When it comes to choosing a restaurant, the old adage was right. It’s all about location, location, location. After all, if you want to grab a bite before the Giant’s game, you’re probably not going to head to a restaurant in the Mission, no matter how highly rated or trendy it is. So the next time you need to plan a meal out, be it after a day at the beach, while entertaining relatives down at Fisherman’s Wharf or between wine tastings, consult our handy slideshow below that features the top Zagat-rated restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area, organized by the most popular locations and points of interest. And be sure to check out all of our 2014 Bay Area Restaurant Survey coverage.
Sure, the concession stands at AT&T Park offer some of the best ballpark food in the county, but why not skip the long lines and high markups by grabbing a bite to eat outside the stadium before the first pitch so you can actually watch the game? This year’s surveyors chose The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen at South Park as their MVP for pre-game eats. (Note: AGCK typically closes at 5 PM but stays open until the first pitch on all home games.) Other Cracker Jack options in the ‘hood include the swanky, cocktail-slinging Twenty Five Lusk and the carb-lover's Town’s End Restaurant & Bakery (open for breakfast and lunch only). Rounding out the list are Traci des Jardins’ Mijita and Momo’s, both located just a fly ball away from the stadium.
Dolores Park is home to a diverse crowd. Luckily for foodies, it’s also walking distance to the many delicious offerings along the Mission’s 18th St stretch. The most popular food purveyor of the lot, as the lines snaking down Dolores Street attest, is Bi-Rite Creamery. The equally vaunted Tartine Bakery, which doles out sinfully delicious baked goods, comes in a close second. After dark, if you’re for you’re looking for more sustenance than salted caramel and sticky buns, surveyors recommend Delfina, Izakaya Yuzuki and Namu Gaji.
We tend to think of the Ferry Building as one big progressive dinner house, where diners can happily graze their way through a diet of artisanal salumi, caviar and vegan donuts while shopping and taking in the bay views. But if they’d have to choose just one spot, Zagat surveyors recommend Hog Island Oyster Co. for freshly-shucked oysters, creamy clam chowder and other seafood treats, served both inside and on the promenade overlooking San Francisco Bay. The other four top-ranking, sit-down options at the Ferry Building are The Slanted Door, Boulette’s Larder/Bouli Bar, Il Cane Rosso and Gott’s Roadside.
Gary Danko, the top rated restaurant in the entire 2014 Restaurant Survey, just happens to be located near Fisherman’s Wharf, but we realize that it isn’t exactly the kind of place that you stroll into after watching the seals down at Pier 39. So if you’re playing tourist for the day, surveyors recommend grabbing the catch of the day at the Crab House, Bistro Boudin, McCormick & Kuleto’s and Alioto’s.
Stranded by the Moscone Center for a conference? Make the most of your meal breaks by hitting up one of the top-rated restaurants in the nabe. If you’ve got only one night, definitely make a reservation at Ame at the St. Regis for an evening of distinctive New American cuisine, pampering service and a crazy good selection of fine wines and sakes. Other top options located right around the corner are Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, Super Duper Burgers, Mo's and Sanraku at the Metreon.
Whether you’re on a shopping mission, catching a play at ACT or simply showing an out-of-town relative around, at some point, you’ll need to take a break and refuel. The most refined option in your midst is just steps away from Union Square, tucked away in the tony Taj Campton Place, where chef Srijith presents innovative Cal-Med meals infused with Spice Route ingredients (it also hosts one of the city’s most popular power breakfasts). Other date- and client-worthy spots include the fanciful seafooder Farallon, and the many marquee hotel restaurants such as Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, Scala’s and Kuleto’s.
Heading to Golden Gate Park for some inline skating or checking out the latest exhibit at the Hall of Flowers? Don’t pull a rookie move and make dinner plans by the windmill. Stick to the many great restaurants flanking the park near The Haight, Panhandle or Inner Sunset. The top-rated restaurant in this ‘hood is the trendy, ingredient-driven Nopa (the bar opens at 5 PM, but the restaurant serves weekend brunch). Other nearby recommended spots include Koo (dinner only), Ebisu, Magnolia Gastropub and Pacific Catch.
After a day at the beach or a long hike at Land’s End, there’s no more picturesque spot to dine than at ocean-fronting Sutro’s at the historic Cliff House. It’s hard to quibble about the food when you can watch seals frolicking right outside your window. For the same water-crashing-against-the rocks-view for less money, grab a seat upstairs at the more casual Cliff House Bistro. And for a decidedly more laid-back meal, do as our surveyors do and swing by the surfer hangout Java Beach Cafe, grab some BBQ and brews at the Park Chalet or enjoy a sunset dinner at the Beach Chalet.
Visitors find it hard to resist the charm of Sausalito, but just because the hillside village gets overrun with tourists doesn't mean you can’t score a city-worthy meal, as long as you know where to look. Sushi Ran, for instance, the top-rated restaurant in Sausalito, is quietly tucked away on a residential side street. For dining options right on the main drag, you’ll find top-notch Italian food at Poggio and seasonal Mexican food and cocktails at Copita. However, you might need to pull out your GPS to find the other top-rated spots including Fish, a down-home sustainable seafood shack overlooking a working marina, and the land-locked Avatar’s, which turns out innovative Punjabi burritos.
For many gastronauts, there is only one restaurant worth talking about in Napa Valley: The French Laundry. But while you’re on hold trying to get through to the reservationist, consider booking a table at one of the other swoon-worthy, chef-driven wine country restaurants that scored an enviable 27 for Food: Terra, Hiro Sone’s New American in St. Helena (he and his wife Lissa also run SF’s Ame, see Moscone slide); Cole’s Chop House (Celadon chef Greg Cole’s wine country steakhouse featuring beefy wines), The Restaurant at Meadowood (which was singled out for its bespoke tasting menus and unyielding service) and the hilltop beauty, Auberge du Soleil.
Home to award-winning Russian River pinots, free-grazing Straus Family dairy cows and rugged coastline, Sonoma County is more rural and informal than its Napa neighbor, and not surprisingly, its most coveted restaurants are located far from the touristy tasting rooms and high-end boutiques. At the top of the heap is the Madrona Manor, a historical luxury inn located on the back roads outside of Healdsburg doling out innovative tasting menus and gracious service amid antique appointments. Also notching a 27 for Food are famiglia-run Cucina Paradiso in Petaluma, the farm-to-table Farmhouse Inn in Forestville and the homespun Bistro des Copains in Occidental. Rounding out the top five list is Café La Haye, which continues to be a foodie favorite turning out honest Cal-American food despite its Lilliputian set-up.