Where To Eat Near San Francisco’s Iconic LandmarksNow’s as good a time as any to finally take your maiden stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge - and eat something good after.
San Francisco is reopening, which means you may or may not have friends and relatives who are looking forward to finally visiting you - and spending time sightseeing around the city. Or maybe reopening means you’re ready to get outside more and reconnect with your city by exploring its most iconic landmarks. (While we’re on the subject, yes, now is the time to finally take your maiden stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge or hop on a ferry to Alcatraz.) Whatever your reason is for hitting up the Palace of Fine Arts, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, and more of SF’s tried and true tourist-y spots, you’ll probably want to eat while you’re at it. This guide has you covered.
After spending an hour in bumper to bumper traffic just to slowly crawl down the one-block stretch known as the world’s most Crookedest Street, make the five-minute drive (or 11-minute walk) to Hot Sauce and Panko. The Russian Hill spot runs a tight chicken wing operation we’re grateful for. One order of wings comes with five pieces for $6.99 (the $11.99 special includes a sweet Belgian waffle). They also have a ton of flavors to choose from, but some of our favorites include salt and pepper; the “green” with cilantro, jalapeño, and ginger; and Korean-style wings slathered in gochujang. Of course, getting the fried chicken waffle sandwich is never a bad idea either.
Golden Gate Bridge
You have several options if you’re going to explore the Golden Gate Bridge by car or foot - drop down into Sausalito to maybe play some bocce, chill at Crissy Field, or head to one of the many great restaurants in the Richmond (by far, our favorite option). One we love is Cinderella Bakery. This spot is always packed with folks waiting in line for house-made breads, baked and deep-fried piroshki, pelmeni, and more. Don’t leave without a slice of the medovik, a layered honey cake with sour cream and condensed milk, which Cinderella Bakery nails every time.
The upscale restaurant debuted during the pandemic, and has been impressing us with stand-out Vietnames dishes ever since. There’s the shaking beef salad that comes with edible flowers and a poached egg, and the whole-fried red snapper that arrives resting on a bed of pineapple and pea leaf chow fun and homemade kimchi. From the intricate presentation to the complex layers of sweet and savory flavors, every dish here is beautiful and delicious. Also, be sure to get their excellent Vietnamese iced coffee that’s topped with salted duck egg foam.
North Beach, Washington Square Park, & Coit Tower
12 pizza styles ranging from Sicilian and Neapolitan to Roman and Detroit, all cooked using one of seven different temperatures, using five kinds of heat sources - this North Beach spot takes their pies seriously. Coming here always means you’ll have your pick of a variety of doughs, shapes, and toppings, which is great since Tony’s makes some of the best pizza in the city. Get the margherita Neapolitan pizza, but don’t pass up on the coal-fired New Yorker, which is loaded with sausage, pepperoni, and cheese.
The Spanish tapas bar at the busy corner of Columbus and Stockton is one of the newest spots to hit the North Beach restaurant scene, and we’re glad it did. For starters, sitting on one of their massive parklets while sipping on glasses of sangria and refreshing low-proof cocktails will make you feel like you’re dining in some Barcelona plaza. You also can’t beat the Transamerica Pyramid views. Red Window is the perfect spot for catch ups with friends (remember those?) over plates of patatas bravas, croquetas, crostinis, and bocadillos.
Fisherman’s Wharf & Ghirardelli Square
Fisherman’s Wharf may be the spot for sourdough bread bowls and fleece pullovers that say “I Got Crabs on Pier 39,” but it’s also where to go for some extremely good dim sum. Palette Tea House is conveniently located inside another landmark (Ghirardelli Square) and what you can get here is beautifully presented, creative dishes from the people who also run Dragon Beaux - colorful xiao long bao with five different flavors, har gow, which come with a small pipette of lobster butter, scallop siu mai, and honey walnut shrimp puffs.
The Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is probably better known as the backdrop of your friend’s wedding photos than the events space it is today, which doesn’t really matter - the World Fair-created rotunda is stunning and San Francisco iconic. Follow up your visit to this Marina monument with a meal at Causwells. The casual bistro makes one of the best burgers in town - the Americana. And even better, their drink menu recently expanded to include liquor, so you can now have palomas and Manhattans to sip along with everything.
Ferry Building & the Embarcadero
The Ferry Building is a San Francisco landmark where you can also happen to get some really great food. Some restaurants and food stalls we really love: Acme Bread for crackly fresh baguettes, Gott’s Roadside for burgers, Hog Island Oyster Co. for easily slurpable oysters and clam chowder, and Humphry Slocombe for excellent pints of matchadoodle and Secret Breakfast ice cream.
This place in FiDi isn’t just the oldest continuously running restaurant in San Francisco, it’s the oldest restaurant in California. And not much has changed since it opened in 1849, from the long, wooden bar to the private white tablecloth-ed dining nooks. Head to this old-school spot to experience a bygone San Francisco era, and to also taste a few dishes from their seafood-focused menu, like clam chowder, cioppino, oysters Rockefeller, crab cakes, and petrale sole a la Newburg. During the pandemic, Tadich also hit a new milestone in its history - the walk-in only restaurant is now officially taking reservations.
The Painted Ladies & Alamo Square
The sandwiches at Lucinda’s are masterpieces - and they’re also the reason this place is one of our favorite new restaurants. It’s hard to articulate exactly what makes them such works of art, but we’ll try - the fresh, crunchy rolls that serve as the base, and the fact that they’re stuffed to the brim with fillings like mortadella and tapenade, or spicy tuna and sriracha mayo. And even better: Lucinda’s is right on the corner of Alamo Square.
There’s always a line out the door at this takeout-only bakery as the grab-and-go dim sum is some of the best in the city. They make barbecue pork buns, turnip cakes, shrimp dumplings, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, and more. Study the window display while you stand and wait, and then take your carry-out boxes to a nearby park for a picnic.
The Castro & the Castro Theater
If you’re looking for a “drinks and a light bite” kind of night, pop over to Santeria. The new Mexican restaurant on Market Street comes with a long list of agave-based spirits, margaritas, and other drinks like sangria. And to eat - tacos, flautas, and heartier carnitas and carne asada plates. Kick it on their sidewalk patio, order the Girl de Polanco, and don’t forget the perfectly charred grilled octopus.
Ask 10 people in San Francisco what the best burrito spot in town is and you’ll get 15 different responses. Ask us, and we’ll tell you it’s El Castillito. Located in Duboce Triangle, their carnitas are the benchmark for carnitas in this city and they melt cheese onto the tortilla before they load it up with rice, beans, and meat. This is as close to burrito perfection as you’ll find.
Oma SF Station is located down a long hallway inside the Japan Center. And we love this spot because it’s one of the more casual places for omakase in the city - a five-course set is $30. These days, Oma is only offering a 12-course set for $165, but for some of the best sashimi and nigiri in town, it’s a worthwhile expense. Get the green tea soft serve from Matcha Cafe Maiko after.
Kalbijjim - the braised beef short rib stew that is doused in sauce and topped with white cheese - may get all the love (and local Instagram fame). But this beef-centric Korean restaurant in Japantown also makes a damn good kalbitang with thick chunks of tender beef. There’s a bit of customizing that goes into a kalbitang order, so get it with egg and definitely add the glass noodles.
Walking up and down the trails of the rocky cliffs known as Lands End will probably make you hungry. So hightail it to Cielito Lindo after. The Mexican restaurant is located on Balboa in the Outer Richmond, and serves everything from breakfast burritos to enchiladas to great carne asada tortas. They also have excellent quesabirria tacos which are very meaty, and are four for $19 (or one for $5.50).
Down the hill from Twin Peaks is Noe Valley, a neighborhood that’s home to one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Once here, don’t hold back with your ordering. Get the spicy octopus stew, the fresh spaghetti with bottarga shaved on top, the pan-seared branzino, and make sure to try the hearty gnocchetti with pork sugo. La Ciccia delivers an intimate feel with its cozy patio and string lights, small dining room with white table cloths, and a casual buzz that makes this spot perfect for a date night, a celebration, or a laid-back weeknight out.
Yes, technically Zazie is in Cole Valley. But the French bistro is a brunch staple and one worth a visit if you’re in the Haight. They make absurdly good french toast, “miracle” pancakes, and a range of benedicts and scrambles. Zazie is an all-around great restaurant that’s also open for dinner, and has an abundant seating situation - there’s a heated back patio with a retractable roof and parklet seating with string lights. Plus, if you come here on a Monday you’ll most likely avoid the notoriously long weekend line (they don’t take reservations). Another Monday perk is they allow dogs on the patio, and have $10 off all bottles of wine.
San Francisco is full of great sandwich spots, but one you need to check out is Saigon Sandwich. It’s a cash-only banh mi institution that’s been around for decades, and is located just up the street from Civic Center and its many famed museums and theaters. The secret to Saigon Sandwich’s longevity? Their tender roasted pork, which is stuffed between a perfectly crackly yet soft French roll. That, and the fact that at $5-ish a banh mi, getting a sandwich here is a great deal.
The waters are frigid, the wind will blow, and half of the time a dense fog will blanket this long stretch of the city’s coastline - and yet, Ocean Beach is a San Francisco gem. One perfect ending to a day here is a trip to Toyose. The low-key Korean restaurant is housed in a converted garage on Noriega, and coming here means scooting into one of their intimate dining nooks or parklet, and warming up with hot pot, fried spicy chicken wings, kimchi fried rice, and seafood pancakes.
If you’re closer to Taraval Street, another place to head to is Dumpling Kitchen. At this dim sum restaurant, the siu mai overflows with pork and shrimp, and the xiao long bao is one of the best in the city. But the big reason to come here is Dumpling Kitchen’s pan-fried pork buns. They’re wrapped in a thick, chewy dough before being steamed, pan-fried, and then sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions.