French restaurants in SF
Legendary chef Jacqueline Margulis, now in her 80s, makes each soufflé herself at Cafe Jacqueline in North Beach. Behind mountains of eggs in the tiny kitchen, Margulis has worked with the same prep cook for over 30 years, while the head waiter has been there nearly as long. Her textbook perfect soufflés—including crab, lobster, Gruyère and mushroom and lime and Grand Marnier for dessert—have not changed for decades. We wish she could live forever.
Philippe Gardelle has maintained a welcoming spirit (complete with a handshake or kiss on each cheek) and authentic French bistro fare since 1996 Regulars return for perfect veal sweetbreads, bouillabaisse, cassoulet and stellar soups like French onion and the seasonal yellow roasted corn in white truffle oil. The early bird prix fixe is a steal—$40 for 3 courses served from 5–6pm.
It’s hard to resist the romantic charm of L’Ardoise Bistro. Chef Clement nails French classics like coq au vin and duck confit and puts his own twist on dishes like seafood cassoulet, made with lobster bisque reduction.
Nico serves modern Cal-French cuisine through an $85, 6-course prix fixe menu at dinner featuring seasonal dishes like tartare of tonnato and green tomato or snapper with mussels and tomato.
Many cookbooks and accolades later, chef Gerard Hirigoyen and his wife Cameron have stayed true to their West Coast-Basque cuisine. Hirigoyen celebrates his Basque heritage in dishes like Dungeness crab txangurro laced with mangos, basil and aioli and the piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, pistachios and golden raisins. Save room for the divine orange blossom beignets for dessert.
Part wine bar, part casual French restaurant, Aquitaine serves copious amounts of charcuterie, cheese and French wines. Try the smoked pancetta galette (crepe), chorizo tomato mussels and frites (dusted in pimenton and served in wooden Gascony peasant shoes) and the duck confit Reuben sandwiches at lunch. Save room for rare French desserts like iles flottantes, a floating island of soft meringue in a pool of warm crème anglaise.
Traci Des Jardins’ flagship Hayes Valley restaurant recently passed the 20 year mark. Des Jardins' pioneered relationships with local farmers for over 25 years, showcasing the best in her modern Cal-French cuisine. Chef de cuisine Audie Golder has brought new layers to the elegant menus with east-meets-west dishes like a seasonal take on Carolina Gold rice with Périgord truffles, corn, pine nuts and shio koji.
Of all Dominique Crenn's restaurants, Petit Crenn offers the best bacng for your buck. The prix fix menu includes 5 courses for $95, while the la carte menu features seafood-centric dishes like Beluga lentils and English peas in brown butter with Meyer lemon and smoked mushrooms or a silky omelette with a supplement of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.
James Beard Award-winning chef (and France native) Roland Passot has earned multiple awards for La Folie, a fine dining classic with a more casual lounge next door. The tasting menus range from $110-$160 per person, including a vegetarian menu. Seasonal highlights include a rack of lamb with squash blossom tempura, black garlic, toybox zucchini and eggplant.
A neighborhood fixture since 1992, Zazie walks the line between French bistro and American breakfast cafe, drawing in crowds who worship Zazie as the best brunch in SF. Though waits are always long, the pancakes are among the best in SF. At dinner time, the French menu features dishes like poulet Français (chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and herbs).