Hayes Valley has a lot going on. Aside from being centrally located near tons of shops and theaters, it also gets lots of sun and is largely flat and walkable, so you don’t need to wear your hiking boots and crampons to go for a quick stroll. The neighborhood is also home to some fantastic restaurants and bars. Here’s our guide to 21 of our favorite places to eat, from a fun omakase spot to one of the best restaurants in the whole city.
Dumpling Home is packed every night with groups of friends or families, and the reason is simple. The casual Chinese spot makes some of the best dumplings in the city - like shengjianbao with crispy, golden-brown bottoms, and xiao long bao with translucent skin and flavorful soup.
There’s no shortage of fried chicken sandwiches in SF, but the ones from The Bird are a simple perfection that we’ll never say no to. Here, you choose between classic or spicy, and each one comes loaded with pickles, mayo, and a sweet, refreshing apple slaw. Unlike the original location in SoMa, this Hayes Valley spot has beer on tap and cocktails, if you’re in the mood for something boozy.
Chez Maman West
In a neighborhood full of French restaurants, this cozy corner spot stands out for its friendly feel and really excellent food. Chez Maman is more intimate than the other French spots in the area, and only has a few tables and some seats at the bar - which is also what makes it great for a low-key weeknight date or a solo meal when you’re in the mood for fries. Get a pot full of steaming mussels and their French onion soup, which we instinctively crave every time it rains.
It costs anywhere from $89-189 per person to eat at Robin, but unlike a lot of pricey sushi options in SF, this is actually a fun place to have dinner with its loud music, colorful tiled walls, and creative dishes like potato chip nigiri with caviar on top. There’s no menu here, and instead, they just ask you how much you’re looking to spend - which can feel weird at first, but like any good negotiation, you’ll always end up with the right amount of food.
Rich Table isn’t just one of the best restaurants in the neighborhood, it’s one of the best in the entire city. The menu here changes constantly, but classics like their porcini donuts or sardine chips are always available - and even if you’ve been here a million times, you’d be hard-pressed to guess what the new things will look or taste like. From make-your-own handrolls to agnolotti in borscht broth, the menu makes it easy to impress whoever you’re with.
RT Rotisserie is the small offshoot of Rich Table located a block away, but here they have a simple menu of roasted chicken, sandwiches, salads, and more. You can get half a bird for $10, which is one of the more affordable meals you can find in the neighborhood. This place is super casual and they have wine both by the glass and bottle - it makes this one of our favorite spots to come for a casual midweek catch up with a few friends.
Sometimes the weather in Hayes Valley is so good that you’ll want to sit in Patricia’s Green and just enjoy it while it lasts. It’s at these exact moments that you should head to The Fatted Calf to pick up some provisions before you settle in somewhere sunny. This place is a specialty shop that focuses on charcuterie, and they also make great sandwiches that are perfect for a mini picnic - go for the roast beef or the pulled pork.
Editor’s note: Cala is temporarily closed.
Cala is a Mexican restaurant that feels like someone took our ideal garden party and put it inside an old warehouse. Aside from looking like the ultimate wedding Pinterest board, this place makes really good food - from slightly spicy trout tostadas to their sweet potato tacos with bone marrow salsa negra, which we still think about more often than we’d like to admit.
Gioia used to have an outpost in Russian Hill, but then they moved here to open this smaller, much more streamlined spot. No matter which toppings you get, know that the crust here is always perfectly crispy on the bottom and chewy around the edges. Our go-to at Gioia is the garlicky mushroom pie, but you really can’t go wrong.
This Greek mini chain is an easy, quick, and delicious option for lunch, especially when a sad desk salad just won’t cut it. Everything on the menu is available in pita sandwich or salad form, and our favorites are the chicken and the lamb. But no matter what, you need to order the juicy potatoes cooked in the meat drippings from the spit and the frozen Greek yogurt topped with baklava, which we like to grab on the way out and eat while window shopping around the neighborhood.
Next to all the weathered jean jackets and small-batch sunglasses for sale around here, Salt & Straw fits right in. The flavors at this ice cream shop range from classic (like cookie dough or chocolate gooey brownie) to not-so-classic (like olive oil or Parker House rolls). Most of the flavors end up working really well, and the monthly-changing menu keeps things interesting. So if you’re walking down the street and smell the scent of freshly-made waffle cones and sugar wafting across the sidewalk, you should probably stop in for a scoop.
Editor’s note: Petit Crenn is temporarily closed.
Petit Crenn is the smaller offshoot of Atelier Crenn, and while coming here will cost you a little over $100, they do a great tasting menu that’s perfect for special occasions and important dates. They also do a brunch that’s a la carte with incredible omelets and things like mushroom tartines.
You could go to Absinthe to eat a lot of French food, but our favorite time to show up at this large brasserie is for a drink and a quick bite at the bar. They make great cocktails, both with and without absinthe, and we’re partial to their sazeracs, especially alongside one of their burgers. It’s a simple version with dijonnaise, gruyère and provolone, and pickles with a big pile of fries riding shotgun on the side.
Suppenküche is run by the same people as Biergarten and Radhaus, but unlike those bright, wide-open spots, this place feels like a beer hall specifically designed for when it’s foggy, cold, and you haven’t seen the sun all day. Even though that happens pretty rarely, it’s always fun to come here with a group and drink giant Belgian beers and split some potato pancakes or schnitzel.
There are a lot of reasons we love Nojo. It’s not hard to get a table, which we would usually put up with just OK food for, but that’s not the case here. They make some of our favorite ramen in the city (go for the miso version), but even if they lost all of their broth in some kind of soup heist, we’d still come here because everything else is great too.
Lers Ros Thai
Lers Ros is perfect for randomly dropping into when your group of six suddenly turns to nine. First of all, there’s hardly ever a wait. And most of the food here comes in family-sized portions, so having a group is the best way to take advantage of the menu. Go for the tom kha kai, larb moo, and pad kra pow moo krob with crispy skin pork belly and peppers.
Domo Sushi doesn’t have a huge menu, but the sushi here is consistently good and reasonably priced. It’s mostly bar seating, so we like to pop in here with a friend or for a weeknight date and share a few of their rolls, like the classic saba with a punch of ginger and refreshing cucumber. Or you can go with the chef’s choice sashimi, which rarely disappoints.
From the outside, Monsieur Benjamin looks like the kind of place where CEOs in movies get lunch every day. That’s not totally incorrect, but the French bistro is also just a great special occasion spot or a place to swing by before seeing a show in the area. Get the chicken liver terrine and steak frites, and wash it all down with some wine.
The Hayes Valley outpost of this Jewish deli is small, but they still make great bagels, pastries, and sandwiches. Our usual move here is to get the bodega bagel sandwich with bacon and some coffee, and take it to go (there aren’t many tables here, so takeout is usually your best bet anyway).
Part of the fun of going to Smitten is watching them use liquid nitrogen to make your dessert right in front of you - but even without all the theatrics, the ice cream here is incredibly smooth and just fantastic. The flavors change often, which gives us a great excuse to come here more so we don’t miss out on any of the new stuff - like buttermilk ice cream with raspberry crumb cake.
This Papito on Hayes Street has the same tacos we love from their original location and fantastic spicy margaritas, which makes it a great place to drop into for a late lunch or casual date. If you’re up in time for brunch on the weekends, they have solid huevos rancheros too. Sitting outside on the sidewalk is where you want to be on a nice day, but if there are no tables left, the roof here is mostly skylights, so it still (kind of) feels like you’re outside.