The San Francisco Hipster Guide
While San Francisco is classic to its core, there’s a strong counter culture sensibility that’s always been an essential part of the city—these days, it can primarily be found in places like The Tenderloin, where great new spots are popping up every month.
Pizzetta 211211 23rd Ave., Richmond District | 415.379.9880
There are only four tables, so weekend waits can get borderline unbearable but the pizzas here are some of the best in the city. Is you absolutely can't stick around, grab a pie to-go and come back often, the offering changes weekly according to what's in season.
Nopa560 Divisadero St., Hayes Valley | 415.864.8643
Nopa is one of few restaurants around that's open late—dinner is served until 1am—which is unheard of in SF. This is a definite good thing considering it can be challenging to land one of the communal tables or booths on a super busy night, but if you’re lucky you can snag a seat at the bar. In a city full of Italian restaurants, this is the place to go for fresh pasta that changes regularly according to what’s in season. So good is the selection of the house-made pastas, burgers, salads, and sides that local chefs go here on their nights off. The wine list is the stuff of legend.
Marlowe500 Brannan St., SoMa | 415.777.1413
While there are delicious small plates for veggies to tuck into, the mains at this Chef Jennifer Puccio-helmed spot have the carnivore crowd in mind. The Marlow burger is particularly memorable (and by memorable, we mean it's one of the best we've ever had). Ken Faulk—regarded as one of the most talented interior designers in the city—re-imagined the sprawling space to resemble an elevated butcher shop. They have several spaces to accommodate private parties, the best one being their private patio space: It's decorated with herbs and other greenery and dotted with heat lamps that make it comfortable year-round.
Mission Chinese Food2234 Mission St., Mission | 415.863.2800
You know how S.F. has a reputation for stellar Chinese food? This is where it all started. The original outpost—there's one in NYC, too—doesn't offer much in terms of ambiance (it's kind of a hole in the wall) but the food is outstanding. The Asian chicken salad, in particular, gets a ton of much-deserved attention. Oh, and they deliver.
Heirloom Café2500 Folsom St., Mission | 415.821.2500
This is the kind of place that takes its wine just as seriously as the food, though neither is too hoity-toity or expensive. The exposed kitchen, which is visible from almost ever angle of the smallish dining room, has a sort of hypnotic effect on diners. Ask for the Heirloom burger—it has the cheese mixed into the patty rather than sitting on top.
Flour + Water2401 Harrison St., Mission | 415.826.7000
Come nighttime, the dim lighting and loud music draw a younger crowd to this tightly-packed gem a few blocks off the main Mission drag. The lineup of house-made pastas is as unusual as they come. From maltagliati with braised rabbit and sunchokes to trenette with pork sugo and chili, the concepts are always inspired. The pizzas are just as interesting. It's not a light meal, so come with hungry friends as a lot of it is great to share. The dough room where they roll the pasta during is available as a private dining room in the evenings.
Central Kitchen3000 20th St., Mission | 415.826.7004
The indoor-outdoor dining room is equal parts rustic (Edison bulbs, communal tables) and modern (exposed kitchen, cement floors) while the food is hearty Northern California fare through and through. Taking full advantage of the region's bounty, Chef Thomas McNaughton developed relationships with local farmers who provide just-plucked produce for dishes like squash maltagliati, figs with coppa di testa, and melon and burrata. If you're hosting an event, keep in mind that the attached Salumeria, which is a market by day, becomes a cozy dining room by night.
Liholiho Yacht Club871 Sutter St., Tenderloin | 415.440.5446
The Tenderloin is kind of having a moment right now with trendy spots popping up on the regular. With its huge open kitchen, slick bar, and generally awesome vibe, Liholiho fits the bill, but it also has the seriously good food to back it up. Think fancy-ish Hawaiian food—marinated squid, Spam fried rice, fried oysters—and killer drinks. For dessert, we've heard good things about the Baked Hawaii—like a Baked Alaska but…you know, Hawaiian. Big parties should spring for the family-style Ohana Table option.
Namu Gaji499 Dolores St., Mission | 415.431.6268
There's a lot to appreciate about this insanely cool-looking Korean-American restaurant, not the least of which is the fact that it's run by three brothers who inherited their skills from their chef mom. What's more, most of the ingredients used for the seasonal plates are supplied by their very own farm. And if that doesn't impress, the beer is on tap (i.e. you can order by the pitcher), the dessert comes in shave ice form, and there's a dedicated kids menu perfect for easing little palettes into flavor-heavy Korean cuisine.
La Taqueria2889 Mission St., Mission | 415.285.7117
Widely considered the best taqueria in in the city, this unassuming spot has literally won awards for its tacos and burritos, which are stuffed with really good, clean meat and are best washed down with the house aguas frescas. That said, many would argue the carnitas are the sleeper hits here. We've also heard whispers of a secret menu so make friend with some regulars, stat.
Hawker Fare680 Valencia Street, Mission | 415.400.5699
The success of the original Oakland outpost inspired Chef James Syhabout—he's the guy behind Commis—to bring his much-adored Laotian Thai restaurant (the 24-hour Pork Belly is something else) to S.F. The restaurant is full of color and life, designed to encourage customers to stick around for drinks and laughs long after the food is cleared.
Ramen Shop5812 College Ave., Oakland | 510.788.6370
What's cool about this awesome little ramen shop is that it's the brainchild of Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman, and Sam White—all three are Chez Panisse alums. So it's really no surprise that the food, though not super authentic Japanese, is prepared with insane skill. Everything on the modest menu, from the pickle plate to the squid fried rice to the Hokkaido buttercorn-miso ramen is legit, but it's the veggie ramen that really rocked our world. Be prepared for a longish wait as the 45 seats are filled up on a first-come, first-served basis.