Nowadays, just about every restaurant has outdoor dining. But if you aren't careful, you might wind up eating mediocre food three feet from rapidly moving traffic. The next time you want to have an impressive meal outside, use this guide. From a hidden garden at a Union Square pizzeria to a Sunset backyard with lots of soju and tabletop grills, here are the best restaurant patios around the city.
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photo credit: Sarah Felker
The Guamanian restaurant in the Mission is a patio party—one featuring tons of plants, umbrellas, mismatched tables and chairs. Meaning, there’s plenty of elbow room to kick back with some phenomenal food and drinks. Prubechu is also one of the best restaurants in the city, so don’t pass on the opportunity to order their plump chicken wings, tender BBQ pork ribs, and, really, anything else on the menu of knockout hits. They also have natural wines and beer, but you should zero in on the sake and umeshu spritzes.
photo credit: Kaiyo Rooftop
This SoMa rooftop is located on the 12th floor of the Hyatt Place, so expect city views. The scene is somewhat clubby and always packed—you’ll spot plenty of people on first dates and at least six articles of snakeskin-print clothing. Once you’re up high, sip on white miso-spiked cocktails while staring out at the skyline and taking advantage of the prime people-watching opportunities. If you get hungry, they also serve great Peruvian-Japanese dishes like empanadas, chicken karaage, and ceviche in a citrus-y leche de tigre that we drink up like it’s soup.
photo credit: Erin Ng
Good Good Culture Club
Want to impress your friends with a reservation at a semi-hidden tropical rooftop? Go to Good Good Culture Club in the Mission and sit out on the breezy deck with bright colored walls and leafy palms everywhere. The teal wooden booths are perfect for large groups, and dinners up here feel relaxed and unhurried—so take your time eating through the eclectic menu of mostly Asian-influenced dishes like Lao sausage with spicy pasilla pepper jaew, chicken wings with adobo glaze and a garlic sticky rice stuffing, and crying tiger shrimp with crunchy butter beans and red cabbage. There’s plenty of cocktails and natural wine to go around.
When someone says "patio" and "San Francisco" in the same sentence, we’re immediately struck with a burning desire to head to Foreign Cinema. More specifically, to head to their striking patio with high white walls, string lights, and an orange glow at night (we also love coming here for brunch). Wherever you end up sitting, get a glass of wine, order a bunch of oysters, the peppercorn duck breast, or the seasonal pasta, and enjoy it while you watch whatever movie is being projected on the wall that evening.
photo credit: Melissa Zink
The courtyard at this Mission izakaya has string lights twinkling, plants everywhere, and is serene—so go here if you want to forget about whatever’s dumpster fire-ing in the world over the best Japanese small plates in the city. We almost always have trouble narrowing down an order because everything on the menu is fantastic. But when in doubt, go with the gorgeously charred tsukune, gyoza dressed up with lacy skirts, and miso cod plated alongside a leaning tower of sunomono.
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photo credit: Palette Tea House
Palette Tea House
Palette Tea House is located in the middle of Ghirardelli Square, so you won’t have to worry about straining to hold down a conversation about puppy potty training over the sound of horns honking. The covered patio at this contemporary dim sum spot has string lights, hanging lanterns overhead, and is heated for those 50-degrees-and-windy afternoons. Coming here with a group is always the move, especially since the space is bigger than most Pac Heights apartments, and also so you can share multiple orders of xiao long bao with delicate, different-colored skins, crispy swan-shaped taro puffs, and decadent lobster har gow with individual pipettes of butter.
photo credit: La Mar
La Mar looks like a classy teal and blue-colored hotel lobby set somewhere on Miami Beach, with two bar areas and a high-ceilinged dining room. But the covered waterfront deck overlooking some piers is exactly where we want to drink never-ending pisco sours and fill up on tangy ceviche, crispy empanadas, grilled scallops over lentil tacu-tacu, and slow-cooked pork shank cooked with aji panca. This small plates spot is always packed with tourists, locals popping in for the 3-5pm daily Happy Hour, and people in town for some sort of convention, which certainly makes a night here buzzy.
photo credit: um.ma
If you’re looking to spend a night drinking lots of soju and getting loud with friends, all roads lead to the back patio at this modern Korean restaurant in the Inner Sunset. There are picnic tables and heaters spread throughout the space, throwback music pumping through the speakers, and bottles of soju flowing all night. Throw in fantastic dishes like crunchy ginger sesame soy chicken wings, pork belly glazed with citrus gochujang, and a crispy seafood pancake we want weekly, and you have a place you’ll come back to for birthdays, family dinners, and catch-ups with friends who spontaneously booked a trip to the city for the weekend.
photo credit: El Techo de Lolinda
El Techo de Lolinda
El Techo is where we go whenever cold margaritas with a city view call out to us. This lively yet laidback Mission spot is the ideal rooftop bar: there are umbrellas in case it’s too bright, heaters for when it’s too cold, and also a pretty solid menu of Latin American snacks and larger plates, like some solid fish tacos, chicharrones, and a decent chicken adobo with rice and beans that’s also big enough to share.
The back patio at this French bistro is filled with wooden booths, and is a place where you'll see just as many four-legged animals as humans. On Monday nights you get $10 off a bottle of wine if you bring a dog, which is just another reason to head over for comforting French food. They serve brunch and dinner every day—which means whenever the craving for incredible french toast or crab cakes strikes, you can put on shoes and head straight to the charming Cole Valley spot.
photo credit: Hardy Wilson
There is no view, but Fiorella Sunset is where to turn for a buzzy dinner on a secluded-feeling rooftop deck. The third (and newest) outpost of Fiorella is always slammed with people eating wood-fired thin-crust pizzas, salads, and pastas, like the rich rigatoni bolognese. This spot is ideal for any occasion that calls for getting dressed up and having a good time under twinkle lights.
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We go to Del Popolo’s garden for laidback dinners—and to unwind after a long week. You have to walk through the restaurant, past the kitchen, and down a flight of stairs just to get here, but you’ll emerge into a cozy, plant-filled deck. The wood-fired pizzas are excellent, and you can get them topped with things like garlicky mushrooms, guanciale, or sausage. They also have other great, shareable small plates like candied bacon and blistered shishito peppers. Sip on a glass of wine or beer while enjoying it all and contemplating whether or not to invest in another houseplant.
When you want to be outside, but not outside-outside (because, San Francisco), go to Horsefeather in NoPa. The atrium at this bar and restaurant offers the best seats—the beautiful, glassed-in space looks like a greenhouse with plants hanging overhead and tons of natural light, and is still covered and comfortable enough to chill in a t-shirt. We like going here as a first stop on a date or for a drink before heading to dinner elsewhere. If you do stick around, they have a better-than-average bar food menu—think poke bowls, pulled pork tacos, and katsu sandwiches.
photo credit: Emma Shepler
4505 Burgers & BBQ
There’s nothing better than gobbling down smoked meats and juicy burgers outside, so we embrace 4505 Burgers & BBQ. The NoPa spot is turning out tender, beautifully spiced brisket and pork spare ribs, and serving everything on a semi-covered patio overlooking the lively action on Divisadero Street. Whatever you end up ordering, enjoy it all at one of the communal tables in the company of a new friend—or cider, soda, or a pitcher of beer.
If you want to dine in one of the best Mediterranean-inspired garden patios in the city, head to Fable, the casual Castro restaurant for fried egg sandwiches, juicy pork chops, burgers, and a great pork cheek, kale, and apple salad appetizer. Potted plants, palms, and birds of paradise are everywhere, and the view is one best admired while seated within one of their white booths. Better yet, Fable’s patio has plenty of heat lamps and is weather-proof, which definitely comes in handy on colder mornings.
The big draw at Bernal Star is the chill back patio, complete with umbrellas and plenty of heat lamps to keep you warm on chilly Bernal Heights mornings. Another is that this place is dog-friendly, so it's easy to fuel up on eggs benedicts and crispy fish sandwiches before jaunting over to Holly Park for dog-friendly things.