You probably already know that the San Francisco Bay Area is home to tech giants such as Google and Apple, but what you may not know is that over the past few years, the city has also become a major travel destination for foodies. Serving a variety of different cuisines, celebrity chefs and new restaurants are on the pulse of the latest culinary trends. From picking up produce to sitting down for a meal at the sushi bar, The Market, a favorite of millennials, is not only a high-end grocery store, but also is situated next to a few popular restaurants and takeout joints in the Twitter building.
But Market Street isn’t the only spot to satisfy your cravings when visiting the City by the Bay. This city’s new wave of inventive cuisines, that range from bean-to-bar chocolate to next-generation Italian dishes, are found in a quite a few hoods around town. Before you take a tour of the city, we suggest checking out our guide of the city’s best restaurants—both new and old—rounded up by neighborhood.
Re-envisioned Italian Fare: North Beach
North Beach, the once-idle tourist neighborhood marked by checkered tablecloths and lines of fanny packs, is being reborn as a trendy restaurant district for locals and in-the-know travelers. Tosca Cafe, once known for being San Francisco’s most famous dive bar, has been rechristened as a full-fledged restaurant. Now, its already-famous roast chicken is served in an almost Vatican-like space with yellow ceilings and Italian paintings watching over the patrons. One block over, after being shuttered for two years, the Purple Onion comedy club that once hosted such famous humorists as the late Robin Williams has a new life as Doc Ricketts. This cool restaurant and subterranean event space serves fresh local seafood dishes, such as albacore tuna confit amid ocean-inspired art. On the other end of North Beach tucked into the side of Washington Square Park is The Square, a casual eatery from the team behind cult-classic Sons & Daughters. This incarnation is open late (until 1 a.m., a rarity in San Francisco), but just as good. You can’t leave here without trying the High-Brow Burger, a 6-ounce rib-eye patty with porcini aioli. Get in my belly!
Ingredients of the Moment: The San Francisco Ferry Building
Take a trip to the Ferry Building, known for its bounty of fresh produce brought in straight from the Bay Area’s top organic farms, to see one of the best views in town. It’s known that many of San Francisco’s most celebrated chefs source their ingredients from the farmers’ market that happens every Saturday. It’s the best spot for you to see what some of the popular ingredients are, like heirloom Pink Pearl apples or speckled Dragon Tongue beans. On any given day, you don’t want to miss the vendors inside such as the beloved Cowgirl Creamery (try the signature Mt Tam triple cream, named after Mount Tamalpais, the iconic mountain just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge); Frog Hollow Farms for legendary jams; and Humphry Slocombe’s for outrageous ice creams that feature local ingredients like the golden beet saffron.
Tried and True: The Financial District
New restaurants open nearly every day in San Francisco, but the city didn’t make a name for itself as a world-class dining destination from flash-in-the-pan gastronomy. The culinary pillars that pass the test of time can easily be found in the Financial District. Stop by the oldest, most beloved restaurant in the city, Tadich Grill, which started out as a coffee stand for gold rushers. It’s a must for seafood lovers, and their fresh catch is best consumed by way of cioppino served with sliced San Francisco sourdough. Looking for a sultry-supper-club spot that serves up live jazz? You’ll enjoy Bix—open since the mid-1980s. This restaurant’s famous potato pillows showered with caviar and creme fraiche are best washed down with a dirty martini. And there’s no shortage of celebrity-chef-owned restaurants here like Michael Mina’s namesake restaurant. It’s one of San Francisco’s finest with bustling happy hours and edible art.
Contemporary Confections: The Mission
The Mission has long been known for its bounty of authentic taquerias and, more recently, as the start-up world’s dinner destination of choice. Now it’s also churning out some of the best confectionaries in the city. The tres leches cake at world-famous Tartine Bakery is still worth waiting for in the line that snakes around the block, as well as its award-winning country levain. Around the corner, Craftsman and Wolves is shaking up the patisserie scene with sweets of the highest order. Case in point: the puffed rye éclair with vanilla and burnt honey. And next door, bean-to-bar chocolate factory Dandelion Chocolate roasts, grinds and molds dark batter into bitter-to-sweet yummy slabs transporting you to the bean’s origin in Ecuador, Belize or Madagascar.
International Delights: The Richmond
You don’t have to buy a ticket to Morocco or China to experience authentic food from these countries. It just requires a trip to the San Fran’s foggy Richmond District, packed with dozens of international restaurants, most of which are run by local families. Aziza transports patrons to the Moroccan upper crust, with a festive Moorish atmosphere and dishes that have kept people hauling it to San Francisco’s far-west end for over a decade. Burma Superstar strikes a flavorsome middle ground with popular fusions like tender pork stewed with kabocha squash and ginger served in a lively modern setting. Shanghai Dumpling King still reigns as the local go-to spot for authentic no-frills Chinese food. It’s most famous for its Xiao long bao, soup-filled pork dumplings that burst in your mouth and arrive at your table in a steamer basket.