SF’s 9 Legendary Restaurants to Try Before You Die
Alice Waters is waiting for you
There are thousands of places to eat in the city. But even though it’s not hard to find a good meal in this town, not every good meal is the stuff of legends. Here, nine iconic restaurants every San Franciscan must try at least once.
Perched high on a cliff above Ocean Beach, this restaurant dating back to 1858 has resurfaced after explosions, fires and earthquakes over the years. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but with its primo view of the Pacific and Sutro Baths, it’s not hard to see why. Skip the overpriced entrees in favor of a stiff drink at the bar.
1090 Point Lobos Ave.; 415-386-3330 or cliffhouse.com
April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman (of NYC’s The Spotted Pig fame) stepped in to save this iconic SF haunt after a nasty landlord threatened its closure a few years back. Order a big pasta dinner and save room for the famous house “cappuccino,” a hot chocolate with brandy, that nods back to Prohibition days. (Bonus: Tosca has long been a favorite among celebs, including Sean Penn and Mikhail Baryshnikov.)
242 Columbus Ave.; 415-986-9651 or toscacafesf.com
California’s oldest restaurant—it’s been turning out orders of Hangtown fry since 1849—is where the Financial District crowd goes for three-martini lunches served by white-coated waitstaff. Stick with the classics here: an order of cioppino or sand dabs and a strong drink.
240 California St.; 415-391-1849 or tadichgrill.com
The only thing you need to know about this food star is what to order: the roast chicken for two with bread salad and a good bottle of wine. It’s perfect for every occasion.
1658 Market St.; 415-552-2522 or zunicafe.com
Another oldie but goodie, Joe’s moved from its Tenderloin location to North Beach after a fire in 2007. Today’s incarnation is a far cry from the 14-stool counter and sawdust-covered floor of the original, but its high-rolling spirit is still alive and well.
601 Union St.; 415-775-4877 or originaljoessf.com
When Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971, she introduced the concept of California cuisine to the world. The rest is history. Not up for dropping a few hundred bucks for the freshest, most local ingredients? Book a spot at the more casual café upstairs instead.
1517 Shattuck Ave.; Berkeley; 510-548-5525 or chezpanisse.com
The old-school gem—named after the Bay Area’s railroad pioneers—survived the recent renovation of the adjoining Scarlet Huntington hotel. Lucky for us, this place, where you go for a burger at the bar and live piano music, still has an old soul.
1075 California St.; 415-771-1140 or big4restaurant.com
HAYES STREET GRILL
You may stick out in a sea of gray hair at this Hayes Valley staple that’s been attracting the pre-symphony, early-bird crowd since 1979, but when the food is good, who cares? The grill is known for fresh fish, so be sure to order up whatever’s on that day, from smoked trout toasts to steelhead salmon with fries and braised greens.
320 Hayes St.; 415-863-5545 or hayesstreetgrill.com
HOUSE OF PRIME RIB
You may need to fast a full day ahead of your reservation here, but indulging in a big slab of prime rib might as well be a rite of passage for every local. And while the decor screams ’50s throwback, it perfectly suits the old-school tableside service.
1906 Van Ness Ave.; 415-885-4605 or houseofprimerib.net