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Hashiri
Hashiri
Patricia Chang

11 San Francisco Restaurants That Surprise and Delight

Awe-inspiring restaurants that go a step beyond delicious food

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Hashiri
| Patricia Chang

There is no shortage of utterly delicious food in San Francisco; in fact, there is an (awesome) excess. But delicious food and awe-inspiring experiences are two different things. With an awe-inspiring restaurant, the design, the service, and the food can surprise and delight you in ways that you have never experienced before. Maybe it's an entirely unexpected flavor, or maybe the decor is completely transportive, or the service goes well above and beyond the norm — or maybe it's any combination therein.

Either way, the restaurants on this list hit that mark, leaving you reveling in your time there. Some are old (House of Prime Rib), and others are new (In Situ), but they all have a common thread of leaving you amazed.

Read on for 11 SF restaurants that absolutely surprise and delight, listed in alphabetical order.

Had an experience lately that you think warrants being on this list? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Atelier Crenn

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3127 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 440-0460
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Dominque Crenn's Atelier Crenn is her own creative studio, where she and her chefs tell a story every night. Based on a poem written for her father, the menu progresses from a surprising version of a Kir Breton to an otherworldly parade of desserts from pastry chef Juan Contreras. Not everything is what it seems, but it all tells a story.
Bill Addison

2. Californios

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3115 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 757-0994
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It's not often you'll find a high-end tasting menu that pulls culinary inspiration from Mexico instead of France or Asia. But that's what Californios is doing, with dishes like barbecued and roasted carrots in a guinea fowl broth. That's in tandem with the sly hip hop softly playing on the speakers, and the highly curated sets of plateware.

3. Hashiri

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4 Mint Plz
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 908-1919
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Hashiri can be prohibitively expensive ($250 per person to start), but the price is worth the experience. An experience that includes incredibly attentive and informed service, down to details like presenting you with a tray of sake cup selections when you order a bottle. The amount of food is generous, with 12 pieces of sushi on top of the precious, subtle kaiseki menu. Don't be intimidated by the serious sushi chefs — they are very friendly upon interaction. As for the decor, it's as provocative as the food is traditional and service is warm, and that juxtaposition is delightful.

4. House of Prime Rib

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1906 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 885-4605
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Where else in this city can you get giant carts of perfectly-cooked prime rib rolled right to your tableside? House of Prime Rib is an institution, one backed by top-notch meat, theatrical service, and overflowing classic cocktails. It's also a slice of San Francisco life that doesn't exist in multitudes anymore, so going can be restorative.
House of Prime Rib

5. In Situ

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SFMOMA
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 941-6050
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In Situ has brought the world to San Francisco, replicating dishes from the globe's best chefs and allowing diners to travel far without leaving the 7x7. It is awesome to eat a dish from a chef in Berlin, followed by one in Copenhagen, another in Bangkok, and then New York City. It would be a fail if not executed flawlessly, which In Situ certainly does.

6. Lazy Bear

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3416 19th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 874-9921
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Lazy Bear employs a service model entirely its own, one in which diners eat communally and chefs present each dish with a passionate speech. There are a lot of foraged ingredients, which come together in the tastiest of manners through surprising and expert preparations. Dishes don't say on the menu for long, ensuring an equally surprising visit every time you go.

7. Leo's Oyster Bar

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568 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 872-9982
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Leo's Oyster Bar's first impression is one of awe. It's hard not to be surprised as soon as you enter by the colorful wallpaper, gold glowing bar, and lush touches in every corner. Owner Anna Weinberg's intention was to replicate a "breezy slightly tropical 50s feel" from a "really fabulous 1950s Park Avenue apartment with a conservatory where people took their martinis and then you went into this formal dining room." And she nailed it.

8. Mission Chinese Food

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2234 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-2800
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Eating at Mission Chinese is sensory overload — the music is too loud, the lights glow too red, and the food is too spicy. All those "too's" lead up to just right, though, in a way that only Mission Chinese can seem to successfully pull off. Just submit yourself to the crazy ride, and let delight wash over you.

9. Nomica

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2223 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 655-3280
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One dish in particular at this newly-opened Japanese izakaya is awe-inspiring, and it's the whole chicken cooked in brioche. You have to plan 24 hours in advance for this one, but if you do, you're rewarded with an entire sous-vide chicken tucked inside fluffy brioche. The brioche is opened tableside, at which point the chicken is carved, covered in miso butter and shiso chimichurri, and left to your devices.

10. State Bird Provisions

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1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 795-1272
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The menu is only half of the fun at State Bird Provisions, where trays of inventive dishes roam the dining room, and all you have to do is point and eat. It's a style that's centuries old in traditional dim sum restaurants, but State Bird is breathing new life into the model with dishes like persimmon with kinako and black sesame or squash mochi with maitakes, brussels sprouts, and grated burgundy truffle.

11. Whitechapel

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600 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 292-5800
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Whitechapel's crazy design was inspired by the London Underground with strong steampunk, Victorian-era themes. The space alone is transportive, and add in perfectly-crafted gin drinks and playful food, like a burger ode to the White Castle slider, and you've got delight at every turn.

1. Atelier Crenn

3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123
Bill Addison
Dominque Crenn's Atelier Crenn is her own creative studio, where she and her chefs tell a story every night. Based on a poem written for her father, the menu progresses from a surprising version of a Kir Breton to an otherworldly parade of desserts from pastry chef Juan Contreras. Not everything is what it seems, but it all tells a story.
3127 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94123

2. Californios

3115 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110
It's not often you'll find a high-end tasting menu that pulls culinary inspiration from Mexico instead of France or Asia. But that's what Californios is doing, with dishes like barbecued and roasted carrots in a guinea fowl broth. That's in tandem with the sly hip hop softly playing on the speakers, and the highly curated sets of plateware.
3115 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94110

3. Hashiri

4 Mint Plz, San Francisco, CA 94103
Hashiri can be prohibitively expensive ($250 per person to start), but the price is worth the experience. An experience that includes incredibly attentive and informed service, down to details like presenting you with a tray of sake cup selections when you order a bottle. The amount of food is generous, with 12 pieces of sushi on top of the precious, subtle kaiseki menu. Don't be intimidated by the serious sushi chefs — they are very friendly upon interaction. As for the decor, it's as provocative as the food is traditional and service is warm, and that juxtaposition is delightful.
4 Mint Plz
San Francisco, CA 94103

4. House of Prime Rib

1906 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109
House of Prime Rib
Where else in this city can you get giant carts of perfectly-cooked prime rib rolled right to your tableside? House of Prime Rib is an institution, one backed by top-notch meat, theatrical service, and overflowing classic cocktails. It's also a slice of San Francisco life that doesn't exist in multitudes anymore, so going can be restorative.
1906 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94109

5. In Situ

SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA 94103
In Situ has brought the world to San Francisco, replicating dishes from the globe's best chefs and allowing diners to travel far without leaving the 7x7. It is awesome to eat a dish from a chef in Berlin, followed by one in Copenhagen, another in Bangkok, and then New York City. It would be a fail if not executed flawlessly, which In Situ certainly does.
SFMOMA
San Francisco, CA 94103

6. Lazy Bear

3416 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Lazy Bear employs a service model entirely its own, one in which diners eat communally and chefs present each dish with a passionate speech. There are a lot of foraged ingredients, which come together in the tastiest of manners through surprising and expert preparations. Dishes don't say on the menu for long, ensuring an equally surprising visit every time you go.
3416 19th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

7. Leo's Oyster Bar

568 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94111
Leo's Oyster Bar's first impression is one of awe. It's hard not to be surprised as soon as you enter by the colorful wallpaper, gold glowing bar, and lush touches in every corner. Owner Anna Weinberg's intention was to replicate a "breezy slightly tropical 50s feel" from a "really fabulous 1950s Park Avenue apartment with a conservatory where people took their martinis and then you went into this formal dining room." And she nailed it.
568 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94111

8. Mission Chinese Food

2234 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Eating at Mission Chinese is sensory overload — the music is too loud, the lights glow too red, and the food is too spicy. All those "too's" lead up to just right, though, in a way that only Mission Chinese can seem to successfully pull off. Just submit yourself to the crazy ride, and let delight wash over you.
2234 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

9. Nomica

2223 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114
One dish in particular at this newly-opened Japanese izakaya is awe-inspiring, and it's the whole chicken cooked in brioche. You have to plan 24 hours in advance for this one, but if you do, you're rewarded with an entire sous-vide chicken tucked inside fluffy brioche. The brioche is opened tableside, at which point the chicken is carved, covered in miso butter and shiso chimichurri, and left to your devices.
2223 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114

10. State Bird Provisions

1529 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115
The menu is only half of the fun at State Bird Provisions, where trays of inventive dishes roam the dining room, and all you have to do is point and eat. It's a style that's centuries old in traditional dim sum restaurants, but State Bird is breathing new life into the model with dishes like persimmon with kinako and black sesame or squash mochi with maitakes, brussels sprouts, and grated burgundy truffle.
1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115

11. Whitechapel

600 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Whitechapel's crazy design was inspired by the London Underground with strong steampunk, Victorian-era themes. The space alone is transportive, and add in perfectly-crafted gin drinks and playful food, like a burger ode to the White Castle slider, and you've got delight at every turn.
600 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102

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