San Francisco

Overview

From Andrew Harper

A small, European-flavored city ringed with pristine bay views, San Francisco remains a relentlessly charming place despite its popularity with the rest of the country (and indeed, the world). While downtown still has the moody atmosphere of Hitchcock films and Hammett novels, outlying neighborhoods like Hayes Valley and the Mission District buzz with eclectic, attitude-free boutiques. The birthplace of California cuisine is also home to one of the finest gastronomic strolls in the country — the Ferry Building.

The Union Square shopping district contains the marquee property, Mandarin Oriental, whose suites offer “bridge-to-bridge” views. The more contemporary St. Regis, in the SOMA district across from the Museum of Modern Art, has been greeted as an instant landmark.

Hotels

All recommended hotels in San Francisco

San Francisco, United States
Four Seasons San Francisco
Four Seasons San Francisco

Two blocks from Union Square and the Museum of Modern Art, this sleek high-rise in the Yerba Buena cultural district contains 277 guest rooms and suites.

California
Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco
Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco

Luxurious hotel affording spectacular Bay views from the top floors of a high-rise near some of the city’s best shops and galleries.

California
The St. Regis San Francisco
The St. Regis San Francisco

Next to the city’s Museum of Modern Art and Yerba Buena Gardens, this striking hotel combines a 40-story tower with the historic Williams Building.

California

Dining

All recommended restaurants in San Francisco

Benu

Chef Corey Lee, who worked for many years at The French Laundry, oversees a menu that skillfully combines contemporary American, Continental and Japanese cuisines. The spare interior of white walls, gray banquettes and black tables reflects the minimalist style of the food. Look for starters such as sardines accompanied by multigrain bread with egg salad, okra and a charred-scallion vinaigrette; and main courses like sea urchin risotto with corn, lovage and black truffle; or dry-aged lamb with abalone mushrooms in a Parmesan jus. The exceptional wine list has 24 by-the-glass selections, as well as seven sakes. The recommended wine pairings are spot-on.

22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States
Multicourse tasting menu, $180
Boulevard

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I wisely decided to have dinner at Boulevard, located just by the Ferry Building. I have long admired the culinary vision of Nancy Oakes, who teamed up with noted designer Pat Kuleto to open the restaurant in 1993 (hard to believe!). With its Belle Epoque flair and first-class staff, the place hums with a liveliness that never distracts from the excellent food. My starter of thinly sliced ahi tuna brought together a world of Japanese flavors and textures, including pieces of fried tofu and a little salad of seaweed and turnip, all with a sherry-soy vinaigrette. The equally imaginative and beautifully prepared Berkshire pork prime rib chop came with dumplings of sauerkraut and bacon, turnips with a glistening cider glaze, apple crème fraiche as an accent, and a dressing of pork jus with sage.

1 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States
$65
COI

The name is pronounced “kwa,” which is an old French word meaning “tranquil,” which accurately describes this terrific restaurant with a brown décor and grass-cloth walls. Nightly, chef Daniel Patterson serves an impressive 11-course tasting menu. Although the dishes are of Northern California, the meticulous presentation is almost Japanese. You could begin with the buckwheat ravioli with asparagus, parsley and Meyer lemon, and progress to dishes such as beef sirloin with onions, wild mushrooms and nettle. The menu lists recommended wine pairings for each dish. Although service is crisp, the meal can go on. This is not for everyone, but it will take you to the cutting edge of today’s cooking — without straying into the odd or gratuitously bizarre. Be forewarned that the restaurant is in a seedy neighborhood — making the calm, elegant interior that much more appealing.

373 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133
United States
Tasting menu, $165
La Folie

When we first ate at chef-proprietor Roland Passot’s restaurant, it was a casual brasserie. Since then, he has upped his game and made the restaurant more congenial by enlarging the tables and covering the walls in wood panels and fabric. Passot sticks fairly closely to the French canon, with some interesting innovations, so look for starters such as goat cheese tatin with roasted eggplant, artichokes, tomato confit and portobello mushroom; or Dungeness crab salad on pea panna cotta with a yellow-curry tuile (savory cookie) and spiced crab vinaigrette. Main courses might be roasted king salmon with parsley gnocchi, sweet onion purée and morels; or rack of lamb with butter beans, merguez sausage-wrapped loin and lamb jus.

2316 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
United States
Three-course menu, $80; four courses, $90; five courses, $100
Quince

This refined restaurant has an elegant lounge, bar and main dining room with dark wood trim and soft, flattering lighting. Chef Michael Tusk, who worked in the kitchens of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Paul Bertolli at Oliveto in Oakland, creates a seasonal menu of superb French- and Italian-inspired dishes that changes every day. Look for starters such as a yellowfin tuna crudo with artichokes, pine nuts and mint; and a terrine of Sonoma foie gras with nasturtiums, radishes and Medjool dates. Main courses have included Dover sole with wild ramps, rye berries and sunchokes in a red wine sauce; and côte de boeuf with wild mushrooms and Burgundy truffle in a sauce Bordelaise.

470 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
United States
Five-course tasting menu, $95
Restaurant Gary Danko

Chef Gary Danko has a taste for the theatrical, which manifests itself in soft taupe walls, striking artwork and dramatic pin-spot lighting. The setting is a fine showcase for Danko’s brilliant contemporary California cooking. The menu changes regularly, but starters might include lobster salad with Asian pear, mango, avocado, cashews and a zesty lime-chili remoulade; or glazed oysters with Osetra caviar, zucchini pearls and a lettuce cream. Main courses could be branzini with fennel purée, Niçoise olives and a saffron-orange emulsion; or a seared filet of beef with Yukon gold potatoes, Swiss chard, roasted pepper-eggplant marmalade and a soy-mustard glaze. The cheese service is exemplary, and the wine list features more than 1,200 selections.

800 North Point
San Francisco, CA 94109
United States
Three-course menu, $71; four courses, $89; five courses, $104
Zuni Cafe

With big windows overlooking Market Street, exposed brick walls and a double-deck warren of rooms, nooks and crannies, this is perhaps the most emblematic San Francisco restaurant. The crowd is a lively blend, and the best place to observe the scene is at the beautiful copper bar, with some oysters and a glass of wine. Chef Judy Rodgers’ terrific Mediterranean-inspired menu typically includes a great hanger steak, fish of the day done in a woodburning oven, and a superb Caesar salad. The roasted chicken for two with Tuscan bread salad is peerless.

1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States
$55