Famous San Francisco Restaurants

So you want to eat at one of San Francisco’s famous restaurants. Great news! There’s a ton of iconic spots all over the city to choose from. Now, we know what you’re thinking: Stretchy Pants, how can you possibly list all of the incredible, classic, unique restaurants this crazy city has to offer? And the short of it is, we can’t—at least not in one blog post. But we can compile a starter list of famous contenders that draw locals and visitors alike each and every day. From high-end restaurants to old-school mainstays to new-wave joints, here’s a little sampler of some of SF’s most famous eateries.

Tadich Grill

For some old school San Francisco dining, Tadich Grill is a no brainer. Established in 1846, this FiDi seafood restaurant is the city’s (and California’s) oldest continuously operating restaurant. That’s more than 170 years of experience people! Founded by three fresh-off-the-boat Croatian immigrants, Tadich was originally a coffee stand on one of the wharfs serving warm java to sea-weary sailors. But over the years, and after quite a few moves, Tadich has stayed put in its current location and has been serving the SF community ever since. While the restaurant does not take reservations, the warm interior and white coat-clad waiters still welcome hundreds of visitors every day. And though the menu does offer prime cuts of meat you really should order a heaping plate of seafood here. From the oysters Rockefeller, to the petrale, to the house specialty cioppino, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to ordering something from the sea. tadichgrill.com. 

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Tadich Grill

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Tartine Bakery

Tartine Bakery

If you’ve ever had a taste of fresh-from-the-oven bread then you know what kind of transcendent experience ripping into a perfectly golden loaf can have on your day, or heck, even your life. Well, for all you carb-lovers out there if you haven’t been to any of Tartine’s four locations yet, you’re seriously missing out. Having just opened the latest installment in the Inner Sunset, Tartine has been serving incredible loaves and pastries to the public since 2002 with the goal of bringing old-world baking traditions to California. And while you can order darn near everything from their cafe-style locales, they really are famous for their rustic levain and stunning French pastries. (Trust us, you’re gonna want to order a croissant. So flaky, so buttery, so good.) tartinebakery.com.

Red’s Java House

You’ve most likely walked or ridden Muni past this unassuming little spot along the Embarcadero on your way to a Giants game, but how many of you have actually stepped foot into Red’s Java House? In an era of “fine dining” and “fast casual” monikers, Red’s has been keeping things old school, serving up its cheeseburgers on sourdough since 1955. The classic diner setting with its red-vinyl stools, retro tabletops, and black-and-white photos is a snapshot of a bygone era that still resonates with today’s diners. Anthony Bourdain himself ordered a double cheeseburger with chili fries and an Anchor Steam back in 2009 so you know it’s probably pretty good. Served on a sourdough roll with mustard, mayo, pickles, and onions (there’s no lettuce or tomatoes offered, so don’t even try), Red’s burgers are a taste of simpler times. redsjavahouse.com.

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of John K on Yelp

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Tosco Cafe

Tosca Cafe

The hallowed halls of this famed North Beach joint is arguably one of the last great dive bars in the city, playing host to a variety of characters over the years including poets, actors, musicians, politicians, and more. Originally owned and operated by Jeannette Etheridge, the space came under new ownership in 2013 when Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield, of New York’s The Spotted Pig, took over the bar. After going through a bit of renovation—Friedman and Bloomfield thankfully kept the classic charm of the checkered floors, red banquettes, and vintage murals—Tosca is still a warm gathering place for both locals and visitors. The newest addition to Tosca was its full dinner menu featuring small and large Italian dishes such as fried anchovies, bucatini, and roasted chicken. Ultimately, however, Tosca Cafe’s heart still lies at the bar. Order the Old Pal for a classic bourbon-based tippler with a Tosca twist, or the famous House Cappuccino, which, despite what its name implies, has absolutely no coffee in it. toscacafesf.com.

Cliff House

We’ve talked about this famous spot before in our Father’s Day gift guide—which, to be honest, should serve as a basic food gift guide for any occasion—but the Cliff House is quite simply a classic and deserves a spot on this famous SF restaurants list. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Sutro Baths and Pacific Ocean, this iconic eatery has been serving up mainstays since 1863. It’s obvious then, since you can literally see the rolling waves from your seat, that you should order something originating from the ocean’s bounty. We are fans of the house cioppino with Dungeness crab or shrimp or crab Louis salad. But if you’re feeling frisky, check out the offerings on Sundays during the brunch buffet (smoked salmon, anyone?), and whatever you do, don’t forget the popovers. cliffhouse.com.

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Truc M on Yelp

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtes Che Fico

Che Fico

Perhaps one of the newer spots on our famous San Francisco restaurants list, Che Fico is still hotter than ever. After its revelatory rise to restaurant stardom (it was one of the hottest restaurant openings of 2018), the modern-Italian eatery on the edge of Nopa is still sizzling in its super-chic space. And though some walk-in spots are set aside every day, its best to snag a reservation at least a month in advance to ensure you’ll be slurping away on some classic, and not so classic, dishes. Choose from any of the handmade pastas, pizzas, and antipasti, or a sampling of the house-made salumi for a dining experience that really does live up to the hype. chefico.com.

Taqueria El Farolito

Often overshadowed by its Mission neighbor La Taqueria, El Farolito makes our famous SF restaurant list for its straight-up, no-frills Mexican food that’s been feeding the community for decades. And while there are several El Farolito locations in SF alone, we are partial to this spot. Many head to the Mission eatery to try some “Mission-style burritos,” but we’re gonna throw out an unpopular opinion here: Don’t order a burrito. Do order a taco. Now, don’t get us wrong the burritos are great, but there’s something about a fresh from the griddle tortilla piled high with meat, sprinkled with cilantro and onions, served with a side of killer salsa. Mmm, just makes our mouths water. And El Farolito’s al pastor tacos are drool-inducing. During peak hours the line can look intimidating, but trust us, it moves fast. Just hold tight and you’ll be in taco-land in no time. elfarolitosf.com.

 

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Emily C on Yelp

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Kareem G on Yelp

Boudin Sourdough

You’ve most certainly heard of Boudin and maybe even eaten at any of the chain’s retail locations, but there’s nothing like eating a bread bowl full of clam chowder from the flagship store along Fisherman’s Wharf. Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, you can buy Boudin bread elsewhere. But work with us people because this is a true San Francisco classic. Guests and diners can take a tour of the space, learn how the famous bakery got its start and what makes SF sourdough so darn good before settling down for a meal at Bistro Boudin. boudinbakery.com.

The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop

Another huge name in the culinary world, this chocolate company makes our famous San Francisco restaurants list because, c’mon it’s Ghirardelli. The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop located in Ghirardelli Square (it has a whole complex named after it for cripes sake) is an iconic San Francisco eating experience. You can learn how chocolate is made, stare longingly at all the confections on display and available for purchase, and order a ridiculous creation from the upstairs fountain shop. You can order a simple scoop of ice cream, or you could dive head first into any of the epic sundaes—drizzled in Ghirardelli fudge—listed on the menu. (Pssst, we’d go for option number two.) ghirardelli.com.

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of The Original Chirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Alioto’s

Alioto’s Restaurant

This landmark restaurant along Fisherman’s Wharf has been drawing visitors to its white linen-covered tabletops for more than 90 years. Arguably an SF institution (hence why it’s on our famous San Francisco restaurants list), the eatery—which has been run by four generations of Aliotos—is still whipping up classic Sicilian family recipes. Renowned for its stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding bay, plus its luxurious seafood dishes, Alioto’s knocks it out of the park when it comes to oceanic classics. You would be remiss not to order the cioppino (Alioto’s is credited with being the first spot to serve it after all), but if you feel like splurging (and we do mean splurge) check out the seafood tower for two. Served chilled, double stacked platters drip in half of a Maine lobster, prawns, oysters, calamari, mussels, shrimp cocktail, and half of a Dungeness crab in an incredible display. You’re welcome. aliotos.com.

Sam Wo Restaurant

Touted as the oldest restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Sam Wo’s claim to fame began shortly after the 1906 earthquake when three Chinese-immigrant siblings started serving up barbecue pork rice rolls and jook (a rice porridge) until 3:00 a.m. in their neighborhood. The Washington Street eatery quickly turned into a communal gathering spot and has embedded itself into many family traditions. After closing its original location, and moving to the current Clay Street spot, Sam Wo’s legacy continues to endure, offering diners affordable and tasty dishes. While anything you get will taste good, you really should order the pork noodle roll as it is a unique and foundational offering that kicked things off for the little shop. Check out the storefront on your own or perhaps (*cough cough*) take Stretchy Pants’ Dim Sum and Chinese Tea tour for an insider’s look into SF Chinatown’s vibrant history. samworestaurant.com.

Famous San Francisco Restaurants

Photo Courtesy of Annie C on Yelp

Love Stretchy Pants?

If you’re digging what we’re dishing up, you might like any number of our culinary experiences. To see and eat at some of the best places in SF check out our Stretchy Pants Food Walks. Or if you’re looking to up your culinary game, we also offer cooking classes and custom events for your next office or holiday party. Happy eating!

– Lauren Bonney @bonneyeatsworld

 

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