Each year since starting this blog, I’ve posted a list of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, my home town. One of the many things I love about this city is the ever-changing food scene. There is a constant flood of new restaurant openings (and closings) to complement the long-standing favorites of San Franciscans. I’m excited to post this year’s list of restaurants I strongly recommend you try in the coming year!
- Saison – Right now this is arguably my favorite restaurant in the world. No joke. Chef Josh Skenes is brilliant in creating dishes that are stunning to look, creatively crafted, and mind-blowingly delicious. Nearly all the dishes are somehow touched by the wood burning oven, which sits right in the heart of the open kitchen. This place is special…in every way. Don’t overlook the bar program either, which is equally creative.
- Michael Mina – Local celebrity chef Michael Mina has a few restaurants here in the city (see #9 Bourbon Steak), but his namesake is really the one not to be missed. We’ve eaten at this place several times over the years, and right now, Chef Mina is at the top of his game. Every dish delicious, and the wine pairings are also outstanding thanks to sommelier Rajat Parr.
- SPQR – This one definitely made my last year’s list, but has come up the ranks. The food continues to be heavenly, with an emphasis on unusual pasta dishes. We love to go for the 3-course pasta tasting menu for lunch on a weekend, paired with wine. Some of our favorites are smoked fettuccine with uni, bacon and a soft poached quail egg or the semolina gnocchi with lamb ragu.
- Benu – Chef Corey Lee has taken all he learned at the French Laundry and used it to create a culinary mecca of his own. Probably the most popular restaurant in SF for other big-name chefs, this place offers only a tasting menu of delectable and stunningly beautiful bites.
- Spruce – This is literally one of our all time favorite neighborhood spots, that just happens to have a Michelin star. The interior is modern and the art stunning, but even better is the food. We love to sit at the bar and have a great cocktail and a meal outside of the more formal dining room. I even threw my hubby’s 40th birthday party at Spruce and they did a wonderful job.
- Atelier Crenn – Chef Dominique Crenn is the first female US chef to receive 2 Michelin stars and a visit to her restaurant will explain why. Gorgeous food that is so ingenious in its presentation, you won’t be sure whether to eat or simply admire it. Trust me, you want to eat it.
- Ame – Located in the St Regis hotel, this restaurant is a bit undersung in my opinion. New American with distinct Japanese influences, the food here is always fresh, creative and delicious. We never miss whatever their crudo of the day is…always a great fresh start. And don’t overlook their sake menu.
- Ozumo – A little of almost everything Japanese: rabatayaki, shushi, shabu shabu, whatever you’re in the mood for done extremely well. Their sommelier knows sake inside and out, and the view of the Bay Bridge doesn’t suck either.
- Bourbon Steak – Owned by Michael Mina and in the Westin St Francis hotel on Union Square, this is one of the best steak houses around. If you want melt-in-your-mouth, top grade steak, this is your place. My husband and I had the best steak we’ve ever had here…the kobe rib cap. So delicious, it is hard to describe. At $89, it better be great. If you really want to go nuts, get the Japanese Wagyu rib cap at a mere $42/ounce.
- DOSA – By far the best Indian restaurant in the city, this gorgeous spot on Fillmore Street is the perfect place for a group dinner where you can share lots of dishes. The owners are not afraid of making the food authentic, including the heat level of the spicy dishes…it’s a good thing. The cocktails are also inventive and delicious.
- Barbacco – the next door sister restaurant to Perbacco (see #12), this trattoria style Italian is a great place for groups. The dishes are all shareable and cover the gamut of regions of Italy. Our fave are the brussels sprouts, which are cooked in duck fat then tossed with a caper, anchovy, red wine vinaigrette. They were the inspiration for the brussels sprouts recipe on my blog, although Barbacco’s are definitely better.
- Perbacco – The best Italian restaurant in the city in our opinion, which offers a wide range of housemade pasta dishes, roasted meats, ragus and sugos, and a fantastic wine list. A bit more formal than Barbacco next door, so great for a slightly more upscale evening.
- Terzo – Despite my bias being a part owner of this restaurant, I can honestly say the food here is fantastic. Chef Mark Gordon is making some of his best food ever right now. With Mediterranean influences, the fresh ingredients are used to make dishes that can easily be shared, so visit with friends.
- Incanto – Celebrity chef Chris Cosentino (winner of Top Chef Masters Season 4) is known as a nose-to-tail chef, meaning he uses all of the animal. We love his Italian inspired cooking that is spiked with innovation. We recently had his pig skin pasta (noodles made of pork skin) which was fabulous as just one example.
- Gary Danko – This place is still the best value in San Francisco. Where else can you get a 3-course meal at one of the top rated restaurants in the city for only $73? Amazing…and so is the food.
- State Bird Provisions – Among its many awards, it was named the best restaurant of 2013 by the James Beard Foundation for its innovative approach to food. Think New American dishes served like dim sum. Yup, rolling carts, trays and all.
- Namu Gaji – Modern Korean is the way to think about Namu, which includes such wondrous dishes as KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) and their version of bibimbap (crispy rice topped with sautéed vegetables, meat and a fried egg with chile sauce).
- House of Prime Rib – This place is an icon of San Francisco, and is just a fun place to go. The name says it all…prime rib is pretty much the only thing on the menu, accompanied by their signature salad and tasty sides. The bar feels like a step back in time, and the patrons are often of the blue-haired variety, but nonetheless this is a great go-to restaurant.
- Cotogna – The sister, and more casual, restaurant to Quince, this italian spot makes some of the best pasta and pizza around. Gotta love the wood burning fire not only for its cooking properties, but also for the warmth it ads to the restaurant.
- Rich Table – Casual dining with food that is beyond delicious makes this a great add to the list this year. Eating here kind of feels like you’ve been invited to the owners’ home for dinner, but dinner prepared by top-notch chefs.
- Defina Pizzeria – This is our go-to spot for great, Neapolitan style pizza. Their salsiccia pizza is to die for, the burrata is always great, and their wine list is a great match for the food. And what a spot for outdoor dining on a sunny day in the city.
- Slanted Door/Out the Door – Celebrity chef Charles Phan has done great things with Vietnamese food for years at the Slanted Door, and the location at the Ferry Building is always worth a visit. The shaking beef is the best anywhere. And the casual little sister, Out the Door, is perfect for a casual lunch where a bowl of beef phô is the perfect thing after a late night.
- Burma Superstar – Burmese food turns out to be one of the best Asian cuisines borrowing from many Southeast Asian cultures. This spot serves the best stuff around, and their signature Chili Lamb (“not available mild”) is simply awesome. Make sure to pick up one of their great t-shirts.
- La Taqueria – No web site, but this place has the best burrito in San Francisco. I can’t begin to tell you what makes it so great, it just is. Worth the hike to the Mission and the fight to find parking. Just go.
- Yank Sing – Dim sum at its absolute best. You’ll want to go for lunch here with as many friends as you can bring with you so that you can sample many of the great dishes they offer. Don’t miss the peking duck.
That may round out the top 25 list for the coming year, but I can’t omit mentioning some other top spots that don’t quite make the top of the list but are definitely worth tasting. Honorable mentions go to Little Star Pizza (best deep dish pizza in the city), Tacolicious (creative and delicious street-style tacos and great cocktails), Chapeau! (authentic French food with a chef that adds more to the ambiance than the decor), Shanghai Dumpling King (unbelievably good dumplings…don’t miss the Shanghai soup dumplings), and Umami Burger (for the best burger in the city). I had Nettie’s Crab Shack (great New England-style crab and seafooder with California flair) at the beginning of this Honorable Mentions list, but I found out only this past weekend that it is now closed. Terrible shame…it was a great place we frequented a lot.
I must also mention the two restaurants that I’m guessing will absolutely make this list when I get there to sample their wares. These two therefore are notably absent: Sons & Daughters (tasting menu only of farm fresh New American food) and Acquerello (Italian fine dining). I’ll post an update when I eventually dine at these two great spots.
I’d love to hear which restaurants you would add to this list, so please share!