From Mission-style burritos to soup dumplings to sourdough bread bowls the size of a kiddie pool, there’s no shortage of unforgettable dining experiences to be had in this foggy city by the bay. And even if you’re committed to the idea of tying on a plastic bib and digging into a bowl of cioppino at one of San Francisco’s over-the-top tourist traps, we’ve got resources to help. But for those discerning diners who want to find where locals really eat, this guide unearths the city’s true treasures.
Welcome to San Francisco
The elegant red lines of the Golden Gate Bridge have long served to welcome newcomers to San Francisco and the West, where myriad cultures commingle and coexist in this 7-by-7 metropolis. The result? A culinary wonderland crammed into a remarkably small space — a place where you can marvel at La Taqueria’s iconic rice-free burritos in the Mission, and be not more than four miles from the oldest Chinatown in America with its century-old institutions. In North Beach, family-run Liguria Bakery still serves massive sheets of focaccia 106 years after it first opened its doors, and just a couple of miles away in the shadow of the Japantown’s Peace Pagoda, pristine sushi, chewy mochi doughnuts, and steaming bowls of ramen abound. This is a city with vibrant Burmese dining options, exquisite croissants, and Moroccan fine dining.
Where to Start
As you know, Eater puts out tons of maps detailing the best places, food, and drink in the Bay Area. Below, we cherry-pick the top one or two points on our most popular maps to help time-starved eaters prioritize which spots to visit.
Of all the new restaurants to enter the San Francisco dining scene in recent months, the most exciting include Dalida, a gorgeous new Eastern European restaurant overlooking the Presidio’s Main Parade Lawn. Owners and co-chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, who opened Noosh before splitting with the restaurant in 2019, draw inspiration from Sayat’s home country of Turkey to create a menu that blends California ingredients and sensibilities with Mediterranean cooking traditions. Don’t skip the uni-topped tahdig, freshly baked bread, and Middle Eastern pasta dishes.
Even more recently, the couple who made now-closed Marlena a Michelin-starred breakout hit opened their newest restaurant: 7 Adams. The team offers a relatively affordable five-course prix fixe menu with a mix of set courses and ones where diners choose among two or three options. For a more upscale dining experience, try Kiln, a new tasting menu restaurant from a duo of alumni from Michelin-starred Sons and Daughters. Or head to Azalina’s, a new full-service restaurant by beloved local chef Azalina Eusope. In the heart of the Tenderloin, she’s serving a prix fixe menu of rarely seen Malaysian dishes.
If you need to narrow down the Essential 38, splurge on a meal at Friends Only, the super-exclusive omakase counter from the team behind Akikos. Out in the foggy avenues, Aziza shines incredibly bright; it’s a more casual Moroccan restaurant from the chef behind fine dining staple Mourad in FiDi. For either brunch or dinner, the menu blends modern techniques and local ingredients with vibrant North African flavors. For an old-school experience, head over to House of Prime Rib, where chefs in toques carve meat on carts that roam the dining room and martinis are the “specialty cocktail.” And don’t forget to lunch at Zuni Cafe for the single most classic dining experience in town. The famous roast chicken is a must.
Pizzetta 211 is the gem of the pizza map. But there’s a whole slew of hot and fresh newcomers that showcase the depth of the San Francisco pizza scene with a range of styles to try. At Outta Sight, grab a floppy New York-style slice and keep your eyes peeled for specials like vodka or al pastor pies. Meanwhile, at Square Pie Guys in SoMa or at Ghirardelli Square, it’s all about the crispy-edged Detroit-style pizzas. Don’t forget to order the ranch trio and, if you have room, the excellent Szechuan wings. For a classic experience, head to Golden Boy for a thick slab of Sicilian style that’s best enjoyed at nearby Washington Square Park.
If you must narrow down the ice cream map, the pro move is to hit Bi-Rite Creamery for a scoop of something hand-made and seasonal and then take your treat to Dolores Park. At the Ferry Building, Humphry Slocombe rocks the more esoteric flavors, including “secret breakfast,” made with bourbon and cornflakes. For a classic experience, try San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery, a sweet shop in the Inner Sunset — though you can often find the truck posted up on Marina Green.
The most essential sushi spot on our sushi map is Akikos, which recently relocated to a sleek new space, ushering the longstanding restaurant into an elegant new era. (The group also added an even more expensive 10-seat omakase counter, for those interested in a real splurge.) If you're looking for a more wallet-friendly option, try Handroll Project in the Mission. Temaki, or hand rolls, are taking over the Bay Area, but there’s perhaps no better place to get a taste than at this counter spot from the team behind Michelin-starred Ju-Ni. For a San Francisco take on sushi, complete with local fish and a hip interior, check out Robin in Hayes Valley — and because, of course, there are also several sushi options for vegan and vegetarian diners including standard-bearer Shizen and newcomer Chīsai Sushi Club, which offers top-notch vegetarian omakase.
If you only go to one Bay Area brewery, know that Cellarmaker is the San Francisco-born microbrewery aficionados return to again and again. The SoMa brewery closed in late 2022, but you can still get a pint at Cellarmaker’s House of Pizza in Bernal Heights. Meanwhile, the Howard Street space is now home to a new iteration of the historic San Francisco brewery Enterprise. During these fleeting sunny summer days, there’s probably nothing better than grabbing a fresh brew at Woods Cerveceria, just across from Mission Dolores Park.
Head to underground drinking den the Felix near Union Square for a taste of San Francisco’s vibrant downtown bar scene. The speakeasy-style entry gives way to a loungey space often filled with loud music and a high-energy crowd. Drinks pull in Asian ingredients including lychee, chrysanthemum, and makrut lime. If you want to try one of San Francisco’s hottest bars, rooftop bar Cavaña in Mission Bay offers an impressive selection of spirits made throughout Latin American countries — or opt for a more classic experience at House of Shields, a more than 100-year-old institution. Looking for something with more style? In the Mission, try True Laurel for a world-class cocktail experience (and a patty melt that will blow your mind), Buddy for natural wine and low-ABV cocktails, and the charming new tavern El Chato for Spanish wines and small plates.
Craving Chamorro cuisine on a lively covered patio? How about burgers and fries on the literal dock of the Bay? We’ve got suggestions for both the former and the latter on the outdoor dining map. And since we’re now in the era of permanent parklets in San Francisco, there is a handful worth going out of your way to see. California-Italian restaurant Cotogna might have the swankiest outdoor dining setup in town and Red Window’s colorful outdoor dining set up on Columbus wins points for atmosphere and views of the city lights at night.
San Francisco Neighborhoods to Know
For a city that’s only seven miles by seven miles, San Francisco has so many amazing neighborhoods, each with a slightly different food scene. But here are a few particularly tempting areas to start — complete with what to eat and drink in each.
Despite its well-deserved reputation as a historic “Italian immigrant” food neighborhood, you’re not going to find the city’s best pasta in North Beach — hit up Flour + Water for that, though the restaurant also opened its new pizzeria on Columbus in June. But North Beach has nooks to explore and old-school charm to spare. Stop for a coffee at Caffe Trieste, a cannoli at Stella Pastry, and a beer at the Saloon, which claims to be the oldest bar in the city. If you come hungry for Italian-American fare, get the cioppino at Sotto Mare or the pizza from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. If you crave over-the-top steak with a side of ravioli and creamed spinach, Original Joe’s is a guaranteed good time. Also: you will not find focaccia better than the freshly baked slabs coming out of Liguria Bakery. Finally, for a nightcap, you must head to Vesuvio, a Beatnik favorite.
In the late 1990s, the Mission’s dining scene was just getting onto the map. Now, the Mission’s exploding dining scene is home to our city's most renowned restaurants: Places like Lazy Bear, Prubechu, Foreign Cinema, and buzzy newcomer Good Good Culture Club. Not to mention taquerias. Walk down 24th Street to get a taste of the neighborhood's Mexican foundation. Stroll Valencia Street to bask in hip-yet-pricey chocolate bars, smoothies, and cocktails. The ideal day starts with a morning bun or some croissant variation at Tartine Bakery, continues on to a perfect smash burger at Wesburger or a top-notch sandwich from chef Charles Phan’s Chuck’s Takeaway, followed with a pit stop at the El Gallo Giro taco truck. Grab drinks at a classic like the award-winning Trick Dog or a newcomer like Casements, a modern take on an Irish pub.
The oldest and largest Chinatown in the country, San Francisco’s Chinatown attracts throngs of tourists through the Dragon’s Gate, and it’s a true food destination. Grant Avenue is the main pedestrian thoroughfare, and while you wander around the shops, munch on barbecue pork buns from Washington Bakery or crackly-skinned roast pig from Hing Lung Company. For classic Chinese American restaurants with white tablecloths, lazy susans, and dim sum carts, try Sam Wo, Z & Y, or City View. But there have also been several new-school restaurants opened in recent years: Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s, massive emporium China Live, and Empress by Boon with an upscale tasting menu and sweeping views of the city.
The Richmond & the Sunset:
“The Avenues,” as locals refer to the Golden Gate Park sandwich made by these two adjacent hoods, are beloved holdouts from “old San Francisco” — before Square, Facebook, and Uber were running everyone's lives. You’ll find another excellent enclave of Chinese food, along with pockets of classic Russian, Korean, and Japanese foods. It’d be easy to spend an entire day eating your way through the neighborhood like a local. If you’ve got less time than that: In the Richmond, north of the park, fans of dim sum should troll Clement Street with a portable dumpling from Good Luck Dim Sum in hand, hit Cinderella Bakery for meaty piroshki, or sit down for dinner at Pearl 6101 for cocktails and handkerchief pasta; whatever you do, don’t miss the iconic kaya toast and other beautiful baked goods at Breadbelly. In the Sunset, south of the park, Fiorella’s Sunset outpost sports a secret rooftop patio perfect for enjoying pizza and pasta, Palm City is a Philly-style hoagie destination, and Andytown is your stop for a hot coffee to bring to the often-foggy beach.
Reservations to Make in Advance
Follow the Stars
Though Michelin stars aren’t always the end-all, be-all of restaurant ratings, they’re still a good indication of what’s hot and high-quality. Northern California currently boasts an impressive 52 Michelin-starred restaurants from Mendocino’s Harbor House Inn to Aubergine the restaurant at L’Auberge Carmel. If you’re looking to find a more affordable but still Michelin-approved meal, try one of the 65 — yes, you read that right — Michelin Bib Gourmands, which includes options as far east as the Sacramento suburbs.
Head Out of Town
If San Francisco is only one stop on your itinerary, here are some guides to help you find gems in Half Moon Bay, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Carmel. Of course, wine country is also just a short drive away and whether you’re looking to tour a one-of-a-kind wine cave or for a wine tasting that comes with an excellent dining experience, we’ve got you covered. Don’t miss Napa Valley’s impressive restaurant scene, the drive-worth dining in Sonoma, or the backroad wineries of the Russian River Valley. For a more unexpected adventure head east to California Gold Country to find epic roadside pies, groundbreaking rural breweries, and the home of some of the oldest grapes in the country.
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