With all the fuss about the French and the Italians and their romantic ways, we shouldn't forget that the Greeks have been in the business of pairing food and love since ancient times. One of the most enchanting dinner destinations in the city, Kokkari Estiatorio offers a refined yet cozy ambiance that sets the mood for a perfectly picturesque evening. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are carefully combined to create Mediterranean delights like moussaka, zucchini cakes and grilled lamb chops. There are plenty of suitable wine pairings, as well, no matter what menu item you choose. The traditional walnut and honey baklava is a must for dessert.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Kokkari Estiatorio has been a dining destination in San Francisco for many years.
Tom's expert tip: Top off your meal with some excellent grappa!
Loló restaurant is a beloved Mission District institution. The restaurant is family-owned and operated by Executive Chef Jorge Martínez, his wife Lorena Zertuche and General Manager Juan Carlos Ruelas. Loló's bright and vibrant interior, designed by co-owner and artist Lorena Zertuche, is uniquely San Franciscan and fits perfectly with the cultural spirit of the neighborhood. For the interior, Lorena took inspiration from rural Mexican culture and from her childhood growing up on rancherías in Torréon, Coahuila. The interior evokes the cultural and creative spirit of The Mission, using locally found objects and fabrics to create an atmosphere that is unapologetically bold and playful. And the creative cuisine at Lolo matches the interior for an unforgettable dining experience.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Lolo is a wonderful choice for those who want their Mission Street dining experience to feel like a family experience.
Tom's expert tip: Make time for a cocktail at Agave Bar, where the drinks are as inventive and colorful as the food.
This much-loved mainstay has evolved into one of San Francisco's favorite restaurants. The interior features Southwestern accents, but the food takes cues from California, France, Italy, and the Mediterranean. Fresh oysters at the bar make a good introduction, and the Caesar salad is famous far and wide. Other menu staples include duck breast and the signature roasted chicken (prepared to order). You'll also want to try house-cured anchovies and sourdough bread with the rest of the hip clientele. Half of the joy of the meal is the colorful interior, inspired by the Zuni, one of the indigenous Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Zuni Café won the James Beard Foundation Award for 'Outstanding Restaurant' in 2003 and 'Outstanding Service' in 2018.
Tom's expert tip: If you want to see and be seen while dining, Zuni's corner spot with huge windows offer an active and engaging setting for a meal.
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.
Sotto Mare's old-school Italian ambiance and incredibly fresh fare receive rave reviews from North Beach natives and Bay Area visitors alike. The restaurant is known for its traditional baccala, savory crab cioppino and Boston-style clam chowder, but the menu also features oysters and clams on the half shell, seafood risotto and daily fresh fish selections. Imported beer and wine pairings round out an excellent meal. Patrons can also purchase fresh fish for retail value. Sotto Mare is a wonderful example of San Francisco's bountiful bay meeting up with the Italian joy of cooking, so you'll get a healthy bite of both cultures at this memorable restaurant.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Sotto Mare is a beloved city treasure, loved by locals and visitors alike.
Tom's expert tip: The Mussel/Clam Steamer combo a top choice and plenty for two people!
Empress by Boon is San Francisco's newest, must-visit destination in the heart of Chinatown. Using fresh ingredients from local sources such as the restaurant's farm based in Gilroy, Michelin-starred Chef Ho Chee Boon produces distinctive contemporary dishes infused with Cantonese flavors. The expansive restaurant with carefully designed dining areas occupies an iconic location in San Francisco's Chinatown with striking city views. Reimagined by Chef Ho and team, the space embraces modern design elements creating a welcoming atmosphere. If you're looking for a Chinese cuisine experience that is both contemporary and rich in tradition, be sure to book a table at Empress by Boon.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Empress by Boon is a newcomer to the San Francisco restaurant scene but has already garnered rave reviews.
Tom's expert tip: The prix fixe menu starts at $78 and features rotating specialities such as Iberico Ham Shanghai Xiao Long Bao and Steamed Zucchini-Prawn Dumpling with fresh Australian Black Truffle.
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.
Created with equal parts intellect and love, the beautiful Mr. Jiu's restaurant could be described as the brain and love child of talented chef/owner Brandon Jew. Featuring amazing Cantonese staples that are made in-house, Mr. Jiu's is an excellent option for diners who want a more slow-food approach to most of the other restaurants in Chinatown. Using local and seasonally available ingredients, the dishes exude a California vibe but stay entrenched in good traditions.The main restaurant is in a large banquet hall, so group meals are ideal. This is a serious place for serious foodies; the restaurant even published its own cookbook, "Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food."
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Mr. Jiu's is a great option for those who want a more contemporary take on Chinese cuisine.
Tom's expert tip: If you want a more intimate experience that includes fantastic cocktails, book a spot at the Moongate Lounge, just above Mr. Jiu's.
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.
"If I knew I was going to die tomorrow morning I'd probably be eating some really high-end sushi tonight," Anthony Bourdain, RIP, famously said in 2013. The famous chef and writer would have done well at Akiko's. This chic downtown restaurant uses local and seasonal fresh fish from two sources: local purveyors and Japan's Tsukiji Fish Market, which arrives daily. Well aware of the problem of overfishing, Akiko's avoids overfished stock and stays committed to using as much sustainable, organic and local products as possible. The warm and competent staff are a perfect compliment to the exquisite sushi, and the rustic earth tones of the restaurant, complete with imported rosewood floors and exposed brick walls add an exceptional atmosphere. Reservations highly recommended for this special restaurant.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Akiko's has spent many decades mastering the exquisite art of preparing and serving sushi.
Tom's expert tip: Akiko moved its location to 430 Folsom Street in early 2022.