The Mission may be the spot to open up the hottest new restaurant, but the Castro is full of local joints that have a certain neighborhood appeal. Though their settings, styles, and cuisine are all different, walk into any one of these eateries and you’ll feel right at home.
California cuisine is all over this city, but nowhere does it quite like Frances. Something about the small, cozy space and neighborhood vibes makes it feel like you’re dining at a close friend’s house—if that close friend just so happened to have a Michelin star. Though the menu changes daily, popular base items include pork chop, bavette steak, and fresh fish. But this place is no hidden secret—reservations are booked a solid three weeks out, so call early.
In April 2017, the Castro obtained this delicious Korean fix – one with a menu is rolled out in steps. First, choose whether you’d like a standard bowl, poke bowl, wrap, or taco. Then select your protein from such offerings as spicy pork and soy garlic chicken. Finally decide on a side (kimbap – rice with spicy pork and pickled daikon – is a popular favorite). It’s fast causal dining at its finest.
A sibling to Sausalito's lauded Sushi Ran restaurant, this upscale izakaya took over the Castro's former Nomica space (another eatery under the same owners) and transformed it into a Japanese-style pub. Along with sashimi, sushi rolls, and tempura dishes, the tavern-like Sushi Ran features a menu of small hot and cold plates including almond milk tofu served with sweet umami soy sauce and miso glazed salmon with pickled vegetables, ideal for enjoying alongside creative cocktails made with awamori, Okinawa's preferred distilled rice spirit.
This no-reservations neighborhood establishment is the go-to for an easy weeknight family dinner that’s loaded with flavor. Owners Lily (aka Mama Ji) and Marv serve up home-style Sichuan food — items like pork shumai and cilantro shrimp dumplings — and are longtime residents of the community, lending the place a familial feel.
Brunch is the name of the game at the sun-soaked Starbelly, a casual spot serving up California comfort cuisine in a friendly, relaxed setting with its own outdoor patio. Along with this delicious daily offering, the restaurant also features happy hour and evening menus that run the gamut from a white cheddar hamburger on a challah bun to pizza topped with bacon, jalapeño, arugula, and green goddess dressing. Basically, it offers a little something for everyone.
First opened in 1968 in a former sausage factory, this family-owned Italian eatery is a Castro Street staple. Pillowy dough crusts and the perfect amount of cheese yields delicious pizza slices, and a cozy interior with vinyl booths, papered walls, and a plethora of framed photos make it almost as though you're dining at nonna's house.
The specialty at this popular Castro neighborhood "Tavern with a Twist" (and former home of Top Chef contestant Ryan Scott) is elevated pub fare, which includes items like quinoa burgers, bowls of smoked tomato soup, and braised short rib entrees. With an energetic vibe and a colorful decor complete with mismatched chairs and puckered booth-backs to match, Finn Town easily draws in crowds — and extended kitchen hours (until 11pm) Thursday through Saturday evenings only help the cause.
This little seafood spot has been serving up a bevy of classic dishes since 1977, and is today a local institution. Crowds pour in for dishes like crab cakes served with housemade tartar sauce and roasted potatoes, and wild Mexican prawns, but it's the Oyster Bar's cioppino – a traditional seafood and pasta medley that's best split between friends – that's really made a name for itself. Whatever your order, be sure and cleanse your palate first with a couple of oyster shooters.
Dishing out California-Mediterranean-inspired cuisine in a rustic wine bar setting, Lark exudes a distinctly European air. Lunch and dinner are par for the course, with small sharable plates like Angus sliders, burrata caprese crostini, and lamb souvlaki contributing to the eatery's already lively atmosphere, and making dining into more of a jovial party than a standard sit-down meal.