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New Survey Results: San Francisco's Best Restaurants

By Meesha Halm
October 1, 2013
Photo by: Gary Danko

This year’s San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants survey reflects the valued opinions of 17,505 surveyors and covers 1,495 restaurants, running the gamut from venerable, high-end destinations to quick-casual joints (with ingredients often sourced from the same sustainable farms and ranchers). Our surveyors are not only some of the most tech-savvy in the nation - 68% report making reservations online - but they’re also remarkably well-informed, basing their opinions on a whole lot of dining out, averaging approximately 4.2 meals out per week (lunch and dinner combined).

Brand-new lists for San Francisco this year include top recommendations for special occasions, such as "First Date" and “Brunch With Friends,” and for dining near key destinations like “AT&T Park," "Golden Gate Park West" and the “Wine Country.” A final note: while culinary icons located in the greater Bay Area, such as The French Laundry and Chez Panisse, remain much beloved, please note that this roundup specifically focuses on the big winners, notable newcomers and top dining trends emerging in the city of San Francisco. Stay tuned for more Survey coverage throughout the week, let us know your thoughts on the results in the comments and be sure to check out our video Taste Tour

  • Photo by: Gary Danko

    Top Food in SF 

    Winner: Perennial favorite Gary Danko (which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year) won big again with surveyors, but there was some movement just below. The fine-dining Italian Acquerello inched up to the second-place spot, followed by the tiny Japanese omakase favorite Kiss Seafood.

    Breakthrough Kid: The Sardinian-inspired La Ciccia infiltrated the top five this year with a score of 27, suggesting that the secret is out on this off-the-beaten-path osteria. Luckily for devoted locals, next month the owners are slated to open La Nebbia, an enoteca and lasagneria spin-off, a few doors down, which should help accommodate the overflow.

    Biggest Jumps: The newly relocated Saison climbed higher on the list. KEIKO à Nob Hill, which was too new to qualify in the 2013 edition, notched a spot, as did the long-running bistro Chapeau!. Notably absent, however, is Canteen, Dennis Leary’s cult Californian that he shuttered at the end of August as he prepares to open two new ventures.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

  • Photo by: Gary Danko

    Top Service in SF

    Winner: From his flexible tasting menu format to the complimentary breakfast treat for the ladies given on the way out, Gary Danko and his über-accommodating staff continued to set the standard of excellence for service, notching a near-perfect 29 for their efforts.

    Notable Newbies: Cracking the list for this year were the wildly different Frances and KEIKO à Nob Hill, which suggests that surveyors recognize that stellar service comes in all packages, from presenting complex tasting menus in luxurious surroundings (KEIKO) to rustic farm-fresh fare and carafes of house wines (Frances).

    Changing of the Saison: Saison, Joshua Skenes’ newly relocated tasting-menu restaurant boasting only 18 seats and an unusually high server-to-diner ratio, is raising the bar for San Francisco fine dining and moved higher on the list.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

  • Photo by: Palace Hotel

    Top Decor in SF

    Winner: The nod to prettiest dining room in San Francisco once again goes to the Garden Court, thanks in part to its majestic stained-glass domed ceiling and the ornate surroundings of the historical Palace Hotel. Meanwhile, Sierra Mar was voted No. 1 in the greater Bay Area.

    Notable Newbie: The glitzy $7 million interior design and clubby house-party vibe of Downtowner and newcomer Hakkasan helped the high-end Chinese chain snag a spot on the list.
    Ever-Changing Views: It’s not the first time Waterbar and AQ made the top decor list, but what has earned them those honors is new. The glittery views of the Bay Bridge on display from the dining room of Pat Kuleto’s seafooder on the Embarcadero changes nightly, thanks to the mesmerizing LED-illuminated light show of the Bay Lights. And over at AQ's SoMa flagship, everything from the wall decor and tabletop to the staff’s uniform changes completely every four months.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

  • Photo by: Gary Danko

    Most Popular

    Winner: It’s been nine years since Gary Danko wrestled the title of Most Popular from Boulevard, and the Wharf wonder shows no signs of letting go. Indeed, this is the fifth consecutive year that the restaurant swept the No. 1 spots on the Top Food, Service and Most Popular lists.

    Notable Newbie: Last year’s most notable newcomer, State Bird Provisions, racked up rave reviews for its rendition of New American provisions served dim-sum style and quickly established itself a spot on this year’s Most Popular list (so much so that’s it’s already closed temporarily for an expansion), as did Food Network’s Tyler Florence’s paean to the Barbary Coast, Wayfare Tavern.

    Honorable Mention: Also joining the ranks for the first time is Osha Thai, the former hole-in-the-wall Southeast Asian noodle chain, which has grown in popularity and sophistication since debuting in 1996 and now has six sought-after outposts.

    (Note: the Most Popular list covers the entire Bay Area)

  • Photo by: Local Mission Eatery

    Top Californian in SF

    Winner: The year’s biggest restaurant story was the temporary closure of Alice Waters’ legendary locavore Chez Panisse following a devastating fire. But within San Francisco city limits, Jack Voignes’ low-profile Local Mission Eatery was deemed the king of California cuisine, followed by Frances and COI.

    Notable Newcomers: Across town in the Western Addition, Nopa, Laurence Jossel’s beloved late-night Californian, made it into the top five.

    NOPA is also the New Mission: Fittingly, the restaurant credited for putting the neighborhood for which it is named (North of the Pan Handle) on the map, was joined by a spate of other NOPA area hot spots this year, including Zagat unrated newcomers The Mill, Wine Kitchen and a new branch of Bi-Rite Market and Creamery.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

  • Photo by: Acquerello

    Top Italian in SF

    Winner: The city is rife with culinary options, but when it comes to picking favorites, San Francisco surveyors continue to favor Italian as their favorite cuisine, earning 22% of the vote. And for the ultimate Italian meal, diners head to the venerable fine-dining Acquerello, which regained its top dog status. 

    Biggest Drop: Seven Hills, which captured the top spot among the city's Italian restaurants in its debut last year, has settled in at No. 3, as it adjusts to its newfound popularity.

    Notable Newbies: Rank swapping notwithstanding, the same five Italian restaurants (which also include Delfina, La Ciccia and Quince) continue to dominate the San Francisco list, and it’s worth pointing out, you won’t find any of them in North Beach.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

  • Photo by: Yank Sing

    Top Chinese in SF

    Winner: Providing more proof that breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day, dim sum specialist Yank Sing nabbed the top spot for Chinese (beating out the much-hyped Mission Chinese and Martin Yan’s first San Francisco venture M.Y. CHINA, neither of which made the top-five list.)

    Notable Newcomer: The splashy newcomer Hakkasan not only nabbed a spot near the top for decor, but also landed at No. 5 for its high-end Chinese food just months after opening its doors, while Z & Y, an under-the-radar Chinatown hole in the wall, quietly landed on the list for the first time, grabbing the No. 2 for its tongue-numbing and affordable Sichuan fare.

    Farewell to Tommy’s: After 27 years, Chinatown’s venerable Tommy Toy’s Cuisine Chinoise, which in its heyday entertained politicos, Hollywood celebrities and socialites with tuxedoed waiters and French menus, closed its doors, taking with it San Francisco’s last vestiges of the opulent, old-school Empress Dowager style of dining.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

  • Top New American in SF

    Winner: Gary Danko (pictured) notched another near perfect 29 for his haute renditions of New American cuisine. 

    Notable Newcomers: Joining the crowd of perennial winners Boulevard and Saison were two other ventures that also earned an impressive 27 for food and that represent both ends of the dining spectrum. Corey Lee’s SoMa lair Benu gets the nod for presenting haute tasting menus with premier crus in pristine Zenlike digs, while Range, chef-owner Phil West’s 15-year neighborhood Mission haunt, also earned a 27 for his rustic renditions of New American cuisine paired with some of the city’s best cocktails in far more casual digs.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

  • Top Mexican in SF

    Winner: The Mission’s aptly named La Taqueria (pictured)snapped up the numero uno spot, with its straightforward traditional made-from-scratch tacos and burritos, ending all discussions (at least temporarily) about the rightful winner of the local taco wars.

    Notable Newbie: The organic, vegan-only Gracias Madre in the Mission climbed onto the top list this year.

    Trend Watch: Local and sustainable were the watchwords for a new crop of local and sustainably inspired Mexican restaurants that have opened on both sides of the bay, including a Downtown outpost of the Rosa Mexicano chain and Cole Valley’s Padrecito (another offshoot from the Mamacita gang).

    (See overall Bay Area winners)


  • Photo by: Paige Green

    Top Bakeries/Sweet Shops in SF

    Winner: Now with two locales from which to choose, the Mission original and a new take-out counter at the Western Addition store, it’s little wonder that surveyors deemed Bi-Rite Creamery (pictured), Sam Mogannam's and Anne Walker’s organic specialty scoop shops, the best place to blow your diet.

    Notable Newcomer: Craftsman & Wolves, William Werner’s ultramod, high-end patisserie and cafe in the Mission, made the shortlist for his cutting-edge sweets and savories.

    From Pop-Ups to Permanent: Several fellow pastry vagabonds followed in Werner’s footsteps, putting down roots and opening brick-and-mortar ventures, such as Belinda Leong at B. Patisserie in Pacific Heights and Michelle Polzine’s 20th Century Café in Hayes Valley. Also sweetening the dessert scene this year is the spate of new artisanal cacao-bean-inspired cafes, including Michael Recchiuti’s Chocolate Lab, Dandelion Chocolate and Charles Chocolates.

    (See overall Bay Area winners)

    >Catch up on all our Survey coverage


Places Mentioned

Osha Thai Restaurant & Lounge

Asian • Embarcadero

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28
Charles Chocolates

Dessert • The Mission

Food- Decor- Service- CostI

Italian • Downtown

Food26 Decor26 Service26 Cost$101
Osha Thai

Thai • SoMa

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28
The Mill

Cafe • Alamo Square

Food- Decor- Service- CostI

Mexican • Marina District

Food24 Decor20 Service19 Cost$36

Italian • Polk Gulch

Food28 Decor26 Service28 Cost$107
Osha Thai Restaurant & Bar

Thai • Cow Hollow

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28
KEIKO à Nob Hill

French • Nob Hill

Food27 Decor24 Service25 Cost$129

Seafood • Embarcadero

Food23 Decor27 Service22 Cost$58

Mexican • Cole Valley

Food- Decor- Service- CostI

Californian • The Castro

Food27 Decor20 Service25 Cost$58
Wayfare Tavern

American • Downtown

Food24 Decor24 Service23 Cost$52
Osha Thai Glen Park

Thai • Glen Park

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28
Yank Sing

Dim Sum • SoMa

Food26 Decor18 Service20 Cost$38
20th Century Cafe

Cafe • Hayes Valley

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
Kiss Seafood

Seafood • Japantown

Food28 Decor17 Service25 Cost$81
Osha Thai

Thai • The Mission

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28
Osha Thai Noodle Cafe

Thai • Nob Hill

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28
Osha Thai Restaurant

Thai • SoMa

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28

American • SoMa

Food27 Decor24 Service28 Cost$168
Seven Hills

Italian • Nob Hill

Food27 Decor21 Service25 Cost$53
Local Mission Eatery

Californian • The Mission

Food27 Decor24 Service25 Cost$36
B. Patisserie

Dessert • Lower Pacific Heights

Food26 Decor22 Service20 Cost$18
State Bird Provisions

NoneFillmore District/Western Addition

Food26 Decor18 Service23 Cost$59
Chez Panisse


Food27 Decor25 Service27 Cost$85
Boulevard Restaurant

New American • Embarcadero

Food27 Decor26 Service26 Cost$71
The French Laundry

French • Yountville

Food28 Decor27 Service28 Cost$297
Delfina Restaurant

Italian • The Mission

Food26 Decor20 Service23 Cost$48
Rosa Mexicano

Mexican • SoMa

Food24 Decor26 Service24 Cost$44
Garden Court Restaurant

American • SoMa

Food22 Decor28 Service23 Cost$55
Gary Danko

American • Fisherman's Wharf

Food29 Decor27 Service29 Cost$111

American • The Mission

Food27 Decor21 Service25 Cost$55
Craftsman & Wolves

Cafe • The Mission

Food25 Decor24 Service23 Cost$15

Cafe • Dogpatch

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
After Osha

Thai • Downtown

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$28
Wine Kitchen

New American • NoPa

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
La Taqueria

Mexican • The Mission

Food25 Decor11 Service17 Cost$12

New American • China Basin

Food27 Decor22 Service26 Cost$322
Gracias Madre

Organic • The Mission

Food24 Decor22 Service20 Cost$25
La Ciccia

Italian • Noe Valley

Food27 Decor17 Service25 Cost$50
Michael Mina

Fine Dining • Downtown

Food27 Decor25 Service26 Cost$104

French • Inner Richmond

Food27 Decor21 Service25 Cost$54
Yank Sing

Chinese • SoMa

Food26 Decor18 Service20 Cost$38
Z & Y Restaurant

Chinese • Chinatown

Food25 Decor13 Service15 Cost$23
COI Restaurant

American • North Beach

Food27 Decor26 Service27 Cost$228
Bi-Rite Creamery

NoneThe Mission

Food27 Decor15 Service21 Cost$7

Californian • Alamo Square

Food26 Decor23 Service24 Cost$48
Hakkasan San Francisco

Chinese • Downtown

Food24 Decor26 Service24 Cost$74
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