Your friend is coming into town, and you’re wondering where to take them. Anxiety starts building. Your mind races, and starts going into panic mode. But what if they have a bad burrito…Okay, let me stop you right there. I got a list for you.
It’s hard to think of places where food that can meet or even exceed expectations, especially if those expectations are someone else’s. On top of that SF’s food scene can be hard to navigate (I mean, what is “Californian” anyway?) This list of recommendations feature places that SF has to offer that are stand-outs to me, and can make any well-traveled urbanite happy. I kept this list within the scope of San Francisco – strictly within the 7×7.
In no particular order:
Hog Island Oyster Bar ($$, Embarcadero/FiDi) – located within the Ferry Building, Hog Island Oyster Bar sits across from a beautiful view of the Bay. I’m always ecstatic to grab one of their bloody mary’s and slurp oysters by the dozens. What makes this a stand out? They are quinessentially SF, embodying what this area has to offer – delicious seafoods, incredibly tasty drinks, and classically American. Pro tip: It gets packed during the weekend, so try going during the weekday. Minimal lines.
Bellota ($$, SoMa) – this restaurant stands out above the rest that embodies SF, not only because of the delicious food it serves, but because it resides within the Airbnb HQ building (yes, tech is a thing here). When you walk into the restaurant, you’re immediately tossed into the world of Spanish food: large carving station for your jamons, a bar filled with sangrias and Spanish liquors/wines, and ovens filled with paella. Not only do you get to eat a great meal, but you get to walk around in the beautiful space afterwards. Pro tip: Take a tour in the Airbnb HQ lobby (after all, the bathrooms are right there). You can sit on couches and awe at the space itself for as long as you like. Make sure to look up and find the different themed conference rooms!
Liho Liho Yacht Club ($$, Tenderloin) – Hawaiian is in, and Liho Liho has been on the top of the list for a number of years now. Their food is delicious: juicy homemade spams top fluffy rice bowls sprinkled with furikake, tender beef tongue buns with kimchi where one bite the sauce will coat your hands, and desserts so tasty where you will finish before you even realize it. The most difficult part? Getting reservations. Pro tip: If you need to snag a seat, line up when they first open at 5pm. Otherwise the bar is first come, first serve.
Lazy Bear ($$$, Mission) – This restaurant is a great example of new school Californian dining. Their dishes feature seasonal ingredients, and chefs talk about the inspirations and process of cooking while you’re being served. They only offer communal seating at their two giant wooden tables. No fancy white table cloths. “Feel free to walk over to the plating area and ask questions to the chefs. Interact with us”, they say with a big smile. This is when you realize what food is all about – understanding ingredients and process-to-plate of a delicious and masterfully thought-out meal while engaging in the community (aka talking to other diners and staff) around you. What can be more Californian than that?
Note: If you’re looking for more details on a meal there, here’s a previous blog post. Their menus change based on the season. Pro tip: The only way you can get a seat is through their ticketing system, and they are released every 15th of the month.The cost of the menu varies by day, so if you don’t have a preference on the day of the meal go for Wednesdays!
Les Ros Thai ($, Tenderloin) – I’d say this is probably one of the few places in SF that offers delicious and legit Thai food for reasonable prices. I came here right after a trip to Southeast Asia – which included Thailand – and I felt like their food tasted pretty close to what I ate there. It’s open until midnight, so you can always get this delivered late night. Pro tip: If you don’t want to wait, order take-out or head to their other locations.
Mister Jiu’s ($$, Chinatown) – I’d say there’s maybe a handful of places that serve “Chinese-American” like what they do here, so it’s worth a visit. It’s not your standard General Tso’s chicken Chinese takeout restaurant. What they do is create new takes on traditional Chinese dishes, and it’s done in a way where it’s refined and use local produce. Expect your tomato egg soups to use early girl tomatoes and the pork buns to use dutch crunch bread – all Californian ingredients yet it doesn’t feel over-engineered or pretentious. In fact, it’s incredibly delicious. Pro tip: Don’t worry if you don’t snag resos! You can always order food and drink at the bar, which is first-come first-serve. All it takes is circling the bar like vultures.
Basik Cafe ($, Russian Hill) – Lines are out the door for this place on any weekend, and for good reason. Their açai bowls are delicious and healthy, so it’s a great way to start the day. Since it’s aligned with being wholesome, it’s perfect to have pre- or post-workout. That is why you’ll see the lines packed with people wearing their Nikes and Lululemon. Pro tip: If you can, go during the weekday because there won’t be any lines.
Craftsman and Wolves ($, Mission) – This bakery makes a lot of beautiful pastries and tarts, and they are really delicious too. I haven’t had something there I didn’t like. You can find them as a vendor at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and at their storefront in the Mission. Pro tip: Don’t just order their famous Rebel muffin, try any of their tarts or sandwiches. They are just as beautiful if not tasty.
House of Prime Rib ($$, Russian Hill) – It’s amazing that their menu and prices have stayed the same for years given how expensive this city is. We’re taking about prime rib and sides for under $50. What’s even more impressive is that they continue to serve martinis with its shaker, and perfectly cooked cuts of prime rib with a variety of sides. They don’t skimp on the details: a cold fork for eating salad, warm loaf of bread immediately served when seated, 2nd portions of meat if requested. What more can you ask from a steakhouse? Pro tip: If you can’t snag a reso, head to bar eating. They’ll try to squeeze you in…and eventually you’ll get to a table. Drink some martini’s, and time will quickly fly by.
Are there any other establishments you would add onto this list?