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15 Non-Touristy SF Restaurants That Every Tourist Should Visit

Go beyond the usual suspects with our off-the-radar dining highlights
March 28, 2016
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by Trevor Felch

San Francisco is both a major tourist destination and world-class restaurant city. As a result, a few longtime classic restaurants and the newest of the hip dining rooms tend to get most of the attention, drawing a largely out-of-town audience for lunch or dinner. And while these venues are deservedly special and worth a visit, they're not the only top-notch restaurant games in town. We're here to show you some unsung restaurants and bars near tourist attractions, and some options if you want to skip the crowded tourist favorites. No matter where you decide to dine, be sure to bring a big appetite to San Francisco.

Marla Bakery

Winter or summer, it’s almost always chilly at Ocean Beach and the west side of Golden Gate Park. Thank goodness for Marla Bakery in the Outer Richmond to warm us up with tempting baked goods and breakfast and lunch options: savory walnut boules, an incomparable dark chocolate chunk cookie, butternut squash scones, and the list goes on. Get to Marla early for the most in-demand item: San Francisco’s most worthy bagel contender.

3619 Balboa St.; 415-742-4379

Frog Hollow Farm Cafe

Amidst the never-ending possibilities of Ferry Building eats, it's easy to lose sight of the venue's real focal point — fresh produce. With that in mind, spring for the seasonal fruit galettes, vegetable-packed empanadas, and an idyllic rendition of the California staple, avocado toast, on Acme’s green onion slab bread at Frog Hollow's casual cafe. The only way to say “Welcome to Northern California” more than a light fruit- and vegetable-filled lunch is to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

1 Ferry Building, Suite 46; 415-445-0990

Sightglass Coffee

It’s always time for a coffee break with an almond-macadamia nut milk cortado, whether on vacation or a business trip. Visitors line up at Blue Bottle’s various cafes and Four Barrel, both of which excel at drinks, but not comfort. Sightglass boasts some of the most carefully sourced beans and skilled baristas around, and it serves them in a grand two-level warehouse that is an excellent place to watch the neighborhood’s tech industry workers discuss the latest app.

270 7th St.; 415-861-1313

The Perennial

No restaurant in the country is devoted to environmental sustainability like The Perennial. Locals or visitors can get schooled on how a cocktail ice program with water frozen at the bottom of glasses prevents water waste and why the restaurant's beef is only sourced from carbon farming ranches. Amidst these tremendous principles, The Perennial isn’t just an educational institution in the rapidly growing Mid-Market area. It’s also one of the best new restaurants in the city with a vegetable-slanted, playful menu similar to Al's Place — without the substantial waits.

59 9th St.; 415-500-7788

Union Larder

The Powell-Mason cable car goes by no shortage of excellent restaurants and bars, literally finishing in the Buena Vista Cafe for an Irish Coffee or Tadich Grill for a quintessential martini. However, we suggest paying homage to nearby wine regions with a stop at Union Larder atop Russian Hill — just steps from Lombard Street — for the always changing California-heavy wines-by-the-glass roster. A Sonoma Coast pinot noir sure sounds perfect after being in a crowded selfie stick-filled cable car.

1945 Hyde St.; 415-272-7567

Mourad

For roast chicken, Zuni Cafe’s legendary version is second to none. However, the roast chicken for two at the FiDi’s Mourad is equally magnificent; it's brined in olives and preserved lemons, then served with a spread of sides like perfectly fluffy couscous. As another bonus, you’ll enjoy your chicken in the city’s most dramatic, sparkling dining room and taste the unique Moroccan-Californian cooking of pioneering chef Mourad Lahlou, without trekking out to his flagship, Aziza.

140 New Montgomery St. #1; 415-660-2500

Nopa and Nopalito

Burgers and burritos run the city, and Nopa’s burger is among the city's elite, even if it's not as widely noted. Beyond burgers, Nopa is an industry and local favorite that everyone should visit to get a taste of what's happening in San Francisco foodie culture — brunch, cocktails, the late-night scene, the beloved Moroccan vegetable tagine, desserts, the obscure Jura wine — if it's happening in SF, it's here.

Younger sibling Nopalito, a two-minute walk away, is the address to know for a wide range of Mexican dishes cooked with the highest level of ingredients and passion, from refreshing ceviche to hearty pozole. Wait, no massive burritos offered? Nope, though burritos are a signature dish of San Francisco, this is the place to come for Mexican fare of a different caliber. Bonus: Nopalito has excellent margaritas.

Nopa, 560 Divisadero St.; 415-864-8643
Nopalito, 306 Broderick St.; 415-437-0303
 

Alembic

Tourists know all about San Francisco cocktail standards like the margarita at Tommy’s and new legends like Trick Dog. But, it was Alembic that merged the casual neighborhood restaurant with the craft cocktail world over a decade ago. The concept is ubiquitous citywide today, yet few do it with the careful skill of Alembic. For sightseers, Alembic is close to Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park. Put a flower in your hair and order some jerk-spiced duck hearts.

1725 Haight St.; 415-666-0822

Commonwealth

Nearly six years in, Jason Fox continues to offer imaginative cooking in the heart of the Mission, blending a range of cultures and cutting-edge methods together, rooted in the bounty of Northern California ingredients à la State Bird Provisions. Luckily at Commonwealth, a seat for a range of thrills like sweet potato, sea urchin, and pork fat dumplings doesn’t require reservations exactly 60 days in advance. Locals know all about the virtues of Commonwealth. It’s time for visitors to take note, as well.

2224 Mission St.; 415-355-1500

Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

The waits are less than for Bi-Rite's salted caramel ice cream, yet the sunshine and scoops are just as stellar nearby in the Dogpatch. Ice cream at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous is far from vague (unlike the name), with a smooth, dense texture and bold flavors (being near AT&T Park, try the Ballpark with Anchor Brewing’s porter mixed with chocolate-covered peanuts and pretzels). Of course you’re getting that scoop in a homemade waffle cone with a side of the house peanut brittle (the owners used to be pastry chefs and it shows).

699 22nd St.; 415-970-0750

Trattoria Contadina

Homemade gnocchi, pitch-perfect spaghetti alle vongole with clams, and excellent veal saltimbocca are all smart choices at this venerable North Beach classic, a few blocks removed from the main Little Italy tourist track and miles away when it comes to the quality of your beef carpaccio. Equally worth noting are the Negronis. Yes, plural, since Contadina's bar delves deeply into atypical interpretations of the famous Italian cocktail. For an old-fashioned, no-frills Italian feast, there is no better place in the neighborhood.

1800 Mason St.; 415-982-5728

Dim Sum Club

A meal in Chinatown and a dim sum lunch should always be on the itinerary of visiting diners. Unfortunately, the two just don’t mix. In Chinatown, it’s best to graze on buns and dumplings. For dim sum, waits can be substantial at classics like Yank Sing and Hong Kong Lounge I, plus it's a long journey to get to the latter restaurant. You can avoid both situations and go over Nob Hill from Chinatown to an Italian-themed hotel's dining room (yes, that's correct), Dim Sum Club, for stand-out xiao long bao, sticky rice in lotus leaf, and steamed spare ribs.

2550 Van Ness Ave.; 415-529-2615

Cellarmaker Brewing Co.

As much as we love our Anchor Steam (and the free tour and tasting where locals like to get crazy!), SoMa’s IPA-specialist Cellarmaker is the gold standard of city breweries. The beers at the tap room change as quickly as San Francisco’s hottest start-up, so don’t get too attached. Whether the IPA you tried is more a tropical fruit profile or dry hopped-earthy-flavored, or you opt for the superb Coffee & Cigarettes porter, you'll say cheers to this small brewery that is single-handedly raising the bar for local brewing.

1150 Howard St.; 415-863-3940

Fish

The Fisherman’s Wharf-to-Sausalito via the Golden Gate Bridge bike trip is a mandatory day trip for active visitors. Save your appetite for the end of the trip, instead of a starting meal at Pier 39. At Fish, the Sausalito Harbor setting and dishes like exemplary barbecue oysters and fish tacos are only beat by the restaurant's devotion to responsibly sourced seafood. Fish even lists fishing vessel names on the menu. It's fast-casual, cash only, and the quintessential waterfront setting for a king salmon banh mi before a ferry back to the city.

350 Harbor Dr., Sausalito; 415-331-3474

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