The Best Special Occasion Restaurants In SF guide image


The Best Special Occasion Restaurants In SF

When you want to celebrate—and feel like the most important person in the room—here’s where to go.

Any day can be a special occasion, if you try hard enough. The fact that you just finished an entire ChapStick on your own is definitely an accomplishment. However, some days are more significant than others. Maybe you just got a huge promotion at work, or you’re celebrating an anniversary that’s now in the double digits. Whatever the reason, it’s time to celebrate—preferably with a meal worthy of such a big (or small) occasion. If you’re looking to cheers with a group or dress up and drop a monthly rent check’s worth of cash on a blowout tasting menu, these 16 spots should do the trick. 


Lazy Bear

Lazy Bear in the Mission is one of the few fine dining restaurants that feels loose and a lot of fun. The commitment to a vintage camping theme has a lot to do with it—the outdoorsy bit livens up the night from start to finish. You’ll doodle notes on a menu designed like a field guide, sip on a tisane made from locally foraged leaves and flowers, and eat fancy gummy bear desserts in an upstairs lounge filled with Cabin Porn books and tasteful flannel accents. The 11 American-ish courses ($275) are inspired by whatever’s in season (and summer camp nostalgia)—you’ll never predict what you’re in for, but the food is guaranteed to be as playful as the theme. 

Sure, you’ve had chicharrones, but have you had them topped with shaved truffle? Or how about a caviar-studded grilled banana served in savory dulce de leche? At this fine dining spot in SoMa, the 16 courses of Mexican dishes will rewire your brain. They will thrill you—and be unlike anything you’ll ever eat again. While dinner doesn’t come cheap ($307 a head), the experience is a full-on production you won’t want to end, from the cavernous all-black space to the 12-page booklet highlighting the farms the ingredients came from, and staff who prepared the night’s meal. 

Ken makes you feel like the most important person in the room. And that’s not just because there are only six seats in this omakase spot in Lower Haight. Perfectly torched nigiri and sashimi are handed to you over the counter by the eponymous chef himself like they’re personal gifts. And small plates, like poached ikura in an ume and rock sugar broth or chawanmushi with creamy cod milt, are prepared with the same care you’d put into a heartfelt note to your third-grade crush. The $225 meal is an experience to save for Very Important Celebrations when you and a date are looking to spend a chunk of money on flawless seafood. 

This fine dining spot in Russian Hill does twists on Japanese specialties. And you can’t get these dishes anywhere else in the city, which is one reason to come here for big celebrations. The other is that this sleek, mostly-black space looks like an art gallery. Dishes are also masterpieces. For $223, you’re presented with 12 courses, starting with an uni-topped “croquette” stuffed with creamy potato. By the time the dessert lands on the table, you’ll be sending out a text to everyone you know, and inventing some excuse to come back. 

As the completely made-up saying goes: special celebrations call for life-changing galbi. And the gorgeously caramelized short rib at this Korean restaurant in the Mission will make you rethink your entire life (and everything you thought you knew about BBQ beef). Adding to the unforgettable experience is an impossibly fluffy egg soufflé, melt-in-your-mouth galbi mandu, and a spicy chicken tteokbokki that occupies about 75% of our brain space. The fact that this minimalist space looks like a secret club will also help you mark any momentous occasion. 

A night at Liholiho Yacht Club in the Tendernob has “good time” written all over it. The dining room has sexy lighting and buzzes with excitement. Refreshing cocktails and wine flow. And the “heritage-driven” dishes are spectacular (you’ll even wonder how a side of roasted carrots can be so f*cking fantastic). Whether you’re cutting into a perfectly charred ribeye or going for seconds and thirds of the shaved pig’s head salad, know that you’ll inevitably end up here for all future birthdays—and wind up blowing out a candle in a baked Hawaii. 

Great news for anyone who is delighted by tying on a plastic bib and getting butter all over their hands—Thanh Long is a seafood party. The Vietnamese restaurant in the Sunset is packed each night with big groups clinking glasses of lychee martinis together and waving around crab leg crackers as if they were sparklers. Pepper-coated whole roasted crabs are the main event on every table. And we’d accept their bowls of buttery garlic noodles over presents any day. 

This Fillmore restaurant is small plates royalty, and everyone—including groups celebrating 25th and 75th birthdays—is packing this place for their creative, hard-to-categorize dishes. Black sesame duck confit dumplings, pork belly salad, and duck liver mousse will make you want to climb a table and burst out into a dramatic love ballad. Adding to the fun are dim sum carts used to push around small plates all night. Say “yes” to whatever catches your eye.

At this French-Californian tasting menu spot in the Mission, no two meals are ever the same—so come here for every future anniversary and extra fancy date night, and you’ll never get bored. The space looks like a homey farmhouse with a long wooden bar, wines by the glass (all natural) scrawled on chalkboards, and little mirrors. Adding to the rustic yet charming experience is the $82 four-course menu. It changes at least weekly but includes delightful sauce-centric dishes, like maitake mushrooms soaking up harissa butter, and a scallop tower resting atop cardamom cream.

Like taking a tour of Alcatraz (finally) or braving the crowds at Twin Peaks for the views, a trip to House of Prime Rib is what every San Franciscan should do at least once. So why not go to celebrate a birthday with friends and a really huge slab of meat? The Nob Hill institution is controlled chaos in the best way. Beef is carved tableside, and salads are dressed and spun from as high up as your server can reach. Staff shake martinis and throw globs of sour cream onto baked potatoes with choreographed precision. This is an over-the-top night to lean into, special occasion or not. 

The lush, plant-filled dining room at Nari just feels momentous—the ceilings are high and grandiose, and the space is reminiscent of the most luxurious botanical garden. But sitting in the stunning space at this Thai spot in Japantown is just the start of a night that leaves a lasting impression. Pork jowl and squid are a sticky-sweet delight. Charred mushroom salad builds a lingering heat. And everything is so phenomenal that you won’t even mind when your nose starts to run from the onslaught of fiery spices. Whether you’re ordering a la carte or going in on the $115 tasting menu to mark an engagement or a triumphant breakup, Nari is always a stellar option.

Being showered with compliments by your closest friends is always fun. It’s more fun when you’re in a dining room adorned with golden chandeliers, big-leaf plants, and floor-to-ceiling windows with a Chinatown view. You won’t stop having daydreams about this fancy Chinese American restaurant for weeks, and that’s thanks in part to the dishes, which are remixed in a very San Francisco fashion—like scallion pancakes made with sourdough and served with crème fraîche, or cheong fun topped with local uni. If you happen to be celebrating a big raise, go all in on the whole-roasted duck, a tender behemoth that’ll run you $150.

It’s only appropriate to commemorate milestone occasions with a view. Enter Empress by Boon, where scenes of Coit Tower and the Bay await. There’s an air of extravagance at this sixth-floor spot in Chinatown—it’s owned by a former Hakkasan chef, after all, and feels like an upscale hotel lobby in Vegas, dropped into the city. The dining room is decked out with intricate wood carvings, plush purple chairs, and a bright marble bar. Admire it all while digging into the seasonal prix fixe menu ($98), which includes over-the-top dishes like scallops and caviar rolls, and uni fried rice.  

Niku Steakhouse is the special occasion spot to go to with people who really care about marbling scores and whether or not a cow ate organic grasses and was massaged before it died. This Design District spot is centered around A5 wagyu, which is served with near-ceremonial energy that makes a night here feel like an event. Expensive ribeyes, filet mignons, and tomahawks that look Jurassic roast over binchotan flames before being presented to you. You get to pick your very own personal cleaver for the night. And even the sides, like fluffy Parker House rolls and decadent bone marrow, are impressive. 

There’s a literal red carpet that leads you to the hidden back patio at Foreign Cinema. So coming here when you want to sashay down a runway and make a splashy entrance is always the move. Once inside, you’re greeted with the glow of string lights and old movies being projected on the wall. Foreign Cinema is one of the most special places in town, full stop. Toast to another year around the sun with a glass of something bubbly, and half a dozen oysters or a seasonal pasta in front of you. 

Sometimes you just want to pack 12 people around a table and pass around baskets of xiao long bao and plates of wagyu beef chow fun. Palette Tea House in Ghirardelli Square is the place for group meals (there are more than enough tables), and the best part is you can get in and out for around $50 per person. Another reason we love coming here? The spacious dim sum spot has one of the most gorgeous dining room ceilings in town (niche, we know). Throw in well-executed Cantonese dishes and boozy boba and you can’t go wrong. 

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photo credit: Krescent Carasso

The Best Special Occasion Restaurants In SF guide image