With over 4000 restaurants, San Francisco is a foodies dream come true. The general food quality of restaurants is high; awareness and use of sustainable food sources is significant; and the diversity of selection and ethnicity means there is something for everyone.
I can’t offer a comprehensive guide to San Francisco food and drink in one post so instead here are a few guidelines and recommendations.
The Dos for San Francisco Restaurants
- Do follow your nose!
- Do be open to trying foods and dishes you’ve never heard of.
- Do ask questions – Californians love to talk about their food.
- Do go into the neighborhoods and explore – go off the tourist paths. Often the neighborhoods are where you will find the best of the best.
- Do make reservations – especially Thursday through Sunday.
The Don’ts for San Francisco Restaurants
- Don’t go to national chains in San Francisco. With the wonderful array of local-owned restaurants in the city, why in the world would you go to the Applebee’s, Ruth’s Chris, Capital Grille, or even California Pizza Kitchen. You can go to these restaurants anywhere.
- Don’t ignore the signs that say “Cash Only” – they mean what they say. Ask if you are not sure. A number of restaurants only take the green stuff (dollars that is).
- In spite of recommendation #4 in the do section above, don’t totally ignore the tourist restaurants because they are popular and successful for a reason.
- Don’t forget to have a pre-dinner cocktail somewhere before you go to the restaurant.
San Francisco Restaurant Recommendations
There are so many that are worthy of a call-out, but here are just a few:
- Best pizza – Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza at Stockton and Union. Sure the slices are expensive but well worth it. High quality pepperoni especially.
- Best Seafood – Swan Oyster Depot at Polk and Sacramento – only open for lunch. First come first serve, cash only, and the line goes down the block. Worth the wait and the money. The staff is knowledable and happy to give advise and patiently answer questions.
- Best Taqueria – anywhere in the Mission District that smells good and has people in it. I swear they taste better the later the night goes on.
- Best Banh Mi – Bahn Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich of meat, pickled vegetables, and chili peppers on a baguette. There are plenty of great Bahn Mi shops in San Francisco, but Saigon Sandwich at Larkin and Eddy is known as the best. Don’t let the neighborhood or the storefront weird you away from this place.
- Best place to walk around with lots of food choices – San Francisco Ferry Building and Market and The Embarcadero. Lots of restaurants and food stalls. Hog Island Oysters is my favorite.
Three call outs for restaurants:
- Zuni Cafe – I wrote about this place in a previous post.
- Pena Pachamama Center on Powell Street between Green and Union – Bolivian Restaurant that has great food and uplifting live music shows 5 nights a week. The house band (and owner’s band) Sukay plays every Saturday night and their musicianship and warmth make for a great night out.
- Tommy’s Joynt at Van Ness and Geary – A cafeteria-style carvery that is a San Francisco tradition. Enjoy the low prices of both the tasty food and the drinks, along with the communal table.
Tourist restaurants worth going to:
- Cliff House – on the Ocean. The bar is even better than the dining room.
- Slanted Door – Vietnamese in the Ferry Building.
- AsiaSF – wild drag show with dinner at 9th and Howard. The food is good but its all about the show.
So many other amazing restaurants I have been to and love: Foreign Cinema, Boulevard, Brazen Head, House of Prime Rib, Hayes Grill, Tosca, Malasa, and I am stopping here.
San Francisco Cocktail Recommendations
San Francisco takes its drinking very seriously.
San Francisco is the kind of city where when you order a Lemonade and Bourbon and the mixologist will fresh-squeeze the lemonade for you and tell you about the organic grove of trees that the lemons were picked from. And the drink will taste amazing and be mixed perfectly.
I asked my friend to make me a list of his favorite drinking spots so you can see the list and a map by clicking this sentence. (Many of these are also amazing restaurants).
Three bars to add:
- The Buena Vista at Hyde and Beach – the Irish Coffee was invented here and that is what you should order. The secret is Celtic Crossing Whiskey Liquor in the Irish Coffee. Yes another please.
- Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe on Columbus in an Alley Between Broadway and Pacific. Quirky and interesting. Look around and walk around.
Shanghai Kelly’s at Broadway and Polk. Get a local vibe and watch some sports. This was our spot for Surfer on Acid shots (Jägermeister with Malibu, Pineapple Juice, and Collins shaken so its foamy).
Enjoy, eat well, drink well, and let me know what bars and restaurants you like.
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This travel overview is broken into 10 parts:
San Francisco Part 1 – Overview (including getting there, weather, and where to stay)
San Francisco Part 2 – Top 5 Touristy Things To Do
San Francisco Part 3 – Best Walks in San Francisco
San Francisco Part 4 – Top 5 Off the Beaten Path Things To Do
San Francisco Part 5 – Where to Eat and Drink
San Francisco Part 6 – Avoiding the Bad Side
San Francisco Part 7 – Experiencing the Wild Side
San Francisco Part 8 – Amazing Day Hikes Around San Francisco
San Francisco Part 9 – Amazing Day Trips Around San Francisco
San Francisco Part 10 – Further Afield from San Francisco (and Worth It)
Paul….for the best drinks…you forgot about the The Top of the Mark, in the Mark Hopkins hotel. Awesome views – when it isn’t foggy.
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Great call out – yes definitely worth going to The Top of the Mark in Nob Hill neighborhood (unless you are scared of heights). I also forgot Mauna Loa in the Cow Hollow neighborhood – drink with the locals and bring cash.
I’ll refer to your post if ever visit San Francisco. Thanks for sharing!
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Good people watching and fantastic vantage point from the View Lounge at the Marriott: sfviewlounge.com. Not to be missed – go at night (earlier, if you want a chance to actually sit) but expect to feel old if you are over 25…
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Great call out. The View Lounge is located at Mission and Fouth St.