Have you ever woken up and thought, "Gosh, I’d love to eat at a second-best restaurant today?" Of course you haven’t. Whether you’ve lived here your entire life or are visiting for the first time, it’s human nature to want to experience the best of the best. And that’s exactly why we wrote this guide.
These are the highest-rated restaurants in San Francisco—the ones we’d sit in an hour of traffic to get to, the ones we pine for when we hear love songs, the ones we seek out on days off. Food and experience are both taken into consideration, and any type of dining establishment is fair game. On this list you’ll find fancy omakase counters, banh mi institutions, casual taquerias, and lowkey dumpling spots. Every city has its classics and its hot new places, but these are restaurants where greatness is guaranteed.
photo credit: Melissa Zink
State Bird Provisions
State Bird Provisions is the highest-rated restaurant on our site, and the list of reasons why could fill an encyclopedia. We'll get to the point: SBP does impeccably executed small plates with inventive flavor combinations. You’ll see crispy balls of corn mochi topped with goat gouda and Fresno chiles one day, and pork belly salad (that’s about 75% meat) and dumplings with ramp pesto and pine nuts the next. The fact that servers bring the food to you on dim sum-style carts and trays only adds to the excitement—all you have to do is say yes to whatever looks good, which is just about everything. This rainbow-checkered dining room has been packed nightly since it opened in 2012, and we’re confident it’ll stay that way for a long time.
Nari is a fancy Thai restaurant in Japantown that will make you stalk reservation apps for weeks. When you finally get in the door, you’ll be rewarded with a runny nose (from all the spice) and bold flavors that you'll still be thinking about days later. The charred mushroom salad with Thai bird chilis builds a lingering heat throughout the meal, and every bit of the pork jowl and squid is a sticky-sweet umami bomb. Add the $115 tasting menu option and the multi-level space packed with more plants than a botanical garden to the mix, and it's the ideal setting for any occasion. Come with a small group and go to town.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
Rich Table surprises us each time we visit. At this Hayes Valley spot, thick-cut, tangy slices of bread are infused with actual Douglas fir. Perfectly salty potato chips are fried with entire sardines slotted through the middle and served with horseradish crème fraîche, and silky mapo tofu is piled over crispy pork schnitzel. Throughout the years, the cozy restaurant has only gotten better, which is why we've been known to make a reservation to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and that one time we successfully built a dresser.
San Ho Won’s galbi is capable of inducing epiphanies. It’s glistening, charred around the edges, and every bite of the melty meat comes with the realization that you’ll probably never eat short ribs this good again. But there's more to this upscale Korean restaurant than galbi. A soy, sake, and garlic marinade gives the golden-brown rotisserie chicken a perfectly savory and slightly sweet flavor. And the crispy scallion pancakes, honey butter-topped grilled corn, and light and fluffy egg soufflé that slowly deflates when you dive in with a spoon will make you dance in your seat. The dark, minimalist restaurant is one to keep top of mind for birthdays, special group dinners, and date nights. Or really, any time you want to put on a nice sweater and feast on the best Korean BBQ in the city.
photo credit: Carly Hackbarth
Few things unite this town more than rallying behind risk takers and inventors (the non-Machiavellian tech kind, of course). That’s certainly one reason to get behind Besharam. This Dogpatch spot pulls from the make-your-own-rules playbook by remixing western Indian food with new ingredients. Which is why you’ll find blue cheese in the fluffy parathas and bitter melon in the sticky chutney. Garlicky pea shoots and raita are heaped atop tender Impossible kebabs. And mint-infused tamarind water for the crispy pani puri contains actual gin. A meal at this small-plate dining spot is a great way to eat your way through the regions of Gujarat: a vegetarian mix of fire-roasted eggplant that taste like it was forged in the flames of Mount Doom, housemade maska paneer, and the other dishes inspired by the chef’s family.
photo credit: Erin Ng
Prubechu is San Francisco’s island party. Twinkle lights, big-leaf plants, colorful tablecloths, and loud reggae music could encourage you to quit your day job to become a full-time island hopper. This always-packed outdoor-only Mission spot is also the only Guamanian restaurant in town—and one that serves knockout Chamorro dishes packed with flavors this city has never tasted before at a restaurant. You’ll have fall-off-the-bone tender BBQ pork ribs coated in sweet, sticky sauce, egg noodles with coconut braised beef that are the comfort equivalent of Bob Ross’s voice, and the plumpest chicken wings served with sides of tangy lemon-vinegar fina’denne’ sauce. Add the occasional pig roast, and fizzy sake highballs and punch-colored wine-based refreshers, and you have a spot that’s a go-to for birthdays, “come as you are” dinners, and nights when you just want to gobble down phenomenal food and soak in positive energy.
photo credit: Susie Lacocque
When Mister Jiu’s landed in Chinatown in 2016, they shook up the fine dining scene with beautifully plated Chinese American dishes inspired by everything that grows in a Northern California garden. In very San Francisco fashion, the char siu bao have a Dutch crunch crust that’s crumbly and sugary, and the puffy scallion pancakes are made using tangy sourdough. And the cheong fun is topped, rather than filled, with seasonally changing seafoods like uni or Dungeness crab. On top of that, the space is festive in all of the right ways: gold chandeliers hang overhead, leafy plants splay every which way, and views of Chinatown set the scene. We probably aren’t the first people to tell you that Mister Jiu’s is an unmissable experience, and we won’t be the last.
You’ve had beef tartare before—but have you had it served over sushi rice and topped with soy-cured ikura? This Californian and Asian-inspired restaurant in the Mission is leading a master class on how to take dishes you can find on other seafood-focused menus across town, and zhuzh them up with creative twists. Salmon gets a sweet kick from fermented black bean and dots of corn pudding, tater tots are the vehicle for caviar and crème fraîche, and scallop sashimi has fresh wasabi that hits you right in the nose. Dinner at the trendy Mission spot feels like an invite to an exclusive supper club—and it’ll only take you approximately three bites before you realize you're in the presence of greatness.
San Francisco is filled with steakhouses where jacketed waiters carry out prime rib and martinis through spaces that look like we’re still in the midst of the Gold Rush. And no offense to old-school steakhouses, but Niku in the Design District operates in a different league. The inside is sleek yet comfortable enough that you can show up in a crewneck sweater and still get treated like someone who just arrived by private jet. At Niku, you’ll eat the fatty A5 wagyu, perfectly charred New York strips, and lean tomahawks that outsize a child's head. All of that meat is on display in the adjacent butcher shop, which looks more like a gallery than a place for hacking and splicing. And don’t expect mediocre creamed corn here. Sides like rich bone marrow topped with meaty oxtail bits, buckwheat rolls with velvety wagyu butter, and impossibly fluffy fried potatoes take an already spectacular meal over the top. Sure, dinner here is pricey (meats are $90-$150, and the three-piece wagyu flight is $265), but that’s why we make a reservation whenever we want to power dine like a CEO, celebrity, and royal combined.
This city is crawling with fancy omakase experiences, from sushi counters tucked in mall hallways to quiet spots where you can watch chefs slice up scallops in relative silence. Despite the many options, our favorite place to spend serious cash on a night of flawless fish is Ken. The so-small-you-might-miss-it spot in Lower Haight is an intimate dinner—there’s just a six-seat counter that’s so snug you’ll probably end up exchanging dog walker recommendations with whoever’s sitting next to you. The host for the night is the eponymous chef Ken, who will break the ice with jokes about cod milt virgins while serving 14 courses of outstanding nigiri, glossy chawanmushi, and a bowl of ume and rock sugar broth filled with poached ikura that pop in your mouth like miniature water balloons. Dinner is $175 per person, so have Ken on deck for milestone birthdays or celebrations that call for sushi and expertly paired sake.
photo credit: Sarah Felker
For the most dramatic tasting experience in the city, go to Californios. You’ll feel like you’ve scored VIP tickets to your favorite band every time you go here—which might not be often, since the 16-course menu is $267. The high-ceilinged walls are painted all-black, a thick booklet details the entire night ahead, and the well-choreographed staff switches plates and fills wine glasses in sync, like they share a single brain. The dishes at this fine-dining Mexican restaurant also look like they belong in the de Young, and are designed to rewire your brain—chicharrones are covered in a cloud-like bed of truffle shavings that dissolve in your mouth like snow, a caviar-topped grilled banana is served in a pool of slightly salty dulce de leche, and the chilapita has a fat swirl of sturgeon cream and sturgeon caviar. Dining at Californios might be a one-time thing—which is why you’ll want to soak up every minute of your meal.
Flour + Water
If a Pasta Hall of Fame existed, Flour + Water would be its forever MVP. That’s because the city’s most iconic Cal-Ital restaurant (est. 2009) makes pastas out of ingredient combinations you’ve probably never seen before (much less thought to put on a pasta dish), and pulls them off with flair. Think veal tortellini with horseradish, corn-and-cheese-stuffed pasta topped with mint, and cocoa and rutabaga casoncelli. Plus, over a decade later, Flour + Water's $125 pasta tasting menu is still going strong—as are its multiple casual offshoots and sister restaurants (Penny Roma, Flour + Water Pasta Shop). Paying a visit to this institution at least once should be high on your SF bucket list.
photo credit: Melissa Zink
Stepping into Rintaro is a bit like sinking into a bubble bath that happens to be filled sweet umeshu. The Mission izakaya is serene—there’s a courtyard filled with plants and twinkling string lights, and private booths under arched wood beams inside. It's also where you'll find the best Japanese small plates in the city. You’re treated to a parade of tare-glazed tsukune you’ll want to clone, juicy pork gyoza leveled up with gorgeous lacy skirts, and impossibly creamy soft tofu drizzled with shiitake shoyu. And the little details are on point every time—chances are high you’ll still be thinking about the precisely stacked tower of sunomono, and the freshly grated wasabi days after dinner. A meal at Rintaro is an escape from whatever’s currently dumpster fire-ing in the world, and one we’re lucky to get right here in SF.
As the stereotype goes, French restaurants can be stuffy, boring, and make us feel like we just ate 40 sticks of butter. That’s not the case at Routier, where everything feels fresh and new. An ideal meal at this French Californian restaurant in Pacific Heights includes chicken liver mousse that’s silkier than whipped cream, crispy squid swimming in a tangy butter sauce, and soft and deceptively simple pork shoulder confit. This place is also informal and inviting, like the truck stop routières in France that inspired it. Which is all the more reason why this destination restaurant disguised as a casual neighborhood spot is one we prioritize for everything from blowout meals to chill hangs over wine after the worst week ever.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
Zuni is one of the city’s most famous restaurants, but you already knew that. The Market Street spot has been defining California cuisine ever since exaggerated shoulder pads and Walkmans were a thing (the ‘70s), and our guess is that the gorgeous, atrium-like space will still be packed when cars fly. That’s because the signature wood-fired roasted chicken served on warm bread salad is a piled-high masterpiece. The juicy burger on rosemary focaccia makes classical music play in your head. And the simple caesar salad and perfectly crispy shoestring fries are the best versions of caesar and fries around. Zuni is cool and it knows it—like Meryl Streep drinking a martini in a bathrobe while singing show tunes—and it's always at the top of our list for unhurried lunches over oysters and never-ending bottles of crisp wine.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
We don’t just love Nopa because their wood-grilled burger is cheesy, aioli-topped perfection. We also love this Californian Italian spot because it feels like Zuni’s younger, hipper, but equally rustic cousin (even though they are not related). Since 2006, the restaurant named after the neighborhood it lives in, has been the area’s meet-up spot—which is just one reason it always comes to mind for date nights, milestone occasions, or just anytime we want to reunite with friend we haven’t seen since layering tank tops over t-shirts was a thing. What keeps us coming back is the seasonally changing food. We’ve yet to find something that Nopa doesn’t do really well—big plates of pasta, like their pappardelle with nine-hour bolognese with the ideal ratio of meat to sauce, juicy pork chops, and hearty vegetable stews. Calling this place a go-to isn’t a revelation because so many people have already figured this out. But still, we love Nopa endlessly.
Plenty of new restaurants are overhyped, but the craze for Abacá in Fisherman’s Wharf is well-deserved. This is the city’s first-ever Filipino fine-dining spot, and the bright, skylight-lit space takes traditional Filipino flavors and remixes them with ingredient combinations you won’t find anywhere else. Think super light okoy fritters topped with pinakurat and more herbs than you’ll find in a garden greenhouse, smoked chicken palabok boosted with soft boiled quail eggs and crunchy rice noodles, and butternut squash dumplings in creamy coconut milk. Familiar Filipino dishes feel new at Abacá, and are served simply to let all of the ingredients speak for themselves. For something uniquely San Franciscan, order the chowder, a cioppino-like soup with coconut milk and tomato oil broth, and loaded with seafood.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
Eat at this Arabic spot in the Castro five times in one week and you’ll still want to come back for more. The casual restaurant serves shareable comfort dishes like a gorgeous mezze platter that could walk a red carpet, thanks to thick scoops of lebna and muhammara we always clean completely off the plate with still-warm pita. There's also whole-fried branzino brightened up with onions and mint, and garlicky chicken shish tawook that’s the edible equivalent of putting on a massive scarf and snuggling up under some covers. Make it your mission to eat your way through the entire menu—and get to Beit Rima for weeknight group dinners, birthdays, date nights, last meals in the city, and everything in between.
There aren’t many high-end Vietnamese restaurants in town. Which is one reason why a meal at Lily, an upscale spot in the Richmond, is so special from start to finish. Dishes here are pumped up with luxurious ingredients. The only pho on the menu is rich with oxtail and bone marrow, the shaking beef salad is made with tender filet mignon and decorated with flower-shaped watermelon radishes, and the Vietnamese iced coffee is topped with velvety salted duck egg foam. Enjoying dinner from a posh red leather booth under the carved wooden panels isn't so far off from sitting in a roped-off VIP lounge. And by the time you’re done with dinner, you’ll already have moved next weekend’s plans around to come back.
photo credit: Susie Lacocque
Saigon Sandwich makes the best bánh mì in the city. The roast chicken and pork are always perfectly marinated. The soft baguettes are crackly on the outside and airy inside. And no matter what filling route you take, your bánh mì will be loaded with heaps of carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro, and a heavy swath of mayo that oozes out when you bite in. Beeline to the tiny takeout- and cash-only spot in Little Saigon for quick weekday power-ups, lunches with people who have never been to SF, and, really, any time you want to fill up on tender roast chicken and pork. At $5-ish per sandwich, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal in town—so always expect a crowd.
photo credit: Stephanie Court
La Ciccia is a Sardinian restaurant in Noe Valley that treats its seafood dishes with the love and care we show our most prized monstera. Case in point: the baby octopus stew with a soul-curing spicy, tomato-y broth. Or the fusilli dressed up with a shower of grated tuna heart, or the whole prawns bathing in a shallow puddle of basil oil. The affectionate feeling doesn’t stop with the food, though. The service is intimate and personal—staff will stop and chat about the tasting notes of each of their Sardinian wines, and after you pay the bill, you won’t be pressured to rush out. You’re treated like a regular who’s been coming here every week for years, even if it’s your first time in. It won’t be your last.
Dumpling Home attracts bigger daily crowds than a Heath Ceramics clearance sale. They’re all at this casual Chinese spot in Hayes Valley to fill up on as many steamed, pan-fried, and boiled dumplings as can fit on the table. Like the xiao long bao with hand-rolled wrappers so thin you can see the soup through them, or the green-tinted vegetable dumplings that look like sleeping hedgehogs. The dumplings are the main attraction, but don't overlook the other hits: sticky dry-fried chicken wings, crispy green onion pancakes, and dan dan noodles that are an ideal balance of peanut-y and creamy.
photo credit: Melissa Zink
Taqueria El Farolito
There are as many taquerias in town as there are four-way stops. So no surprise—everyone has an opinion on which one is the reigning champion. Our official decree: Taqueria El Farolito. The Mission spot is an institution of flawlessly seasoned meats, which you’ll smell sizzling away on the plancha before you even walk through the door (or more realistically, get into the line that always stretches down the sidewalk). Their charred-to-perfection carne asada is one reason we give when trying to convince friends to move to the city, with the nice and crispy al pastor a close second. A visit here is never complete without getting either a super burrito approximately the size of a newborn baby, or a quesadilla suiza with enough cheese to single-handedly keep Lactaid in business.
Stonemill Match looks like a Pinterest board for minimalist design lovers and plant people. That might not sound like anything revolutionary, but this Japanese cafe also serves incredible food. Settle into a booth, forget your phone exists, and focus on the task at hand: a spread of katsu sandwiches, crispy potato croquettes, and the city’s best chicken katsu curry. Their desserts alone are also worth the trip, including fudgy white chocolate chip cookies and matcha cream pies that are straight-up decadent. Stonemill Matcha is the ideal place to sip on a rose matcha latte and catch up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, or, better yet, finally start the book that’s been on your nightstand for months.
There are only so many kampachi crudos we can consume before all the seasonal California cuisine restaurants start to blur together. Marlena’s menu stands out from the rest. The fantastic four-course menu ($65) could easily fly at any big-deal fine dining restaurant—think deconstructed pappardelle with aged duck ragu, or pork collar doused in mustard seed jus and cauliflower foam—but Marlena isn’t stuffy or ridiculously expensive. After our first visit, we already felt like regulars. And with a menu that completely changes every few weeks, booking a standing reservation is tempting, especially because no two meals here are ever the same. But the one constant is that every dish is carefully thought out, with an attention to detail that never fails to impress.