Where to eat in SF?

Might be heading to San Francisco in a few months, staying near City Hall / Downtown SF.

  1. What are some Must Visit Restaurants in the area for great food but casual?

  2. What are some Must Visit Restaurants in the area that’s great food but special occasion / dress up?

I’ve read @BradFord’s recommendation for Saison and Meadowood (thanks).

@beefnoguy any recs?


I will respond later tonight.

Sticking in SF proper? Or, will you visit Napa area or East Bay at all? Because Meadowood is kind of far away.

What do you consider Downtown SF / City Hall?

Union Square area, Civic Center, and FiDi would be what I consider DTSF. Is that what you had in mind?

Hi @ipsedixit, @BradFord,

Thanks. Total newbie regarding geography in SF! :sweat_smile: I would say:

Near City Hall, within reasonable Uber distance (say, 15 - 20 minutes out)? I’ll have no car.

City Hall is also a close walk to Tenderloin and Hayes Valley. A bit of SOMA is walkable, too.

If you’re Ubering, 15-20 minutes can get you pretty far if it’s not a trafficked time. Eg Divisadero is doable, even North Beach or Chinatown (again, not during a trafficked time…avoid Bush st downtown area at 4pm on weekdays…)

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Is Tartine still the best for Croissants? Is there any ideal time to go (without crazy lines)? Thanks!

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In/around FiDi and Soma (and your willingness to travel), I would look at these

L’ardoise Bistro
Casa Flores
Lazy Bear

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No. Go to Arsicault Bakery (Arguello Blvd in Inner Richmond, sort of NW of FiDi). The hype is real.

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I’m putting Arsicault Bakery on my list when I drive up to the city . Perfect it’s right off Geary . It will be my first stop in the morning . Thanks

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I hesitate to add this, as it’s a bit further away from DTSF than what your parameters suggest, but if you’re willing to travel a little longer than 20 minutes (say, 22 minutes?), then might consider Uma Casa, where Cosentino’s Incanto used to be.

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Is this a first time visit?

Liholiho yacht club
State bird provisions
In situ
Lazy bear

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Hi @Bookwich,

Might as well be, LOL. I went once years ago, I was too young to remember much.

Well, you’re a sophisticated eater, so these may not be as exciting as some of the other recommendations, but Tadich for old-school SF ( cioppino, hangtown fry and shrimp Louis), and Hog Island Oyster Company and Swan’s Oyster Depot for… oysters. And other seafood too. :slight_smile:

Also, Zuni Cafe and Mission Chinese Food.

These are my go-to’s for people visiting the city, and for when I need a break from the head-spinning, never-ending, new places in town.

I have not been to Saison, but I really, really want to.

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Special Occasion:

For a special occasion, but still easy-going (in that it’s relaxed and you certainly don’t have to dress up, but you can), 1) Saison, for world-class high-end with incredible purity and inventive flavors, or 2) Californios, for an exciting modern Californian-Mexican tasting menu. Saison’s in SOMA, and Californios is in the Mission, about 15 minute Uber rides away. (I do think that Saison and The Restaurant at Meadowood are the two real 3-Michelin star places in the Bay Area, but Meadowood is in St. Helena - might as well be a weekend trip for itself.)

  • At Saison, some dishes that have stuck out off of memory: caviar smoked with salt, kelp gelee and herbs, with a binchotan-toasted parker roll brushed with lardo; duck liver toffee with bread, milk, and beer; “fire in the sky beet” hung over the live fire for 3 days, reconstituted with bone marrow, covered in pickled rose petal and peach accents; aged duck 3 ways with cherry blossom leaf, indian spices, foie gras wrapped in roasted radicchio with their own pickled plum “steak sauce;” their now infamous “liquid toast” of uni on Tartine bread that’s toasted on one side, soaked in their own “soy” of toasted grains…it sounds simple and uni toast has been done at many places, but here the texture contrast is insane.

  • At Californios: their ceviches or aguachiles; sea bass with sauce of sorrel and charred green grapes; abalone in roasted tomatillo broth with chayote and castelveltrano olive; binchotan grilled spring lamb loin with 3 chili yogurt mole and house made green onion sourdough; “swagyu” barbacoa with pineapple; wagyu carne asada with leek oil; a simple dish or pureed frijoles with pickled shallots.

  • Benu is a bit more formal feeling, and it’s ultra technical, but it wasn’t that interesting to me, but perhaps that’s because I have some familiarity with Chinese and Korean foods. Well, their pastry / desserts were perfect, but the savory dishes were slightly obvious. Admirable in how textbook their textures were, but I find Saison considerably more exciting. Mosu is a touch sterile but there are some very good bites there and they definitely have potential, and it’s more around the Californios price range. 1* is deserved.

More mid-range / semi casual / casual (in no real order):

  • Cotogna is very good for Cal-Ital, one of the better ones. Quince’s little sister restaurant, but more enjoyable, in my opinion. It’s in Jackson Square which is just a moderately short walk from North Beach and Chinatown. The agnolotti dal plin is always on the menu and it’s a solid choice. I also like that their wines are all $10/glass or $40/bottle. The foccacia is also great. If they have porchetta, it’s usually very good. If you have some time to kill, have an early lunch here, then walk to Red Blossom Tea Company in Chinatown about 10 minutes away to taste and learn about some very good teas.

  • Pasta-tasting menu at the counter of SPQR. It was around $59 when I went last year. It’s not traditional pasta, but it’s pretty good for 1-2 people.

  • Family-style Moroccan dishes at Mourad. Around $80-100p/p. The dishes are expensive but portions are very big. For the snapper, the entire fish was deboned. Some interesting cocktails, too. The traditional Moroccan dishes are much better than the rest of the menu, though.

  • If you want a mid-afternoon meal, Zuni is right on Market street, right in the middle of your Downtown / City Hall location. It’s not necessarily a destination, but it’s an institution and always a solid choice, especially if you arrive at an off-hour and need a late lunch. Their roast chicken panzanella for 2 does take a long time, but if you have a dining partner, start with their Caesar and a glass of blanc de blancs (they also have oysters, but you may as well go to Hog Island Oyster Company at the SF Ferry Building, if possible). If you have a short trip, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way for this, but it’s open throughout the afternoon and you can have a nice meal with the above. Or, there’s 2 options for charcuterie throughout the afternoon. In FiDi, Trou Normand or Fatted Calf Charcuterie (even more casual, a butcher) in Hayes Valley.

  • Also in Hayes Valley, a nearby neighborhood that’s indeed walkable from City Hall, there’s Monsieur Benjamin which was opened by the team from Benu, and they serve some quality, quite technical, and solid French fare, though it’s less cozy than L’Ardoise in Duboce, which has more of that neighborhood bistro feel (and a very good duck confit).

  • Bellota is indeed good for Spanish food.

  • Liholiho Yacht Club is quite hard to get into nowadays, but if you want a few drinks and snacks, try their downstairs bar Louie’s Gen Gen Room. It’s a close ride from Union Square, basically right above it.

  • On Divisadero, about a 10 minute Uber away from you, Nopa is pretty good for brunch, or across the street there’s 4505 Meats BBQ which has some great brisket for a lazy Sunday mid-morning. Either way, Bi-Rite Market Divisadero is right there, so you can grab some post-brunch ice cream. Alternatively, the patio at Foreign Cinema is a nice brunch atmosphere.

  • At the SF Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, it can get quite hectic, and it’s indeed touristy and crowded. But, there are still some very good things there on a Saturday morning for breakfast. Line up about 20 minutes early for Hog Island Oyster Company for what is probably the best option for oysters in SF. A glass of Henriot is perfect with their daily dozen (and sometimes the grilleds are great, too). Occasionally there’s been a kiosk in the farmer’s market with a smaller selection, but last time I went on a Saturday morning they weren’t there. If they are there, you can bypass the big line and stick with a few kumamotos and barbecued ones. Frog Hollow Farm for fruit, Roli Roti Rotisserie truck outside for a good porchetta sandwich (~$10), Cowgirl Creamery for cheese (Red Hawk is great if you like washed-rind), and if you want a sit-down breakfast, Boulette’s Larder, which is a quality kitchen that wouldn’t be out of place in Napa, but it’s pricey. Guests always love it, though, and I go there for breakfast and then do a Bang-Bang at Hog Island for a crisp dozen and the aforementioned glass of Henriot.

  • As others mentioned, Arsicault Bakery, but watch out for lines. B. Patisserie is still good - yes the kouign amann has great textures, but don’t miss their passionfruit bostock. Tartine is (still) good, but I usually opt for items other than their croissant. Tartine opened Tartine Manufactory which serves good dinner, but it’s maybe a bit out of the way for you and not necessarily a must-do.


  • Swan Oyster Depot is a charming family-run neighborhood gem with a good and fun menu, but it’s a little out of your way and also I think the actual oysters are better at Hog Island - the shucking and accoutrements are cleaner there. Well, the place is very casual, but it’s shellfish and oysters so it’s not inexpensive.
  • Cafe Zitouna for the Moroccan chicken bastilla ($18.95 - 2 people can split it).

We didn’t care too much for State Bird Provisions, it wasn’t bad, but we didn’t have any great dishes; we thought the nouveaux American dim sum concept was more appealing than the food itself, which was either too obvious or too haphazard. Also not a fan of Mission Chinese Food, which is kitsch and campy, and the food was OK. I’ve been to In Situ several times, and while it’s an interesting concept, I wish that their menu was a lot more exciting - there’s potential, but I haven’t had that many successes there (the cheesecake from Tickets, though, is great!).

SF has a lot to offer, but admittedly LA has a broader spectrum of good food and generally better ethnic food. SF doesn’t have great Korean or Persian food, for example, and while the Tenderloin is a close walk from City Hall, you get better Vietnamese in OC and better Thai in LA, even if there’s some good options here. Japanese is generally better across the board in LA. SF’s relative strength compared to LA is probably high-end dining and Cal-Ital, IMO.


I also like SPQR and their untraditional pasta, also Flour + Water’s pasta tasting menu. Are both of those places considered cal-ital? They definitely infuse a lot more California into the mix than anything in LA sadly.

I must echo the splendor of the Mourad family-style meals. The duck is wonderful; really nothing like that at all in LA sadly.

What do you think of La Ciccia? Nothing like that intense Sardinian in LA, imo.

Also, although it’s a bit unusual, I really enjoyed The Perennial. I feel like it might be worth a visit.

The pigtails at Tosca might be worth a trip to North Beach on their own, and perhaps the sweet potatoes at Lord Stanley. Maybe Prebechu for the uniqueness of their Guam cuisine? Or, for something a touch silly Mr. Pollo?

Although if one had just 2 meals in SF, Saison + Californios would be my picks as well.

If I had to name my number 3, however, it would absolutely be Cala, which is shockingly overlooked it seems. I ate there three times in a week the last time I was in SF. The best of Mexico City cuisine with California ingredients; simple, and utterly delicious.

What do you think of Uma Casa or Mr. Jiu’s (I haven’t been to either yet personally)?

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G[quote=“Chowseeker1999, post:4, topic:5182”]
I’ll have no car.

SF has this really neat thing called BART. It’s a futuristic system of travel and will take you many places. The Embarcadero station is right by right by you, in the financial district. It’s actually faster than driving!


Don’t listen to him, the kitsch and camp add to the fun, and I’ve always enjoyed the food (we even have it delivered sometimes when feeling lazy). :slight_smile:

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Yes, I’d say SPQR, Cotogna, Flour + Water are Cal-Ital. Compare the menu at SPQR to that of its sister restaurant A16, and you see the clear California style, for lack of a better term, at SPQR. I’ve liked Flour + Water’s pasta tasting as well, but I think SPQR is a little more consistent. I think that Cotogna’s agnolotti dal plin is better than Flour + Water’s.

Agreed on Mourad - but for the Moroccan family-style menu only.

I like La Ciccia and thought about mentioning it - they’re quite solid and a unique neighborhood gem, but it’s a bit out of the way from anything. The octopus salad and fregola with sea urchin, tomato, and tuna heart were our favorites, whereas mains like pork or lamb with saba and rosemary were alright.

Is Mr. Pollo still doing they’re casual and ridiculously inexpensive 4-course menu? Last time we went it was like $25.

I had very high hopes for Cala - perhaps I ordered wrong. After 38 minutes and ~$140 out the door in my lone visit, I thought the trout tostada with fried leeks was quite good, but a couple of shellfish tostadas and ceviches were good but not quite what I was hoping for. Perhaps I should’ve stayed for the rest - what I was really looking forward to was the sweet potato with bone marrow salsa negra and mussel tamal, but I didn’t get to ordering them because a lot of the seafood caught my eye and ended up a little disappointing. Perhaps I should go back for those 2 dishes I was originally interested in.

But actually Tacos Cala is not a bad choice for a casual first meal when one arrives around Civic Center. Since Cala is on the edge of Hayes Valley, it’s definitely walkable from City Hall.

I haven’t been to Uma Casa or Mr. Jiu’s yet - I intend to go to Uma Casa, though, not so much Mr. Jiu’s. On a related note, Bar Agricole, where Brandon Jiu worked previously, is a great spot for drinks, perhaps before or after Californios.

Depending on how long you stay, I’m not sure if Berkeley is in your plans. It’s a BART ride away, about 30 mins. @Chowseeker1999, I think you’d like Kiraku for an excellent izakaya or Great China for Chinese. Great China for lunch, Kiraku for dinner :grin:

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Hi All,

An acquaintance of some friends we’re visiting mentioned a place called Kin Kaho as a solid casual place to check out? Does anyone have any thoughts on that place?