Looking for a memorable meal in San Francisco? Here are the best places to eat in San Francisco along with tips for first-timers.
San Francisco is known for its collection of hole-in-the-wall Asian joints, eclectic New American restaurants, a booming fusion scene, and all the sourdough bread, Ghirardelli chocolate, and seafood a person could want. What you’ll find is a mixture of the trendy (thanks to the techies) and the cherished (thanks to the hippies) sitting side-by-side in the City by The Bay. But how do you sort through the best places to eat in San Francisco?
For those traveling to San Francisco for two days, check out “48 Hours in San Francisco: What To Do, See, and Eat”.
Personally, meals for me in San Francisco have been a hit-or-miss (overrated, overpriced, or both). Not all of the suggestions from eating guides have lived up to the hype. Instead, I’ve turned to the guidance of locals to point me in the right direction of a great meal. Over the course of three years living and—for a short time—working in San Francisco, here are the spots that keep me coming back for more. This list is not exhaustive and a little Asian-leaning, but it’s tried-and-true. Here are the restaurants sorted by neighborhood:
Disclaimer: I still have to eat at Zuni Cafe, Nopa, Foreign Cinema, Flour + Water, Tadich Grill, Rich Table, Hook Fish Co., and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. But we’re treating this as a running list to be updated when new discoveries come into play.
Embarcadero + Fisherman’s Wharf
The Ferry Building – $ (Variety)
If you’re limited on time in San Francisco, The Ferry Building is the one place you should eat. A NorCal food mecca, the restored and working ferry station is home to dozens of local proprietors selling everything from cheese wheels (Cowgirl Creamery) to milkshakes (Gott’s Roadside), empanadas (El Porteño) to funghi (Far West Fungi), bagels (Daily Driver) to waffle cones (Humphry Slocombe), and everything in between. You’ll spot the Ferry Building’s iconic clock tower instantly as you travel down San Francisco’s layered waterfront.
Pro-tip: Go on Saturday for their massive Farmers Market day where the offerings spill out on the front and back portions of the Ferry Building.
Address: 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94105
What To Order: I’ll always have a soft spot for Hog Island Oyster Co., especially their grilled Chipotle Bourbon oysters and a bowl of mussels. Ask for outdoor seating to look out onto the bay.
Boudin At The Wharf – $ (American + Bakery)
Another tourist favorite is Boudin At The Wharf, home of the original San Francisco sourdough bread. The massive two-story waterfront property holds another accolade as the oldest continually operating business in San Francisco, claiming to use the sourdough starter it developed during the California Gold Rush. They even have a tour of their bread baking operations at the Bakery Museum.
Address: 160 Jefferson Street, San Francisco, CA 94133
What To Order: Thick clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Order downstairs in the canteen area for cheaper prices. Every meal is double the price at their sitdown restaurant located upstairs.
Dragon Beaux – $$ (Cantonese + Dimsum)
The more, the merrier. This phrase applies to both company and food selections at the high-end Dragon Beaux, a dimsum heavy hitter with 2-hour average wait times on Sundays. But the food is well worth your while with an enormous menu of Cantonese dishes refreshed. Think colorful xiao long baos, sea bass dumplings, and even fish ball congee! They have two dining services, one for lunch and one for dinner so pay attention to the last call and ask about their specials. This is one of my favorite places to eat in San Francisco.
Address: 5700 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121
What To Order: You must order the “Five Guys Xiao Long Bao,” a quintet of uniquely flavored and colored soup dumplings. But the “Rainbow Taro Bao,” a trio of steamed chewy rice buns packed with sweetened taro paste, is best saved for last.
Burma Superstar – $$$ (Burmese)
Travel to far corners of Myanmar at Burma Superstar, the restaurant that put Burmese food on the map in San Francisco. A textural wunderkind, think of Burmese food as a mishmash of Thai and Indian cuisine, but with surprising bursts of flavors you can’t quite put your finger, err I mean your tongue on. Double your order on the coconut rice and don’t be afraid to ask your server what exactly you’re eating when ordering the laphet thoke, the tea leaf salad, as it’s being stirred tableside.
Pro-tip: If you are deterred by the line at the original Richmond location, check out their sister restaurants Burma Love or Burma Club, which features all the Burmese national dishes on their menus.
Address: 309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118
What To Order: The platha and dip is the one appetizer I will always go back for. Soak all the chewy, buttery layers in a coconut chicken curry sauce.
Son and Garden – $$$ (Asian Fusion)
Come for the instagram pics, stay for brunch. Son and Garden is a buzzy Asian fusion brunch spot that packs a “wow” factor. Thanks to its blooming walls, ceilings cascading with hanging blossoms, and its picture perfect plates decorated with edible flowers, Son and Garden is the perfect spot for brunch with your friends. Fluffy pancakes, a whimsical Cloud 9 cocktail complete with a sugar butterfly, and an exquisite high tea spreads leads to a lot of swooning and snapping all around the table. Son and Garden is a sister restaurant to Farmhouse Thai Kitchen.
Address: 700 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
What To Order: The Bibimbap comes in a traditional Korean stone bowl but is served up with fried chicken as the main protein. Slather on the gochuchang and mix the white rice with runny fried egg yolk.
Brenda’s French Soul Food – $$ (Southern + Creole)
Satisfy your beignet cravings at Brenda’s French Soul Food. A carousel of Creole comfort food like jambalaya, gumbo, and shrimp n’ grits await. From crawfish to chicory coffee, catfish to po’boys, experience a taste of the Big Easy by way of the Bay. A fair warning that the food is very heavy and savory and the dining area is a wee bit cramped quarters, but they take Covid protocols seriously.
Address: 652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102
What To Order: Instead of ordering a plate of crawfish beignets, get the flight to try all the beignet flavors: plain, crawfish, plain, apple, and chocolate. Another flight worth ordering is the broiled oysters set. The Casino oyster broiled with bacon bits, scallion, biscuit crumbs, and cheese is my favorite of the trio.
KAIYO – $$ (Peruvian + Japanese)
A relative newcomer to the San Francisco food scene is KAIYO, a trendy restaurant that does nikkei food serious justice. Nikkei food marries Peruvian ingredients with Japanese techniques. With a live moss wall, comic-book adorned bathrooms, peruvian mirrors galore, and streamer-lined parklets, you’ll never want to leave especially with their passionfruit pisco sour in hand. One of the best places to eat in San Francisco if you’re looking for something more under the radar.
Address: 1838 Union Street, San Francisco, California 94123
What To Order: The signature Kaiyo Roll is fire with tempura asparagus, avocado, onion, jalapeno, trout, crab, and a garlic chili oil drizzle. As a sharing plate, the Pulpo A La Parilla (octopus skewer) has the meatiest grilled octopus in bite-size chunks. And if your a fan of sashimi, the Hamachi is buttery and melt-in-your-mouth.
Lower Pacific Heights
State Bird Provisions – $$$ (New American)
A highly coveted table at State Bird Provisions takes months to book. But if you score a seat thanks to a well-timed reservation, you’ll be rewarded with a novel dining experience thanks to an ever-changing menu. Akin to dimsum, staff wheel around regionally sourced small plates and you pick and choose what you like depending on what catches your eyes.
Pro-Tip: You can book up to 30 days in advance but the best way to dine there is by grabbing a walk-in table. Just get in line 30 minutes before it opens at 5 pm.
Address: 1529 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115
What To Order: The namesake “state bird” dish is the quail recipe that inspired the concept of the restaurant.
Farmhouse Thai Kitchen – $$$ (Thai)
To my surprise, finding great Thai food hasn’t been that easy in the Bay Area. Enter Farmhouse Thai Kitchen, a festive-fun restaurant in every sense of the word. The predominantly Thai staff wear floral shirts and parade around vibrant khantoke trays of noodles and rice. Perfect for celebrations, visitors can enjoy the inventive new takes of traditional Thai flavors. This is a sister restaurant of Son and Garden.
Address: 710 Florida St. San Francisco, CA 94110
What To Order: The Hat Yai Fried Chicken is a triumphant display of fried chicken, blue rice, and yellow curry served with flaky roti for dipping.
Tartine Manufactory – $$ (Pastries + New American)
An outpost of the beloved Tartine Bakery, you’ll find the morning bun and more at the warehouse version of the popular bakehouse. Tartine Manufactory has a walk-up bakery and a sitdown restaurant. But tables are booked in advance so make a reservation beforehand to enjoy a rustic menu with sandwiches made with their freshly-baked breads.
Pro-tip: Snake around pack to visit Heath Ceramics and my favorite shop Heath Newsstand, which stacks tons of travel magazines and guide books.
Address: 595 Alabama St San Francisco, CA 94110
What To Order: The Morning Bun, a sticky, pillowy ensemble of cinnamon, orange zest, and sugar.
Dandelion Chocolate – $$ (Pastries + Dessert)
As a bean-to-bar chocolate collector, I can’t get enough of Dandelion Chocolate. Their shop on Valencia Street is a great place to snag some edible souvenirs and also to sample their award-winning chocolate made on-site by way of pastries and drinking chocolates.
Address: 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
What To Order: The Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Chip Cookie go hand-in-hand.
La Taqueria – $ (Mexican)
The proudly Hispanic Mission district is where you’ll find La Taqueria, part of the old guard of taco spots that wage war over who has the best tacos and burritos. No you won’t find the Mission Burrito here (served with Mexican rice) but their rice-free burritos leave room to enjoy their incredibly juicy meats and “super” medley of avocados, beans, sour cream, and cheese. Take your foil-wrapped prize to the nearby Mission Dolores park for an easy picnic opportunity. If you’re looking for great Mexican food, this is one of the best places to eat in San Francisco.
Pro-tip: Previously cash only, they now accept credit cards with a 3.5% transaction fee. The food is inexpensive so go the cash route.
Address: 2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
What To Order: A super beef burrito served up Dorado-style, seared with a hot, oily plancha so the flour skin is golden and crisp. You have to ask specifically for Dorado-style since it’s not featured on the menu.
First Time Eating in San Francisco?
Here are some things to consider when beginning your culinary adventure around the city.
📍 The best Chinese food is not in Chinatown. Travel to the far reaches of the Inner/Outer Sunset and Richmond area for delicious Chinese fare. Parking is a nightmare especially on the weekends. With the recent spike of car break-ins (rentals with out-of-state license plates, beware!) some neighborhoods are harder to park in than others (ex, Embarcadero, Mission, Richmond). If you can find a garage, it’s a good investment. Make sure you clear your car of all things, even phone chargers and coins in the cup holder.
📍Download the Yelp App. Yelp is THE food app for Bay Area citizens who rely on the popular menu items feature to choose their meal of choice. But it’s also great for the waitlist app which allows you to put your name in the queue when you’re in the vicinity. Worked wonders for me at Dragon Beaux on a weekend.
📍Go to North Beach for Italian food. This is a great area to walk around and since I have not tried any Italian food in the city, under the advice of a North Beach local and good friend, Tony’s will never disappoint.
📍Gratuity might be automatically added to your bill. Before you leave a tip, check your bill to see if gratuity has been automatically added under the line item “gratuity” or “service charge.”
📍What are all these other charges? The SF Mandate Tax is another surcharge that restaurants tack onto the bill to pay their employees fairly. If you see a 22% gratuity suggestion, it’s okay to balk. With rising prices, the tax suggestions seem to only grow but don’t be intimidated to leave such a high tip. 18-20% is fine enough depending on the quality of service.
📍Is there a vaccine mandate in SF? As of Feb 6. 2022, you are 12 years or older, you must show proof of vaccination to dine indoors.
Here’s a map of all the best places to eat in San Francisco
Did I miss some of your favorite places to eat in San Francisco? Let me know if there’s a restaurant I should check out to add to my best places to eat in San Francisco list.
Give me a shout-out on Pinterest pretty please?