Whether you head to a highly rated restaurant at lunch, catch an early-bird prix fixe, dine at the bar or sample by snacking vs. ordering entrees, here are eight top Zagat-rated restaurants and ways to eat there for $30 or less (excluding tax and tip).
Sure, the tasting menu at one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the U.S. may be $225. But there is a chic lounge area where you can slip in for an elegant cocktail and snacks, a bite-size peek at the imaginative dishes coming out Christopher Kostow's kitchen (his new book was just released). The photo above is one example of the delicious artistry that might appear in the lounge.
900 Meadowood Ln.; 707-967-1205
Long one of our greatest French bistros, Chapeau has offered its steal of an early-bird menu Sunday through Thursday (5-6 PM) since 1996 for less than $30. Though it's now just over at $36.95, compared to the bistro's standard prix fixe menus ($44.50-$75), the early-bird offer is still a steal. You get a three-course prix fixe, including chef/co-owner Philippe Gardelle's dreamy soups, like creamy roasted chestnut with duck-fat croutons.
126 Clement St.; 415-750 9787
Campton Place's naan bar [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]
At upscale Indian-Californian-French great Campton Place, executive chef Srijith Gopinathan and his team turn out elegant dishes reminiscent of fine-dining Indian cuisine in London. On the affordable front, they recently launched a lunchtime-only naan bar. For $9-$11, each order comes with two naan topped with a creative range of local ingredients, like tandoori Brentwood corn, scallions and chaat masala naan or curried shrimp, cherry tomatoes and black rice naan.
340 Stockton St.; 415-955-5555
Range's apéritif hour (5-6 PM) offers elegant $7-$8 light alcohol cocktails/apéritifs and bar snacks like trout rillettes ($7) accented by shaved fennel and mustard crème fraîche. There are plenty of affordable appetizers too, like glazed duck wings ($14) with Asian pears and pickled chiles in a smoked buttermilk dressing.
842 Valencia St.; 415-282-8283
One of San Francisco's great vegetarian restaurants since 1994, Millennium is an upscale experience where one leaves feeling as if they've had a hearty meal. Though entrees are in the $20s, a seat around the bar is ideal for produce-heavy cocktails and mocktails ($7-$12) with small plates like sweet soy-glazed scallion griddle cakes ($11.50) topped with caramelized Chinese eggplant and yuba, or smoked nectarine-glazed masa sopes ($12.75) with seared crimini and maitake mushrooms and cashew sour cream.
580 Geary St.; 415-345-3900
Daily changing fish specials at The House [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]
The House has been one of North Beach's gems since Larry and Angela Tse opened it back in 1993, and it remains one of the best Asian-influenced seafood restaurants in the city (part of our 10 Must-Eat Dishes to Call Yourself a San Franciscan list). Reserve ahead in the tiny space for lunch where multiple, daily changing seafood specials remain a highlight of the Asian seafood gem, including those fantastic — and filling — house wasabi noodles with grilled pork ($11) or salmon ($12).
1230 Grant Ave.; 415-986-8612
Though you may not be able to indulge in the Napa institution's famed steaks for under $30, a seat at the bar is where you can order oysters Rockefeller ($16), a crabmeat cocktail ($14) or a creamy bowl of lobster and shrimp bisque in a puff pastry ($11) alongside a cocktail ($10).
1122 Main St.; 707-224-6328
At Nancy Oakes' venerable Embarcadero classic, lunch is the time where all entrees are under $30 — and a few under $20 — like persimmon and pomegranate chicken breast salad or braised pork rib cap and prawns with paella. Reserve ahead as lunch is perpetually packed.
1 Mission St.; 415-543-6084