San Francisco

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San Francisco Travel Guide

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 ...

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. 

Recommended Luxury Hotels in San Francisco

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in San Francisco

Pronounced “kwa,” the name is an old French word meaning “tranquil.” Nightly, chef Daniel Patterson serves an eight-course tasting menu, which changes daily. Although the dishes are of Northern California, the meticulous presentation is almost Japanese, with each offered on a different style of plate as would happen in an elevated kaiseki meal. You could begin with the buckwheat ravioli with asparagus, parsley and Meyer lemon, and progress to dishes such as beef sirloin with farro, onions, wild mushrooms and nettle. The staff can recommend wine pairings for each dish. Although service is crisp, the meal can go on. This is not for everyone, but it is all delicious and will take you to the cutting edge of today’s cooking, without straying into the odd or gratuitously bizarre. Closed Sunday and Monday.

373 Broadway San Francisco Tasting menu, $195

Chef Gary Danko’s taste for the theatrical manifests itself here in striking art and dramatic pin-spot lighting. The setting is a fine showcase for his contemporary California cooking. The menu changes regularly, but starters might include risotto with rock shrimp, Dungeness crab, shimeji mushrooms and asparagus; or seared ahi tuna with avocado, nori, enoki mushrooms and lemon-soy dressing. Main courses could be branzini with fennel purée, Niçoise olives and a saffron-orange emulsion; or a seared fillet of beef with Swiss chard, potatoes, shallot marmalade and Bordelaise butter. The wine list features more than 1,200 selections. 

800 North Point San Francisco Three-course menu, $80; four courses, $100; five courses, $115

I have long admired the culinary vision of Nancy Oakes, who teamed up with noted designer Pat Kuleto to open BOULEVARD, just by the Ferry Building, in 1993. With its Belle Epoque flair and first-class staff, the restaurant has a lively hum. A starter of ahi tuna is served “poke” style (cubed and marinated, a Hawaiian favorite) with ivory hummus and za’tar palm bread, Persian cucumber, mint and sumac, blood orange and orange blossom. The equally imaginative and beautifully prepared Berkshire pork prime rib chop comes with black Mission fig fritter and a Vidalia onion soubise, a warm pole bean salad with crisp almonds and pig ear bacon, roasted radishes and pork jus. 

1 Mission Street San Francisco $80

Chef Michael Tusk, who worked in the kitchens of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, nightly creates three menus: an à la carte salon menu; an eight-course menu from the best of the market; and an eight-course menu from the restaurant’s own garden. Selections change daily, but look for dishes such as Alaskan sea urchin with mussels, new potatoes and spring onion; casoncelli pasta with Phil Paine’s squab, ruby beets and borage; and Watson Farm spring lamb with artichoke, zucchini blossom and sunflower. Closed Sunday.

470 Pacific Avenue San Francisco Salon Menu, $80; eight-course garden menu or eight-course quince menu, $200

With big windows overlooking Market Street, exposed brick walls and a double-deck warren of rooms, 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. Its creative force, beloved chef Judy Rodgers, died too young at 57, but her Mediterranean-inspired menu lives on. Typically, this includes 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. At lunch, there’s the hamburger, made with fresh-ground meat and served on grilled rosemary focaccia. I’ve never eaten a better one. Closed Monday.

1658 Market Street San Francisco $65

Chef Corey Lee, who worked for many years at The French Laundry, here 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 varied dishes such as oysters with pork belly and kimchi; caviar, winter melon and chicken cream; white sea trout with roe, radish and perilla; sea urchin, okra, and nori; whole baby sea bream, iceberg lettuce, black trumpet mushroom and aged tangerine peel; and beef rib, eggplant, broccoli, ramps and charred scallions. The exceptional wine list has 20 by-the-glass selections, as well as six sakes. The recommended wine pairings are spot-on. Closed Sunday and Monday.

22 Hawthorne Street San Francisco Multicourse tasting menu, $230

At this renowned restaurant, chef/owner Charles Phan produces Vietnamese food using fresh Bay Area ingredients. Located at the northeast corner of the Ferry Building, it is invariably crowded and often noisy. However, a wall of windows looking out to the water makes this a bright spot during the day and provides a wonderful view of the glittering harbor at night. Begin with the signature spring rolls: pork, shrimp and mint wrapped in translucent rice paper. For a main course, try the caramelized wild Gulf shrimp with ginger and garlic in a slightly hot chili sauce. 

1 Ferry Building #3 San Francisco $50

Chef-proprietor Roland Passot sticks fairly closely to the French canon here, with some interesting innovations, so look for starters such as goat cheese tatin with roasted eggplant, artichokes, tomato confit and portobello mushroom. Main courses might include lobster and mushroom risotto with peas, asparagus and lobster broth; or succulent rack of lamb with fava leaves, green garlic panisse, Meyer lemon purée and lamb jus. Closed Sunday.

2316 Polk Street San Francisco Three-course menu, $95; four courses, $115; five courses, $135
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