The Best Restaurants In The Castro
photo credit: Susie Lacocque
The Castro isn’t exactly known for its flourishing restaurant scene. (See: all the mediocre “new American" restaurants serving up forgettable burgers and crudo). But there are still plenty of places to eat around this lively neighborhood. From a cozy French bistro to a taqueria that we wish we could move into to one of the best Arab sports in the city, there’s more to this stretch of area around Market. So the next time you’re wandering around these tree-lined streets, surrounded by beautifully colored Victorians, and think, “I could really destroy some food right now” use this guide. Here are the 17 best restaurants in and around the Castro and Duboce Triangle.
We’re always down to drop by Beit Rima for dinner—the space is lively, the menu is shareable and perfect for groups, and coming here last-minute is always easy. It also helps that everything on the menu at this casual Arab restaurant is fantastic, from the lebna and muhammara and whole-fried branzino to the garlicky chicken shish tawook.
If you’ve ever had a sudden midday craving for a couple of oysters and a bowl of clam chowder, Anchor Oyster Bar is here for you. If you haven’t, one trip to the old-school seafood spot decorated with light-up anchors and life preservers is all it takes before you start having mysterious visions of miniature clams dancing around in the sky at 2pm on a Thursday. The menu covers the usual from-the-ocean suspects—like prawn salad, a daily selection of oysters, and Olympic swimming pool-sized bowls of cioppino. Everything is excellent across the board, especially the crab cakes that are delicate and crispy.
As far as local, seasonal new-American restaurants go, there aren't many in the city worth fussing about. Except for Frances. This white-walled spot isn’t serving anything radical, but everything is done exceedingly well, from a fennel soup that warms you up on a foggy day to the housemade sourdough that's one of the pillowiest breads we’ve had in recent memory. The reginette is simple but takes care of your pasta needs, and the black cod is wonderfully cooked alongside crisp asparagus. You can’t go wrong with any of the desserts, but the lumberjack cake with cardamom ice cream is a toffee pudding-esque standout. Come on a weekday when it’s slightly easier to get a table, but if you can get in on the weekend—go for it.
El Castillito is one of our long-running favorites. That's because the taqueria is one of the best burrito spots in the city, and their version with cheese melted onto the tortillas and well-spiced carnitas is what keeps us coming back. Eat your burrito over at Duboce Park, or chill inside with an agua fresca.
On Monday nights when it seems like half the restaurants in the area—and the rest of the city—are closed and you want to stave off “big fog blues,” the answer is Shanghai Dumpling King and their huge bowls of creamy chicken and corn soup. This spot in Duboce Triangle serves generously portioned Chinese comfort dishes, from delicate soup dumplings to crispy salt and pepper fish. A trip here is never complete without their saucy stir-fried rice cakes loaded with pork and cabbage—they alone are the sole reason to look forward to the start of the week.
L’Ardoise Bistro is a cozy, red velvet curtain-accented French bistro on a quaint corner in Duboce Triangle. Think of this place like Hopper’s Nighthawk come to life, but the Paris edition. The menu is a collection of classic French bistro dishes, like fall-apart duck confit with pommes landaises, creamy tiger prawn ravioles, and mushroom risotto. Everything is well-executed, and seems perfectly designed to evoke nostalgic feelings of life in the French countryside. Whatever you do, don’t skip out on the floating island dessert—which is the lightest fluffiest meringue on the planet, covered with almonds, condensed milk, and strawberry.
You could head to Tanglad and order anything on their menu of Vietnamese standbys, like phở, bánh mì, and pretty solid vermicelli plates. But the dish that makes this place a Castro destination is hands-down the garlic noodles. Stir-fried with bok choy, broccoli, scallions, parmesan cheese, and enough garlic to make an Altoids tin cower in fear, they’re simply iconic. This counter-service place is the area’s most efficient weeknight dinner spot, so order up front and let the platter of steamy noodles come to you.
Inside the Swedish American Hall on Market Street is Wooden Spoon—a casual sit-down brunch spot serving up American morning classics with the occasionally Swedish twist. Expect to see brunch staples like the giant granola crunch French toast covered in powdered sugar and raspberries, which we crave on a continual basis. Other options that get the job done—just like a trip to Wooden Spoon—are the huevos divorciados with vegan chorizo, and a panini stacked high with rosemary ham, fontina, and scrambled eggs on a piece of toasted ciabatta. The best part is that the service is lightning-quick. Your order will arrive before you can even begin to drop your newest weekend confession on your friends.
Dinosaurs is a takeout-only operation that has bánh mìdown to a science. Once you enter the counter-service Vietnamese sandwich spot that’s roughly the size of two elevators, you’ll have eight banh mis to choose from. What makes each sandwich stand out are the delicious meat and vegetarian fillings, and the thick and fluffy bread rolls. We usually go for the grilled pork that has a nice hint of lemongrass, or the one with excellent xiu mai-style meatballs in it. Also, don’t look past the fresh spring rolls—they’re some of the best in town. If you’re not in the Castro, Dinosaurs has other locations in SoMa, Lakeside, and Pacifica.
Located on the second floor of a gray Victorian in the Castro is Poesia. This Italian restaurant looks like the living room of an artsy aunt with eclectic taste—think wax candles on the table, wavy mirrors on the wall, an old lamp with a blue light, and a random bust of a rooster in the corner. And if you manage to score a table in the hidden, usually packed back patio, you’ll be guided through the bustling and chaotic kitchen. The menu is a Calabrian-style feast consisting of pastas, appetizers, and slow-cooked entrées—the pate crostini and a perfectly al-dente tagliatelle are some top picks, but whatever you order will fit the vibe perfectly. So go ahead and gulp down your third Aperol spritz, order some of the best rack of lamb around, and finish the meal with the custardy crema bruciata.
That line on the corner of 16th and Sanchez Street every weekend is for one thing: brunch. And the sugary bacon. And the mascarpone-stuffed french toast. And the mimosas. If you want to start your day with a big group hang, this casual spot is it—there are a ton of seats out on the street patio and sidewalk. Also know that other people have the same idea, and is why this place is a zoo on Saturdays and Sundays.
You’re not going to Eiji for a $250 omakase or baked rolls doused in aioli. You go here for the simple, high-quality sushi that keeps us coming back for casual weeknight dinners. Eiji is also cozy, quiet, and where we also turn to for non-sushi things, like the tender tuna belly steak with ginger-soy sauce and incredible homemade ankake tofu. Whatever you do, don't skip the strawberry mochi for dessert.
Sometimes, you have one drink too many and need some no-fuss french toast and chicken fried steak smothered in gravy at 1:30am. This two-level, retro-style diner is a late-night spot (and 24-hours Thursday to Saturday) that’ll pull you in with red swivel chairs, bright neon lights, and a menu of hearty breakfast classics that never fail to hit the spot. Orphan Andy’s has been a Castro mainstay since the '70s, and based on the after-bar crowds, locals, and tourists who continuously pack this joint—whether it’s the morning or the stumbly end of the day—this place will never go out of style.
On the border of where the Castro meets the Mission is Thorough Bread and Pastry. The French-style bakery is where we like to eat our body weight in croissants (specifically the almond ones), rustic fruit tarts, and other sweet treats. Get a few, or, more accurately, a lot of pastries, and sit out on the lovely back patio. And because this place is one of the best bakeries in town, expect a line. Don't forget to grab a baguette to go.
The back patio at this casual American spot is an oasis in the city, which is a good thing since it makes up 90% of the restaurant (the inside is just a few lonely white tables next to a brown velvet booth). Requisite space heaters, blankets, and a mix of big palms and ferns make this the backyard of your dreams—or a nightmare, for the neighbors above. Settle in around one of the small wooden tables, and enjoy the romantic vibe over a menu of new American dishes like a citrus and endive salad, a classic steakhouse NY strip steak, mac and cheese, and a plump double cheeseburger with thick, perfectly cooked french fries on the side. While the food is just passable, you’re really here to people-watch, and, hopefully, stare into the eyes of your hot date.
Outdoor seating next to a nice park is basically unheard of in this city, but Duboce Park Cafe is a rarity. And it's one of our favorite spots in the Castro to grab a quick breakfast or lunch, or hunker down and do some work. If you stop by in the morning, the scrambles, and egg sandwich are good options, and at lunch, go for the cobb salad.
Mama Ji’s is a very solid option if you’re craving dumplings and are near the Castro. They make har gow, xiao long bao, pork and chive dumplings, and more. Whatever you get, make sure the pan-fried potstickers, with their crispy-chewy skins, are part of the order. Mama Ji’s has more dumpling options on the menu for lunch, but both the Shanghai dumplings and potstickers are there for you for dinner.