SoMa is the tech epicenter of San Francisco with eats as rarified and down-to-earth as the sprawling neighborhood. One part casual, one part upscale, SoMa bristles with culinary energy.
These top restaurants in SoMa, San Francisco turn on the culinary firepower in settings refined or casual, but always low-key. Great food, a fun vibe, and maybe even a Michelin star. It’s all here. Don’t forget your hoodie.
Saison and the Bar at Saison
Restaurant, American, $$$
Chef Josh Skenes scored three stars from the Michelin guide for his 18-course, nearly $300 menu at San Francisco’s Saison. He brings the same exacting technique – and around $150 price tag for five courses – to the menu designed especially for The Bar at Saison. Call it a free-form tasting menu and eat as much or as little as you like of dishes such as Saison reserve caviar and grilled seaweed bread, or broth of rockfish and thistles roasted near the fire.
The soaring windows of this 6,000 square-foot restaurant in the former Pacific Telephone Building invite your gaze upward – though the soulful yet modern Moroccan cuisine of Chef Mourad Lahlou refocuses attention on the plate. A tasting menu of ‘snacks’ translates approximately to a $120 meal, but the joy of Mourad is the family-style plates. A lamb shoulder platter, heaped with greens and dusted with cumin salt, is enough for a family or intimate business dinner. Somewhat smaller dishes such as soft-shell crab with avocado, plum and zhug make nice shared appetizers or a meal for one on those days when less is more. Narrow, natural wood tables and a gleaming tile floor complete the vibrantly-hued scene.
While there is great pizza around San Francisco, the city deserves more of what CENTO Osteria has to offer. Located in the long stretch of SoMa along the Embarcadero, CENTO offers eats that are relaxed, familiar and memorable. Slake your thirst with an aged Negroni, then dig into a wood-fired pizza straight from the oven. The ‘nduja, made in-house, with provolone and broccoli rabe, hits that perfect spicy-creamy note. Fresh pasta, including a delicious cacio e pepe, is done as tonnarelli, à la Roma.
From the outside looking in, Luce’s two-story windows frame yellow, tufted banquettes and dark, lacquered chairs shimmering in the glow of ambient light bouncing off pendant lamps. It’s a stunning visual effect that pairs well with the rich menu from chef Daniel Corey. With an award of excellence from Wine Spectator and one Michelin star for the past nine years, Luce is a hit for its Cal-Ital-focused wine menu, as well as the seasonally-shifting food. The tasting menu is a one-stop shop to explore the flavors and incredible agricultural and marine bounty of Northern California. The King salmon confit with grapefruit, pickled mustard seed, and crème fraîche are a perfect expression of the chef’s style.
The impressive dark paneled walls and gleaming white stoneware are the first hint that things are serious here. The second hint is Benu’s three Michelin stars. The upwards-of-$300 price tag is the third. Chef Corey Lee custom builds the menu each day, executes it with stunning precision and alternates the number of courses to suit the day’s clientele. Be sure to wear comfortable clothes. Dinnertime averages about three hours, but the time and money are well spent.
The black-and-white subway tile flooring and marble tables topped with blue-striped white linen napkins speak to the upscale-downscale nature of Marlowe, a place where the day’s specials are posted on a butcher paper scroll. The dish to have here is the burger. Chef Jennifer Puccio works magic into the humble beef – it truly has no equal in the city – and pairs it with crispy fries that arrive piping hot and perfectly salted.
There’s a reason Fringale, open for more than 25 years, endures: the French food with Basque flair is consistently great. There’s no better moules frites in the city and it remains one of the few places where foie gras is routinely on the menu. The kind service and amiable waiters (some with accents straight out of Nice) add a grace note to Fringale’s many charms.
The thump of bass seeping out the windows of Dumpling Time eases the wait for a table at this busy dumplings-and-beer joint. The signature dish is the pan-seared gyoza (the seafood version has a spinach skin), but the small plates are perfect for sharing among a group. Go for the char siu bao (ask for it seared), shrimp toast, the beet-colored tom yum goong and the extra-large xiao long bao. Known as king-dum (get it?), it’s served with a straw to carefully sip the delicious broth inside.
Dial 1 on the golden phone outside this former pawn shop and Jerry, the maitre’d by way of a Vegas comedy show, buzzes you into Pawn Shop, a restaurant hidden behind a secret display-case entrance. With your senses a little disoriented but your sense of fun intact, dig into the small bites and larger plates done Spanish-style, complete with déclassé décor. You cannot go wrong with fresh local oysters or the gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic), but the spicy beef croquette and lamb lollipop are truly decadent.