Coming up with our top pick of San Francisco restaurants was harder than finding affordable rent here. There are literally thousands of fantastic eateries in the city, but we think these five in particular deserve your reservation (or 4-hour walk-in wait):
AQ Restaurant & Bar—1085 Mission Street (SoMa)
“AQ” stands for “as quoted,” highlighting the restaurant’s conscious decision to source fresh and local ingredients. The quality of ingredients sets this place ahead of the pack, as does the very creative take on new and traditional California cuisine. The prix fix menu changes seasonally to further adapt to their pick of ingredients. The waiters will help you with a wine pairing for every season, and if you’re not already experiencing too much choice anxiety over the wine list with over 300 producers, they also have a slew of original and delicious cocktails.
Liholiho Yacht Club—871 Sutter Street (Lower Nob Hill)
As the name would suggest, the focus is a twist on Hawaiian cuisine, and the seafood coming out of this place is stellar. Try the roasted octopus, paired with potatoes, olives and curried raisins, and then immediately make reservations for every upcoming weekend until the end of time. Each dish is meant to be shared family style, but if you want to hoard all that octopus to yourself, no judgment here.
Liholiho also serves up homemade spam. Only this place could make spam cool again.
But the real star of the show—and possibly the reason for the month-long reservation list—is the Baked Hawaii desert. It’s a vanilla meringue with a graham cracker crust, torched with pineapple ice cream inside. It’ll leave you speechless.
Kokkari Estiatorio—200 Jackson Street (Financial District)
Finally, some authentic Greek food that isn’t a grab-n-go gyro pita. And Kokkari Estiatorio was given the highest honor on Zagat’s Top 50 Restaurant list for San Francisco, so we’re not making this stuff up.
Open for lunch and dinner, Kokkari dishes up succulent Greek dishes in a warm, rustic environment. Low lighting and a fireplace in the main dining room help create an intimate space. The menu, as you might expect from a Greek place, serves up all kinds of lamb: meatballs, shank, mousakka, skewers, chops, even riblets. But there’s something for everyone here, vegetarians included, and we’d go back for the pita bread alone.
The Progress—1525 Fillmore St. (Western Addition)
This place has a unique dining concept: it’s a family-style menu where you can order any six dishes for the table at $65 a head, and then you can pay extra for any additional plates. The restaurant is immediately inviting with its high ceilings, natural light and beautifully airy open space. The Progress focuses on New American food, and also offers a wide vegetarian selection. They’re exceptionally accommodating to dietary restrictions. Try the shaved cauliflower herbs and pig fries, and the “treasure chest” with fermented sausage, trout and dumplings.
ICHI Sushi—3282 Mission Street (Bernal Heights)
Another restaurant with a strong focus on sustainable dining and seasonal menus, ICHI serves up traditional and specialty rolls and sushi. The decor of the place not only sets a backdrop for the experience, but teaches you how to enjoy it. There’s a large mural on the wall highlighting important tips for sushi beginners and veterans alike—things like proper sushi handling (it’s ok to pick it up with your hands, even if you’re on a date), and the no-no of dunking the sushi in soy sauce (the taste of fresh fish shouldn’t be masked).
ICHI even serves brunch, because in this day and age, you have to serve brunch. Stars of the menu are the miso scrambled eggs, tamago french toast and a Japanese breakfast if you’re into eating rice first thing instead of waffles. And aren’t you? You came to a sushi place for breakfast, after all.