You know Foreign Cinema—the fine-dining spot in the Mission that’s been open since 1999. Which is remarkable because most restaurants in San Francisco are lucky if they stay open through the end of this review, let alone stay busy after so many years. The reason they’re still around and always packed is simple: the incredible patio and brunch, and relaxed atmosphere make Foreign Cinema one of the most unmissable experiences in the city.
To get to Foreign Cinema, you enter on Mission Street and walk down a long hallway on a red carpet. After checking in, you’re greeted by a beautiful patio, which is enclosed by high, white walls and covered in twinkling lights. It’s an otherworldly place that makes you feel like you left San Francisco behind and stumbled on a secret cocktail party, where everything makes you feel at ease.
Part of the relaxed feeling Foreign Cinema creates comes from the restaurant’s cinematic theme, which is a nod to drive-in theaters. While you’re slurping back oysters or taking bites of incredible carbonara with smoked mushrooms, you can watch movies like Lawrence Of Arabia and Austin Powers, which are projected on the patio wall. Listening to them requires that you pick up one of the vintage drive-in speakers set up around the courtyard. The theme extends beyond the patio. If you’re seated inside, you’ll notice quirky details, like chandeliers built out of old headlights, and chairs made from the same material as seatbelts—all of which give Foreign Cinema a casual air.
Even though the space at Foreign Cinema is a standout, the California-inspired dishes aren’t always. Depending on the night, there might be vegetarian carbonara or spicy crab cakes we’d consider getting tattooed on our lower back. But for all those hits, there are some underwhelming dishes, like the dated Wagon Wheel spinach dip with crudites, or the lamb appetizer with harissa that’s more average than the kid from high school whose name you always forget. But it’s brunch where Foreign Cinema’s food truly shines.
During the day, sunlight floods the patio and makes it a perfectly bright, airy place to have a croque madame big enough for four, or an herbed Persian omelette with Dungeness crab, chile, and crispy potatoes you’ll be talking about for weeks. Movies won’t be playing on the wall, but you won’t care—the sunshine, the french toast, and bloody marys will make you feel more alert and alive than a Rumble class. The entire experience will remind you why you keep coming back to Foreign Cinema.
Whether you come for brunch or dinner, the inviting scene at Foreign Cinema will make you want to order another cocktail or dessert just to stay in this incredible space a little bit longer. It’s incredible that this “little bit longer” feeling has lasted for over 20 years. And in another two decades, we’ll probably still be here, eating oysters on their patio.
Pacific Tuna Ceviche, Mango, Avocado, Jicama, Fried Plantain Chips, Lime, Habanero, Red Onion
We want this light, sweet, and slightly spicy ceviche for breakfast on every beach vacation this point forward.
Lavender Baked Goat Cheese With Tart Cherries, Radicchio, Baguette Toasts, Crudites
You really can’t taste the lavender in the cheese, and the whole dish is about as interesting as an episode of The Office that’s all about Toby.
Guava Pop Tart
No Pop Tart we ever got from a wrapper was as flaky and buttery as this one.
Baguette French Toast, Cara Cara Oranges, Wild Huckleberries, Maple-Cocoa Nib Butter
This is rich and custardy, and the berries cut through it nicely. If someone made us a breakfast that was half as good as this, we’d propose on the spot.
Robust Persian Flat Omelet, Chile, Ginger, Cilantro; Dungeness Crab, Straw Potatoes, Avocado, Tomato Chutney
The flavorful omelet is good on its own, but the crab and tomato chutney makes this incredible. Two thumbs up.
Croque Madam, Gruyere, French Ham, Toasted Pan De Mie Bread, Bechamel, Egg Crown, Fries
This is heavy so make sure you split it—or use this dish as a hangover cure.
This whipped salt cod and potatoes are so good that we’re inviting them to our next Tahoe ski trip
Baked Local Wagon Wheel Spinach Dip
This classed-up version of spinach dip comes with tortilla chips and crudites, and for some reason feels like it jumped straight out of 2003. There are better things on the menu, like the brandade.
Local Dungeness Crab Cakes
Like tribbles on the Starship Enterprise, we wish these rich crab cakes with spicy aioli would pop up everywhere and never stop.
There’s just something about the airy patio that makes you want to order oysters, and Foreign Cinema has a great selection. Have fun.
Grilled Moroccan Lamb Skewer, Cucumber-Mint Raita, Harissa, Tabbouleh
Nothing about this makes us want to jump on a sofa and cry out, “We love this lamb!” It’s just a pretty good lamb skewer with harissa.
Seared Scallops, Saffron Onion Jam, Romanesco, Fingerlings, Champagne Gastrique, Pinenuts, Fennel
These seared scallops aren’t anything new, but here they’re done right.
Peppercorn Duck Breast, Brussels Sprouts, Winter Puree, Shinko Pear, Orange-Caramel Sauce, Quacklins
First, “quacklins” is now our new favorite word. Second, this is a great piece of duck with super peppery skin. You won’t want to share this.
Fresh Fettuccine Pasta Carbonara, 62 Degree Egg, Smoked Mushrooms, Peas, Chard, Pepper, Ricotta Salata, Pangratatto
One bite of this pasta will make you start laughing uncontrollably. It’s that good.