This is my fourth year posting my top restaurant list for San Francisco. (Here’s last year’s post for reference.) It’s my most popular, most shared, most tweeted post of the year, so it seems to be a useful guide for residents and visitors both. The restaurants I choose to list are those that I love because the food and ambiance are both great. It could be more formal (like Gary Danko), more haute cuisine (like Benu) or just plain great and comforting (like Tacolicious or Stone’s Throw). The list is not ordered in terms of preference, so feel free to pick freely from any point!
I hope you’ll do what you can to get to these restaurants in the year ahead, and please feel free to comment and share your own favorites!
- Saison – Still my favorite restaurant in the world (haven’t been dining outside the country much this past year though), this place is simply amazing. Fantastic food that will truly make you wonder how they made each dish, a bar program that is outstanding and a gorgeous interior. 3 Michelin stars and it deserves every one.
- Spruce – This is our absolute go-to restaurant. A Michelin star, delicious and perfectly prepared food, and stunning artwork and decor. Our preferred seating is at the bar, where you can eat from both the bar and restaurant menu. And it’s 6 blocks from our house. It boasts a Michelin star as well.
- Namu Gaji – Korean at its roots but with a modern twist, this small and comfortable restaurant across from Delores Park is always a winner. Their stonepot (a version of bibimbap) will leave you wanting to lick the bottom of the pan, and the KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) is ridiculously good. Their homemade gochujang (fermented red chili paste) is to die for…put it on everything.
- PABU – Newly opened this year by Michael Mina, this is a hot spot downtown for sushi. Gorgeous, spacious interior that takes up a huge area in the 101 California building, has a great bar and separate dining area. The sushi is fresh as it comes, and they have an excellent sake selection, chosen (if you wish) by their sommelier of sake (in Japanese, he is called a Kikisake-shi).
- Perbacco – The more formal of the two sister restaurants, this is the best Italian food in the city. Great dishes, wine list, service and atmosphere, this is an awesome place to go with friends, family or business colleagues.
- Barbacco – Just next door to Perbacco is this more casual place, with many smaller plates meant to be shared. When they have the brussels sprouts, do not miss ordering them…the roasted and caramelized sprouts with a salty, vinegary glaze are out of this world.
- Gary Danko – Long at the top of the list of SF’s best restaurants, I still hold that this is one of the best deals in town. Great food, prepared beautifully (and just as great presentation), served in a well-priced prix fixe menu of 3 courses for $76 and 4 for $96. It has 1 Michelin star.
- Michael Mina – Chef Mina is one of our fave local chefs and we basically like anything he has to offer. You’ll find 3 of his restaurants on this list (the other 2 being Bourbon Steak and PABU). His eponymous restaurant (in the old Aqua location) is gorgeous and turns out some of the best food around. A never-miss spot. It, too, has a single Michelin star.
- Tacolicious – Much more on the far end of casual, this is just a great taco place. Their tacos are based on street food style, small and with powerful flavors. (Their sauces are now available via Williams-Sonoma and are great for at home.) And I think they must put crack in their homemade salsa…I cannot stop eating it.
- La Taqueria – If you, like I did, watched Nate Silver’s bracket for the nation’s best burrito with bated breath, you were just as excited and not at all surprised to see La Taqueria take top honors. That burrito just sings…best in the country, right here in the Mission.
- SPQR – If you like great, handmade, fresh pasta, this is your destination. This is about 7 blocks from our house, and our favorite thing to do is to go for lunch on the weekend, which is the only time they serve the 3-course pasta tasting menu (paired with wine if you like). Mind-blowingly good.
- Out the Door/Slanted Door – Most people know the Slanted Door, by local celeb chef Charles Phan. The location in the Ferry Building is just stunning, and the food is Vietnamese done just right. Tasty, flavorful, satisfying. Their Out the Door outpost (featuring a limited version of the same menu) is 7 blocks from us, so we frequent it often. They do a great brunch as well.
- Bourbon Steak – Also by Michael Mina, this place serves what we think is the best selection of top-quality steaks in town. The wagyu rib-cap (have you even heard of that before?) is so good, you’ll swear it’s the best steak you’ve ever had. It better be…it’s $46 per ounce.
- DOSA – By far the best Indian food in the city, and with 2 great locations (Fillmore in Pacific Heights and Valencia in the Mission). Do not miss the dosa, the dahi vada, Tamil lamb, or Uttapam. The cocktail menu is heavily Indian-inspired and very creative, not to mention delicious.
- Pizzeria Delfina – Great thin crust pizza, good wine selection, outdoor seating. What more could you ask for? Don’t miss the salsiccia pizza with fennel sausage, tomato sauce, onion and mozzarella. To die for.
- Little Star Pizza – Speaking of pizza, the best deep dish in the city is definitely from Little Star. Their classic is a combo of sausage, mozzarella, green bell pepper and onion, layered in a cornmeal crust, and topped with juicy tomatoes. Great leftover too.
- Umami Burger – I know there’s a bit of a battle on who serves the best burger in the city, but our fave is Umami on Union St. Great location for lunch and a bit of shopping. The Hatch burger (made with New Mexican hatch green chile) is my personal fave, topped with their spicy diablo sauce.
- Marlowe – Newly reopened in the former Coco 500 location, this is a must visit. The food is ridiculously good, great cocktails, and the staff are just awesome. Don’t miss the deviled egg with pickled jalapeño and bacon.
- The Cavalier – Owned by the same people as Marlowe, this gastropub makes the best fish and chips I’ve had outside the UK, served with minted peas that are downright addictive. The whole menu is great, and a very fun ambiance completes the picture.
- Stones Throw – This place is hard to describe…casual dining from a bunch of experienced chefs from 4-star restaurants, food made with very fresh and flavorful ingredients. It’s like high end food made perfectly accessible; delicious, approachable and fresh.
- Yank Sing – Always known as the best dim sum in the city, the two locations downtown both serve incredible, sharable, delicious bites. My faves are the Shanghai soup dumplings, Peking duck, shumai, and steamed pork buns. Go with at least 4 other people so you can sample a variety of dishes.
- Benu – The only other 3-Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco (the other being Saison), this place turns out some of the most inventive, beautiful and delicious food around. They somehow turn simple ingredients into haute cuisine. You’ve got to go at least once.
- Atelier Crenn – Chef Dominique Crenn (first female chef in the US to win 2 Michelin stars) is one of the most creative chefs in the world, putting poetry on a plate. Her inventions that make food look like a tree branch or give you edible stones inspire both imagination and palate. There’s nothing like it…anywhere.
- Nopa – Great bar scene, great food, great drinks and fun ambiance make this a casual destination spot. The burger is simply awesome, by the way. We love the communal table in the bar. And they began serving brunch this year, too.
- Burma Superstar – Burmese food is a wonderful cuisine, influenced by Thai, Chinese and Indian so is a wonderful blend of Asian flavors along with some unique characteristics all its own. This restaurant serves flavorful dishes that pack a punch – don’t miss their signature chili lamb…just don’t order it hotter than medium (I’m serious).
There are a number of other fantastic SF restaurants that should be on this list, but aren’t only because I’ve either not been in a couple of years or because I haven’t been at all (shame on me!). These are absolutely worth noting:
- Coi – With its precious 9 tables and Chef Daniel Patterson’s inventive and impressive food, this is a place not to be missed. I haven’t been now in about 3 years (no good reason), but it continues to get great recognition. They have 2 Michelin stars.
- State Bird Provisions – Again, I haven’t been to this place in a couple of years, mostly due to the difficulty of getting reservations, but had a wonderful meal there last time, and again, they get great recognition, including a Michelin star.
- Kusakabe – This place is pretty new, so we just haven’t gotten there yet, but seems to be the talked about sushi restaurant in SF these days. It’s definitely on our list.
- Sons & Daughters – My husband has been but I have not, and we are visiting in just a couple of weeks. They do only a prix fixe tasting menu, and seem to focus heavily on farm to table. They, too, have a Michelin star.
- Acquerello – There is no excuse for why I haven’t been to this long-standing, award-winning restaurant. It’s been open for more than 20 years and has 2 Michelin stars. I promise I will go and write up a separate entry on the experience.
- Frances – A small, farm-to-table restaurant that serves just excellent food, every time. Their bacon beignets are pretty amazing.
- Monsieur Benjamin – Corey Lee of Benu fame opened this French brasserie this past Fall and has gotten nothing but rave reviews, including 3 stars from tough local critic Michael Bauer. We just haven’t gotten there quite yet, but it’ll happen.
- Quince – Also a long-standing SF fave, with 2 Michelin stars, this place has always had great food and wine. We haven’t been in a couple of years but are looking forward to going back.
That rounds out the list of this year’s recommended top SF restaurants. You’ll note that I make several mentions of Michelin stars. If you’re interested in the complete list of San Francisco Bay Area Michelin recommended (Bib Gourmand) and starred restaurants, see the complete list here. I hope I’ve helped guide some of your food decisions for the coming year.