tiny Pacific island’s cuisine has to offer.
For the best Tiki-free Hawaiian food in San Francisco, go to Grindz in Inner Richmond. The spot serves lunch and dinner during the week and brunch on the weekends. Everything on the sweet-and-savoury menu is addictive. There will be SPAM, and it will taste amazing, especially when fried in cornmeal batter or shredded atop buttermilk waffles. The portions are pretty generous, and even if you've cleaned your plate off, you'll still want to order the Hawaiian bread pudding for dessert.
Dosa began its tenure as a beacon of brilliant South Indian cooking when it opened in the Mission more than a decade ago. It's still the best Indian cuisine in the city, and restaurant's namesake dosas are made from inventive fusion batters and served with fresh coconut and tomato chutneys and sambar, a lentil and vegetable dipping sauce. The restaurant also has excellent cocktails, especially the Gin and Tonic made with house-made fig and cardamom tonic.
The competition is tough for the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco, and this FiDi stalwart routinely falls in the top five. The menu is filled with Piedmontese specialities, which means house-cured salami, creamy al dente pastas, and red wines. Perbacco is formal enough to wear a tie, casual enough for a first date, and has a lunch menu that warrants a power lunch.
Even though it's tucked between two unassuming buildings in The Mission and nestled close to the freeway, you’d still be surprised at how serene an oasis Izakaya Rintaro is. Reminiscent of a treehouse, the 60-seat space serves gorgeously prepared izakaya from a Chez Panisse alum. Warm your palate by sipping on a light cocktail made with ume plum liqueur, and then dig into fresh-from-the-waters sashimi, skewers of juicy chicken, hand-rolled udon in fish broth, and light-as-air tamago (layers of thin egg that you can watch your chef preparing from the open kitchen).
Laotian food might be hard to come by in San Francisco, but it's not a far cry from the Southeast Asian cuisines of Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore. Eating at Maneelap Srimongkoun in the Outer Mission is a lesson in Laotian cuisine. The food has the same profile of bright, layered dishes as its neighboring cuisines, but the touch of unfamiliarity makes it taste that much better. Try the pork rice balls and Laos sausages. Oh yeah, and the bargain-like prices (you'll be hard-pressed to find anything over $10) makes the restaurant extra-attractive.
What started as a humble Malaysian street food operation for Chef Azalina Eusope now has a brick and mortar location on Upper Market. And the Bon Appetit Magazine co-signed Azalina’s does Malaysian rice dishes better than any other place in the city. The roasted chicken rice is a total standout, with saffron basmati rice, roasted chicken, and topped with crunchy fresh pea shoots.
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.
We think that Lavash is the reason that there are not a lot of Persian restaurants in SF. No one wants to compete with their delicious menu.
The first thing you need to know about Una Pizza Napoletana is that it only sells pizza. Pizzamaker Anthony Mangieri set up this SOMA power-house after conquering New York and New Jersey, and his 12-inch personal pies consistently rank on San Francisco's top pizza lists. The Apollonia, named after his daughter, is topped with eggs, parmigiano reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, salami, basil, garlic, sea salt, and black pepper. It's downright amazing, but it's only available on Saturdays.
For a taste of Portugal in SF, hit this sun-splashed cafe (named for Lisbon’s castle). You can get avocado toast and quinoa bowls, sure. But come on, man: sardine and fava bean crostini! A ham-Portuguese cheese-banana panini! And pastéis de nata, the less-sweet, superior predecessor of the ubiquitous dim sum egg custard tarts! Just be aware, the cafe can look like Coffee Bar when it comes to laptop crowding.
Inner Sunset's Sozai is one of San Francisco's original izakayas. It specializes in yakitori chicken skewers; fried tofu, oysters, and chicken wings; and grilled fish dishes. Its extensive sake collection includes Junmai, Ginjo, Daiginjo, and Nijori varieties. Sozai serves tonkotsu ramen too, but according to house rules, you can't have it until you're at least one round of sake in.
You might’ve guessed from the name, but Red Tavern is a homestyle Russian restaurant in the heart of the Richmond’s quirky Little Moscow pocket. This is where to come to find Russian classics like borscht (beet soup) and an authentic beef stroganoff with mushroom & cream sauce. But don’t miss out on the Siberian-style pelmeni (veal dumplings), which are an absolute must.
Have yourself a traditional Senegalese dinner and then hit the dance floor. Seriously. Bissap Baobab doubles as a fine African food spot and a lively nightclub. You can’t miss the location with it’s bright yellow paint and blue trim just off of Mission Street. Pop in on Friday or Saturday for the special Ceebu Jen, made with red fried rice mixed with tilapia and veggies.
This casual, counter-service spot in FiDi offers great South African fare like curry bread bowls, spiced rice dishes, and curry roti wraps. The food court-like, fast-casual set-up makes it a solid option for lunch hour eats, and you'll be pleased to know that the most expensive thing on the menu is $10.50.
Contigo's a casually mod, way-authentic Spanish joint w/ two comfy stool-lined bars, a redwood two-/four-top-spotted dining room, and back patio w/ an herb garden.
The greatest thing to come out of Northern Europe since Lisbeth Salander, Plaj is a fancy Scandinavian-inspired restaurant in the Inn at the Opera. In a beautiful interior that's got only 50 seats, intimate hardwood seating, and a silver-chained lamp-lit bar, Plaj is serving up authentic Nordic fare, like elk loin, coriander-crusted tuna, a charcuterie plate, and Scandinavian cheeses, all of which are served in small-ish portions to encourage more of a tasting menu approach.
The Matterhorn is San Francisco’s best authentic Swiss dining experience, with a wood-wrapped ambiance that'll make you feel like you've stumbled into an Alpine lodge. Dinner at the Matterhorn is (of course!) centered around fondue. There are 10 types of cheese fondue, like the original with Ementhaler and Gruyere cheese cooked with white wine, garlic and spices, as well two beef fondue options, where you dip thinly sliced beef into piping hot vegetable or red wine-based broth and let them cook.
The Mission outpost of this beloved Oakland eatery turns up the heat with spicy Thai-style street food and Tiki cocktails. The Thai-Issan menu features coconut milk curries and grilled meat dishes, as well as spicy salads and sides like chicken fat rice and fermented mustard greens. The family-style portions, picnic tables, and massive space make Hawker Fare an island oasis perfect for a group dinner.
Aux Delices has been serving French Vietnamese cuisine in Russian Hill for almost decades. Open for both lunch and dinner, pop in for a traditional bowl of Pho Tai (beef) or Pho Ga (chicken) or make your way through an excellent selection of rice and noodle dishes. The chicken and pork Imperial Rolls here are clutch, served with lettuce, mint and a sweet fish sauce.