Hayes Valley is a pretty great place to live. Or just to be. It’s centrally located, it’s not a foggy wasteland, and it’s largely flat and walkable, so you don’t need to wear your hiking boots and crampons to go for a quick stroll.
Of course, this neighborhood is also home to some fantastic restaurants and bars. Here’s our list of the places that belong either on your Hit List or in your regular rotation - from a coffee bar/wine shop with an amazing back patio to a high-end French restaurant where you’ll learn to love frog legs.
Arlequin has excellent omelets, pork confit breakfast burritos, and some of our favorite pastries around. Tons of outdoor seating in the back and a few sunny tables on the sidewalk in the morning make this a neighborhood breakfast staple. Swing by in the afternoon for a glass of wine and a decent lunch (or to get some work done - there’s wifi). They have dinner service, too.
Great cocktails and small plates and a garden-y, airy feel are what bring us back to Barcino for drinks and a light bite. You don’t need a reservation - walk in and post up at a high-top among the plants and big windows letting in natural light. The Spanish menu isn’t long, but it has all you need - just know that portions are pretty small, and prices aren’t low.
Perhaps you’ve dreamed of a former time when life was more civilized and people ate off china all the time. 20th Century Cafe, one of our neighborhood go-tos for an easy brunch, lunch, or quick coffee and pastry pick-me-up, makes that a reality. We generally go for the smoked salmon bagel as a meal, but if you really want to do something nice for yourself, get the Russian Honey Cake as an afternoon snack.
If you like eating in classy museum cafes and/or you’re avoiding things like gluten or sugar, Little Gem is your mecca. We strongly advocate stopping in for the delicious (but small) almond pancakes at brunch, and the bibimbap bowl or roasted chicken at lunch or dinner.
Rich Table is our perfect neighborhood restaurant. It makes every dinner feel like a special occasion, and every dinner is a special occasion when you get to eat porcini donuts. Reservations are shocking not impossible to get, and if you come in on the early side, it’s also quite easy to get bar seats for two. Make sure to try some pasta, some cocktails, and dessert. Those donuts you had earlier were savory and not dessert.
This casual, order-at-the-counter spot from the brains trust behind Rich Table makes incredible chicken (and roasted cauliflower) served up in salad, plate, or sandwich form. The sides and salads are very good, too - as is the dessert soft serve. They do a strong delivery business, but we like sitting and eating in the pleasantly chill space. Besides the food, they have one very-well priced (under $30) bottle each of red, white, rosé, and sparkling wine, plus a beer on tap.
Cala continues to be our favorite fancy Mexican restaurant in the city. The space is pretty, the cocktails are delicious, and the authentic, seafood-centric food never lets us down. Start with some trout tostadas and black bean sopes and see where the meal takes you. It’s pretty easy to roll up with two people and grab bar seats, but if you’re a planner, reservations aren’t impossible. And if you’ve always dreamed of going to Mexico City and eating at Contramar, know that Cala is run by the same chef and is the closest you’ll get in the States.
As stated as often as possible, we love Souvla. We love the fries, we love the lamb, we love the Greek yogurt. It’s an awesome spot for a quick lunch or dinner, with a fun atmosphere that makes you feel like you really could be in the Greek Islands. No matter what you do, get some of the Greek frozen yogurt topped with baklava.
The best special occasion spot in Hayes. With a five-course French prix fixe menu that’s close to perfection, Petit Crenn is perfect for dates when you’re looking to impress and/or seriously atone for something. If dinner feels like too much, the brunch is a la carte and the omelets and mushroom tartine are unreal.
The no-reservations policy at A Mano can be a bit of a pain, but the crowds have subsided a bit, making it easier to roll up for some carbohydrates than it was in the early days. We’d recommend focusing on the pastas, salads, and small plates (arancini specifically), and skipping the pizza. Do not skip the cocktails.
Fatted Calf is a perfect place to grab picnic supplies like bread, cheese, meats, and some very good sandwiches. The roast beef and pulled pork sandwiches could turn a vegan into a hunter.
Will you be blown away by the creativity and whimsy of The Grove? Absolutely not. But you will be very happy with the hearty salads, sandwiches, and general low-key situation of this corner spot with some solid outdoor tables. Breakfast all day should be in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize, and the breakfast tacos here are delightful.
The ski chalet of your schnitzel dreams, Suppenkuche serves very good German food and beers in a rustic space on the corner of Hayes & Laguna. Get the potato pancakes to start.
Nojo isn’t one of the trendy, straight-from-Japan ramen places with a line out the door. It is one of the best ramen spots in the city. Get the chicken spicy miso and some rice balls.
Steak tartare, frog legs, a French dip. Oui, c’est vrai. Monsieur Benjamin makes French food cool and fun. Monsieur Benjamin has made us love frog legs. Definitely a spot for a fancy date night or other special occasion.
Papito is a sleeper go-to for weekend brunch, for a few reasons. 1) Huevos rancheros. 2) Enough lunch and brunch options to keep all the needy people in your life happy. 3) Chilaquiles are often available as a special. Besides brunch, keep Papito in the rotation for a relaxed taco night with margaritas during the week.
Our favorite Thai in SF, Lers Ros is ideal for sharing stuff with a group and still being able to afford a ride home. The tom kha kai soup and larb moo are amazing.
Perhaps you’ve seen the preposterous creation that is the Straw burger with donuts for buns. Guy Fieri dreams of it as he slumbers. If you want to eat like a normal person, the brunch scrambles and omelets here will do you right.
A more or less permanent pop-up inside the Noir Lounge. Perplexing, yet delicious. Breakfast all day (up against The Grove for that Nobel) and massive sandwiches that are perfect for your scheduled afternoon food coma. The Turkey Drizzle is our current favorite.
This tiny sushi place consisting almost entirely of bar seating and a few outdoor tables is affordable, pleasant, and very much a local spot. We come here all the time, and you probably should, too. Go for the rolls and nigiri rather than the other small plates on the menu.
A great lox bagel, great egg sandwiches, and some actually reasonable prices for food keep us coming back. There’s not a ton of seating, so get your breakfast to go.
This Blue Bottle outpost in an alley off Gough St. has the usual pour-over coffee perfection and a few pastries. We are big fans of the granola, served in a mason jar with milk. Plus, everyone loves a good souvenir.
Fig & Thistle is hands down our favorite bar in the area. An awesome selection of California wines and beers, an amusingly over the top cast of characters behind the bar, and an inexplicable bunk bed without mattresses set the tone. When you need some sustenance after a few drinks, they have a killer cheese plate.
SF is not a bagel town. Maybe it’s the water, or maybe it’s because everyone is too busy hiking and microdosing to remember their morning carbs. Whatever the reason, good bagels are as rare as a toddler not wearing Smallbirds. Wise Sons is the antidote to this curse on our fine city, and they make A+ bagels all day, every day. The Hayes location is small, with just a few tables inside and out, so grabbing your sandwich to go and eating in the park is probably the best move.
Science + ice cream = magic things. This shipping container turned dessert laboratory is the best sweets spot in the neighborhood. We’re partial to the mint chip, but you really can’t go wrong.
We love this spot for the beer, the pretzels and sausages, and the generally laid back sit-at-a-picnic-table environment. If you work in the area, leave the office at 3 on a sunny day and post up here. Trying to get in at 5pm or later on a nice weekday is just a fool’s errand.
Birba is an easy-to-miss wine bar that you should make an effort to check out. The staff is friendly, the prices are reasonable, and besides the better-than-average small plates menu, this place has a revolving guest chef situation with specials like poke bowls that are very good.
Frozen yogurt has died a slow death across the city as real ice cream has taken over. We’re not mad about this. However, if you are craving some tasty soft serve yogurt, or, for some reason, in the market for rice pudding, Loving Cup delivers both, and does so very well. They blend the toppings right into the chocolate or vanilla soft serve. Can’t go wrong adding Oreos.