Before Jaws, there was no such thing as a summer blockbuster, and when it hit theaters it showed the world how big movies could be (and made us fear going in our bathtubs). Niku Steakhouse is kind of like that too, but instead of spiking popcorn sales, it raises the bar for steak in SF—and after you eat dinner here, you’ll never look at meat the same way.
This place in the Design District specializes in A5 wagyu beef, which is considered the highest grade on Earth by serious people in crisp lab coats, mostly because each cut generally has even more marbling than the Parthenon. And while you could just stare at the raw beef like it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it’s how Niku serves it that makes dinner here such an incredible experience.
photo credit: Susie Lacocque
The meat is cooked over a grill that chefs hover over like they’re meticulously looking for Marvel Easter eggs, but instead, they’re constantly fanning embers and making sure the steaks are perfectly charred. A four-ounce serving of A5 wagyu runs around $125, and a flight of three is $250—it’s clearly expensive for small portions of meat, but the cuts are so rich that after each bite, you’ll feel your brain rewiring like you’re learning a new language. But for some reason, if you don’t want to feel like you just took a Limitless pill, they have an incredible New York strip.
photo credit: Susie Lacocque
While your brain is busy making these tough decisions, sommeliers take their time helping you to find the perfect wine to pull from the towering wall of bottles across from the grill, and water is refilled and napkins are folded so quickly you won’t even notice the servers doing it. And when you’re just getting over the amazing starters like the rich bone marrow or the salmon tartare with coconut crema and refreshing aguachile, a tray of custom knives appear at your table for you to choose from. When your meal is over, the only regret you’ll have is going for the regular steak knife over the shiny scalpel or mini cleaver to wave around like Bill the Butcher.
Even though people show up in t-shirts and Patagonia vests, this is definitely somewhere to go for a special occasion—you’re probably not walking out for under $250. And while that can feel like you’re spending more than the entire special effects budget of a Spielberg movie, at Niku, you’re not just paying for dinner—you’re getting a whole new outlook on what it means to eat steak.
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The fish used in this appetizer changes, but it’s always topped with coconut almond crema, avocado, and cucumber aguachile. It’s smokey, light, and refreshing.
A5 & Imperial Wagyu Meatball
This meatball is as tender as it could be without disintegrating into thin air. You’ll also want to pour the sweet tare and egg yolk it comes with on everything.
The bone marrow is topped with oxtail, which adds some extra meaty flavor to the marrow, as well as pickled shallots and grapes to help cut through the richness of the fat. Get this on your table.
The A5 flight comes with three, four-ounce cuts of wagyu. You’ll only be able to taste a slight difference between the cuts, but each is rich and fatty and so incredibly tender that your knife will practically fall through it. Every single bite will take your mind somewhere it didn’t think it could go.
Imperial Wagyu New York Strip
If Niku didn’t have A5 steaks, this would be the best thing on the menu. It’s deeply marbled and you’ll be dreaming about the charred outside for days.
Imperial Wagyu Tomahawk
The tomahawk looks really, really cool, but it’s somehow more lean that the imperial New York strip and much more expensive. Unless you’re obsessed with gnawing on gigantic bones, go for the strip.
Crispy Potatoes, Pho Spiced Ranch
These potatoes have some serious crunch on the outside, but are impossibly fluffy on the inside. While the ranch is good and light, the potatoes are the real star here.
Parker House Rolls, Wagyu Fat Butter
You can really taste the wheat in these Park House rolls, and like the other sides, it’s a nice contrast to the heavier stuff on the menu. You may also be tempted to take the butter home and use it as skin cream (it’s that good). We won’t stop you.
This is one of the best desserts in the city. The rich brownie made with wagyu fat is crunchy on the top and fluffy on the inside. Wagyu-fat caramel and browned marshmallow add most of the sweetness in the dish, and miso Dippin’ Dots round it out. Even if you don’t think you have room for dessert, you’ll regret not ordering this.