Talk to anyone for 15 minutes about the best, coolest, or most popular restaurants in San Francisco, and you’re going to hear about State Bird Provisions. Everyone knows someone who loves this place, really wants to go here, or was so excited about their first visit that they live blogged the whole thing. And there’s a reason why all these years later people will still stand in the rain waiting for it to open, even if they already have a set reservation - State Bird Provisions is still one of the most exciting places you can eat in San Francisco.
Walking into this spot in the Fillmore almost feels like sensory overload. Servers whiz through the dining room pushing dim sum carts topped with tiny plates of food that you can’t identify, and it’s tough to figure out what you should focus on. Turn left and someone is offering you jerk-style octopus. Turn right and it’s oysters topped with sauerkraut. You’ll be looking around like a kid at the zoo for the first time, and when you get caught up to the speed of things, you’ll be having a blast trying to clear plates before something else that looks good arrives at your table.
Eating at State Bird is a test of restraint that you’re destined to fail because even if something doesn’t sound good when it’s explained to you, watching it get wheeled away can be next to unbearable. There will be at least one instance when you pass something up only to flag someone down and ask for it once it’s gone. At a lesser restaurant, this would feel like a trick to get you to order a bunch of food you didn’t necessarily want. And we’re not saying it’s not that (we’re not mind readers), but here it’s at least a trap we’re willing to fall into because the food is that good.
The menu changes frequently, and while a lot of the small plates are things you’ll be familiar with, they’re always twisted into more unique (and near perfect) versions of themselves. There’ll be a caprese with tofu instead of mozzarella that no one could deny is amazing, Cajun duck andouille that’s as good as it possibly can be, and spring rolls that’ll haunt whatever version you usually order from that take out place for lunch. When the whole meal comes together, it feels like they put more effort into each dish than Elvis and Tupac do into convincing the world they’re dead, which is especially impressive when you consider the fact that eating Jamaican next to Italian next to Chinese sounds like it could never work under one roof. But that’s what they do here every night.
Unlike the small plates, you can’t see the larger dishes before you order them, so some actual decision making is needed instead of just wildly pointing at everything that crosses your path. No matter what though, you need to get the State Bird. Ordering this is even more satisfying than when they say the title of the movie in the movie, and this fried quail is good enough to make you question if it’s better at being fried chicken than actual fried chicken. Besides that, the menu typically includes everything from steak tartare toast to squash mochi to the Kampot clam pot - each of which will at least temporarily make you forget about the parade of small plates passing by your table.
You’re not coming here for a quiet candle-lit dinner for two. State Bird Provisions is like Mardi Gras, but instead of beads, the floats hand out food. Get a table for a birthday, an anniversary, a group reunion, or any other occasion where spending $80 - $100 per person on more dishes than you can count in one marathon of a meal is something you’re willing to do. If you can get a reservation, great. If not, walk in and put your name down when they open at 5:30pm. You’ve been talking about this place for long enough, it’s time to actually make the trip.
Normally when you get oysters, you have to decide how to customize them. But here they’re brought to you dressed, so the only decision you have to make is if you’ll get them or not. And you should at least get one.
This is a small dish that hits hard. The broth is super earthy, the dumpling skin is perfect and chewy, and the filling is amazing.
This is as good, if not better, than any caprese with mozzarella. The tofu isn’t a stunt and makes sense, and even if you’re not a big tofu person, you want this.
This is just a perfect spring roll and while we’re not sure how to make pistachio chili, we want jars of this stuff in our pantry and maybe an annual spa treatment involving it in one way or another.
We don’t know if it’s some kind of liqueur we’ve never heard of, actual fruit, or just plain sorcery that makes the mousse taste like strawberries, and we don’t really care because it’s amazing. We wish the almond biscuits it comes with were in an empty pool that we could dive into every day for breakfast.
You get maybe half a sausage link, but that’s all you’ll need to be totally happy with this. The State Bird version has duck in it, it’s got the right amount of kick, and it all works perfectly.
Your mother always told you not to fill up on bread, and even though this is good, listen to her advice. There are more interesting things on the menu.
Knowing that you won’t be able to have this at your Superbowl party will make the game a little hard to watch.
This would’ve been great if it was just meat on bread, but now we’re going to start putting crushed broccoli on everything because after eating this, it clearly just makes things better.
If we ever went on some kind of broth cleanse, we’d be ok with it if this was what we could eat.
We’re never going to say something is better at being fried chicken than actual fried chicken, but this had us thinking. Not for long, but we were.
The ice cream sandwiches of our youth are hard to improve on, but this leaves those far behind. The fried rosemary is great with the rum raisins and the egg nog ice cream and the cookies around it are super light. Get this.
If you walked into a dive and E.T. was sitting at the bar, this is what he’d be slugging back shots of. Granted, there’s no booze in it, but he’s from a kids movie and this stuff tastes like liquid Reese’s Pieces. We don’t think higher praise is possible.