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17 No-Stress Pre-Theater Dining Destinations

The best restaurants for dining before the symphony, ballet, opera, or theater

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Civic Center is the city’s ground zero for entertainment, and considering it’s also become a hotspot for excellent restaurants, it's the first stop pre-show, whether you’re heading to the Orpheum, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, symphony, opera, or ballet. Nearby neighborhoods like Hayes Valley, Mid-Market, and SoMa provide tons of fodder for pre-theater meals or post-show snacks.

From elegant French dishes for those with time to spare, to flavorful Greek wraps for people in a rush, there’s something for every kind of diner heading to a show. No matter your occasion, this map of 17 excellent pre-theater restaurants has a spot for you.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. VILLON

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1100 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(628) 895-2040
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Just a couple blocks from the Orpheum, Villon’s eclectic dining room is a good starting place for an evening of theater (or just pre-gaming before a show at Bill Graham). Inventive California cuisine like Brussels sprouts with pickled garlic or pappardelle bolognese with black truffle will keep you satisfied until the very last curtain call.

2. August 1 Five

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524 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 771-5900
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Jewel-toned velvet banquettes, a lively bar, and craft cocktails are just part of the allure at this modern Indian restaurant. In addition to well-done classics like palak paneer, August 1 Five goes beyond with dishes like salmon with kashimiri chili, mustard oil, wasabi and green pea puree. Vegetarians will be happy here, too.

3. Pläj

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333 Fulton St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 294-8925
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This charming Scandinavian restaurant from Swedish chef Roberth Sundell is just steps away from the opera, symphony, and ballet. But aside from convenience, Plaj offers a menu filled with classics like Swedish meatballs with potato purée, pan gravy, lingonberry, and pickled cucumber, alongside California-leaning dishes like halibut with asparagus, fennel, local mushrooms, mussel cream, and trout roe. Enjoy craft cocktails and wine with dinner, or at the cozy bar.

4. Jardinière

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300 Grove St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5555
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20-year-old Jardiniere is San Francisco's go-to pre-theater choice, for its upscale environs and French Californian fare from experienced chef Traci Des Jardins. The food and setting is worthy of the rest of your evening activities, so if it's a special occasion night you're after, head here.

5. Little Gem

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400 Grove St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 914-0501
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Little Gem, the gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free restaurant, is counter service during the day, but at night takes reservations for a full service affair. If you're watching your waistline or have any dietary restrictions, this is definitively the choice for you.

6. Monsieur Benjamin

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451 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 403-2233
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If you're feeling a little fancy, Monsieur Benjamin is the move, for impeccable French food. You won't eat light, but you will delight in steak frites, chicken liver terrine, blanquette de veau, and other bougie classics done really right. Despite the upscale fare, the space maintains a slightly more casual vibe, so you don't have to be very dressed up to dine here.

7. Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

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398 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 551-1590
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There's something to please everyone at this comfortable French brasserie, from expert cocktails and an extensive wine list to a burger and coq au vin. It's a perennially popular place, so be sure to snag a reservation before bringing your group.

8. Hayes Street Grill

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320 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 863-5545
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This restaurant was opened in 1979 specifically to provide sustenance to theatre-goers. It’s still going strong, with a seafood-centric menu that will have diners in, out, and on their way to the show quickly. A daily-changing choice of fish, grilled, with french fries and choice of sauce is the classic choice, though meat-eaters have options too. It’s a slice of classic SF.

Grilled salmon with fries
Hayes Street Grill/Instagram

9. Nightbird

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330 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 829-7565
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Kim Alter's elegant Hayes Valley restaurant offers a special three-course meal for theater-goers Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m.-6 p.m. for $75. The three courses will come from the rotating tasting menu, which has offered dishes like black cod with asparagus, charred lemon, and green garbanzo beans. If you're really pressed for time, just stop into the tiny, adjacent bar The Linden Room for a cocktail.

10. Corridor

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100 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102

There's no closer option on this list than Corridor, the new American comfort food restaurant from the owners of Trestle, which offers counter service speed at the full service experience. Here's how it works: You walk in, order at the counter (everything on the menu is priced under $22), and then head to a table, where from there on out the experience is like normal table service, down to ordering more drinks or dishes if you'd like and paying the bill. After which you're off on your way, just a few blocks down the street.

11. Souvla

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517 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 400-5458
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Billed as “fine casual,” Souvla offers a convenient answer to the pre-theater dinner sprint, and requires no reservations. Order at the counter, and dinner will soon be delivered tableside. Spit-roasted lamb, chicken, and pork are stuffed into pitas, or served atop refreshing salads. There’s also wine, including the restaurant’s own line.

12. Kaya Restaurant

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1420 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 590-2585
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Grab a plate of piri piri chicken or oxtail stew before the show at Kaya, the Jamaican restaurant helmed by chef Nigel Jones. Excellent tropical cocktails are particularly inviting, as is its location just blocks from the Orpheum theater and Bill Graham. I

Jason Hendardy

13. Cala

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149 Fell St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 660-7701
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Gabriel Camara’s gorgeous, white-walled restaurant offers early diners the perk of enjoying their meals bathed in natural light. Try the charred (and it is seriously charred) sweet potato with bone marrow salsa negro alongside a paloma. Or, if you’re cutting it close, head to the back alley for “Tapas Cala,” the nighttime version of Tacos Cala, for oysters, ceviche, smoked trout croquetas and trout tostadas (available Friday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

14. Rich Table

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199 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 355-9085
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Dine from a menu of bites like porcini doughnuts with raclette sauce, or chicken liver banh mi, entrees like ricotta pierogies with summer truffles and kale, or go for the full “chef’s picks” menu. And if the theater leaves you feeling snacky, return for a late night burger (though the kitchen only makes a few per night).

15. Tank18 Restaurant & Urban Winery

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1345 Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 799-7161
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A great choice for larger groups, this urban winery offers dinner Wednesday through Saturday in its large SoMa space. Sample its proprietary beer and wine with a low-key menu of snacks and shareable items, from fries with tahini to fried chicken with herb salad and chili sauce. Order a la carte or go for the very affordable prix fixe, a five-course family-style menu at $39 per person (couples choose five menu items to share, larger groups choose eight).

Tank 18 [Official]

16. Zuni Cafe

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1658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 552-2522
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Feel swanky and satisfied with a trip to Zuni’s copper bar or white tablecloth-covered tables. A reservation is key to successful pre-theater dining here, where the roast chicken with bread salad takes an hour. If you’re in a rush, a caesar salad, plate of oysters, and glass of wine will do the trick nicely.

Eater Archives

17. 1601 Bar & Kitchen

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1601 Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-1601
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1601 Bar & Kitchen's name belies the food that waits inside; the flavor-forward Sri Lankan fare has many admirers for its unusual spices and more unknown dishes like the popular egg hopper. Go early and get the chef's tasting menu, seven surprising courses of food not very available in SF, like soft shell crab kottu roti with ginger.

1601 Bar & Kitchen

1. VILLON

1100 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Just a couple blocks from the Orpheum, Villon’s eclectic dining room is a good starting place for an evening of theater (or just pre-gaming before a show at Bill Graham). Inventive California cuisine like Brussels sprouts with pickled garlic or pappardelle bolognese with black truffle will keep you satisfied until the very last curtain call.

1100 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102

2. August 1 Five

524 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

Jewel-toned velvet banquettes, a lively bar, and craft cocktails are just part of the allure at this modern Indian restaurant. In addition to well-done classics like palak paneer, August 1 Five goes beyond with dishes like salmon with kashimiri chili, mustard oil, wasabi and green pea puree. Vegetarians will be happy here, too.

524 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102

3. Pläj

333 Fulton St, San Francisco, CA 94102

This charming Scandinavian restaurant from Swedish chef Roberth Sundell is just steps away from the opera, symphony, and ballet. But aside from convenience, Plaj offers a menu filled with classics like Swedish meatballs with potato purée, pan gravy, lingonberry, and pickled cucumber, alongside California-leaning dishes like halibut with asparagus, fennel, local mushrooms, mussel cream, and trout roe. Enjoy craft cocktails and wine with dinner, or at the cozy bar.

333 Fulton St
San Francisco, CA 94102

4. Jardinière

300 Grove St, San Francisco, CA 94102

20-year-old Jardiniere is San Francisco's go-to pre-theater choice, for its upscale environs and French Californian fare from experienced chef Traci Des Jardins. The food and setting is worthy of the rest of your evening activities, so if it's a special occasion night you're after, head here.

300 Grove St
San Francisco, CA 94102

5. Little Gem

400 Grove St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Little Gem, the gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free restaurant, is counter service during the day, but at night takes reservations for a full service affair. If you're watching your waistline or have any dietary restrictions, this is definitively the choice for you.

400 Grove St
San Francisco, CA 94102

6. Monsieur Benjamin

451 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

If you're feeling a little fancy, Monsieur Benjamin is the move, for impeccable French food. You won't eat light, but you will delight in steak frites, chicken liver terrine, blanquette de veau, and other bougie classics done really right. Despite the upscale fare, the space maintains a slightly more casual vibe, so you don't have to be very dressed up to dine here.

451 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102

7. Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

398 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

There's something to please everyone at this comfortable French brasserie, from expert cocktails and an extensive wine list to a burger and coq au vin. It's a perennially popular place, so be sure to snag a reservation before bringing your group.

398 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102

8. Hayes Street Grill

320 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Grilled salmon with fries
Hayes Street Grill/Instagram

This restaurant was opened in 1979 specifically to provide sustenance to theatre-goers. It’s still going strong, with a seafood-centric menu that will have diners in, out, and on their way to the show quickly. A daily-changing choice of fish, grilled, with french fries and choice of sauce is the classic choice, though meat-eaters have options too. It’s a slice of classic SF.

320 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102

9. Nightbird

330 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Kim Alter's elegant Hayes Valley restaurant offers a special three-course meal for theater-goers Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m.-6 p.m. for $75. The three courses will come from the rotating tasting menu, which has offered dishes like black cod with asparagus, charred lemon, and green garbanzo beans. If you're really pressed for time, just stop into the tiny, adjacent bar The Linden Room for a cocktail.

330 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102

10. Corridor

100 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

There's no closer option on this list than Corridor, the new American comfort food restaurant from the owners of Trestle, which offers counter service speed at the full service experience. Here's how it works: You walk in, order at the counter (everything on the menu is priced under $22), and then head to a table, where from there on out the experience is like normal table service, down to ordering more drinks or dishes if you'd like and paying the bill. After which you're off on your way, just a few blocks down the street.

100 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102

11. Souvla

517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Billed as “fine casual,” Souvla offers a convenient answer to the pre-theater dinner sprint, and requires no reservations. Order at the counter, and dinner will soon be delivered tableside. Spit-roasted lamb, chicken, and pork are stuffed into pitas, or served atop refreshing salads. There’s also wine, including the restaurant’s own line.

517 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102

12. Kaya Restaurant

1420 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Jason Hendardy

Grab a plate of piri piri chicken or oxtail stew before the show at Kaya, the Jamaican restaurant helmed by chef Nigel Jones. Excellent tropical cocktails are particularly inviting, as is its location just blocks from the Orpheum theater and Bill Graham. I

1420 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102

13. Cala

149 Fell St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Gabriel Camara’s gorgeous, white-walled restaurant offers early diners the perk of enjoying their meals bathed in natural light. Try the charred (and it is seriously charred) sweet potato with bone marrow salsa negro alongside a paloma. Or, if you’re cutting it close, head to the back alley for “Tapas Cala,” the nighttime version of Tacos Cala, for oysters, ceviche, smoked trout croquetas and trout tostadas (available Friday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

149 Fell St
San Francisco, CA 94102

14. Rich Table

199 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Dine from a menu of bites like porcini doughnuts with raclette sauce, or chicken liver banh mi, entrees like ricotta pierogies with summer truffles and kale, or go for the full “chef’s picks” menu. And if the theater leaves you feeling snacky, return for a late night burger (though the kitchen only makes a few per night).

199 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102

15. Tank18 Restaurant & Urban Winery

1345 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Tank 18 [Official]

A great choice for larger groups, this urban winery offers dinner Wednesday through Saturday in its large SoMa space. Sample its proprietary beer and wine with a low-key menu of snacks and shareable items, from fries with tahini to fried chicken with herb salad and chili sauce. Order a la carte or go for the very affordable prix fixe, a five-course family-style menu at $39 per person (couples choose five menu items to share, larger groups choose eight).

1345 Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Related Maps

16. Zuni Cafe

1658 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Eater Archives

Feel swanky and satisfied with a trip to Zuni’s copper bar or white tablecloth-covered tables. A reservation is key to successful pre-theater dining here, where the roast chicken with bread salad takes an hour. If you’re in a rush, a caesar salad, plate of oysters, and glass of wine will do the trick nicely.

1658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102

17. 1601 Bar & Kitchen

1601 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103
1601 Bar & Kitchen

1601 Bar & Kitchen's name belies the food that waits inside; the flavor-forward Sri Lankan fare has many admirers for its unusual spices and more unknown dishes like the popular egg hopper. Go early and get the chef's tasting menu, seven surprising courses of food not very available in SF, like soft shell crab kottu roti with ginger.

1601 Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Related Maps