Russian Hill: land of great views and hour-long hunts for parking spaces. Plus a lot of good places to eat, drink, and hang out. While you aren’t going to find all the trendiest spots or the longest waits for spectacularly absurd pastries, you will find a lot of laidback local restaurants with friendly service and (most importantly) excellent food. Let’s get to it.
Cheese Plus sounds a little like a bargain basement store for, well, cheese. But once you walk in, you’ll realize this deli is no joke. You’re here for a sandwich (try the Willie Brown Bird, with duck breast, cheese, and fig chutney), but they’ve also got everything you’d need for well-stocked picnic or the apocalypse, whichever comes first. Take a seat outside on a nice day to watch people pass by with dogs who may or may not have better health insurance than you do.
Cocotte, on a tree-lined part of Hyde Street, is the perfect spot for a date. The space is small and dimly-lit, and there’s a short menu of French classes like coq au vin and chicken liver parfait. It’s a little pricey, but eating here will remind you how good simple French food can be - and probably make you feel a little sad that you can’t make this stuff on your own (unless you can, in which case you’ll just feel full). The staff is very friendly, and after dinner you can go for a stroll and grab a drink at one of the bars on Polk.
A tiny Italian restaurant that’s good for catching up with a few friends, or dinner with someone you’ve been dating for a while. The tables are pretty close together, so we wouldn’t talk about any projects you’re working on that require triple top secret security clearance to even know about, but you weren’t going to do that anyway, right? The pastas - all made in-house - are delicious. If you can, call ahead and request a table by a window.
Zarzuela is the perfect example of a neighborhood restaurant. Sure, every place has newcomers and one-time visitors, but at Zarzuela you’re likely to see people shake hands with or hug either their waiter or the owner, too. It’s not surprising that there are so many regulars, since the Spanish small plates here are really good, and the paella is even better (we like the squid ink version). When you’re done with dinner, stop by Swensen’s Ice Cream across the street.
Hot Sauce and Panko looks a little like a convenience store, with wire racks and floor-to-ceiling shelves with every kind of hot sauce you’ve never heard of. But the wings are actually the main attraction here. There are lots of different preparations to choose from, and you can get wings with a waffle for $10.99 - we’re fans of doing that with the Korean wings. This place does a serious takeout business, but there are two small standing tables inside, so if you just need something quick, you can eat here, too.
You generally need to show up a few minutes before this place opens (at 6pm) if you don’t feel like waiting for a table, but it’s perfect for grabbing dinner with a small group, and one of our favorite casual neighborhood sushi spots in SF. Get the the White Out or Flaming Sea Bass rolls.
Stones Throw is built to please just about anyone. The squid ink pasta is wildly good, and everything else on the Californian menu is very solid. They also have a better-than-average brunch game, especially where the duck confit hash is concerned. Make sure the donuts are on your table to share, too.
The best breakfast in the neighborhood, on one of the more picturesque corners. Nook does a pretty damn good bagel with lox, and we like the granola, too. At lunchtime, skip the salads and go for the hummus plate with pita, cucumbers, and tomatoes. (The space isn’t huge, but there’s wifi, so you can also try to get some work done.) There’s also an extremely inexpensive Happy Hour - with house wines for $4.50 and PBR for $1.50 from 5-7pm.
Leopold’s is a neighborhood German spot where you can eat things like jägerschnitzel, sausage, cured meats, and pretty good roast chicken. You can also drink beer out of boots, because that’s a thing most people like to do when presented with the opportunity.
We harbor an abiding love for this wine bar that also happens to feature spectacular cheeses and meats. Bring a date, bring yourself, bring your Lactaid - just get to this place. The duck liver mousse is awesome, and you can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches.
Our favorite taqueria housed in a club. It’s not the best Mexican in SF, but it hits the spot after a day of bar-hopping on Polk, and the guacamole and chips are legitimately excellent. Nick’s is a place everyone should visit at least once.
Saint Frank fulfills Russian Hill’s fancy coffee shop quota. There’s excellent coffee, espresso, and housemade almond milk, and the space is bright and airy, to the point that it could be (and probably is) featured in a design magazine. There’s also wifi, in case you need to answer a few emails/get the immediate urge to do some online shopping.
Near the bottom of Russian Hill (and we might argue actually in North Beach), Trattoria Contadina is one of our favorite traditional Italian spots in the city. Dark, romantic, with food that’s just straight up delicious. Go for the gnocchi or the meatballs.
Blue Barn on Polk is the go-to for anyone who owns even a single scrunchie from Lululemon. (And lots of other people, too.) We love the fattoush salad, but they also have shockingly good sandwiches and a pretty crafty beer selection. If you’re going for meat between bread, the Ragin’ Cajun and Kickin’ Chicken are spicy perfection. And don’t sleep on the grilled cheeses.
A perfect spot for date night, with Italian small plates and good wines. The pizza is just all right – stick with the other things on the menu (get the meatballs for sure).
Solidly strong cocktails (like mules and Old Fashioneds on tap), and the piece de resistance: tater tots galore. Nothing soaks up booze like potato nuggets, and we respect the innovation they’ve got going on with their “Totchos.”
Swensen’s has occupied its corner spot since 1948, with the old-school signage and cash-only policy to match. The ice cream here is appropriately creamy, and you should 100% get a scoop of Turkish coffee and a scoop of sticky chewy chocolate. Terrible name, delicious ice cream.
A very San Francisco take on frozen yogurt: they dispense with the “add your own toppings” bacchanalia of most places, and blend toppings right into the chocolate or vanilla yogurt for you. The other somewhat random (but delicious) dessert option at Loving Cup is rice pudding in different flavors, like cinnamon rum raisin and vanilla - and you can add toppings to that, too.