Where To Eat Near Union Square
photo credit: Melissa Zink
Chances are high that you’ll end up near Union Square at some point, willingly or not. Maybe your family in town won’t leave the city until they joyride on a cable car. Or perhaps it’s the last possible day to make that Nike return you’ve been putting off. Whatever brings you to the area, just know it's more than shops, tourist traps, and The Cheesecake Factory. Great places to eat exist, too. Here are the 18 best restaurants near Union Square.
A night at Bodega SF is full of surprises—the good kind, unlike accidentally sitting on a melted Ghirardelli chocolate square on the cable car. At this swanky Northern Vietnamese restaurant, savory turmeric pancakes are punched up with caviar, papaya salad is topped with crumbled beef jerky, and cocktails are infused with pandan and yuzu. After a long afternoon of doing Union Square things, like taking family photos by the Christmas tree or shopping, a meal while seated in a cushy leather booth is the perfect cap to the day.
“Have a pad thai awakening” is probably not on your Union Square bingo card. But you’ll get exactly that at The Thonglor, a tiny Thai spot just a block away from the tourists taking photos with the big heart statues. Their pad thai is saucy, chewy, and just the right amount of sweet. You’ll wake up thinking about it for months after. The same goes for everything else you’ll devour, from the velvety tom kha and richly spiced red curry to the sinus-clearing papaya salad, which leaves a burn on your lips that lingers. There are only eight tables inside this bustling, walk-in-only spot, but things move quickly—so, bingo card be damned, make any excuse to get here.
Cantoo checks all the boxes of a great casual lunch and dinner spot. They have massive plates of Venezuelan Chinese noodles, rotisserie, and empanadas, a big space where it's easy to get a table, and a speedy takeout operation. The food at his basement-level Tenderloin restaurant is hearty and meat-forward—think pabellón with perfectly stewed beef, plantains, and white rice, or hot and crispy sweet and sour chicken. And when you consider that many dishes are in the single-digit price range (like the two plump pork lumpia for $5)—this place is the move for quick sit-down meals that'll leave you just a few dollars lighter.
San Francisco is a tasting menu town, and Ox + Tiger’s six-course dinner is one of the most exciting. The constantly changing $125 menu is a mashup of Japanese and Filipino flavors, and all of the dishes taste genuinely different and new. Grilled strip loin is topped with peanut sauce and served next to a beautiful panko-crusted fried eggplant. Salmon tataki and a creamy coconut mango sauce arrive alongside a bagoong tare-topped seared green mango. The eight-seat spot is run by a two-person team who prepare, serve, and reveal their personal connection to each dish like they’re your closest friends. For an intimate special occasion dinner, Ox + Tiger is it.
If you need something more substantive than a bucket of popcorn at the AMC Metreon, Joyride Pizza is here for you. The Detroit-style pies coming out of this counter-service spot, located across the theater in Yerba Buena Gardens, are hefty bricks—but you won’t feel weighed down after eating one. The crust is crisp and airy, and topping combinations, like the Eat Your Veggies loaded with fresh vegetables, are light. Sharing one at an outdoor table overlooking the gardens is always a nice way to hit your daily fresh air quota, especially if there's no fog in sight.
Even if you aren’t staying in the area, this upscale Thai restaurant inside the Parc 55 is a destination—and that’s thanks to the funky, spicy dishes, which are worth braving the pillars inside the 5th and Mission parking garage for. Any time spent in gridlock traffic will melt away once chunks of caramelized pork belly, and tamarind and Sriracha-glazed wings with a smattering of Thai chilis arrive in front of you. Get here for catch-ups with friends from out of town or birthdays that call for excellent cocktails and food.
Del Popolo is a chic sit-down option in the area, and we especially love the secluded garden patio in the back. Their incredible wood-fired pizzas always come charred with bubbly crusts, and there are plenty of small seasonally rotating plates like little gem caesar salads and roasted brussels sprouts to go around. Everything is exactly what you’ll want to devour after clocking approximately 12,000 steps running errands in the area.
Ramen from Mensho Tokyo is the ultimate reward for braving the line for returns at Zara. And while there will also be a wait at this tiny Japanese spot, at least phenomenal noodle soup awaits at the end. You’ll want to vacuum suck up the creamy chicken-based broth in one big slurp. The spicy lamb miso is always a must-order, but you can’t go wrong with the tori paitan with chashu slices and fried burdock root on top.
One of the best fried chicken sandwiches in SF lives blocks from Union Square. So prepare to push your way through the mass of backpack-wearing banker bros and tourists in Fisherman’s Wharf sweatshirts to get to this counter-service spot. The bun is soft and squishy. The fried chicken thigh drips with spicy, bright red juices you’ll lick right off your hand. And the apple slaw is a refreshing cool-off from the heat. Make sure to get some just-sweet-enough apple fritters for dessert or as a snack for later.
As much as you want to show visiting in-laws or clients what the city has to offer, you get the feeling that they don’t really want to venture far from Union Square. So take them to Burma Love. This spot is related to Burma Superstar, and along with great cocktails, they also have the same food as their other locations, including the tea leaf salad, spicy tomato chutney, and rich curries with beef. With its tall ceilings, huge bar, and second level that looks like a VIP lounge, this place feels like a nightclub—so it’s definitely an above-average casual dinner spot.
Sometimes you just want to feel like a movie star with unlimited cash flow, sit under a stained glass ceiling, and drink champagne. That’s why The Rotunda exists. Getting to the flat-out gorgeous space requires you to walk past perfume stands and mannequins dressed in their designer best—it’s located inside Neiman Marcus. Once you're finally seated, a golden-brown popover with strawberry butter will land on your table alongside a tiny cup of chicken broth. Whether you’re here for afternoon tea or lunch (get the lobster bisque or lobster club), getting to soak in the lavish scene and eavesdrop on wealthy divorcées at the other table is a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Breakfast with friends or clients doesn’t need to be fancy—it just needs to break the incredibly low bar set by hotel buffets in the area. For the classic American breakfast, take them to Sears Fine Food. They serve all the diner standards, from buttery Swedish pancakes and waffles to omelets and eggs Benedict, in a space covered in Norman Rockwell paintings, daguerreotypes, and old San Francisco ephemera. Get some strong coffee, and prepare for some small talk about hills and Karl.
Because salad chains and leftovers are boring midday fuel-ups, head to Oren’s Hummus. The Israeli spot is a step up from monotonous weekday lunches—for starters, a massive and random chandelier is the dining room’s centerpiece. And the food, from hummus plates and shakshuka to pita sandwiches with falafel or plant-based lamb, will be the star of all future lunchtime fantasies. The fluffy pita is the standout, so definitely get some extra to-go. If you’re in a rush, ordering at the takeout counter adjacent to the restaurant is the move.
Note: Empire Pizza is temporarily closed. Check their Instagram for updates.
For excellent New York-style pizza, come to this counter-service spot near the mall. Empire Pizza focuses on slices that your friends visiting from the East Coast won’t shut up about, like massive cheese and square pepperoni slices on a light and airy crust. There’s tons of seating inside this NYC-themed spot if you need to spread out with a bunch of shopping bags.
On the spectrum ranging from fancy Mexican restaurants to quick-hit taquerias, Tropisueño is in the middle. It’s a reliable mid-range sit-down option, especially if you’re with a group that enjoys roomy patios, reasonable prices, and margaritas served in pint glasses. This place is always crowded, which is a testament to the solid rice and bean plates, flautas, ceviche, and chicken mole.
The patio at Delarosa is in a quiet plaza where you can eat outside without the sound of traffic. It’s also where you should go for big group meals in the area. Grab a seat on the heated patio and share a bunch of Roman-style pizzas and other Italian small plates like crab arancini and pappardelle with pork sugo. The food ranges from solid to pretty good—so even though it won’t blow your mind, keep this place in your back pocket anytime you spontaneously need a patio.
Sons & Daughters is the best Super Fancy Tasting Menu Spot in the neighborhood. Their seasonal $229, 14-course dinner of California-inspired dishes is served in a cozy, sleek space that’s also a bit mysterious, with Rorschach ink blot-esque art on the walls and two-way mirrors outside. Porcini financiers are served on terrarium-like dishes and cultured butter is topped with salt from Ocean Beach. As the night goes on, you’re treated to a parade of bigger dishes, like scallops soaking in brown butter and truffle-heavy dry-aged strip loin.
When you’re in need of a reliable meal that’ll have you in and out for under $20, keep Pakwan in your back pocket. The counter-service Indian and Pakistani spot serves things like chicken tikka masala and a thick, onion-heavy bengan bhartha you should definitely order. The food is solid across the board and always gets the job done. The best part: you won’t have to blow through your weekly grocery budget for a filling meal.