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ThirstyBear food San Francisco
Photograph: Supplied ThirstyBear Organic Brewery

Eating and drinking in San Francisco

Whether you’re seeking the white-tablecloth greatness or best cheap eats in the Bay Area, these are the San Francisco places where you should be wining and dining right now, as chosen by our local experts

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It’s no exaggeration to say that San Francisco is one of the best cities for food in the world. From Michelin-starred fine dining to hearty comfort food, the city has it all. But with so many interesting restaurants packed into just 7x7 square miles, it can be overwhelming to decide where to go.

That’s where we can help. We’ve enlisted the advice of our experts at Time Out San Francisco to offer a shortlist of great options across a range of price points.

On the bar front, San Francisco has been at the cutting edge of craft-cocktail innovation, and Bay Area cocktail bars continue to deliver new and novel drinks that play to the bounty of fresh ingredients.

The bucket list: 26 things you must do in San Francisco.

Eat in San Francisco

Dumpling Time San Francisco
Michael Ogata/Dumpling Time

Dumpling Time, SoMa

Dumpling Time is open six days a week in SoMa's design district. And yep, it serves up delicious dumplings all the time. From behind a glass wall, eager diners can watch chef Do Leung as he expertly crafts made-to-order dumplings, gyoza and dessert buns. Buns come in five classic Chinese and Japanese varieties, filled with either meat, fish or vegetables. Named the King-Dum, the $10 xiao long bao (soup dumpling) is so large you’ll need a straw, while the three-for-$6.50 barbecue pork steamed buns with a touch of peanut butter are our new favorite affordable lunch option. And don't leave without an Instagrammable dessert bun – the colorful doughy puffs are topped with flower petals. 11 Division St. +1 415 525 4797. Mon-Fri 11am-2.30pm & 5-9.30pm; Sat, Sun 10am-3pm & 5-9.30pm.

China Live San Francisco
Photograph: Supplied

China Live, Chinatown

A multi-floored ode to modern Chinese food with a downstairs restaurant, retail market, bar and tea café, the 30,000-foot China Live emporium is a must-visit. The majority of the first floor is taken up by Market Restaurant, where made-to-order Peking duck, soup dumplings and rice bowls are served piping hot and paired with fermented sorghum cocktails. 644 Broadway. +1 415 788 8188. Mon-Thu 11.30am-10pm; Fri 11.30am-11pm; Sat 10.30am-11pm; Sun 10.30am-10pm.

Rooftop25 at 25 Lusk
Photograph: Virginia Miller

Rooftop25 at Twenty Five Lusk, SoMa

With a striking, three-floor layout in a 1917 brick-timber warehouse, Twenty Five Lusk has always been a draw for chef Matthew Dolan's international cooking (sturgeon schnitzel, anyone?) and a cocktail from drink pioneer Daniel Hyatt, who mans the lounge bar downstairs. Now they're elevating their game with Rooftop 25. Mini-olive trees nestle under a canopy of heat lamps at this west-facing (read: sunset-viewing) deck. A playful menu offers boozy slushies (we love the Spicy Passionfruit Margarita), bottled Piña Coladas and woodfired pizzas like the Pizza #2, loaded with bratwurst sausage, fennel, shaved apple and oregano. 25 Lusk St. +1 415 495 5875. Mon-Wed 11.30am-9pm; Thu-Sat 11.30am-10pm; Sun 11.30am-8pm.  

Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Café
Photograph: Hans Kwiotek

Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Café, Fisherman’s Wharf

Sourdough bread is as synonymous with San Francisco as fog and Twitter. At the flagship Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf, tangy loaves are still made from a mother dough first cultivated here in 1849. You can watch the breadmaking process from the railing overlooking the showcase kitchen, sample it at the café, and buy a few loaves. There’s also a bistro that offers an all-day menu, including sandwiches, salads, Dungeness crab cakes and clam chowder in (you guessed it) a bread bowl. Baker's Hall, 160 Jefferson St. +1 415 928 1849. Sun-Fri 8am-9pm; Sat 8am-10pm.

Delfina San Francisco
Photograph: Eric Wolfinger/OpenKitchenPhotography Delfina

Delfina, Mission District

At Delfina, though owner-chef Craig Stoll eschews fashionable culinary trends in favour of simplicity and tradition, his food is never ordinary. On his daily rotating menu, Stoll showcases fresh pasta along with deeply satisfying meat and seafood dishes like Berkshire pork belly with octopus, cockles and garbanzo. While Delfina sticks to more sophisticated dishes, next door at Pizzeria Delfina (and in newer locations in lower Pacific Heights, Burlingame and Palo Alto) you’ll find some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza in town, including the perennial favorite clam pie with cherrystone clams and hot peppers. 3621 18th St. +1 415 552 4055. Mon-Thu 5.30-10pm; Fri, Sat 5.30-11pm; Sun 5-10pm.

Foreign Cinema
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Dave Whelan

Foreign Cinema, Mission District

Want a whimsical twist on dinner and a movie? Though Foreign Cinema has been a Mission standby for nearly two decades, it remains one of the most stunning restaurants in town. The seasonal California fare is sourced from farms in Bolinas, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Olema, complemented by an impressive 2,000-bottle wine list. Inside, you’ll find an elegant expanse of marble, stone and exposed beams under 18-foot ceilings. But the real draw is the outdoor patio, warmed by heat lamps and twinkling with string lights. The ‘cinema’ comes in the form of the huge projector screen, where classic and contemporary movies play nightly. 2534 Mission St. Mon-Wed 5-10pm; Thu-Sat 5.30-11pm; Sat, Sun 11am-2.30pm & 5.30-10pm.

Cala San Francisco
Photograph: Supplied

Cala, Hayes Valley

Mexico City chef Gabriela Cámara picked San Francisco to open her seafood-centric Mexican wunderkind, Cala. Cala presents sophisticated coastal delights like trout tostadas with chipotle, avocado and fried leeks and mussels over toast with carnitas and shaved egg in their upscale warehouse space in Hayes Valley. Cocktails such as the Sangria Aneja (anejo, jamaica syrup and fresh citrus) beautifully complement the food with Latin American flavours. If you’re in the mood for a quick bite, at Tacos Cala, located in the alley near the restaurant's back entrance, you’ll find rotating daily offerings of DF-style tacos de guisado. 49 Fell St. Sun-Wed 5-10pm; Thu-Sat 5-11pm.

Swan Hill Oyster Depot San Francisco
Photograph: Flickr/Rob Hyndman

Swan Oyster Depot, Nob Hill

You might not notice this hole-in-the-wall Nob Hill seafood joint if it weren’t for the long line outside. Part market, part restaurant, Swan Oyster Depot has been hocking fresh seafood since four Danish brothers started the business in 1912. Belly up to the bar to indulge in local oysters, Dungeness crab, chowder and smoked fish. If you’re looking for something a little different, try one of their secret menu offerings like Sicilian sashimi (thinly sliced raw salmon, tuna and scallops drizzled in olive oil) or Crabsanthemum (crab legs in a flower arrangement with Louie sauce). Warning: it’s cash only. 1517 Polk St. +1 415 673 1101. Mon-Sat 10.30am-5.30pm.

Photograph: Yelp/Chad S

Californios, Misson District

This Michelin-starred Mexican spot is sleek, but unfussy, from the mirrored, unmarked facade to the neon art in the restroom. With its black walls, low lighting and vibrant art, the décor matches the food: splurgy and surprising. Slip into the leather banquette or snag a spot at the bar for a view of the open kitchen. Chef Val Cantu’s 16-course tasting menu changes seasonally – expect lobster tacos and foie gras-garnished churros. Splurge for the beverage pairing, which typically includes wine, beer and cider. 3115 22nd St. +1 415 757 0994. Tue-Sat 5.30-9pm.

Drink in San Francisco

ThirstyBear San Francsico
Photograph: Supplied

ThirstyBear, SoMa

ThirstyBear is a Certified Organic brewery that pairs Spanish cuisine (tapas, paella) with hand-crafted organic beer, sangria, Spanish and Californian wines. ThirstyBear pride themselves on serving only sustainable harvested seafood, meats free of growth hormones and synthetic additives, and local, organic seasonal produce. They also happen to recycle all paper, glass, aluminum, plastic, compost all organic matter and recycle cooking oil into biodiesel. So you can dine in and drink brewmaster Ron Silberstein’s pilsners, IPAs, stouts, Belgian-inspired ales, cask conditioned ales, session beers, and barrel aged brews happy in the knowledge that your indulgence isn’t hurting the environment. 661 Howard St. +1 415 974 0905. Mon-Thu 11.30am-10pm; Fri 11.30am-11pm; Sat noon-11pm; Sun noon-10pm.

Smuggler's Cove
Photograph: Noelle Chun

Smuggler’s Cove, Fillmore District

With three floors of dark corners, pirate memorabilia and a proper indoor waterfall, the décor at Smuggler’s is straight out of a boys' own adventure. The bartenders are true tiki fanatics, and their drinks are expertly crafted, esoteric dives into tiki history. And while it began as a hidden tiki oasis, Smuggler’s Cove has become something of a victim of its own success; today you’ll find the bar perpetually crowded and swarming with scenesters. Still, if you have a love for all-things tiki, Smuggler’s Cove can’t be beat. Big drinkers should try the very strong Jet Pilot – the mix of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, lime, grapefruit, cinnamon, herbsaint and falernum goes down all too easily. 650 Gough St. +1 415 869 1900. Daily 5pm-1.15am.

El Rio bar San Francisco
Photograph: Creative Commons/Flickr/Amy Halverson

El Rio, SoMa

This decades-old standby embodies all-inclusive San Francisco at its finest. The beloved dive welcomes a colourful cross-section of the city: gay and straight, young and old. The dog-friendly patio is huge and inviting; inside, you’ll find shuffleboard and pool tables, a trusty old juke box, and an anything-goes dance floor where bands, DJs, burlesque dancers and karaoke kings perform nightly. In warmer months, you’ll find live bands out back – from salsa to bluegrass. Between the bar games, chatty patio, and ongoing dance party, introductions happen naturally. 3158 Mission St at Cesar Chavez. +1 415 282 3325. Daily 1pm-late.

Dirty Habit bar San Francisco
Photograph: Eric Wolfinger

Dirty Habit

It may be sandwiched between a Nordstrom Rack and a Trader Joe’s, but this fifth-story hotel bar is surprisingly sexy. Tucked atop the Hotel Zelos, the spot isn’t known for views. Rather, it’s a stylish, upscale destination for craft cocktails. The landscaped terrace is outfitted with gas fireplaces and a range of indoor-outdoor seating, from bar stools to cushy leather sofas. Though the atmosphere inside is moody and rather clubby, the deck is more laid-back. (Make a reservation; the outdoor space usually fills up in advance.) Cocktails are inventive, incorporating tea, spices, and fresh herbs. Try the Formal Agreement, an earthy blend of Gentleman Jack, cognac, porcini mushroom, and oolong tea. Whiskey lovers work their way through the Boilermakers: whiskey and beer pairings. 12 Fourth St. +1 415 348 1555. Mon-Sat 5-10pm.


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