SFGuide

Where To Dress Up And Not Feel Stupid

18 SF restaurants where you won’t feel awkwardly out of place in nice clothes.
The couches and firepits at Cavaña

photo credit: Melissa Zink

You can pretty much wear jeans and your least-wrinkled T-shirt into most SF restaurants and call it a dinner outfit. 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 no one will bat an eye if you’re wearing a fitted jacket or heels. Here are 16 SF restaurants where dressing up is part of the experience. 

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Melissa Zink

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Mission Bay

$$$$Perfect For:Live MusicEating At The BarPeople WatchingSee And Be SeenDrinking Good CocktailsDrinks & A Light Bite

Most rooftops in the city suck—they’re overpriced, overhyped, and just too windy to hold a conversation. But Cavaña on top of the LUMA Hotel in Mission Bay is the rare exception. It’s also one of the few places in SF where people are dressed more like they’re on a weekend trip to LA. The brightly colored cocktails made with savory ingredients come out smooth and with a bit of tropical tang. When it comes to the food, which ranges from halibut ceviche to quesabirria plates, sticking to the small bites is the way to go. But really, none of that matters when you’re here for the skyline view, the plentiful seating, and the opportunity to wear your favorite heels. 

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.

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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 $108 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. 

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Starlite is Union Square’s sexiest place to put on heels, listen to vinyl, and look hot while perched atop a green velvet couch. The 21st-floor spot (on top of the Beacon Grand) is also mostly indoors, so you won’t have to worry about bundling up in a scarf and covering up that outfit you worked so hard to put together. And it’s the ideal spot for a date when you want to prove that San Franciscans do indeed own non-fleece coats. Pull out whatever outfit will go best with the zebra-print chairs, and get ready for a full-on iPhone photoshoot. 

Blue Whale is a “more casual” spot by the team behind Empress By Boon, but you’ll still see diners breaking out their best snakeskin booties and deep-V button-downs for a meal here. The Cow Hollow restaurant does fancy Chinese and Malaysian dishes that are mostly good, but you’re really here to take a photo with a cocktail against a backdrop of shiny mirrors and royal blue booths. There’s also a massive, multi-level back patio, ideal for “candid” photoshoots you’ll post later to prove you’re a fun person who goes out on weeknights.  

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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. 

Chotto Matte is a Union Square rooftop bar that bills itself as a “multisensory experience” and “thrilling visual journey,” which is a polite way to say that anyone with under 10,000 followers on Instagram will probably hate it here. But untzy DJ and expensive food that’s decent at best aside, what this Nikkei spot does have going for it is the fact that you can show up in stilettos, a silk V-neck, or both, and no one will blink an eye. The eighth-floor space has mirrored ceilings, live trees everywhere, and an entryway that looks like a Chotto Matte-branded Yayoi Kusama exhibit, so order a pisco sour and feel free to go wild with the photo opps. 

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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.  

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. 

Movida is a swanky, nightclub-like restaurant and lounge in South Beach—no, not in Miami—by Oracle Park where you’ll want to show off your silkiest, fanciest top. With extended hours until 12:30am on Friday and Saturday, a DJ that cranks the volume, and an audience that occasionally includes someone dressed in a suit, this spot feels totally out of place in San Francisco in the best way possible. While you could get a full dinner, the move is to stop by on the later side, grab a drink, enjoy a few light bites, and indulge in the fact that you can dig up that once-a-year nice outfit out of your closet. 

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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 classic 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 Friday 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. 

Inside the dimly lit dining room at this Chinatown spot, big gold lotus chandeliers hang overhead, and diners are tucked into sexy little booths or around big round tables. The tasting menu ($125) is good, but we mostly like to come here and order a la carte at the bar—it's where you'll find their best fancy Chinese American dishes like sourdough scallion pancakes with caviar or a whole roast duck with peanut butter hoisin. 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. 

On days when you think you might actually combust from seeing another logo hoodie, pair of Allbirds, or puffy vest—or a godforsaken 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 this Mission restaurant 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 fireplace. At the 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. 

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.

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