San Francisco and its fellow Bay Area cities are a collection of unique neighborhoods with their own distinct personalities. What's one key trait that you'll find across many of those neighborhoods? Great eating and drinking, of course — even if the kind of food and drink varies greatly. Some neighborhoods have one good pizzeria, while SoMa has six. The local beer scene gets better every day, but for true Bay Area beervana, nobody can match Oakland. Those are two of the winners in our competitive and delicious neighborhood smackdown. Read on to see where your neighborhood emerges victorious.
Best for beervana: Oakland
Though San Franciscans hesitate to give Oakland the nod, there's no denying its beer superiority. Tasting rooms at a brewery? Try a flight at Temescal Brewing, the Sticky Zipper IPA at Independent Brewing Company or the often quirky seasonal releases at Ale Industries. For beer gardens with quality suds and sun, Lost & Found and Brotzeit Lokal and the aforementioned Temescal Brewing have you covered. Need some great food? Hog’s Apothecary and Drake’s Dealership prove that pub grub can be elevated way beyond a greasy burger or fish 'n' chips. It’s no wonder that witty San Francisco beer lovers call BART “The Keg Line.”
Best breakfast or brunch with ocean air and no attitude: Outer Sunset
We’re not saying there aren’t lines for brunch at Outerlands. However, by virtue of being just steps from the Pacific and so far from the city center, the lines don’t have the same endless wait time or hectic nature like you’ll encounter in the Mission, and it's arguably the city's best brunch. Not far from Outerlands, you’ll find the celebrated breakfast sandwiches and donut muffins at Devil’s Teeth Baking Company. For top-tier coffee drinks, Irish soda bread with bacon and cheddar, and a palpable charm that seems more wholesome small town than bustling city, Andytown Coffee Roasters can’t be beat. Fresh ocean air, fresh baked goods and great coffee — can we start every day in the Outer Sunset?
Best burgers: Mid-Market
This neighborhood in the center of San Francisco is the heart of a burger-loving city, whether you want high-end with portobello mushrooms or messy fast casual. On the bargain end, Popsons uses high-quality beef and buns but keeps prices low (try the impressive Savory burger with mushroom and truffle cheese). Alta CA’s messy, juicy burger is in the middle of the spectrum with bacon and bread and butter pickles. Then there is the exalted house-ground burger at Zuni Cafe, only available at lunch or after 10 PM. The burger makes a great argument for serving burgers on grilled rosemary focaccia, and diners can customize various toppings (we recommend grilled onions and blue cheese).
Best happy hour: NoPa
The dollar oysters, $4 beer special and $6 chowder served 5 PM–6:30 PM at Bar Crudo are part of the best happy hour in the city, period (and the crowds know it). Elsewhere on Divisadero, Wine Kitchen is a great choice to shift from the workday to dinner with $8 glasses of wine, while La Urbana’s adjacent open-air El Mercado Urbano garage has cheap and rewarding sangria and tacos. The perennial favorite in NoPa, Nopa, offers bar snacks, 5 PM–6 PM (not technically called happy hour but that's what it is), giving you time for a drink and a bite and the chance to put your name on the list before the hectic dinner rush starts at 6 PM.
Best pizza: SoMa
Yes, we’ve got great pizza in San Francisco — don’t let the New York expats convince you otherwise. After all, Una Pizza Napoletana once was Manhattan's premier pizzeria and ever since Anthony Mangieri left for the “Best Coast,” San Franciscans have been fervently enjoying his sublimely simple pies. Also in the Neapolitan style a few blocks away, Zero Zero is a citywide favorite. Elsewhere in SoMa, Slice House by Tony Gemignani doesn’t stick to one style, and you won’t be able to stick to one slice. Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant is an under-the-radar puffy, thin-crust choice. New Jersey gets the love with enormous pies like the Meatball at Jersey. And we know the totally unique pinsa isn’t a pizza. Still, it’s so similar and the pizzalike pinsas just too delicious at Montesacro not to mention for SoMa pride.
Best ramen: San Mateo
We’re not choosing a best bowl of ramen — that is one of the most intense Bay Area–wide debates with no definitive answer. What we’ll gladly proclaim is that San Mateo’s ramen stars are the envy of the entire Bay Area. Slurp the spicy garlic pork bowl at Ramen Dojo or the miso ramen with stewed pork at Santa Ramen as proof. Other marquee ramen shops include Ajisen, Himawari and Ramen Parlor.
Best for a sweet tooth: The Mission
Luckily San Francisco has a lot of hills, so you can’t feel too guilty about dessert. The exception: the Mission, which just so happens to be home to the imaginative pastries of Craftsman and Wolves, the consistently creative and smooth ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery and Humphry Slocombe, the city’s premier donuts at Dynamo, pan dulce at La Victoria, chocolate treats at Dandelion and Charles Chocolates, and cookies you dreamed of in your school lunchbox at Anthony’s Cookies. Don't forgot America’s most famous bakery: Tartine. Now there’s also room for seconds at Tartine Manufactory. When sugar calls, the Mission clearly has you covered.
Best tourist dining area that isn’t touristy: Sausalito
Sustainably caught fish sandwiches and terrific chowder at Fish, Indian cuisine–inspired burritos at Avatar's, pizzas and bocce ball at Bar Bocce, and miso glazed black cod at Sushi Ran — all of these are anything but tourist fare in the artsy waterfront town of Sausalito. Then there are the lobster tacos and duck enchiladas at Copita and superb pastas and rustic secondi platters at Poggio. Both of those restaurants could be considered on the short list for leading Mexican and Italian restaurant, respectively (and the Bay Area certainly isn’t lacking in either of those genres).
Best wine country restaurant town: Healdsburg
Wait, Healdsburg isn’t in the Napa Valley! That’s correct. The eating in this mid-sized Sonoma County town beats any size town in the other valley (sorry Yountville). There’s excellent Mexican at Mateo’s, third-wave coffee from Flying Goat, thin-crust pizza at Campo Fina and Pizzando and glorious rustic Italian dishes at Scopa. Thirsty for something beyond wine? Craft beer at the nationally known Bear Republic, cider at Sonoma Cider's new restaurant-tap room and big city–level cocktails at Duke’s. We have to mention SHED, a market-cafe-shop-restaurant-bar that manages to thrive in each of those categories. For mid- to high-end dining, Chalkboard, Valette and Dry Creek Kitchen balance ambition with wine country relaxation perfectly. And starting next month, you’ve got Single Thread to fill the destination high-end experience niche.
Best unlikely restaurant neighborhood that isn’t really even a neighborhood: The Presidio
Locals know The Presidio as a lot of things — national park for hiking, former military base, entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge — but restaurant-rich area? Yes, that’s right. There aren’t many places to eat, but what's there is impressive. Traci des Jardins’ duo of restaurants are a big reason thanks to Spanish-leaning The Commissary and Mexico-inspired Arguello. By the Lombard entrance, Presidio Social Club’s well-executed classic and contemporary comfort food warrants a weekend brunch or dinner visit.