A Guide to the Best Restaurants in San Francisco Every Newcomer Should Check Out

Are you a newcomer looking for the best restaurants in San Francisco? If that’s so, you will be pleased to know that SF has an amazing culinary scene. Whether you are interested in fancy, elegant, and expensive dishes, or you would like to try some street-food specialties, SF has it all covered. From Mexican, Japanese, and Vietnamese to Chinese, Indian and Thai – you’ll find them all after moving to San Francisco. Besides, if you are a non-meat eater or want to find a place that serves gluten-free meals, don’t worry; there are plenty of those as well.

When in SF, you will have the chance to discover innovative flavors and meals from all over the world.

One of the inescapable qualities of the very best places to live in San Francisco is an extensive list of diners worth visiting. It’s not a surprise, because SF is the region with the most three-star dining venues (Michelin stars).

Without further ado, we’ll present you with our guide to some of the most popular SF spots to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We hope that our picks will help you find your new favorite place. Or, a couple of them, why not?

What You Have to Try in SF Besides Mission Burrito

Once in SF, you will have the chance to experience Mexican, Japanese, Indian, German, Chinese, and other delicacies with origins from all over the globe. Whether you are moving to a city alone or with a family, you must get a taste of some of SF’s unique recipes if you want to get to know it.

Specialties You Should Try When in San Francisco

Boudin’s Sourdough French Bread is made with flour, salt, and water. Nothing new, you’ll say, but there’s something special about it – tradition. Back in 1849, a French immigrant named Isidore Boudin first kneaded a dough, fermented with wild yeast, and shaped like a traditional French loaf. The bread has stayed unchanged to this day, and that’s why it is so loved among SF locals.

 

Since its opening in 2008, Humphry Slocombe has become a popular ice cream joint and SF icon. The menu changes to accommodate fresh seasonal ingredients and off-the-wall flavor combinations, including peanut-butter curry and Candy Cap-mushroom. They are also famous for their innovations, such as Secret Breakfast Ice Cream – a unique blend of cornflakes and bourbon.

SF’s cheesecake, although not as famous, easily rivals New York’s. The difference is that SF’s cheesecake is lighter and more like a souffle. And definitely worth testing.

If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind food experience, think about trying the winning combination of creamy spinach and prime rib. The most popular place to get it is the House of Prime Rib, which has been serving this delicious dish since the 1940s.

The Rebel Within is a soft-boiled egg put inside a sausage muffin, served with Tabasco hot sauce.

There’s nothing like having a scoop of salted caramel ice cream on a chilly SF day. Our recommendation – Bi-Rite Creamery, an ice cream shop with salted caramel ice cream being one of the favorites. Although it sounds strange, once you try it, you will understand the beauty of salty-sweet, creamy delight.

The renowned Mission Burrito originated in SF’s Mission District neighborhood. Noted for its large size, it includes sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and extra rice.

Hundreds of taquerias serve SF-style burrito. However, for an authentic Golden City burrito experience, we recommend El Farolito or Taqueria La Cumbre.

Mission burrito, salted caramel ice cream, or the Rebel within, it's up to you to pick your favorite SF specialty.

Best Italian Restaurants in San Francisco

The City by the Golden Gate loves Italian cuisine. During the Gold Rush, immigrants flooded the Bay, and while northerners landed in SF, bringing a taste for bright citrus, green olives, and fresh fish, southerners stayed in New York. Nowadays, Italian diners are all over the Bay, serving Roman classics such as delicious Amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe, garlicky fish, and Neapolitan-style pizzas. Here are our top picks in this category.

Cotogna

Placed where North Beach meets Jackson Square, Cotogna is a warm and welcoming spot with a relaxing vibe and rustic wooden tables. Everything from their menu is delicious, and you’ll be satisfied whether you choose to order fish from the grill, meat from the split, or fresh pasta.

However, if you want to try something extraordinary, the ravioli will blow your mind. It’s a single large filled pasta that, when you cut it with a fork, splits into ricotta and golden egg yolk.

Che Fico – One of the Best Restaurants in SF

Che Fico is fascinating on so many levels. Starting with the name – “Che Fico” is an expression that literally means “what a fig,” but the common meaning is “that’s so cool.” The phrase represents the owner’s impression of living in San Francisco. Warm hospitality, fantastic food, and excellent service justify this restaurant’s name.

Located in one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco – Nopa neighborhood, Che Fico is a taverna, ideal for gathering with friends and enjoying the warm atmosphere and delicious cuisine. The rustic menu features antipasti, handmade pasta, pizzas, meat, fish, and housemade salumi. Dishes with the Jewish-Roman heritage known as “Cucina Ebraica” are a must.

Taverna’s cocktail program is incredible, with a variety of spirits and seasonal ingredients. Those in love with wines can enjoy both Californian and Italian sort.

Delfina

After more than two decades in business, this Mission District place is still one of the most treasured diners in the city. The meals in Delfina are based on meat, including roasted chicken, spicy ribs, and wood-grilled steak. You can even order gluten-free pasta.

The beverage program covers a variety of beers and Italian wines. Delfina’s dessert selection will also blow your mind. If you consider yourself a chocoholic, don’t miss to try Chocolate pistachio torta.

Pizzas, plates of pasta, roasted chicken, and delicious wine are shortcuts to discovering tastes from Italy.

Best Seafood Restaurants in San Francisco

Seafood diners are trendy among tourists, and if you ask them what they would like to eat while in SF, they would probably say – seafood. It is not a surprise because SF has an incredible selection of spots of this sort. They are a perfect place if you want to try delicious crab pasta or perfectly cooked fish.

Pearl 6101

Pearl 6101 is a modern yet cozy place in Outer Richmond. Even though it’s not strictly a seafood diner, it has a distinct focus on seafood pasta and roasted fish. Located in 6101 California Street at 23rd Avenue, this place will win your heart with its excellent family-style whole roasted Mt. Lassen trout, or the selection of cocktails.

Alamo Square Seafood Grill

Located at 803 Fillmore Street at Grove, Alamo Square Seafood Grill is famous for not changing the menu once in two decades. Guests can choose from half a dozen types of fish, four cooking methods, including sauteed, grilled, poached, or blackened, and five sauces – beurre blanc, provencale, green peppercorn, Béarnaise and beurre maître d’ hôtel.

Neighbors love going to Alamo Square on Mondays or Tuesdays for half-off wine deals, and Wednesdays because there’s $0 corkage if you order two courses.

Ayala

Opened in late 2018, Ayala is a classic example of a seafood-focused diner. You can order a dish of nori spaghettini with Dungeness crab, classic Louie salad with shrimp and crab, a Thai-spiced whole red snapper served with lobster pho broth, or a chilled seafood platter featuring assorted shellfish. The place is located at 398 GearyStreet at Mason, and it is one of the most popular eating destinations for tourists.

Seafood diners are favorite stops for tourists visiting American cities, as well as newcomers.

Best Mexican Restaurants in San Francisco

Even though the embodiments of Mexican cuisine are tacos and burritos, Mexican diners in SF offer much more. Some of them are also famous cocktail bars. Traditional but updated versions of Mexican staple dishes will make you fall in love with spicy and carefully cooked meals.

Cala

Gabriela Camara is a famous Mexican chef who decided to open a diner in Golden City. Cala started in 2015 and offers delicious dishes, including pork tamal with achiote and lingcod en pipian with grilled onion, as well as small bites like trout tostadas with avocado, chipotle and fried leeks.

Sangria Aneja is one of the most popular cocktails here, and it goes perfectly with the Latin American food flavors. From Monday to Friday, Cala’s standing-room-only back alley taqueria serves a limited variety of tasty tacos de guisado.

La Torta Gorda

La Torta Gorda, one of SF’s most unique places, opened in 2002 as a traditional Mexican diner inspired by the cuisine of the Mexican state of Puebla. Founder Armando Macuil wanted to share the specialties of his homeland with SF and the rest of the world.

The diner has a beautiful patio in back, but the main focus is on the cuisine of Puebla. Their tortas – toasty Mexican sandwiches layered with meat, avocado, queso fresco, chiles, onions and slathered with refried beans, as well as large quesadillas stuffed with Naples or huitlacoche are some of the most amazing dishes you will try.

You’ll also be charmed with a seasonal dish of poblano peppers stuffed with nuts, fruits, spices, and meat, garnished with pomegranate seeds and doused in a walnut cream sauce. The plate is called Chile en nogada, and you should definitely give it a try.

Nopalito

People love Nopalito because it offers authentic Mexican cooking made with organic, sustainable, and local ingredients. Dishes are carefully cooked with subtle flavors to create interesting interpretations of traditional Mexican food.

Guests enjoy coloradito con pollo made with toasted chiles, Ibarra chocolate, almonds, dried plums, and an array of spices, as well as carnitas, slowly-cooked and braised in bay leaf, orange, cinnamon, milk, and beer. Tender nopales made in the form of tamales are something you shouldn’t miss when you visit Nopalito.

Book your table and enjoy some of the delicious Mexican meals such as Cala's pork tamal.

Best Vegan Restaurants in San Francisco

Vegans in SF are currently experiencing a golden era, literally – Golden Era Vegan is a famous non-meat diner in the city. Golden City offers an incredible selection of non-meat dinners suitable for vegans, vegan-curious, and even those wanting to improve their health with meatless meals. Some of the top vegan chains include VeganBurg, Loving Hut, Next Level Burger, and Project Juice, but local businesses are what makes the vegan culinary scene beautiful. We present to you our selection of the top ones.

Gracias Madre

Since its opening in 2010, Gracias Madre has been one of the favorite places for non-meat eaters. The meals are plant-based, gluten-free, organic, non-GMO, and Mexican-style. It is well-known that traditional Mexican cuisine is full of beans, chilies, rice, corn, and spices, so it is easy to implement it in vegetarian and vegan cooking. That’s why even the staunchest meat-eaters will enjoy dishes in Gracias Madre.

Golden Era

Since its opening in 1999, the Golden Era Vegan Restaurant has been adapting and evolving to the fast-growing trend of a meatless diet and healthy living. Here, guests are served with fares that are 100% plant-based and natural.

Carefully prepared vegan meals feature flavors of Thai, Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines, and they don’t include honey, dairy products of any kind, MSG, or eggs. Delicious fares and excellent service are what makes Golden Era so popular. An extensive menu includes a variety of traditional and modern cuisine, home-made desserts, and beverages.

Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant

Run by a family of devout Buddhists, Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant has two locations in SF – one in Chinatown at 839 Kearny Street and one in the Sunset. The soups are what make these Chinese-influenced spots famous. Even though it is a vegan place, items that contain a small amount of dairy or eggs have appeared on the menu, so if you are a strict vegan, you should verify with the staff before ordering.

Plant-based, fresh, and organic is how the chefs describe vegan meals in some of the best spots of this sort in SF.

Where Do San Francisco Locals Eat? – Try Nob Hill and Potrero Hill

Once you relocate to San Francisco, you could start getting to know your new neighborhood by going out and finding locals’ favorite places for eating, drinking, and hanging out with friends.

Choose a Favorite Local Restaurant or a Bar

Hawker Fare is a Thai restaurant and bar with a casual and fun atmosphere, located on hipster Valencia Street. It is attractive for its Holy Mountain, an upstairs lounge bar that offers Carnival-themed drinks influenced by Brazil, Trinidad, and New Orleans, and a loud bar downstairs that serves tiki-style cocktails.

It is a lively place, ideal for eating, drinking, and chatting with friends. The Thai-inspired decor and urban street vibe make a beautiful setting attractive for dining and enjoining cocktails. Hawker Fare is also a great choice if you are in the mood for after-work drinks during the week.

Located in Potrero Hill, Skool is a seafood restaurant with attractive interior design and beautiful outdoor patio. Locals enjoy drinks and brunches here as the meals are fresh, and the service is excellent.

Skool is the right choice if you crave oysters, mussels, and other seafood delicacies. Blue cheese broth and steam Arcadian blue mussels in bacon are some of their specialties. The menu also includes a large selection of fish, bites, delicate dishes, and cocktails. For those interested in desserts, the blue cheesecake should be their first pick.

Beretta has it all – a great atmosphere, stunning meals, and delicious drinks. Located in Mission District, it is very popular and well known for its thin-crust pizza, risottos, and delicious cocktails.

It is one of the most popular places if you crave Italian wine and pizza. Beretta is also ideal for intimate dinners as well as large parties. The atmosphere is chic, while the interior is elegant and trendy.  

Olea is a cozy restaurant situated on the corner of California Street and Larkin Street in Nob Hill. Its menu features organic, fresh products from local farms in northern California. Here, the avocado and French toasts are a must, and coffee is excellent. Olea is an attractive place for a weekend brunch with your friends or a significant one.

 

Located on Valencia Street in the Mission District, Lolo is a family-owned place that offers non-traditional Mexican cuisine in a chic environment. It is famous for its tapas and tacos, as well as excellent draft beers and cocktails.

Delicious meals, colorful decor, great music, and a lively and fun atmosphere are the reasons why people love to come to Lolo. The prices are a bit high considering the size of the portions, but it is worth it. The tuna tacos are our number one recommendation.

If you want to find a relaxing and calm place to hang out on Sunday mornings, the Clement Street Farmers market could be a great pick. You can purchase from farmers who bring their organic fruits and vegetables. The market also includes flowers, pastries, Indian and Mexican food, and tea masala.

Prices are reasonable compared to grocery stores and other farmers’ markets. If you are visiting Golden Gate Bridge or Golden Gate Park, this is a beautiful place to stop by.

Locals have their favorite spots. It's time for you to find yours.

Popular Cafes in SF According to Locals

There’s no better way to start a day than with a good cup of coffee. When living in SF, drinking coffee is not a mechanic thing; it is a ritual.

Find the Best Cafe in SF

One of the most popular places in SF to have delicious coffee and pastries. Its indoor setting is cozy, warm, and inviting, while the outdoor environment is ideal if you want to have your breakfast outside on a sunny day.

Pastries are original and delicious, and their frittata breakfast is quite good. Tasty desserts and delicate croissants are a must-try.

The finest selection of pastries and great coffee will make you fall in love with this place. Locals love spending time here due to cozy atmosphere and home-made meals. With tables in the sun, this place is a piece of heaven in SF.

Philz serves up coffee blends in a casual yet hip environment. Originally developed and mixed by owner Phil Jaber, the combinations are smooth, delicious and extensive.

Philz Coffee’s menu includes locally made pastries and light to dark roasts. Our recommendation is Mocha Tesora – a dark-roasted, silky coffee punched with notes of dark chocolate.

One of the Best Restaurants in San Francisco – Liholiho Yacht Club

Liholiho Yacht Club is a polished bistro that’s one part Hawaiian and one part Chinese. The food you try here cannot be found anywhere else in SF. Everything, from roasted octopus with curried raisins, butterball potatoes, castelvetrano olives, and fresh coriander, to pickled pineapple, are the masterpieces of chef Ravi Kapur.

Liholiho Yacht Club is one of a kind bistro in SF.

Tartine Manufactory, EST 2002

The former warehouse is now a bright and hip spot in SF. It has a coffee counter, a bakery, an ice cream window, and a small wine bar. When you come here, you shouldn’t worry about making the wrong choice because there’s no such thing. Whether you are stopping to grab a coffee, something from the bakery, or to have lunch, you will leave more than satisfied.

If you are staying for lunch, don’t miss to try coddled eggs, za’atar toast, or fresh horseradish. On the other hand, if you choose it for dinner, consider tasting ricotta and lamb neck ragu.

Working hours: 9 am-6 pm, every day.

Tartine Manufactory has it all - a coffee counter, a bakery, an ice cream window, and a small wine bar.

Welcome to SF and Bon Appetit

Moving is an overall stressful experience, and you have to find a way to make it easier. One of the ways is to look for all the fun things you are going to do after you relocate to SF. Enjoying delicious meals and excellent coffee should be one of those activities.

However, don’t forget about the cost of living in San Francisco. Make sure to create a budget plan that will allow you to explore the exciting culinary scene of the city. Before you start discovering incredible diners in SF, consider finding a reliable San Francisco long-distance moving company that will provide you with moving and packing services so you can enjoy stress-free moving.

Written By: Joan Stivens