Odds are, you’ve ended up in Union Square with clients, coworkers, friends from out of town before you all go to the theater, or someone who is honestly fascinated by how cable cars turn around. Unless you’re looking to pop into Neiman Marcus or the Nike Store, though, there’s little reason to stay.
Regardless, if you need to eat in the neighborhood, we’re here to help you out. Save yourself from the tourist trap joints and fake-old-timey storefronts designed to lure you in. Trust us instead.
Hotel-adjacent restaurants tend to feature mediocre breakfast buffets and people taking conference calls in public areas. Tratto is the exception to that rule. The bar is good for drinks and light bites, and the Italian classics on the menu are well-executed. In fact, it’s easy to forget this place is attached to a hotel, unless you have to go to the bathroom... through the hotel lobby.
Have you ever just walked past a line and gotten into it because you assumed there was something worthwhile at the end? When you’re near Union Square, sometimes that line is for delicious ramen, and sometimes it’s for a meet-and-greet with Justin Guarini. In Mensho’s case, it’s ramen, and it’s worth the wait. This place is small and sparse inside, but you’re here for the spicy lamb ramen, so focus all your attention on that.
Pakwan is a simple, inexpensive Pakistani-Indian option very close to Union Square, and it always comes through for us. The menu is full of classics like tandoori dishes and curries, and it’s perfect for a casual meal with friends. Get a lot of naan, some biryanis, and a curry or two, and you’ll be ready for whatever else your day/night has in store.
Another good spot for Pakistani-Indian food. You need both naan and chicken from their tandoor oven in your general vicinity ASAP. Also not a bad place to try goat for the first time.
Popsons does excellent burgers (unsurprisingly, since it’s from the people behind Causwells). The space is nicer than your average burger place, but not so upscale that you’ll get a steak knife impaling your food, or a $25 bill. Order at the counter and your burger will be ready quickly - we usually go with a double cheeseburger, or the “savory burger,” with mushrooms and truffle cheese. Don’t skip the fries, either. It’s not the best place for a leisurely meal, but it’s perfect for a quick bite.
If you need a work power lunch near Union Square, go to Bluestem. Sure, the inside looks like a hotel lobby and the solid burger is $18, but you’re here to make deals and impress someone into buying direct response ads or chipping in to your ICO that will revolutionize banana stand commerce. The duck confit salad and brussels sprouts are good moves, and happy hour runs until 6:30, making it a good place for post-work snacks and drinks.
A perfect spot for outdoor Happy Hours and work lunches. You’re here for tacos, bowls, and burritos, and you can’t have a better al fresco meal anywhere near Market Street. The inside is big, too, and perfect for groups looking to grab a quick meal.
Do you dream of tiki drinks and ukuleles? Then head to this institution in the basement of the fanciest hotel in town (the Fairmont). The tropical cocktails, like mai tais and a variety of other things with and without rum, are what you really want - the food won’t blow your mind, but it’s better than you might expect from a place with a pool in the middle of it and staged rainstorms going on inside. This is our happy place when we want to be tourists in our own city.
All-day breakfast that’s not a McMuffin isn’t the easiest thing to come by in these parts. Luckily, Workshop exists. This place has good coffee, strong wifi, and scrambles, bagels, and breakfast tacos all day long. It’s one of the rare places in FiDi open late-ish (until 9pm), and the healthy bowls and salads are great lunch and dinner options, too. Be warned: people come here to get sh*t done, so it’s definitely not the place for a prolonged gossip session.
We’re glad the people behind the original Delarosa (a beloved Marina pizza and small plates spot) had the good sense to set up this outpost in an area that is generally devoid of decent food. The downtown location has a nice outdoor patio in a pedestrian area off Market Street, and is one of your best options around. Whatever you do, get the burrata bruschetta.
You’ve most likely seen pictures of Mr. Holmes and their “I Got Baked” sign. You may have also seen a few of their signature pastries - from cruffins to croissants to one of the best chocolate chip cookies in the city. If you need sweets and baked goods, this place should be on your list.
Ryoko’s is not glamorous or fancy. There is no omakase. But the sushi is fresh and there are lots of roll options - we’re partial to the Orange Delight, an avocado/cucumber roll topped with salmon. If you stay late enough, it becomes a karaoke party. Do with that information what you will.
A good option for coffee on Market Street. The toasts are also worth your time (especially the avocado or fig jam and ricotta versions). Breakfast or lunch here is very much the right choice.
The crew behind Sons & Daughters delivers some fancy dishes and molecular gastronomy, but you don’t feel like you got lost in a chem lab while you’re eating here. The food is incredible, and if you’re a planner, you should absolutely make a reservation for the $175 tasting menu in advance.
If you’re taking clients (or yourself) out, go for the omakase at Akiko’s Restaurant. You can eat amazing fish and drink top-shelf sake here, provided you are OK with paying up for it. Just make sure you go to the right place: you want Akiko’s Restaurant, not Akiko’s Sushi Bar, another spot confusingly close by.
Afraid of sharks? So are we. Like, refuse to swim in the ocean afraid. Conveniently, this Hawaiian restaurant on the Tenderloin border has no sharks - only incredible fried chicken, beef tongue buns and tropical cocktails. We’re big fans of this place, and come for birthday dinners, snacks and drinks with out-of-towners, and really any other reason we can possibly think of. There’s also a reservations-only bar (Louie’s Gen-Gen Room) downstairs. Dive in.
While this isn’t the closest Thai food to Union Square (that’d be Kin Khao), it’s walkable, and it’s by far the best option. The fried pork ribs and stir-fried pork belly are top of our list. Have we mentioned we like fried meat?
Once you’re inside this place, you have several levels to explore, with tons of TVs, the game selection of a Dave & Buster’s, and a strong, IPA-heavy beer list. The wings and quesadillas are better than average, too. Come to hang out with coworkers, or bring a big group that wants to watch sports.
Thank god the good people of the Del Popolo pizza truck finally settled down in one place. Their brick and mortar location has incredible wood-fired pizza and a great wine selection. Get a seat at the bar to enjoy them both.
Like its sister spot on Fillmore, Jane on Larkin serves some of our favorite lattes, granola, breakfast sandwiches, and avocado toasts in the city. The baristas are friendly, and if you feel like hanging around for a few hours and ordering lunch too, you won’t be making a mistake.
Shrimp and grits, cornbread, fried chicken, and black-eyed pea fritters: the South has arrived in San Francisco, and while our arteries are fighting it, we’ll show them who’s boss. Get everything we just mentioned, and you’ll be a happy camper. An extremely full one, too.
Stroll down to the Blue Bottle at Mint Plaza for some delicious pourover coffee and their own take on $4 toast, or the killer granola served in a mini mason jar. The eggs with cauliflower (plus bacon, unless you hate life) are also strong.
Press Club, off Market Street, is a dark, upscale spot to get a drink without committing to a sit-down dinner with people you barely know. Colleague from Phoenix in town? Go here. We’d definitely recommend the meat plate and as many cheeses as your party feels comfortable ordering. Hopefully you don’t have to itemize your expense reports.
This place is fancy in a way that feels slightly corporate, and it’s pretty expensive, but the Moroccan food is really, really good. Get one of the large-format meats and everyone will go home happy.
Taqueria Cancun serves one of the top five burritos in SF, and they don’t need succulents or fancy tiles to bring people in. The burritos do that on their own. Plus, this place is open until 10:30pm every night. What else do you need?
There are lots of vegetarian and even vegan options for rice bowls and takeout sandwiches at this casual Vietnamese spot. We’re partial to the smoky eggplant and crispy catfish sandwiches, or the hawker bowl if we feel like keeping our hands relatively clean.
Have you ever wished San Francisco were more like other American cities - especially like, say, New York City? Relive the claustrophobia, condescending service, overpriced cocktails, and “French bistro” food of your two years in Manhattan at the Cavalier. OK, perhaps we’re being too harsh, as the food is often pretty good here. More importantly, the scene is wildly entertaining. Just be prepared to be the least well-dressed person in the room.
Now this is a cocktail bar we can get behind. It’s relaxing, with a vaulted space reminiscent of the Art Deco era’s greatest achievements. Order a beverage (or three), especially anything with calvados, cognac, or armagnac, and don’t skip the outstanding charcuterie.
A fancy Francophile restaurant that is trying about 10% too hard. If you’re on an early-in-the-game date, though, that extra push will be exactly what you need. The food won’t let you down, either. It’s up to you now.