SFGuide

The Best Free Table Bread In SF

Nothing beats the sound of that basket hitting the table.
The Best Free Table Bread In SF image

photo credit: Julia Chen

There’s simply no greater joy than free bread. It’s free, it’s bread, and life under capitalism pretty much demands that we appreciate the complimentary things in life (especially in SF, where $20 seems to fall out of your bank account every time you leave the house). So when you want to have dinner at a restaurant that's keeping the beautiful art of free bread alive, just head to one of these spots.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Julia Chen

American

Financial District

$$$$Perfect For:Dinner with the ParentsDrinking Good CocktailsUnique Dining ExperienceClassic Establishment
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Some requirements if you’re going to Bix: drink a martini, let a suave jazz cellist serenade you, and then order another martini. The 1930s-style supper club in Jackson Square feels like the kind of posh, mysterious place where wealthy people go to dine and hash out dog-related prenup clauses. While the American dishes are passable to good, the free table bread is a highlight. Fluffy rolls are dropped on your plate by buttoned-up wait staff with the flourish of a magician. They may later slide over a side of succotash on the house. 

photo credit: Julia Chen

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Tadich Grill has been around longer than cars, plastic, and most buildings in the city (they opened in 1849). It’s an SF institution worthy of a visit. Seafood and steaks are the main event, from gorgeous crab cakes to decent pan-fried sole and steamed vegetables. But a meal always starts with a football-sized hunk of sourdough. This beauty is the base for the accompanying individually wrapped butter, and tearing off a piece in order to sop up tartar sauce and fish juice is a legal requirement. 

The more a restaurant feels like stepping back in time, the higher the chances of you being the happy recipient of free bread. John’s Grill has no problem honoring this rule. The classic steakhouse in Union Square—complete with ribeyes on most tables, martinis, and a shrine to The Maltese Falcon—is as old-school as they come. They also stock the table with enough butter to make Julia Child proud. A win in our book. 

The Rotunda is the rare place in the city where you can dine under a mesmerizing stained glass ceiling, gaze out at Union Square, and eat free popovers. At this American restaurant (on the fourth floor of Neiman Marcus), it’s the sole duty of one or two staff to drop off the eggy, puffed-up carbohydrates, and a side of strawberry butter, at the start of your chic lunch or afternoon tea. These rolls are usually still warm, and are gifted alongside a cup of (also free) chicken broth. 

The free butter from this swanky American spot on the Embarcadero gets major style points. It’s a medallion that’s encrusted with herbs and finished off with sea salt. Is it the most exciting thing you’ll eat here? Yes. The three-course set menu ($119) is a pretty bland medley of things, like a tuna carpaccio inexplicably served over somen noodles. So, really, just enjoy that picture-perfect butter, and admire the restaurant's tile mosaics, arched ceilings, and views of the water. 

This Castro spot is a classic seafood bar with anchors and life preservers tacked all over the walls, and a menu of icy oyster platters, pool-sized cioppinos, and some of the best clam chowder in town. It’s also sourdough paradise. Don't say "no" when the server offers you a plate of tangy bread—and then another—and never resist dousing a piece in your soup of choice.

At this nice-casual Italian spot in Nob Hill, sourdough bread comes free and with a side of olive oil. That’s great news for our wallets, since nothing pains us more than paying the equivalent of a month of Netflix for a tiny plate of side bread. The move: swipe a slice through the leftover pasta sauce, and make sure that sauce is either the 10-hour bolognese or the tomato sugo with guanciale and a calabrian chili kick.

Trestle is one of the best value fine dining restaurants in SF—the three-course American menu of things like seasonal salads, butternut squash soup, and cider-brined pork loin runs just $42 per person. The economic sensibilities of this FiDi spot apply to the table bread, too, which is available upon request. It’s free, buttery, toasty, and comes with whipped butter topped with pepper and salt.

Sotto Mare is sensory overload. Life-sized swordfish are mounted on the walls, ticket orders fly across the kitchen on a clothesline, and bowls of cioppino are so big you could fall in. On top of all this, the wicker baskets are stocked with so much free fluffy bread that they could function as a pillow (in case you need to nap after polishing off that cioppino). You get nine slices of the crusty-fresh good stuff. Yes, nine. Everyone, take notes. 

This casual Italian restaurant in the Richmond has plenty of booths where you can catch whatever game is streaming behind the bar, ideal for spending quality time with their mountainous portions of pasta. No matter the reason you’re here, every meal begins with a tray of housemade bread and a side of sundried tomato sauce. If you run out of tomato dip, the bread is an excellent vehicle for cleaning off your plates of amatriciana and carbonara. 

Wayfare Tavern is power lunch central (it is in the Financial District), and another place serving free table popovers. This spot looks like a stately British pub that got taken over by the Y Combinator crew—suits and company logo vests abound. If that’s not your type of scene, at least there are those rolls, served with a little pot of salted butter. As for the dishes you’re actually paying for, go for the hefty fried chicken sandwich or juicy burger.

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