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The First Timer's Guide To Eating In San Francisco

PHOTO: Tom Hilton

Now that most American job creation happens in San Francisco, you may be planning a trip here. Maybe it's just to eat, maybe it's for work, maybe it's to see the Full House houses.

Whatever your reason, there's a lot of good stuff to eat here. This list is your "teaser guide" to the city – perhaps not the be-all end-all, but the most representative of what we have to offer.

A warning upfront: we're gonna send you to some places that have lines. That's because they're good. You can choose to go in off-peak hours, or you can choose to do some reading on your iPhone, but these picks are still the best. Such is life.

We'll leave you with a few words of wisdom. The "hills" that people speak of here are pretty much mountains. Leave your heels at home. And also: call it SF, call it San Francisco, but keep "San Fran" and "Frisco" for your own time. Now eat up.

for breakfast, brunch, and lunch

San Francisco is a bread mecca. And Manufactory - the new offshoot of the San Francisco classic Tartine - is the most beautiful place you could ever eat a sandwich. Or an entire loaf of bread. Your call. The corner space is gorgeous and the baked goods, salads, and sandwiches are incredible. The space also houses a coffee shop and an ice cream counter that makes water buffalo milk soft serve. We can attest that it is fantastic and also that this might be the most San Francisco thing ever.

Photo: Tartine Manufactory / Instagram
8.5
MAP

It’s easy to forget that San Francisco has beaches. There’s the bridge to see and food to eat and hills to climb and street poop to dodge. But the beaches aren’t to be missed. And the best breakfast sandwich in the city conveniently happens to be near the beach at Devil’s Teeth. On a weekend, there will be a line - but it moves fast - and on the weekdays you can pop right in. Grab a breakfast sandwich and walk a few blocks down to Ocean Beach. Blast California on your phone and open up the Zillow app. Ok maybe don’t do the last part.

The Mill

Nopa
736 Divisadero St.
7.9
MAP

Perhaps the inventor of the $4 fancy toast trend. The bread is perfection, the coffee is good, and the granola ain’t bad either.

Plow

Potrero Hill
1299 18th St.
8.2
MAP

Yes, there will be a line. Get there early, ideally before opening, on a weekday, for the best shot at a not insane wait. It's worth it for one of the world’s great breakfast places. Pancakes and eggs for the people.

8.2
MAP

Somehow the craftsmen of San Francisco taught wolves how to bake. It’s a Bay Area miracle. They can even use their wolf paws to put an egg inside a sausage and cheese muffin. You must go and eat this. Grab some Dandelion chocolate next door if you’re so inclined.

Swan Oyster Depot

Nob Hill
1517 Polk Street
8.5
MAP

The crab is perfect, the scallops are spot on, and the namesake oysters are also great. It’s old-timey and classic and you can’t miss it.

El Castillito

Castro
136 Church St.
8.3
MAP

You have to get a burrito. There are a lot of options, so let us pick one for you: El Castillito. With cheese melted on the inside of the tortilla, it's a paragon of the form. A thing of a beauty is a joy forever. Or until you finish eating it.

8.4
MAP

Need to go somewhere with a Bay view, at or near the Ferry Building? Want some classy oysters with rosé? This is the only option. The Ferry Building alone is worth a trip to shop around and Hog Island is the best restaurant in there. Don’t sleep on the chowder.

MAP

Right next to Dolores Park in the Mission, the lines can be long but the ice cream is absolutely worth the wait. Rincanelas (snickerdoodles in ice cream form), Blue Bottle Coffee, Creme Brulee, and their most famous, Salted Caramel, are our favorites. Sleeper? Brown Sugar With Ginger Caramel.

MAP

The Blue Bottle of the dessert world, every ice cream is made to order out of an insane, frosty mist spewing machine. Peak San Francisco? Maybe. The mint is incredible, and the seasonal flavor will almost undoubtedly be amazing. The Hayes Valley one has benches for outdoor consumption, while the Pac Heights and Marina locations are pretty cramped. Either way you get good ice cream.

Zeitgeist

Mission
199 Valencia St
MAP

Very "SF", in the sense that the beer is hoppy and potent, the place is run down, the piercings and ink are out in force, and it's a great time. Smoke fills the air, so stick your nose into your next beverage. On a nice day, hanging out in the backyard area of this dive in the Mission is where it’s at.

For dinner

Mister Jiu's

Chinatown
28 Waverly Pl.
8.7
MAP

On a small side alley at the edge of Chinatown, Mister Jiu’s is one of the best restaurants to open in San Francisco in the past few years. What’s on the menu? Wonderful Chinese food made modern with some California twists, served in an insanely pretty space. Come with a group or couples can head to the bar without a reservation and order many of the dishes off the main menu.

7.0
MAP

We can all agree the world would be a better place if all hotels had tiki bars in the basement. Tonga Room, in the fancy Fairmont Hotel in Nob Hill, is the OG of tiki bars in the city and it feels like a Disney live show with much stronger drinks and far fewer children. Are there still tourists? Yep, and you’re one too. Embrace it, sing along with the band floating on the pool that’s inside the restaurant, and order many, many mai tais.

Souvla

Hayes Valley
517 Hayes St.
8.1
MAP

You know how everyone and their mother is trying to get rich on the fast casual Chipotle version of classic dishes? This is the best version of such a restaurant imaginable. The pita wraps are one-of-a-kind, and the fries are excellent. Grab that frozen Greek yogurt for dessert.

SF

Guide:

Where to Eat Near Union Square

Read

Flour + Water

Mission
2401 Harrison St.
8.4
MAP

If you think Italian food has nowhere new to go, rest assured, you’re wrong. The pasta is phenomenal and the rest of the menu stands up as well. Reservations are very hard to come by, so go early or late and you’ll be set. Trick Dog across the street is one of the best cocktail spots in the city, so at least you’ll have a plan for what to do while you wait.

Nopa

Nopa
560 Divisadero St.
8.6
MAP

A great restaurant, where the elements converge into an atmosphere that can’t help but be joyful. The burger and pork chop are classic. The everyday experience at Nopa is what makes it special. Be a planner, make reservations a month in advance, and you'll be golden.

8.5
MAP

A bonkers restaurant that shuttles around dim sum-style California creations on trays and in carts. The smartest tech minds in the world are still trying to figure out how to hack their reservation system, so best of luck getting in. The analog way is to show up at 4:30pm. (weekdays) or 3:45pm (weekends).If you’ve ever wondered if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, you’ll find out here (they are). Almost incidentally, the food is tremendous.

9.0
MAP

In a word, legendary. We absolutely guarantee you will have a great time. Perfect for almost any occasion, especially if you have a hankering for roast chicken. On the fancier side, Zuni’s space is beautiful as is the food. Plan ahead, ‘cause you definitely need a reservation.

Tosca Cafe

North Beach
242 Columbus Ave.
8.6
MAP

On most nights, the coolest restaurant in SF. Smoke-stained ceilings, low light, and a history going back to the Beat era will do that for you. The food is very good as well. Wrap up the night with a coffee-free “house cappuccino” cocktail or two.

8.7
MAP

Incredible Hawaiian-inspired dishes that are both beautiful and delicious every single time. The beef tongue buns, poke, and fried game hen are must-orders, and the Baked Hawaii dessert is a game changer. Not the easiest reservation to snag, but bar seats are first-come first-served and tend to open up.

Foreign Cinema

Mission
2534 Mission St.
8.2
MAP

A great outdoor space, and great fried chicken. The rest of the food is the California cuisine that most new restaurants seem to be knocking off. It’s hard to imagine going here and not coming away happy. It's a big space, so you can usually get a reservation. Just make sure to request a table outside.

Burma Love

Mission
211 Valencia St.
8.1
MAP

What's the cuisine you can't get in any other city? Burmese, of course. We like this Mission offshoot of the mothership (Burma Superstar) more than its predecessors. The food is better, the location is better, and the atmosphere is better. Get some tea leaf salad and chicken with mint.

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