SFGuide

Where To Eat When You’re Visiting San Francisco

In town for a weekend, 24 hours, or an extra-long layover? These are the restaurants, cafés, and bars you should spend your time at.
stacked banh mi halves and vietnamese iced coffee

photo credit: Melissa Zink

San Francisco packs a lot into just 49 square miles. The foggy city by the bay is filled with lush parks (not to brag, but Golden Gate Park is bigger than Central Park), beaches, and yes, hills. And whether you’re in town for a conference at Moscone, visiting a friend who’s not-so-subtly trying to convince you to move here, or on a mission to hit up all the touristy spots during your first trip here, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Or more specifically, where to eat. 

So, we broke things down for you. This guide has everything from pasta icons and bars with extra-strong Mai Tais to the (alleged) birthplace of garlic noodles. If you need help figuring out quintessential SF dishes or cuisines, like burritos, seafood, dim sum, bakeries, or Burmese, we’ve got those, too. Use this guide as a jumping off point. And remember to pack a light jacket—Karl is no joke.  

BREAKFAST

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Bakery/Cafe

Sunset

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastSerious Take-Out Operation

The Special Breakfast Sandwich from Devil’s Teeth is a local celebrity on par with Steve Kerr or the giant rabbit that rolls around downtown. Load up with this on-the-go breakfast before heading into the park to gape at the bison paddock (there’s also another location in the Richmond, with less of a line). The hefty biscuit is loaded with fluffy scrambled eggs, hunks of creamy avocado, thick bacon, and a smear of lemon-garlic aioli that you’ll want to lick off the foil wrapper. 

photo credit: Melissa Zink

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastBrunch

San Francisco is home to the country’s oldest Chinatown, and meandering down its streets lined with hanging red lanterns, restaurants, and shops is a basic requirement on any trip to the city. Here, you’ll find no shortage of excellent food—but Good Mong Kok is the place for massive BBQ pork buns, plump har gow, pork siu mai, and more delicious dim sum treats. Another perk: you’ll be able to get enough to feed at least two people for less than $10. There’s no sit-down dining, so take your food to go and enjoy it in nearby Portsmouth Square.

If you’re someone who gets all hot and bothered at the words “maple syrup” or “housemade biscuits,” make your first meal of the day count by heading to Plow in Potrero Hill. Spending a couple of daytime hours at this American breakfast spot is a rite of passage, like staring out at the Golden Gate Bridge or getting a calf cramp while walking up the Fillmore steps. Coffee refills are on deck, the open kitchen is a constant sizzle-fest of bacon and housemade sausage, and lemon ricotta pancakes are the centerpiece of every table. Unless you get here right when they open at 7am, you’ll have to wait in line. Do it—the morning staples are worth the hassle.

French bakers brought sourdough to Northern California during the gold rush and it’s become an essential part of the city ever since (our beloved Niners mascot is named Sourdough Sam). You need to eat some while you’re here, and there’s one place you should get it: Tartine. This Mission bakery has been around since 2002, and its loaves are golden brown and crispy on the outside and pillowy to the point of stickiness on the inside. It’s tough to eat a whole loaf without a bread knife, so unless you’re carrying one around town, just get any one of the breakfast sandwiches instead. 

photo credit: Stephanie Court

RESERVE A TABLE

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Yank Sing is the city’s most famous dim sum spot—it’s been around since 1958 and draws huge crowds, especially at the larger Spear Street location inside the Rincon Center. It’s a classic we love, and coming here is a quintessential SF dining experience. Once inside, metal push carts with bamboo steamers will whiz past you, and you’ll have your pick of everything from generously stuffed pork and Napa cabbage dumplings to plump scallop siu mai. Get one of everything and don’t hold back.

LUNCH

photo credit: Nat and Cody

The Ferry Building is one of the rare places where you’ll see as many locals as tourists in I Heart SF fleeces. The historic building along the waterfront is home to ceramic stores, farmers markets, and, of course, restaurants. Stop in for crackly fresh baguettes from Acme Bread, briny, slurpable oysters and clam chowder from Hog Island Oyster Co., or burritos stuffed with french fries from Señor Sisig. And if you need a jolt of energy before hopping on the ferry to explore Oakland or Sausalito across the bay, hit up Red Bay Coffee for a charcoal latte. 

This North Beach institution (it opened in 1978) with its iconic red neon finger sign makes some of the thickest and cheapest Sicilian slices in town, starting at $3.50. The fluffy focaccia squares all have a crispy bottom and a lot of cheese. There are only six kinds on the menu, but prioritize the pepperoni or the meaty combo with sausage. Foggy cool evening or not, hop in the line at this slice shop, and keep it moving. Golden Boy is takeout-only.

photo credit: Melissa Zink

San Francisco is full of incredible sandwich spots, but if you can only fit one sandwich into the agenda, make it a bánh mì from Saigon Sandwich. The cash-only institution is just outside the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon, and has been around for decades. The secret to their longevity? Every sandwich, from the tender roasted chicken to the fall-apart meatball, is an umami bomb stuffed in a crackly yet soft roll. That, plus the fact that these $5 bánh mì cost less than a single iced latte with oat milk. 

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Sotto Mare embodies everything we love about North Beach. The Italian seafood spot feels like a divey, rambunctious party revolving around seafood—it’s where to go for bowls of cioppino so big you could fall in, and giant portions of linguine with clams. Expect controlled chaos inside. Tickets fly across the restaurant on a clothesline, and every square inch of wallspace is covered by life-sized swordfish, slightly askew photo frames, and other maritime-themed paraphernalia. Throw on your requisite plastic bib, roll up your sleeves, and get to cracking those crab legs. 

You rode 1.7 miles by bike over the Golden Gate Bridge (or ferried), and landed in the city where Otis Redding sat on the dock of the bay. Congratulations, you deserve an afternoon filled with oysters and sparkling wine at Scoma’s. The old-school seafood icon in tourist-packed Sausalito (the original is in Fisherman’s Wharf) is where to park it on the deck, or the solarium-like dining room with the rest of the day-trippers, and pretend you’ve been a regular for decades. Skip the grilled fish entrées, sandwiches, and linguine con vongole—the strategy here is to keep your drink of choice coming, admire the Angel Island views over fried calamari, and ride (if your tired muscles will allow it) away. 

DINNER

You won’t see a tagliatelle bolognese, spaghetti and clams, or other Italian classics at this Mission spot. Instead, California-Italian pasta dishes are zhuzhed up with interesting, seasonal ingredients. One day Flour + Water might serve cappelletti with mint and artichoke, or a combination of cocoa and rutabaga the next. There’s a $135 pasta tasting menu if you want to try every dish from this pasta Hall of Famer, though you can have just as good of a time ordering a la carte. 

It’s hard to explain the food at Liholiho Yacht Club in one sentence, so we’ll use this one instead: Get here, now. Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean influences color the punchy, in-your-face dishes at this Lower Nob Hill spot—silky shaved pig’s head slices are served with a zippy frisee and asian pear salad, and ribeye is charred and topped with a nose-clearing mustard and black sesame sauce. Digging into a spread while surrounded by a buzzing open kitchen, a massive mural of the chef’s mom, and desserts with birthday sparklers is always a good time. If you can’t get a reservation here, we also love their more casual sister restaurant, Good Good Culture Club, which has equally exciting dishes and a colorful rooftop patio.

photo credit: Sarah Felker

Mandalay was the first of many Burmese restaurants to open in the city back in 1984—and many years later, this Richmond spot is still a literal bright spot of dishes that consistently hit. The bright yellow space is a revolving door of families, big friend groups, and dates exchanging ski season horror stories over nutty tea leaf salad, mango chicken, and pumpkin pork stew. Settle into a booth and join them. 

Thanh Long calls themselves the birthplace of garlic noodles. And this tracks, especially considering that they safeguard their original recipe in a secret, separate kitchen. The Vietnamese seafood institution is where to go for butter-drenched noodles and peppery whole crabs (which are, naturally, drenched in butter). Before you know it, you’ll be arms-deep in a pile of perfectly roasted crab claws, so be sure to suit up with your plastic bib. And maybe bring a tin of breath mints. 

Zuni is a classic SF spot that never goes out of style. The Civic Center restaurant has been a San Francisco landmark since it opened in the late ’70s. You’re probably here for the famous roasted chicken, which is fired to a toasty golden brown in the blazing wood oven and served atop a warm bread salad. It’s as good as a roast chicken can get, but don’t skip the Jenga-esque mountain of shoestring fries or the close-to-perfect caesar salad, either. It all makes for the ideal fancy dinner before a show at the Orpheum or Davies Symphony Hall nearby. 

Even if all you know about wine is that it comes from grapes, a visit to wine country should be high on your to-do list. Plus, you’ll get to eat at Valley. It’s a hideaway from the more crowded restaurants near Sonoma’s historic plaza. Time slows down here, and the local produce on the menu of simple Californian dishes reigns supreme. Roasted stone fruits are topped with ricotta, jammy eggs get crowned with XO sauce, and olive oil cake is worth the drive alone. So prepare to stay in the back patio until closing, and keep the bottles of wine coming. 

DRINKS

You learned about the Gold Rush and Barbary Coast in the fourth grade, and now you’re finally in the city where the 49ers roamed. Tap into the “ye old” energy at Comstock Saloon. It’s an elegant North Beach/Chinatown cocktail bar that’s existed in some form for over a hundred years. The throwback charm with wooden booths, bartenders in suspenders or vests, and tintype-y photos creates the perfect setting for date night sazeracs and Pimm's Cup, or listening to live jazz on the upstairs stage. 

It’s quite windy in this city—which typically makes rooftop bars a miserable experience. El Techo in the Mission is the exception. It’s located in the sunniest section of the sunniest neighborhood, so you won’t have to hold onto your jacket as you down multiple margaritas. The food here tends to be on the pricier (and blander) side, so stick to the drinks and enjoy the skyline view.

There’s a fair chance you’re staying in Union Square, and if you want a drink before dinner head to Key Klub in Lower Nob Hill. Just a short walk from the seemingly endless hotels, this natural wine bar feels like a ‘90s club without the dance floor, and serves small plates like duck liver mousse-topped french toast that you can pick at while you chat with the locals.

This classic Chinatown dive is an institution with an eclectic crowd of tourists, locals, and former fraternity stars who are always up for starting conversations with strangers. At just $12 a Mai Tai, this is one of the best drink bargains in the whole city—so go ahead and take a seat on the one of couches that seem like they’ve also been here since 1937. 

Trick Dog is the city’s most famous cocktail bar—thanks to their knockout drinks that are clarified, slushie-d, or spiced with green curry, nutritional yeast, and Santo Palo, and themes that change twice a year (astrology, Tantric yoga, Pantone colors). This is a serious cocktail bar but in a nerdy, fun sort of way that ends up feeling like the best kind of clubhouse. Since this place can get loud, even rowdy, arrive early to spend quality time studying the impressive drawings on the menu and talk to the bartender. 

TAQUERIAS

Stop anyone on the street and you’ll be met with a strong opinion about where to find the best burrito in the city. Ask us, and we’ll point you in the direction of Taqueria El Farolito. What sets the cash-only taqueria’s apart is the well-spiced meat, charred to perfection on the plancha. These burritos are the size of newborn babies, and you should get them super—a.k.a. filled with the salty-fatty-creamy trifecta of sour cream, guacamole, and cheese. 

We could start a flame war about the best burrito in town (and we have). El Farolito often comes out on top, there’s something special about La Taqueria. These Mission burritos are (controversially) riceless, but some of us secretly like it that way. Order the carne asada super burrito for its smoky meat, and make sure to get it dorado for a crispy tortilla and melty cheese that will make you understand why burritos have such a chokehold on this city. Expect a line. 

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

We’ll let you in on a secret that most tourists don’t know—San Francisco isn’t really a taco town. But Tacos Del Barrio in the Mission is serving up tacos on tortillas that have that special kind of freshly milled intense corn flavor that’s tough to find outside of Southern California. Check out their specials to see what they’re whipping up at a moment's notice (like pork belly), add the juicy al pastor and smoky asada, and make sure to make a pit-stop at the salsa bar. 

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