San Francisco’s well-known as one of the best food cities in the country, if not the world. Whether you want world-class fine dining, incredible dim sum, perfect pizza, fresh-outta-the-ocean sushi, spicy-as-hell noodles, a strong rum drink served out of a whole pineapple, or just views that will take your breath away, SF is pretty much paradise.
Here are some of our favorite corners of the city, loved by both locals and the many visitors that stream in to the City by the Bay every year to eat, drink, and revel in its bounties. For the complete list, as well as recommendations for SF’s best burritos, dive bars, late-night spots, cocktail bars, and more, check out the complete MUNCHIES Guide to San Francisco.
House of Prime Rib: Where do we even start? The massive silver carts, the moody lighting, the elaborate salad presentation, the dreamy creamed spinach! One of the last bastions of old-school SF glamour dining, the iconic House of Prime Rib is now mostly populated by a mix of families and attractive tattooed young people who want to relive the days of huge, strong martinis and prime rib carved tableside. A little camp, a lot of decadence, House of Prime Rib should live forever.
Yank Sing: Yank Sing is a true empire of dim sum. Family-owned and operated for three generations, its massive dining room is full of bustling carts filled with baskets of shu mai, Peking duck, stuffed crab claws, and more. It’s all delicious, but keep an eye on how much you order or else your bill will be unforgiving.
The Old Clam House: Established in 1861—yeah, during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and the fucking Gold Rush, man!—this ridiculously charming seafood spot on Bayshore no longer caters just to fishermen, though you’ll definitely want to lean surf over turf on the menu. A big order of shellfish and and a strong Bloody Mary will have you feeling like an old man of the sea, anyhow.
Ichi Sushi: Ahh, omakase. After expanding to bigger digs in 2013, Ichi has really gotten into its groove. Sit at the bar and order a big glass or beer or one of the wines on tap, and allow the chefs—who know their shit—to bestow you with the finest fish that the sea has to offer. And if you forget the rules of eating sushi, they’re written right on the wall.
Foreign Cinema: As adored now as it is when it opened 16 years ago, Foreign Cinema lives up to its name by screening films—from Dead Poets Society to Ratatouille—in its incredibly charming backyard while you feast on fresh, locally-inspired food that reflects the ongoing influence of Alice Waters on Bay Area dining. It’s absurdly romantic, and brunch is a great option if you’re on a budget but still want a piece of the magic.
Mitchell’s Ice Cream: This family-owned, old-school ice cream shop (since 1953!) has everything your dessert dreams are made of—grasshopper milkshakes, anyone?—with some Filipino flair, once you start looking more closely at the menu. In addition to getting a mud pie, you can order halo halo or purple-yam- and coconut-flavored scoops. Jackfruit ice cream is considered a “standard” flavor, but so are spumoni and rum raisin.
Outerlands: If you can stand the permanently hefty wait, the brunch at Outerlands is one of the city’s best, a cozy menu of piled-high open-faced sandwiches on thick bread, and massive Dutch pancakes topped with fresh, locally-sourced fruit. Plus the interior feels like the rec hall at your summer camp, all wood beams and funny little tables.
Burma Superstar: San Francisco has tons of great Burmese food, and Burma Superstar lives up to its name. The 22-ingredient rainbow salad is a huge favorite, but the tea leaf salad and oh noh kauswer (coconut curry chicken noodle soup) are memorable as hell, too.
Tonga Room: When describing the Tonga Room—America’s oldest tiki bar—to someone who has never been, it’s hard to believe the words that are coming out of your own mouth. “Well… it’s in the Fairmont, one of the nicest hotels in San Francisco. It’s a tiki bar, centered around an indoor pool… and it rains indoors periodically, and there’s a cover band playing Foreigner songs on a floating island in the middle of the pool.” This is all true. And while you’re reveling in the spectacle of it all, you can be getting sloshed on Pineapple Royales. The food’s not the best, but that’s far from the point. This is escapism at its absolute finest. (Note: Do not jump in the pool—you will get banned.)
Mission Chinese Food: Though its hype has gradually been overshadowed by the New York location’s larger scale in both menu and venue, the original location of Mission Chinese Food—still tucked into the unassuming exterior of greasy-spoon Chinese restaurant Lung Shan on Mission Street—maintains its friendliness and scrappiness, its twinkling Christmas lights and plastic water cups. Though it’s been open for just six years, there’s something about Mission Chinese Food that harkens back to a previous version of San Francisco that now seems long ago, when bottled beers were always under $4 and twentysomethings could afford to share the Victorian mansions on Guerrero. Get the classics—like Kung Pao Pastrami and Thrice Cooked Bacon—but give the mapo burritos a shot, too. After all, this is burrito country.
Lazy Bear: You have to basically win the lottery to get seats, and pay for your meal in advance through a ticketing system, but everyone seems to agree that it’s well worth it. Think of it as the Wonka factory of SF, full of constant surprises. Though there’s a New Nordic-ness to the food, it describes itself as “the modern American dinner party,” and it feels like it, too, as you’ll inevitably find yourself bonding with the others sharing your reservation time. The tasting menu typically includes 14 courses or more, so arrive openminded and make this the main event of your evening.
Cliff House: A destination for your grandparents, your parents, and now you, the Cliff House has crazy-stunning views of the ocean without having the crazy-overpriced menu to match. Everything’s reasonable, but there’s no need to order big. Instead, grab some beers, oysters, and fish and chips, and revel in the fact that you can enjoy your meal in the same epic setting as SF diners did 150 years ago.
For 16 more of SF’s coolest spots—plus tips on where to grab a cheap beer, a crazy craft cocktail, or a badass burrito—check out the complete MUNCHIES Guide to San Francisco.