Showing up somewhere overdressed can be pretty embarrassing, and because you can get away with wearing a “nice” t-shirt pretty much everywhere in this city, it usually seems like a safe bet. But sometimes - whether you’re going out with clients who probably sleep in their ties, or you’re just really feeling a look and want to show it off - you want to get dressed up. That’s why we have this guide. It has the 18 best places to go in SF when you’re planning on spending a few extra seconds doing a mirror check before you go.
Trestle is our favorite spot in the city for an important date when you’re on a budget. The prix fixe menu here is $39, but the food and the service make you think it would be three times as much. The space is small and romantic enough that a proposal happening around you wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility, so you won’t feel weird coming here wearing something that made your coworkers wonder if you’re taking a “long lunch” for an interview.
You could show up to Sorrel in ballroom attire and still feel upstaged - not by the people around you, but by the restaurant itself. Everything at this place in Pac Heights, from the light fixtures to the curly wine decanters, looks like it was painstakingly hand-selected to go on a billionaire’s yacht. The menu at Sorrel includes a lot of words like “truffle” and “wagyu,” and the food is all so precisely plated that you’ll wonder if the cooks are former brain surgeons. Basically, it’s the perfect place to bring someone who subscribes to Forbes and has a very set definition of what luxury means.
Bellota is on the ground floor of the Airbnb Building and is always packed with business-types eating jamon and paella while discussing things like cross-org synergization and why that one badge scanner by the elevator makes a weird noise. This place is pretty modern, so it’s the perfect backdrop for wearing something to dinner you know you’re going to neglect to dry clean for five weeks.
You could walk into Mister Jiu’s wearing a designer t-shirt and some limited-edition Air Jordans designed by P Diddy’s barber, and you’d fit in just fine. But the dining room here, with its old chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Chinatown, looks like a rendezvous point in a James Bond movie, so it can be fun to dress the part. This is one of our favorite spots to come with a group to split things like dutch crunch pork buns and whole roasted duck. Skip the martinis though, and go for one of their punch bowls for the table instead.
The crowd at SPQR probably has a better grasp of their portfolio’s potential over the next five years than you ever will, but instead of trolling this place for stock tips, put on a nice pair of pants and come here for some of the best pasta in the city. All of the dishes here are creative and different from just about anything you’ve seen elsewhere, like their “bludnudlen” with blood sausage ragu and the bucatini “straw and hay” with blue cheese and walnuts.
Tadich Grill is one of the most classic, old-school restaurants in San Francisco, and it’s also one of the most accessible. You can just as easily come here for a blowout dinner as you can walk in alone for a nice lunch at the bar. Doing the latter on a random Saturday afternoon is one of the few things that can get you out of athleisure during the weekend. Put on something nice, eat a cup of the daily soup, and have a few cocktails.
Che Fico has one of the prettiest dining rooms in San Francisco, and because it’s next to impossible to get a reservation here, you’ll feel like dressing up just to celebrate booking a good table. Whether that means putting on a suit or your nicest bomber jacket is up to you. While you look around the room to see what everyone else is wearing, order half portions of all the pastas, a few pizzas, and don’t skip the suppli rice balls to start.
The 10-course tasting menu at Saison means there aren’t any decisions to be made about what you’re eating. This frees you up to spend all your brainpower beforehand picking between your nicest cowboy boots and the white loafers you bought on that trip to Miami. This is where you should get a table for an engagement or a big anniversary, or when you find a mint condition 1955 Roberto Clemente baseball card under your floorboards. You’re going to remember this meal for the rest of your life, so you might as well look good in those memories.
The sushi at Ju-Ni is some of the best in the city, and you get the feeling that the fish they serve has a better resume than you do - it’s that good. Plus, the people making the food in front of you do it with so much expertise that you’ll feel it’s somehow wrong to wear anything other than a perfectly ironed shirt. Coming here takes planning, but since you already know when you’ll be here far in advance, you’ll have time to pick up your clothes from the cleaners.
Gary Danko is one of the last places that does old-school, white tablecloth dining in San Francisco. You’ll choose from three different prix fixe tasting menus, then sit back and feel what it was like to dine in style when Michael Jordan’s retirement was still a hot debate topic, especially if you opt to choose from the massive cheese cart at the end of your meal.
This small neighborhood Sardinian place makes some of the best Italian food in the city, from their macaroni with sea urchin to the baby octopus stew. Coming here (if you’re lucky enough to get a reservation) feels like a special enough occasion to find out if your nicest pair of pants still fits like you remember.
Verjus is on the edge of the Financial District, so it’s always full of people getting drinks in their work clothes after business hours. You could stop by and pick up a bottle of wine for a gift, but the main reason to come here is to drink wine under their tall, shiny red ceiling. They have a mix of Spanish and French small plates like tortilla espagnole and pate en croute to eat while you drink your way through their by-the-glass list.
Aside from a hotel buffet pre-conference and the Queen’s breakfast nook, there aren’t a lot of places where it feels appropriate to be dressed up for eggs and toast. Boulette’s Larder in the Ferry Building is one of those places. It’s nice enough that you might overhear a conversation about helicopter return policies while you’re waiting for your soft scramble, and if that conversation potentially happening around you doesn’t call for a suit, nothing does. Just be careful not to get anything on your clothes - you still have the whole day ahead of you.
Altovino’s location in Nob Hill puts it close to some of the nicer hotels in the city, so it’s a great place to bring visitors who are too tired from a day of shopping in Union Square and climbing up Coit Tower to cross the city for a meal. This Italian place is the only restaurant in this part of the neighborhood, so it’s also a good spot to come for a quiet date that feels secluded from everything else in the city.
You go to House Of Prime Rib for the classics: prime rib, creamed spinach, and a baked potato the size of a newborn. There are also martinis with sidecars made behind a red leather bar, a wine cellar larger than your first apartment, and multiple dining rooms all with their own themes. Nothing here is small and it’s the place to come when you want to have a blowout birthday or bachelor/bachelorette party, whether you’re with one friend or nine. To mark whatever the occasion is, they come around and take photos of your table, which means you’ll have proof that you got all dressed up for dinner.
Zuni Cafe is one of our favorite restaurants in this city. They take simple things like a Caesar salad and roast chicken and bring them to a level that’s as close to perfect as possible. We love coming here for everything from nice lunches with people visiting the city to major events like a 30th birthday party or finally convincing our landlord to install a washer-dryer hookup in our apartments. But even if we couldn’t clean our clothes as we please, we’d still dress up to come here because it will always feel like a special occasion.
Angler’s over-the-top dining room is perfect for impressing clients who you’re convinced can only get excited by a fresh earnings report email. It’s from the same people as Saison, but instead of a tasting menu, Angler serves seafood-focused shared plates a la carte, like tuna with tomato jelly and a simply prepared roasted sole that’s cooked as perfectly as it possibly could be. There’s no dress code, but everyone in here looks like they jumped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog, so it doesn’t hurt to come prepared.
You got dragged to a fancy place with a 30-course menu, and because the food was all the size of a postage stamp, you burned more energy chewing everything than you gained from eating it. That’s when you call a ride to In-N-Out. It’s in tourist-central, so even if people look at you funny for being dressed up, you’ll never see them again anyway. But really, everyone is so focused on getting their double double animal style that they won’t even notice you. Plus, coming here dressed to the nines is a story that you shouldn’t rob yourself of being able to tell the next day.