AOL PICK from our Editors
San Francisco is a foodie heaven with an alluring and unparalleled culinary scene that consistently draws visitors whose sole desire is to eat their way through the city. Its dynamic restaurant community mirrors its multi-cultural population, making for deliciously diverse options—Thai to French, Italian to New American, Cali-vegetarian to Chinese. Of course, a commitment to using organic, seasonal (farm-to-table) ingredients was born in the Bay Area and continues to dominate the menus of restaurants big and small. Celebrity chefs and world-renowned restaurants inhabit every corner of the city, while new and innovative establishments keep the dining scene fresh and exciting. Truth is, whatever your palate (and your budget), you'll be happily satiated in San Francisco. (You may also want to pack your fat pants.)
Neighborhood: South Beach/Embarcadero Price: Expensive
It's only fitting that Boulevard's status as a culinary stalwart has not waned since opening in 1993. After all, the iconic restaurant is a collaboration of two notable locals: star chef Nancy Oakes and owner/designer/impresario Pat Kuleto. Hearty seasonal American fare with French influences and museum-worthy presentations draw a popular suit-and-tie weekday lunch crowd; foodie locals and tourists flock to the bustling dining room every night of the week. Carnivores must order the Angus filet mignon with horseradish cream, king trumpet mushrooms and spring onion. Dungeness crab salad with green papaya, hearts of palm, melon and lime is lighter—and just as delicious. Complementing the gourmet cuisine, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, is a warm and elegant interior that's industrial meets Belle Epoque. Views of the Bay Bridge are particularly intoxicating at night—as is the out-of-this-world wine list.
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Neighborhood: Fisherman's Wharf Price: Expensive
It may be situated just blocks from tourist mecca Fisherman's Wharf, but Gary Danko is a world away, with its sumptuous modern décor, legendary attention to service and off-the-charts contemporary California cuisine. For more than a decade, the 75-seat restaurant has been turning certifiable gastronomes into giddy school kids with its elegant yet approachable prix-fixe menu. Diners choose from three, four or five courses. (The tasting menu is a great option, as you'll benefit from the chef's choice with wine pairings.) A true feast (or "theater," according to Danko) of lively, seasonal and classically prepared dishes, such as signature roast lobster, foie gras and lamb loin, delight all the senses. An expansive after-dinner artisanal cheese service is an event unto itself, and an ever-expanding wine cellar (latest count: 1,500 wines including grand vintages) leaves oenophiles beyond besotted. Reservations can be difficult, but try the small bar, which serves up the full menu. Open for dinner nightly.
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Neighborhood: Hayes Valley Price: Expensive
A sexy, romantic and urbane vibe permeates this two-level brick stunner and special-occasion hot spot. It's also a ridiculously popular pre-opera/ballet/symphony destination due to its proximity to the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall. Jardinière's sophisticated setting—obvious from the moment you enter the dramatic glass doors and spy the centerpiece marble and mahogany oval-shaped bar—serves as an ideal backdrop for its Cali-French cuisine, where local ingredients play starring roles on the decadent, seasonal menu. Sample dishes range from an appetizer of bacon-wrapped rabbit, morel mushrooms and polenta, to crowd-pleaser red-wine braised short rib with horseradish puree and herb salad. Desserts are not to be denied. One tantalizing option: The Bonne Bouche Platter, an assortment of truffles, petit tarts, cookies, espresso crème brûlée and jellies. Reservations recommended; dinner served nightly.
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Neighborhood: Embarcadero/Downtown Price: Moderate
Talk about a loyal following: Since opening on Valencia Street in the Mission in 1995, the family-run Slanted Door (helmed by local celeb chef Charles Phan) has moved three times, garnering more and more fans along the way. It's now fully entrenched in its newest home in the Ferry Building, where its contemporary design and stunning Bay views complement the eats. As well as being a local favorite, it's a magnet for visitors looking for fresh and flavorful Vietnamese dishes made of primarily organic ingredients. Ask any regular her favorites, and sublime signatures including shaking beef, crispy imperial rolls of shrimp and pork, daikon rice cakes and claypot chicken are bound to make the list. Dishes are served family style and are prepared using Vietnamese cooking techniques. Reservations recommended. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Insider's scoop: if you can't make it to Slanted Door, try Out the Door, its more casual sister restaurant that serves many of the same dishes (with locations at the Ferry Building, Westfield Centre and 2232 Bush St.).
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Neighborhood: Marina/Presidio Price: Moderate
This thirtysomething restaurant is a trailblazer in the world of organic vegetarian cuisine, proving meal after meal, year after year that vegetarian doesn't mean bland or boring. Set in historic Fort Mason on the Marina, with otherworldly views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, the giant, light-filled warehouse-like space is a peaceful oasis where "real" hippies to suburban socialites to Mission hipsters and tourists come together for the flavorful creations of lauded chef Annie Somerville. The daily lunch and dinner menus sparkle with yummy, creative dishes a la mesquite-grilled veggie brochettes, Portobello lasagna, buttermilk cornmeal pancakes Vietnamese yellow curry, pizzas, and more. Brunch is highly recommended, as is the to-go counter (at the entrance) to grab delicious eats when you're on the move. Reservations recommended.
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Neighborhood: Pacific Heights/Japantown Price: Budget
Although there's a surfeit of restaurants from which to choose in the largest and oldest Japantown in the country, Mifune belongs at the top of the list. The noodle house is always busy for good reason: tasty traditional udon and soba noodles at affordable prices. Served hot or cold, the large portions are hearty and heartwarming. Choose from a wide range of ingredients to fill your soup—from chicken, shrimp, soft boiled egg and vegetables to sliced beef, scrambled eggs and green onions. Other traditional Japanese dishes on the menu include sushi sukiyaki, donburi and Shabu-shabu. The dining room is large and unassuming. The draw is the food and attentive service, not the ambience. It's open daily from 11AM to 10PM, making it a great place to grab grub before taking in a movie at the Sundance Kabuki Theater or strolling along nearby Fillmore Street.
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Neighborhood: The Mission Price: Budget
This always-packed Mission favorite proves that you don't need to head to North Beach for finger-licking thin-crust pizzas and authentic modern Italian food. Inventive cocktails like the make-your-taste-buds-sing Hemingway (white rum, lime, cane syrup, maraschino and grapefruit) add to the allure. The mouthwatering Italian menu features rotating specials, such as pork saltimbocca and cioppino, and a range of starters including antipasti, perfectly prepared risottos and pastas galore. For most, though, the stellar pizzas are a must—whether as a main course or an appetizer. Befitting its Mission location, the interior oozes cool with decadent flourishes (gold walls, carved cherubs, stained glass). Beretta is open for dinner every night and lunch on weekends. Reservations recommended.
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Neighborhood: The Mission Price: Budget
No surprise, San Franciscans take their Mexican food very seriously. While every diehard has his/her favorite, this Mission Street haunt is universally hailed for its flavorful and affordable authentic Mexican eats. Unlike other places, the burritos here are served sans rice, which makes them lighter, allowing the flavorful juicy meat (chicken, pork, beef) to shine. The homemade salsas and guacamole are fresh and delicious, as well. But the tacos tend to get the biggest raves; they're stuffed with beans, cheese, salsa and meat of your choice. Skip the beer and order a scrumptious fresh fruit drink that comes in flavors like tangerine, mango, cantaloupe and strawberry. White stucco walls and communal dining tables make for casual and comfortable environs. Self-serve.The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner
Neighborhood: Civic Center Price: Budget
This is no ordinary hot-dog joint. ShowDogs elevates dogs, sausages, fries, onion rings and the like to a culinary art form. Not surprising, since this mid-Market Street (seedy alert) eatery comes courtesy of the co-owners/chefs of Foreign Cinema, a well-regarded fine-dining Cali-Mediterranean restaurant in the Mission. Local meat purveyors provide the stars of the show, including classic all-beef frankfurters and corn dogs to wild boar sausages, maple bacon pork sausages, chicken curry sausages and several veggie varieties, too. The barbecue fries and onion rings are deliciously sinful. A variety of draft and bottle beers make the perfect accompaniment to your meal. The décor is simple and comfortable, providing a nice people-watching spot, as the shopping crowd, tourists and other interesting types travel Market Street. Closed Sunday; open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.
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Neighborhood: Marina/Presidio Price: Budget
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This Marina newbie features two dozen signature sandwiches that will satisfy all comers no matter what you're hankering for. The surfer shop/Hawaiiana décor is charmingly kitsch and the ginormous sandwiches are full-on delicious. Each cleverly named, made-to-order sandwich is loaded with fresh ingredients. There's the Horny Hapa (hot turkey, cranberry, cream cheese), Marina Meatballer (meatballs, provolone and meat sauce) and Veggie Weggie (veggies, avocado, cheese) to name a few. Make sure to order the super-secret famous "bomb sauce" that has Marina residents forming lines out the door. There's not a lot of seating here, but you can always get your order to go (and head to the Marina green for an impromptu picnic). Closed Sundays.
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