With more than 4,300 restaurants, San Francisco has one of the largest selections of dining options in the entire country—so where does one even begin? While “best” is a subjective term, we've pulled together some of the city's finest dining options from budget-friendly to family-oriented, to help making dining out in SF relatively easy. Read on for some of San Francisco's most notable dining experiences.
First opened along Divisadero Street in San Francisco's Western Addition/NOPA neighborhood in 2004, Little Star was a catalyst for the area's now thriving culinary scene. Now with two SF locations (the other one in the Mission District), the eatery is best known for its gourmet deep-dish creations: ample pies filled with delicious offerings like the “Little Star,” a blend of spinach, ricotta, feta, mushroom, onion, and fresh garlic with fresh tomatoes and cheese held together by a signature cornmeal crust. For those who prefer a shorter wait, Little Star's quicker-to-cook thin crust pizzas are just as good.
Located among the Russian bakeries and dim sum spots of San Francisco's Outer Richmond, Gaspare's serves up delicious thin-crust pies reminiscent of East Coast pizza. Sicilian-born Gaspare Indelicato opened the eatery in 1985, and the still family-owned business has been going strong since, with a menu of home-cooked pastas and entrees like veal marsala and chicken al forno to compliment more than two-dozen pizza variations with toppings such as ricotta, clams, and sun dried tomatoes. It's a warm and cozy space, complete with red and white checkered tablecloths, green vinyl booths, and grape vines hanging from the ceiling.
Welcome to the flagship home of 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, a Bay Area native who's also a two-time Food Network gold medalist and has turned Northern California's long lacking pizza scene on its head. Gemignani opened Tony's Napoletana in North Beach in 2009, introducing the city's residents (many who are transplants) and visitors to nearly every type of pizza imaginable: square Detroit-style pizzas cooked in steel pans; Jersey-style tomato pies; cracker-thin St. Louis pies; and wood-fired Napolitanas. Of course, there are several California varietals as well. The always buzzing space has a mix of tables, booths, and outdoor seating, and beer and wine are available.
Cole Valley's Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain is the perfect fit for this family-friendly neighborhood, where car seats and strollers are par for the course. It's like stepping into early 20th-century America; there's a Streamline Moderne interior complete with a vintage 1930s-style soda fountain that originated in Mackinaw City, MI. Uniformed soda jerks serve up adults and kids alike at dual counters. You can order classic sandwiches like PB&J — served on house-baked brioche with homemade peanut butter and organic seasonal fruit jam — or grilled cheese made with cheddar and crème fraîche. Many of the ingredients are made on-site, as is the ice cream, with flavors that run the gamut from blackberry chip to olive oil and candied almond and uses all local organic dairy. There's even a menu of “Remedies,” or fountain drinks containing alcohol, to keep imbibing adults happy.
It's San Francisco's first and only indoor miniature golf course, serving up a selection of eclectic California comfort cuisine, from deep dish pizza topped with fennel pork and boudin blanc sausages to a wild-prawn jambalaya, in a historic Victorian that once served as a mortuary. Although the high-tech elements of many of the course's 14-holes (crafted with a design aesthetic that's “part Jules Vern, part Rube Goldberg”) might be lost on little ones, the overall whimsical space is sure to keep all-ages entertained. Despite an adult-leaning environment during evenings, kids are welcome during early afternoons and on weekends.
Families pack into Emmy's Spaghetti Shack early each evening as this casual pasta palace transforms into a raucous kid-centric party — especially on Monday and Tuesdays, when kids (one kids pasta per each adult entree) eat free from 5-7 p.m. From its colorful handwritten menus to its delightfully whimsical décor — such as aprons hanging on a clothesline, fun framed images, and strings of strewn lights — there's plenty here to keep kids' attention while they chow down on plates of garlic bread and meatballs. This dark, divey space features both checkered clothed tables and cozy booths, as well as a photo booth for capturing your big night out.
A frontrunner in San Francisco's fine fast-casual food scene, Souvla specializes in quality Greek cuisine served up counter-style in a modern, industrial space, with a compact menu inspired by Greece's own souvlaki (or grilled skewer) joints. The local chain's first eatery opened in Hayes Valley in 2014, and they opened their fourth city location — this one in the Marina — in January 2019. Items like roasted white sweet potatoes with garlic yogurt, chopped Kalamata olives, and toasted walnut or Superior Farms lamb leg with harissa-spiked yogurt and feta cheese come in both sandwich and bowl forms, and are just as good to go as they are in-house. The Hayes Valley location also has a parklet (parking spots turned into outdoor spaces) for enjoying your meal outside.
Solo diners, groups of friends, and families alike frequent this casual and compact space, on the cusp of San Francisco's Hayes Valley and Civic Center neighborhoods, for mouthwatering rotisserie chicken cooked up by the same owners and chefs of Michelin-starred Rich Table, just up the street. In fact, you can often catch Evan Rich of the husband-and-wife team manning RT's counter. Order from a blackboard menu of eats that include pork belly and roasted cauliflower with red beet tahini sandwiches, soups and salads, and the eatery's signature item, then grab a seat in RT's bright and airy interior or opt for take-out to enjoy in nearby Patricia's Green.
Here's a fast-casual establishment that's also worthy of a date. Barzotto is an Italian-inspired bistro replete with stylish touches like framed hanging mirrors and Venetian plastered walls, and a menu of dishes (like bucatini with clams, green garlic, furikake and chilli) incorporating handmade pasta that you can watch being rolled as you wait. Along with a center open-kitchen, the eatery features a selection of pastas — both fresh and dried — and pasta sauces that are perfect for taking home.
A local institution, Tommy's Joynt has been feeding all walks of San Franciscans and city visitors since it first opened in 1947. The kitsch-filled eatery is easily recognizable by its colorful, carnival-inspired facade, and is one of the last remaining Northern California hofbraus (a name evidently, borrowed from the German hofbräu, referring to a type of cafeteria-style space serving up fresh sliced meats and affordable drinks that originated in the area in the late 1940s) in SF, if not the last. Line up for big hearty sandwiches of corned beer, pastrami, and BBQ brisket, original favorites like buffalo stew and buffalo chili, and sides ranging from mashed potatoes to hickory baked beans, then grab a table beneath a plethora of Tiffany-style maps and Anchor Steam signs where you can then place your drink order.
Opened in North Beach in 2014 (and now with multiple area locations), the family-owned Italian Homemade Company seems like it's been a staple in the local community for years. As both a specialty cafe and market, its shelves are lined with bags of purchasable pasta and bottles of olive oil, while a deli-style counter is where customers line up for plates of fettuccine and tortellini topped with everything from pesto to meatballs to butter and sage. There's a scattering of indoor tables as well as some outdoor seating that provides a ideal perch for people-watching.
Funny that although this legendary establishment first opened along San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront (as “Franco's Lunch” in the 1930s), it wasn't until 2001 that they added fries to their menu. Despite lacking such a tried-and-true burger accompaniment for decades, Red's Java House remained a popular spot to get a burger, hot dog, or egg salad sandwich, and today it's still one of the city's most affordable meals. The small, divey space offers both indoor and outdoor seating, not to mention a weathered seafaring vibe that's tough to beat.
As the first-ever woman in the U.S. to earn three Michelin-stars — all for Atelier Crenn — Dominique Crenn truly knows her way around a kitchen. The French-born chef utilizes simple ingredients to create edible poetry, with most of her “verses” or courses incorporating molecular gastronomic culinary techniques. Her cuisine is all about texture and balance, and varies according to what's in season as well as the story is she's trying to tell, which means her dishes are constantly evolving and changing. Atelier Crenn's standard seafood- and vegetable-centric tasting menu is undoubtedly pricey and reservations must be made months in advance, but the entire experience is worth it...and then some.
Another tasting menu sensation, Saison serves up a well-curated selection of innovative French-American cuisine in a setting that's as modern as it is refined. The restaurant's purveyors work directly with local fishers, gathers, ranchers and more to create a seasonal offerings of dishes that center around wood fire cooking; and wine pairings include both New and Old World vintages, with a focus on France's Burgundy region. While a traditional dinner for two at this Michelin-starred eatery will easily set you back a grand, there are more affordable ways to experience Saison's exquisite offerings, including the Bar at Saison's five-course tasting menu, which runs a much lower (though still tough-on-the-wallet) overhead.
A favorite among SF locales for decades, Zuni is a flagship of the city's Central Market neighborhood and arguably one of the best restaurants in town. This two-story spot with its long, open windows feels in many ways like it's been plucked straight out of Europe, despite its Native American name and Mexican-centric culinary beginnings. Signature menu items include ricotta gnocchi, the Zuni caesar salad, and chicken for two roasted in the restaurant's own wood-fired brick oven. Whether it's for sipping aperitifs from one of Zuni's sidewalk tables or sitting down to a leisurely meal, Zuni is worth every penny.