Besides the Victorian houses, rainbow flags, and occasional naked person, the Castro used to be populated with a whole lot of no-name dives and a handful of classic restaurants. But these days, there’s a whole lot more in the way of food. From excellent tapas to a place that serves an entire chicken baked inside a massive brioche loaf, we’ll go out of our way to eat in the Castro. Even with surge pricing.
Outdoor seating next to a nice park is basically unheard of in this city, but Duboce Park Cafe is a rarity, and it’s one of our favorite spots in the Castro to grab breakfast or lunch. If you stop by in the AM, the coconut quinoa porridge, scrambles, and egg sandwich are all good options, and at lunch, go for the buddha bowl. They also do pizzas at dinner, and the inside is a very pleasant place for a casual meal when the SF winds kick in and outside becomes a borderline hurricane.
You’re not going to Eiji for a $300 omakase or any kind of fusion hand-rolls. You go there for solid, high quality sushi at prices that won’t make you consider “accidentally” dropping your company card and hope they don’t notice. This place isn’t crazy nice or big, so we like it best for a casual weeknight dinner. If tofu is your thing, they make theirs in-house and you should definitely not skip the mochi strawberries for dessert.
Besides heading here for the occasional sushi burrito, I’a Poke on Church has poke bowls that we really love. The Aloha signature bowl is our favorite, but you should really just make your own because even a large is only $14 and you get unlimited toppings, which are perhaps the two sweetest words in the human language. Unfortunately, the three worst words ‘avocado is extra’ are still on the table.
Besides having the best coffee in the Castro, Verve has the prettiest space to drink said coffee and serves some excellent breakfast food, too. The croissants are light and fresh, the avocado toast is appropriately avocado’d, and the oatmeal is a good, healthy option if you want something light (or go the other way with the poached egg biscuit). Grab a spot at one of the standing tables and alternate between caffeinating and people/dog watching before you get on with your day.
Even if your grandmother’s antique jack-in-the-box collection ruined surprises for you forever, you should still go try the chicken at Nomica. It’s baked inside a loaf of brioche, and when it’s revealed, you won’t jump back in fear (probably) - partially because you know it’s going to be delicious and also because you don’t want to embarrass yourself. It’s a fun place for a group, not only because the menu is good for sharing, but also because the energy is high and and prices are reasonable. If you don’t think you can keep it together, order some salmon belly and lettuce cups while you try and build up some courage from the sake.
La Med is the spot to hit when you don’t care what you look like or if the places has cloth napkins, but just need to eat some meat on a stick as soon as possible. The pomegranate chicken is a must, and the lamb meatballs and lentil salad should also be on your table. It’s a nice place for brunch or lunch on a sunny day with multiple street tables, but they also deliver in case you don’t want to leave your apartment. It’s some of the better and cheaper Greek food you can get in SF and always comes through in a pinch.
There are a couple of Reveilles around the city and for good reason. Not only is their coffee great, but their food - from yogurt and granola to avocado toast - is actively good and not just emergency rations so your brain has the fuel to put your caffeine to good use. The space is also chill enough that you may find yourself balancing not drinking your coffee so fast that you have to leave and not so slow that it gets cold.
Debating who has the best burrito in SF is easier than arguing whether Twister the game or Twister the movie is superior, but that doesn’t stop El Castillito from making one of the best burritos in the city. If the al pastor wasn’t made better by how they melt cheese on the tortilla, we’d probably try to lay under the spit and have them shave hunks of meat directly into our mouths - that and it’s probably a health code violation. If that mental image ruins al pastor for you, their chorizo and chicken are great, too.
SF is a city of 10pm bedtimes and nights that turn into arctic wastelands and sometimes it’s just better to put all your effort into daylight hours. Wooden Spoon on Market does just that, in a super cute space. It’s one of the best breakfast and brunch options around with a slightly nicer, and sometimes healthier take, on diner food. The breakfast-y options tend to be better than the brunch, and we’d highly recommend going for the breakfast bowl or crab scramble. Somehow it isn’t crazy crowded yet, so get in while the secret’s still safe.
That line on the corner of 16th and Sanchez every weekend is for one thing: millionaire’s bacon. Okay, maybe two things because Kitchen Story does a bottomless mimosa brunch for $19, and if that’s not your thing, the Bloody Marys are great, too. The place can be a bit of a zoo on Saturdays and Sundays, and the secret move is actually to get a dinner reservation, which are easy to come by, and head in at night for their surprisingly good burger, which also includes millionaire’s bacon.
Upscale comfort food is generally overplayed - we’re a hard pass on $22 mac and cheese. But Finn Town manages to do a fancier take on pub food the right way - the fried chicken sandwich is evidence enough. The space on Market Street feels very local, with regulars at the bar and people running into people they know. It has a nice feel that’s kind of hard to come by in the area, and we love it. Brunch is also worth checking out - the french toast, salmon Benedict, and burger are all great.
A classic neighborhood restaurant that’s so good you can never get a table. If you’re a long-term planner, mark your calendar and make a reservation. If you’re not, be prepared to fight it out for one or two of the ten seats at the bar. The steak is phenomenal and our favorite thing on the menu. It’s definitely one of the nicest restaurants in the neighborhood - and great for date night or a small group.
Ignore the horrible name and we promise you will be rewarded. The food (especially the sopes and tacos) is very inexpensive and very good. Order at the counter, stock up on an unreasonable amount of the salsa in little cups, and get ready to have a meal that’s way better than you’d expect from a restaurant with this name.
The odds that you’ve had a group dinner at Starbelly are high. If you haven’t, it’s time to change that. The menu isn’t insane (pizzas, kale salads, burgers), but they make good cocktails, the outdoor-ish patio is great for getting a group together, and if you’re doing an impromptu catch-up dinner, it’s easy to snag seats at the bar as well.
Right on the border of where the Castro meets the Mission, Thorough Bread & Pastry is phenomenal. You can eat your dog’s body weight in croissants (specifically almond ones) on the back patio, or get one to go to take to Dolores Park. You’ll probably end up eating it on the way, but turning back for a second one counts toward working off the first.
L’Ardoise is one of the better French restaurants in San Francisco. This spot has a homey feel, especially because the staff is so nice, and the food is fantastic - from the filet to the coq au vin. It’s a good spot for date nights, birthdays, or dinner with your family, but regardless of the occasion, we’d recommend getting a reservation just to be safe.