San Francisco has its share of blockbuster restaurants - Zuni, State Bird, Nopa, and Liholiho, for example. And while you’ve probably either been to these or put them on your personal hit list, they aren’t the spots that keep the city going week after week.
We’re talking about neighborhood restaurants, and we think they’re just as important as the heavy-hitters. People might not cross the country specifically to visit these places, but that’s the whole point: they exist to serve their neighborhoods, and their regulars don’t actually want anyone else to know how great they are, anyway. But we believe in sharing the wealth.
Here’s a guide to 13 of our favorite San Francisco neighborhood restaurants. Get outside your own neighborhood and check out these spots.
Fiorella is a relative newcomer in the Richmond, and it’s brought something fresh to a neighborhood where most restaurants have been around for 15+ years. Besides the friendly service, the real draw is their fantastic pizza and pasta. At brunch, you want the green-eggs-and-ham-inspired breakfast pizza (with broccoli), and if you can’t make it here in person for dinner, keep in mind that they do a serious takeout business. It’s quickly become one of our favorite places in the area, and it’s well worth a trip across town.
Terzo is on the “adult” end of Union Street. There is no Fireball, you can make reservations, and there’s a good chance you’ll be surrounded by art dealers, or other people we imagine are low-key about their wealth and aren’t there to throw their money around. We come here a lot, because the Mediterranean food is outstanding (particularly the calamari, hummus, and chicken skewers) and perfect for sharing - on a date, at dinner with your parents, or with a group of friends. You can also sit at the bar for a reasonably-priced glass of wine, plus appetizers or a full dinner.
Bar Crudo is definitely on the nicer end of the neighborhood restaurant spectrum, and it’s one of our favorites for date night. The seafood is excellent and fresh, and they do a stellar Happy Hour with dollar oysters and mussels that runs until 6:30. There’s sometimes a wait, but they take reservations, and you shouldn’t have trouble getting one. If you don’t order the uni toast, you have made a poor life choice.
This is the kind of place where very senior tech execs might go, not because they want to be seen, but because it’s delicious and comfortable and dimly-lit enough that maybe people won’t notice that the CEOs of two massive internet companies are drinking together. Our go-tos at the dark, clubby (as in Harvard Club, not Vegas club) standby include the tagliatelle and chicken Milanese, and always the flourless chocolate cake if it’s on the menu. Garibaldi’s is a place you can take your parents or grandparents - or self, if you just want to eat very good food and drink very stiff drinks. It’s not cheap, but not obscenely expensive, either.
This American spot in the Marina hosts a stroller derby every weekday from around 11:30 to 2pm, and all day on the weekends. Prizes mostly involve getting to eat an absurdly good burger. Besides being a strong brunch choice, it’s one of the best places in the neighborhood to pop in for dinner (when you’re less likely be kicked by a toddler), sit at the bar, and grab a beer and the dinner burger - or at least some of the house ricotta.
Piccino is a pizza place that feels like a Scandinavian design store. And it turns out that combination is incredibly pleasant. The airy and bright Dogpatch spot is perfect for a weekday lunch or brunch, or a low-key dinner anytime. We always get the mushroom or sausage pizza, as well as a few other small plates like the octopus or burrata. They run a little grab-and-go coffee/pastry operation next door, too, for your more basic caffeine and carbohydrate needs.
The Lower Haight has a lot of bars that are good for sports, but Maven is the best bar for cocktails. Add the fact that the burger here is one of the best in the city, and you have yourself a neighborhood go-to. You can come on an early-in-the-game date, or just take yourself out in your non-sweaty gym clothes (we do have some standards). Getting some duck sliders to start is the right choice.
Every neighborhood needs a place where it’s OK to get another margarita or two, be a little loud, and not worry about spilling on a white tablecloth. Padrecito, in laid-back Cole Valley, checks these boxes, although it’s not a “party” spot per se - it’s more the kind of place where parents come to escape their kids. The tacos and drinks here are great, and it’s an often-overlooked but excellent choice for brunch, too.
You may have driven past Pizzetta 211 many times on California St. in the Richmond - it’s tiny and has minimal signage. But it’s a great place to know about for a quick pizza and salad dinner. The pizzas change up seasonally, but whatever they’re offering with a fried egg on it is usually a good bet.
The Mission tends to be a place you hit for burritos, trendy spots on Valencia, or just that microdose of San Francisco grit. The Morris has no burritos and is not particularly trendy or gritty, but we’re OK with that, and you will be, too. It’s tucked in a deep pocket of the neighborhood (almost in Potrero), and it’s phenomenal. Start with a foie gras dumpling, then share some shrimp toast and the roast duck. Just save room for the donuts.
No reservations or frills - just simple, authentic French food. Since we’re big fans of butter and bread, we keep this place in our frequent rotation. Get the mussels or the petite filet, and if you’re looking for a low-key brunch in Cow Hollow where you won’t be surrounded by people trying to make the most of bottomless mimosas, you’ll like this spot.
Divisadero in Nopa is home to many fast-casual places, bars, and, of course, Nopa the restaurant. But we can’t eat a pork chop for dinner every night, or spend several hours loitering at the bar hoping to elbow our way in (both of which are things we associate with eating at Nopa). Ragazza is better for groups, better for Italian food, and better for outdoor seating than any other place in the neighborhood, and it’s popular for takeout, too. Start with some burrata, a kale salad, and meatballs, then split a few pizzas or pastas.
North Beach has a lot of Italian places making subpar pasta and pouring the Sicilian version of two-buck chuck, and those are places you want to avoid. Trattoria Contadina is the opposite. The pasta is fantastic (particularly the oversized rigatoni with spicy tomato cream sauce), the setting is warm and welcoming, and the staff is extremely nice without being too attentive. It’s a good spot for date night, dinner with the parents, or pretty much any other occasion where carbs are a priority.