SFGuide

The Best Salads In SF

14 salads that are anything but boring.
The Best Salads In SF image

photo credit: Brit Finnegan

If you’re going to stick a bunch of vegetables in your mouth at once, you might as well find a salad that’s actually worth your time. And you live in a city that’s full of them. We can’t promise all of these will be healthy, but we can promise they won’t make you sad. Here are the best salads in SF that are substantial enough to be a full meal (i.e., no side salads). Thank us later.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Brit Finnegan

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Your Order: Chopped Salad

When it comes to Palm City, we spend a good amount of time thinking about their colossal hoagies. Truth be told, we do the same with their chopped salad. It’s a rainbow in a bowl—exactly what breezy summer days on their Outer Sunset sidewalk patio call for. Crisp greens, marinated chickpeas, cucumbers, strawberries, soft-boiled egg, and a vibrant tahini vinaigrette come together to convince you that “season’s bounty” is a totally acceptable phrase to say out loud. And since this salad is pretty big, we suggest splitting it with a friend (and a side of funky wine).

Your Order: Shaking Filet Of Beef Salad

If you put every SF salad in a yearbook, the shaking beef salad from this upscale Vietnamese restaurant would win “Best Style” by a landslide. It’s dressed to the nines and tastes as fantastic as it looks. The neat bed of lettuce, velvety avocado, and cucumber is embellished with a jiggly poached egg, flower petals, and daisy-shaped radishes. Add in the beef that rides shotgun on the side, make everyone wait as you take obligatory phone photos, then devour it in record time. 

Your Order: Tea Leaf Salad

There are a lot of worthy tea leaf salads in the city, but the one from Mandalay in the Richmond will keep you coming back like a seagull to an unattended Hellman Hollow picnic table. This version sings thanks to intensely funky flavor, perfect spice levels, and a complex crunch from the fried garlic, toasted lentil seeds, and peanuts. It’s mixed tableside, and, unlike many Burmese spots in town, served without cabbage or greens. Expect an extra nutty punch. 

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Your Order: Crispy Duck Salad

The crispy duck salad from Blue Whale is one of the best things on the menu at this Chinese spot in Cow Hollow. It’s about half meat, which is a certified plus in our book. Zippy bits of pomelo add a welcome sweetness. And the pomegranate seeds and fried lotus root give a noticeable crunch to every bite. We’d happily come to the sleek, royal blue space, order just this salad and a cocktail at the bar, and leave satisfied. 

Your Order: Shaved Pig Head

Liholiho Yacht Club in Lower Nob Hill is known for mashing up cuisines and flavors to create bold dishes that are in their own class—like this shaved pig head salad. The silky pig head slices are surrounded by a frisée and Asian pear halo you’ll want to inhale—it’s a zingy contrast to the fatty richness of the meat. Umami-packed fish sauce ties this one together.

Your Order: Fresh Cucumber With Garlic Sauce

Do you like your green things soaking in a bath of vinegar and garlic? The cucumber salad from Dumpling Home in Hayes Valley is the move. The crunch factor in this bowl is turned all the way up, so ordering it is the non-negotiable part of a night here. And since it's so refreshing, you’ll probably end up fighting with whoever you’re with over the last bite (another essential part of the experience). Better to just order two for the table.  

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Your Order: Papaya Salad

Eat enough papaya salads in this city, and after a while, they all begin to taste like how a Journey cover band sounds—the same kind of whatever. But Funky Elephant’s version of shredded papaya, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and snake beans is the papaya salad worldwide icon. The one from this Mission spot will make your eyes roll back and your body tense up, and leave you shivering in excitement—it’s that impressive, drenched in lime, fish sauce, and Thai chilies.

Your Order: Pork Belly "Salad"

This salad from the Fillmore legend is about 75% meat and 25% fruit and herbs—we have zero complaints. Salty, fatty chunks of pork belly get cozy with whatever fruit is in season, and a fish sauce vinaigrette that would make even the wiltiest lettuce come alive like fireworks tops it off. Saying no to this dish when it comes to your table on one of their signature dim sum-style carts isn’t an option.

Your Order: Chicory Caesar

We’d eat a lot more salads if they were loaded with fried prosciutto. But until every salad maker gets the memo, we’ll happily settle for a standing date with Pearl 6101. Their chicory caesar is a neighborhood legend, so you’ll see it on every table at this Richmond spot. This beauty also stars shaved parmesan and well-seasoned croutons that they should sell in bulk. If you haven’t experienced this greatness, now’s the time. 

Your Order: Zuni Caesar Salad

The roast chicken and mountain of shoestring fries from Zuni Cafe get all of the attention. But don’t overlook their caesar, which is just as much of an icon. It’s a stunning pile of lettuce in its absolute prime, croutons that marinate in the anchovy-filled dressing, and a snowfall of shaved parmesan over the top. Coming in for this salad—and that previously mentioned fry pile (a very balanced meal)—is the power move.

Your Order: Chicken Salad 

This salad from the fast-casual Greek(ish) mini-chain is an old faithful for time-pressed people. Those in a time crunch wolf down the salad like The Hulk, but it’s pretty damn delicious when you have plenty of leisure hours, too. The citrus, fennel, pickled onion, and greens are drenched in a creamy olive oil dressing, but the salad never feels heavy. This is great news for all ingredients—especially the warm shredded chicken that soaks it up like a sponge.

Your Order: Ensalada Andalusia 

If smoky, toasted vegetables and nuts are your love language, this salad from the entirely plant-based spot in Cow Hollow is your dream boat. Chicories, butter lettuce, sweet drop peppers, and toasted almonds are tossed in paprika. But the smoky standout component is the coconut “bacon,” which is charred within an inch of its life (in an excellent way). Since this is one of the scenier vegan restaurants in town, prepare to suck it down with a spiked green juice in a place that looks like Free People, Key West, and Venice had a baby.

Your Order: Spicy Tuna (but, really, choose your own adventure) 

This counter-service spot in Russian Hill feels like a deli in the middle of Wine Country. It’s the answer if lunch is quickly approaching and you think, “I really need a great salad and I really want a bunch of options.” Have a Choose Your Own Adventure-style salad and add on a bunch of extras, or go with a set combo from the menu, like the standout spicy tuna tartare with crispy soba, mangos, edamame, and miso-ginger vinaigrette. The bowls are all sizable and they don’t skimp on the ingredients—which certainly helps to justify the $20-ish per salad you’ll end up spending.

Your Order: Walker

The salads from this vegan cafe in the Sunset are so massive you could work at it for five minutes and barely make a dent. Take your time, since this beachy spot leans into the no-rush vibe. Get to know the Walker, which is served over creamy, spicy basmati rice and piled high with vegetables—plus mango and house goji dressing for a sweet touch. 

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