When San Francisco's Central Freeway closed its Hayes Valley on-and-off ramps following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it transformed the neighborhood from a stretch of urban blight into one of the city's most upscale communities: a place where high-end boutiques and buzz-worthy restaurants poured in at a rapid pace. There's now a little something for everyone in this central 'hood, from sustainable seafood to carnival-inspired cuisine, and the options are only growing. Ready to get your dine on? Here are some of our favorite places to eat for a night (or a day) out-and-about in Hayes Valley.
Join the throngs of opera and symphony goers who pack into this modern French bistro pre-show for plates of crispy frog legs, braised rabbit leg, and escargot. Monsieur Benjamin's decor — a sleek space boasting large front windows and exposed bulbs hanging from the ceiling — and its wine list are as equally as impressive as its food, though the experience is decidedly pricey. It's also one of San Francisco's growing number of 'tipless' restaurants, so a 20 percent service fee is added to the bill instead. For a more affordable experience, opt for brunch over dinner.
A local institution, Suppenküche has been serving up delicious German cuisine in a Bavarian tavern-style setting since the early '90s, well before Hayes Valley transformed into the upscale 'hood that it is today. With a warm and welcoming atmosphere filled with shared tables and sparse, simple decor, the popular eatery specializes is traditional dishes like grilled pork sausage with sauerkraut and cheese spätzle in onion butter sauce, as well as beers from across Germany. Along with dinner daily, Suppenküche is also a popular spot for Sunday brunch.
Hayes Valley is home to a few beloved French bistros, including this one by Dominique Crenn — the only female chef in the U.S. to oversee a three Michelin-starred restaurant. Crenn's childhood in Brittany, France, is the inspiration for the bistro's menu, an ever-changing, seven-course tasting menu that's both seafood-forward and inspired by the local California coast. Wine pairings are also available, and brunch is a la carte.
Husband and wife team Evan and Sarah Rich are the owners and chefs behind this lively Michelin-starred restaurant that dishes out top-notch California fare in a relaxed and jovial setting. Choose between a selection of chef's picks or individual entrees like aged beef cannelloni with charred scallion, and rock cod with almond-garnished asparagus, or opt to dine family-style. The couple also owns and operates nearby fast-casual space, RT Rotisserie, which cooks up quality cuisine utilizing many of the same ingredients and at a fraction of the cost.
Fine fast-casual cuisine is actually one of San Francisco's hottest dining trends, and Souvla has been leading the way since opening in 2014. The first of four San Francisco locations — which also include one in NOPA and another in the Mission — this Greek sandwich shop (modeled on the country's souvlaki or “skewer” food stands) offers a compact menu of foods like pork, lamb, and chicken, as well as a vegetarian option, served in both sandwich in salad forms. Guests order at the counter either to-go or to dine at one of the eatery's indoor or outdoor seats; both which are limited, though a newly added parklet (parking space-turned-park) out front provides extra room.
For a Thai experience that's both authentic and unique, don't miss Lers Ros, an upscale eatery that's taken San Francisco by storm since first opening on Larkin Street in 2008. The Hayes Valley location is one of its more recent spin-offs, though one serving up the same style of delicious northeastern Thai cuisine for which Les Ros is known. Expect exotic dishes like Pad Ped Moo Pah, or stir-fried boar, and Pad Kra Pow Kob — frog served in bone broth with basil leaves — accompanied by more traditional fare like rice soups and seafood stir-fry.
Only open on weekends, Straw whips up carnival-inspired comfort food with a California twist for the brunch and lunch crowd, in a small setting that's both quirky and colorful. There's a popular Tilt-o-Whirl booth for getting cozy, though the eatery also offers a range of typical indoor and outdoor seating. Straw specializes in unconventional menu items like its “famous Donut Burger,” two grass-fed all-beef patties topped with American cheese and sandwiched between two house-made glazed donut buns, and has appeared on Food Network’s "World's Weirdest Restaurants," as well at the Cooking Channel and Travel Channel. The Fried Chicken and Waffle Monte Cristo is another restaurant favorite.
Swing by this small, bay-windowed eatery for affordable Vietnamese street food outside of SF's Little Saigon neighborhood. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., DragonEats offers a selection of banh mi sandwiches, bowls, and rolls such as teriyaki tofu and roasted pork, available in all three styles. Round out your order with a Vietnamese iced coffee or homemade salty lemonade, then grab a stool at the window counter for watching the world outside. DragonEats has a couple of other locations, including one in the Haight-Ashbury.
As one of San Francisco's most modern and inventive omakase meals — meaning guests sit down to a selection of chef's choices — Robin is hailed for its contemporary offerings, not to mention its unique decor. This Japanese eatery specializes in local fish like albacore and lingcod, as well as uni (sea urchin) from various spots around the globe, all served up in an artsy space with open floor-to-ceiling windows, metallic touches, and even a fish-inspired backsplash behind its sushi bar. The nigiri here is especially prolific, as are unexpected pairings like nori chips topped with wagyu tartare and a local fig served on steelhead.
If traditional seafood is your bag, nothing beats the Hayes Street Grill, a landmark eatery celebrating 40 years in 2019. With its white tablecloths and no-nonsense décor, the restaurant attracts a mix of local theatre goers, neighborhood residents, and a longtime loyal clientele (it's a great place to bring the parents) who come for a daily changing menu of sustainably harvest fish and shellfish from local farms and small producers — items like grilled scallops and Petrale sole — as well as seasonal highlights such as Half Moon Bay sand dabs.
Sporting several locations citywide, the Grove is a part-cafe, part-beer and wine bar, and comfort food eatery, all mixed together in a woodsy, lodge-style setting with log beams, a stone fireplace, and a variety of seating that includes cozy nooks and couches. It's independently owned and serves breakfast all-day, as well as selection of sandwiches, soups and salads, and main dishes like chicken pot pie and mac n' cheese. Local purveyor Sightglass Coffee is what's on brew for the caffeinated crowd.
Bustling, loud, and seemingly always busy, a Mano draws in crowds with its housemade pasta, spacious interior, and a menu of California-inspired Italian eats made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, like tagliatelle with yellow foot mushrooms, and squid ink orecchiette with ragu and mussels. House-cured pastrami is a lunch specialty.