Every neighborhood in San Francisco has its own distinct charm—and a lot of that has to do with the food. Go to North Beach for rich Italian, the Mission District for authentic Mexican, Chinatown for dim sum, and
Hayes Valley for classic French. Of course, nowadays these boundaries aren’t so clearly defined, and you can find cuisine from every corner of the world in various corners throughout San Francisco. But some restaurants in particular have established themselves as true neighborhood gems. Here’s a dozen of our favorites.
1. Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
The French and Italian-inspired Absinthe is one of the longest-running eateries in Hayes Valley. The bar area is always bustling, but the dining room is cozy and romantic. Pick from the raw bar, go for a gourmet snack (the spicy fried chickpeas are a must!), and opt for the classic coq au vin or the Absinthe hamburger. And don't forget to try one of the absinthe cocktails (all with great names—we're fans of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and the Corpse Reviver #2).
2. La Taqueria
Among the myriad taquerias in the Mission District, this is one of the locals' favorites. La Taqueria has been serving its acclaimed rice-less burritos since 1973. Get the carnitas burrito, dorado style (it’s not explicitly on the menu)—which means it’ll be tossed on the grill until both sides are browned and crisped to perfection—and sit back and enjoy some live music, too.
This cozy spot located at the end of an alleyway in Presidio Heights sees itself more as a "social club" than the hidden gem of a restaurant it is. Specializing in rich, Northern Italian classics, Sociale switches up its menu monthly, always offering just-butchered cuts of meats and the freshest ingredients around.
Tucked in a corner in the sleepy neighborhood of Noe Valley is this romantic, contemporary American restaurant that toes the line between hearty comfort cuisine and healthy, seasonal dishes that satisfy both omnivores and vegans. The menu is ever-changing, but we do know there's always a killer dessert selection (so leave some room!) and an extensive wine and beer list.
5. Venticello Ristorante
Situated atop Nob Hill, right along the cable car line, this rustic Italian restaurant feels like quintessential old-school San Francisco. The dining room is often filled with longtime Nob Hill residents and regulars. Join them for stunning views of the Bay, while enjoying classic Tuscan dishes. Better yet: everything here—including the breads, pastas, cheeses, and gelato—are made in-house.
This rustic yet elegant trattoria in the Dogpatch serves up seasonal, local, and organic Italian fare and thin-crust pizzas. The bright yellow exterior is immediately inviting, while the interior is bright and comfortable, offering a great ambiance to enjoy some gourmet pizza and a nice glass of wine. You can also enjoy a quick cup of joe at their adjacent coffee shop.
7. Thanh Long
Located near Ocean Beach, this Outer Sunset institution has been serving San Franciscans Vietnamese and seafood classics since 1971. It's a good spot to bring the whole family—come for their "world-famous roast crab" and garlic noodles.
8. Chez Maman
Opened back in 2002, the original Potrero location of this French bistro is a true neighborhood gem. Since, it's expanded in size (and in locations—find the other in Hayes Valley), but still retains its quaint, home-styled ambiance. The crepes and fresh salads are divine, and the Chez Maman "Mac & Cheese" with truffle oil is as rich and creamy as you'd imagine.
9. Burma Superstar
Expect a long wait to get into this Clement Street landmark in the Inner Richmond, which has been serving some of the Bay Area's finest Burmese cuisine since 1992. It's seriously tough to pick from all of the spicy and vibrant dishes, but the Rainbow Salad is an absolute must-order—it blends together 22 ingredients, including four different types of noodles, dried shrimp, green papaya, and loads of veggies.
A great place for an intimate, romantic date, This bistro in Duboce Triangle fits just 42 in its cozy corner spot. The whole experience comes together with their rich, traditional French comfort food (the duck leg confit is a favorite) and extensive wine list.
11. La Ciccia
This intimate restaurant on the outskirts of Noe Valley is mostly only known by neighborhood locals. It's owned by the husband-and-wife team Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan, who delicately craft authentic Sardinian dishes with a specialized focus on fresh seafood. They also offer several Sardinian wines to pair perfectly with your meal.
This list wouldn't be complete without the restaurant that helped popularize the name of of its home in the micro-'hood of NoPa (North of the Panhandle). Elegant but without the stuffy vibe, Nopa has been a favorite spot for those seeking simple, organic, rustic California comfort food. The brunch is an absolute must. I mean, how can you deny this French toast?!