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Food like nowhere else: the best restaurants of San Francisco



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


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Delfina
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy


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 a 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Delfina Restaurant is one of the most affordable of the high-end restaurants in the Bay Area.

Tom's expert tip: On a warm night, take advantage of Delfina's street-side tables for excellent people-watching opportunities.

Read more about Delfina →


Boulevard
Photo courtesy of used in book.


If romance is the reason you've come to The City by the Bay, Boulevard is the picturesque place to dine. Located in a 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Boulevard has ridden the foodie wave and only swelled in popularity.

Tom's expert tip: Check out the gorgeous Bay Bridge Lights display after your romantic meal, a 1.8 mile long display of 25,000 lights that will add romance to any evening.

Read more about Boulevard →


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Russian Hill
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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: In a city with several top-notch French restaurants, La Folie really stands out.

Tom's expert tip: Try the Liberty Farm Duck, just one example of the fine organic dining options, served with Brooks Cheries and in a Pistachio Pesto.

Read more about La Folie →


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Flour + Water


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 correct 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 dressed up with a gorgeous array of locally sustained fruits, vegetables and meats. This is cooking with a conscience, for sure.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Flour and Water is beloved by both locals and the well-informed tourist.

Tom's expert tip: Flour and Water gets its honey from local beehives, a natural way to sweeten their sweetest dishes and desserts.

Read more about Flour + Water →


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Hayes Valley


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 tagine 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Nopa is consistently listed on a broad array of "Best of Bay Area" restaurant lists.

Tom's expert tip: Check out their "Civic Table Project," a series of dinners with special guests and speakers to add informed discourse to a delicious meal.

Read more about nopa →


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Marina District
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 pasta. 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: In a city full of vegetarian options, Greens sets the standard.

Tom's expert tip: Always grab whatever "seasonal" sampler they offer on the menu to get a broad choice of their best offerings.

Read more about Greens Restaurant →


Restaurant Gary Danko
Photo courtesy of used in book.


If you ask a longtime San Franciscan what's the one restaurant a tourist shouldn'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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Gary Danko's consistency epitomizes the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Tom's expert tip: The servers have some impressive knowledge of wine/food pairings.

Read more about Restaurant Gary Danko →


Benu


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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Benu has been listed as one of the best restaurants in the world.

Tom's expert tip: Try the faux shark's fin soup - delicious and environmentally conscious, which Benu executive chef Corey Lee describes as "gelatinous and brittle at the same, like properly cooked jellyfish."

Read more about Benu →


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Russian Hill
Acquerello
Photo courtesy of used in book.


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 with 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 a fennel-dill crust with saffron sauce. The wine list features fine Italian and California vintages.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Acquerello is pricey, but not a penny of your dollar will go to waste.

Tom's expert tip: Try Acquerello's cheese platter, one of the tastiest in the city.

Read more about Acquerello →


Slanted Door
Photo courtesy of Charles Haynes


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 clay pot, 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 cookbook "Vietnamese Home Cooking"), you'll get quite a crowd. And don't forget to keep an eye out for celebrities!

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Slanted Door won a slew of big-time dining awards this past year, making it more popular than ever.

Tom's expert tip: Leave time to explore the Ferry Building, the amazing location of this fine restaurant.

Read more about Slanted Door →


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Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

Tom has lived in the San...  More About Tom

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