In a city flush with Michelin-starred restaurants, we've turned our eye to what may be dinner's most overlooked event: dessert. Here, we've selected the San Francisco restaurants with the most delicious desserts — if you happen to dine at one of these destinations, you'd do well to turn your after-meal attention to the sweet side of things. You'll discover some of the most artful, sugar-spun creations that San Francisco has to offer. These desserts may enchant your taste buds even more than your dinner.Read More
14 San Francisco Restaurants Where You Should Never Skip Dessert
Restaurants where sweets steal the show
Pastry chef Juan Contreras's sugary additions to Dominique Crenn's whimsical, three Michelin-starred menu have included desserts like Aubergine Fumée, a confection of smoked eggplant and chai spices that seemed part pastry, part performance piece as it arrived to the table on an elevated plate emitting a plume of steam.
Cotogna is known best for its giant raviolo with a golden egg yolk buried in the center, as well as other fresh and filled pastas and spit-roasted meats. But the Cali-Italian favorite also has a deceptively simple dessert menu, courtesy of Quince & Co. executive pastry chef Jenn Felton. It showcases produce from the restaurant’s own farm in rustic crostatas and gelatos.
Octavia chef-owner Melissa Perello's mastery doesn't end when it comes to dessert. Her after-dinner menu features lemon verbena semifreddo with strawberries and buckwheat graham, as well as a malted chocolate cremeux with hazelnuts and salted muscovado chantilly.
Chef Srijith Gopinathan’s newest San Francisco restaurant is an ode to his home state of Kerala in southwest India, and specifically to the dried coconut ingredient that’s commonly used in cooking there. But the chef’s God’s Own coconut variation dessert might be the most outright representation of that vision. In it, the chef showcases coconut in four ways: as an icy coconut snow, a creamy coconut porridge, coconut milk, and caramelized coconut. Candied basmati puff and sabja seeds add texture to a cool dish that’s a light way to end a meal.
State Bird Provisions
Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s small plates menu is just as delicious when it comes to dessert. There’s always a selection of items like an olive oil ice cream sandwich with lemon macarons and pluots, along with a strawberry roll cake that bundles fluffy sponge cake up with slow-roasted strawberries. The "World Peace,” a creamy shot of peanut muscovado milk, is absolutely unmissable.
Brenda's French Soul Food
You can make an entire menu of beignets, those deep-fried pastries made famous in New Orleans, at Brenda’s French Soul Food. The savory crawfish beignets could be an appetizer or a light meal, if you so choose, and even come in a flight alongside sweet variations flavored with powdered sugar, apple, or chocolate. Keep your eyes open for specials, too, such a bright purple ube beignet stuffed with coconut jam and white chocolate.
Chef Peter Hemsley’s Aphotic has made quite a splash since its opening in March 2023, having already gained a coveted Michelin star and an award for its sustainability efforts. The menu swarms with seafood from start to finish, including dessert. Pastry chef Deirdre Balao Rieutort-Louis offers up an already-infamous and elegant oyster ice cream served in a delicate half-shell and paired with an airy citrus foam intended to echo the usual mignonette.
There are only a pair of desserts on the menu at this understated but Michelin Guide-recognized Thai restaurant on the west side of town. But the signature offering is the smoked young coconut ice cream, which gets its smoky flavor from traditional Thai candles. The balance between the gently sweet coconut ice cream and that deep, earthy smoke gets broken up with crunch from poached palm seeds and fluffy sweet rice.
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It's not without reason that Food & Wine Magazine dubbed Rich Table pastry chef Sarah Rich the "Best New Pastry Chef" of 2014 — her artful interpretations of sugary American classics display a cultivated craftsmanship that will work wonders on your palate, from a white chocolate and rose panna cotta with peaches and streusel, to a cherry ice with almond milk “ice cream” and candied almonds.
Zuni Cafe gets lots of love for its iconic roasted chicken, but don’t sleep on the ever-evolving menu of desserts, which often includes some 10 different options — an impressive feat considering the general lack of formal pastry teams in restaurant kitchens these days. The flourless chocolate cake, listed as Gateau Victoire, has been a dessert menu staple for decades, with bold and just-the-right-amount of bitter chocolate flavor and a heaping of airy whipped cream.
In its new SoMa location with a spacious patio, chef Val M. Cantu’s Michelin-starred restaurant features inventive, mind-bending, regularly-changing desserts on its Mexican-inspired menu like pineapple paletas spun in coconut sugar and an entire course of chocolates.
The short dessert menu at this modern, globally inspired restaurant from chef Brandon Rice stars a gorgeous, gooey Basque-style cheesecake. But regulars know not to skip the soft serve sundae. It’s a nostalgic indulgence, a leaning tower of vanilla and roasted hazelnut soft serve, piled high in artful swirls then draped in a layer of hazelnut praline and covered, tableside, with a thin coating of homemade chocolate Magic Shell. You can’t not smile as you dig in.
As it nears a full decade in business, the Morris remains a beloved dinner destination, particularly for industry folks. There’s perhaps no better place to sit at the bar and enjoy a causal dinner, starting with a Chartreuse slushy (or something more obscure), followed by a couple of duck heart skewers or a whole roasted duck, then ending with the restaurant’s well-loved buckwheat doughnuts served with warm creme Anglaise. Light, fluffy, and none too sweet, there’s a good reason they’ve become the stuff of San Francisco dessert legend.
Consider yourself warned: You will be incredibly full by the time you finish the many savory courses and two-Michelin-starred Lazy Bear. But you must not give up because the restaurant’s desserts are just as thoughtful and technically sound as the rest of the menu, while also maintaining the restaurant’s endlessly playful spirit. You might enjoy a warm plate of cookies with a cold brew coffee, housemade gummy bears, or a summer fruit cobbler in a tiny cast iron skillet. Or perhaps it’ll be an elegant miniature rolled honey cake inspired by the iconic offering from the now-closed 20th Century Cafe.