There’s no shortage of great restaurants in San Francisco, or unique dishes and venues, either. But when you’re looking for something specific–you’re dying to dine outdoors, you want an especially romantic evening, or maybe it’s your last morning in the city and you’re craving the best brunch you’ve ever had–this every-occasion list has what you’re looking for.
Best three-ﬁgure splurge: Saison
The tasting menu at Saison ($248 before tax, tip, or alcohol) requires a commitment of both money and time. Chef Josh Skenes will send out about 15 courses of molecular gastronomy over the course of three hours. The open kitchen lets you watch the chefs at work.
Best vegetarian dishes: Greens
Using only organic produce and the finest ingredients available, chef Annie Somerville balances colors, flavors, and textures to create her all-veggie Mexican-, Mediterranean-, and American Southwest-influenced dishes. The to-go counter is a convenient and inexpensive option for enjoying world-class health food anytime.
Most romantic restaurant: SPQR
Matthew Accarrino, one of SF’s top chefs, works his magic on imaginative combinations of Roman-inspired small plates and pastas, relying on seasonal produce and seafood. The dark room teems with couples and small groups making a night of it on one of the most charming blocks of Fillmore Street.
Best pizza: Little Star Pizza
Dimly lit and done up in shades of black, this hipster hangout proffers what’s hailed as the city’s best deep-dish pizza, plus a thin-crust version that can hold its own. Salads, microbrews, and inexpensive French wines serve as perfect accompaniments. A cleverly loaded jukebox makes the long waits bearable.
Hottest restaurant of the moment: State Bird Provisions
To nab a seat in the hip dining room of the city’s hottest restaurant, you need patience, perfect timing (try 9 P.M. or later on a weeknight), or a hard-to-get reservation 60 days in advance. But the inventive California menu, especially the fried quail and savory pancakes, is worth it.
Best pasta: flour + water
The specialty at this bustling casual spot is daily house-made pasta and pizza—hence the name—but “pasta” doesn’t begin to describe the wild boar raviolini with pickled persimmons or chestnut gnocchi with porcinis. Open until midnight on weekends, it’s the perfect spot to end an evening in the Mission.
Best place to dine outdoors: Foreign Cinema
Retreat from the urban bustle for a leisurely brunch in this modern brasserie’s generous courtyard oasis. At night, foreign classics, independent features, and animated shorts projected onto the patio’s brick wall offer the perfect accompaniment to the Mediterranean menu. But it’s a restaurant at heart, so don’t expect surround sound.
Best SF-style burrito: La Taqueria
This cheery stucco-and-neon taqueria has been run by the Jara family since 1973 and is regularly touted by the media as having the best burrito in the United States. Carnitas and carne asada are the best fillings here; the tacos, chips, and quesadillas are just as good.
Best takeout: Mission Chinese
It looks like a fluorescent-lit dive, but inside chef Danny Bowien is cooking up a nationally acclaimed menu of what he proudly calls “Americanized Oriental” food: tea-smoked eel, salt cod fried rice, kung pao pastrami. No reservations, but delivery is available if you don’t want to brave the lines.
Best pastries and desserts: Tartine Bakery
Hipsters and tourists alike line up down the block for the morning buns, bread puddings, meringues, and brownies from bread master Chad Robertson and his wife, pastry chef Liz Prueitt. For lunch, try a croque monsieur or hot-pressed sandwich on Tartine’s world-famous bread.
Best brunch: Zazie
Inviting inside and out—with a checkerboard tile floor, exposed brick walls, and a sunny patio—Zazie is famous for its decadent brunches. Try gingerbread pancakes or one of many variations on eggs Benedict. Visit on a weekday for French comfort food sans the excruciating wait.