San Francisco has one of the most vibrant dining scenes in the United States, boasting a stellar lineup of award-winning restaurants and chefs. The following recommendations focus on places near the Moscone Convention Center and hotels, but include several suggestions a short cab or bus ride away. (Note: All phone numbers below are in the 415 area code.)
Old favorites still please in San Francisco—Fleur de Lys (673-7779) and Masa’s (989-7154) offer high-end, traditional French food in elegant settings. Another choice a bit more adventurous is La Folie (776-5577) on Polk Street (best reached by taxi). The eponymous restaurant of chef Michael Mina (397-9222) is considered by many food lovers to be one of the best in this city of award-winning restaurants. He also has several other places that are all very good, including RN74 (543-7474). Perbacco (955-0663) and its sister Barbacco (955-1919) are personal favorites with excellent Italian food and high energy. The Tadich Grill (391-1849) has been offering traditional American food since 1849 and is a great place to ingest a little history with your meal. Canteen (928-8870) is a very small, fun place in an old hotel diner with a limited menu that changes nightly—a real find.
Boulevard (543-6084), at the start of Mission Street, is still one of the best in the city—beautiful setting and beautiful views (ask for a table in back with a view of the Bay Bridge). One Market (777-5577) is also the address of another great eating experience, a block away from Boulevard with great views of the Ferry Building as you enter.
An often overlooked but superb restaurant is Prospect (247-7770), sister of Boulevard; you will find a sleek, modern setting with outstanding food. Ame (284-4040) is yet another shining culinary star, right by the convention center, and boasts a Michelin star. Benu (685-4860), which is the owner of two of the coveted Michelin stars, is an event—plan to be there the whole evening for the amazing 16-course meal that has to be experienced rather than described.
A fun place tucked downtown is 54 Mint (543-5100) in Mint Plaza, home to Sicilian and Roman food. Lulu (495-5775) is another excellent long-term resident near the convention center.
Yang Sing (541-4949) is a great place to sample the wide variety of Chinese dim sum, and for something a little, or a lot, different, try Asia SF (255-2742), which offers very good food and a “show” where the wait staff perform (and are usually transgender or considering such). Slanted Door (861-8032), in its “new” Ferry Building location, is always packed and excellent. Make the effort to get a table and enjoy the excellent meal.
These areas are packed with too many excellent Italian and Chinese restaurants to list separately, but there are a few standouts to consider. Quince (775-8500) is one of the best overall dining experiences in San Francisco. Outstanding California/Italian food and presentation create a memorable dining experience. Next door, its sister restaurant Cotogna (775-8508) offers more country-style Italian food at more affordable prices. Reserve far ahead!
Coi (393-9000) is another much-loved place, two Michelin stars, offering elegant contemporary California cuisine. Gary Danko (749-2060)—named after its famed chef—offers a rich and varied menu with options that let you choose the number of courses that match your appetite.
The hottest food scene in San Francisco is the Mission area—21 new restaurants opened in less than one year on Valencia Street. A short taxi ride or Muni bus BART trip from the hotel area, the neighborhood is a must-see. Large numbers of older Mexican restaurants are competing with the new places. One big star is Mission Chinese Food (863-2800), which is inside another very funky Chinese restaurant. No atmosphere but amazing food; be prepared for very, very spicy dishes.
Another favorite is Delfina (552-4055), which also recently opened a separate pizza place down the street, Defina Pizza (437-6800). Try to get in for a memorable Italian meal with very friendly service. Here are a few more tempting suggestions in this restaurant-rich area: Range (282-8283), an elegant restaurant serving top-notch American food; Commonwealth (355-1500), a real find with multiple courses and reasonable prices; flour + water (826-7000), outstanding, mostly Italian food based on (yes, you guessed it) flour and water; and Foreign Cinema (648-7600), a long-term favorite with locals that does actually show a movie.
Two perennial favorites are Zuni Cafe (552-2522) on Market and the Hayes Street Grill (863-5545) on Hayes. The former helped create California cuisine, and the latter is the closest to an East Coast seafood restaurant in the city (with the best French fries in San Francisco). State Bird Provision (795-1272) was named best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit magazine last year, but I haven’t eaten there, since all my attempts to make reservations have been unsuccessful. So start planning now if you want to find out what all the buzz is about! ■