25 Classic Restaurants In SF guide image

photo credit: Krescent Carasso

SFGuide

25 Classic Restaurants In SF

Eating in the city just wouldn't be the same without these spots.

A classic restaurant is like a classic car. They’re familiar to lots of people, often endearingly imperfect, and you’ll more than likely see Jerry Seinfeld sitting in one of them. We don’t think of a classic as something that solely equates to age though. Like, let's be real, that old stain on your kitchen wall isn’t "a classic stain." It’s the scene of a so-so ragu you cooked ten years ago. Something as special as a classic restaurant needs more than longevity and more than perfect food. It needs to make you feel something.

You see, a classic restaurant doesn’t have to be faultless. It can have great dumplings but bad lighting, or soggy caesars and an amazing atmosphere. But as long as it gives everyone that feeling—that contentment that only a true institution can offer—well, then that’s what makes it a stone-cold classic. These are 25 classic restaurants in San Francisco.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Mary Lagier

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8.3

House Of Prime Rib

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1906 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco
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This Nob Hill establishment looks like the offspring of a Renaissance fair and an English pub. A choreographed staff in crisp white button-downs spins house salads dramatically from above, carves prime rib out of roving stainless steel carts, and ensures your martini glass stays full. All you have to do is settle back into a cushy red booth and enjoy the spectacle. Is eating your bodyweight in baked potatoes and 21-day aged beef next to a roaring fireplace something you need to do on the regular? Probably not. But every San Franciscan should be obligated to experience the controlled chaos at this 70+ year-old institution at least once.

 Thanh Long is one of the only restaurants we know of that guards its recipes with the same level of secrecy reserved for the Krabby Patty. The garlic noodles and roast crab at the Vietnamese seafood spot in the Sunset are still made in a secret kitchen enclosed within the main kitchen—and the commitment to confidentiality pays off. The butter-drenched noodles and peppery whole crabs (also drenched in butter) still draw crowds nightly from all over the Bay. Families celebrating first or 75th birthdays lick butter off their fingers in matching plastic bibs, and groups of friends celebrate graduations and work promotions with multiple rounds of lychee martinis. A trip to Thanh Long should at least be a yearly tradition—and if you’ve never been, or are long overdue for a visit, take this as a sign to get there now. 

22 Excellent Spots For Seafood In SF guide image

SF Guide

22 Excellent Spots For Seafood In SF

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Like the awning out front states, Sam Wo has been cooking for over 100 years, and is one of the oldest restaurants in SF’s Chinatown. The two-story Cantonese restaurant—complete with a dumbwaiter—was famously home to “San Francisco’s Worst Waiter” before closing and moving to a new location on Clay Street back in 2015. The service these days is decidedly more polite (and they’re no longer open until 3am), but not much else has changed. BBQ pork noodle rolls and youtiao are mainstays on practically every table, and you’re just as likely to see multi-generational families doling out big portions of fried rice as you will a group of 20-somethings nursing hangovers over bowls of fish jook and wonton noodle soup. 

A meal at The Old Clam House starts with a shot of complimentary hot clam juice. It’ll prime you for all the sautéed shellfish, seafood pastas, creamy chowders, and other perfectly solid fish-forward specials you’ll consume at this Bayview seafood classic. The salty drink is a fitting start to dinner at the city’s oldest running restaurant in the same location (established in 1861), which heavily leans into the nautical theme. Oversized fish mounts, hanging fishing nets, and ocean-inspired photos and knickknacks might make you feel like you’re on a grand ship ready for an equally grand voyage. If not, the fish-themed silverware and vodka-infused clam shooters sure will. 

At Bix, there’s live jazz every night, cocktail glasses are chilled in mounds of shaved ice, and buttoned-up waiters might sneak you an order of succotash on the house. It feels like a 1930s nightclub trapped in time (though it did open in the '80s). Drinking a martini is practically a requirement at this old-school American spot in the Financial District. And even though the food, from soggy caesars to mildly confusing open-faced burgers, can only very loosely be described as good, we don’t care. What Bix lacks in mind-blowing caesars, it makes up for a hundred times over in character.

Brazen Head is probably the only place in town where you can roll in at 11pm, and gobble up perfectly charred NY pepper steak, some cheesy french onion soup, and marinara-drenched meatballs that are the comfort equivalent of Lenny Kravitz’s blanket-scarf. The Cow Hollow steakhouse has no signage out front and everything we want in a late-night spot that looks like an 1800s Scottish pub: paintings of bearded old men, velvet curtains, a dim red glow, sports bobbleheads for kitsch, and strong cocktails that pair well with stories that begin with, “Back in the day...” No wonder Brazen Head’s been firmly rooted here since 1980. 

Operating for over three decades at 16th and Valencia, Panchita's is where to go for some of the city’s best pupusas. Each one is packed with delicious meats and vegetables, and plenty of cheese that oozes out to form crispy edges around the griddled masa. Whenever we head to this counter-service Mission spot for quick meals, hearty lunches, or evenings when we want to stave off a hangover, we inevitably end up with a couple of revueltas—a classic mix of chicharron, bean, and cheese—and then make sure to add an extra serving of Panchita’s fresh curtido on top before heading out.

Yes, Scoma’s on Fisherman’s Wharf is a tried-and-true seafood classic, but Sotto Mare is divier, more rambunctious, and ultimately feels more like a party we want to be invited back to, again and again. Tickets fly across the restaurant on a clothesline while staff grill scallops and plate humongous portions of linguine with clams from behind the bar. And life-sized swordfish, photos of past guests and city scenes, and other maritime-themed paraphernalia cover every square inch of the wall, in case you forgot this place is all about seafood. Ordering the cioppino (and wearing the plastic bib that comes with it) is non-negotiable here—it’s loaded with everything that swims, from crab legs and shrimp to mussels and squid, and so big you could practically fall in.

La Taqueria is to Mission-style burritos what "Jingle Bell Rock" is to songs that get stuck in our head in the month of December: not necessarily our top pick, but an iconic standby nonetheless. Whether you’ve lived here all your life or visited once for exactly 72 hours, odds are high that you’ve spent a late Friday night in line on Mission Street in pursuit of an excellent riceless burrito. La Taq has been doing its thing since the 1970s, and is more frequently associated with the city than Karl the Fog. Just load up your super burrito with carnitas or their tender carne asada, and always ask for it dorado (crisped up to a perfect golden-brown on the plancha). 

The Best Burritos In San Francisco guide image

SF Guide

The Best Burritos In San Francisco

Ask anyone in town where to go for dry-fried wings, and the answer will always be San Tung. These stunners covered in glossy garlic, ginger, and red pepper sauce with a caramel-like consistency have single-handedly transformed this casual Chinese restaurant into a beloved Sunset institution. Waiting hours in line for those wings, some crispy-bottomed potstickers, and satisfyingly thick black bean sauce noodles—is pretty much a citywide pastime (San Tung doesn’t take reservations). So just drop your name on the small whiteboard up front and build up anticipation outside on the sidewalk with everyone else. 

You could randomly point at a map of SF and land within scootering distance of a Burma Superstar, one of their many offshoots, or any of the other fantastic Burmese places across town. But the definitive Beyoncé of them all is Mandalay, a casual Richmond spot that we have to thank for being the first Burmese restaurant to open in SF back in 1984. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood here, thanks to the bright yellow walls and colorful umbrellas hanging overhead. That, and the fact that their dishes—from nutty tea leaf salads and coconut chicken noodle soup to pumpkin pork stew—explode with funky, savory, and sweet flavor. Come with a group, order enough food to cover every square inch of your table, and wash it all down with beer, sake, and $10 glasses of house wine.  

Tadich Grill is the longest continuously running restaurant in California (they opened back in 1849), which is pretty damn cool. But history alone isn’t the only reason to come here. You’re also at the Financial District spot for meaty crab cakes worth e-scootering across town for, free hunks of sourdough, and an old-school setting complete with servers in white jackets and a bar so long you can barely see the end. Looking around, you’ll see regulars who come in weekly for a cioppino and martini at the bar, vested finance bros taking clients out for a power lunch, and seafood-hungry families visiting the city for the first time. Wear your plastic bib with pride and revel in the fact that the martini glasses are probably older than your apartment building. 

Like never bothering to cross the bay to Alcatraz, standing in line for Golden Boy is a local rite of passage. As is ordering one of their fluffy Sicilian focaccia squares with a crispy bottom. This North Beach institution with its iconic red neon finger sign makes some of the thickest and cheapest slices in town, starting at $3.50. There are also only six kinds on the menu, but we zero in on the pepperoni or the meaty combo with sausage. Inside, punk music blares, the walls are covered with stickers, and plenty of beers flow from the tap. But for now, hop in the line and keep it moving. Golden Boy is still takeout-only.

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SF Guide

The 26 Best Pizza Places In San Francisco

Almost 50 years after they first opened, Tú Lan is still serving the same last meal-worthy imperial rolls, huge bowls of phở, and grilled meats over rice and vermicelli as they did back in the day. The Mid-Market Vietnamese spot is pretty straightforward—it has just a few seats in the back of the long space, a kitchen where you can see pork sizzling towards charred perfection on the grill, and quick service that’s efficient without feeling impersonal. The best part? Portions are huge, and you can get in and out for about $10, making a meal here one of the most cost-efficient in the city. 

Much like sourdough, the Truffle Man, and Buster Posey’s right arm, Zuni Cafe is a beloved SF treasure. The Civic Center spot has been holding down the roast chicken game since the ‘70s, and is where we go when we want to pretend we’re retired in a Pacific Heights mansion and eat oysters every day for lunch. The roast chicken (plated over a warm bread salad) should absolutely be on your table, as should the textbook caesar salad and mountain of shoestring fries that seem to defy all laws of physics. Enjoy it all while sitting against the huge windows along Market Street and feeling very sophisticated. 

Sometimes, you have one drink too many and need some no-fuss french toast and chicken fried steak smothered in gravy at 1:30am. This two-level, retro-style diner is a rare 24-hour spot that’ll pull you in with red swivel chairs, bright neon lights, and a menu of hearty breakfast classics that never fail to hit the spot. Orphan Andy’s has been a Castro mainstay since the 1970s, and based on the after-bar crowds, locals, and tourists who continuously pack this joint—whether it’s the morning or the stumbly end of the day—this place will never go out of style. 

Back in 1979, before words like “seitan” and “zoodles” were part of the city’s lexicon, Greens debuted in the Marina with an entirely vegetarian menu. It’s hands-down one of the most beautiful places to eat in SF—there are big windows that look out onto the water, so you might see boats bobbing by or sea lions playing around in the bay while you eat, plus colossal wood sculptures in the dining room. Come here for leisurely meals consisting of spring rolls, pizza on cornmeal crust, and heirloom pepper panzanella. The food won’t blow your mind, but it doesn’t need to. A meal at Greens will always be an experience to try at least once. 

Bring up R&G Lounge around your boss, uncle’s cousin, or yoga teacher, and you’re bound to hear at least one nostalgic story about that time they took down an entire salt and pepper crab in one sitting, or had a graduation party on the top floor with one too many lychee martinis. The multi-story Cantonese restaurant has been going strong since 1985, so it’s hard to find a person in the city who doesn’t have fond memories of sitting at one of the banquet tables and passing around plates of shrimp with scrambled eggs and crispy salt and pepper tofu. And if you do, take them to this Chinatown institution immediately. Excellent seafood awaits. 

The Best Restaurants In San Francisco’s Chinatown guide image

SF Guide

The Best Restaurants In San Francisco’s Chinatown

This old-school Italian restaurant is stuck in 1984 (the year it opened), in the best possible way. The two-story Russian Hill spot has striped curtains, framed newspaper clippings and celebrity photos on the wall, and twinkle lights strung throughout the place. The fact that you can come here with your extended family, whether you're celebrating a birthday or your cousin's soccer championship win, makes this place feel like one big (and energetic) reunion. Coming here with a lot of people also means you can get into every big bowl of pasta that requires no explanation, like spaghetti and meatballs, red sauce-topped gnocchi, and creamy chicken fusilli.

Yank Sing is the city’s most famous dim sum spot—it’s been around since 1958 and is known to draw huge crowds, especially at the larger Spear Street location inside the Rincon Center. And while they’re arguably not the best dim sum spot in the city, Yank Sing is still a classic we love, and coming here at least once is a quintessential dining experience. Once inside, metal push carts with bamboo steamers will zoom past you, and you’ll have your pick of everything from phenomenal kurobuta pork and Napa cabbage dumplings and steamed BBQ pork buns to scallop siu mai. Get one of everything and don’t hold back.

This all-day Russian cafe and bakery has savory piroshkis, flaky pastries, and a never-ending menu of cookies, tarts, and cakes (there's also a full menu of entrées). Basically, this Richmond spot, which has been around in some form since the 1950s, is the one-stop shop for all the warm, sweet, savory, and comforting dishes that will make you feel like a well-worn cable knit sweater. The rest of the neighborhood knows this, too, since there’s always a line, and people warming up on the parklet over some meat-filled pelmeni or delicate honey cakes that nail the light, spongy texture every time. 

An ideal summer night for us usually involves oysters, a glass of sparkling wine, and the patio at Foreign Cinema. The Mission spot projects movies onto the walls of their hidden back space, and there’s an orange-y glow from the twinkling string lights overhead that make us feel like we’ve left the city entirely. You’ll find us here kicking back on special date nights or celebrating friends' last weeks in the city over seasonally changing plates like pasta with zucchini and tomatoes or curry fried chicken. 

If we ever opened a ski lodge in the mountains, we’d furnish the lobby exactly like the dining room at Kokkari Estiatorio. The Greek restaurant in the Financial District always has lamb and chicken slowly roasting away on rotating spits along the wall, making the whole place smell incredible. We could easily spend hours in the high-backed armchairs while sipping on Greek wine and feeling dignified. Looking around, you’ll see business execs taking a power lunch with clients and families gathering around one of the big tables, sharing plates of grilled sea bream and lamb chops. Kokkari has been a FiDi staple since 1998, and we’re confident it’ll stay that way for the next few decades. 

This place has been in the Inner Sunset for over thirty years, and is still packed with people going for straightforward rolls, nigiri, and handrolls, and superb appetizers, like miso-glazed eggplant and agedashi tofu. Things at this casual spot also run smoothly: Even though Ebisu is loud and the tables are somewhat cramped, the service is quick and the people running it are always checking in on you. Post up at the sushi counter where things feel less chaotic, stick to the rolls, and pay extra attention to the specials on the board, like half-shell oysters.

The Best Sushi Restaurants In San Francisco guide image

SF Guide

The Best Sushi Restaurants In San Francisco

You won’t find penne alla vodka or fettuccine alfredo on the menu at Flour + Water. Instead, corn and chocolate mint are stuffed into cappelletti, preserved blood orange brightens up a clam and green garlic corzetti, and veal tortellini gets a bite from fresh shaved horseradish. In other words, the flavor combinations make about as much sense as a notes app apology. But somehow, they really, really work. Much like every other “Cal-Ital” spot in town, Flour + Water changes up their menu as frequently as we stalk our nemesis’ Twitter likes (often). But that’s just another reason coming back to this Mission restaurant is still just as exciting as ever. 

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