I'm laughing at the audaciousness of the title of this post. How can anyone claim to know where to eat in San Francisco
? There are sooooo many great restaurants in San Francisco that you could never cover them or even a fraction of them. I am the first to admit that I am not a true San Francisco expert, but I do get there several times of year as my sons live there. Each time I go we do some serious restaurant exploration. Here are some of my favorite places:
Casual & Less Expensive
If you are a pizza fan a visit to either Tony's
or Capo's is a must. Whatever your style of pizza, I dare say, Tony's and Capos have the best. Tony Gemignani, the restaurateur behind these two pizzerias and a handful of other pizza restaurants has won world Pizza champion titles 13 times. Amazingly, he has won these awards in Naples and in Rome, where they definitely know how to make pizza.
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The striking thing about the pizza offerings at Tony's is they cover the gamut of different pizza styles from Neapolitan, Classic American, Sicilian, Roman, New York, Detroit, Chicago to St. Louis-style pizzas. And Tony's does them all really, really well. Tony's does not take reservations
, so I advise going at an off time. Otherwise be prepared to stand in line, which many people do, because the pizza is that good. On my last trip the line went half way down the block right before it opened for lunch. Location:
1570 Stockton Street.
Someone is excited about the Chicago-style cast iron pizza
Capo's specializes in four different styles of Chicago pizza : deep dish, cast iron pan, stuffed and cracker thin. They offer a special pizza, the Tre Fori, which is cooked four different times and is limited to 10 pizzas a day because of the extensive preparation required. This pizza is now on my bucket list. In my opinion the cracker thin pizza can't be beat. Try the Cal Italia if you are a fan of prosciutto, gorgonzola and figs on your pizza. The nice thing about Capo's is that they take reservations.
Phone (415) 986-8998 for reservations. Location
: 641 Vallejo Street.
Don't Forget Their Salads
Both restaurants offer large,fresh, flavorful salads that are the perfect counterpoint to their rich and delicious pizza. Try the Spinach or Caesar salads to refresh your palate between bites of pizza.
SNFD recipes to get you by until you can eat at Tony's or Capo's:
Sadly, I do not have any great pizza recipes on SNFD yet
, but I just ordered Chef Gemignani's Pizza book and plan to work on creating a pizza with cracker-thin crust soon. Stay tuned! In the meantime, prep your palate with my Caesar Salad
is simply decorated with hard wooden straight back chairs and tables packed tightly together. You won't notice the less than comfy seating as soon as they begin bringing out your dishes. The House lends itself to a tapas style meal of their Asian Fusion cuisine. Everything we ate was delicious, but their Grilled Sea Bass, Hamachi Sashimi and Braised Kurobuta Pork Shoulder were especially memorable. Location:
1230 Grant Avenue.
SNFD recipes to get you by until you can eat at The House:
This inexpensive family-style dim sum restaurant
is perfect for a low cost meal and/or for a large group, which is generally difficult to find space for in San Francisco. I am not a dim sum expert, so I rely heavily on the waiter, others at my table or by sneaking peeks at the table next to me. Lai Hong's offering is extensive so you are assured to find something you love. Great find if you are traveling on a tight budget. Location:
1416 Powell street.
For me, a trip to SF is not complete without a stop at Buena Vista
for an Irish Coffee...or two. Buena Vista opened as a saloon in 1916 on the first floor of a boarding house to serve local fisherman and workers at a nearby sardine factory. Customers were able to enjoy a whisky while keeping an eye on the bay for incoming fishing boats that might call them back to work. In the early 1950's, the owner of the Buena Vista, Jack Koeppler, and his travel-writer buddy Stanton Delaplane, worked to recreate an Irish coffee served at the Shannon Irish airport. Over time they perfected it with a house-brand Irish whisky and a 48-hour aging process for the whipped cream to prevent it from sinking to the bottom of the glass. Location
: 2765 Hyde Street.
Caley sipping a well-deserved Irish Coffee after a long day at SantaCon
Today, Buena Vista averages about 1800 of these $11 coffees a day. That's about 100 bottles of Irish whiskey per day. Do the math, that is over $7 million in Irish coffees a year. This is a restaurant I would love to own! I particularly enjoy watching the bartenders mix up 15 or so drinks at a time in one long line. Check out this video
to see how it is done. Buena Vista also serves up a hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner with SF old-school classics including: Caesar salad, Dungeness Crab and Eggs Benedict. The restaurant is almost always shoulder-to-shoulder, but there are few tricks for finding a seat:
- There is a backdoor that opens up to an area of the restaurant that is generally less crowded.
- There is a back room that may have a table or two when the main part of the restaurant is full. Keep on going past the bar and down the winding hallway and a little room with a few tables will open up to your right.
- You can sit at any table that has an open seat. The tables are meant to be shared by friends and strangers alike. So if you find an open seat, be polite and ask "may I sit here?" The answer is always "yes," and who knows, you may make your new best friend in the process.
Fancier & Pricier
While I list these restaurants as fancier, they do not require fancy attire. Jeans will be fine at all of them.
is a modern raw bar that serves mouth watering morsels of fresh raw fish and oysters as well as a solid offering of cooked fish and a renowned seafood chowder. It is all amazing. If you are on a budget go for their daily happy hour from 5 - 6:30. Location:
655 Divisadero Street.
SNFD recipes to get you by until you can eat at Bar Crudo:
And learn the difference between sashimi, sushi, poke, crudo and ceviche here
My nephew Parker and daughter Lauren can't wait to order after a walk across Golden Gate Bridge
The brain child of Chef Michael Chiarello, Coqueta
serves up some of the finest modern Spanish cuisine this side of the Iberian peninsula. Step across the threshold and you feel like you have teleported into a charming Spanish taberna. Start with an Iberian cured meat and Spanish cheese platter and continue with a selection of hot and cold pintxos.
I'm a particular fan of the grilled octopus and find it difficult to turn down paella when I have the chance, and Coqueta does both very well.
Coqueta also serves Spanish-Style gintonics, another personal favorite. The view of the bay and the backside of the Golden Gate bridge isn't bad either.
View from the bar
Reservations recommended. Location
: Pier 5, The Embarcadero.
SNFD recipes to get you by until you can eat at Coqueta:
is my son Mikey's and his girlfriend Caley's favorite fine dining restaurant. They first went there when Mikey was at his first job out of college and was given an award dinner by his boss for a job well done. Dining at a restaurant of this caliber was way beyond their pay grade at the time, so they studied the menus at a variety of higher end restaurants and after much deliberation settled on State Bird.
People waiting for first-come-first-serve tables at 4:30 pm at State Bird Provisions
You must make reservations weeks or months in advance, or alternatively go there before they open and wait in line as the restaurant reserves a few tables for first come-first-serve customers. I knew we were going somewhere special when Mikey and Caley offered to stand in line at State Bird Provisions at 4:30 pm on a cold winter afternoon.
Fresh oysters and appetizer trolley carts being loaded up
State Bird describes themselves as "adventurous, inventive, delicious, thoughtful and contemporary."
Their continuously changing menu delivers on all counts. State Bird has adapted a dim sum-style cart service to modern California cuisine. Almost immediately after you sit down a trolley cart full of a gorgeously presented appetizers arrives at your table. You decide if you want the appetizer and how many you want. This is repeated another dozen or so times. We had plans to order off the menu, but we failed to turn down a single cart offering, so in the end we were too full to order beyond what was delivered to us on the trolley carts. Location:
1529 Fillmore Street.
Located in the Ferry Building, the Slanted Door opened in 1995 and they have never looked back. I have snuck in here for a late 2 pm lunch without reservations, but in general I recommend you make reservations significantly in advance. Alternatively, you may be able to wander into a seat or two at the bar. Owner and Executive Chef, Charles Phan, combines fresh local ingredients with originally-sourced Asian ingredients for his modern Vietnamese offerings. This is one of those restaurants where I unabashedly will ask my waiter "what is that amazing dish at the next table?" to figure out what to order. Clay Pot Chicken with Caramel Sauce, Spring Rolls, Shaking Beef and Cellophane Noodles with Dungeness Crab are some of the more popular items. Location:
One Ferry Building.
What to do while you wait for your reservations at Slanted Door
The Ferry building is filled with food-centric vendors that you can peruse before or after your meal at Slanted Door. Personally, I can spend hours tasting olive oil at Stone House Olive Oil
(this is the primary olive oil I stock in my kitchen), buying fresh bread at Acme Bread Company
, obsessing over which cheese to buy at Cowgirl Creamery
, or finding the perfect condiment at Frog Hollow Farm
. If you go to the Ferry Building in the middle of the day on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday you will be treated to an extensive outdoor organic farmer's market.
Coffee, Tea and Pastries
Waiting for my cappuccinos at Cafe Trieste
Opened in 1956 by the Giotta family, Cafe Trieste
was the first espresso bar on the West Coast. After more than 50 years there is a line in the morning to purchase coffee and pastries. Its seats are filled with chatty locals, reading real newspapers, who would never dream of ordering their coffee to-go.
Great indoor and outdoor people watching at Cafe Trieste
In the evening you can go for a glass of wine and on Saturdays enjoy live music, where you may be treated to a performance by a member of the Giotti family. Papa Gianni says his secret to success is simple: "Buy the best beans, roast them yourself, and brew each cup like it's for you."
Wouldn't the world be a better place if we brought that attitude to all our endeavors? Location:
601 Vallejo Street.
Mario's Bohemian Cigar Bar (Sorry no website)
Opened nearly 50 years ago, this sliver of a North Beach family restaurant specializes in great coffee, delectable sandwiches and serves beer and wine if the mood strikes you. We went in the morning and enjoyed great cups of cappuccino, delicious breakfast sandwiches and wonderful focaccia bread that is made down the street at Liguria Bakery. (Note Liguria draws a line around the block each morning and they sell out their inventory every day.) Sit inside Mario's on a cooler day, but grab an outdoor table for great people watching when the sun is out.
If only it could talk, Mario's threshold would have many great stories to tell
There is a heavily worn out wooden threshold that you cross when you enter the restaurant that caught my eye. For me, this foot-worn piece of wood speaks volumes. You don't get that kind of wear and tear unless many, many people have entered. Wouldn't you love to know their stories? Location:
566 Columbus Avenue.
There are actually four Le Marais Bakery locations, but I have only been to the one in the Marina. I am sure they are all awesome. Le Marais makes fresh croissants the likes of which you never see this side of France. And in fact, Le Marais puts many French croissants I have eaten to shame. It is tremendously difficult to select between their huge flakey pastries. Shall I go traditional and order the plain? Decadent and order the chocolate or the super chocolate? Select savory and order the jambon and gruyere? Or get the sweet and delicious croissant amande? Never mind the mouth-watering cinnamon buns, the scones or the cookies displayed in the case. Le Marais also serves wonderful coffee and tea, champagne based cocktails and a full breakfast and lunch menu. Note:
you can purchase Le Marais ready-to-bake croissants at William Sonoma. Location:
2066 Chestnut Street.
Samovar has four locations in San Francisco, including the SF airport. I have only been to the one at Yerba Buena Gardens
and it is a special treat. Selecting your tea is a challenge as there are so many delicious options and they are all presented and served beautifully. If you find something you love, you can purchase tea to bring home. Don't assume you are going there just for the tea. Samovar's food is delicious. Go for breakfast, lunch or dinner or enjoy a well-composed mezze share platter for an afternoon snack. Location
: 730 Howard St.
SNFD recipes to get you by until you can eat at Samovar:
Take-out for a picnic lunch is a nice option when you are in San Francisco as there are so many beautiful parks and great hikes both in the city and across the bay.
This 5th generation family delicatessen is a gem
. It was founded in 1896 by P.G. Molinari and has been operated by the same family ever since, making it one of the oldest delicatessens in the U.S. The founding story is very interesting. P.G. Molinari immigrated to San Francisco from Piemonte, Italy at the age of 14. He found work as a butcher, but within five years opened his own delicatessen. Molinari lost it all in the 1906 great earthquake and resulting fires. He tried to save his inventory from the fires by burying olive oil, parmigiano wheels and whiskey in a vacant lot, but to no avail. His business was destroyed. Fortunately, the president of The Bank of Italy gave him a no-collateral loan to get a new start. I am guessing this banker must have been a regular customer who knew how good Molinari's deli items were.
From the moment you step in the door you know you have come to the right place. The shelves are stocked with italian pastas, sauces, olives and olive oil. A refrigerator case is loaded with Italian cheese at the front of the store, sandwiches are made in the middle and a variety of deli salads and sides are stocked in the back.
Make sure you take a number!
This is the perfect place to stop before your picnic. You can order sandwiches in advance online and your items will be waiting for you when you get there. Don't pick out everything in advance, however, as you will want to select some salads and accompaniments in person. The sandwiches are amazing, delicious and large. I suggest splitting sandwiches between two people and adding a pasta salad or two. The pesto shell salad is delicious.
On My Bucket List
There are so many high end restaurants in San Francisco and more opening everyday. While I enjoy exploring these new restaurants immensely, I really love discovering budget-friendly restaurants, family-owned and jewels that have stood the test of time. Restaurants on my bucket list for my next trips include:
Opened in 1912, this iconic SF seafood bar requires you wait in line for counter seating. Known for its raw oysters, dungeness crab and crab Louie salad. Go early and bring a book to read while you wait.
Caley has promised to take me here for their signature dish, Mike's Wok Crab, a soy sauce, ginger and Dungeness crab extravaganza. Betty and her sister Louise, expats from Hawaii, run the front of the house. Chef Chaparro comes from Temascalcingo, Mexico. I can't wait to taste their Pacific rim flavors. While fresh seafood is their focus, they also offer pasta, risotto, chicken and steak.
For 40+ years La Taqueria has been a low-cost culinary star of the Mission District serving fresh and fast authentic Mexican food. The owner, Miguel Jara, has created his own rice-less spin on burritos that are generously filled with pinto beans, carne asada or slow-cooked carnitas and house-made hot sauce and salsa.
I have been wanting to go up to Tomales Bay for a day excursion to shuck and eat fresh oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company
for quite a while, but have never managed to budget the time. If you don't have the time to make the 2 1/2 hour round trip drive from SF, you can go to Hog Island Oyster Company
at the Ferry Building for the same fresh oysters they farm in Tomales. Hog Island Oyster Bar takes no reservations so go at an odd time, or put your name in and then wander the Ferry building while you wait for your reservations.
Thank You Caley
My favorite San Franciscans
I have to credit Caley, my son Mikey's girlfriend, for many of my SF culinary discoveries. She has an appreciation for great food and loves discovering new places. She and Mikey always plan the culinary aspect of our trip well in advance and have as of yet not disappointed us once. Fortunately, we go most everywhere by foot, so we do a good job working off at least some of our gluttony. Thank you Caley and Mikey for being such wonderful SF hosts!
What are Your Favorite San Francisco Restaurants?
Hopefully this post will give you some good ideas as to where to eat in San Francisco the next time you make a trip to the city by the bay. Please share your favorite San Francisco restaurants in the comment section.