The Classic San Francisco Guide
As one of the most quintessential and iconic cities in America, San Francisco is also one of its most picturesque. Below, many of the standards you’ve loved over the years, plus newer arrivals that have already achieved classic status.
Plow1299 18th St., Potrero Hill | 415.821.7569
Don’t be fooled by the quaint wood-and-white dining room, the food offering at this family-owned favorite (Joel Bleskacek and Maxine Siu have been at it since 2010), is top notch. Dinner, though excellent, is a pretty mellow affair compared to breakfast and brunch. From house-made granola to lemon-ricotta pancakes, everything is prepped using the finest locally sourced ingredients; the perfectly browned potatoes, which serve as sides for all manner of egg dishes, are legendary.
Delfina3621 18th St., Mission | 415.552.4055
Delfina is a lovely place with a fantastic Italian menu and delicious fresh pizzas. Because it's so damn good, it's usually crowded and hard to get into, which makes the smaller, more casual, but equally good pizzeria next door a great alternative, especially for a later lunch.
Che Fico838 Divisadero, Nopa | 415.416.6959
Sure, it might not feel like SF needs yet another Italian restaurant. The truth is, Che Fico (pronounced "kay-feeco") is anything but. It also happens to be one of the hardest tables in the city to land right now. GP went earlier this spring when it first opened, and it continues to live up to the hype, down to its Instagram-friendly design details—a chevron tile lined entryway, a fire engine red pizza oven, and a boldly wallpapered stairway. Chef David Nayfeld and fellow Eleven Madison Park alum and pastry chef Angela Pinkerton have assembled a menu that's at once familiar but also masterful, meaning it's all really good and leans heavily on local California produce. Pastas (orchiette with fennel sausage and broccoli rabe; goats milk ricotta gnudi with ramps) are handmade, and the pizzas are oven charred and finished with parmigiano regiano. Everything is meant to be shared, and dishes pour out of the kitchen as they're ready, so you should just go for it and order everything that strikes your fancy. For dessert, it's a toss-up between the olive oil cake with elderflower ice cream and the bittersweet chocolate pudding. Photos: Douglas Friedman and Krescent Carasso.
Cotogna490 Pacific Ave., Jackson Square | 415.775.8508
Not nearly as fancy as sister restaurant, Quince, Cotogna serves up Northern Italian fare using the highest quality ingredients from nearby markets. It’s the kind of stuff we’d happily eat on a nightly basis: fresh pastas, veggie plates, wood-fired pizza, and simple fish entrees. In the elegant, almost all-wood dining room, the vibe is lively but not loud as tables are generously spaced. If you can get a table, great, if not, dining at the bar while watching the chefs at work is pretty awesome, too. A better option yet is to snag the Chef's Table in front of the open kitchen (or reserve the entire place).
Fish350 Harbor Dr., Sausalito | 415.331.3474
Sustainable seafood practices have long been a topic of conversation in California. The folks at Fish don't talk a big game, they live it. Everything at this Sausalito spot, from the daily catch to the Portuguese chowder, is sustainably sourced by local fishermen with the protection of wild fish populations in mind. There's even an on-site fish market (sustainable, of course) for at-home cooks.
Park Tavern1652 Stockton St., North Beach | 415.989.7300
The "park" in Park Tavern is a reference to Washington Square Park, which sits directly in front of the history-steeped space that originally housed a wood and coal yard. Dinner at this Jennifer Puccio-run spot is a grand affair with a fish and meat-centric menu to match. In addition to just-caught roasted halibut and outstanding roasted chicken, you’ll also find the "Marlowe" burger—a carryover from their sister restaurant, Marlowe. Their private room on the Mezzanine level has cool black-and-white graphic wallpaper and a dedicated bar.
Slanted Door1 Ferry Building, Embarcadero | 415.861.8032
The first thing you notice about this San Francisco standby are the views. Ever since The Slanted Door moved into the Ferry Building from its original Valencia street location, the bay has become a welcome addition to the minimalist interior (same goes for the sleek private dining rooms upstairs). But one thing hasn’t changed: this is still the place for Vietnamese. The emphasis is on fresh and organic ingredients. If you’re wanting a quick fix, you can also pick up food to-go at their Out the Door counter in the Ferry Building marketplace. Slanted Door also has a few sister restaurants including Out The Door on Bush Street, which is where the crowds are flocking these days.
CoquetaPier 5, The Embarcadero, Embarcadero | 415.704.8866
Chef Michael Chiarello does traditional tapas in a totally new way. For one thing, the portions are hearty and filling, not the miniscule bites you might be used to; the ingredients lean heavily on what's in season rather than what's expected. For dessert, get the churros—served with drinking chocolate and a sci-fi-looking berry powder. While you wait for a table (call ahead for reservations), the outdoor bar is a fun scene to grab a drink.
Sushi Ran107 Caledonia St., Sausalito | 415.332.3620
At first glance, this Sausalito staple looks like a run-of-the-mill sushi joint (going strong since 1986), complete with an almost all-wood interior, sushi bar, and knowledgeable staff, but upon close inspection of the menu you'll see that it's anything but. To supplement the ample fresh fish selection—delivered daily by local fishermen or shipped in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market—there are artfully prepared vegetables, inventive small plates, and non-seafood proteins.
Hog Island Oyster Co.1 Ferry Building 11A, Embarcadero | 415.391.7117
Fresh off a major expansion, which doubled capacity and added outdoor seating, this Ferry Building mainstay draws a consistently big crowd for its oysters. The cooked food menu is pretty enticing as well: The clam chowder is creamy but doesn’t weigh you down after just a few bites and the shrimp and grits is the ideal share plate. But back to the oysters. There are three different variations of grilled oysters in addition to an oyster po’ boy that actually rivals the original.
Yank Sing101 Spear St., Embarcadero | 415.781.1111
This is the best place to go for authentic Dim Sum as the offering is vast, including every dumpling choice you can imagine. The dining room doubles in capacity on the weekends in order to accommodate the crowds while the menu decreases in size, meaning weekdays are definitely the best time for a meal. There's a nearby location on Stevenson Street, too.
Sons & Daughters708 Bush St., Nob Hill | 415.391.8311
Dining here is an all senses on deck experience. There are only 28 seats in the smallish space surrounding a bustling open kitchen so socializing with fellow diners is kind of unavoidable. To keep the focus on the food, the team created an excellent—and at $115 a pop, surprisingly affordable—tasting menu brimming with locally grown ingredients (a lot comes from the restaurant's Santa Cruz farm) prepared in unexpected ways. The wine program is just as impressive as the food.
17601760 Polk St., Nob Hill | 415.359.1212
On Friday and Saturday nights, this sprawling space feels and sounds like a rowdy dining hall and tables are spaced just far enough that you can hear your neighbors' conversation without bumping elbows. The floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto busy Polk Street, which adds to the buzzy vibe. Menu-wise, it’s all small plates that change seasonally, however, the lobster ceviche, lollipop kale, and uni bucatini have become signature dishes. Come with a friend or a date for cocktails and a few sharing plates.
Pizzeria Delfina2406 California St., Pacific Heights | 415.440.1189
San Francisco isn’t exactly famous for pizza, but the Neapolitan-inspired pies at Delfina’s teeny spin-off are way more than respectable, which explains why three more locations have mushroomed all over Northern California (there's also one in the Mission). While the pizza is the obvious star, supporting dishes like the tricolore salad and salumi platters are also consistently excellent.
Tadich Grill240 California St., Financial District | 415.391.1849
It's been around since the Gold Rush, so you kind of go here more for the history than the food. If you're in the mood for the full white-tablecloth experience, order the charcoal-broiled fish as it's said Tadich is responsible for pioneering the technique in the U.S. If not, we like the bar for a martini and people watching.
Zazie941 Cole St., Haight Ashbury | 415.564.5332
With its cozy back patio and artfully weathered awning, Cole Valley's Zazie would look right at home on a tiny cobblestone street in Paris. The French-inflected menu of grilled figs, fish soup, lamb tagine, and respectable wine list (on Tuesdays the owners waive the corkage fee if you choose to bring your own) help the cause, too. The brunch, which is equally excellent, is served daily.
Perbacco230 California St., Financial District | 415.955.0663
This big, bustling Italian restaurant is a huge hit with the after-work crowd on weekdays and for date night or group hangs on weekends; and with five separate private dining room options, it's a classic on the holiday office party circuit. The sharable plate of house-cured meats is a must order no matter what your reason for venturing out. The rest of the menu reads like a greatest hits list of Italian comfort food: loads of seafood, grilled veggies, and of course, pasta. Though the main dining room has a great convivial vibe, we prefer to take our meals at the bar (coincidentally, the cocktails here are excellent).
Tacolicious741 Valencia St., Mission | 415.626.1344
While the name may suggest otherwise, at Tacolicious the drinks and the scene are the main draw. Take the margaritas: there are several on the cocktail list and each one is good enough to order by the pitcher. That said, the tacos are solid, as are the salads and guacamole. There's also a location in the Marina and the Embarcadero.
Leo’s Oyster Bar568 Sacramento St., Financial District | 415.872.9982
The interior of Leo's is another gorgeous creation from Ken Fulk, with marble tabletops, verdant wallpaper, checkered, East Coast-style floors, and wicker stools. As for the food, the oysters here are served old-school, on ice and with a generously poured flute of champagne. The menu's just as good off the raw bar—we love the lobster roll, shrimp toast, and tater tots.