SFGuide

Where To Eat In Russian Hill

From Japanese tasting menus to casual wine bars—and everything in between—these are the best places to eat in Russian Hill.
Where To Eat In Russian Hill image

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Russian Hill, a neighborhood of lovely views and hour-long hunts for parking spaces. Plus a lot of great spots to eat, drink, and hang out. While you aren’t going to find all the trendiest spots, there are still a ton of restaurants, wine bars, and delis with friendly service and (most importantly) excellent food. Let’s get to it.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Erin Ng

German

Russian Hill

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsBirthdaysPeople Watching

Leopold's is a party where the lager flows freely and the decibel level might raise your doctor's eyebrows. This German-Austrian beer hall looks like an alpine lodge, complete with a deer head and a long communal table where giant two-liter boots are the norm. While the weiner schnitzel is a bit dry, the ooey-gooey-cheesy kasespatzle and rich flatbread flammekueche are the perfect companions to all that imported kölsch you'll inevitably order. Either way, all of the food is appreciated, especially after the boot-chugging contest you’ll likely have with the next table down.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Saru Handroll Bar (formerly Saru Sushi Bar) is the neighborhood destination for flawless, simple temaki. The operation at this Japanese spot is simple: slide up to a bar stool, mark your order on the paper menu, and wait for a sushi chef to hand you neatly rolled parcels of fish and vinegary rice across the counter. Go for the set of five, which will get you full (but not too full) and always include showstoppers like fatty tuna and yellowtail with a smattering of green onions. There are no reservations, so if there’s a line, grab a drink at Macondray or Bar Iris while you wait.

This deli counter tucked in the back of the Polk & Green Produce Market is serving the best sandwiches in the neighborhood. And everyone knows it, judging by the line that snakes through the convenience store aisles almost daily (high time is around noon). Ordering a sandwich with their ultra-tender rotisserie chicken is always a good bet, as is honing in on the San Franpsycho stacked high with honey turkey, gouda, bacon, and pesto. Swing by on your way to Lafayette Park or Fort Mason—these sandwiches are the ideal picnic pairing for a sunny day in the grass.

As soon as you finish the first course—a miniature creamy potato “croquette” wrapped in a smooth potato chip and topped with uni and smoked pepper relish—you'll know Nisei is something special. This fine dining spot goes all in on a 10-course tasting menu based on seasonality and washoku (Japanese home cooking), and has also done the seemingly impossible: make dishes that look deceptively simple taste bold and new. From the button-sized dorayaki filled with banana to the pear and ginger kakigōri that feels like eating a spoonful of snowflakes, Nisei is a spot you should experience at least once. Be sure to check out their swanky cocktail spot, Bar Iris, next door.

Cheese Plus sounds a little like a bargain basement store for, well, cheese. But walk in and you’ll realize this deli is no joke. You’re here for a sandwich (try the Willie Brown Bird with duck breast, provolone, and fig chutney), but they’ve also got everything needed for a 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 a better beauty routine than you.

In the mood for sushi rolls finished with decorative flower-shaped beets? Or maybe you’re with a friend who wants salmon teriyaki and vegetables off the robata grill, before getting into a 9- or 12-piece omakase. Whatever you want, this lowkey sushi spot has something for everyone. You'll want to keep an eye on the specials menu highlighting more unique dishes, like negi toro gungan (nigiri filled with chopped toro, and topped with unagi sauce and rice crackers), and head here on nights when you don't feel like making a reservation—you can walk-up and usually get a table, or, at least, a seat at the bar.

The inside of this Russian Hill bar feels like a breezy New England home that’s also really into botanicals (hanging plants are everywhere). And after sitting on one of their cushioned chairs or booths, you’ll want to chill here with one of their colorful cocktails all day. They also have parklet seating and a lot of great food options, like a Maine-style lobster roll and fantastic deviled eggs, that you should definitely get into.

photo credit: Sarah Felker

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We love the original Fiorella in the Richmond, and this outpost on Polk Street makes food that’s just as good, in a larger space so you’ll have a better chance of getting a table when you walk in with a few friends. The pizza crust is light and airy, and topped with things like clams and guanciale. Fill out the table with a few dishes from the antipasti section, especially the butter beans with kale that’s in the running for our new favorite small plate.

Cocotte is the perfect spot for a date or casual weeknight dinner. It's small, dimly lit, not overly crowded for how small it is—you might get the feeling that this spot would be a charming place to wait out a sudden downpour (if that existed here). This French spot has a short menu of comforting dishes—simple and good—like coq au vin, chicken liver parfait, beef wellington, and rotisserie chicken.

This small Italian restaurant is a good spot for catching up with 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?) Focus on the constantly changing California-style Italian pastas, all made in-house. There may be a casoncelli with suckling pig and rich pork jus that will remind you why you love pasta in the first place, or a pappardelle with tender braised short ribs that fall apart under the weight of your fork. 

Wings are the main attraction at this Nob Hill spot. One order of them comes with five pieces for $7.89 (the $12.59 special includes a sweet Belgian waffle). They also have a ton of flavors to choose from, but some of our favorites include salt and pepper; the “green” with cilantro, jalapeño, and ginger; and Korean-style wings slathered in gochujang. This place, which looks like a convenience store with its wire racks and floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with every kind of hot sauce imaginable, also does 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. This place serves some of the highest quality fish for the price. Order all the nigiri and Himalayan trout you can handle, and get a flaming seabass roll for the group so everyone can take a moment to feel like they’re hanging out by a campfire.

One of the best breakfasts in the neighborhood is also on a picturesque corner. 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. We love the Happy Hour (5-7pm) with extremely inexpensive deals on house wines and beer.

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, like the Reuben or grilled cheese. Even better is this place overlooks Hyde Street, so be sure to sit by the big windows and eat and drink as you watch the cable cars roll by.

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.

This old-school Italian restaurant has been open for a few decades and is stuck in 1987, in the best possible way. It feels like somewhere you’d go with your whole extended family to celebrate an anniversary or a soccer championship. And having that many people would be a good idea so you can get every massive bowl of pasta on the menu, along with the veal saltimbocca. You’re definitely going to need to-go boxes when you come to this Russian Hill/North Beach spot, so make sure you’ve got room in your fridge before you leave.

photo credit: Spencer Cotton

$$$$Perfect For:Dessert

Swensen’s has occupied its corner spot since 1948, with the old-school signage 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. But no matter what you go with, make sure you request a cone. No one has ever regretted the house-made waffle cone.

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