First Time in San Francisco? Here’s Exactly Where to Eat.
By Ali Wunderman,2023-03-21
A first-time visit to San Francisco can be overwhelming for food lovers, given the city’s myriad of both top-flight Michelin restaurants and iconic hole-in-the-wall eateries. Getting a sense of the city’s food scene could take a lifetime — but if you only have a few days, this selection will get you going.
Why you’re here: Where to get a true-blue Mission burrito is a highly debated and deeply personal choice for every San Franciscan, but Taqueria Cancun hits the mark.
What you’re ordering: Right in the heart of the Mission district, this taqueria is known for its superbly seasoned carne asada, making a burrito including this ingredient the best way to go. Cilantro fans will love the homemade salsa added to their dishes, while cilantro haters should make their herb-free preference known. The best part: In an early-closing city, they’re open late (11 p.m. on weekdays, later on weekends).
Why you’re here: Named one of the top 50 restaurants in the United States by the New York Times last year, Abacá offers a stellar take on Filipino cuisine.
What you’re ordering: Located in the Kimpton Alton Hotel, this James Beard-nominated restaurant combines California’s fresh, coastal ingredients with vibrant dishes from the Philippines: lumpia, sisig fried rice, a selection of barbecue sticks, and plates both small and large loaded with Filipino favorites. Look out for a tiny QR code on the menu to access their secret selections, and enjoy it all under a waterfall of hanging plants.
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
Why you’re here: Tony’s Pizza Napoletana embodies the spirit of San Francisco’s Little Italy with pizza beloved by locals and visitors alike.
What you’re ordering: Considered one of the world’s best pizzerias — including by Italian standards — Tony’s is an essential place to eat in San Francisco. A classic Italian pizza is a logical and delicious choice; the Cal Italia is an award-winning, sauceless pie doused in four cheeses, sweet fig preserve, prosciutto and a balsamic reduction. Tony’s is also known for its variety of styles, including Napoletana, New York and Romana.
Why you’re here: Dominique Crenn’s artful French cuisine is the best of the best of the best. (And priced accordingly.)
What you’re ordering: At $450 per person, guests can expect a tasting menu full of pescatarian delights like spiny lobster dotted with apple butter, a warm ginger-whey foam and sumptuous abalone sourced sustainably right from the California coast. The menu for this singular restaurant is informed by the seasons, so while exact dishes may be unpredictable, their freshness and flavor is a guarantee. Finish with an artful dessert from pastry chef Juan Contreras, a pioneer in the craft of meal finales.
Crab House at Pier 39
Why you’re here: No trip to San Francisco is complete without Dungeness crab, and this is where you will find it in every form.
What you’re ordering: The world famous Killer Crab, of course. Devour anywhere from half a crab to an entire feast of the Pacific crustaceans, all doused in the restaurant’s secret garlic butter sauce. While you’re at it, try San Francisco’s iconic rendition of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, which comes topped with crab meat. This checks the box for three of the city’s most archetypal dishes, while providing a solid way to enjoy Pier 39. Don’t forget to visit the sea lions!
Inner Richmond and Civic Center
Why you’re here: There are more famous bakeries in San Francisco, some of which have cookbooks you probably own (cough Tartine cough), but here you’ll find a local favorite, and the best croissant in the world, according to Bon Appetit.
What you’re ordering: A croissant is a clear necessity, but there are plenty more bread-based delicacies. This is the place to try a Breton kouign amann, which is challenging to pull off, yet Arsicault does so impeccably. Morning buns, sweet and savory scones and Parisian flan are all worth the wait.
Empress by Boon
Why you’re here: San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest one outside of Asia, and according to Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon, the only suitable home for his ambitious, opulent menu.
What you’re ordering: Stellar Cantonese gastronomy is found on the prix-fixe menu, with ingredients rotating in seasonally. Enjoy elegant dishes like a scallop and caviar roll, stir-fried quail and uni fried rice while taking stunning views of the San Francisco skyline. Don’t miss the wine pairings.
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