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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.
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Brenda's French Soul Food

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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.

Cotogna

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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).

Delfina

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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.

Flour + Water

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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.

Foreign Cinema

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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.

Frances

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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.

La Ciccia

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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.

Liholiho Yacht Club

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[Photo: Patricia Chang]

Mission Beach Cafe

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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.

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.

Outerlands

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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.

Rich Table

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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.

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.

State Bird Provisions

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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.

The Progress

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[Photo: Patricia Chang]

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Brenda's French Soul Food

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.

Cotogna

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).

Delfina

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.

Flour + Water

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.

Foreign Cinema

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.

Frances

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.

La Ciccia

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.

Liholiho Yacht Club

[Photo: Patricia Chang]

Mission Beach Cafe

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.

Nopa

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.

Outerlands

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.

Rich Table

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.

SPQR

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.