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Korean barbecue in a lettuce leaf at San Ho Won Eric Wolfinger

The 38 Essential Restaurants in San Francisco

A guide to the best restaurants in San Francisco for any dining occasion

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The Eater 38 is our attempt to answer any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” It’s a curated list that covers the entire city, spanning numerous cuisines, neighborhoods, and price points. It’s a list that tells the story of San Francisco through food, documenting the blend of taquerias, dumpling shops, and tasting menu destinations that make this city one of the most interesting places to eat in America. These are the places you don’t want to miss on your first trip to the Bay Area, and the ones worth returning to even if you’ve lived here for decades.

And because we want to make sure this list reflects the ever-changing nature of San Francisco’s vibrant dining scene, we update the Eater 38 on a quarterly basis, adding restaurants that were previously overlooked, are newly eligible (Eater 38 restaurants must have been open for six months), or have stepped up their game. Sometimes a still great restaurant makes way for another one, in order to keep things new and fresh — and, importantly, to make sure that the Eater 38 is an inclusive and representative list.

To that end, we’ve added San Ho Won, Abaca, Nisei, and Flour + Water; the still-excellent Monsieur Benjamin, Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine, Montesacro, and Cotogna have been removed for now.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Chef Francis Ang’s Abacá brings contemporary Filipino cuisine to a sunny space on the ground floor of a Fisherman’s Wharf hotel, the plant-filled restaurant further brightened by sunflower yellow banquettes and woven baskets from the southeast Asian archipelago. The dinner menu gives familiar dishes a modern California update — think, seafood pancit topped with smoked bay scallops, and longganisa pork sausage skewered on a thin stick and served with egg yolk and cane vinegar for dipping. Weekend brunch is a real treat, when you can truly appreciate Ang’s pastry skills in dishes like a chewy pandan mochi waffle and savory ensaymada French toast. 

Patricia Chang

Lucca Delicatessen

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San Francisco is a city that loves a serious sandwich, and this old-school Italian-American deli has been slicing and stacking them since 1929. The salami hangs from the ceiling, the wheels of cheese weigh down the shelves, and everyone has a favorite special, from the #1 Italian Combo with salame, ham, mortadella, and provolone, to the Pat Burrell roast beef with pepper jack and peppers. The pro move is to grab a sandwich for lunch and a box of ravioli to take home for dinner.

Salami hanging from the ceiling at Lucca Deli Lucca Deli

Sotto Mare

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Locals and tourists swarm to Sotto Mare for an exemplary taste of San Francisco’s famous seafood creation: cioppino, an Italian-American stew likely adapted by Ligurian immigrants in North Beach. It’s on nearly every table at this old-school, kitschy establishment, served in heaping silver bowls for two that brim with slightly spicy tomato broth, Dungeness crab, assorted Pacific shellfish, and some penne pasta thrown in for good measure. Other seafood staples like Louie salads round out the meal.

Ciopinno at Sotto Mare Caleb Pershan

Restaurant Nisei

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Californios alum David Yoshimura channels his Japanese-American upbringing into Nisei, his ambitious debut restaurant where Japanese soul food gets the fine dining treatment. The dining room is a zen retreat with white booths and inky black walls splashed with vibrant local art. In the kitchen Yoshimura and his team nestle a fresh oyster in a foamy bed of English peas and wasabi and wrap sweet Brentwood corn, fermented blueberries, and buttery uni in sheets of shiny nori. The culmination of the 10-course tasting menu may be an array of tsukemono set beside a small cup of bone broth miso soup with duck fat rice and a tender rack of lamb.

China Live

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George Chen’s massive Chinese food emporium is certainly an elevated way to experience all that San Francisco’s Chinatown has to offer. But if you want to try a wide variety of dishes – from fried scallion pancakes to soup dumplings to Peking duck to charred Chinese broccoli – this is probably your best bet for a one-stop shop. Plus, the open kitchen means you can watch the culinary team at work, wrapping dumplings and wok-frying rice. On your way out don’t forget to stop at the marketplace to stock up on housemade condiments, and if you’re looking to extend the night, try the upstairs bar Cold Drinks Bar, where the menu centers around smokey scotch-based cocktails. 

A table of plates with entrees and dumplings from China Live. China Live

Kokkari Estiatorio

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A fire in the hearth and chickens twirling on the spit set the tone for this warm and rustic Greek tavern, a longstanding destination between the business lunches of the FiDi and the date-night dinners of historic Jackson Square. The grilled whole fish of the day and lemon-oregano lamb riblets are always a treat, as are the crispy zucchini cakes and quintet of creamy and fishy dips.

Kokkari Estiatorio

Sam Wo Restaurant

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Out-of-town visitors might come pay their respects at Sam Wo out of historical interest, as the restaurant, newly reopened in 2015, is believed to be the oldest in San Francisco’s Chinatown — and, thus, one of the very oldest Chinese restaurants in America. Far from just some historical curiosity, however, Sam Wo remains one of Chinatown’s most delicious destinations, beloved by both tourists and locals for its simple, satisfying menu of Cantonese dishes like its fish jook and barbecue rice rolls.

Mister Jiu's

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It was a big deal for San Francisco when James Beard Award-winning chef Brandon Jew took over the historic Four Seas banquet hall space and opened an ambitious Chinese-American restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. The dining room remains a green-and-white gem of the neighborhood — and a destination for some of San Francisco’s best roast duck served with peanut butter hoisin, along with cocktails, beer, and cider.

House of Prime Rib

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This 70-year-old Nob Hill classic is a trip back to a time when plating with tweezers was not yet a thing. The name says it all: House of Prime Rib serves one thing and one thing only, and it does that roast prime rib very, very well. The only choices to make are: meat temperature, cut thickness, mashed or loaded baked potatoes, and martini or Manhattan. Each plate comes with a salad (prepared tableside), creamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding, and potatoes — and of course a hulking piece of beef cut from one of the wheeled meat carts.

Akiko's Restaurant

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In a city with many luxurious omakase counters, Akiko’s has always been a revelatory sushi experience. Tucked away in Union Square, just around the corner from the Dragon Gate to Chinatown, chef-owner Ray Lee and his family have been serving exquisite bites in an intimate space for more than 30 years. The toro, uni, caviar, and wagyu are worth the splurge.

Nigiri from Akiko’s Akiko’s

Octavia

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Octavia is back and that means Melissa Perello and team are once again swinging for the fences with flawless seasonal menus starring fresh pasta and some of the city’s most unforgettable desserts. There are familiar refrains in the mix, with plates like fresh mozzarella with Jimmy Nardellos and Brentwood corn lasagna with sweet corn and bright chiles emphasizing the breadth of Northern California’s bounty. And of course, the window-fronted space remains as lively and elegant as ever, accented with structural arrangements from cult-favorite florist the Petaler.

Corn lasagna from Octavia Molly DeCoudreaux

B Patisserie

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Pastry superstars Belinda Leong and Michel Suas continue to dominate both California Street — where the duo operates B. Patisserie, b. on the Go, and their latest full-service restaurant Routier — and the San Francisco pastry scene. There’s no shortage of excellent bakers in this city, but Leong’s impossibly buttery and flakey kougin amann are truly iconic. On a first visit it’s hard to stray from the classic iteration, but when the seasons change it’s an excellent idea to explore the fruit and black sesame variations.

Chef Mourad Lahlou has two striking restaurants: Mourad offers a Michelin-starred fine dining experience downtown, while Aziza serves Moroccan comforts out in the Avenues. And if you’re looking for a flawless dinner, Mourad is more than worth the splurge. Swoon beneath the glittering chandeliers in the handsomely appointed dining room. Service is impeccable, from the warm and friendly hosts and service staff to the knowledgeable and enthusiastic wine director Jose Delgado. And everything on the menu delivers, from a simple bowl of warm and lemon scented olives and a buttery chicken basteeya to the large-format la’acha plates and delicate desserts. 

The interior of Mourad

Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup

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At this Korean hotspot in San Francisco’s Japantown, the wait for a table during peak dinner time can stretch long as two hours, and almost every dish on the menu features some kind of preparation of beef: kalbitang (or beef rib soup); beef bibimbap; seolleongtang, the cloudy-white ox bone soup with its noted hangover-curing properties; and, if you think all that won’t be enough, boiled beef brisket that you can order as an appetizer. But the star of the show — and perhaps of the city’s entire Korean restaurant scene — is the kalbijjim, the slow-braised, spicy-sweet, fall-off-the-bone beef short rib stew that is Daeho’s claim to fame.

Braised short rib stew at Daeho Luke Tsai

Pim Techamuanvivit’s statement restaurant at Japantown’s Hotel Kabuki is unlike any other Thai spot in town — more upscale, sure, with the artful plating and the gorgeous dining room to match. But Nari’s most meaningful impact lies in the way the restaurant is bringing bold, unapologetic Thai flavors to a grand stage in San Francisco — and doing it in a way that showcases local ingredients. There’s nothing timid about the lime-bright mushroom laab, or the earthy Monterey Bay squid tossed with cubes of sticky caramelized pork jowl.

Mandalay Restaurant

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San Francisco is one of the great Burmese restaurant cities in the U.S., and, though it isn’t the flashiest or the most crowded, Mandalay might be best of the bunch — certainly it’s the one that makes the least compromises to accommodate Western palates, which in general means bigger, punchier flavors. Try the homey samusa soup or any of the fragrant noodle dishes, but whatever you do, don’t skip the best fermented tea leaf salad in town — a rendition of the classic that’s available without lettuce or cabbage to tamp down the deliciously pungent flavors or diminish the outrageous crunch of the nuts and seeds.

Lahpet thoke at Mandalay Omar Mamoon

The Anchovy Bar

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The Anchovy Bar, the latest restaurant from the team behind State Bird Provisions, swam into a small stylish space just off Fillmore in 2020, giving chef Stuart Brioza plenty of room to indulge his obsession with anchovies. The menu plunges deep into the tinned fish and seafood trend with local oysters from up and down the West Coast; littleneck clams that paddle alongside chunks of chorizo; and tiny, shiny, locally caught anchovies the team cures in house, when the season allows. On the beverage side they’re keeping things light and unpredictable with flights of sherry and fizzy riffs on a classic spritz.

Anchovies from the Anchovy Bar The Anchovy Bar

Breadbelly

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There’s a growing number of Asian-American bakeries in and around San Francisco putting fresh twists on classic baked goods and infusing French pastries with sweet ube and meaty chashu. But if you’re only going to check out one, make it Breadbelly, where a team of James Beard Award-nominated fine-dining alums have truly perfected the art of marrying Asian flavors with modern California tastes. The signature lime-green kaya toast topped with coconut-pandan jam and big snowflakes of sea salt is a revelation, but savory sandwiches and daily pastries deserve attention, too. Still closed for indoor dining, Breadbelly offers online ordering for pick-up starting at 10 a.m. — and click quick, as items sell out fast.

PPQ Dungeness Island - San Francisco

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Vietnamese-style roast crab, drenched in a metric ton of butter and garlic, is one of the signature dishes of the San Francisco dining experience, and no one does it better than this Richmond District institution, where any weeknight dinner can feel like a special celebration if you splurge on a couple of those crabs and a big plate of garlic noodles.

La Cocina Municipal Marketplace

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This spacious and airy food hall brings a handful of bright and delicious options to the Tenderloin. Wind your way past the inventive beverage options at trans-owned Fluid Cooperative Cafe to choose from savory menus spanning po’ boys stuffed with golden fried shrimp and andouille sausage; North African dishes from chefs Wafa and Mounir Bahloul; and momos (Nepalese dumplings) from Bini’s Kitchen. Hours are somewhat limited (it’s open for lunch only Monday through Friday) but cocktails are available at La Paloma bar until 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday nights. 

Emilio Salehi

Brenda's Meat & Three

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Stepping off the busy Divisadero Street sidewalk and into Brenda’s Meat and Three is like stepping into another world: one where the grits are always cheesy, the biscuits impossibly flaky, and the potatoes expertly mashed. This casual spot serves three square meals a day – an impressive feat in and of itself – but supper is when you’ll see owner Brenda Buenviajé’s New Orleans roots on full display. High up on the wall a menu board displays the day’s meat options, which always includes some of the city’s best fried chicken plus rotating choices like fried catfish and shrimp etouffée.

Cinderella Bakery & Cafe

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Though the small enclave of Russian markets and businesses in the Richmond has contracted over the years, Cinderella Bakery & Cafe endures, thanks in large part to its fresh baked loaves of rye bread, puff pastry perogies, and delicately layered slices of honey cake. On the savory side, don’t skip the Russian dumplings called pelmeni, which can and should be enjoyed with broth and plenty of sour cream. 

Cake from Cinderella Bakery & Cafe Cinderella Bakery & Cafe

Le Fantastique

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If raw fish is having a moment in San Francisco, then the best place to dive into the trend is definitely Le Fantastique, the new-ish Hayes Valley wine bar and restaurant from Emily and Robbie Wilson (also the duo behind Palo Alto’s Bird Dog). On any given night the kitchen floods this urban-chic, L-shaped dining room with pristine plates of fish – seasoned, cured, and elevated to new, fresh, even floral heights. Pair highly Instagrammable mini eclairs crowned with caviar and fluffy kakagori with any of the excellent white wines for a real meal to remember. 

Zuni Cafe

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Besides "the" chicken, Zuni's burger, Caesar salad, and Bloody Mary have all been called the best in the city at various points in the restaurant’s illustrious, 40-plus-year career. Sitting on the edge of Hayes Valley, it’s the utility belt of San Francisco restaurants: good for brunch, for late-night dining, for oysters and a cocktail at the bar, or for a lovely sit-down meal with a date. The chicken, meanwhile, deserves every last bit of praise.  During the pandemic, Zuni started serving takeout for the first time in its storied history — and became the first restaurant in the city to switch over to all reusable takeout containers.

Zuni’s famous chicken with bread salad Bill Addison

Under swinging lines of cerulean papel picado, chef Nick Cobarruvias presents a veggie-forward menu of tacos, tostadas, and large plates that’s delightfully fresh and flavorful. There are meaty options, too, including slow-cooked carne con guajillo chile wrapped in soft tortillas made from masa that’s nixtamalized in house. But don’t overlook the hen of the wood huarache, showered with a tangle of tender and savory mushrooms, or the unexpectedly vibrant charred cabbage, sporting dark spots of char and dusted with toasted pecan dukkah. Cocktails are unfussy but well executed; you can’t go wrong with a spicy margarita sipped on the wooden parklet off Haight. 

The interior of Otra with blue papel picado hanging over a long dining room with concrete floors. Lauren Saria/Eater SF

Californios

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Val Cantu’s two-Michelin-starred Californios came roaring back in spring 2021 with a new home and the same ambitious tasting menu of exquisite cuisine rooted in Mexican traditions. In the former Bar Agricole space in SoMa, Cantu and his team honor Mexican ingredients and cooking techniques – elevating masa to new heights through in-house nixtamalization for handmade tortillas and taking creative liberties with dishes like a puffed pieces of black masa topped with sea urchin and a grilled banana served with a dollop of caviar.

Rintaro

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Rintaro feels like a secret hideout in the Mission, with a lovely front patio guarded from the street by a bamboo fence. Enter, and find an inviting, wood-clad izakaya from Chez Panisse alum Sylvan Mishima Brackett, whose menu has long drawn a bustling, stylish crowd that lines up before the restaurant even opens for business. Gyoza, yakitori of all kinds, pristine sashimi, and the platonic ideal of fried tori katsu (fried chicken stuffed with Cowgirl Creamery cheese) are all on order.

Beit Rima

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On a sunny afternoon or a cool San Francisco evening, there’s perhaps no better place to find comfort than on Biet Rima’s flower-lined patio or inside its cozy dining room with a generous mezze spread before you and a cold Arabic beer in hand. Owner Samir Mogannam turns seasonal produce into simple yet stunning vegetarian-friendly dishes like delicata squash in brown butter with tangy labneh and pine nut dukkah, while the meatier entrees including tender beef kabob and yogurt marinated chicken lend the menu some weight.

Delicata squash with brown butter lebneh from Beit Rima Lauren Saria

Poc-Chuc

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This family-run Mission District regional Mexican mainstay specializes in Yucatecan and Mayan-inspired cuisine, which means lots of smoky, citrus-marinated pork, deeply flavorful turkey mole (served, in the Yucatecan style, as an ink-black soup), and wonderful handmade tortillas. Service could scarcely be more attentive and kind.

Caleb Pershan

Prubechu

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Reborn at its location in the Mission last year, San Francisco’s only Guamanian restaurant continues to provide newcomers to Chamorro cuisine with a delicious education: stroganoff-like tinaktak with egg noodles, pork ribs over red rice, and an assortment of the Guamanian-style ceviches known as kelaguen — served here on flatbreads, like a taco.

SAN HO WON

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You can’t go wrong with any of chef Corey Lee’s restaurants, whether it’s the black-and-white French bistro Monsieur B in Hayes Valley or his three Michelin-starred Benu in SoMa. But his latest, San Ho Won in the Mission, is where the chef takes things back to his Korean American roots, working with chef Jeong-In Hwang to prepare meticulously charcoal grilled double cut galbi and tender beef tongue. This is a Korean barbecue restaurant unlike any other with elegant seasonal banchan, sizzling stews, and flaky blood sausage and green onion pancakes served in an austere space wrapped in warm woods. 

Flour + Water

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Following a handsome redesign late last year, Flour + Water reopened with a refined new look and the same menu of stellar handmade pasta in February. The pasta tasting menu remains the anchor, spinning diners through an array of uncommon shapes like balsamic vinegar drizzled scarpinocc and fastidiously folded tortellino swimming in an impossibly rich broth. But the a la carte menu offers plenty to explore as well, including a mosaic of fresh crudo, bubble-crusted pizzas, and more fresh pasta options, all of which can be paired with a list of wines focused on Italy and California. 

A table of plates with crudo, pasta, and wine at Flour + Water. Krescent Carasso