Eat your way through the best restaurants in San Francisco

From fine French dining to an authentic taqueria, everyone needs to visit these San Francisco restaurants before they die

Photograph: Yelp/Lazy Bear

It’s no exaggeration to say that San Francisco is one of the best cities for food in the world. But with so many interesting dining destinations packed into just 7x7 square miles, it can be overwhelming to decide where to go. From brand-new Mexican restaurants to some of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco, let our best restaurant roundup guide you to your next favorite meal.

RECOMMENDED: The 12 Bay Area restaurants you need to try in 2018

Restaurants in San Francisco

1

Benu

5 out of 5 stars

At Benu, chef Corey Lee works the same magic he brought to the cuisine at French Laundry, earning this San Francisco restaurant three Michelin stars and an AAA Five Diamond rating. Inventively fusing Korean and Chinese influences and culinary references, Lee’s famed xiao long bao and his version of a thousand-year-old quail egg are a delight. At Benu, even the dining room is designed to highlight the food - keeping a minimalist tone so as not to distract from the table. Wine pairings are a worthy investment, thanks to beverage director Yoon Ha’s creative combinations.

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Yerba Buena
2

Saison

5 out of 5 stars

Probably the least under-the-radar restaurant in San Francisco, this unique SoMa spot has earned itself three Michelin stars and a place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List two years running. Chef Joshua Skenes, a master of luxury on the plate, has managed to keep Saison’s atmosphere from drifting into stuffy elegance; the industrial space with its open kitchen is relaxed and engaging. On the daily tasting menu, you’ll find rotating contemporary dishes, many with Japanese influences, prepared with novel cooking techniques like hot coals on a cooking grate instead of a typical stove. Saison boasts one of the best wine cellars in the city―particularly for Burgundy fans. Come early and enjoy a cocktail at the restaurant’s chic bar and lounge.

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South Beach
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3

State Bird Provisions

5 out of 5 stars

Named for a recipe for quail (California’s state bird), State Bird Provisions has evolved into an inventive Michelin starred restaurant that has garnered something of a cult following. The menu is divided into Provisions, Toast and Pancakes and Commandables—the latter two served as ȧ la carte items, such as the signature crispy CA State Bird and sourdough pancakes with sauerkraut, pecorino and ricotta. The nightly “provisions,” small bites like Spanish octopus with butter beans, green olive and kosho make their rounds on dim sum-style rolling carts. Get there as the restaurant is opening its doors at 5:30pm if you hope to grab one of State Bird’s coveted walk-in seats, including those at the chef’s counter.

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Western Addition
4

Liholiho Yacht Club

5 out of 5 stars

Chef Ravi Kapur came up in San Francisco’s seminal Boulevard kitchen, but at his popular Lower Nob Hill restaurant, he’s weaving together the flavors of his Hawaiian youth. The menu features bright and wholesome dishes like whole Maine lobster in black bean sauce and marinated squid with watermelon, lemon cucumber and crispy tripe. Downstairs Louie’s Gen-Gen room, with its exposed brick and open kitchen, seats reservation-only diners. At the ohana table, Liholiho prepares a feast of 10-12 dishes for groups of up to 12 people for only $55 a pop. Upstairs, a busy full bar and a handful of tables try to keep up with the steady torrent of walk-in hopefuls.

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Lower Nob Hill
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5

The Progress

5 out of 5 stars

Even as their first restaurant State Bird Provisions was rocketing chef-owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski to culinary stardom, they were hard at work on renovating the 1911 theater next door into The Progress. All wood and plants and pottery, this lofty space is designed for a banquet feast served up family-style on beautiful platters. The food at The Progress combines flavors from around the world into dishes like roasted and grilled rabbit with shishitos, artichokes and bacon or half dozen quail egg roti with smoked ham and green olive sauce. Desserts are no less exciting and often trend towards the savory, like roasted corn pudding with sungold tomato caramel, white chocolate and pluots. If you have trouble getting a table, stop by the stylish bar and lounge where you can order dishes ȧ la carte from the main menu.

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Western Addition
6

Al's Place

5 out of 5 stars

Don’t be fooled by the low-key name: Aaron London’s quintessential Michelin starred Mission restaurant (and Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in 2015) continues to earn its reputation. The bright, airy indoor atmosphere and outdoor patio work hard to accommodate London’s acolytes but you’re likely still to find a long wait time without advanced reservations. The food at Al’s Place blazes with creativity, uber-fresh ingredients and a focus on vegetables in dishes like chilled green bean casserole with burrata, tomato, basil and pickled padrons. Though you won’t find a full liquor license here, clever low-ABV cocktails and a robust list of wines, craft beers and ciders will keep your whistle whetted.

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Mission
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7

Acquerello

5 out of 5 stars

Acquarello may be one of the oldest restaurants on this list but it’s far from stuck in its ways. The 26-year-old Italian favorite keeps things innovative by showcasing talented young chefs alongside the expertise of master chef-partner Suzette Gresham. In one of the most Old World refined dining rooms in town, diners revel in a prix fixe or seasonal tasting menu showcasing dishes like the decadent ridged pasta with foie gras. Earning two stars in this year’s Michelin guide, Acquarello is not just a place to celebrate, its food is a celebration in-and-of itself.

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Nob Hill
8

Californios

5 out of 5 stars

This Mission restaurant from chef Val Cantu keeps you guessing from start to finish: the ingredients of the dishes you sample on Californios’ daily tasting menu aren’t revealed until the end of your meal. In the white tablecloth-draped dining room with a surprisingly urban feel thanks to dark walls, distinctive artwork and a cheeky soundtrack, diners enjoy modern takes on Mexican traditions. Wine pairings from beverage director Charlotte Randolph anticipate your upcoming dishes with aplomb and will have you out the door at the end of the night for around $300 a person - a worthy sum for this Michelin-starred gem.

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Mission
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9

SPQR

5 out of 5 stars
Recommended

In 2014 SPQR’s Matthew Accarrino earned Food and Wine’s Best New Chef title. Today this Northern California-Italian restaurant is still going strong, earning a Michelin star three years in a row and several James Beard nominations. The menu here reflects Accarrino’s particular fusion of the contemporary and the traditional with pasta dishes like bucatini with California blue cheese, walnut, kale and sage brown butter and “secondi” like wagyu beef with yukon gold potato and cured duck liver in a red wine sauce. Owner and sommelier Shelly Lindgren keeps up her end of the bargain with a spectacular list of Italian wines.

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Pacific Heights
10

Quince

5 out of 5 stars

Chef Michael Tusk and co-owner Lindsay Tusk’s exquisite Quince is studded with stunning artwork and flowers, rich linens and careful attention to service. It is, however, the food (of course) that is the star at this famed three Michelin starred Financial District landmark. Fresh, seasonal produce is central here and over 40 heirloom fruits, vegetables and flowers are  grown exclusively for Quince and sister restaurant Cotogna at Fresh Run Farms in Bolinas. Each night’s $250 tasting puts a California spin on Italian-inspired dishes like Monterey Bay abalone with celtuce, shelling bean and black garlic. In the posh adjoining salon, you’ll find a nightly menu of canapés, caviar and ȧ la carte options from the nightly tasting menu.

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Jackson Square
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11

Cala

5 out of 5 stars

Famed Mexico City chef Gabriela Cámara picked San Francisco to open her seafood-centric Mexican wunderkind, Cala. Celebrating its second anniversary this month, 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 like the Sangria Aneja (anejo, jamaica syrup and fresh citrus) beautifully complement the food with Latin American flavors. 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 D.F.-style tacos de guisado.

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Civic Center
12

Swan Oyster Depot

5 out of 5 stars
Recommended

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). Cash only.

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Nob Hill
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13

Nopalito

5 out of 5 stars
Recommended

At Nopalito, the authentic flavors of Mexico are combined with local, sustainable and organic ingredients to create the complex, slow-cooked deliciousness honored by our neighbors to the south. Here you’ll find traditional dishes like pozole rojo, a soup of pork shoulder, hominy and ancho chile and gorditas campechanas, fried tortilla pockets stuffed with braised brisket, red chorizo, pinquito beans and queso fresco, as well as an offering or two featuring the restaurant’s namesake, nopales (tender cactus paddles). The indoor-outdoor heated patio at the original location is pleasant no matter the weather outside but both that space, and their second location in the Inner Sunset at 9th and Irving, also have lively Mexican-inspired indoor spaces.

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Lower Haight
14

La Taqueria

5 out of 5 stars
Recommended

There’s no shortage of taquerias serving the Mission-style burrito in San Francisco but the simply-named La Taqueria is an undisputed favorite. For under $10, this no-frills joint will serve you a giant foil-wrapped version filled with beans, cheese, salsa and meats ranging from carne and pollo asado to carnitas, chorizo and lengua (you won’t find any rice in the burritos here, a sore point for some burrito connoisseurs). As the name implies, La Taqueria also features tacos, quesadillas, aguas frescas and super-fresh guacamole.

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Mission
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15

Aster

5 out of 5 stars

Aster is casual dining elevated: its creative California cuisine, featuring local, responsibly raised farm products, earned the restaurant a Michelin star the last two years running. The eats here are offered as part of a four-course meal ($75) with options like dry aged beef with umeboshi and kimchi furikake and local shellfish with melon, sungold and fig leaf. Don’t forget to opt for a side of house-made sourdough bread, a delicious version of the San Francisco treat.

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Mission
16

La Ciccia

5 out of 5 stars

At his intimate Noe Valley bistro, chef Massimiliano Conti pays homage to the flavors of his native Sardinia. In the basic-but-elegant dining room, pani guittiau (Sardinian flatbread) and fregua (Sardinian pasta) form the basis for robust dishes like sea urchin with shaved tuna heart and baby octopus stew. Though heavy on the seafood, La Ciccia also works wonders with lamb and pork loin and offers a wine list 180 labels strong including tastes from the Italian island.

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Glen Park
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17

Del Popolo

5 out of 5 stars

In 2015, Del Popolo upgraded from mobile pizza kitchen to permanent pizza purveyor in lower Nob Hill. Though they can still be found hocking pies out of their repurposed shipping truck, Del Popolo’s brick-and-mortar dining room, arranged around a green-tiled kitchen island and massive wood-fired pizza oven, offers something the truck can’t: wine. On the menu you’ll find a variety of small plates like house cured king salmon with apple, caper and horseradish to complement modern Neapolitan-style pizza classics like the “summer peppers” featuring cacciovalo and beef salami.

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Lower Nob Hill
18

Kin Khao

5 out of 5 stars

Bangkok native Pim Techamuanvivit is on a mission to, as she says, liberate American Thai cuisine from the “tyranny of peanut sauce.” Kin Khao, Techamuanvivit’s first restaurant, serves up vibrant flavors from the Thailand’s north and south in the restaurant’s simple, no-frills dining room. Dishes like Khun Yai’s rabbit green curry and the Chiang Mai street food khao kan jin, banana leaf-wrapped steamed pork, rice and blood sausage earned this spot on the ground floor of the Parc 55 hotel a Michelin star earlier this year.

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Tenderloin
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19

Lazy Bear

5 out of 5 stars

Dinner at Lazy Bear is as much theater as it is a meal. There’s no elaborate plot lines to follow, just the bustlings of a talented food prep team in the stage-like open kitchen as they shape the show’s star: the food. Only one menu is served each night and diners, welcomed in two seatingsㅡone at 6pm and one at 8:30pmㅡto enjoy their multiple courses in synchrony at two long communal tables. Their modern American offerings use seasonal flavors to create refined dishes like morel mushrooms with egg yolk fudge, favas and ramps and guinea hen with roasted beets, rosemary and arugula. Advanced tickets are required for a seat at the table and each month’s seats are sold at the same time in the middle of the previous month (usually at noon on a Wednesday).

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Mission
20

Mourad

5 out of 5 stars

With the doors of the city’s beloved Michelin starred Moroccan staple Aziza still closed, chef-owner Mourad Lahlou is lavishing his attention on his second home, Mourad. The glamorous younger sister of the original, at Mourad globular chandeliers and columns lit floor-to-ceiling shine on a lofty dining room. On the table, the chef features la’acha, family style dishes like whole duck with saffron, stone fruit and cucumber or chicken with preserved lemon and green olives served with various sides. The tasting menu ($125/person) will get you bites of seven savory dishes, two sweet ones and some tisane - herbal tea with mint and verbana - for sipping.

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Yerba Buena
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21

Petit Crenn

4 out of 5 stars

The rustic sister restaurant to the chic Atelier Crenn, this sleek, bright bistro offers a window into the flavors of chef Dominique Crenn’s childhood in Brittany. Tucked in among the painted ladies of Hayes Valley, Petit Crenn’s surprisingly affordable 5-course tasting menu ($87/person) is rife with delicate shellfish and succulent fish. Weekend brunch elevates classics to the next level with ȧ la carte dishes like smoked ocean trout tartin with caper fromage blanc, pickled shallots and radishes.

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Hayes Valley
22

Octavia

4 out of 5 stars

Melissa Perello’s second restaurant in Lower Pacific Heights is as personal as her beloved Frances—it has a welcoming neighborhood feel, elegant but relaxed, with thoughtful touches like reclaimed wood tables, cozy lighting and beautiful pottery. The cuisine here is California-meets-Mediterranean with dishes that highlight the seasonal bounty like tagliatelle with sea urchin butter, confit jolly tomato shishito and pangrattato. Desserts like wild flower honey crumb pudding with mission fig, honey toffee and creme fraiche are well worth the splurge.

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Pacific Heights
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23

Zuni Café

4 out of 5 stars
Recommended

Since its opening in 1979, Zuni has developed a dedicated following as a destination restaurant that helped define fresh regional Northern California cuisine. Open for lunch, dinner and deep into the night, Zuni’s modern classics include their signature Caesar salad and brick-oven roasted chicken for two. The light-filled, glass encased dining rooms and sidewalk seating when the weather cooperates still makes this space the place to see and be seen, especially before and after symphony and opera events.

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Hayes Valley
24

Tartine Manufactory

4 out of 5 stars

Breads and baked goods are only two of the stars at Tartine Manufactory, a breezy warehouse space housing an ice cream shop, bar and restaurant alongside the bakery. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and a recently added dinner service, Manufactory’s proprietors (owners of the famed Tartine Bakery) have made the space into an incubator for food and drink artisans. Though not your typical restaurant, the Manufactory still serves up some of the city’s best cuisine including tartines, sandwiches and salads during the day and creative comfort foods, like bone marrow with toast at night.

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Mission
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25

Kokkari Estiatorio

4 out of 5 stars

Kokkari’s inventive brand of Hellenic cuisine hits the mark in their quest to create the “food of the gods.” Begin your meal with mezethes (small plates) like marithes tiganites (crispy smelt with garlic-potato skordalia and lemon, also affectionately referred to as “fries with eyes”) or some of the best grilled octopus in town. Once you’ve plowed through those, dig in to Kokkari’s traditional moussaka—a rich, creamy baked casserole of eggplant, lamb ragout and béchamel—or their famed lamb chops. For dessert? Various iterations of baklava and loukoumades, Greek donuts with honey, cinnamon and walnuts, round out the menu. A great spot for large celebrations and small intimate ones, the restaurant’s rustic Old World charm beautifully complements any lunch or dinner.

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Downtown
26

Nopa

4 out of 5 stars

The restaurant that redefined a neighborhood remains one of the most popular in San Francisco a decade after first opening in 2006. Nopa’s “urban rustic” cuisine fits well with its unfussy but chic lofted space with a large open kitchen and lively bar. Italian- and Mediterranean-inspired dishes like Moroccan vegetable tagine and grilled squab with eggplant salad, tahini, blue lake beans and feta grace the dinner menu. Popular happy hour, late night snack and brunch menus are equally as worthy of a sit-down. If you come without a reservation at peak hours, be prepared to wait for seats at both the bar and restaurant.

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Alamo Square
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27

Delfina

4 out of 5 stars
Recommended

At Delfina, though owner-chef Craig Stoll eschews fashionable culinary trends in favor of simplicity and tradition, his food is never ordinary. On his daily rotating menu, Stoll showcases fresh pastas 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.

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Mission Dolores
28

Yank Sing

4 out of 5 stars

Exceptionally fresh and flavorful dim sum keeps this unassuming Financial District Chinese restaurant rubbing elbows on best restaurant lists year after year. At Yank Sing, you order by pointing to what looks good on passing carts; you may not always know exactly what you’re getting but the unexpected culinary surprises are half the fun. Keep an eye out for the Shanghai (soup) dumplings stuffed with pork, scallion, ginger and a shot of hot broth and deep fried stuffed crab claws. At Yank Sing 2 Go next door, you can order dim sum in a combination or ȧ la carte to take away. Yank Sing’s second space is located nearby at 49 Stevenson street.

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SoMa
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29

House of Prime Rib

4 out of 5 stars

If you’ve never been to the House of Prime Rib, stop what you’re doing and go. Now. Since 1949, this San Francisco classic with its oversized booths and roaring fireplace has delighted diners with its tableside prime rib carving service. Yorkshire pudding and creamed spinach complete the meal, along with a martini from the bar. And, if your first cut of beef didn’t satisfy, the wait staff will offer you a second serving at no extra charge. Just as popular with tourists as locals, the House of Prime Rib is culinary landmark well worth your effort.

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Nob Hill
30

Z & Y Restaurant

4 out of 5 stars

Z & Y has been making a name for itself on top San Francisco restaurant lists since 2016, attracting wealthy and powerful patrons like former President Barack Obama. The Chinatown eatery brings together northern Chinese and Szechuan flavors not for the faint of heart; mounds of chilis or dollops of chili oil accompany most dishes. You’ll find familiar favorites like mo-po tofu and Mongolian beef kicked up a notch, alongside equally fiery specialties like stir fried crab with house spicy sauce. If you’re somewhat underwhelmed by the basic dining room, call in an order for pick-up or delivery.

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Chinatown
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31

Hong Kong Lounge II

4 out of 5 stars

Dim Sum heaven by day, Hong Kong-style bites by night, the second Hong Kong Lounge located in the Inner Richmond will cure your craving for quality Chinese food. Their extensive dumpling menu includes crowd pleasers like crispy fried seafood and more traditional options like steamed chicken feet. At dinner, dig into classics done right like imperial Peking duck with hoisin and fresh scallions or country style fried rice with bacon and taro and keep an eye out for some of their best daytime dim sum offerings under the label “Asian Tapas.”

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Laurel Heights
Your guide to restaurants in San Francisco

Comments

1 comments
Rose J

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