Where To Have A Unique Dining Experience In SF
A funhouse-like spot that turns trash into food, a fine dining place that cooks solely over an open flame, and more SF restaurants you won’t forget any time soon.
Whether you've decided to put in actual effort into your next date or want to impress your out-of-town friends, one thing is clear: you're ready for something new. Eating pretty vegetables on a pretty patio isn't always going to cut it. That's where we come in.
We've put together a list of 11 restaurants that are unlike any other. Some are hidden down a long dramatic hallway, one is a place where everything is cooked over a live fire, and another is a funhouse-like spot that turns trash into food. If nothing else, they'll leave you with an experience you'll be talking about long after.
photo credit: Erin Ng
Shuggie’s Trash Pie
Shuggie’s is a kitschy fever dream complete with green and yellow walls, glitter bars, fringe lamps, and giant, pea-green chairs. Aside from the dining rooms looking like a hallucinogenic rabbit hole we actually want to go down, this Mission wine and pizza spot makes grandma-style pies using blemished or surplus vegetables, off cuts of meat, byproducts, and basically any ingredient that would usually end up in the trash. The results are rectangular pies with surprising topping combinations that always keep things interesting.
photo credit: Sarah Felker
Empress By Boon
Empress by Boon is where you can go to see and be seen. The upscale Cantonese restaurant has an actual dress code (no t-shirts or shorts allowed), and the quiet door and elevator entrance has an air of exclusivity. You’ll emerge into one of the most gorgeous dining rooms in the city, with carved wood panels, a plush tea lounge, curved booths, a marble bar, and sweeping views of Coit Tower and the bay. The food on the eight-course prix fixe menu ($98) lives up to the luxurious setting. Delicate crispy sea prawn rolls, steam buns filled with jasmine-smoked short rib, and lobster in sweet chili sauce should all be paired with cocktails made with candy cap mushroom syrup, chrysanthemum, and more.
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photo credit: Carly Hackbarth
You go to this old-school American supper club in Jackson Square to travel to the 1930s (even though this place has only been around since 1988). Martinis are on standby on every table, and jazz cellists and pianists in ties serenade folks in the Art Deco dining room nightly. You’ll do a double take when you spot the painting of a clown making out with a ballerina, and martini glasses chilled upside down in giant mounds of shaved ice. You’re at Bix to listen to live music and sip on negronis in a space that’s both ridiculous and lovable, and, of course, to eat shrimp cocktails, steak tartare, and slightly dry pork chops.
photo credit: Virginia Mae Rollison
We usually aren’t watching a movie that’s being projected onto a huge white wall, and making our way through a dozen oysters under the orange-y glow of twinkle lights—unless we come to Foreign Cinema. The Mission spot is down a long dramatic hallway (there’s even a red carpet, on brand with the movie-themed experience), and serves great seasonal plates like pasta with tomatoes and zucchini, and curry fried chicken. You’ll also find us here on slow Sunday mornings at brunch, and weeknights catching up with friends who are visiting from across the country.
photo credit: Sarah Felker
Ever had a meal that was cooked entirely over a live fire? No? Head to Osito. The fine dining restaurant stands out for doing just that—and serving it to one large communal table. Open flames are fanned all night long, and used to make every dish on the eclectic tasting menu ($215 per person). Depending on the month’s theme—like “Growing Up,” which focused on nostalgic dishes for the team, or “Old World Techniques”—you might see antelope alongside cantaloupe and cottage cheese, potatoes cooked in ash, or smoked salmon served with mushrooms and fennel. Watching the action go down in the open kitchen is all part of the fun. It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the city.
photo credit: Melissa Zink
Handroll Project is the only place in SF to get handed a parade of little fish pockets from across a long sushi counter, and be on your way in less than 45 minutes. The omakase-style temaki bar in the Mission—and the casual spin-off from the Ju-Ni people—attracts lines daily. We blame that on the excitement that comes with getting served expertly balanced and straight-up decadent hand rolls filled with creamy scallop and miso aioli, ikura and shaved monkfish liver pâté, and wagyu with garlic chips.
photo credit: Sarah Felker
Dinner at this fine dining Mexican restaurant in SoMa is an extravagant and seamless production. Servers move around the room like they share a single brain to bring you precisely plated dishes while you soak in the all-black, cathedral-like space. Grilled banana is topped with caviar and served with savory dulce de leche, the entire taco course includes a tlacoyo wrapped in hoja santa and grilled squab on a sourdough tortilla, and a tiny masa chip topped with sturgeon cream and sturgeon caviar. At $287 a person, this is a place you should reserve for very special nights.
photo credit: Mary Lagier
State Bird Provisions
At State Bird Provisions, food moves around on dim sum-style carts and trays inside of a rainbow-colored dining room—this is a night that’s all about pointing to whatever seasonally changing small plate looks good. The answer here is everything, from the crispy corn mochi balls and oysters leveled up with tangy kohlrabi kraut and sesame seeds to the pork belly “salad” that’s actually about 75% meat. Get here for birthdays and date nights, or any time you want to dive into a spread of the most exciting dishes in SF.
photo credit: Mary Lagier
House Of Prime Rib
This Nob Hill institution looks like the offspring of a Renaissance fair and an English pub. The dining room has a roaring fireplace, cushy red booths, and giant bottles of wine by the door. And since a lot of the action happens tableside, you’ll experience sensory overload in the best way throughout the meal. Buttoned-up servers dress salads from overhead, prepare baked potatoes with bacon and sour cream faster than you can say “baked potatoes with bacon and sour cream,” and carve prime rib out of roving stainless steel carts. Coming to this place with a big group for birthdays or last meals before three of your friends abandon the city for New York makes for a guaranteed good time—so, take this as your sign to make the trip.
photo credit: Sarah Park
A meal at China Live can only be described as an energizing experience. The first-floor market restaurant is located inside a multi-room complex. It’s loud, and borderline chaotic, and there are several dining areas and bars overlooking a few open-kitchen-style cooking stations. And when you finally decide where to sit to enjoy your fried scallion bread, Peking duck sesame pockets, and crispy sheng jian bao, you’ll be surrounded by shelves filled with housemade condiments, cookware, books, and gifts.
photo credit: Kaiyo Rooftop
This SoMa spot is a scene-y rooftop bar, and that scene is exactly what makes it so fun. Located on the 12th floor of the Hyatt Place, it's complete with a giant projector screen that rotates images of waterfalls and mountainous landscapes and little lamps on every table (ideal picture-taking lighting), and prime people-watching (expect at least six pairs of snakeskin boots on any given night). The sweeping views of downtown and cocktails served in anthropomorphic glasses don’t hurt, either. The Peruvian and Japanese small plates are also excellent options for after you make up backstories about the group to your left and get you hungry—don’t skip the empanadas, ceviche in a citrus-y leche de tigre, and chicken karaage with rocoto aioli.