Best Restaurants and Bars Near The Exploratorium

Take a break from science for ceviche, whiskey flights and water views
October 23, 2017
by Zagat Staff

Whether you're visiting SF's beloved Exploratorium in the morning or afternoon, you'll work up an appetite from all that hands-on learning. Luckily, you'll be near the restaurant-rich Embarcadero and Jackson Square areas, with both fine dining and casual, family-friendly options. From breakfast tortas and po' boys to elaborate seafood tasting menus to single-malt whiskey flights, here are your best bets near The Exploratorium.

Spanish · Embarcadero · $$$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.3 · Service 4.2

Experience Michael Chiarello's "magic at its best" at this "happening" Spaniard (and Bottega sibling) on the Embarcadero, where a "rustic" locale with "perfect bay views" sets the stage for sharing the "delectable" likes of paella, bite-size pintxos and tapas, all punched up with "American twirl and show" and ferried by an "efficient" staff; even with "platinum-card" pricing, it's a "very popular" spot with a "lively" bar for "sipping cleverly constructed cocktails" and regional wines.
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Peruvian · Embarcadero · $$$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.5 · Service 4.3

"Ceviche better than Lima's" and "empanadas to die for" anchor the menu at this "fresh and fabulous" seafood spot, the Embarcadero outpost of Gastón Acurio's international empire, where "Peruvian high cuisine" is presented against a "beautiful" waterside backdrop (check out the "awesome views" from the patio) alongside "artfully mixed" cocktails; despite "high prices" for "small plates" and service that – though "well-informed" – can be "overwhelmed by the crowds" , most feel "it's everything you want in a restaurant."
Spanish · North Beach · $$$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.4 · Service 4.4

"Consistently terrific" Basque cuisine "continues to shine" at chef-owner Gerald Hirigoyen's "sophisticated" North Beach eatery lauded for its "top-notch" , "creative" dishes that are "expertly prepared and full of flavor" ; the "intimate" dining room features a glass-paneled wall of "incredible wines" amid "rustic-yet-elegant" decor, and an "attentive but unobtrusive" staff further helps make it a "go-to place for special occasions."
The Slanted Door
Vietnamese · Embarcadero · $$$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.3 · Service 4.2

"All that it’s cracked up to be" , Charles Phan’s "vibrant" Embarcadero "icon" still draws "throngs" with its "outstanding" array of "contemporary" Vietnamese dishes fashioned from local, sustainable ingredients and an "interesting wine list" focused on German and Austrian whites; be sure to "make reservations" (or snag a seat at the bar), and don’t mind the "pricey" tabs and "deafening" din since it’s "hard to beat" the "stunning" Ferry Building berth overlooking the bay.
Gott's Roadside
American · Embarcadero · $$
Food 4.1 · Decor 3.4 · Service 3.6

"21st-century versions of a 1950s burger joint" , these "self-serve" diners add some "gourmet" spins via "amazing" ahi poke tacos and "top-notch wines" , as well as more "traditional" comfort-food standards; despite "epic lines" , fans insist you "gott-ta try it."
Kokkari Estiatorio
Greek · Downtown · $$$$
Food 4.8 · Decor 4.7 · Service 4.7

A Downtown "star for many years" , this "sublime" Greek "continues to shine" with "lamb shanks from the gods" , "flawlessly" spit-roasted meats and other "fabulous" specialties served by an "exceptional" crew in an "inviting" , "rustic-chic" space favored by "fashionable" crowds; the "memorable experience" requires a "difficult rezzie" and deep pockets to meet the "high-class" cost, but it’s widely hailed as a "must-go" "for a good reason."
Hard Water
Bar · Embarcadero
Food 4.0 · Decor 4.1 · Service 3.9

From Charles Phan (The Slanted Door), this "bustling" American whiskey bar in the Embarcadero’s Pier 3 features "a whole wall of brown liquors" and a small-plates menu of Southern seafood jazzed up with New Orleans accents; the compact space with a central horseshoe bar "is where the fun happens" over "after-work drinks" , though there are also outdoor seats.
Mediterranean · Embarcadero · $$$
Food 4.3 · Decor 4.1 · Service 3.8

This "casual" sit-down eatery in the Ferry Building from the Boulettes Larder team lures market shoppers to its "long communal tables" with "delicious" Californian fare that's "always at its freshest" including wood-fired pizzas, salads and Mediterranean mezes; it's all served by an "accommodating" staff in a "fantastic" modern setting that "would look completely at home in a Scandinavian design magazine" , with a well-curated wine list and evening hours offering added appeal.
Fog City
American · Embarcadero · $$$
Food 4.0 · Decor 4.0 · Service 4.0

This "SF institution" with an "iconic setting" overlooking the Embarcadero is anchored by a central bar and an open kitchen turning out "wood-fired" New American small and large plates plus desserts such as "housemade custard and French crullers" ; it may be "noisy" , but "skilled" mixologists and proximity to "touristy" destinations make it ideal for a "nice date" or "to take out-of-town guests."
Italian · Downtown · $$$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.2 · Service 4.3

"More relaxed" than its sibling Quince next door, this "remarkable" Downtown Italian from Lindsay and Michael Tusk excels thanks to "inventive, beautifully executed" pastas, wood-fired pizzas and more matched with a "rewarding" and affordable wine list that tempers the "expensive" tabs; "spectacular" service keeps the "social" atmosphere humming, and though it's "difficult" to land a table in the "constantly full" (and "loud" ) room, it's definitely "worth the trouble" ; P.S. the family-style "Sunday dinners are a must."
Cafe · North Beach · $

An Off The Grid favorite goes brick-and-mortar with this Levi’s Plaza kiosk dishing out coffee and affordable Latin- and Mexican-influenced eats (think polenta and rice bowls, tortas and soups) for breakfast and lunch. The daytime take-out window is tucked behind a white brick wall, and patrons grab nearby public park benches in lieu of seating.
French · Downtown · $$$$
Food 4.7 · Decor 4.8 · Service 4.7

"Hard to top" for "fancy dining" "at its best" , this "refined" Downtown Californian from "passionate" husband-and-wife team Michael and Lindsay Tusk "sparkles" thanks to his "superbly executed" cuisine showcasing Italian accents and a "fresh, local food ethos" , complemented by a "fabulous wine list" in "dreamy" surroundings run by a "stellar" staff; you’ll "shell out some big bucks" , but for a "special occasion" that’s "absolutely over the moon" , it’s "well worth it."
Hog Island Oyster Co.
Oyster Bar · Embarcadero · $$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.0 · Service 4.2

This "sensational" Ferry Building seafooder is a "dream come true for oyster lovers" , now boasting even "more beautiful views of the bay" courtesy of a heated patio; ok, it’s "not cheap" and there’s always a "crowd" , but somehow the staff holds it together with "wit and charm" ; P.S. there’s also a wine-country satellite in Napa’s Oxbow Market.
American · Downtown · $$$
Food 4.4 · Decor 4.6 · Service 4.4

For dining "in the speakeasy style" , drop by this "swanky" supper club set in an "out-of-the-way" FiDi alley where a "terrific" American menu (and even more "fantastic" cocktails) arrive in a "deco-to-the-max" duplex setting complete with white-jacketed servers; sure, the acoustics can be "loud" and the pricing "extravagant" , but the mix of nightly live jazz and and "witty conversation" alone make it a "perfect special-occasion" destination.
American · North Beach · $$$$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.4 · Service 4.6

"Food is an art form" at this North Beach leader in Californian-French "culinary mastery" , where patrons savor "cutting-edge" , seafood-centric tasting menus ( "each plate is like a little masterpiece" ) while "being pampered" by "impeccable" servers in a "quiet, refined" setting; the "very high price point" is no surprise, but it’s "worth emptying your wallet" for such a "truly bucket-list type of place."
Cafe Terminus
Cafe · Downtown · $

At the end of the California Street cable car line, this Downtown/Embarcadero cafe-bar starts the day with pastries, serves sandwiches and salads at lunch and winds down with cocktails at night. The compact, stylish space has big windows but limited seating.