We regularly get asked about the best brand new restaurants in San Francisco, which you can find in our Hit List, as well as about the all-time classics. But what about the places that are slammed for six months, until everyone decides to move onto the next shiny new thing? Many of these places are still absolutely fantastic, and they shouldn’t be forgotten like the original Aunt Vivian from The Fresh Prince.
With that in mind, we present The Cool List, featuring still-excellent restaurants that are no longer “hot,” but are definitely still cool.
There was a point in the not too distant past when all we could think about was going back to Robin for the omakase. Even if we don’t blurt out “Robin” as an answer at trivia night anymore, it’s still a great spot to come for a special meal. Eating here doesn’t feel overly serious or rushed, which sometimes happens with omakase, and instead it’s just more of a cool hangout with raw fish. We love the salmon with tomato confit, but could say the same about pretty much anything that is set down in front of us during a meal here.
Barzotto is easily one of our favorite pasta spots in SF. The combination of counter service, good prices, and great food makes it ideal for a last-minute date or a rainy day when you need a good reason to get out of bed. Plus, they have soft serve, so when you’re done eating a huge bowl of pasta and need ice cream, you’re covered.
Farmhouse Kitchen isn’t really a party restaurant, but it does always feels like an all-out party whenever we eat here. Even with homemade dance videos playing on screens and servers wearing crazy Hawaiian shirts, the food comes through as the most exciting reason to come here. Everything at this Thai place in the Mission, from the ginger sausage to the khao soi, is done at an expert level - the crazy antics just make a casual weeknight meal here feel that much more fun.
Still one of our favorite spots around, Bar Agricole is perfect for almost any occasion. The outdoor area is stellar and the food is just the right amount of fancy without trying too hard. Also, the oysters are some of the best you’ll find in SF. Maybe most importantly, it’s calmed down enough that you can usually walk in reservation-free and just eat. Without waiting. At all. Don’t be confused, you don’t always have to stand in a line or kill time drinking heavily to eat good food.
There are times when we like Burma Love more than their mothership, Burma Superstar. The space is bigger, it’s in a more central location, and they serve the same great food - in particular the tea leaf salad and the fried chili catfish amongst other things. It’s not difficult to get a table, but if you want to act like it is, you can grab a few drinks at Zeitgeist beforehand.
It can still be a little dicey to stroll in here during Happy Hour and expect to sit down immediately, but it’s definitely easier than it used to be. And just like back then, we’ll still happily suggest Bar Crudo for a first date. Partially because getting to know people over raw oysters is just our style, but also because it’s the perfect scene to learn how many siblings they have and why they have a vendetta against wearing sweatpants. It’s not too big or small, just the right amount of noise, and you can stop or continue ordering food once you’ve decided if you‘ll ever want to share oysters with them again.
Sometimes we think that Cockscomb forgets how big people are (or at least has a Napoleon complex) because the portions here are large. Having a TV-famous chef is what used to bring people into this place night after night, but at this point it’s the meat-heavy menu with things like a roasted pig’s head and a “ham”burger made from brined pork. We like coming for the Happy Hour with $1 oysters, and then turning that into a full meal.
We’re waiting on the day when small plates will be out and serving entire meals in one course off of a giant shield will be in, but until that point, you can still find us at Barvale. This spot in NoPa consistently serves great tapas, from pan con tomate to amazing octopus. Meeting up here with a few friends to catch up is still a very good idea.
Causwells used to be the most talked about thing in the Marina, aside from bumps in the price of ClassPass, but things have cooled off a bit since then. It’s not an insane idea to just walk in and sit down anymore, but that’s a good thing considering they make one of our favorite burgers in the city. Their regular burger is great, but the addition of the egg on their brunch version makes all the difference in the world.
This place was so hot at one point in time that they skipped setting up a second spot in SF and went straight to opening their next location clear across the country in New York. It’s easier to get a table here now that Manhattanites don’t need to book a flight here just for salt cod fried rice, but this is still a fun place to come with a group, drink a bunch of beers, and eat your weight in lamb dumplings and General Tso’s baby back ribs.
We don’t fully understand why the lines here shrank over time, but we’re happy that they did because everything at this place is amazing. From the chicken to the pork belly to the fries to the roasted cauliflower, food that’s this affordable should not be this good. But it is, and we’ll always come back to RT to catch up with a few friends over a bottle of wine and some slowly roasted meats.
Monsieur Benjamin serves fancy French food in a space that isn’t overly fancy - it feels modern and the food looks very good and tastes even better. One of our go-to’s in Hayes Valley, dinner at Monsieur Benjamin still feels like a special night out with the wine flowing and the lights glittering through the big glass windows. It’s just easier to get into these days.
Out in Bernal Heights, Ichi Sushi was very buzzy for a while. Yes, it’s still all the way in Bernal Heights, but the experience is just as strong. We’re particularly into the small plates and skewers, but you really can’t go wrong. It won’t be slammed, and we are very much not complaining about that. There’s a good sake list, cool wallpaper that teaches you how to eat sushi not like a moron, and all-around good vibes.
Loló is still a very bright and preposterously decorated spot in the Mission, and the food is still awesome. It’s easier to get into than Cala and more delicious and better priced than a lot of the other similar Mexican places around. Loló is great and a really fun place to be, including during brunch on the weekends.
Look, it’s been a long, long time since this place was hot, but there will never be a day when House Of Prime Rib isn’t cool. It isn’t fashionable - it’s pretty much anti-fashionable - and the menu probably hasn’t been updated since Truman took office, but that doesn’t stop it from being an absolute blast. HOPR is a temple dedicated to excess, from giant slabs of meat to double martinis, and for around $85 a person, you get a full prime rib dinner, a few drinks, and solid reminder why eating this much should be saved for very special occasions.