14 Best Brunch Dishes and Drinks in San Francisco

From monkey bread to chilaquiles, your SF brunch checklist
April 25, 2016
by Trevor Felch

As San Francisco's unofficial favorite meal, brunch takes on many forms across the city — with an almost guaranteed line anywhere. Whether you're in the mood for bagels that New Yorkers would approve or destination-worthy weekend pasta with squid ink or uni, you're covered for brunch in the city. The question is, where to go and what to get? Here are 14 brunch highlights in San Francisco, so why not get started this weekend?

Best Chilaquiles: Cala

Leaning towards coastal Mexican seafood dishes at night and tacos in the daytime, Cala takes its weekend brunch in Hayes Valley towards egg and meat dishes, like an exemplary version of chilaquiles. The base of crisp, fried homemade tortillas is covered in green and red salsas, and diners can select whether to add chicken or carnitas, and then the whole thing is crowned with a fried sunny-side-up egg.

149 Fell St.; 415-660-7701

Runners-up: Primavera; Nopalito

Most Elaborately Decorated Bloody Mary: Bloody Mary Royale at Lord George

Brunch at this new SoMa cocktail bar-restaurant calls for a Bloody Mary made with vodka and a house San Marzano tomato-based mix that features the curious umami-punch addition of ponzu sauce. The normal version comes garnished with cornichons and shaved celery. The Royale adds a Gulf prawn and a Fanny Bay oyster — on the drink. Consider it the appetizer before your smoked salmon tartine to start the day.

555 Second St.; 415-660-7633

Runners-up:​ Mina Test Kitchen; The District

Bagel That Makes New Yorkers Jealous: Marla Bakery

The search for an excellent San Francisco bagel ended last year when husband-and-wife team Joe Wolf and Amy Brown started baking in the wood oven housed in their Outer Richmond cafe. With a tan gloss and crisp chew, the bagels are minimally decorated with poppy seeds or salt crystals. Enjoy them with house-smoked trout, herbed farmers cheese and no six-hour flight to Brooklyn.

3619 Balboa St.; 415-742-4379

Runners-up:​ Wise Sons Bagels & Bakery; 20th Century Cafe

Best Prix Fixe Brunch: Bar Tartine

Prix fixe brunch doesn't have to mean bottomless mimosas. Weekend "lunch" at this unique California-Central and European-focused Mission restaurant is a $37 three-course affair (add $25 with drink pairings) with a table full of unique savory small plates like the incomparable smoked potatoes, plus salad and lots of pickles. The finale is a mildly sweet dessert like yogurt with seasonal fruit. There is no better family-style daytime feast in the city.

561 Valencia St.; 415-487-1600

Runners-up: Farina; SPQR

Best Avocado Toast: Frog Hollow Cafe

Not surprisingly, Australia’s beloved morning dish found a passionate home in San Francisco — a city that adores good bread and ripe avocado. No spot competes with the simple version at this cafe in the Ferry Building, using Acme’s green onion slab for the base, and precise slices of slightly tense, slightly creamy avocado on top. Frog Hollow’s own Tuscan olive oil blend is the only elaboration.

One Ferry Building #46; 415-445-0990

Runners-up:​ Olea; Mazarine Coffee

Most Unique Eggs Dish: DOSA

At DOSA's two locations (Lower Pacific Heights and the Mission), eggs and pancakes get a much-needed jolt as a pleasant union. The uttapam is a thick pancake with English peas, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro and yellow onions folded in the batter, then topped with the golden eggs. Dip it (yes, use your hands!) in either roasted tomato chutney or coconut chutney.

995 Valencia St.; 415-642-3672
1700 Fillmore St.; 415-441-3672

Runners-up: Balsamic fried eggs at Foreign Cinema; Poached eggs with beef ragu and lentils at Boulette's Larder

Best Smoked Fish Board: Locanda

The Mission’s newest brunch hot spot veers away from its nighttime Roman focus with an impressive daytime brunch, led by its smoked fish platter. The stellar ensemble includes a quartet of smoked trout, lox, black cod and herring, joined by plenty of cream cheese, raw onion and capers. The excellent bagels come from Wise Sons and beg for diners to have fun with a do-it-yourself smoked fish sandwich party.

557 Valencia St.; 415-863-6800

Runners-up:​ Lord George; Rye Project

Best Fried Chicken and Waffles: Farmer Brown

Nothing symbolizes brunch more than the perfect pairing of a salty-savory protein with the fluffy, maple syrup-coated breakfast staple. The fried chicken at this always humming Mid-Market soul food spot is perfect with tender meat under a grease-less coating, and the waffles are soft with enough structure to avoid being soggy when drenched in syrup. It tastes like the weekend.

25 Mason St.; 415-409-3276

Runners-up: The Keystone; 1300 on Fillmore

Best Reason to Have Pasta in the Morning: SPQR

The Fillmore’s pasta-centric, Italian stalwart relaxes a bit on weekends by shortening the menu, testing some new dishes, and lowering prices (the optional tasting menu goes from five courses to three). Still, the pastas are among the most inventive and flawlessly executed you’ll find in the city, whether it's squid ink mezze maniche or wild greens cannelloni. They taste just as special at 11 AM as they do at 10 PM.

1911 Fillmore St.; 415-771-7779

Runners-up:​ Cotogna; Farina

Best Donuts Not From a Donut Shop: Mina Test Kitchen's Diane's Bloody Mary Lunch

Of the many revelations you’ll find at the recently unveiled Sunday-only Diane’s Bloody Mary Brunch in Cow Hollow, the feathery light wild berry (blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry) jam-topped doughnuts is the most awesome. A fine palm sugar exterior provides a restrained sweetness and the batter (not a dough) yields an impossibly soft-as-cotton candy texture. Definitely consider this a Test Kitchen success.

2120 Greenwich St.; 415-625-5469

Runners-up:​ Marlowe; Piccino

Best Brunch Day Trip Excuse: Ad Hoc

Weekends are meant for brunch, and they’re also meant for getting out of town. Thomas Keller’s Yountville prix fixe restaurant combines both with a three-course $34 brunch plus an optional fourth dish and (suggested) house Bloody Mary or mimosa. Fortified after two hen eggs any style and a platter of buttermilk fried chicken and bacon-chive waffles, you'll be ready for hiking and wine tasting.

6476 Washington St.,Yountville; 707-944-2487

Runners-up:​ The Bywater in Los Gatos; Healdsburg SHED

Best Combination of Coffee and Food: Cafe Réveille

Dining at local coffee roasters generally involves toast or muffins, but that was before Réveille’s new Mission Bay cafe opened in early 2016. It houses the company's first coffee roaster (they previously used Four Barrel) and is completely changing the landscape by pairing top-tier cortados with a flat iron steak sandwich or asparagus and burrata salad. If you really need to wake up, head to the adjacent drinks bar for a Dank & Stormy with Fort Point's smoky Manzanita ale, ginger, molasses and Réveille's cold brew.

610 Long Bridge St.; 415-789-6258

Runners-up:​ Jane on Larkin; Mazarine Coffee

Best Reason to Drink Before Noon: Maven

Maven pioneered the elevated bar food and craft cocktails genre long before it was a ubiquitous trend — but you could only visit at night. You can now sip a sparkling paloma on Sunday or (watch out) enjoy bubbles and absinthe sorbet with the Death in the Afternoon, accompanied by duck hash and a fried egg. Just say it’s noon in Chicago and toast to good drinks in the Lower Haight.

598 Haight St.; 415-829-7982

Runner-ups: Belga; Trou Normand

Best Dessert Disguised as a Brunch Dish: Monkey Bread at Stones Throw

Is there such a thing as dessert at brunch? The plates of French toast, chocolate chip pancakes and sticky buns definitely make you wonder. The Sunday-only brunch at Russian Hill’s Stones Throw features cinnamon brioche for monkey bread, with a sweet cream cheese frosting, strawberry-rhubarb compote and macadamia nuts. Dessert or brunch? There's no judgment here.

1896 Hyde St.; 415-796-2901

Runners-up:​ Nocino-walnut sticky bun at Locanda; Pop tarts at Foreign Cinema

chicken and waffles
bloody mary
brunch cocktails