As a restaurant town, San Francisco is rivaled only by New York. As varied as the San Francisco's ethnic patchwork is, so is the plethora of dining choices. One can eat Chinese in Chinatown and Italian in North Beach, but a rainbow spectrum of ethnic cuisine awaits you in central and outlying neighbourhoods. Have you enjoyed the specialties of Eritrean, Afghan, and Tibetan fare? In San Francisco, you can. Shining out over this sea of ethnic delights are the downtown beacons of fine dining that have really kept San Francisco on the culinary map such as the stylish downtown restaurants Postrio
. Chic and elegant or funky and loud, in San Francisco you'll eat better than you ever have. Bon Appetit!
Castro Street and Noe Valley
In the Castro, casual, inexpensive and fun dining prevails along with lots of gay bars. Relaxed Nirvana
is a favourite meeting place with huge windows overlooking the action on Castro Street, while Orphan Andy's
serves what may be the best hamburgers in the city. The loud and lively Detour, one of the most popular bars in the Castro, is a favourite cruising spot while Harvey's offers more relaxed conversations. Noe Valley contains more than its share of the City's better, smaller, less pricey but well-reputed eateries. The Firefly
, both favourites with locals, often have lines out the door.
Avoid the upstairs restaurants on Grant Avenue, which cater to the tourist trade. Instead, head up the side streets and take your chances at one of scores of great and inexpensive Cantonese rooms that feed locals. Try the sedate and elegant Imperial Tea Court for a rare and exquisite selection of the finest Asian tea, or the frenetic House of Nanking
on Kearny. On the edge of North Beach and Chinatown Brandy Ho's
carries the banner of "spicy Hunan cooking," and Dol Ho
is a fixture with the Chinese shoppers and businessmen during lunch.
One of the best restaurants in Chinatown, Tommy Toy's
on Montgomery Street, is not technically in Chinatown, but it's just a short walk down Washington Street past Portsmouth Square. Tommy Toy's is elegant, where gentlemen are expected to wear jackets and ties and where the food (bearing a French accent), is absolutely superb. One of the few bars in Chinatown, dimly lit Li Po's, is a legendary literary hangout. Check out its over-the-top facade.
Civic centre and Hayes Valley
If dining before the opera, Hayes Valley west of the Civic centre has its share of the city's finest dining. One of the stars of the area, Jardiniere
, features a dining room so remarkably styled that it's worth a peek even if you can't get a reservation. On Hayes Street, Absinthe
offers innovative California-French fare in a fanciful dark velvet surrounding. Then there's the Caffe Delle Stelle's
more homey, trattoria-style ambiance with clever and unerring renditions of Italian specialties. The Hayes Street Grill
is a reliable favourite. Up the street, Suppenkuche
offers modern renditions of German favourites and dozens of beers on tap in an ambiance as boisterous as it is spartan. Over on Grove (up Gough from Hayes) Citizen Cake
complements California cuisine with visually arresting (and sinfully delicious) desserts. For something quicker and cheaper, try hip and funky Momi Toby's Revolution Cafe
Cow Hollow/Union Street Plumpjack Cafe
is one of the more notable singles bars in an area filled with them. The clientele here is young, brash, beautiful and successful. Great restaurants line Union Street and side streets. For wonderful neighbourhood Italian, duck into Pane E Vino on Steiner, just off Union or for a Japanese meal on a hibachi try Yoshida-ya
, or gorge on all-you-can-eat sushi at Sushi Cardonnay
Downtown and Nob Hill Masa's
and Wolfgang Puck's Postrio
offer variations in the spectrum of French/California cuisine, all of them expensive, and all of them worth it. For lovers of seafood and creative design, Farallon
, also pricey, is styled on an undersea grotto theme. Don't think of going to these places without a reservation. A large number of great sushi restaurants are to be found in the area south of Post Street. For drinks, try some of the great bars and lounges in Nob Hill hotels, especially if you can't afford to be a guest there. The Top of the Mark
(at the Mark Hopkins InterContinental
), Harry Denton's Starlight Room
(atop the Sir Francis Drake
), and the classic Tonga Room
(at the Fairmont Hotel
) will all let you say you've "been there, done that" without breaking the bank.
Embarcadero and Financial District
Restaurants here, whether stylish or traditional, are informed by discretion and lack of pretense as befits a business environment. On California Street, in the heart of the Financial District, is the Tadich Grill
, the City's oldest restaurant. Heavy on tradition, this seafood house hasn't changed much during its extensive existence. Celebrity-owned Rubicon
highlights California cuisine, and delightful Aqua
does incredible things with seafood. The shiny Fog City Diner
, near the Embarcadero centre
, tips its hat to the American railroad diner, but serves excellent food. Nearby Il Fornaio
, at Levi's Plaza Park, offers an exhaustive Italian menu, as well as a takeout deli and bakery. The Royal Exchange is a popular after-work destination for the young movers and shakers of Montgomery Street.
Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square and Aquatic Park
One word: seafood. Places like Alioto's
have been here forever, serving serviceable seafood to tourists, and of course have tremendous views with their bayside seating. Ghirardelli Square
offers everything from a mind-boggling array of seafood at McCormick and Kuleto
, to superb and elegant Chinese at the Mandarin Lounge
. For anyone with a sweet tooth, the huge sundaes at the Ghirardelli's Chocolate Shop
are big fun.
For young bohos around the corner of Haight and Fillmore, Nickie's is a favourite watering hole and dance hall. If you're hungry, go to the Indian Oven
around the corner. Or, head to Axum
for great, inexpensive Ethiopian food. This area also has more than its share of comfortably scruffy cafes, as well as bars such as the Noc Noc, Toronado, Mad Dog in the Fog, and Ad Bodhran.
You're in the culinary heart of the city! What to eat? Italian, of course! Mangia! The only problem here is deciding just what kind of Italian. Check out unpretentious, hearty North Beach institutions like the family-style Calzone's
. Off-kilter Sicilian, with gargantuan proportions and chairs on the ceiling? Well, that could only be Caffe Sport
. You can also treat yourself to a more elegant and innovative approach to Italian food at hard-to-get-into Rose Pistola
. But if you're just looking for a quick snack before scaling Telegraph Hill, have a panini sandwich and espresso at venerable Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store or cross Washington Square Park for fresh focaccia at Liguria Bakery
But there's more to North Beach than Italian food, of course. Moose's
, facing Washington Square, does a wonderful job with California cuisine, and for a change of pace, try Afghan favourite Helmand
, on Broadway. Cocktail hour? If you want to get close to the beatnik soul of North Beach Vesuvio
, Saloon, the Tosca Cafe
and Savoy Tivoli are where you must go. And at swanky Jazz at Pearl's you can have a drink or dine on remarkably good Spanish and Basque cuisine while listening to top local jazz artists.
Fillmore Street and Japantown
Fillmore Street has dozens of great restaurants so it's hard to know where to begin. Meet and greet at the Elite Cafe
, one of the best places in town to have Cajun blackened redfish. Enjoy cosy Thai at the Thai Stick
or squeeze yourself into tiny, tasty La Mediterrane
. Harry's On Fillmore serves drinks and food and features jazz on weekends. At Fillmore and Geary, pay a cover charge and drink your blues away (or blues your drink away) at the Boom Boom Room. Great noodle houses and sushi bars like Mifune
pack Japan centre.
Edgy cafes like the Universal Cafe
and restaurants like the Slow Club
attract the bohemians and black-clad yuppies in this transitional loft/industrial area.
The dynamism of this emerging area can be felt in its restaurant scene, with more "important" restaurants than almost anywhere else in the city, as well as places where the atmosphere's the only thing that counts. Fringale
is considered among the very best French restaurants in the entire city, if not the entire state. Restaurant LuLu
attracts a haute-yuppie clientele and offers imaginative food, an extensive list of single-malt scotches, and a very loud dining room. Blowfish Sushi To Die For
has some of the best postmodern sushi served anywhere. Brain Wash is one of the best, and perhaps only, places to have a beer, listen to a local band and wash your clothes all at the same time. The wonderfully unrefined Paradise Lounge features open-mic poetry readings.
South Beach/China Basin Town's End
and Delancy Street are among the better restaurants at the end of the Embarcadero serving wholesome but refined California cuisine. Recently relocated from the Mission, the Slanted Door styles Vietnamese dishes with a California sensibility and consistently makes top SF restaurant lists. Momo's
, ideally located across from SBC Park
, suddenly has the best address in San Francisco, and the powerful and glamorous clientele to match.
The Haight-Ashbury and Cole Valley
colourful, funky and intensely popular restaurants like Cha Cha Cha
draw a young and festive crowd in the Haight Ashbury. Nearby Cole Valley is less unkempt but features quite a few good restaurants for its tiny size, most notably the wine bar EOS
The Marina District
On Chestnut Street, the college sweatshirt crowd dines and socializes at quick, comfortable, stylish-but-not-edgy places like Pasta Fuzio
. Nightlife centres around lively singles bars and on Sundays brunch is hugely popular with bicyclists and rollerbladers at numerous places in the area.
The Mission District
The city's hippest, most popular, inexpensive restaurants are to be found in the area around Valencia and 16th Street, referred to as the Valencia Corridor. The Firecracker
, Ti Couz
are among the dozens of imaginative, vibrant places to dine without spending a fortune. Be forewarned of lines and waits, however. For drinks, there are scads of places to go along Valencia Street, among them, the Elbo Room offering drinks, music, and photo booths, and the Oxygen Bar, which offers not only fine sake and wine but, yes pure oxygen. (You can inhale it in 10 or 25-minute segments.) In a parallel universe to this boho scene are the dozens of great burrito places on Mission and Valencia. Each have their adherents but El Toro Taqueria
and the legendary La Taqueria
are the most popular. All serve popular Mexican beers.
The Avenues: The Richmond and Sunset Districts
In Clement Street's "Little Chinatown," you'll find Chinese food rivaling (some say surpassing) the best Chinatown has to offer. Ton Kiang Restaurant
, a Martha Stewart favourite, and dim sum specialists Yet Wah
are but two of the many remarkable places to eat here with every one of them unpretentious and a good value. On the other side of Golden Gate Park, on Irving Street around 9th Avenue, are dozens of lively and inexpensive restaurants catering to medical students at nearby UCSF. Sushi, curry, won ton, pad thai, pizza, falafel, crepes, burritos, hamburgers, and Ethiopian favourites can all be found shoehorned into that one intersection. Some of the city's best Chinese restaurants can also be found on outer Irving and Taraval, as well.
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