Travel

Hayes Valley Restaurants

Establishment neighborhood
Cala
149 Fell St., Hayes Valley
Mexico City native Gabriela Camara has gained trailblazing status for her California-meets-Mexico fare (think: prawns in chile guajillo broth and crab tostadas with napa cabbage and habanero). Always bustling for dinner, the Hayes Valley hotspot is also a mainstay for lunch (its adjacent standing room taqueria is open daily from 11am-2pm). While the food is reason enough to come, it's worth noting the interiors—industrial and light-filled—are beautiful.
Petit Crenn
609 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Paying homage to her ancestral roots, Dominique Crenn's second (and slightly less experimental) restaurant emphasizes fresh seafood dishes—mussels and clams with garlic and saffron—and a great selection of French wines. The bright, cozy space is white, crisp, and just a touch nautical, with lights dangling from raw rope built-in bench seating decorated with light pillows. Unless you want to eat at the first come first serve bar, try to make a reservation well in advance. The menu is prix fixe—but it's totally worth it.
Rich Table
199 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This is the kind of place you bring a friend from out of town to, because it shows off the best of what SF's food scene has to offer. The restaurant is owned by Evan and Sarah Rich, a married couple who met when they were working in the kitchen at Bouley. Though both Evan and Sarah come from fine dining backgrounds, the vibe at Rich Table is much more relaxed, which results in ambitious dishes and exotic ingredients presented in a refreshingly unfussy way. The move, if you can, is the chef's picks. Photos: Kassie Borreson
Monsieur Benjamin
451 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This is one of those restaurants you can always count on to be great, no matter when you come, or what the occasion—and the subtly French menu is that magical length that gives you options without being overwhelming. While the wine list is thorough and creative, it's the cocktails that really shine—try a refreshing Daybreak (a combination of genepy, elderflower, tonic, and lemon), or their subtle absinthe drink, which is served with gin, mint, and Lillet. The space, which you'll know from the neon cat that hangs out front, is around the corner from the symphony and the War Memorial Opera House, so it's the perfect spot for a date before a performance.
Nightbird
330 Gough St., Hayes Valley
Kim Alter's been a fixture of the SF food scene for a long time, working with the Daniel Patterson Group and several of the area's high-end restaurants, but Nightbird is her first solo project. It comes highly recommended by Chef Thea (who calls Alter a "kitchen badass"), which is as about good a seal of approval as you can get at #goophq. Go for Nightbird's stunning $125/person tasting menu that changes with the seasons; next, head to the Linden Room, her teeny-tiny cocktail lounge next-door, for after-dinner drinks.
Absinthe
398 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Absinthe was an early pioneer both of the craft/artisanal cocktail scene in San Francisco (the absinthe cocktails are still amazing) and of the Hayes Valley neighborhood (they were one of the first in the area). The cuisine slants French, but not in a restricting way—you’ll find a Hawaiian swordfish alongside their famous French onion soup and coq au vin. The upstairs private space is unique in the city for being completely separate, with an exclusive-use bar and entrance.
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