Where To Dress Up And Not Feel Stupid
photo credit: Palm Court
You can pretty much wear jeans and your least-wrinkled t-shirt into most SF restaurants and call it a dinner outfit, for better or worse. But sometimes, you want to pull something a little more involved out of your closet, get dressed up, and feel fancy as hell. For those occasions, you’ll want to go somewhere where no one will bat an eye if you’re wearing a fitted jacket or heels. Here are 15 SF restaurants where dressing up is part of the experience.
Among the perfume counters and mannequins in designer clothes at Neiman Marcus is The Rotunda, a flat-out stunning restaurant with a stained glass ceiling and extravagant vibes to match. It’s a place to see and be seen. There are cushy seats with views of Union Square, and plenty of champagne to go around as you take photos under the dome and eavesdrop on the wealthy divorcées’ gossip session at the table over. The Rotunda makes you want to pull out a silky number from the back of your closet, and come by for afternoon tea or a fancy lunch when you need to remind yourself that people in SF do in fact own shoes that aren’t sneakers.
At House of Prime Rib, choreographed staff in crisp white button-downs pour salad dressing from above, carve massive slabs of beef out of big silver carts, and split, dress, and garnish baked potatoes so fast that their hands become blurs. A meal at this Nob Hill establishment is a spectacle, to say the least. Which is why this spot, which looks like the offspring of a Renaissance fair and an English pub, is where you want to be in something velvet and laced up—or maybe just a floor-length gown or nicely fitted blazer. Fall back into a plush red booth, and suck down one or five martinis while you watch the action all go down.
Walking into this Italian restaurant in NoPa is like making a red carpet entrance. This place looks like your cousin’s Pinterest board for a fancy barn wedding in wine country with wooden-beam ceilings and skylights. Fig-patterned wallpaper and big circle mirrors line the staircase up to the second-floor dining room. And sourdough pizzas with puffy crusts, tagliatelle bolognese, and short rib agnolotti are on hand while you gawk at the bouquets of dried flowers and chandeliers hanging overhead. For special occasions that call for lots of wine, and posting minute-by-minute updates on Instagram, likely while in a pleated Sézane skirt, this is where to be.
This Chinatown fine dining restaurant is one of the few places in town where you’ll easily feel more underdressed than overdressed (there are no shorts and t-shirts allowed here). The dining room overlooking Coit Tower looks like an NYFW show involving evening gowns and shiny dress shoes. But instead of walking the runway, diners get into a $98 prix fixe menu of Cantonese dishes that match the luxurious energy. Tuck yourself into a cushy teal booth and enjoy things like jasmine-steamed short rib bao, crispy-skinned Pipa duck, and scallop and caviar rolls while eavesdropping on the conversation of the group of visiting C-list celebrities likely sitting across from you.
Palm Court in the Dogpatch is all about excess. The RH gallery restaurant is dripping with marble, tiered-glass chandeliers, and towering (but fake) palm trees. And everything from the modular couches to the travertine tables in the surrounding showrooms and the restaurant itself is for sale. In line with the luxurious theme—and the goal of getting you to spend as much money as is humanly possible—the food on the live-fire menu is comically expensive and equally forgettable. But don’t come for the full meal. Instead, use Palm Court as an excuse to get some more wear out of your bright pink mini dress with puff sleeves or sunglasses that kind of make you look like a bug, and take photos with some champagne on the expansive rooftop.
A meal at Californios is a Big F*cking Deal. At $307, the tasting menu at this Mexican restaurant in SoMa isn’t exactly an affordable weeknight dinner, so you’ll anticipate the meal with the excitement reserved for a new Rihanna single. When the time finally comes to get here, pull out the clothes that have been hiding away in a dry-cleaning bag for the last four years. You’ll want to look as extravagant as the food, from a banana served in savory dulce de leche and topped with caviar to squab tacos swaddled in sourdough tortillas.
Zuni Cafe is a Civic Center spot that every San Franciscan should try at once. The wood-fire-roasted chicken coming out of this place is the stuff of legend. And the sunlit dining room with white tablecloths and frankly adorable chicken-themed art on the walls is where you should spend long midweek lunches or Sunday dinners discussing motifs with your book club. Wearing velvet is always a good idea, especially if you want to match the diners who are headed to the ballet or symphony after. Keep the oysters and wine coming as you dig into a mountain of the crispiest shoestring fries in the city and feel very sophisticated.
Since it’s about as easy to get a reservation at Mister Jiu’s as it is to walk up the Taylor Street steps, on your hands, a meal at this Chinatown spot should be treated as an occasion. Inside the dimly lit dining room, big gold lotus chandeliers hang overhead, and diners are tucked into sexy little booths or around big round tables. Everyone is focused on the fancy Chinese American dishes like sourdough scallion pancakes with caviar, cheong fun topped with uni, or a whole roast duck with peanut butter hoisin. And the colorful buildings of Chinatown are a picturesque backdrop to the night. If you need to get more use out of the outfit you bought for a wedding last summer and wore exactly once, their upstairs cocktail bar, Moongate Lounge, also has moody lighting and couches to perch on while you field compliments about your incredibly chic chunky loafers.
Trestle is home to one of the best-deal tasting menus in the city. The $39 prix fixe dinner and cozy space near the Financial District draw in people on dates like a pack of bears to an open cooler. You’ll get into things like cider-brined pork loin, silky butternut squash soup, key lime pie, and perfectly chewy blondies. Sure, Trestle’s proximity to the offices in FiDi means there may be a few banking bros with backpacks in attendance on any given night. But no one will mind if you’re dressed up.
On days when you think you might actually combust from seeing another logo hoodie, pair of Allbirds, or puffy vest—or a combination of all three—get to Bix. The American restaurant in the Financial District is an institution, and one where you wouldn’t blink an eye if you saw Francis Ford Coppola leafing through scripts with his team, or a couple in mink coats signing divorce papers. Martini glasses chill atop huge mounds of shaved ice, waitstaff wear buttoned-up vests, and there’s live jazz every night. The food won’t blow your mind, but that’s not why you’re here. You come to Bix to romanticize your life in an outfit you’d wear to a 1930s supper club as a cellist serenades you and a wink-happy server brings you free rolls.
The $215 eclectic tasting menu at the city’s only 100% live-fire restaurant is served in a serene and chic dining room that could pass for a greenhouse brimming with monsteras and ferns. The communal wooden table is usually filled with a range of couples and tasting menu enthusiasts here for special occasions—and smoky egg custards topped with uni or thinly-sliced antelope served alongside cantaloupe and cottage cheese. The best part about Osito is that no one will stare at you when you’re clip-clopping around the dining room in shoes that you can only kind-of-sort-of walk in.
As soon as you step inside Kokkari Estiatorio, you’ll feel transported to a rustic ski lodge in Breckenridge, if said ski lodge also had lamb and chicken slowly roasting away on spits inside a fiery oven. At te Greek restaurant in the Financial District, you can sit in a high-backed armchair and feel like a royal. Get into things like spanakotiropita and moussaka and sip on Greek wine while surrounded by important-looking business execs and couples who probably own an entire nearby office building.
At Waterbar, you can sit outside on the patio with stunning views of the Bay Bridge, or inside next to floor-to-ceiling aquarium pillars filled with real live fish. Wherever you sit, make sure your outfit matches the dramatic setting, whether you’re here with clients whose cufflinks cost more than your net worth, or just want to eat your body weight in seafood. Oysters should always be on deck, along with something from the 30-page wine list. And if you really want to commit to the theme of opulence, go for the $175 “indulgence platter” featuring things like crab, tiger prawns, clams, and tuna tartare on a massive pile of ice.
Boulevard looks like a metro station in Paris got an HGTV makeover complete with tiled mosaics, royal blue chairs, and brick archways everywhere. The American restaurant on the Embarcadero is exactly where to go for wine-drenched lunches or any time you want to pretend like you’re a retiree who drinks a bottle of chardonnay a day. Their $115 set menu is solid—think seasonal dishes like seared scallops, a rack of lamb, and sticky toffee pudding—but what this spot lacks in exciting food it makes up for with waterfront views and a posh atmosphere.
Mourad in SoMa looks like a cruise ship had a baby with the Palazzo lobby in Las Vegas, and started serving pretty good Moroccan dishes, like a flaky basteeya filled with slightly sweet duck and $165 slow-cooked short ribs. Since it’s right around the corner from Moscone Center, there will probably be one too many conference-goers wearing lanyards. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress up and match the over-the-top space filled with firework overhead lights and a 14-foot-tall teak root sculpture you’ll probably end up posting on Instagram.