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San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

Mr. Harper's 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 atmosphere of Hitchcock films and Hammett novels, outlying neighborhoods like ...

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. 

bird icon 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.
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Best Restaurants in San Francisco

Pronounced “kwa,” the name is an old French word meaning “tranquil.” Coi serves a multicourse 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. Choices have included buckwheat ravioli with asparagus, parsley and Meyer lemon, and progressed 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 Tuesday and Wednesday.

373 Broadway San Francisco Tasting menu, $225 http://coirestaurant.com/

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 19 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, $270 http://www.benusf.com/

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 peas; 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 filet of beef with potato gnocchi, olive oil, Swiss chard and Stilton butter. The wine list features more than 1,200 selections. 

800 North Point Street San Francisco Three-course menu, $85; four courses, $100; five courses, $120 http://www.garydanko.com/

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 http://www.zunicafe.com/

Chef-proprietor Roland Passot sticks fairly closely to the French canon here, with some interesting innovations, so look for starters such as wild mushroom and charred leek salad with truffled egg yolk vinaigrette. Main courses might include lobster and mushroom risotto with leeks and lobster bisque; or rack of lamb with charred serpent cucumber, curried mint yogurt, lamb bacon and lamb jus. Closed Sunday and Monday.

2316 Polk Street San Francisco Three-course menu, $100; four courses, $120; five courses, $140 http://www.lafolie.com/

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 and a multi-course menu from the best of the market. Selections change daily, but look for dishes such as farfalle with summer squash, terra firma tomato and burrata; black cod with wild ramp, Manila clam and bronze fennel; and Watson Farm spring lamb with green garlic, fiddlehead fern and golden marjoram. Closed Sunday.

470 Pacific Avenue San Francisco Salon Menu, $80; Quince Menu, $220 http://www.quincerestaurant.com/

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 comes with prickly pear, pasilla, hearts of palm and watermelon-radish slaw, cara cara orange-and-cumin oil, avocado, duck fat tortilla and taro crisps. The equally imaginative and beautifully prepared Kurobuta pork chop comes with cherries, pancetta and mustard oil, roasted purple cauliflower, sweet corn-and-sage popcorn and a polenta fritter. 

1 Mission Street San Francisco $85 http://www.boulevardrestaurant.com/

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 $55 http://www.slanteddoor.com/
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