San Francisco Restaurants
1760 Polk St., Nob Hill
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.
20th Century Café
198 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This café came to us by recommendation from Kim Alter, who calls it one of the neighborhood's hidden gems. Inspired to open up shop after visiting cafés in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, owner and chef Michelle Polzine is known for knishes; linzer tortes; a drool-worthy, 10-layer Russian honey cake; and for her eclectic collection of vintage dresses and aprons. As Alter told us, "She's just the whole package."
2355 Chestnut St., Cow Hollow
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.
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.
1722 Sacramento St., Nob Hill
Acquerello has been serving upscale Italian in Nob Hill for 25 years now—with excellent food and a decidedly grown-up setting, it’s exactly the kind of place you want to go to for special occasions. Run by a father-son team from Bologna and an executive chef/partner that’s been with them from the beginning, the classic Italian dishes are unshakably good. There are two private room options that are both relatively formal.
3127 Fillmore St., Cow Hollow
Chef Dominique Crenn is equal parts poet and chef, as evidenced by the creative titles of her tasting menu, which includes dishes like "the sea" or "walk in the forest." She’s also known for inventive presentation—expect lots of props, like dishes with glass panels, or mossy branches, to adorn your meal. The private room makes for a lovely space for a private meal.
561 Valencia St., Mission
Co-chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns have curated a menu that's essentially a culinary trip around the world via dishes influenced by Japanese, Middle Eastern, and Hungarian cuisines. In-house fermentation and DIY is a big part of what they do here, resulting in food that's literally made 100% from scratch. The tartines that originally put Chad Robinson's establishments on the map are particularly good at brunch time (get the smoked salmon). Be sure to snag some of the famous fresh-baked bread on your way out.
22 Hawthorne St., SoMa
A full-fledged tasting menu kind of place, a reservation here is best reserved for a special occasion. Chef/owner Corey Lee (a French Laundry alum) is one of very few restaurants in the area to receive three Michelin stars.
1199 Valencia St., Mission
The first thing you'll notice about Beretta is the elegant décor—industrial chandeliers dangle from the high ceilings and glass light fixtures dot the bar. One of the first spots that brought the Mission to culinary fame, they're best known for great Italian comfort food (don’t miss the thin crust pizzas and classic pastas) and an insanely good brunch (how can you not order the carbonara brunch pizza?). The upstairs event space is perfect for an event that feels sophisticated but with a little bit of cool factor.
3218 Mission St., Mission
Set up in an old converted home complete with a back yard, this is the kind of laid-back, blessedly well-priced spot locals feel good coming back to on the regular. The menu is packed with comfort food staples like meatloaf, fried chicken, and various pastas. It's pretty ideal for weeknight family dinners.
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