San Francisco has nearly 50% more restaurants per households than New York City and it’s got a whopping number of Michelin star joints, hole-in-the-wall gems, and mom-and-pop favorites. With all those eateries, it’s easy for a fabulous spot to get overlooked, especially if it sits unassumingly at the end of an alleyway or even in a mall. Here are some of our favorite little known restaurants in San Francisco that take a little more effort to find—but are totally worth the search.
This cozy spot located at the end of an alleyway in Presidio Heights sees itself more as a “social club” than the hidden gem of a restaurant it is. Specializing in rich, Northern Italian classics, Sociale switches up its menu monthly, always offering just-butchered cuts of meats and the freshest ingredients around.
2. Le Colonial
On Cosmo Place, a tiny alleyway in Lower Nob Hill—very near the bustling tourist area of Union Square—is this two-story spot featuring a large dining room and an inner courtyard that feels like you’ve stepped into the tropics. And the dishes reflect that fresh and vibrant ambiance with French Vietnamese specialties.
3. The Barrel Room
Though no longer as hidden as it once was when it was limited to a cozy basement room in the Fitzgerald Hotel, (it’s no located in the heart of the FiDi), The Barrel Room is still an oft-missed gem. And since they’ve moved, they’ve added a complementary food menu to their already exquisite wine list, both of which change with the seasons.
4. The Brazen Head
Key to a well-established hidden gem? No signage but lots of happy regulars. That’s the case for this longstanding pub and restaurant in the Marina, with its warm, wooden interior. Get filling American entrees, like this hefty prime rib, or enjoy a Moscow Mule at the bar.
5. An Japanese Restaurant
This tiny sushi bar is well-hidden within a back hallway of the Peace Plaza in Japantown. They focus on seasonal food both local to San Francisco and fish available at Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market. Go for one of the three omakase options and try the fish bone soup for a fresh, nourishing meal.
6. Hops & Hominy
Many tourists (and locals) will likely pass right by the small pedestrian alley of Tillman Place, where this Southern BBQ joint (and its outdoor patio) sits. Order the signature fried chicken or the creamy mac and cheese and pair it with a craft-brewed micro-beer.
7. La Ciccia
This intimate restaurant on the outskirts of Noe Valley is mostly only known by neighborhood locals. It’s owned by the husband-and-wife team Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan, who delicately craft authentic Sardinian dishes with a specialized focus on fresh seafood. They also offer several Sardinian wines to pair perfectly with your meal.
8. Little Skillet
This spot is literally a hole in the wall, tucked away on SoMa’s Ritch Street. It’s the tiny offshoot of soul-food favorite famrmerbrown and offers the ‘hood’s finest fresh waffles, crispy fried chicken, and creamy grits.