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A takeout order of chashu extra spicy maze soba from Mensho Tokyo
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Where to Eat in the Tenderloin

A vetted guide to one of San Francisco’s most diverse neighborhoods

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A takeout order of chashu extra spicy maze soba from Mensho Tokyo
| mitchw0rk/Instagram

Adjacent to the tourist-heavy Union Square area, the Tenderloin is one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods and also its most historic, home to Little Saigon, SF’s Transgender District, and multitudes of families with kids (nearly 4,000, at last count). It’s also an area with a vast income and wellness divide between residents, where shiny skyscrapers filled with luxury apartments loom over tent encampments filled with the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Those many factors are what makes the Tenderloin one of the city’s most vibrant and vital neighborhoods, one that’s fiercely beloved by its residents, many of whom see the beauty within the area’s many tensions. That beauty extends to the area’s dining scene, where a single block can boast a place with an amazing $4 sandwich and a just-as-amazing (just in a different way) $300 tasting menu. This is a neighborhood you can explore for years and still find new things every day. This list of 12 fantastic Tenderloin restaurants is a great place to start that exploration.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Mensho Tokyo SF

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672 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 800-8345
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Eating ramen at Mensho Tokyo once meant standing in a long line, but now, the restaurant is open for takeout if its in-damand dishes. 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. The takeout menu is here, orders can be placed by phone.

2. Shalimar Restaurant

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532 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 928-0333

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. Walk-up and phone orders are both accepted for takeout, delivery is via Uber Eats.

3. A La Turca Restaurant

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869 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 345-1011
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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. Order takeout online here, or via phone.

4. Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen

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484 Ellis St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 409-6649
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Tadu’s menu of Ethiopian dishes bridges the gap between vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore, with mild and spicy stews served atop injera (a sourdough flatbread). If you’re feeling sluggish, there’s also Ethiopian coffee, which, if that doesn’t wake you up, nothing will. Order takeout online here.

5. Lers Ros

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730 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 931-6917
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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). Takeout and delivery are both available via Caviar.

6. Turtle Tower Restaurant

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631 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 409-3333
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Turtle Tower’s Northern Vietnamese flavors have made this humble Tenderloin spot a three-location 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. Delivery and takeout is via Doordash.

7. Thai Idea Vegetarian

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710 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 440-8344

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. Ordercan be placed online for takeout or called in to 415-440-8344.

8. Mộng Thu Cafe

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248 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 928-6724
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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. Walkup or call to order, here’s the menu.

9. Saigon Sandwich

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560 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 474-5698

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. Order takeout by phone or just walk up.

10. Brenda's French Soul Food

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652 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 345-8100
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One no longer has to wait to get a meal from Brenda’s, the city’s bastion for Cajun goodness and one of the toughest no-reservations brunch tickets in town, as its menu is now available to go. That means beignets ordered online and ready for pickup in a flash, or delivery via Caviar or Doordash of their gumbo or grits.

11. Whitechapel

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600 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 292-5800
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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; cozy, date-worthy spaces; and a list of 400 gins to get lost in. That space is shuttered for now, but outdoor dining is available in a space they’re calling the Barbican Garden, with a menu of of brunch and pub-style dishes and a gin-centric cocktail list to enjoy while seated on a socially-distanced picnic table.

12. Herbal Restaurant

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448 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 896-4839
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A region mourned when William Lue closed his Oakland Burmese destination Grocery Cafe: The Bon Appétit-recognized restaurant’s deeply funky mohinga and tea leaf salad were known as some of the best around. Now he’s back with a new venture called Herbal, inside a former private supper club in the Tenderloin. Many of the dishes beloved by Grocery fans are back, with a twist: Now Lue is cooking with dried hemp leaves, an ostensibly legal and non-intoxicating ingredient that he says is often used by cooks in Myanmar. Make THC leaf salad jokes at your own risk as you order takeout online, delivery is via Grubhub or DoorDash.

13. Golden Era

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395 Golden Gate Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 487-8687
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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. Those who aren’t can order takeout by phone (the menu is here) at (415) 487-8687, and delivery is available via PostmatesCaviar, and Grubhub.

1. Mensho Tokyo SF

672 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Eating ramen at Mensho Tokyo once meant standing in a long line, but now, the restaurant is open for takeout if its in-damand dishes. 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. The takeout menu is here, orders can be placed by phone.

672 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94102

2. Shalimar Restaurant

532 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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. Walk-up and phone orders are both accepted for takeout, delivery is via Uber Eats.

532 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102

3. A La Turca Restaurant

869 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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. Order takeout online here, or via phone.

869 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94109

4. Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen

484 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Tadu’s menu of Ethiopian dishes bridges the gap between vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore, with mild and spicy stews served atop injera (a sourdough flatbread). If you’re feeling sluggish, there’s also Ethiopian coffee, which, if that doesn’t wake you up, nothing will. Order takeout online here.

484 Ellis St
San Francisco, CA 94102

5. Lers Ros

730 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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). Takeout and delivery are both available via Caviar.

730 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94109

6. Turtle Tower Restaurant

631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Turtle Tower’s Northern Vietnamese flavors have made this humble Tenderloin spot a three-location 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. Delivery and takeout is via Doordash.

631 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94109

7. Thai Idea Vegetarian

710 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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. Ordercan be placed online for takeout or called in to 415-440-8344.

710 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109

8. Mộng Thu Cafe

248 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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. Walkup or call to order, here’s the menu.

248 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94102

9. Saigon Sandwich

560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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. Order takeout by phone or just walk up.

560 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94102

10. Brenda's French Soul Food

652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

One no longer has to wait to get a meal from Brenda’s, the city’s bastion for Cajun goodness and one of the toughest no-reservations brunch tickets in town, as its menu is now available to go. That means beignets ordered online and ready for pickup in a flash, or delivery via Caviar or Doordash of their gumbo or grits.

652 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102

11. Whitechapel

600 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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; cozy, date-worthy spaces; and a list of 400 gins to get lost in. That space is shuttered for now, but outdoor dining is available in a space they’re calling the Barbican Garden, with a menu of of brunch and pub-style dishes and a gin-centric cocktail list to enjoy while seated on a socially-distanced picnic table.

600 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102

12. Herbal Restaurant

448 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

A region mourned when William Lue closed his Oakland Burmese destination Grocery Cafe: The Bon Appétit-recognized restaurant’s deeply funky mohinga and tea leaf salad were known as some of the best around. Now he’s back with a new venture called Herbal, inside a former private supper club in the Tenderloin. Many of the dishes beloved by Grocery fans are back, with a twist: Now Lue is cooking with dried hemp leaves, an ostensibly legal and non-intoxicating ingredient that he says is often used by cooks in Myanmar. Make THC leaf salad jokes at your own risk as you order takeout online, delivery is via Grubhub or DoorDash.

448 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94102

13. Golden Era

395 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

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. Those who aren’t can order takeout by phone (the menu is here) at (415) 487-8687, and delivery is available via PostmatesCaviar, and Grubhub.

395 Golden Gate Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102

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