If you got dropped in the middle of Noe Valley on 24th Street, you might think you were downtown in a small city in some random part of the country. This single half-mile stretch has everything you could need, from a bank to a dentist to a playground to a ridiculously tiny Whole Foods. It’s also home to a lot of great restaurants and bars, and so is the rest of Noe Valley. Even if you don’t live in the neighborhood, it’s worth coming here on a weekend to walk around, eat, and maybe see what it would feel like to live in a small city - or at least one smaller than SF.
It’s hard to not hop in line whenever we pass a Vive La Tarte, and the Noe location is no exception. We come here for croissants and pastries, like their turmeric monkey bread that’s more spicy than sweet, but they also have a full breakfast menu if you have the time required to inhale more than just some fancy bread.
Bernie’s is the gold standard of neighborhood coffee shops. If you find yourself sitting here working on your latest novel about Jane Goodall’s secret life as a house DJ, you’ll notice that everyone seems to know each other. But this place isn’t just a community meet-and-greet. Aside from the strong coffee, the wifi is undoubtedly better than your own home’s, so you’re all set when you inevitably need to research what Jane would use as a stage name.
There are a few locations of the Little Chihuahua around town and for good reason - they make great tacos and burritos. The carne asada is our favorite, but if you want something a bit lighter, the mushroom tacos are great too. This location has a covered back patio with heaters in case it’s cold, so even if you can’t see the sky, it’s still a nice place to eat lunch outside.
If you’ve been on a Seinfeld kick lately, going to Noe Bagel for breakfast is as close as you can get to a full show immersion, short of encouraging your weird neighbor to stumble into you house at random times. This place looks completely frozen in 1998, from the yellowing menu boards to the neon lighting wrapped around the kitchen. Aside from normal bagels, they have mini ones that are good if you’re not that hungry - we like ours with NY lox.
If you’re looking for a heavy breakfast to start your day, Griddle Fresh is the place to do it in Noe Valley. The French toast is dense and good, but if breakfast for you is more about recovering from last night than anything else, go for the Chicken In The Nest. It’s chicken katsu on a bed of fries with pepper jack cheese, topped with slaw, and doused in yellow curry - it’s scientifically proven to cure whatever ails you.
Novy is open for lunch and dinner during the week, but we like to head here on the weekends for brunch. The Dolores omelet with salmon and mushrooms is always a good choice, and if you’re with someone who has a moderate to severe hangover, help save a life by ordering them the breakfast burrito.
Some neighborhood sushi spots play great music, others are fun scenes, and some just have fairly solid sushi, but Saru Sushi Bar is in a league of its own. All of the fish here is high quality and decently priced, but we especially like the kelp-cured halibut nigiri, anything with scallops, and the fatty tuna tartare tasting spoon. This place is pretty small, but it’s perfect for a nicer weeknight date.
Uma Casa feels like a restaurant you stumbled on during a vacation, but it’s a lot closer than going to Europe and doesn’t require boarding an 18th century cruise liner to get to. The Portuguese food is fantastic, from the gambas to the octopus that’s some of the best we’ve had. This place feels cool, but not so cool that your friends you brought here might think you actually put effort into looking cool.
It’s places like La Ciccia that make us wonder why someone would take up voodoo to get a table at the hottest new spot in town. This Sardinian place makes some of the best Italian food we’ve had in the entire city and regardless of where you live, it’s worth going out your way to eat here. The baby octopus stew is spicy and the octopus is tender, the lamb is fantastic, and the Sardinian macaroni with sea urchin, tomato, and grated tuna heart is something we could eat every day for the rest of our lives. This place isn’t huge and there are only a few seats at the bar, so make a reservation as soon as you read this.
Thanks to the model train in the window, we’ve walked by this place a few times thinking it was a hobby shop even though it is in fact a bakery. There’s usually a line, but the bread and pastries are worth it, and it gives you time to dream about starting your own service that’ll be the “Uber of bread delivery.” Take a few of their phenomenal lemon tarts or a loaf of onion sesame bread to a dinner party, and you’ll be a hit - more so than if you brought a toy train to play with instead.
On the inside, Valley Tavern is a pretty standard bar, but it’s the back patio that makes it one of the best places to drink outside in SF. Viewed from the inside, it just looks like a tiny porch with a few seats, but once you head out back, it opens up into a multi-level space where groups of people can each have their own private area. On a nice day, it’s a great spot to come with some friends, get a few beers, and sit and watch whatever game is playing on the TVs outside.
Self-service yogurt shops aren’t as much a revelation as they are a sign that you’re in a neighborhood near some good schools. But if you want something sweet after dinner, it’s hard not to walk by Easy Breezy and not load up on apple pie frozen yogurt with every insane topping you can imagine.