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14 of the Best Places to Eat in San Francisco
From the award-winning clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf to one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States, we’re rounding up the best places to eat in San Francisco.
Fog Harbor on Pier 39 is a must-visit on any trip to San Francisco. The only thing better than the restaurant’s views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge is its famous Dungeness crab-topped chowder, served in fresh-baked sourdough bowls and made in-house daily. It’s so good it won the “People’s Choice” award at Wharf Fest in 2018. You can feel good about chowing down here, too—Fog Harbor is an SF Certified Green business, and the first restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf to present a sustainable seafood menu.
There’s little debate as to where you’ll find the best sourdough in San Francisco. As SF’s oldest continuously operating business, Boudin is the original, baking fresh sourdough every day. There are now several locations throughout the city, but a visit to its Fisherman’s Wharf bakery—where you can peek in the windows to watch the bakers at work—is your best bet. Sit down for a meal with a view at the waterfront bistro or grab something to go from the marketplace or café.
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When The Grotto first opened its doors in 1935, it was unique among the Fisherman’s Wharf crab shacks as the only sit-down restaurant. Boasting a recently renovated dining room and lounge, The Grotto offers a chic bar experience with great cocktails and unique dishes that are sure to delight, including the signature starter, crab doughnuts. Sweet and savoury, these bite-sized appetizers are deep-fried and topped with sweet pepper jelly, crispy kale and powdered sugar.
Care to wet your whistle with a classic? Stop by the Buena Vista, the originator of the Irish Coffee in the United States. The story goes that after returning from a trip abroad in 1952, travel writer Stanton Delaplane worked with Buena Vista’s owner Jack Koeppler to recreate the delightful “Irish Coffee” that had been served to him at Shannon Airport in Ireland. They’ve since perfected the recipe and now serve up to 2,000 Irish coffees a day.
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To taste the best clam chowder in San Francisco, look no further than Cioppino’s at Fisherman’s Wharf. Judges awarded the Italian eatery “Best Clam Chowder” at Wharf Fest in 2018, 2017, and 2016, and with good reason. The New England-style clam chowder, made fresh daily and served in a bread bowl, is perfectly seasoned and wonderfully creamy—the ideal traditional chowder. Also worthy of mention is the SF institution’s signature dish, Cioppino: a medley of seafood stewed in tomato broth.
Got a sweet tooth? Visit the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square and indulge in one of the most decadent treats San Francisco has to offer: an ice cream sundae. The chocolate company was founded in SF in 1852 by Italian immigrant Domingo Ghirardelli. Learn about how Ghirardelli chocolate is made, then wander to the back of the shop where vintage chocolate-making equipment is on display.
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The Cheese School
The Cheese School in the historic Ghirardelli Square is a one-stop shop for everything cheese. Grab a grilled cheese sandwich and a drink from the cafe, then stay for a drop-in cheese tasting classes. The small onsite boutique houses a expertly curated cheese case and a selection of California wines; ask an attendant to suggest the perfect pairing. Are you more of a DIY type? Pick up some supplies and try your hand at making cheese from home!
San Francisco Brewing Company
Housed in one of the oldest buildings in Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco Brewing Company was the first to bring manufacturing back to the historic square. Enjoy pub-style food and craft beer under the same roof as the brewery itself. Dozens of different kinds of beers are produced throughout the year, many of which can only be found at this location. There’s even a beer garden with fire pits and movie nights during the summer.
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San Francisco Proper Hotel
San Francisco’s Proper Hotel is home to restaurant and lounge Villon, café and market La Bande, and the stylish and Instagram-friendly rooftop bar, Charmaine’s (above). The hotel is housed in a flatiron building with original molding, 80-year-old marble floors and chic gallery walls. Indulge yourself at Villon, where the sides are as delectable as the main dishes—the Hawaiian Bread and Brussels Sprouts are especially delightful. Then head to Charmaine’s on the rooftop, where the 280° view of San Francisco’s skyline can’t be beat.
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Walking into the historic Redwood Room is like stepping back in time. Opened in 1933 immediately following the end of prohibition, the elegant room’s walls are covered floor to (incredibly high) ceiling in redwood paneling, sourced from a single felled redwood tree. Order one of their classic cocktails (our pick: the French 75), pair it with a couple of small plates from their elevated menu—truffle fries, anyone?—and imagine yourself in the San Francisco of yesteryear.
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In the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, China Live is a destination that houses several restaurants and a bar under one roof. On the main floor, Oolong Cafe offers specialty Chinese teas to go or to enjoy at the counter. Market Restaurant sits adjacent to the cafe and features signature dishes for lunch and dinner. For a more exclusive evening, make your way upstairs to Eight Tables by George Chen. As the name suggests, the restaurant offers an incredibly intimate dining experience, meant to emulate an elaborate meal at a private home. Finish your night at Cold Drinks, a stylish bar with a Scotch-focused menu.
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Le Colonial is a hidden gem, tucked away on a side street just minutes from downtown San Francisco. A beautifully lush veranda leads into the more intimate dining room where rattan furniture and antique lamps hark back to the 1920s. Le Colonial has been serving mouthwatering authentic Vietnamese dishes with a French twist for over 20 years—more than enough time to perfect their menu. Order family-style and make sure to have a taste of everything.
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Museum of Ice Cream
While not technically a restaurant (or a museum for that matter), San Francisco’s Museum of Ice Cream is one of the city’s most unique attractions. This made-for-Instagram dreamland is the ideal spot for snapping that perfect profile-pic selfie. Move from the sprinkle pool (above) to the rainbow room to the old-school (entirely pink!) diner, and stop for snacks along the way. Between the cotton candy and mini ice cream cones, this place is sure to keep you smiling—and hopped-up on sugar.
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Need to refuel with a quick jolt of caffeine? Look no further than Mazarine Coffee on Market Street. This artisanal coffee shop offers a variety of espresso and specialty coffees, including pour-over options (and regular drip coffee for the more traditional). No visit to San Francisco would be complete without trying avocado toast, and you’ll find several options here. Looking for a unique souvenir? Buy a bag of their house brand coffee beans so you can keep enjoying the taste of SF long after you’ve left the Golden State.
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