12 Great Spots For A Fancy Lunch
White tablecloth vibes, roaring fireplaces, iconic roast chicken—you can have them all at these fancy lunch spots.
Like most things on this spinning hamster wheel we call life, lunch happens every day. But certain days call for lunch that’s more chic than leftovers, a certain salad mega-chain, or even a nice sandwich. That’s where these places come in. They’re special occasion lunch spots you should plan your entire day around, whether you’re with visiting family, playing hooky from work with someone you like, or taking out clients you want to impress with a stunning dining room.
photo credit: Eric Wolfinger
Spending $29 on the singular raviolo at this Italian restaurant in the Financial District isn’t usually on our to-do list for the middle of the day. But this is a fancy lunch guide, so lean in. It’s filled with ricotta and a perfect egg yolk that oozes out like lava when you cut into it—and is just one of the many housemade pastas on the menu that shine. This place also has effortless charm, thanks to wood-fired ovens burning behind the bar, warm brown tones, and even a few olive trees in the parklet out front. An added bonus to grabbing lunch here? Daytime reservations are easier to get.
We’d estimate that this Greek restaurant in the Financial District has hosted approximately a billion power lunches since opening back in the ‘90s—it’s the Very Dignified Midday Meal setting. High-back armchairs are so heavy they could function as weights at a powerlifting competition. Fireplaces blaze away in the back. And lamb and chicken roast on spits along the wall. If you’re not in the mood for roasted meat, you can also get into things like grilled sea bream, flaky saghanaki, and a creamy moussaka that will absolutely put you to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.
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photo credit: Krescent Carasso
One way to get old-school-sophisticated on a random weekday: lunch at Tadich Grill. The Financial District spot has been around since panning for gold was the city’s hottest activity, and still looks like a relic of the past with white jacketed waiters, tablecloths, and a bar so long you can barely see the end. Seafood is the main event. Crab cakes are delicate crispy pillows. Bowls of cioppino (complete with plastic bib) are loaded with an aquarium’s worth of shellfish. And platters of broiled sea bass are dressed simply with bright lemon butter. Washing everything down with a martini is a local rite of passage.
photo credit: Adahlia Cole
This upscale Thai restaurant inside the Parc 55 hotel is the perfect place to take visitors who are staying near Union Square—and duck into for a nicer-than-average lunch when you’re in the area. Their funky, spicy dishes are consistently impressive, but the khao soi takes gold, and is only available at lunch. It’s decadent, creamy, and packed with egg noodles and curry-soaked chicken, and you should definitely have it on your table. Though, you also can’t go wrong with their excellent “Pretty Hot Wings,” which are, as advertised, pretty hot.
photo credit: Melissa Zink
Harborview Restaurant And Bar
Nothing zhuzhes up a regular old lunch like expansive waterfront views, white tablecloths, and chandeliers sparkling overhead. This fancy dim sum spot delivers on the nicer-than-average meal front. In addition to all of the above, you’ll fill up on great Cantonese staples like pillowy baked barbecue pork buns and whole-fried salt and pepper crab. Plus, the fact that Harborview is in the Embarcadero Center means you can easily schmooze with clients midday, or meet up with someone you know who’s staying downtown. In case you want to extend lunch, there’s a full bar with lychee martinis.
photo credit: La Mar
This Peruvian restaurant on the Embarcadero has a gorgeous covered deck right by the water, and is always buzzing with tourists, locals popping in for a drink, and people in town for some sort of convention. And their teal hotel lobby-esque space is one of the better places in town to knock back tangy ceviche and pisco sours. Their lunch menu is pretty similar to the nighttime one—think Peruvian-style nigiri, catch-of-the-day plates, and incredible empanadas. This spot also does a great Happy Hour on weekdays, which is as good an excuse as any to return next week.
photo credit: Remy Galvan-Hale
Piccino excels in the casual-but-still-feels-fancy department. The Californian-Italian spot is situated inside a bright yellow Victorian in the Dogpatch. There are bold flower arrangements and charming wood accents. And meals in the naturally lit space feels like eating inside a Scandinavian cafe. The menu is just as effortlessly stylish as the space and changes depending on what’s in season, but their thin-crust pizzas are a hit, as are their bright vegetable-focused small plates, like the mixed cucumber salad and fried romano beans.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
This copper-and-brick-filled dining room at Zuni Cafe is where we imagine we’d spend all of our weekday lunches in a glorious alternate universe where we have zero responsibilities and wide-open schedules. This Civic Center restaurant is an SF institution that serves arguably the most famous roast chicken in the city—plus other hits, like a burger on fluffy focaccia, a mountain of crispy fries, and plump, cold oysters. It's also at its best during the day, when the space gets flooded with natural light coming through the massive windows.
photo credit: Waterbar
Number of restaurants in SF with floor-to-ceiling aquarium pillars filled with live fish: one. Welcome to Waterbar. In addition to housing a significant population of marine animals, this upscale Embarcadero spot with bay views is also a destination for seafood—and lots of it. Aside from things like grilled mahi mahi and scallops, they also have a great raw bar. You can go all in on the ridiculously named “Shellfish Indulgence Platter,” or just keep things simple with a dozen oysters and a glass of something sparkly.
photo credit: Aubrey Pick
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
We love falling into a red velvet booth at this Hayes Valley spot and admiring the mural, which shows painted diners eating off of white tablecloths like they’re an extension of the dining room. The French brasserie has a seafood and meat-heavy lunch menu that highlights dishes like salade lyonnaise with duck confit, steak frites, and oysters—basically, the kinds of things that complete the experience of eating in a buttoned-up space. They also make great cocktails, both with and without absinthe.
photo credit: Lani Conway
The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus
Sitting under a stained glass ceiling with gold-plated cornucopias is our preferred way to feel like a movie star with unlimited cash flow, at least for a couple of hours. The Rotunda is located inside Neiman Marcus, smack in the middle of Union Square. But buck up and get there for that afternoon meal you’ve been promising your relatives—you’ll be rewarded with a flat-out stunning dining room, an excellent stacked lobster club, and The Rotunda’s iconic free popovers and chicken broth.
photo credit: Palm Court
The Palm Court at RH San Francisco
This Dogpatch restaurant is all about excess. Think tiered-glass chandeliers and towering (but fake) palm trees—in other words, this is where to go when you want to dress up without being stared at, or to bust out those sunglasses that kind of make you look like a bug and take photos against a backdrop of marble and gold. Yes, the food at this RH gallery restaurant is comically expensive and equally forgettable. But if you’re curious about what micro-influencers do in their free time, are coming with someone who’s picking up the bill, or needs a photogenic place for a lavish engagement party, this place delivers.