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Eat at These Hard-to-Book SF Restaurants While the Burners Are Away

Black Rock City dining just can't compare.

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Every year around Labor Day, San Francisco grows strangely quiet as its artists, quasi-adventurous techies, professional festival-goers and general eccentrics head to the deserts of Northern Nevada, for the annual art spectacle that is Burning Man. That means a lull in the general San Francisco hubbub, including restaurants. Here are some typically impenetrable spots that might be just a tad easier to try out, while a large chunk of the population is off frolicking about on the playa. We can't guarantee that these restaurants will have availability, but at least you won't have to weather a dust storm to eat at them.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Brenda's French Soul Food

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652 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 345-8100
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Brenda's shrimp and grits, biscuits, and hangtown fry are the stuff hangover dreams are made of, and the Cajun-inflected brunch bastion sees long waits and lines even on weekdays. But your wait for beignets may ease this week.

2. Cotogna

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490 Pacific Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 775-8508
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Quince's casual outpost Cotogna hasn't let up speed since glowing reviews put it on the map, and Michelin-starred chef Michael Tusk's rustic and affordable take on Italian cuisine keeps 'em coming (and waiting).

3. Delfina

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3621 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 552-4055
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Delfina has been serving upscale Italian since most Mission Italian-inspired spots were just twinkles in their proprietors' eyes. Their pizzeria next door doesn't diminish from the restaurant's draw, and both are continually tough tickets.

4. Flour + Water

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2401 Harrison St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-7000
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With only 49 seats, flour + water is a squeeze, and they take very few reservations (less than half of the dining room). Chef Thomas McNaughton's housemade pastas and Neapolitan-style pizzas are still bringing all the carb-lovers to the yard.

5. Foreign Cinema

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2534 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-7600
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With the charm of a European movie night and a California/Mediterranean-inspired menu that also happens to boast some of the best fried chicken in town, Foreign Cinema has been going strong for over a decade. Plan an impromptu date night this week for maximum romance, or beat the crowds to a glorious outdoor brunch.

6. Frances

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3870 17th St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 621-3870
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Easily one of SF's top five toughest tables, tiny Frances has the casual friendliness of a neighborhood spot, combined with a smartly upscale, seasonal, and delicious menu. Reservations book up a month in advance, but you might be able to score one of the walk-in seats in front this week. Also worth a try is their newly opened sister restaurant, Octavia, which is similarly booked for forever.

7. La Ciccia

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291 30th St
San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 550-8114
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Adorable and petite, this family-run spot is known for its excellent Sardinian food and its impossible-to-snag tables, despite a location in a far corner of Noe Valley. The crowd is a bit older, so this might be less of a Burning Man relief effort, but it's worth a shot.

8. Liholiho Yacht Club

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871 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 440-5446
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[Photo: Patricia Chang]

9. Mission Beach Cafe

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198 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 861-0198
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Quiet in the evenings, MBC becomes sheer insanity at brunch, with waits easily topping an hour. The crowds come for lavender-infused french toast, huevos rancheros, and mimosas in enormous glasses.

10. Nopa

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560 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 864-8643
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This Divisadero spot is approaching a decade of serving local, sustainable California cuisine, but it's as hot as any newbie, probably because it continues to turn out some of the city's best food, and diners know it. This may be a rare chance to avoid squeezing in at the bar.

11. Outerlands

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4001 Judah St
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 661-6140
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Even with a new renovation making it double the size, Outerlands' surfer-chic feel and California-hip food often mean waits in its lonely corner of the Outer Sunset (especially at brunch). Try your hand with a little less competition.

12. Rich Table

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199 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 355-9085
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Husband-and-wife team Sarah and Evan Rich book up their restaurant weeks in advance. Getting a walk-in seat or last-minute reservation at Rich Table to try the legendary porcini donuts, sardine chips, salads, and farm-fresh pastas is always a challenge, but might ease a little this week.

13. SPQR

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1911 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 771-7779
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Matthew Accarrino's food at SPQR just gets better and more creative with each passing year, and the intimate Italian-inspired restaurant continues to draw crowds for its ambiance, excellent wine list and creative menu. It's a shoebox, and reservations disappear accordingly.

14. State Bird Provisions

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1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 795-1272
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As the grandaddy of crazy waits, we can't imagine State Bird's traffic ebbing much, even in this quieter week. But with reservation-hacking techies off to play on the playa, there may be hope for sampling the James Beard Award-winning small plates.

15. The Progress

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1525 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 673-1294
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[Photo: Patricia Chang]

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1. Brenda's French Soul Food

652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Brenda's shrimp and grits, biscuits, and hangtown fry are the stuff hangover dreams are made of, and the Cajun-inflected brunch bastion sees long waits and lines even on weekdays. But your wait for beignets may ease this week.

652 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102

2. Cotogna

490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

Quince's casual outpost Cotogna hasn't let up speed since glowing reviews put it on the map, and Michelin-starred chef Michael Tusk's rustic and affordable take on Italian cuisine keeps 'em coming (and waiting).

490 Pacific Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

3. Delfina

3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Delfina has been serving upscale Italian since most Mission Italian-inspired spots were just twinkles in their proprietors' eyes. Their pizzeria next door doesn't diminish from the restaurant's draw, and both are continually tough tickets.

3621 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

4. Flour + Water

2401 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110

With only 49 seats, flour + water is a squeeze, and they take very few reservations (less than half of the dining room). Chef Thomas McNaughton's housemade pastas and Neapolitan-style pizzas are still bringing all the carb-lovers to the yard.

2401 Harrison St
San Francisco, CA 94110

5. Foreign Cinema

2534 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

With the charm of a European movie night and a California/Mediterranean-inspired menu that also happens to boast some of the best fried chicken in town, Foreign Cinema has been going strong for over a decade. Plan an impromptu date night this week for maximum romance, or beat the crowds to a glorious outdoor brunch.

2534 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

6. Frances

3870 17th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Easily one of SF's top five toughest tables, tiny Frances has the casual friendliness of a neighborhood spot, combined with a smartly upscale, seasonal, and delicious menu. Reservations book up a month in advance, but you might be able to score one of the walk-in seats in front this week. Also worth a try is their newly opened sister restaurant, Octavia, which is similarly booked for forever.

3870 17th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

7. La Ciccia

291 30th St, San Francisco, CA 94131

Adorable and petite, this family-run spot is known for its excellent Sardinian food and its impossible-to-snag tables, despite a location in a far corner of Noe Valley. The crowd is a bit older, so this might be less of a Burning Man relief effort, but it's worth a shot.

291 30th St
San Francisco, CA 94131

8. Liholiho Yacht Club

871 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

[Photo: Patricia Chang]

871 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109

9. Mission Beach Cafe

198 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Quiet in the evenings, MBC becomes sheer insanity at brunch, with waits easily topping an hour. The crowds come for lavender-infused french toast, huevos rancheros, and mimosas in enormous glasses.

198 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94103

10. Nopa

560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

This Divisadero spot is approaching a decade of serving local, sustainable California cuisine, but it's as hot as any newbie, probably because it continues to turn out some of the city's best food, and diners know it. This may be a rare chance to avoid squeezing in at the bar.

560 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117

11. Outerlands

4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122

Even with a new renovation making it double the size, Outerlands' surfer-chic feel and California-hip food often mean waits in its lonely corner of the Outer Sunset (especially at brunch). Try your hand with a little less competition.

4001 Judah St
San Francisco, CA 94122

12. Rich Table

199 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Husband-and-wife team Sarah and Evan Rich book up their restaurant weeks in advance. Getting a walk-in seat or last-minute reservation at Rich Table to try the legendary porcini donuts, sardine chips, salads, and farm-fresh pastas is always a challenge, but might ease a little this week.

199 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102

13. SPQR

1911 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

Matthew Accarrino's food at SPQR just gets better and more creative with each passing year, and the intimate Italian-inspired restaurant continues to draw crowds for its ambiance, excellent wine list and creative menu. It's a shoebox, and reservations disappear accordingly.

1911 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115

14. State Bird Provisions

1529 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

As the grandaddy of crazy waits, we can't imagine State Bird's traffic ebbing much, even in this quieter week. But with reservation-hacking techies off to play on the playa, there may be hope for sampling the James Beard Award-winning small plates.

1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115

15. The Progress

1525 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

[Photo: Patricia Chang]

1525 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115

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