San Francisco is a city full of tremendous restaurants and, to accommodate its record-high number of tourists it has a lot of hotels for visitors — which means lots of hotel restaurants.
Locals tend to shrug off hotel restaurants as tourist-fodder, providing comfort to those who don't want to leave the lobby. And while there are plenty of anonymous, unexciting hotel restaurants that stick close to the formula, there are also a number of restaurants that are noteworthy in their own right. These are the 11 San Francisco hotel restaurants (and a few bars) that are far from being just another hotel restaurant.
Harvest Table, Burritt Room + Tavern and Dry Creek Kitchen
Nobody in the Bay Area ties together a hotel and a restaurant better than Charlie Palmer’s trio of boutique hotels and their seasonally-driven, mid-scale restaurants. Each venue has its own talented chef and unique personality (jazz in SF, relaxed countryside in Healdsburg), making them feel completely unattached to a hotel or a restaurant group.
The best example is Harvest Table at St. Helena's Harvest Inn where you’ve got a bucolic hotel in a redwood grove overlooking vineyards, plus the superb cooking of chef Levi Mezick (get the pig ear salad and Zuni-level truffle chicken for two). Does anything scream Northern California good life more than this? The hotel check-in is also the restaurant check-in and it feels perfectly natural that the dining room is your lobby. One more note: All three Charlie Palmer Group restaurants are particularly gifted at cocktails, so that hotel room steps away might tempt after a nightcap.
The edgy bar-restaurant on the fifth floor of SoMa's Hotel Zelos is San Francisco’s definitive example of a hotel restaurant where the food, drink and atmosphere convince locals to not just walk through a lobby but also to ride an elevator. The transformation two years ago from the formal Fifth Floor restaurant to a more informal space and menu didn't take away the charm. Now instead of elegant tasting menus there's duck corn dogs and steamed buns with lamb belly. The chef who oversaw the change recently left, but his specialties are still around and so are the exceptional (and frequently bizarre) cocktails from Brian Means and the beautiful outdoor patio.
12 Fourth St.; 415-348-1555
The idea that hotel restaurants are supposed to play it safe and serve comfort food for jet-lagged travelers with jaded palates? Well, that's not the case at Kin Khao. Head over to the Parc 55 at the edge of the Tenderloin and Union Square for Pim Techamuanvivit's fierce, powerful ode to her native Thailand (she's known for her food blog Chez Pim). Kin Khao makes its own curry pastes and relishes, and doesn't shy away from plates that crank up the heat. Sip the Rasa Umami cocktail blending turmeric, scotch and sherry, and share the mushroom terrine and the city’s only top-tier version of khao mun gai (a popular Southeast Asian poached chicken and rice dish). Quite simply, Kin Khao is the city’s destination for bold Thai cooking by a significant margin.
55 Cyril Magnin St.; 415-362-7456
The ultra-luxe Union Square hotel’s namesake restaurant has always been one of our mainstays for fine dining and an incubator for young talent (you’ve probably heard of alums like Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm and Bradley Ogden). Right now, South India native Srijith Gopinathan is in charge and he’s taken the restaurant towards an Indian-Californian direction unlike anything else San Francisco has. The pomp and circumstance formality is still there, but the flavors are rock concert vibrant like the Maine lobster with coastal curry broth displays on the three-course prix fixe menu. For a real deal at this lofty caliber of dining, go at lunch for a three-course, $49 bargain.
340 Stockton St.; 415-781-5555
Who cares if The Keystone is attached to the Mosser Hotel? You’ll never notice. What diners will notice is how the designers did a terrific job of renovating the tile floor and U-shaped bar of its predecessor, the venerable old Annabelle’s. And even more importantly, the Southeast Asian meets Southern USA cooking of chef Banks White is a strange idea that really clicks. His Thai-style fried chicken just might be the best under the radar fried chicken in the Bay Area. There are some great cocktails here, too, including one with activated charcoal. Yes, you can feel a little healthy with a cocktail! If you've got a convention across the street at Moscone Center, The Keystone has to be your go-to spot.
68 Fourth St.; 415-777-1200
Michael Rotando’s much-heralded arrival in San Francisco three years ago was a huge deal. He left his lofty position as executive chef at the late Charlie Trotter's flagship in Chicago to helm our city's most renowned hotel restaurant. Rotondo's cooking reflects the Ritz Carlton restaurant's drastic switch from the (slightly stuffy) The Dining Room to hip and relevant Parallel 37, where there's a relaxed, California nature-inspired decor and a menu spanning the globe and using all the latest techniques. Gone are the rich sauces and soufflés, in favor of seared octopus with green shiso and the signature housemade carrot ravioli with lemongrass and hazelnuts. Desserts here are a real strength thanks to Charlie Trotter and Noma alum Andrea Correa.
600 Stockton St.; 415-773-6168
One of the grandest dining rooms in all of the city thanks to a soaring ceiling and real tablecloths (!), the InterContinental’s restaurant in the heart of SoMa transcends the hotel restaurant label thanks to a menu that blurs the line of refined and creative. We particularly love the foie gras two way starter. And, every chef these days does a raw fish appetizer, yet few match Luce's version with yuzu and olive oil marinated amber jack joined by forbidden rice, avocado and salmon roe. We wish the waiters didn't wear name tags (screams hotel restaurant!) but let's just say when you're signature dish is homemade sweetbreads ravioli, you're not a typical hotel restaurant.
888 Howard St.; 415-616-6566
With a separate alley entrance from the Hotel Zetta lobby, the third Big Night Restaurant Group concept (Marlowe and Park Tavern came first) doesn’t feel like a hotel restaurant at all — or like you're in the heart of the crowded SoMa-Union Square circus. English countryside clubs are the inspiration, complete with a stunning design riff on the theme with leather banquettes and taxidermy. Food-wise, the fish and chips, seafood pie, and smoked salmon Scotch eggs are a world away from bland pub grub, each with a bright California freshness. Proper, meticulous cocktails, crisp service and an overall relaxed vibe ensure that a charming evening is ahead, even if you can't play croquet outside afterwards.
360 Jessie St.; 415-321-6000
Though it's one of the city's most popular after-work bars and shares a name with a well-known cocktail, Americano's name isn't a drinks reference. It alludes to the restaurant's Cal-Ital cooking. That cooking is really quite something if you're seeking pastas, pizzas and well above-average meatballs near the Ferry Building. Adventurous larger plates like miso black cod with shrimp dumplings really show the kitchen's reach beyond the greatest hits comfort zone. If it's warm (not often), the outdoor terrace on the Embarcadero is one of the prime happy hour destinations of San Francisco.
8 Mission St.; 415-278-3777
The Smokin Negroni at the Four Season's fifth floor bar, where mezcal replaces gin, might be our favorite cocktail of the moment. However, there is a lot more than just great cocktails and a mega happy hour scene at MKT to bring you inside from bustling Market Street. The menu hits all the trends (check off burrata, octopus, kale salad) but does them exceedingly well. Even more impressive are the daring main dishes like halibut crusted "everything-style" like a bagel with a mezcal-spiked béarnaise sauce. Sometimes luxury hotels allow their restaurants to let their hair down a bit and the result, like MKT, is a promising result.
757 Market St. Fifth Floor; 415-633-3838
Northern California doesn't have much in common with Scandinavia climate-wise, but we're fortunate to have Pläj chef-owner Roberth Sundell here to share the cuisine of his native Sweden and its neighboring countries. Indeed, the requisite gravlax and herring plates are stand-outs, but given an artistic flair (that gravlax is beet-cured, for example). Don't even think of skipping the elk tartare (just try it) and house-infused aquavits. Pläj is a smart choice any night with a very recently renovated space (unveiled last week). By virtue of being the restaurant inside the Inn at the Opera and next to the main theaters, it's exceedingly useful when you've got a performance to catch.
333 Fulton St.; 415-294-8925
Don't forget the bars
We would be remiss to not mention the memorable hotel bars that are city institutions. Sipping a mai tai while the every-half-hour rain storm goes off at the Fairmont's Tonga Room is a San Franciscan rite of passage. A few steps away atop Nob Hill, savoring a martini amidst live piano music at The Big 4 in the Huntington is a timeless joy that never gets tired.
Towards the FiDi and SoMa, you can never get enough of the unsurpassed city view at the Marriott Marquis' View Lounge (pro tip: afterwards get the kung pao chicken wings and the slider trio at the underrated lobby restaurant Bin 33. Plus, they also almost always have Pliny the Elder on tap!). Finally, when it comes to stately elegance in our increasingly casual city, afternoon tea at the Palace Hotel's Garden Court and a classic cocktail gazing at the namesake painting by Maxfield Parrish in the Pied Piper Bar is as San Francisco as riding a cable car.