The first time I went to California I was 22. It's not that I didn't travel growing up, but going to the West Coast just wasn't part of our regular rotation. However, with my company being headquartered out in San Francisco, I have now spent spent a good amount of time eating my way through all of the different neighborhoods across town. The places listed below have become some of my favorite restaurants to dine at when I am in town, and I am always updating this list! Check back regularly for new additions.
One of my favorite spots in all of San Francisco. Located on the corner of a a quiet street in The Mission, this restaurant is classic California. They don't take reservations so I recommend that you plan to show up early and try to snag a seat the bar. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, and the amazing pizzas and pastas will make you fat and happy. Flour + Water is located at 2401 Harrison Street.
If you're looking for a restaurant with killer ambiance, and great food to boot, look no further than Foreign Cinema. Located in The Mission, the restaurant has a beautiful atmosphere with brick walls, and movies that are projected outside on the back patio while you eat. The food is described as "California/Mediterranean style", and the menu changes regularly to reflect the season. The menu also includes a section called "urban picnic" which allows you to pick small plates such as lavender baked goat cheese with toasts which could act as the perfect sharing dishes for a picnic. The food is excellent, and it's such a fun place to enjoy a meal with friends. Foreign Cinema is located at 2534 Mission Street.
I kept hearing about Frances from many of my friends who live in the San Francisco area, so I knew it was a place I had to add to my list. Located in the Castro, this small but thoughtful restaurant has a Michelin star, and serves local and seasonal ingredients with an ever-changing menu. I last visited in the spring when it was still a bit chilly, and I enjoyed appetizers such as chickpea fritters and applewood smoked bacon beignets. The highlight of the meal was a beautiful piece of black cod over seasonal vegetables. Frances is located at 3870 17th Street.
This restaurant left me wowed. It was an incredibly memorable meal not just because of the great food, but the staff was so knowledgeable and helpful with pairings. I started the meal with the tuna poke appetizer served on nori crisps. It was fresh, crunchy, and tasted delicious. I then had the manila clams with coconut curry, squash and snap peas. It's a spicy and fragrant broth that also comes with garlic naan on the side to ensure you don't miss any of the killer sauce. The meal wrapped with a dynamite chocolate cake with sesame and buttermilk. Love the vibe, fun atmosphere, and great cocktails. Liholiho Yacht Club is located at 871 Sutter Street.
This classic San Francisco restaurant located right on Washington Square Park in North Beach is as good as it gets. This place has become a go-to for me when I am in town. The space is inviting and comfortable, and on my most recent visit I was placed at a lovely booth adjacent to the open kitchen, and the sizable bar area was busy with a great crowd. The herb crusted sole with squash, peas, and proscuitto in a white wine broth is one of the best seafood entrees I have had in a long time. I also loved the crispy brussels sprouts chips and the heirloom tomato and burrata tart. I hear amazing things about their brunch as well, so definitely be sure to hit up Park Tavern for at least one meal when you are in town. Park Tavern is located at 1652 Stockton Street.
A small and cozy restaurant located in Hayes Valley, Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich are not messing around. The menu changes regularly, but there is usually a worthwhile pasta on the list. The one pictured below with clams and almonds was a slam dunk, and I also loved the burrata appetizer and the ribeye. They are also known for their sardine chips which you shouldn't skip! Rich Table is located at 199 Gough Street.
This small Italian restaurant located in Russian Hill delivers very satisfying bowls of authentic pasta. My favorite is the maccheroncelli with crushed tomato, chili, and house made ricotta. It's super satisfying. Seven Hills is located at 1550 Hyde Street.
I love the interesting neighborhoods in San Francisco, and particularly the streets of Pacific Heights. It's an affluent area lined with shops and restaurants, and SPQR on Fillmore Street is a charming Italian restaurant with a focus on wine. On the bottom of the menu you'll find the following: "we work with local products and cook with the seasons." On my first trip to SPQR I enjoyed a mushroom terrine with brussels sprouts and burrata, as well as a pasta dish with lamb. On a more recent trip, I loved the tomato lasagna pictured below. SPQR is located at 1911 Fillmore Street.
A trip to San Francisco is never complete without a stop at the glorious Ferry Building which is filled with stalls of food, crafts, coffee, and more. On the back end of the building is The Slanted Door, a modern Vietnamese restaurant which overlooks the water. The Slanted Door is always slammed with locals as well as visitors from all over the world. I love to snag a seat at the bar and grab a drink and order some of my favorites off of the menu. They offer a great variety of spring rolls, and I almost always find myself ordering the shaking beef which is a delicious dish. Finally, I love the fact that the vegetable side dishes are thoughtful and well done, and not just throwaways. The Slanted Door is located at 1 Ferry Building #3.
This is one of the cutest wine bars located in Russian Hill. It's a small space with seats at the bar and at communal tables. They have an amazing cheese and charcuterie list, tons of great snacks and they have an amazing wine list. I had a great time here grabbing snacks and drinks before dinner, and then my friend and I actually came back after dinner for another bottle of wine to close the evening. If I lived in San Francisco, I know I'd spend a lot of time here. It's a really casual and inviting space that makes you want to stick around. Union Larder is located at 1945 Hyde Street.
Think comfort food. Think American classics. Few places do fried chicken and macaroni and cheese better than Wayfare Tavern. Even better, you might even get to see Chef Tyler Florence cooking in the kitchen during your visit. I love the dark interior with moose heads on the walls, it just pulls the whole vibe of the tavern together. Wayfare Tavern is located at 558 Sacramento Street.
You can't come to San Francisco and not try the traditional dim sum experience. Yank Sing is the place to do it. I'll admit the experience is a bit overwhelming as there are many servers roaming the restaurant pushing large carts filled with all sorts of dumplings and delicious bites, however it is often hard to figure out what each of these items is. I recommend being adventurous, and pointing to many different things to give yourself the full experience. They offer everything from pork buns to Peking duck to shrimp dumplings. It's hectic and loud, but it's fun and delicious. Yank Sing has two locations: Rincon Center at 101 Spear Street and 49 Stevenson Street.
Perhaps one of the more famous restaurants in San Francisco is Zuni Cafe, which is known for its cookbook, and also for its roast chicken and Caesar salad. Zuni Cafe has been open since 1979 and has always been a staple of the San Francisco dining scene. The interior is open and inviting, and the food has both French and Italian accents that usually include a small selection of fish, meat, and pasta in which the preparations and ingredients change daily. I adore the vibe and the food at Zuni Cafe, and it is a must visit. Zuni Cafe is located at 1658 Market Street.
By no means is this lineup exhaustive, in fact I still have a very long list of restaurants I want to try in San Francisco, and new places are popping up regularly. However, many of these spots will quickly show you how impressive the dining scene is in San Francisco, and that it is a city that delivers amazing food across the board.