As hard as it is to score 8 PM reservations at San Francisco's top restaurants, we think it's just as challenging to get a table at midnight. Unlike cosmopolitan counterparts New York or Chicago, San Francisco has a dearth of late-night dining options - and some of those open-late spots you might prefer to skip even during the daytime hours, while other joints claim to serve until midnight, but close early when business is slow. Never fear, night owls, we've got your back: here are the five top spots in the city for late-night dining, as rated in this year's San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants survey.
This happening Western Addition hot spot not only serves ingredient-driven organic, seasonal fare that's good enough to earn it a spot on the Best Californian list, it does so until 1 AM every night of the week. The signature burger or anything from the wood-fired oven is a sure bet, and the outstanding bar gets bonus points for whipping up market-fresh libations nightly. Another boon for heading here late at night? Demand for the tables dies down, but don’t worry: there’s always a lively mix of post-shift chefs, hipsters and locals chowing down at the communal tables.
560 Divisadero St.; 415-864-8643
This 23-year-old Japanese basement sushi bar near Union Square is one of the few spots in town that rolls out the (tatami) welcome mat until 2 AM (last call for food is 1:30 AM). It doesn’t look like much from the exterior, but once you pass through the curtain and head downstairs, you’re likely to be greeted by a loud, raucous crowd downing apres-club munchies and sake bombs. The kitchen’s claim to fame is the Volcano Roll (deep fried shrimp with jalapeno, cucumber, fish roe and peanut butter), but we prefer to stick to the karaage, Jumping Tuna Roll and other nightly specials showcasing fish flown in from Japan. Fueling the scene is a full bar (stocked with over 20 varieties of imported sake and soju) and a live DJ spinning tunes Thursday-Saturday that gets diners up on their feet, furthering the feeling like you’ve gained entry to some underground dinner party in Ginza.
619 Taylor St.; 415-775-1028
When you’re stumbling around North Beach looking for some sustenance beyond a slice of warmed-over pizza, this funky cantina hawking affordable Mexican cocina is just the ticket. Open Tuesday-Saturday until 12:30 AM, Sunday until 10 PM, the kitchen turns out traditional street food such as tacos al pastor along with more inventive dishes such as lobster cooked in pork fat and the hamburguesa, a decadent Baja-inspired burger studded with bacon and onions and slathered with fresh guacamole. The restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license, but the bartenders are happy to ply you with beer or wine, or make you a margarita spiked with 100% agave spirits. (Reservations only taken for 6 or more).
510 Union St.; 415-395-0939
The Tenderloin, jokingly referred to as the Tandoorloin for its high concentration of budget Indian-Pakistani curry houses, has no shortage of late-night options, but this one named after the namesake condiment was declared king of the hill according to 2014 surveyors. The storefront dining room won’t win any decor awards, but the kitchen turns out plentiful plates of curries, biryani and wraps, not to mention a slate of fresh baked naan and over a dozen vegetarian options, until 12 AM nightly. Imbibers take note: the restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license so those not satisfied washing down their meal with a mango lassi should be sure to hit up one of the corner markets on your way over and BYOB.
511 Jones St.; 415- 931-5541
Yes, we realize that the original chefs have moved on, but the dive bar that earned cult status after being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is still a boon for night owls in search of a tasty meal and some cool brews in the hinterlands of the Excelsior. Don’t let the “dive bar” moniker fool you: sure, it has the requisite pool table, dart board and juke box, and visitors place their order at the bar before retreating to the dimly-lit back dining room, but the new chef’s rotating offerings include some downright sophisticated fare: one recent menu featured roasted duck with arugula, pickled strawberries and pistachio crumble. Still, if you’re heading there late at night (the kitchen serves until 12 AM Sunday-Thursday, until 2 AM Friday-Saturday), chances are the brisket burger, spicy Thai pork wings or oxtail ragout papardelle are probably the kind of stick-to-your-ribs grub that you’re craving. Be sure to ask owner Jason King (aka The Whiskey King) for help navigating his 300+ bottle selection. Cash only (but there is an ATM inside).
1166 Geneva Ave.; 415-963-1713