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San Francisco is without question one of the world’s greatest culinary destinations. With more than 3,500 restaurants in the San Francisco metro area, there are more eateries per capita than any other region in the country. The captivating City by the Bay generated even more worldwide attention late last year when, for the first time in history, two exceptional restaurants were awarded the coveted Michelin three-star rating. In addition, San Francisco also has two of the three female executive chefs in the country with a two-star Michelin rating. Yet, with thousands of outstanding restaurants to choose from, only a select number of extraordinary restaurants can be featured here. Here’s a food lover’s guide to San Francisco, introducing the city’s finest restaurants, cafes and even food trucks and their respective neighborhoods.
The Financial District
One of the nation’s most important financial centers is home to a wealth of outstanding restaurants. Campton Place, Coi, Kusakabe, Michael Mina and Quince are all Michelin starred restaurants in the neighborhood. Coi is technically in North Beach, though it’s within a block of its two-star Michelin equivalent, Quince, led by the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Tusk.
The Financial District is also home to the oldest restaurant in the city and third oldest in the country – Tadich Grill, in business for more than 160 years and directly across the street from Michael Mina. Classic French cuisine lovers should also visit the city’s French Quarter on Belden Place with restaurants like Plouf, Café Bastille and Sauce. Other notable restaurants in the Financial District include the Wayfare Tavern, Kokkari, Pabu Izakaya and Brasserie S&P at Loews Regency San Francisco, formerly the Mandarin Oriental.
On the eastern border of the Financial District along the Embarcadero is the historic Ferry Building, which contains a feast of choices for food lovers. Although still serving as a ferry terminal, the majority of the interior space is occupied by a collection of local businesses, including cafes, restaurants and a wealth of artisanal stores selling cheese, breads, ice cream, chocolates and other high quality foods. The most notable restaurant at the Ferry Building is The Slanted Door, an Asian fusion restaurant awarded Outstanding Restaurant in the country last year by the prestigious James Beard Foundation and led by Charles Phan, himself a James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Chef.
The Embarcadero, with its spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, is also home to several other upscale restaurants, many of which are primarily located between the Ferry Building and AT&T Park. Among the best are Americano, One Market, the Michelin-starred Boulevard, the extraordinary French-Japanese restaurant Chaya and two of the best spots for seafood – Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse.
Despite large crowds of tourists, Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-see spot in San Francisco, particularly for first time visitors. As one would expect, there are several spots for dining, ranging from low cost fare to very expensive. The most acclaimed restaurant is the Michelin-starred Gary Danko, led by one of the Grand Chefs of the world renowned Relais & Chateaux.
A food lover’s walking tour of Fisherman’s Wharf should also include the world famous crab stands, Ghiradelli Square, Boudin Bakery, the legendary Buena Vista Café and Fisherman’s Grotto, the first restaurant to open in this seaside neighborhood.
Many of the best foods favored by locals can be found in the oldest neighborhood in the city. The Mission District is the best spot in San Francisco for Mexican food. This neighborhood is the birthplace of the classic Mission burrito and some taquerias have received national attention, such as El Farolito, Taqueria Cancun, El Tonayese and La Taqueria, best known for serving America’s Best Burrito.
There are many other restaurants and businesses in the Mission District that food lovers must take particular note of. Among them are the Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Maruya, the remarkable Flour + Water, Mission Chinese Food, Bar Tartine, Foreign Cinema, Indochine Vegan and Delfina. Lastly, food lovers looking for low cost fare must not miss visiting these spots, despite the likelihood of long lines – Bi-Rite Creamery, Ike’s Place, Wise Sons Deli and arguably the city’s best bakery, Tartine Bakery.
One of the most famous neighborhoods in the city is also home to some of the most famous restaurants and eateries. A recommended food tour would begin near Grace Cathedral, first passing The Big 4 Restaurant, located within the landmark Scarlet Huntington Hotel. Proceeding east on California Street, visitors should visit the Mark Hopkins Hotel and its Top of the Mark restaurant, then over to the Fairmont Hotel to visit the world famous Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. The next stop is the Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters, then an optional visit to Parallel 37 at the Ritz Carlton.
Food lovers interested in more Michelin restaurants should also stop by Keiko à Nob Hill, the two star Michelin Acquerello with celebrated owner/chef Suzette Gresham and La Folie, in the Russian Hill neighborhood. Not far from Acquerello are the must-see local landmark businesses Swan Oyster Depot, Bob’s Donuts and the House of Prime Rib. For vegetarians and vegans, Millenium in Lower Nob Hill is one of the best spots in the city.
This lively neighborhood just beyond Chinatown features a multitude of Italian restaurants, pizzerias, Old World delicatessens and trendy coffee shops. While some restaurants are better than others, suggested choices include Sotto Mare, Trattoria Contadina and E’ Tutto Qua. Of all the great pizzerias in Little Italy, Tony’s Pizza Napolentana is likely the most famous and most acclaimed. Just footsteps from Washington Square Park, this cornerstone pizzeria is led by 11-time World Pizza Champion – Tony Gemignani. Other noteworthy spots for food include Liguira Bakery, Victoria Pastry, Vesuvio Café, Original Joe’s and Francis Ford Coppola’s Café Zoetrope. Visitors looking for an excellent Chinese restaurant in neighboring Chinatown should head over to Z and Y Restaurant, a 2015 Michelin Bib Gourmand selection that’s hosted two American presidents.
SoMa, otherwise known as South of Market, is home to four Michelin-starred restaurants – Ame in the St. Regis Hotel, Luce at the Intercontinental Hotel and San Francisco’s only three-starred restaurants – Benu, led by chef Corey Lee and Saison, with Joshua Skenes leading the city’s most expensive restaurant. Other excellent dining establishments include the incomparable Garden Court at the Palace Hotel, RN74, Bar Agricole, Buckhorn Grill at the Metreon, Public House at AT&T Park, and the aforementioned Boulevard, Chaya, Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse, all located south of Market Street.
Last, but certainly not the least, is the neighborhood that might actually be the first to visit. Union Square is the primary location for upscale shopping, Broadway shows and an eclectic assortment of restaurants. Across the historic Union Square Park is the heralded Westin St. Francis with another Michael Mina restaurant – Bourbon Steak on Powell Street, as is the Rotunda inside Neiman Marcus, with its breathtaking glass ceiling on Geary Street. Also on Geary is one of the city’s most visited Japanese restaurants, the affordable yet Michelin Guide-recommended Katan-Ya and the beloved Lefty O’Douls. Lastly, food lovers will enjoy a visit to Johnny Foley’s one block south of Geary and the fabulously unique Farallon, one block north.
San Francisco’s Best Food Trucks
Part of what makes San Francisco a culinary destination are the ubiquitous, but amazing food trucks. Most locals have a personal favorite, but an interesting spot to visit is the SoMa Streat Food Park, with Chairman, Roli Roti and Senor Sisig among the best known for high quality street food. The very popular “roaming mobile food extravaganza” known as Off the Grid features food trucks, carts and food tents. Off the Grid appears at many locations throughout San Francisco, including the very popular Picnic at the Presidio every Sunday near the Walt Disney Family Museum, and every Friday evening at Fort Mason Center.