June 23, 2024

Best San Francisco Restaurants – The New York Times

In the Where to Eat: 25 Best series, we’re highlighting our favorite restaurants in cities across the United States. These lists will be updated as restaurants close and open, and as we find new gems to recommend. As always, we pay for all of our meals and don’t accept free items.

Filipino

In a soaring, sunlit dining room framed with hanging plants, Francis and Dian Ang and the team behind the Filipino pop-up Pinoy Heritage make every dinner feel like a party, complete with pancit and lumpia, habit-forming barbecue sticks of beef tongue and homemade longanisa, and a series of platitos that change in step with Northern California’s seasonal seafood and produce. Look for a QR code that leads you to a “secret” menu of some of the Ang family’s favorite snacks, including balut and duck hearts. TEJAL RAO

2700 Jones Street, San Francisco; 415-486-0788; restaurantabaca.com

The vibrant four-course menu at Azalina’s is a celebration of Malaysian food, specifically the island of Penang, where the chef Azalina Eusope grew up. Each course demonstrates the diversity of the cuisine, cruising deftly throughout the country’s three major ethnicities and 16 states and territories. As bright as the murals in the dining room, golden bowls of Teochew porridge topped with roe kick off the progression of dishes. Just as colorful are the nonalcoholic drinks like a fizzy blue-pea-and-lemongrass soda. The check arrives in a copy of Peter M. Field’s “The Tenderloin District of San Francisco Through Time,” shining a spotlight on the history of the restaurant’s neighborhood. ELEANORE PARK

499 Ellis Street, San Francisco; 415-205-9284; azalinas.com

Moroccan, New American

Stalwart restaurants can sometimes coast on the fondness of loyalists who mistake nostalgia for quality. That’s not true of Aziza, which first opened in 2001 but feels just as stimulating as any new restaurant in the city. The chef Mourad Lahlou reopened this neighborhood favorite in 2019, after a three-year hiatus. Classic Moroccan dishes are dressed in seasonal garb like the hand-rolled couscous that arrives jiggling between a wreath of green garlic, sunflower seeds and squidgy hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Comforting plates like chicken confit basteeya and braised lamb shank varnished in a sticky glaze, still feel fresh, dashing between savory and sweet, reminding diners that Mr. Lahlou’s cooking continues to evolve. ELEANORE PARK

5800 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco; 415-682-4196; azizasf.com

Arabic, Palestinian-Jordanian

Samir Mogannam, the chef and proprietor, transformed his father’s burger joint on Church Street into a quick-service Arabic restaurant in 2019, showcasing familiar favorites like a mezze platter dotted with dips including hummus, labneh and baba ghanouj. Now with a second location in Cole Valley, this restaurant continues to dazzle. Seared, squeaky halloumi, for example — adorned with chopped jalapeño, Meyer lemon and a mélange of bright herbs — comes out sizzling like a miniature fajita plate. Seating is limited, so takeout or delivery may even be preferable. Besides, nibbling on leftover Gazan braised lamb shanks and pearled couscous can continue to delight days later. ELEANORE PARK

138 Church Street, San Francisco; 415-703-0270; beitrimasf.com

The name Benu refers to the Egyptian myth of the phoenix being reborn, but it is Korean culture that animates the restaurant, from the servers’ uniforms, which resemble the garments of Korean Buddhist monks, to the dining room textiles that evoke the sliding doors of pre-Korean-War homes. The chef Cory Lee deftly executes a menu of unusual sophistication and precision, a type of cooking that could easily seem esoteric. Instead, mussels elegantly stuffed with glass noodles, vegetables and egg cosplay as japchae, a Korean comfort dish. If by some stroke of privilege, you find yourself here more than once, the meal won’t repeat itself. There are meticulous notes being taken behind the scenes to ensure that your experience is a new one each and every time, as the name promises. ELEANORE PARK

22 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco; 415-685-4860; benusf.com

California Continental

Opened in 1993, Boulevard is a grande dame of the city’s dining scene. A recent redesign complements the prix-fixe menu, which still overdelivers. The room, an ornate mash-up of William Morris-style patterns and Art Deco accents, manages to feel both opulent and cozy at once. The chef Nancy Oakes’s cooking also balances the familiar and the exquisite — the best of what California has to offer, with a nouvelle cuisine accent. The seasonal menu changes frequently, but heirloom tomatoes with Brillat-Savarin triple cream and Brokaw avocado may be followed by halibut with hearts-of-palm risotto. A fried quail slider could intercede with a playful note. In the era of diminishing dessert menus, the pastry program is formidable, and makes the most of the state’s fruit. BRIAN GALLAGHER

1 Mission Street, San Francisco; 415-543-6084; boulevardrestaurant.com

Italian

One of San Francisco’s hardest restaurant challenges may be finding someone who doesn’t like this Jackson Square winner, the sibling restaurant to the chef Michael Tusk’s three-Michelin-starred Quince. The coaster-size raviolo di ricotta — a single pillowy pocket that oozes tawny egg yolk when punctured — is the most photogenic of the pastas, but all are handmade and superb. The choices largely rotate, and it’s hard to go wrong, whether with crab tagliolini, corn triangoli or garganelli with morels and English peas. Mains like Petrale sole and bistecca alla Fiorentina are also very good, but get your pasta fix first. The only difficulty can be getting a table, though walking in for a late lunch is a decent bet. BRIAN GALLAGHER

490 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco; 415-775-8508; cotognasf.com

Korean

Kalbijjim, a comforting dish of soy-braised beef short ribs, was once reserved for royalty and aristocrats during the Joseon Dynasty, but thankfully the dish has democratized, and is now an option for weeknight dinners. At Daeho Kalbijjim and Beef Soup, it remains homey but also transforms into a dazzling spectacle, served tableside with torches to melt the crown of cheese that tops meltingly tender beef and chewy tubes of rice cake. Venture past the Japantown location to San Mateo or Milpitas, where there’s more space for dishes like the sweet pumpkin kalguksu, knife-cut noodles, and Daeho naeng myun, chewy cold buckwheat noodles in spicy beef broth. ELEANORE PARK

1620 Post Street, San Francisco; 415-563-1388; daehokalbijjim.com

Mexican

Isabel Caudillo has been feeding various pockets of the city for more than two decades. In 2001, she cooked for neighbors at her apartment-turned-makeshift-restaurant in the Tenderloin. Seven years later, she won a legion of fans while selling food at the Noe Valley farmers’ market. At El Buen Comer, her brick-and-mortar spot in Bernal Heights, sopes and huaraches, both vessels for stewed tinga or sautéed cactus, will reorder your thoughts about corn. The menu here nourishes, with rich moles or pambazos that come out coated in amber-tinged chile guajillo, leaving you with the feeling that you’re sharing a meal inside Ms. Caudillo’s home. ELEANORE PARK

3435 Mission Street, San Francisco; 415-817-1542; elbuencomersf.com

San Francisco offers an array of delicious dim sum across many neighborhoods. HK Lounge Bistro, which opened in SoMa in February, is something like a second coming for its owner, Annie Ho, after her dim sum restaurant Hong Kong Lounge II on Geary Boulevard burned down nearly four years ago. This new chapter is a faithful follow-up, with favorites like jammy pork ribs, thickly lacquered in a glossy coffee glaze, and deeply bronzed, crackly salt-and-pepper crab. Not to mention a wide spectrum of delightful dumplings that are steamed or crisped perfectly. ELEANORE PARK

1136 Folsom Street, San Francisco; 415-668-8802; hkloungebistro.com

Mexican

There’s no shortage of stellar Mexican food in the city, but one of its most signature delights is the Mission-style burrito. Miguel Jara opened La Taqueria in 1973, and his version stands apart, forgoing the rice and creating the illusion of something slightly more manageable than most burritos found nearby. Burritos and tacos can be ordered “dorado,” rolled around on the plancha, giving the tortilla an almost fried texture. Tacos in this style are similarly crisped but hugged in a second tortilla lined with Monterey Jack cheese as the glue. As faithful culinary institutions start to fade, La Taqueria continues to be a reliably delicious beacon, welcoming locals and out-of-towners alike. ELEANORE PARK

2889 Mission Street, San Francisco; 415-285-7117; instagram.com/lataqueriasf

Pacific

Back in its original Lower Nob Hill location after three years of temporary residence in the Mission District during the pandemic, the updated space has the same freewheeling-but-refined feel. And the menu is better than ever. The chef-owner Ravi Kapur’s cooking, which he calls “heritage-driven,” teases out elements from the cultures of his Hawaiian-Chinese mother and Indian father, among other influences. Poppy-seed steamed buns huddle around little slabs of beef tongue that evoke the salty pliance of Spam, and the shaved pig’s-head salad with frisée, peanuts and yellow peaches is a feat of texture and flavor. The tropically tinged cocktails match well with the rendang curry’s tender, lamb and pillowy naan. To finish off, the baked Hawaii is a modern desert classic. BRIAN GALLAGHER

871 Sutter Street, San Francisco; no phone; lycsf.com

Seafood, Raw Bar

Every coastal town needs a go-to raw bar. And this new seafood pavilion, in a bright, high-ceilinged space in Pacific Heights, is a lovely option. There are seafood towers and raw oysters on the half shell, of course, but also baked oysters (the one with miso and bone marrow is the move) and an airy take on onion dip (caviar addition optional). The lobster roll comes either “hot,” with the meat bathed in melted butter, or “cold,” with the meat tossed with mayonnaise. And while East Coasters will recognize these as Connecticut- and Maine-style, 3,000 miles to the west such regional rivalries fall away. Besides, they both go equally well with a glass of crisp grüner on tap. BRIAN GALLAGHER

2016 Fillmore Street, San Francisco; no phone; littleshucker.com

Chinese American

When the chef Brandon Jew, who grew up in San Francisco, took over a space in Chinatown that had been home to restaurants since the 1880s, it was momentous for the neighborhood. Just five years later, Mister Jiu’s feels like an institution — in the best way. The spacious, dining room has the feel of an updated dim sum palace. And Mr. Jew’s cooking honors Chinese American classics — deeply memorable housemade XO sauce, for instance, that adorns scallop and pork belly dumplings. For a big group, one of the big round tables with a lazy susan is the place for sharing housemade chow fun, with noodles that are perfectly springy and chewy, or the renowned Peking duck. BRIAN GALLAGHER

28 Waverly Place, San Francisco; 415-857-9688; misterjius.com

If you were going to build a restaurant around a single dish, the whole smoked duck at the Morris would be a worthy choice. The birds, meticulously prepared at a station just inside the front door, are darkly lacquered and perfectly juicy. Beyond waterfowl, the charcuterie board — not for the faint of heart, or even the faint of cardiologist — is a wonderland of a dozen housemade meats, including spicy head cheese and jägerwurst. Produce offerings like a melon, yogurt and trout roe “nibble,” and the cucumber with spicy muhammara dip are welcome counterpoints. On the beverage front, the sommelier and co-owner, Paul Einbund, is a Chartreuse collector, scouring cellars in Europe for old bottles, and the drinks list offers vintage pours from as far back as 1912. BRIAN GALLAGHER

2501 Mariposa Street, San Francisco; 415-612-8480; themorris-sf.com

Thai, Californian

The chef Pim Techamuanvivit didn’t have much to prove after opening the acclaimed Thai favorite Kin Khao in 2014. But with the help of her chef de cuisine, Meghan Clark, Ms. Techamuanvivit demonstrates a slightly more refined range at Nari — which doesn’t mean a restraint in flavors. Grilled Monterey squid and pork jowl tossed in a punchy pool of chile-lime dressing mingle with a spectrum of sour and sweet notes. Heat comes smacking in from curry dishes like gaeng bumbai eggplant topped with crispy shallots. There’s no wrong choice here: Order à la carte or let the kitchen take the reins with the chef’s menu. Keep in mind, though, that the buttery, deeply satisfying roti is exclusive to the chef’s list. ELEANORE PARK

1625 Post Street, San Francisco; 415-868-6274; narisf.com

Japanese

When the married couple Yoko and Clint Tan started hosting pop-ups nearly nine years ago, the eventual goal wasn’t necessarily a ramen tasting menu. But last year, when the self-taught chefs, and now owners, opened Noodle in a Haystack, they arrived at exactly that. The menu is a synchronized chorus of five to 10 thoughtful and energetic courses centered on a bowl (or two) of ramen that’s often served with a bracing and nearly clear stock — like the 15-hour, simmered at a whisper, broth of whole chickens that anchors the tori shio ramen. Such a globally recognizable dish shouldn’t hold many surprises at this point, but if you find yourself here, the ramen will leave you delightfully gobsmacked. ELEANORE PARK

4601 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco; noodleinhaystack.com

New American, Californian

At Octavia, the executive chef Nico Pena delivers stellar Californian cuisine evolved far beyond the Bay Area punchline of “figs on a plate.” The pastas here captivate and comfort. Skill and locality come together beautifully in dishes like expertly manicured caramelle that weave summer squash and their blossoms together in neat bundles. The chef-owner, Melissa Perello, and her team have created an enviable neighborhood restaurant, the kind that will have you dreaming of living nearby. ELEANORE PARK

1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco; 415-408-7507; octavia-sf.com

Thai

It’s easy to drive past the many restaurants on San Francisco’s consistently foggy Geary Boulevard. But in one of the city’s quieter quarters, the Suwanpanya siblings, Jim (the chef) and Tanya (a co-owner) deliver joyful Thai dishes that are amplified by an arsenal of seasonal abundance like local scallops kissed with chile jam and coconut cream, or grilled beef-wrap curry that unravels with a slow, slinky heat. An aromatic scoop of young coconut ice cream is perfumed by one of two dozen traditional candles that Mr. Suwanpanya brought back from Thailand, where he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants. The dessert will teleport you to every blown-out birthday candle from your youth — and that time travel alone might be every reason to visit. ELEANORE PARK

3226 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco; instagram.com/prikhomsf

The chef-proprietors Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski won national recognition when they opened State Bird Provisions in 2012. Two years later, the team opened the Progress next door, in a renovated theater with century-old bones. After nearly a decade, it still astounds, with a menu of seasonal curiosities and reliable favorites. Roast duck is the signature dish, but venture beyond it, to items like the agnolotti that cleverly melds rabbit into the filling, or the wedge of Little Gem lettuce, crusted with seeds and nuts, that is more akin to a chip-and-dip than a salad course. But really, there’s no wrong direction you can take. ELEANORE PARK

1525 Fillmore Street, San Francisco; 415-673-1294; theprogress-sf.com

Japanese

In a city with so many worthwhile Japanese options — sushi, udon, yakitori — this Mission District spot stands out. The chef-owner, Sylvan Mishima Brackett, describes the restaurant as “a Japanese izakaya by way of California.” That means line-caught San Francisco halibut sashimi with wasabi grown in Half Moon Bay, or fried local anchovies with kumquat and spicy vinegar, or Monterey Bay squid with a nose-tingling mustard and sweet white miso dressing. The menu is copious, and you can really choose your own adventure, from noodles to katsu to sashimi. Or better still, order across the board. But don’t skip the pork gyoza with chicken-foot jelly and “wings.” It’s the dumpling-crepe hybrid you didn’t know you were missing. BRIAN GALLAGHER

82 14th Street, San Francisco; 415-589-7022; izakayarintaro.com

Korean

A hulking charcoal grill is at the heart of Jeong-In Hwang and Corey Lee’s Korean barbecue restaurant, which turns out dark, glossy pieces of thickly cut galbi, beef tongue and fatty rib-eye cap that are gently smoky and impossibly juicy. Unlike many Korean barbecue restaurants, it’s not a communal cooking experience, but that just means you can relax and leave the grilling to the restaurant’s virtuosic cooks. TEJAL RAO

2170 Bryant Street, San Francisco; 415-868-4479; sanhowon.com

Pizza

The vibes vibe is strong here — glittered bar top, bright yellow walls and chairs shaped like giant hands — but the food delivers. In the era of pizza-tradition stringency, this pie is boldly its own thing, though it’s closest to a grandma style. The toppings rotate seasonally, and the restaurant uses “upcycled ingredients in all our dishes,” as the website puts it, “to help mitigate the effects of food waste on climate change.” Admirable, but also very tasty, especially when it comes to dishes like shrimp-head hush puppies or the “sexy shroomy hot pocket,” made with the stems and blemished caps of mushrooms. On the pizza, you may get broccoli stalk pesto or whey vodka sauce. Of course, there’s still Good Ol Pepperoni — but adding ricotta fluff is highly advisable. BRIAN GALLAGHER

3349 23rd Street, San Francisco; 415-655-3051; shuggiespizza.com

Chinese

At Yuanbao Jiaozi, beef noodle soup with baritone depths of flavor, offers a jolt of warmth that is a necessary antidote to the Outer Sunset’s seemingly ever-present fog. For balance, you might persuade yourself to order too many of the small dishes, including the texturally fantastic pig-ear salad and the peanuts with biting celery. Through a glass partition in the small dining room, diners can watch an army of dumplings being rolled out and stuffed with shiitake mushroom and fish, or chive and egg. It feels like a call to action: Order all the dumplings. ELEANORE PARK

2110 Irving Street, San Francisco; 415-702-6506; yuanbaojiaozisf.com

Open for nearly 45 years, Zuni still feels like a vital San Francisco restaurant. The jewel box on Market Street was made justifiably renowned by the cooking of Judy Rodgers, who ran the kitchen from 1987 until her death in 2013. There is a Parisian feel to the standing-only bar area, but the food is supremely Californian — described in The Times as “simultaneously rustic and urbane.” That means outstanding produce like fuyu persimmons, Early Girl tomatoes and delicata squash. The roast chicken with bread salad is as good as everyone says, but don’t ignore the rotating seasonal dishes, particularly if they feature seafood, like ling cod cheeks with shishitos, or Monterey Bay squid stuffed with herb sausage. BRIAN GALLAGHER

1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 415-552-2522; zunicafe.com