clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

The 38 Essential San Francisco Restaurants, April 2013

View as Map

It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs. Every few months, we add pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months) or have stepped up their game. And keep in mind, this list is presented in no particular order.

As always, this means we have to drop a few great places, and we continue to hold places in our hearts for Leopold's, and Bix. Their spaces are filled by vegetarian-beloved Greens and ice-cream masters Humphry Slocombe. And with the departure of pioneering bar manager Daniel Hyatt from the Alembic, we're adding a different sort of drinking spot, third-wave coffee leaders Four Barrel/The Mill. (Alcohol aficionados, our cocktail heatmap has what you're seeking.)

Rather than having a stage-four meltdown over our having excluded your favorite restaurant from the list, wouldn't it be more productive to just nominate it for inclusion?

Read More
Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process. If you buy something or book a reservation from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Both neighborhood standby and destination restaurant, Nopa continues to grow admirably under Chef Jossel. Honorable mention to its little Mexican sis, Nopalito.


Copy Link

James Beard-beloved chef Melissa Perello has given us Frances, an easy-going, timeless neighborhood nook, serving hearty, yet nuanced seasonal dinners. Always begin with her bacon beignets, and finish with a slice of rich, apple-filled lumberjack cake.

Lers Ros Thai

Copy Link

Sure Lers Ros is the only authentic Thai restaurant with rabbit, frog and venison on its regular menu, but even the pad Thai rivals the best you'll find anywhere in Thailand.

Bar Tartine

Copy Link

Though it opened in 2006, the restaurant from the Tartine Bakery people continues to reinvent itself. Thanks to Nick Balla's ahead-of-the-curve Eastern European menus, this rustic neighborhood staple continues to be one of the hottest reservations in town. A shout is also in order for the new adjacent sandwich shop, touting irresistible smørrebrød during the lunch hour.

ICHI Sushi

Copy Link
[Photo: SushiYo]

Chef Matt Accarrino continues to refine his craft, serving his own irresistible brand of Italian food, that remains hearty and homey despite the use of refined technique. Try to score seats at the chef's counter and don't miss the exceptional wine list, curated by award-winning sommelier Shelley Lindgren.

Mourad Lahlou continues to redefine Moroccan cuisine in the California vernacular: from the must-order bisteeya, to sous vide short rib with carrot jam, to Melissa Chou's not-to-be-missed, anything-but-rustic desserts.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

Copy Link

World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani bakes every kind of pizza imaginable: New York, Roman, Sicilian, and on. His Neapolitan is an award-winner and his on-site pizza school attracts students from across the country. Bonus points for a bustling, friendly atmosphere, including a bar for date nights and booths for grandpa.

Namu Gaji

Copy Link

The Lee Brothers hit a gold mine when they opened their sophomore effort on Dolores Park, serving the most nuanced, contemporary take on Korean food in town. Menu standouts include the KFC (chicken wings), stonepot rice, okonomiyaki, and dumplings. It's worth going in early for happy hour, the only time gamja fries and Korean tacos are served.

You’ll almost want to sink your teeth into Gitane’s luscious, richly textured interior, but do save yourself for the hyper-regional Andalusian menu. At five courses for $65, the tasting menu is a great deal. If you go a la carte, the off-menu bacon bon bons, scallop with sweetbread and Arroz Vegetariano are all worth ordering.

AQ Restaurant & Bar

Copy Link

Chef-partner Mark Liberman's inspired flavor combinations—think 'bbq pork' with cornbread, mustard ash and licorice root—join a cocktail program and interior design that are best in their San Francisco class, bringing unprecedented energy and food quality to an unlikely stretch of Mission Street.

Wayfare Tavern

Copy Link

It’s hard to have a bad time at this frisky FiDi hotspot where solid renditions of Southern and San Francisco classics meet impressive cocktails. Food Network main man Tyler Florence is often in the house, so prepare accordingly.

Four Barrel Coffee/The Mill

Copy Link

SF has many excellent third-wave coffee roasters, but Jeremy Tooker's Mission/Divis duo get the nod for not only having great java, but top-notch pastries and bread from Josey Baker (on Divis) and Belinda Leong (on Valencia). And in this work-from-home town, Four Barrel's no-laptop policy really does make the atmosphere at both cafes more inviting.

Bar Agricole

Copy Link

When it opened, raves about Bar Agricole's gorgeous, cutting-edge design and its killer cocktail program rolled in endlessly. Though opening chef Brandon Jew recently departed, his former sous chef Reina Talanoa has kept standards high. The menu changes nightly, but spaghetti and housemade meat dishes are continual hits.


Copy Link

For nights when a casual taqueria won't do, Tacolicoius is the best fancier, sit-down Mexican restaurant option. Its fresh, local takes on traditional tacos, solid margaritas, and stylish atmosphere easily win out over other possibilities like Velvet Cantina and Tia Margarita.

Zaré at Fly Trap

Copy Link

Chef/owner Hoss Zare defines hospitality. His restaurant is unlike any other in the city with its big, bold, unfamiliar flavors in the historic setting of the Fly Trap

From the training ground for greatness behind their bar, to the always delicious seasonal menu, and friendly service, Range is one of the most consistent restaurants in town.


Copy Link

Mature and stylish, Perbacco has established itself as one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Owner Umberto Gibin is a presence in the front of house, and chef Staffan Terje continues to surprise with his seasonal and refined Northern Italian fare.

Foreign Cinema

Copy Link

While the beloved brunch, flickering hearth and nightly movies continue, Gayle Pirie and John Clark are keeping things fresh with new North Africa and Mediterranean menu leanings and a deepened wine program.

Super Duper Burgers

Copy Link

Although it's lovely that there is Straus milk in the shakes and 100% Niman Ranch beef in the patties, what really matters is taste, and Super Duper's burgers—with their perfect ratio of meat to bread and cheddar cheese—continually rank among the best in the Bay Area.

Greens Restaurant

Copy Link

Annie Somerville's been quietly putting out excellent vegetarian fare down at Fort Mason for more than 30 years, and dishes like mesquite-grilled tofu brochettes and potato griddle cakes will win over even the most die-hard carnivore. The water views are pretty great as well.

Flour + Water

Copy Link

The opening media buzz has died down, but F+W continues to gather lines at 5 p.m. nightly, packing the house with its sophisticated pizzas and pastas served in a lively, casual atmosphere.

Mission Chinese Food

Copy Link

Try crossing the studied, Sichuan-laced creations of a workhorse young chef with a kickback dive atmosphere, pumped up by ghetto rap and a 60-foot dragon. Now you’ve got the biggest Chinese restaurant adventure in San Francisco.

Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

Copy Link

Adam Keough has revived this bustling Hayes Valley fixture. Its lively, yet comforting brasserie scene is still on, but now there’s an energized bar food program, and the menu has a new soul.

La Taqueria

Copy Link

It wouldn’t be San Francisco without The Mission’s squadron of gut-busting taquerias. This one continues to lead the pack with unwavering rave reviews for its sublime, spot-on Mexico staples.

La Ciccia

Copy Link

Not so much San Francisco Italian, as pure unadulterated regional Italian, this family-run sparkler is free of pretension and full of love. Don’t miss the sea urchin pasta.

Delfina/Pizzeria Delfina

Copy Link

You can make the argument that no restaurant in the last decade has changed the dining landscape quite like Delfina and its pizzeria offshoot next door.

La Torta Gorda

Copy Link

When a "hole-in-the-wall" turns out to be a bright family-run stop with outrageously good tortas and super authentic Puebla eats; that's 38 material.


Copy Link

This surfer-chic Outer Sunset haunt looks like it belongs in the pages of Dwell. The bread, made in the Tartine style, is worth the trip alone, but don't overlook chef Brett Cooper's phenomenal soups or his inspired use of farm fresh produce in almost every entree on the menu.

Zuni Cafe

Copy Link

Besides "the" chicken, Zuni's burger, Caesar salad and bloody Mary have all been called the best in the city.

Izakaya Sozai

Copy Link

Izakaya Sozai did the izakaya thing before izakayas were a thing, and it continues to deliver one of San Francisco's most superb ramen, uni, (seasonal) shirako, and friendly service with prices that won't rock your bank account.

Bar Crudo

Copy Link

In our age of open kitchens, there's something to be said for the aeriel view you can get here. More importantly, the creative crudo spins, addictive clam chowder and airy atmosphere are always enlivening.