Food like Nowhere Else: The Best Restaurants of San Francisco

Photo courtesy of used in book.
Photo courtesy of used in book.
Photo courtesy of used in book.
Photo courtesy of used in book.
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

With a flood of tech funds still rolling in, many San Francisco restaurants are putting their money where the mouths of their patron's are. 

Anyone who has read the news about the Bay Area lately knows the biggest topic is the continued surge of tech money into the city's coffers. Although many locals are legitimately concerned about gentrification and the displacement of longtime Bay Area residents, astute and thoughtful business opportunists are taking advantage of this surge of funds.

Restaurants, for example, are doing everything they can to enhance what they are already offering. Whether they decide to expand their wine lists or diversify their organic choices, one thing's for sure: it's a fantastic time to dine out in San Francisco.

Although San Francisco has always been known for its food, now is the time to visit and try out some of the world's best fare. From perfect pasta in North Beach to sizzling Szechuan in Chinatown, the variety and quality of Bay Area dining is incomparable. And just when it looked like dining couldn't get any better, a new wave of restaurants emphasizing local and organic ingredients has flooded the city. 

Here's our mix and match of the old and the new tastes of San Francisco. 

10. Delfina
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Simplicity and authenticity reign at this small, popular restaurant. Zinc tabletops and exotic hardwoods bear this out, as does the incomparable Italian fare with its top-notch local and organic ingredients. Although Delfina has garnered much acclaim since it premiered, the trattoria still delights with casual ambience, friendly service and satisfyingly reasonable prices; all boons to dining aficionados. Delfina is a great example of a restaurant that doesn't just rest on its past success. While the service and quality of some fine dining restaurants seems to drop their popularity rises, Delfina's innovative menu is always searching for that next big and bold taste.

9. Boulevard
Photo courtesy of Facebook

If romance is the reason you've come to The City by the Bay, Boulevard is the picturesque place to dine. Located in an historic waterfront building, this eatery's intimate Belle Epoque aesthetic and sumptuous food hit all the right notes. The menu showcases regional flavors and French style with dishes like Sonoma Foie Gras and California Sea Bass a la Plancha. A sommelier and 500-item wine list ensure the perfect pairing. Surrounded by Pat Kuleto's timeless Belle Epoque inspired design, Chef Oakes wonderful expression of American regional flavors with a French influenced style has made Boulevard a culinary landmark on San Francisco's revived Embarcadero waterfront.

8. La Folie
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Patrons can't find enough good things to say about La Folie, the small family-run restaurant that mixes sure-handed French cuisine with a refreshing lack of pretense. In the intimate dining room, lush drapery, mirrors and exotic woods impart a note of luxury. The aesthetic is echoed beautifully in the restaurant's artful fare. Chef Roland Passot's joie de vivre shines through in his cooking and is visible in quail and foie gras lollipops, a trio of roasted rabbit with baby vegetables, and sautéed halibut cheeks with tomato confit. Three-, four- and five-course meals satisfy many appetites, as do vegetarian and à la carte options.

7. Flour + Water
Photo courtesy of Facebook

If you believe the most successful plan is a simple one, Flour and Water might just be the spot for you. The name says it all; Chef Thomas McNaughton is serious about the flour and water that goes into his many different kinds of pasta, pasta that he insists on getting right time and time again. (He was trained in Bologna by "committed pasta artisans.") But don't fear that dinner will just be a bowl of pasta; the pasta based dishes are enlivened and dresesd up with a gorgeous array of locally sustained fruits, vegetables and meats. This is cooking with a conscience, for sure.

6. Greens Restaurant
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Greens, one of the city's finest vegetarian establishments, is owned and operated by the San Francisco Zen Center, which helps supply it with organic produce. Inside the voluminous space, diners are afforded spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. Chef Annie Somerville, the creative force behind the menu, has an artistic touch, as proven by Asian-inspired curries, fresh pizzas and luscious pastas. Soups, sandwiches and salads also delight taste buds, as does a tempting wine list. The view is a calm and tranquil shot of the bay, at least on days when the fog hasn't rolled in.

5. nopa
Photo courtesy of Nopa

Nopa defies categorization as either old or new because it has some of both. Although it's only been around since 2006, chef Laurence Jossel worked at several traditional and popular restaurants before Nopa and brings professionalism and expertise to every dish. But tradition bends to experimentation, and that wonderful blend creates some of Nopa's most famous dishes, such as Moroccan vegetable tangine and wood-roasted king salmon. What's more, as one of the more popular restaurants in the city, Nopa makes a concerted effort to be a friendly, active, and concerned neighbor. And from Prather Ranch to Balakian Farms, Nopa's dedication to local, organic, and sustainable products is truly impressive.

4. Acquerello
Photo courtesy of Acquerello Facebook Page

Acquerello's mission statement says it best: "At Acquerello, we believe that refined luxury is always in style. Our desire is to provide our guests an experience of classic and contemporary Italian tastes in an elegant dining atmosphere." Elegant and subdued, this intimate restaurant (whose name means "watercolor") exhibits artistry in both cuisine and appearance. Its serene ambience and its vaulted, beamed ceiling evoke Acquerello's former incarnation as a chapel. Contemporary Italian dishes are the main draw, though, and a frequently-changing menu features dishes like parsley-encrusted pork loin, beef carpaccio with hearts of palm and black truffles, and tuna in fennel-dill crust with saffron sauce. The wine list features fine Italian and California vintages.

3. Restaurant Gary Danko
Photo courtesy of used in book.

If you ask a longtime San Franciscan what's the one restaurant a tourist shouln't miss, chances are they'd say Gary Danko's. Hard to knock this longtime favorite off any list. Sleek and contemporary yet warm and inviting, this restaurant showcases classical culinary knowledge, a flair for the creative, and an appreciation for local ingredients. All are in attendance on the restaurant's seasonal menus, which include dishes like mushroom-dusted sea scallops with cauliflower purée, juniper-crusted venison, and Moroccan-spiced squab with orange-cumin carrots. The cheese cart alone, a delectable delight that rolls out up to twenty different cheeses from all over the world, is alone worth a visit.

2. Slanted Door
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High ceilings and awesome Bay views establish a unique atmosphere at this well-received waterfront venue. Style and spectacle are grounded, though, by Slanted Door's authentic country Vietnamese dishes, which get a California kick from local ingredients. Taste the results in the catfish claypot, crispy peppercorn duck, shaking beef, spicy squid and mesquite-grilled pork chops. Spring rolls also come highly recommended, and great cocktails and scrumptious desserts are worth indulging in. And with a world-famous chef/owner like Charles Phan in charge (author of the fantastic cook book "Vietnamese Home Cooking"), you'll get quite a crowd. And don't forget to keep an eye out for celebrities!

1. Benu
Photo courtesy of sjsharktank

The magnificence of Benu begins with James Beard award-winning chef and owner Corey Lee. The best example of how seriously this Asian/American fusion restaurant takes its food is the fact Lee spent over a year just planning the idea of his restaurant with the best purveyors, gardeners, designers, architects and manufacturers he could find. From that high ideal, everything else flows, including the impeccable and knowledgeable serving staff and the inventive small courses, which are delicious on their own and downright unforgettable when thoughtfully paired with each other and the fantastic wine list. If you are ready to eat - and willing to pay for - a meal that is planned from the moment you step into the door to the moment you leave, visit Benu.