Eat Your Way Across San Francisco's Jackson Street

Make 16 delicious stops while climbing the hills from the FiDi to Pacific Heights
November 4, 2016
by Trevor Felch

Beginning a block from the Embarcadero and extending all the way to the Presidio, Jackson Street stretches almost across the entire city. It goes right through the heart of the FiDi and high-end shops of Jackson Square, then becomes a key corridor for Chinatown before climbing Nob Hill and Pacific Heights. Whether for quirky Belgian ales, dim sum or the city's premier Greek food, Jackson Street has it all for eating and drinking. Get your walking shoes and let's go on a food crawl of one of the city's most diverse food streets.

The discussion of Greek fine dining in San Francisco begins and ends where our Jackson Street journey starts. Kokkari is no secret as one of the city's most popular restaurants, and it remains as good as ever. The rustic series of dining rooms are the ideal setting for lamb souvlaki, spanakopita and the simple lemon-splashed and oregano-sprinkled grilled octopus dish that turned city diners onto octopus long before it became a red hot trend. Baklava and a hot sand-heated coffee shot for dessert are a mandatory end to a meal at Kokkari.

200 Jackson St.; 415-981-0983

5A5 Steak Lounge
San Francisco has a few classic old steakhouses and very few trendy steakhouses. This is one of the latter, serving appetizers with a Japanese bent (get the raw hamachi and uni spoon bite) before the showcase Wagyu cuts of beef. Unique cocktails are ordered as often as red wine. The $16 Wagyu beef sliders at happy hour are a smart entry point at 5A5.

244 Jackson St.; 415-989-2539

Roka Akor
The tony boutiques and design studios on this tree-lined and brick-heavy block of Jackson near Montgomery seem more like the upscale Mayfair neighborhood in London — but then you spot an Irish pub and one of the most important fine-dining venues of San Francisco. Sushi and robata-grilled meats are the specialties of this serene, immaculate dining room. Cocktails are also terrific at Roka Akor and are best enjoyed before dinner in the downstairs lounge. That bar just started a 90-minute, seven-course drinks omakase complete with a mid-way Chinese-style tea service. Come thirsty.

801 Montgomery St.; 415-767-0773

There are prix fixe meals. Then there are prix fixe deals (or steals) like Hi Neighbor Group’s (Stones Throw, Corridor) New American restaurant at Jackson and Columbus that is popular for its three-course, $35 menu with a $10 pasta supplement on offer nightly. The cooking is comforting but creative enough to intrigue. This would be a great à la carte restaurant. The prix fixe is a special bonus.

531 Jackson St.; 415-772-0922

Begoni Bistro
Chinatown doesn’t have many new, spruced-up dining rooms nor does it have many restaurants playing with cuisines outside of China. Begoni Bistro has the slick dining room look (and serves good wine!) and balances Chinese, Vietnamese and French standards on one long menu. Dim sum here is called “Chinese tapas,” and you'll definitely want to order some of those tapas dumplings, along with Peking duck, spring rolls and pan-seared foie gras.

615 Jackson St.; 415-757-0120

Z&Y and Great Eastern
Side by side, the city’s premier Sichuan restaurant and its most famous Chinatown dim sum restaurant beckon diners at all hours. Seek out spicy dishes like chicken with explosive peppers at Z&Y and dumplings and the sticky rice in lotus leaves at lunch and grand seafood plates at dinner at Great Eastern. Don't just take our word for it, though. President Obama visited both restaurants during different San Francisco visits.

655 Jackson St.; 415-981-8988
649 Jackson St.; 415-986-2

New Lun Ting Cafe
Come hungry and leave your sustainable, organic, artisan food mindset at the door. This longtime lunch room gets packed quickly for its meat and rice plates, where the focus is eating hearty, filling food. Lots of food. The menu is all over the place, hitting Spanish tripe, chicken à la king and oxtail stew. Whatever you choose to enjoy, it’s a chance to travel back in time and dig into a juicy pork chop, the cafe's claim to fame. Be aware: cash only.

670 Jackson St.; 415-362-5667

Wong Lee Bakery
It’s not the best takeaway dim sum in Chinatown, but this tiny bakery and dumpling shop is definitely worth a visit. The 99-cent milk tea with boba and the fluffy pork buns are the most popular items. We’re fans of the pork floss buns, which are simple soft milk bread rolls with a thin layer of mayonnaise, topped with dried pork shreds (dunk it in coffee or that milk with boba for a salty-sweet sensation). 

732 Jackson St.; 415-986-3759

Juicy Fruit 
Located just before the intersection with Stockton, Juicy Fruit is definitely NOT the post-yoga catering, $8 cold-pressed juice shops we’re seeing more and more of today. It’s a no-frills bargain juice and smoothie shop that uses fruits from the market next door. The selection of fruit spilling onto the street, from kiwis to rambutans to papayas, is impressive and worth scouting out. It's also the rare place to find durian. The market has no name but, trust us, you’ll smell it and see it.

768 Jackson St.; 415-989-3028

M.P. Seafood Market
Crossing the Stockton-Jackson intersection, one of the busiest pedestrian areas in the city, is always an adventure. Continue up Jackson and you’ll find this fish market stocked with all forms of aquatic life. There are lots of live fish to choose from and frogs. Yes, frogs. It’s not unusual for confused tourists to ask where the market with fish-tossing is in Chinatown. Remind them that market is in Seattle, but then send them (or yourself) here for a unique kind of fish and amphibian market excitement.

848 Jackson St.; 415-391-8809

The Fine Mousse
Sparkling wine and fries are the curious headline duo of this wine bar near the top of Nob Hill. Fries come fried either in duck fat or rice brain oil, and you then get to decide which unusual mayo-based dip to dunk them in (Earl Grey and peaches or mustard apple?) When you're tired of fries, try the fun Carolina-style barbecue pork pizza. The sparkling wine selection ranges from a South African brut rosé to classics from the Champagne region. The prices are often far lower than bubbly wine at higher-end restaurants and wine bars.

1098 Jackson St.; 415-908-1988

Jackson Market
The name is generic and the shop mostly focuses on snacks and craft beers. Not noteworthy, right? But there is one specialty that has drawn people from all over the city since 1960 to Jones and Jackson — the Chinese-style sweet and spicy beef jerky. The labor-intensive process takes eight hours and the jerky sells out in a flash. It is, simply put, jerky worth climbing the hill for.

1201 Jackson St.; 415-474-4861

Hot Sauce and Panko and Nook
As the cable car veers off Jackson onto Hyde Street, you’ll find the next two destinations, right across the street from each other. Hot Sauce and Panko left its Outer Richmond home earlier this year, but the crowds have followed to its new home at the Russian Hill-Nob Hill border. The same specialties of chicken wings with hot sauce and the messy, grand fried chicken and waffle sandwich with Sriracha-sushi sauce are as good as they were further west. Meanwhile Nook is an all-day cafe–wine bar known for its weekday Wi-Fi, pastries and coffee crowds. After-work, Nook sports a candlelit, laid-back atmosphere (no Wi-Fi) for locals catching up over wine, cheese and small bites.

1468 Hyde St.; 415-359-1908
1500 Hyde St.; 415-447-4100

The Bell Tower
The corner of Jackson and Polk seems to always be bathing in sunshine and diners (often accompanied by dogs) take advantage of the sun at this longtime neighborhood favorite while enjoying a cheap glass of wine or a mimosa. For eats, try the truffle oil-enriched mac 'n' cheese and the tuna tacos. Brunch is also popular and it may draw a crew or two who were at Bell Tower late the night before. This is the rare Polk Street bar-restaurant that is also a relaxed neighborhood gathering place.

1900 Polk St.; 415-567-9596

Ales Unlimited
After walking up the Pacific Heights hill from Polk Street to the corner of Jackson and Webster Street, you’ll need a beer. Luckily, in an otherwise residential neighborhood, one of the city’s better bars quietly sells an excellent selection of Belgian ales and American craft beers. When you have special cooling units to keep beers extra fresh and more than 800 beers in the store, well, you get a true specialty beer store like this. 

2398 Webster St.; 415-346-6849

Mayflower Market
Our tour finishes with a sandwich at the deli of this excellent market and grocery store just beyond the main commercial stretch of Fillmore Street. Across the street, the former Tully’s will soon be a Blue Bottle coffee shop. As Jackson Street continues, it becomes residential. Strategize and bring your sandwich to nearby Alta Plaza Park for a fitting final picnic with a view and fresh (usually chilly) air. 

2498 Fillmore St.; 415-346-1700

wagyu beef
dim sum
prix fixe
greek food
fish market
sushi bars
szechuan cuisine