San Francisco is known for its purist approach to contemporary cooking. Californian cuisine is in itself diverse, tapping into the wide variety of cultures that make up its population. Here are 10 restaurants that best represent this culinary haven.
Formerly headed by distinguished chef Daniel Patterson, and with Matthew Kirkley now at the helm, COI Restaurant has done its part in bringing thought provoking, contemporary cuisine to a California audience. There is a preference for light, plant based dishes and searches for the freshest, most flavorful ingredients available in the area. The resulting menu speaks to a vision for Northern Californian cuisine.
Saison‘s open dining plan, which has high ceilings with dark accents, places the exposed kitchen at the center of the space. This allows guests to experience the full range of smells, views, and sounds involved in a truly rich dining experience. The restaurant offers nightly menus that highlight the best local products in healthy, honest dishes. Executive chef and co-owner Joshua Skenes, values the purity of ingredients, and seeks to unveil the fullest expression of flavor through the use of fire, which acts at the heart of Saisons’ kitchen.
Located in the vibrant Mission District, Foreign Cinema offers rotating menus of Mediterranean-inspired Californian cuisine in an industrial chic environment. Described as the quintessential San Francisco dining experience, this place lets guests savor innovative dishes while enjoying foreign and independent films projected onto the wall in the covered outdoor courtyard. Diners can also relax indoors next to the fire, or on the more private mezzanine, which offers views over the restaurant.
Chef Melissa Perello’s passion for cooking began with childhood experiences in the kitchen with her grandmother. She opened up Frances in 2009, naming the restaurant after her grandmother, and thus highlighting the importance that the chef places on her roots. Serving simple, yet expertly crafted dishes in a neighborhood restaurant reflects Parello’s fine-dining background and down-to-earth personality. Although Frances has been recognized with a James Beard nomination, Bon Appetit top 10 listing, Easter SF Restaurant of the Year and a Michelin star, Parello refuses to raise prices. This is because good value has always been at the core of her vision.
Mamacita in San Francisco’s Marina District serves among the best Mexican food to be found in the city. Although many would argue that Californian innovation and interpretation has prevailed over purist Mexican tradition, this is not to Mamacita’s detriment. Fresh and vibrant flavors, non-traditional pairings and mostly authentic ingredients are plentiful in this upscale take on the Mexican Restaurant.
The Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Acquarello is situated in Nob Hill and named for the original watercolors displayed in its dining room. Chef and co-owner Suzette Gresham-Tognetti focuses on the reinvention of traditional Italian dishes with a contemporary flair. In this intimate, warmly lit space, diners can enjoy dishes such as foie gras and black truffle pasta or terragon fettucine with abalone Bolognese. The 22-year-old restaurant has been recently renovated by designer John Wheatman to highlight the dark wood beams and vaulted ceilings of what was once a chapel.
Sons and Daughters of Nob Hill creates changing menus according to the seasons. This Michelin-starred establishment cultivates its vegetables, fruits, flowers, greens, herbs and snails in a one-acre private garden, south of San Francisco in Los Gatos. A careful consideration of every dish allows for delicate pairings that enhance the natural flavors of the fresh, local ingredients. Attention to detail is impeccable, with each single leaf selected for its beauty and taste.
The specialty at Flour + Water is classic Italian cuisine presented in a refined manner. Head chef Thomas McNaughton graduated from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park and soon after became sous chef at two of San Francisco’s finest restaurants, Gary Danko and Quince. McNaughton also spent time honing his craft in Europe. Most recently he participated in a pasta ‘laboratory’ in Bologna, Italy where he mastered the Italian staple under the careful eyes of pasta artisans. Upon returning from Europe he opened Flour + Water with the aim of demonstrating the great regional variety of il bel paese.
Gary Danko, winner of the James Beard ‘Best Chef – California’ award is internationally recognized as a true California chef. His restaurant has come to stand for the ultimate in contemporary fine dining. It is the pinnacle of his dream to open one of America’s most esteemed dining establishments. His execution and presentation are immaculate, balancing flavors seamlessly in unexpected ways. An extensive cheese cart offers between 16 and 20 cheeses from around the world, a decadent touch that further sets this gem of a restaurant apart.
House of Prime Rib is a true San Francisco landmark. Wood paneling and cozy booths give this classic restaurant, which opened in 1949, a vintage ambience. The limited options and a simple approach means that House of Prime Rib has mastered their staple dishes as an art. Diners identify which cut of prime rib they prefer from a stainless steel serving cart that that is brought to each table, followed by a choice of three side dishes from a selection of six. Classic cocktails are also prepared table side in shakers that are left with the diners. Quality food is accompanied by excellent service, as the owner travels to each table to ensure the quality experience of patrons.