Ooh La La! Ten Best French Restaurants in 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

Let's face it: every culture has a cuisine worth trying. Whether it's Spanish paella or authentic Italian pizza, a person who can't afford a round trip ticket can at least circle the globe of cuisine. And there are few cultures that take their food - and their wine - as seriously as the French.

Sometimes, the urge to have French food strikes, and nothing satisfies until you get it. When that happens, count on 10Best to point you in the direction of San Francisco's best French restaurants. We understand the desire to have a great meal, and we work hard to bring you the top places to eat in San Francisco. We vet restaurants carefully for quality, and when we recommend popular eateries like Fleur de Lys or tell you that Chapeau! gets good reader feedback, you can believe it. From Union Square to Financial District, we'll make sure you get - and eat - what's best.

10. Café Jacqueline

Long-stemmed roses and candles set the ambience at this small, romantic restaurant. Unique to Café Jacqueline is its limited menu, consisting of souffles that serve two. Selections change daily, and such delicious ingredients as crab, truffles, and fresh fruit infuse main-course and dessert dishes with great flavor. French-born chef-owner Jacqueline Marguilis describes these soufflés as original works of art. Since each shuffle is made by hand to order, be prepared for a wait. But it's well worth it, and a great reminder of a grander time when people were willing to spend more than just money to get fantastic, sensible food.

9. Jardinière
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Exposed brick walls, mahogany detailing, velvet draperies and a champagne-glass theme set a swank scene at this classy supper club. While guests find it hard to tear themselves away from the marble-and-mahogany bar, Traci Des Jardins' food sways their resolve. The extensive, constantly changing menu features temptations like Alaskan halibut with roasted artichokes, red wine-braised beef shortribs, and dry-aged NY steak with morels and asparagus. Fantastic cheese selections and a great wine list also prove popular, and live entertainment only increases the restaurant's appeal. And Wine Director Alan Murray knows exactly what extraordinary wine will compliment Des Jardins' extraordinary dishes.

8. Garcon
Photo courtesy of Garcon

What's a marriage made in heaven? A classically-trained French chef, taking in the long and delicious history of fine French cooking, and pairing that rich tradition with the unbelievable year-round fish, meat, vegetable and fruit bounty that California provides. Such is the simple but effective plan of Garcon, a sweet, ol-dowrld French bistro set in the cutting edge hipness of San francisco's Mission Dsitrict on Valencia Street. The vibe outside might be Auber-tech hip, but Garcon's menu will bring you back to simpler pleasures that only French classic like French classics like coq au vin, mussels, duck confit and French onion soup can bring.

7. Zazie
Photo courtesy of Zazie

While Bay Area brunch restaurants are not hard to come by, Zazie's is one of a few local gems that keeps customers coming back despite its long, out-the-door lines. The eatery is renowned for its gingerbread pancakes but also features more savory options like scrambled egg plates and chicken-apple sausage. It's easy to customize your order with one, two or three pieces, and there are plenty of attractive sandwiches and salads to choose from, too. Zazie's is tucked away in central and idyllic Cole Valley, just a few blocks from Haight Street and golden Gate Park and right along the convenient N-Judah line.

6. Le Colonial

With trendy "pop-ups" popping up all over town, almost too quick to even judge whether the food is good or not, it's a blessing to have a tried and true institution like Le Colonial. This Romantic French-Vietnamese restaurant in Nob Hill has been a mainstay in San francisco for years, but the recent hire of French star chef Laurent Manrique as chef consultant was meant, as they say in the pop show biz of restaurants, to take it up a notch. Be sure to try the Pho Ga, a classic Vietnamese chicken soup with rice noodles, chicken, cilantro, scallion, bean sprouts, basil, chili and lime.

5. Campton Place Restaurant
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Peaceful, romantic Campton Place sits within a European-style luxury hotel, a fact not unnoticed in the restaurant's Continental cuisine. Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm places a premium on simple, high-quality ingredients, and his affinity for Provençal dishes is evident in glazed Barberie duck with lavender honey and herb-roasted squab with spring onion tarte tatin. Seafood is also a treat in Humm's confident hands, whether it be butter-poached Maine lobster or salt-crusted Mediterannean branzino with Meyer lemon confit. Great service ramps up the desirability, and the experience is more than worth the expense. Conveniently located in Union Square, Campton Place is perfectly situated and within walking distance of the Moscone Center, Yerba Buena Gardens, and other San Francisco highlights.

4. Absinthe Brasserie and Bar
Photo courtesy of Absinthe Brasserie and Bar

Absinthe recalls the days of Dorothy Parker and her circle of witty, sardonic critics. Along with dicing celebrities, they took great pleasure in good food and drink. Plenty of both can be found here, and weekend brunch is especially delightful. Champagne and wines balance the cuisine, which includes cold seafood platters, imported French cheeses, and coq au vin. A tasty caesar salad and a risotto with fava beans, basil, and parmesan are also great options. To sum up: absolutely faultless! If you can't make it for brunch, its' definitely worth visiting at night, where the bar serves some of the most inventive cocktails in the city.

3. Chapeau!
Photo courtesy of used in book.

This charming bistro, happily ensconced in its small, friendly neighborhood, always issues a warm welcome. Its comfortably upscale dining room is busy but romantic, and patrons delight in Chapeau!'s well-executed French country fare. Classics like steak au poivre, roast chicken, cassoulet and duck a l'orange are served a la carte, but multi-course prix fixe menus and the early bird special are incredible deals. Crowning everything is a fabulous wine list that features more than 300 selections. And Chapeau's cozy spot on eclectic Clement Street means your sumptuous French dinner is just the first part of a fun night. Stroll down Clement after dinner to take in some local flavors that most tourists miss.

2. Fringale
Photo courtesy of miss karen

Consistently regarded as one of the city's best bistros, Fringale has a reputation as a noisy, crowded place that offers sensational Basque-inspired cuisine. Within the neutral-toned space, diners are treated to unique, flavor-packed dishes and a broad array of Californian and French wines. Among the temptations you'll encounter are pan-roasted salmon, rack of lamb, confit of duck leg, steamed mussels, and a Black Angus rib-eye. It can be tough to secure a reservation, but doing so ensures an unforgettable culinary feast. Originally opened in 1991, the owners made sure to pass on the restaurant in 2005 to Jean-Marie Legendre, one of the original workers.

1. 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.