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Baguette sandwiches from Arsicault Bakery on McAllister Street.
Baguette sandwiches from Arsicault Bakery on McAllister Street.
Arsicault Bakery

20 Destination Restaurants and Bars in the Tenderloin

Restaurants and bars in the Tenderloin that need to go on your must-try list

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Baguette sandwiches from Arsicault Bakery on McAllister Street.
| Arsicault Bakery

San Francisco journalist and mascot Herb Caen once wrote, “Any city that doesn’t have a Tenderloin isn’t a city at all.” As the Tenderloin Museum puts it, “The 31 blocks of the Tenderloin district are the beating heart of the city peopled by immigrants and iconoclasts, artists and activists, sinners and saints.” Truly, the neighborhood is as San Francisco as Ghirardelli Square, Coit Tower, and, now, phalanxes of tech workers. That includes the myriad historic restaurants that have challenged city officials’ claims of unprecedented emergencies in the area, too.

In the spring of 2022 the Tenderloin continues making headlines; most recently the leaders of the Transgender District lost the battle to keep their area from being split between District 5 and District 6. As the hits keep coming, the one thing people forget to mention again and again are the local residents and the cornucopia of delicious food and drink they make throughout the neighborhood. From upscale French food and jazz clubs to affordable Senegalese and Vietnamese food, the Tenderloin is indeed the mark of any proper city: that one place where no one can show enough respect to the rich culture. Here are 20 restaurants and bars that need to make it on your list of places to try.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Mensho Tokyo SF

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Eating ramen at Mensho Tokyo is back to standing in a long line, or hoping to get a reservation, as the famous Japanese restaurant is once again offering indoor dining. This is the first U.S. outpost from ramen obsessive Tomoharu Shono, which specializes in tori paitan, a rich, creamy, chicken-based broth. Expect pliant, springy noodles and rotating specials.

Shalimar Restaurant

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This Indian restaurant has a cult following for a reason — Shalimar is putting out some of the most reliably tasty food in the city, like succulent chicken tandoori; spicy, saucy okra; and destination-worthy goat karahi. The freshly-made naan is also a must, and the biryanis are well worth an order, too.

A La Turca Restaurant

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Ubiquitous “Mediterranean” restaurants are a dime a dozen in San Francisco, but there are precious few real deal Turkish eateries. A La Turca is one, and its flavorful iterations of Turkish must-tries like ezme (spicy red pepper and walnut dip) and kofte (heavily spiced lamb and beef meatballs) are well worth the trip. The real standouts here, though, feature its homemade dough — start with the lahmacun, a crepe-thin flatbread topped with ground meat, peppers, and tomatoes and proceed to the pide (pronounced pea-deh), calzone-like beauties made with fresh dough and loaded with toppings like spinach, feta, or doner kebab. Occasionally, they’ll serve manti — meat-filled small dumplings topped with yogurt — on special.

Lers Ros

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Lovers of real-deal, spicy-funky Thai food continue to point to Lers Ros as a must in San Francisco. And despite shiny, newish locations in Hayes Valley and the Mission, the original Larkin Street location remains the the best. The menu is extensive but starting with the “Original Thai Style” section is the best move — there, you’ll find spicy green curry made with funky fish paste, boar stir-fried with house made chili paste and galangal, and must-order whole fish preparations (the stir-fried pork belly with basil is stellar, too).

Turtle Tower Restaurant

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Turtle Tower’s Northern Vietnamese flavors have made this humble Tenderloin spot a major success in San Francisco. But it doesn’t get more classic than their digs in the Little Vietnam stretch of Larkin in the Tenderloin (though the restaurant moved down a few doors from its original space). Turtle Tower’s staple is pho ga, made with free range chicken broth and house-made rice noodles: Get it with giblets for more punch.

Thai Idea Vegetarian

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While most Thai restaurants have plenty of meatless options, this Polk Street restaurant removed the guesswork, as all its offerings are meat-free (yes, that even means fish and seafood are off the menu). Dishes include classics like papaya salad and pad Thai, and the spot also offers fresh takes on standards like fried rice and faux meat.

Mộng Thu Cafe

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This spot is known for its noodle soups, which are satisfying, substantial, and reasonably priced. There’s also a great roster of banh mi and an impressive dessert menu of rice puddings.

Saigon Sandwich

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The question is never, “Do you love Saigon Sandwich?” Rather, it’s “What’s your order at Saigon Sandwich?” The tiny Larkin Street shop, lit by fluorescent lights and crammed with bins of Vietnamese snacks and drinks, doesn’t need to bother with frills — the loaded $4 banh mi, featuring crackly-crusted, textbook-perfect baguettes and zingy pickled vegetables, are plenty to draw the crowds. Whether you opt for roast pork, meatball, fancy pork, or chicken, definitely opt for extra pate and maybe consider ordering two. You’ll likely be craving a second by the time you’re halfway through your first.

Brenda's French Soul Food

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Brenda’s is the city’s bastion for Cajun goodness and one of the toughest no-reservations brunch tickets in town, thanks to chef Brenda Buenviaje and her vibrant menu. Among the staples at Brenda’s are the beignets (available in a variety of flavors) as well as the chicken and andouille gumbo or grits.

Whitechapel

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Martin Cate’s grand homage to gin is as detail-oriented and over-the-top as his tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove, in a great way. The Steampunk-esque space reads like an abandoned London Tube station turned gin distillery-slash-pub, with period detailing. It’s a cozy, date-worthy spaces with a list of 400 gins to get lost in.

Golden Era

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Long before the Impossible Burger, Golden Era was confounding vegans with its fake “chicken” and “beef” in flavorful Chinese dishes. It’s worth nothing that this spot is owned and operated by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai, so while the food is indeed delicious, folks uncomfortable with religious propaganda should probably steer clear.

Arsicault Bakery Civic Center

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Bon Appetit gave Armando Lacayo’s temple to pastry Ariscault Best New Bakery in 2016 and in 2019 he decided to expand into the United Nations Plaza. The shop reopened in July of 2021 and features indoor and outdoor seating, with daytime security personnel. Oakland’s Mr. Espresso is the shop’s dark roast balance to the sweet decadence of raisin kouigns and not-too-buttery croissants.

La Cocina Municipal Marketplace

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Enough cannot be written about the entrepreneurial hustle and grit demonstrated by the members of La Cocina’s Municipal Marketplace. On Hyde and Golden Gate Avenues the food hall has already expanded to include a bar (Paloma), a coffee shop that hosted a free to attend queer coffee convention (Fluid), and an abundance of world-class restaurants (Teranga and Estrellita’s Snacks to name just two). Unlike the “gentrification hellscape” it has been accused of promoting, the shop offers affordable and nutritious meals for everyone from State Assemblymember Matt Haney to the students and families at nonprofit 826 Valencia just up the street.

Yemen Kitchen

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Huge portions and rich, deeply seasoned meats are hallmarks of this Jones Street restaurant. Affordability is a big selling point here, too: for an order of roasted lamb, $22 isn’t a bad price tag, and a falafel sandwich runs just $10. The masoob, a dessert of banana, dates, and honey, is a thick and sweet treat to wrap any Yemeni Kitchen feast.

Bottle Club Pub

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There are boujee cocktail bars in the Tenderloin, despite any well-intentioned Karens saying otherwise. In fact, there are bars in the Tenderloin that are straight up gorgeous, such as the case with Bottle Club Pub. Fish and chips are on the menu alongside the powerhouse drinks which range from “reviving and refreshing” to “bold will hold.”

Bottle Club Pub

Chao Pescao

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Next door to the Tenderloin’s community garden is Rene Denis’ blend of his Cuban and Colombian identities and histories. This ultra-colorful restaurant offers a variety of options like ropa vieja, arepas de puerco, and well-fried empanadas. Cocktails are on the menu, too, and no less explosive in flavor and heritage; the xocolatl maize is a combination of bourbon, nixta licor de elote, aztec chocolate bitters, and roasted cinnamon stick.

Angel Cafe & Deli

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This shop has been in the neighborhood for 16 years, once leaning more toward Mediterranean food and now firmly situated as a coffee and quick bites shop. The gorgeous blue brick exterior hides what is really a down to earth place to watch the world go by with a breakfast sandwich in hand that is both delicious and affordable.

Black Cat Jazz Supper Club

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Are there better places to have that anonymous, noir fantasy of sitting at the bar solo in the Paris of the West, than the underground lounge at Black Cat? With a robust bar program from Jason Moser, formerly of Villon and the Proper Hotel, this Eddy Street venue is perfect for seeing a show that’s so good you’ll dance that mask right off your face.

Maison Danel

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Rarely do guests to the Tenderloin mention the raspberry sorbet swimming in a chalice of champagne as the most memorable part of their trip. Yet, husbands Danel and David de Betelu aim to make it so. This Parisian-inspired patisserie and tea salon — which says it is on rue Polk rather than Polk Street — is already changing the conversation on what it can look like to open a business in the neighborhood.

Himalayan Pizza and Momo

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After surviving two years of COVID in the Tenderloin, the team at this Nepalese pizza place are happy to still be dishing out their unique items and big flavors. The momos are all reliable and succulent options, the vegetable biryani is a saffron-infused blessing, and, for the carnivores, the “SF Giants” pizza stars Halal beef salami, sliced beef pepperoni, beef sausage, ground beef and Canadian bacon.

Mensho Tokyo SF

Eating ramen at Mensho Tokyo is back to standing in a long line, or hoping to get a reservation, as the famous Japanese restaurant is once again offering indoor dining. This is the first U.S. outpost from ramen obsessive Tomoharu Shono, which specializes in tori paitan, a rich, creamy, chicken-based broth. Expect pliant, springy noodles and rotating specials.

Shalimar Restaurant

This Indian restaurant has a cult following for a reason — Shalimar is putting out some of the most reliably tasty food in the city, like succulent chicken tandoori; spicy, saucy okra; and destination-worthy goat karahi. The freshly-made naan is also a must, and the biryanis are well worth an order, too.

A La Turca Restaurant

Ubiquitous “Mediterranean” restaurants are a dime a dozen in San Francisco, but there are precious few real deal Turkish eateries. A La Turca is one, and its flavorful iterations of Turkish must-tries like ezme (spicy red pepper and walnut dip) and kofte (heavily spiced lamb and beef meatballs) are well worth the trip. The real standouts here, though, feature its homemade dough — start with the lahmacun, a crepe-thin flatbread topped with ground meat, peppers, and tomatoes and proceed to the pide (pronounced pea-deh), calzone-like beauties made with fresh dough and loaded with toppings like spinach, feta, or doner kebab. Occasionally, they’ll serve manti — meat-filled small dumplings topped with yogurt — on special.

Lers Ros

Lovers of real-deal, spicy-funky Thai food continue to point to Lers Ros as a must in San Francisco. And despite shiny, newish locations in Hayes Valley and the Mission, the original Larkin Street location remains the the best. The menu is extensive but starting with the “Original Thai Style” section is the best move — there, you’ll find spicy green curry made with funky fish paste, boar stir-fried with house made chili paste and galangal, and must-order whole fish preparations (the stir-fried pork belly with basil is stellar, too).

Turtle Tower Restaurant

Turtle Tower’s Northern Vietnamese flavors have made this humble Tenderloin spot a major success in San Francisco. But it doesn’t get more classic than their digs in the Little Vietnam stretch of Larkin in the Tenderloin (though the restaurant moved down a few doors from its original space). Turtle Tower’s staple is pho ga, made with free range chicken broth and house-made rice noodles: Get it with giblets for more punch.

Thai Idea Vegetarian

While most Thai restaurants have plenty of meatless options, this Polk Street restaurant removed the guesswork, as all its offerings are meat-free (yes, that even means fish and seafood are off the menu). Dishes include classics like papaya salad and pad Thai, and the spot also offers fresh takes on standards like fried rice and faux meat.

Mộng Thu Cafe

This spot is known for its noodle soups, which are satisfying, substantial, and reasonably priced. There’s also a great roster of banh mi and an impressive dessert menu of rice puddings.

Saigon Sandwich

The question is never, “Do you love Saigon Sandwich?” Rather, it’s “What’s your order at Saigon Sandwich?” The tiny Larkin Street shop, lit by fluorescent lights and crammed with bins of Vietnamese snacks and drinks, doesn’t need to bother with frills — the loaded $4 banh mi, featuring crackly-crusted, textbook-perfect baguettes and zingy pickled vegetables, are plenty to draw the crowds. Whether you opt for roast pork, meatball, fancy pork, or chicken, definitely opt for extra pate and maybe consider ordering two. You’ll likely be craving a second by the time you’re halfway through your first.

Brenda's French Soul Food

Brenda’s is the city’s bastion for Cajun goodness and one of the toughest no-reservations brunch tickets in town, thanks to chef Brenda Buenviaje and her vibrant menu. Among the staples at Brenda’s are the beignets (available in a variety of flavors) as well as the chicken and andouille gumbo or grits.

Whitechapel

Martin Cate’s grand homage to gin is as detail-oriented and over-the-top as his tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove, in a great way. The Steampunk-esque space reads like an abandoned London Tube station turned gin distillery-slash-pub, with period detailing. It’s a cozy, date-worthy spaces with a list of 400 gins to get lost in.

Golden Era

Long before the Impossible Burger, Golden Era was confounding vegans with its fake “chicken” and “beef” in flavorful Chinese dishes. It’s worth nothing that this spot is owned and operated by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai, so while the food is indeed delicious, folks uncomfortable with religious propaganda should probably steer clear.

Arsicault Bakery Civic Center

Bon Appetit gave Armando Lacayo’s temple to pastry Ariscault Best New Bakery in 2016 and in 2019 he decided to expand into the United Nations Plaza. The shop reopened in July of 2021 and features indoor and outdoor seating, with daytime security personnel. Oakland’s Mr. Espresso is the shop’s dark roast balance to the sweet decadence of raisin kouigns and not-too-buttery croissants.

La Cocina Municipal Marketplace

Enough cannot be written about the entrepreneurial hustle and grit demonstrated by the members of La Cocina’s Municipal Marketplace. On Hyde and Golden Gate Avenues the food hall has already expanded to include a bar (Paloma), a coffee shop that hosted a free to attend queer coffee convention (Fluid), and an abundance of world-class restaurants (Teranga and Estrellita’s Snacks to name just two). Unlike the “gentrification hellscape” it has been accused of promoting, the shop offers affordable and nutritious meals for everyone from State Assemblymember Matt Haney to the students and families at nonprofit 826 Valencia just up the street.

Yemen Kitchen

Huge portions and rich, deeply seasoned meats are hallmarks of this Jones Street restaurant. Affordability is a big selling point here, too: for an order of roasted lamb, $22 isn’t a bad price tag, and a falafel sandwich runs just $10. The masoob, a dessert of banana, dates, and honey, is a thick and sweet treat to wrap any Yemeni Kitchen feast.

Bottle Club Pub

Bottle Club Pub

There are boujee cocktail bars in the Tenderloin, despite any well-intentioned Karens saying otherwise. In fact, there are bars in the Tenderloin that are straight up gorgeous, such as the case with Bottle Club Pub. Fish and chips are on the menu alongside the powerhouse drinks which range from “reviving and refreshing” to “bold will hold.”

Bottle Club Pub

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Chao Pescao

Next door to the Tenderloin’s community garden is Rene Denis’ blend of his Cuban and Colombian identities and histories. This ultra-colorful restaurant offers a variety of options like ropa vieja, arepas de puerco, and well-fried empanadas. Cocktails are on the menu, too, and no less explosive in flavor and heritage; the xocolatl maize is a combination of bourbon, nixta licor de elote, aztec chocolate bitters, and roasted cinnamon stick.

Angel Cafe & Deli

This shop has been in the neighborhood for 16 years, once leaning more toward Mediterranean food and now firmly situated as a coffee and quick bites shop. The gorgeous blue brick exterior hides what is really a down to earth place to watch the world go by with a breakfast sandwich in hand that is both delicious and affordable.

Black Cat Jazz Supper Club

Are there better places to have that anonymous, noir fantasy of sitting at the bar solo in the Paris of the West, than the underground lounge at Black Cat? With a robust bar program from Jason Moser, formerly of Villon and the Proper Hotel, this Eddy Street venue is perfect for seeing a show that’s so good you’ll dance that mask right off your face.

Maison Danel

Rarely do guests to the Tenderloin mention the raspberry sorbet swimming in a chalice of champagne as the most memorable part of their trip. Yet, husbands Danel and David de Betelu aim to make it so. This Parisian-inspired patisserie and tea salon — which says it is on rue Polk rather than Polk Street — is already changing the conversation on what it can look like to open a business in the neighborhood.

Himalayan Pizza and Momo

After surviving two years of COVID in the Tenderloin, the team at this Nepalese pizza place are happy to still be dishing out their unique items and big flavors. The momos are all reliable and succulent options, the vegetable biryani is a saffron-infused blessing, and, for the carnivores, the “SF Giants” pizza stars Halal beef salami, sliced beef pepperoni, beef sausage, ground beef and Canadian bacon.

Related Maps