22 Restaurants That Make San Francisco Dining Great

Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the San Francisco Greats.


With its diverse population and proximity to some of the best produce and farms in the entire country, it’s easy to see why San Francisco remains one of the premier dining destinations for visitors from around the world. Despite how tiny it is relative to other major cities—it’s only seven miles by seven miles, as any local can rattle off to you immediately—there are thousands of restaurants to choose from.

Of course, with that much variety it might be hard to feel like you can make a clear choice about where to dine. Featured below are several standouts that range from all-time classics rooted in deep histories to newer modern spins on a diverse set of cuisines to help make that decision a little easier.

These locations can be found all over the city, near the Golden Gate in the Marina District to the more quaint neighborhood vibe of Noe Valley. But what they share is that they embody what makes the City By the Bay such a dynamic—and delicious—place to eat. These are the San Francisco Greats.


House of Prime Rib (Nob Hill)

The dining room at House of Prime Rib

The throwback dining room | Credit: House of Prime Rib

Founded in 1949, House of Prime Rib has remained a top destination for both locals and visitors to San Francisco. Boasting some of the warmest hospitality in the area, it’s home to carts filled with towering rib roasts carved to order tableside. The restaurant retains its frozen-in-time interior, replete with red leather banquettes and generous cocktails that come with an extra drink served chilled on the side. The uninitiated should prepare for a veritable feast that starts with the cult-favorite salad, made with three kinds of lettuce, chopped egg, pimento, and sweet beets. Continue on to a plate full of prime rib, cut to your choice, and sides such as mashed or baked potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and creamed spinach. Pro tip: Don’t forget to take advantage of a second piece of prime rib after you power through your first.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: House of Prime Rib offers takeout starting at 3:30pm on Monday through Friday. Orders must be placed directly at the restaurant.


State Bird Provisions (Western Addition)

Chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s lauded State Bird Provisions features some of the most creative presentations and interpretations of Californian cuisine. The ever-rotating small plates selections, along with essentials such as the signature state bird with provisions, is a tribute to all things quail. Since opening to tremendous buzz in 2012, the restaurant has racked up awards, starting with plaudits from both the James Beard Foundation and Bon Appetit for Best New Restaurant and a regular appearance in the MICHELIN guide as a one-star restaurant.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining are open.

Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t do takeout or delivery.


La Ciccia (Noe Valley)

The seafood-forward cuisine of Sardinia is the focus of Noe Valley favorite La Ciccia. Locals have long loved the exceptionally gracious service from the team led by chef Massimiliano Conti and his partner and wife, Lorella Degan. Conti’s food is raved about for his simple but delicious plates such as fresh spaghetti with spicy garlicky oil and bottarga, or cured fish roe. Beyond the pastas, Conti also has a way with fish, whether it is marinated anchovies or the whole fish preparations that occasionally appear on the secondi menu. La Ciccia’s fame goes beyond locals—it has been singled out by MICHELIN, The New York Times, and as one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s best Italian restaurants in the Bay Area.

Dining at the restaurant: La Ciccia is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Order online via the website or by phone.


Nopa (NoPa)

A favorite of both neighborhood folks who gather at the bar and industry insiders looking to score a delicious late-night burger, chef Laurence Jossel’s Nopa has shaped Nopa’s reputation for excellent food, cocktails, and inviting interiors since 2006. The open kitchen has great views of Jossel and his team roasting meats and vegetables in a wood-fired oven, which churns out out countless iterations of the legendary country pork chop with smoky and charred edges. Regulars also frequently turn to Nopa’s burger and house-made Kennebec chips; vegetarians know that the vegetarian tagine, which can also be made fully vegan, represents the best of Bay Area seasonality.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Nopa doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.


Che Fico (NoPa)

Credit: Krescent Carasso

Che Fico was a certified hit immediately after opening in 2018. Though it has a Cal-Italian focus, it also features “cucina Ebraica,” or food from the Jewish Roman tradition. Along with plentiful antipasti options, there are hearty meat and pasta dishes and a variety of cheeses and cured meats. Below the main dining room is Che Fico Alimentari, a market filled with house-made goods such as giardiniera, an Italian relish of pickled vegetables, and hot sauce. You can also sign up for the wine and provisions club.

Dining at the restaurant: Che Fico is open for indoor dining upstairs, while Che Fico Alimentari offers indoor and outdoor seating downstairs.

Takeout: Che Fico Alimentari is available for takeout.


Foreign Cinema (Mission)

Foreign Cinema has long been a shoo-in on many best-of San Francisco lists, thanks to chef and owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark, who have built the restaurant’s excellence and destination status since 1999. Before farm-to-table became a buzzword, Foreign Cinema was already taking advantage of the Bay Area’s robust produce to create vegetable preparations and creative dishes such as its “pop tarts” with seasonal fruit fillings that are a brunch staple. It has always been popular to dine outdoors at Foreign Cinema, and with that availability now in full swing, films have also resumed playing via projector on the patio wall.

Dining at the restaurant: Foreign Cinema is open for both indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Both dinner and brunch are available for takeout via phone.


Kokkari (Financial District)

Since 1998, Kokkari has been a destination for diners looking for excellent Greek food—especially lusciously prepared seafood and game dishes. Kokkari takes full advantage of both local ingredients and top-shelf imports from Greece. To dine inside Kokkari is to treat your nose to overwhelmingly pleasing notes of grilled meats being cooked over a hearth of charcoal. The liberal use of lemon adds zip to Greek classics such as avgolemono, a lemon and egg soup, as well as grilled octopus.

Dining at the restaurant: Kokkari is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Delivery is available via third-party apps; for takeout, call the restaurant directly.


China Live (Chinatown)

Credit: China Live

At China Live, owner George Chen takes his decades of hospitality experience to create an immersive Chinatown experience bar none. This 30,000-square-foot complex is an ode to Chinese food in all its glorious forms. The multi-level space starts with an open and inviting ground floor split into various areas with entertaining views of cooking stations throughout the space. Chefs pleat dumplings and pull noodles for the menu, which features elements from a variety of regions across China. The best seller is the juicy shen jiang bao, consisting of a crispy pan-fried bottom and a lush, brothy, porky filling; other dishes range from Peking duck to kung pao tofu. Upstairs at Eight Tables, a more fine-dining experience means Chinese offerings in a more sumptuous setting.

Dining at the restaurant: China Live is accepting reservations for both indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Through its China Live Signatures service, the restaurant offers delivery from its curated menu to a variety of Bay Area locales. San Francisco residents can order a broader menu for delivery and pickup from the restaurant itself.


Bellota (SoMa)

While the Absinthe Group has several notable restaurants in San Francisco, Bellota is its crown jewel and was named Eater SF’s restaurant of the year when it opened in 2016. While the Spanish-focused menu is filled with classic pintxos and tapas such as briny savory boquerones and smoky patatas bravas, the cocktail and wine program teems with vibrant regional wines from Spain, creamy and sweet sherries, and a multitude of gin tonic variations. The cocktails are poured in glasses adorned with fruit and flowers, which up the ante. With paellas that feed two to four, Bellota is especially good for groups.

Dining at the restaurant: Bellota is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available through a third-party app.


Zuni Cafe (Hayes Valley)

Credit: Eric Wolfinger

Zuni Cafe is one of those indelible classic San Francisco establishments that has showcased excellence over several decades. Known far and wide for its craveable hamburger, roast chicken, and warm bread salad for two, Zuni has consistently loomed large at the James Beard Awards, scoring its first in 2000 for the late Judy Rogers as Best Chef: West, Outstanding Restaurant in 2003, and for its service in 2018. Dining at this corner-shaped, elegant American restaurant is a true San Franciscan treat.

Dining at the restaurant: Zun is open for indoor and outdoor dining. Guests dining indoors will be asked to show proof of vaccination and booster. 

Takeout: Takeout ordering is available through Zuni’s website or via telephone. Since the pandemic began, Zuni Cafe has been offering takeout and also piloted an innovative and successful program that utilizes only reusable containers that the restaurant takes back from you by returning it to the restaurant, to other drop off locations, or via curbside pickup at your residence.


Spruce (Presidio Heights)

Boasting accolades such as a MICHELIN star, a distinction as Esquire’s best new restaurant of 2007, and Wine Spectator’s grand award, Spruce is an undeniable SF destination. The food at Spruce takes inspiration from California, highlighted by the fact that it sources the bulk of its produce from less than 40 miles away at the Woodside-based SMIP Ranch. That bounty features heavily in all the restaurant’s American preparations, from its breadth of fresh salads to the accompaniments and toppings of its main dishes, such as bavette or flank steak.

Dining at the restaurant: Spruce is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available through the restaurant’s website.


Waterbar (Embarcadero)

It’s hard not to be swept away by the incredible bay vistas at Waterbar. But even dining indoors in full view of the two massive floor-to-ceiling fish tanks and sweeping oyster bar is an amazing experience. Equally impressive are the seafood offerings: the restaurant boasts a wide range from fresh oysters to pan-seared filets and whole fish preparations. Sustainability is at the forefront of Waterbar’s dishes, and the care with which the kitchen prepares that bounty is fully evident in the picturesque presentation of its food.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining are both available and reservations are open.

Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant directly.


A16 (Marina)

With food that stems from the southern coastal region of Campania in Italy, A16 has been a pillar of the Marina District in San Francisco since its founding in 2004. The restaurant features a narrow but welcoming interior and open kitchen so diners have a direct view of the work the chefs put into famous offerings such as the wood-oven cooked pizzas and the meatballs (which have their own cult following). Housemade pastas such as the maccaronara, a long square-ish noodle enveloped by a hearty ragu, and other rotating pastas with fresh sauces and adornments are also a hallmark of the satisfying cooking here. 

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Order takeout from A16’s website.


Greens (Marina)

It can be hyperbolic to call a restaurant revolutionary, but there are few other ways to describe an establishment as influential as Greens. Opened in 1979, the place has maintained its status as one of the premier vegetarian restaurants in the country. A long line of chefs have been influenced and inspired by both Zen Buddhism and the restaurant’s vibrant farm, Green Gulch, which provides the restaurant with pristine vegetables and fruits. Almost every dish can be made fully vegan, and the liberal use of legumes, yuba, and tofu add the depth of protein. The interior is its own work of art, featuring the creations of several local artists and various types of wood to create a warm and inviting atmosphere to enhance the sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining are both available at Greens.

Takeout: Takeout is offered through Greens’s website.


Yank Sing (SoMa)

Credit: Yank Sing

Three generations of the Chan family have contributed to Yank Sing’s success since its 1958 opening. A deep-rooted local devotion to Yank Sing’s dim sum offerings have helped cement its status as a must-go for Bay Area natives, transplants, and tourists. It’s hard to argue with the critical acclaim Yank Sing has scored—it was chosen as a Bib Gourmand restaurant for MICHELIN in 2021—after tasting a juicy pork soup dumpling and feeling its warm broth break free of the wrapper or taking a bite of a pillowy barbecue pork bao.

Dining at the restaurant: The Rincon Center location is open for indoor dining and the Stevenson Street location is accepting reservations for indoor and outdoor dining. Since the pandemic, the restaurant has revolutionized how it serves dim sum to make it more COVID-friendly.

Takeout: Order online for takeout or delivery from the Rincon Center location.


Burma Love Downtown (SoMa)

The Bay Area has long been a hub for Burmese food, and some of the most famous representatives of that cuisine have been the Burma Superstar restaurants. That same group opened Burma Love Downtown in Mint Plaza in San Francisco in 2019 to great fanfare, and the restaurant has been a hot spot ever since. Salads feature heavily in Burmese food, and the most famous of these is tea leaf salad, which Burma Love Downtown has its own version of, tossed tableside blending the fermented tea with the crisp ingredients—like nuts and fried garlic—that make the salad such a textural delight. There’s also mohinga, a fish chowder that is a staple of Burmese cuisine, along with other delights such as Burmese curry and pork belly with mustard greens.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining both available at Burma Love Downtown.

Takeout: Order directly through the restaurant or via third-party apps.


Octavia (Lower Pac Heights)

While Frances in Castro remains temporarily closed, its sibling restaurant in Pacific Heights, Octavia, has reopened. When Frances opened in 2009, rave reviews and accolades streamed in from publications such as Bon Appétit and Esquire, along with a a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Octavia followed suit when it opened in 2015 in an even larger location. Chef and owner Melissa Perello crafts approachable comforting food at both restaurants, with seasonal dishes—buttermilk-fried quail, tagliatelle with salt spring mussels—that swap out often, plus outstanding desserts such as profiteroles with roasted strawberries and dark chocolate budino topped with whipped coffee ganache.

Dining at the restaurant: Octavia is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Octavia doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.


Swan Oyster Depot (Nob Hill)

Prepare to wait in line at Swan Oyster Depot. But rest assured, you will be richly rewarded with fresh seafood that’s made this fuss-free Nob Hill counter a favorite of Anthony Bourdain and other culinary luminaries. History is a palpable presence at this family-owned luncheonette. Since its opening in 1903, servers have helpfully guided diners to dishes such as crab Louie salad, shucked oysters, and a colorful sashimi platter. It’s a classic San Francisco experience that locals and visitors must have. Get to know the (not-so) secret menu before going. 

Dining at the restaurant: Swan Oyster Depot is open for walk-ins with a new parklet.

Takeout: Takeout is available through third-party apps.


Akiko’s Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Financial District) 

Of all the exclusive and extravagant omakase bars in San Francisco—and this fish-obsessed town has a fair few—Akiko’s, opened in 1999, is a standout institution. Sushi master Ray Lee has been behind a revered presence behind the counter and many other talented chefs have come through his kitchen, including Adam Tortosa of omakase haven Robin. Akiko’s is planning on moving to a new space in the East Cut soon, so grab a perch at the cozy original outpost on Bush Street while you still can.

Dining at the restaurant: Akiko’s is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.


International Smoke (SoMa)

Cookbook author and television personality Ayesha Curry teamed up with prolific restaurateur Michael Mina for this meaty destination within the ground floor of the leaning Millennium Tower. The menu is truly global, smoking and saucing ribs several different ways, from earthy chipotle to sweet sesame-gochujang, then rounding them out with comforts such as Mina’s lobster mac and cheese and Curry’s warm cornbread. Plus, it’s a trendy scene—sometimes, Curry’s husband basketball star Steph Curry and fellow Golden State Warriors swing through.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Order through International Smoke’s website for takeout and delivery.


¡Chao Pescao¡ (Civic Center)

Chef-owner Rene Denis sunset his chic restaurant Soluna during the pandemic, replacing it with the more colorful and casual ¡Chao Pescao! in spring 2021. The menu is a mashup of his favorite childhood foods, including Colombian empanadas—which won high praise from the San Francisco Chronicle soon after the restaurant’s debut—made with tender masa and fried until crusty, as well as Cuban ropa vieja, lechon, and tostones. It’s an excellent option to grab a pre-theater mojito and a bite, but also worthy of a stop anytime.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant is offering both takeout and delivery.


Chili House (Richmond District)

Out in the avenues, Chili House, first established in 1988, prides itself on having the best peking duck in San Francisco, a title that few contest. Chef Han Lijun has served his legendary duck to Chinese presidents and diplomats and countless local diners on Christmas Day. But there’s no need to wait for the holidays for this quintessential SF experience—in addition to crackling duck with pancakes and all the fixings, Chili House also offers fiery chili wontons and tan tan noodles.

Dining at the restaurant: Chili House is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Both takeout and delivery are available through the restaurant’s website.


Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Noah Cho is a writer and teacher based out of Oakland, California. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @noahreservation.

Becky Duffett is a food writer living and eating in San Francisco. Follow her on Instagram at @beckyduffett.

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