The San Francisco Foodie Guide
With the grande dame Chez Panisse leading the charge, San Francisco has beckoned people who love to eat for decades—and set many of the country’s food trends. Michelin stars are scattered throughout the city, along with plenty of upstarts for more adventurous eaters.
Commis3859 Piedmont Ave., Oakland | 510.653.3902
Commis holds the title for being the first and only Michelin-starred restaurant in Oakland. And honestly, once you try Chef James Syhabout's multi-curse tasting menu (at a little over a hundred bucks a pop, they’re a fairly reasonable treat), the accolades totally make sense. Stellar food aside, it's the kind of place you want to dress up for, making the sleek, minimal dining room ideal for celebrations.
Chez Panisse1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley | 510.548.5525
Alice Waters has been doing the whole organic, sustainably sourced "California cuisine" thing since 1972, long before it was all the rage. She even founded The Edible Schoolyard Project to empower littles to make healthful, environment-friendly food decisions. Chez Panisse, her much-respected bistro in Berkeley, is an institution and the impeccably prepared, seasonal fare (on a prix-fixe menu basis only) has landed this place on countless best-of lists. Upstairs at the unassuming little Arts and Crafts building where the restaurant is housed there's also The Café. Here, you’ll find a more casual a la carte selection; just like its older sibling, the menu changes daily.
La Ciccia291 30th St., Noe Valley | 415.550.8114
In a nutshell, this is the place for incredibly authentic Sardinian food with an Italian-only wine list to match. Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan, the husband and wife team responsible for the magic, are particularly well-versed in seafood which explains why the braised octopus is some of the best we've had. On the pasta front, the bottariga spaghetti is no joke.
The Progress1525 Fillmore St., Fillmore | 415.673.1294
This was one of the buzziest openings in the city last year (it's from the people behind State Bird Provisions), and the hype hasn't died down. The dreamy, all-wood, bi-level space has a lot to do with it, and the food changes daily, so there's no getting bored. While State Bird is about tiny plates of dim sum, here it's a unique take family-style: for $65 per person, the table chooses six big dishes from a checklist to share. Thankfully, everyone gets their own dessert.
Lers Ros3189 16th St., Mission | 415.923.8978
So at three doors strong, Lers Ros is technically a chain, but don't let that stop you from giving their simple, authentic Thai food a shot. Menu items vary slightly from location to location and everything is consistently perfectly prepared and delicious. There's also a location in Tenderloin and Hayes Valley.
Camino3917 Grand Ave., Oakland | 510.547.5035
Russel Moore has been running this lively, industrial-looking spot with his wife Allison Hopelain since 2008. The massive wood-fire oven is the focal point, both aesthetically and practically, as the majority of the dishes (oysters with absinthe, grilled king trumpet mushrooms, shellbean gratin) on the pared-down, constantly evolving menu pass through it. Check back often, as they sometimes do special edition culinary events. September, for example, brings with it Paella Mondays.
Comal2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley | 510.926.6300
We love that the Oaxacan region of Mexico serves as Chef Matt Gandin’s muse at this Arts District favorite. The result? A menu of ceviches, tamales, tacos, and insane shared dishes that stays true to tradition while bringing something innovative to the table. It's a pretty awesome space, too, with an exposed-brick dining room, plus a massive outdoor area with fire pit and beer garden. If you've got a group of 20 or more, ask about their private room in the back, where they serve those crazy-good sharing plates family style around one long table.
Pizzaiolo5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland | 510.652.4888
The folks at Pizzaiolo value their suppliers as much as they value their customers—an obsession Chef Charlie Hallowell picked up during his tenure in the kitchen at Chez Panisse. And it's this belief in good ingredients (organic flour, responsibly raised wild stock from local ranchers) that manifests itself in some of the best casual food in Oakland: veggie-centric antipasti, incredible proteins, and pretty epic thin-crust pizza. Oh, and the breakfast is not to be missed.
Commonwealth2224 Mission St., Mission | 415.355.1500
Set up in a stark and understated space that looks more like a garage than a restaurant, the décor begins and ends with a hanging disco ball found in the attic during renovation. The food is serious, particularly the innovative approach to seafood and veggies: sea urchin with horseradish tofu, fried anchovies, fresh shelling beans with chanterelles. Chef Jason Fox put together a pretty substantial six-course tasting menu ($75, $10 of which does to charity), which somehow feels healthy and light. The a la carte selection doesn't disappoint.
SPQR1911 Fillmore St., Western Addition | 415.771.7779
A16’s sister restaurant, SPQR focuses on traditional Italian dishes which include fresh, house-made pastas and follows the same selective attitude toward Italian wine. Go with a small group of friends (they only allow tables of four people max) so you can try more of their small plates.
State Bird Provisions1529 Fillmore St., Western Addition | 415.795.1272
The foodie world collectively freaked out when Chef Stuart Brioza and his wife/partner Nicole Krasinski opened dim-sum-focused SBP back in 2012, which quickly became loved for its carts of gourmet dumplings and savory pancakes and a separate menu where you'll find the quail dish that gave the restaurant its name. Three years and two James Beard awards later, getting a table here is as difficult as ever. Luckily, they save a good portion of seats for walk-ins. But still, get here early.
Zuni Café1658 Market St., Hayes Valley | 415.552.2522
The menu at this classic French-slash-Italian restaurant changes daily but the delicious food remains a constant. The specialties are the whole roast chicken (it's made-to-order so expect to wait a bit), and the bread salad—both dishes were developed by Judy Rodgers who's been running the kitchen since 1987. Sadly, Judy passed away in 2013, but her incredible recipes live on.
Spruce3640 Sacramento St., Presidio | 415.931.5100
The slick interior and miles-deep wine list make this is a great place for a dressed-up celebratory dinner. The food spans a variety of cuisines but the emphasis remains on local and organic fare. We're partial to the Sunday brunch (get the beignets) and the burger any night of the week. They have three elegant rooms for private parties—the events team is particularly skilled at florals.
A162355 Chestnut St., Cow Hollow | 415.771.2216
Though the southern Italian cuisine here is delicious, the highlight is definitely the wine. The owner and sommelier, Shelley Lindgren, finds little-known wines to pair with, among other things, the wood-fired thin-crust pizza, which is not to be missed. Be sure to pick up the A16 cookbook by Nate Appleman and stop by sister restaurant SPQR.
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.
Swan Oyster Depot1517 Polk St., Nob Hill | 415.673.1101
This family owned business has been open for almost a century, serving up fresh oysters, clams, crab, and a very famous clam chowder. Go for the Dungeness Crab Louie and the incredibly fresh oysters, which you order at the counter, preferably with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. There is only bar seating and it’s hard to get a seat, so expect a line.
Tosca Café242 Columbus Ave., Chinatown | 415.986.9651
This historic kitchen (the space has been around for close to a century) churns out the kind of no-frills, endlessly satisfying Italian food that for whatever reason appeals to ex-New Yorkers. The fact that the restaurant has been thoroughly revamped by April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman (The Spotted Pig, the Breslin) helps the cause, too. There's nothing precious about the plates of pasta and generous orders of whole roasted chicken, which is probably why getting a table is close to impossible unless you're willing to put in the time to wait. If dining alone, the bar is the ideal place to do so in peace. If you're with a large group, inquire about their private room—the entrance is located on the other side of the kitchen's warm chaos.
Saison178 Townsend St., SoMa | 415.828.7990
What makes this Michelin starred spot stand out is that there's no set menu. Instead, the team comes up with a multi-course meal nightly, depending on the day's fresh catch and produce bounty. This also means that the bill can skyrocket to hundreds of dollars per person. That said, those who’ve been lucky enough to go, swear you get what you pay for.
Ichi Sushi3282 Mission St., Bernal Heights | 415.525.4750
While this sits in a somewhat sketchy part of town, the fish here is so good that not only will you venture out, you'll happily wait in line to get inside. In fact, so legendary is the Omakase offering and a la carte menu, that local chefs come here for dinner after putting in shifts at their own restaurants. Inside, the vibe is relaxed with blasting hip-hop, a great sake assortment, and prices that won't break the bank.
Frances3870 17th St., Castro | 415.621.3870
We love Chef Melissa Perello's on-the-low fancy restaurant just as much for the location—it sits on a beautiful corner in the Castro—as for the consistently delicious food. Like so many establishments around these parts, the focus is mainly on giving the abundant fresh ingredients the spotlight. Here, that means there's a roasted fennel chowder, mushroom risotto, and a kale salad that's unlike anything you've ever tasted.
Quince470 Pacific Ave., Jackson Square | 415.775.8500
Michael Tusk's Quince has fast become the standard for fine dining, so it's no surprise that his catering business, Tusk Events, is booming. They can handle events of any size, but it's good to remember that Quince's family-style tables can also be reserved for large parties—a nice option if you're looking to host a gathering with minimal-effort. The various tasting menus, aided by a miles-long wine list, make for a pretty perfect weekend date night or decadent catch-up session with pals.
Burma Superstar4721 Telegraph Ave., Oakland | 510.652.2900
Borrowing liberally from Indian, Chinese, and Thai cuisine, Burmese dishes are rich, flavorful, and inventive, and no one does them better than Burma Superstar. A California standby since 1992, this family-operated institution has grown to include three locations (including one in Alameda and one in Inner Richmond). While every outpost has its own specialty, each menu is guaranteed to include insane noodles, soups, and tons of veggie options. Portions are massive, so order accordingly.
Del Popolo855 Bush St., Union Square | 415.589.7940
Before adding a bricks-and-mortar location last year, the guys at Del Popolo were slinging pies out of their now-famous mobile pizzeria. Why famous? Other than the killer Neapolitan-style pizzas, which range from classic Margherita to a honey-spiked potato pie, it’s the ingenious use of a converted shipping container fastened onto a Freightliner truck in place of a standard food truck that got people talking. And lucky for us all, even with the free-standing restaurant (they tacked on some antipasti dishes and a pretty badass wine list to the restaurant menu), they’re still serving pies on the go all over the city out of the mobile pizzeria that started it all.