Editor’s note: At the time of publication, the Bay Area is allowing outdoor dining with restrictions. Keep up with the latest restrictions on dining in cities across the U.S. and Canada.
There’s a reason some restaurants become neighborhood hangouts. Between friendly, familiar staff; soulful cooking that satisfies cravings; and a relaxed environment — they’re places where you can just be yourself.
While life has gotten complicated during COVID-19, restaurants have been resilient and there for us every step of the way. They’re finding ever more inventive ways to create a welcoming and safe space to share the food they’re known for and support their communities.
Enjoying the flavors you love and sharing them with family or friends is one mode of self-care that also shows your love for the restaurants you patronize. And when that restaurant is a vital part of your community — like these Bay Area local favorites — it’s even more meaningful. These are the neighborhood restaurants that locals love for good reason around the Bay Area, ready for your dining (whether outdoors or for takeout) needs.
Alamo Square Seafood Grill (Alamo Square)
If you’re craving generous portions of French-inspired seafood at a modest price — almost every dish is priced under $20 — then Alamo Square Seafood is the place to go. The French owner presides over the dining room, and the restaurant reminds some diners of a Parisian neighborhood brasserie. Order a glass of Burgundy or Riesling with your escargot with garlic parsley butter, blackened shrimp risotto, or the rusty red Provençal fish stew. And if you’re in the mood for heartier fare, their beef bourguignon with mashed potatoes will warm up any winter night.
Dining at the restaurant: Get comfortable nightly at a sidewalk bistro table out in front of the restaurant.
Takeout: Alamo Square Seafood Grill offers takeout.
Blue Plate (The Mission)
This Mission District standby, open since 1999, is famous for its comfort food that tastes like home. And it nails the homey vibe, since the art-filled restaurant was once a single family house. The menu combines Southern and Mediterranean favorites, ranging from smoked trout deviled eggs and meatloaf to gnocchi with preserved lemon and black truffle risotto. Go for the Key lime pie for dessert.
Dining at the restaurant: Right now, the primo place to sit is at one of the six heated tables strategically placed in a verdantly landscaped brick patio.
Takeout: Call or visit the Blue Plate website for pickup, or use a food app for delivery.
Zuni Café (Civic Center)
The roasted chicken panzanella salad, with bitter greens, pine nuts, and Zante currants is a rite of passage for any food lover. Zuni is one of San Francisco’s most iconic
restaurants, and that chicken plays a large part in why. Late chef Judy Rodgers led the refined restaurant to multiple James Beard Awards and a slew of other recognitions, and her influence legacy continues to live on through the restaurant’s wood-fired, seasonally driven fare.
Dining at the restaurant: Zuni Cafe is takeout-only at the moment, but plan to dine outdoors along the long window that fronts Market Street in true urban-café style when the restaurant returns to dine-in service.
Takeout: For the first time in history, Zuni’s chicken is available for takeout, along with Drake’s Bay oysters and those famous frites. Bonus: Zuni’s food comes in zero-waste reusable metal containers from Dispatch Goods that you can return with your next order.
Frascati (Russian Hill)
Craving fine Mediterranean fare and some warm personal attention? Then you’ll appreciate the vibe at Frascati. The elegant bistro has attracted a loyal following for classic dishes such as duck leg with risotto, housemade fettuccine with beef bolognese sauce, or grilled pork chop with broccolini and persimmon salsa. Be sure to save room for a legendary dessert: Snicker bar cheesecake, warm apple cobbler, or one of the 27 flavors of housemade ice cream and sorbet.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine sidewalk café style out front, where servers wearing masks will attend to your needs.
Takeout: Place your to-go order by phone or email.
Chou Chou Bistro (Forest Hill)
Francophiles are well aware of Chou Chou, which transports diners to Paris with a menu that runs from pain perdu, chicken crepes, and eggs Benedict with housemade hollandaise to mussels and hangar steak with skinny frites and blue cheese sauce. All the portions are generous, served up by welcoming. Try to leave room for the housemade creme brûlée served in a heart-shaped dish.
Dining at the restaurant: Chou Chou has a walled patio ringed by twinkly lights and tables arranged around tower-style heaters.
Lokma (Central Richmond)
A meal at Lokma feels like a trip to Istanbul. Manti (Turkish dumplings with spiced ground meat), lamb kofte, and whole grilled branzino all get Californian spins with the ultra-fresh produce the city is known for. Don’t discount brunch, when the Turkish breakfast for two — pastirma (air-dried cured beef), scrambled eggs with Turkish sausage, feta, olives, fresh fruit, kisir salad, tomatoes, cucumber, kaymak (clotted cream), and warm pita with honey — gives a tour of some of Turkey’s greatest hits.
Dining at the restaurant: Heat lamps make evening dining enjoyable on Lokma’s streetside seating.
Takeout: Lokma’s full menu is available for takeout.
Inventive Chinese cuisine with fresh ingredients keeps regulars coming back to FANG, the little sibling to House of Nanking, a Chinatown favorite since 1988. The menu spans regions, including dishes such as Sichuan mapo tofu, Taiwanese pork in a caramelized honey soy sauce, and steamed buns. The newest sensation is Szechuan la fun, bucatini-like gluten free noodles and Chinese sausage in a garlicky, spicy sauce. Don’t miss the $15-and-under dishes served over rice.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is temporarily closed, but typically a petite outdoor dining area is warmed by heaters and festooned with lights, and there’s parklet space on the way in early 2021.
Takeout: Call or go online to order directly through the restaurant for pickup, or use any of the major food delivery apps for lunch or dinner.
Kingston 11 (Oakland)
It’s hard not to smile as you scan the menu at Kingston 11, which marries sunny California produce with Jamaican dishes and cooking techniques. The result is delicious dishes such as oxtail stew, spicy escovitch salmon, jerk chicken, and fried plantains with black beans and cream. Owner Nigel Jones, who works hard to embed the restaurant in the community, and the island music combine make diners feel like old friends who happened upon a party.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine al fresco in a front porch parklet warmed by fire bowls.
Takeout: Call or email the restaurant to order for pickup or delivery.
Belcampo (Jack London Square)
This Jack London Square restaurant/butcher shop specializes in certified organic grass-fed meat and many ways to enjoy it. Try a Superman salad with grilled steak and pepitas, a lamb burger, or steak frites cooked to order. And while you’re there, why not pick up a raw steak for dinner or a roast? Though the restaurant now has several California locations, it’s a Bay Area original that brings new meaning to the area’s farm-to-table ethos — owner Anya Fernald started her own ranch to ensure the meat is to her specifications.
Dining at the restaurant: The airy restaurant is backed by a large patio with heaters overlooking the Bay. Plus, there’s a newer outdoor tented space called Palm Plaza.
Takeout: Place your restaurant or butcher shop orders daily with the Belcampo app that gives rewards points, or via the website for pickup or delivery.
Parada Peruvian Kitchen (Walnut Creek)
Parada Peruvian Kitchen provides a look at both classic and modern preparations of Peruvian favorites. is a welcoming stop in the heart of Walnut Creek. Memorable starters are empanadas and ceviche — a dish the waiters proudly will tell you was invented in Peru — while standout entrees include lomo saltado (beef, fresh fries, onions, and tomatoes in a savory sauce); aji de gallina, the elegant, creamy chicken stew studded with pickled onion, olives, and tender chicken; or pork shoulder rubbed in adobo and slow-cooked until it falls off the bone. Parada will make you discover why Peru is considered one of the world’s cradles of cuisine.
Dining at the restaurant: Enjoy your feast on the heated covered patio, where you can order with a masked server or use a contactless QR code if you prefer.
Takeout: Visit the website to order online for pickup or delivery.
Blue Ridge Kitchen (Sebastopol)
Blue Ridge Kitchen is a newcomer at the Barlow. Still, it’s already gained a loyal following for serving up generous portions of expertly prepared seafood and casual Southern-accented fare. It’s the kind of place where you can grab a filling burger and a brew for under $20. Chef Matthew D’Ambrosi is a fisherman who has filled the menu with favorites like cioppino, with blue clams, mussels, tender calamari, shrimp, and crawfish; a Tuesday special shrimp and grits; and crunchy and juicy Southern-style fried chicken.
Dining at the restaurant: There’s ample seating for 80 on the covered patio, where you’ll dine among planter boxes filled with culinary herbs.
Takeout: Call the restaurant daily to pick up dinner and a regional wine like Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée or Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon, or order on the website for pickup or delivery.
Sam’s Social Club (Calistoga)
Since reopening after shelter-in-place this spring, Sam’s Social Club has been focused on one of the resort’s favorite meals: brunch. Go for the seasonal Californian fare like a breakfast pizza with bacon, eggs, scallions, and mozzarella or sourdough toast topped with avocado and a soft-boiled egg. More savory choices include chicken paillard and the roasted beet and carrot salad. Add a sweet finish with fresh churros with candy cap mushrooms that have a sweet maple-vanilla flavor. Even if it’s your first visit, the managers and servers will make you feel like a regular in the beautiful, slightly rustic setting where you’re sure to meet someone interesting by the fire pits.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine under the stars daily in the tented patio with clean-burning electric heaters.
Takeout: Pick up your Sam’s favorites, from the truffle deviled eggs to the cauliflower steak, daily by calling the restaurant or ordering via the restaurant’s website.
The Cantina (Mill Valley)
For 35 years, The Cantina has served up classic Mexican American fare, including tacos, enchiladas, and burritos. But the signature Cantina dish everyone loves is fajitas. Whether you order steak, chicken, or vegetable fajitas, they’re served up on a sizzling platter with all the trimmings. And they all go really well with The Cantina’s organic margarita, just one of a dozen was to enjoy this classic cocktail.
Dining at the restaurant: You’ll be quite toasty whether you’re dining on the front patio, the garden patio, or the parking lot dining room, where tables have built-in fire pits.
Takeout: Order your favorites from the spicy chicken wings to tortilla soup daily from national and local food delivery apps or pick up at the restaurant.
Pacific Catch (Campbell)
Just like produce, seafood is seasonal, and Pacific Catch changes preparations through the year to show off pristine seafood to its best advantage. Grilled salmon chowder, cioppino, tuna poke, and chicken katsu with pineapple coleslaw are standouts on the winter menu at this local chain dedicated to sustainability. Organizations such as Monterey Bay Seafood Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch, and the Surfrider Foundation all praise Pacific Catch’s sustainability efforts.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine outdoors on a plant-filled patio with umbrellas and heaters that feel straight out of a tiki fantasy. The 25-table patio is adorned with sparkling white lights that give it a magical feeling.
Takeout: Order the full lunch or dinner menu for curbside pickup or delivery via the website, the Pacific Catch app or in person. Order Now
The Village Pub (Woodside)
The tony Village Pub has always been a clubby place to relax and enjoy a top-notch meal — after all, acclaimed chef Mark Sullivan of Spruce in San Francisco is involved. It’s a fine place to enjoy refined fare such as foie gras torchon with green apple pate and toasted brioche or a succulent seasonal duck; the current specialty is dry-aged duck breast à l’Orange. But there’s also a burger and fries if something lower key is desired.
Dining at the restaurant: The heated open-air veranda decorated with holiday lights can accommodate 13 parties. Order via contactless QR code or go old-school with an attentive masked server and sanitized menus. They’re open for lunch, brunch and dinner throughout the week.
Takeout: Order a Pub Burger, and the rest of the menu nightly via the restaurant’s website or by phoning the restaurant. Order Now
Maria C. Hunt is a journalist and author who explores cultural stories around food, wine, wellness, and design.