We are incredibly lucky to live in a city that has some of the most amazing restaurants in the United States. There’s State Bird Provisions, Liholiho Yacht Club, Saison, Nopa, Rich Table, Foreign Cinema, SPQR… the list could literally go on and on and on. And while we certainly celebrate what the chefs are doing in these popular spots, there are a lot of other amazing SF restaurants that don’t always get the love they deserve. Whether it’s because they aren’t paying for PR, are located in an “inconvenient” neighborhood, or have settled into a comfortable role as a “neighborhood spot,” here are 10 places that might not have the cachet of a Lazy Bear but that serve up consistently great meals in a lovely atmosphere.
Our meal last year at 1601 Bar & Kitchen was one of our favorite meals of all of 2016. And yet, somehow, this restaurant doesn’t get the love it deserves. Maybe that’s because it’s on an out-of-the-way corner of Howard and 12th Street. Maybe it’s because people see “contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine” and don’t know what that means. All we know is that if you haven’t had a chance to eat Chef Brian Fernando’s aromatic, vibrant food, you need to change that immediately.
If you want the full experience, the tasting menu is a must. It’s the best way to truly understand what the menu has to offer. But if you’re not in the mood to spend $110 (which we totally get), there are plenty of affordable à la carte dishes, including the traditional egg hopper with a Jidori egg and sambols, which is not to be skipped. Seriously, even if you just go sit at the bar and eat that while you drink a beer, it’s well worth it. Plus, street parking is super easy!
Cassava made the news this year when it ran a successful GoFundMe campaign to keep the doors open and followed this up with a favorable review in the Chronicle (though it wasn’t from Bauer), but it still seems like this Outer Richmond spot doesn’t get the kind of traffic it would if, well, it weren’t in the Outer Richmond. But if you’ve ever traveled from the Mission to North Beach, is going to Balboa and 36th Avenue really all that different?
Anyway, it’s worth the trip in order to eat the ambitious and delicious food coming out of the kitchen of this husband-and-wife-owned-and-operated restaurant. The cuisine is inspired by Northern California and manages to successfully mix “comfort” and “modern.” There’s a four-course tasting menu every night for $42, but if it means missing out on the fried chicken starter or the oven-roasted Cornish game hen, it’s almost hard to justify, especially since the entire table has to partake.
If you have kids and you live in Bernal or the Mission, you’re probably rolling your eyes at the inclusion of this lively restaurant, where you get huge portions of comforting Italian food for super reasonable prices. But when’s the last time the rest of you went to this popular spot to feast on “cheezy” garlic bread, spaghetti and (giant) meatballs, and carafes of wine? Let this serve as your reminder that Emmy’s is still serving up food, love, music, and good times, and that if you head there a little later in the evening, the kiddos have all gone home to bed.
We love everything about this charming Russian Hill restaurant. There are views of the cable car as it glides up and down Hyde Street; it’s owned by a husband-and-wife team, who are very present in the restaurant and go above and beyond to make every guest comfortable; the wine list is exceptional; and the Californian-Mediterranean food that comes out of the kitchen is utterly delicious.
Go on a date with someone who loves to share, but good luck choosing between the grilled pork chop (one of the best we’ve had in SF), the roasted half chicken (words can’t do it justice), and the pappardelle with lamb ragout. And while if you were eating at any other restaurant in this area, we’d absolutely tell you to head to Swensen’s after dinner for ice cream, you’ll be making a huge mistake if you don’t order one of Frascati’s house-made desserts with house-made ice cream.
When The Old Clam House opened, Abraham Lincoln was president. Over 155 years later, it is San Francisco’s oldest restaurant in the same location. In fact, the bar area preserves the original structure, where seafood and spirits were first served. All these years later, and it’s still a great place to get a hearty seafood meal and hang out with locals in a lively atmosphere. Everything’s good, but if it’s your first visit, definitely get the original Golden Gate clam chowder. In a bread bowl. But you knew that.
We love the soulful comfort food at this Bayview jazz-themed supper club. The crispy fried chicken, baby back ribs, West African peanut stew, and sweet potato biscuits with honey butter are all as satisfying as you’d hope, and while that would be enough to keep us going back, the really cool thing about Old Skool Café is that it doubles as a faith-based, violence prevention program that provides marketable employment skills in the restaurant industry to at-risk youth.
Old Skool Cafe was the brainchild of Teresa Goines, who wanted to find a solution to the devastating problem of incarceration and hopelessness amongst our children. She figured the best way to do that was by creating community and jobs, so she opened a restaurant that would do just that. And it worked. The recidivism rate for youth at Old Skool Cafe is 10 percent, which is amazing, especially compared to the national average of 78 percent.
HAYES VALLEY & FINANCIAL DISTRICT
Before we went to this adorable restaurant on Belden Place (there’s a second location on Gough), we had a lot of ideas about what to expect. Probably it was Italian. Probably it was for tourists. Probably it would be just okay.
Guess what. We were totally wrong. Sauce is literally none of those things. It’s actually an American comfort food restaurant owned by brothers and friends, where everything is made in-house, and everything is totally delicious. We loved everything we tried, including the deviled eggs, Dungeness crab roll, New England seafood chowder (which is made to order, so it’s not just warming in a pot all day), and roasted corn and heirloom tomato salad, but the reason we’ll go back to Sauce, again and again, is because it has one of our favorite burgers in SF.
Yeah, it’s like this secret, amazing burger that somehow no one really knows about but which deserves a lot more recognition. It comes with bacon and American cheese chipotle, and there’s a super tasty deviled egg filling you can add, but it’s not needed because this burger stands on its own. You’ll just have to try it and see what we mean. (Pro tip: the burger isn’t on the dinner menu, but you can definitely get the burger at dinner. Just ask. You can also have most things made gluten-free. Again, just ask.)
Sit outside. Order a Manhattan. And enjoy the charm of Belden Place, which feels like a little slice of Europe in the middle of the Financial District. And do so all while eating one of your new favorite burgers in SF.
From the outside, Sparrow doesn’t really look like much. Just another SF restaurant that supports local farms, breweries, and wineries. (Ugh, we are so spoiled.) But when you walk all the way to the back and go outside onto the sizeable deck surrounded by greenery, that’s when you realize this is a place you’re going to come back to again and again.
Sparrow is a popular brunch spot, for good reason. The French omelet with brie and prosciutto and the hidden egg in a nest salad are both delicious, and both taste even better when eaten al fresco. But the secret to Sparrow is to go when it’s not so crowded. You can get that same omelet every day at lunch, as well as some really amazing salads, a killer chèvre BLT, and several vegan options. There are also a ton of beers on tap, which again, taste even better when enjoyed on a sunny day. Or even on a foggy day if you’re seated near a heat lamp.
We are obsessed with the food and vibe at this Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, which serves family-style feasts inspired by the cuisines of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, and Greece. If you’re not familiar with the cuisine, we recommend one of the tasting menus ($49 and $69 per person), where you’ll indulge in a bountiful spread of dishes like musakhan, leg of lamb, fattoush, and meatballs, all of which are seasoned perfectly with spices you don’t often taste in San Francisco dishes, and all of which come with the hard-to-stop-eating-because-they’re-so-good housemade breads straight from the oven.
This cozy, dimly lit restaurant is one of those places that is perfect for a romantic date, catching up with old friends, or even grabbing a bite and a glass of wine alone at the bar. The food is inspired by the coastal regions of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, France, and the Middle East, so expect an interesting mix of dishes, like mozzarella di bufala, grilled calamari, tomato braised pork meatballs, linguine with pancetta, and roasted salmon—all of which we highly recommend you pair with wine, as Terzo has an excellent selection of wines from Italy and France. There are also plenty of local wines, but in a town where California wines dominate the wine lists, it’s nice to have a chance to explore something new. It’s true that there are always new restaurants opening in San Francisco, but this friendly neighborhood spot is one we are happy to go back to again and again.
(But wait! There’s more.)
These 10 restaurants are just a few of our favorite hidden gems. Obviously, there are a ton more out there in San Francisco, which is why we asked our friends what their favorite “secret neighborhood” spots are. Here’s what they said:
1428 Haight / Upper Haight
Baker Street Bistro / Cow Hollow
Bernal Star / Bernal Heights
Bon Nene / Mission
Blue Plate / Bernal Heights
Causwells / Marina
Chez Maman / Potrero Hill
Chloe’s Café / Noe Valley
Connecticut Yankee / Potrero Hill
Dark Horse Inn / Crocker-Amazon
Dim Sum Club / Russian Hill
Eiji / Castro
Fiorella / Outer Richmond
Firefly / Noe Valley
Front Porch / Bernal Heights
Gamine / Cow Hollow
Genki Ramen / Inner Richmond
Gordos / Multiple locations (also, yes, more than one person said this)
Halu / Inner Richmond
Hillside Supper Club / Bernal Heights
The House / North Beach
Il Borgo / Hayes Valley
Italian Homemade / Cow Hollow & North Beach
Izakaya Sozai / Inner Sunset
L’Ardoise Bistro / Duboce Triangle
Louie’s Bar / Financial District
Lupa Trattoria / Noe Valley
Piccino / Dogpatch
Pomelo / Noe Valley
Regent Thai / Noe Valley
Salt House / SoMa
Sausage Factory / Castro
Seven Hills / Nob Hill
The Spice Jar / Mission
Yamo / Mission
Yummy Yummy / Inner Sunset
Zarzuela / Russian Hill