You come to Buena Vista for one thing and one thing only: the exceptional Irish coffee. When you’re in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, head here for whiskey-spiked sweet coffee topped with a thick, luscious layer of whipped cream.
When family and friends come to visit San Francisco, they want both the tourist and the authentic experience. They want to ride cable cars and bike the Golden Gate Bridge, and they want to try some of the food that San Francisco is so famous for. Believe it or not, it’s possible to do both, to satisfy your (rightfully) snobby tastes as well as their desire to play SF.
Just because a restaurant, bar, or bakery in this city attracts hordes of visitors doesn’t also mean it’s not good — on the contrary, everything on this list has food, drink, and pastry that’s at the peak of what SF has to offer. Here you’ll find swoonworthy morning buns, storied oyster omelets, and unbelievably fresh fish, as well as incredible views, spots dating back over one hundred years, and roast chicken that’s famous all around the world.
So next time you have visitors, consult this list, because everyone is guaranteed to be happy at these 14 spots perfect for tourists and locals alike.
Want a deeper dive into the best of everything this city has to offer, beyond just tourist-friendly destinations? Then head here to the Eater’s Guide to San Francisco.
1 Buena Vista Cafe
2 Cliff House
Perched on a chunk of craggy rocks, the Cliff House offers a view up and over the rocky landscape of the Pacific Ocean, and the giant cruise and cargo ships as they head into port. It’s a visitor’s dream. Skip going for a full meal and instead slurp oysters and down martinis at sunset or bloody marys at brunch.
3 Ferry Building Marketplace
When’s the last time you wandered through the Ferry Building? The vendors have only gotten even better, and the best time to go is on Saturday mornings to fully enjoy the farmers market. Prep yourself with patience for the inevitable crowds, but if you go with the right expectations, the outing can turn into a fun, all-day way to rediscover what you love so much about this city and make visitors love it as much as you.
4 House of Prime Rib
This 30-year-old San Francisco classic is a total trip back in time to when plating with tweezers was not yet a thing. The restaurant’s apropos name says it all — it serves one thing and one thing only, and it does that roast beef very, very well. The only choices you need to make are: meat temperature, cut thickness, mashed or loaded baked potatoes, and martini or manhattan. Each plate comes with a salad prepared tableside, creamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding and potatoes— and of course a hulking piece of beef cut from roving meat carts.
5 La Taqueria
It wouldn’t be San Francisco without the Mission’s squadron of gut-busting taquerias. La Taqueria leads the pack with its recent win as FiveThirtyEight’s America’s Best Burrito, cementing it as not only a local favorite, but a nationally-recognized one, too. That’s reflected in lines out the door, but fear not — they move quickly. Pro tip: make sure you order your burrito “dorado,” or grilled, making it nice and crispy on the outside.
6 Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
Even if you haven’t been lucky enough to have a cruffin (that’s croissant + muffin, of course), you’ve likely seen it on Instagram. There are lines out the door every single day at this Tenderloin bakery that puts out fun takes on doughnuts and pastries, like the California croissant filled with smoked salmon, baked seaweed, wasabi, and pickled ginger and topped with furikake. Then there are those cruffins, changing daily and flavored with combinations like apple cardamon, peanut butter caramel, and pumpkin coffee.
7 Original Joe’s
Introduce family and friends to old North Beach here, with red leather booths, white tablecloths, and walls covered in framed photographs that set the scene for ample portions of Italian-American fare. From baked lasagna to calf’s liver with bacon and onions, the classics are all here, plus a secretly great burger and fries, for lunch, dinner, and brunch. And, the bar is always lively fun for dining and drinking Manhattans in a clubby atmosphere.
8 Slanted Door
Charles Phan’s iconic Slanted Door in the historic Ferry Building is the city’s most profitable restaurant for a reason. It boasts a winning mix of a stunning Bay Bridge view, elegant and big-flavored Vietnamese food, an award-winning cocktail program, and a venerable wine list. It’s hard to beat a sunset dinner of soft spring rolls and succulent rib eye steak, along with a pina colada that uses housemade coconut cream all in front of the Bay Bridge’s twinkling lights. — Noelle Chun
9 Swan Oyster Depot
Open only for lunch, Polk Street’s 100-year-old gem still churns out the best crab, oysters, and sourdough in town. Get there early to snag one of the handful of seats (and a prime view of the quirky, old-school staff), or be prepared for a long wait.
10 Tadich Grill
Before “New American” fare or “slow food,” there was Tadich Grill. Open since 1849 under a changing roster of proprietors, the restaurant is a San Francisco original, occupying its current location since 1967. Tadich Grill has tried to honor its history by keeping the interior authentic to the times with train-car-like booths lining the wall and other mid-century flourishes in the wooden bar. Just be patient, because there are no reservations and it can get pretty tourist-heavy, but the bartenders at the massive bar help you pass the time pleasantly. Once you’re seated, servers in white coats help your navigate the seafood-focused menu, of which the Hangtown Fry, an oyster omelet, is most well-known. The menu is organized by cooking preparation, so you choose the style and then the type of seafood or meat. — Noelle Chun
11 Tartine Bakery
With an entire cookbook out on the market dedicated to Tartine’s breaded breakfast goodies, it’s no surprise that the line to buy them at the source regularly exceeds a 45-minute wait. First timers usually go for the morning bun, a flaky but dense pastry with a hint of citrus to it. Bread, tarts, cookies, cakes, and more fill the rest of the saliva-inducing display, all of which make the perfect pairing with people watching in the outdoor seating area.
12 Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani bakes every kind of pizza imaginable: New York, Roman, Sicilian, and on. His Neapolitan is an award-winner and his on-site pizza school attracts students from across the country. Head pizzaiola, Laura Meyer, has been racking up her own international awards, most notably as an Eater Young Gun 2016. Bonus points for a bustling, friendly atmosphere, including a bar for date nights and booths for grandpa. And if you’re feeling peckish but not in for a big meal, stop by the Slice House next door for a quick slice.
13 Waxman’s Restaurant
Ghirardelli Square is experiencing a serious revival at the moment, led by chef Jonathan Waxman of the famed Barbuto in New York City. He got his start over in the East Bay, and he’s now returning to his roots with seasonal California fare in a very pleasant setting. If you haven’t been to Ghirardelli Square in a while, trust us and give it a try.
14 Zuni Cafe
Besides “the” chicken, Zuni’s burger, Caesar salad and bloody Mary have all been called the best in the city. It’s the utility belt of restaurants: good for brunch, for late-night dining, for oysters and a cocktail at the bar, or for a lovely sit-down meal with a date. And did we mention that chicken?