Best French in San Francisco

La vie en rose
July 25, 2016
by Zagat Staff

From faithful traditionalists to purveyors of haute fusion fare, these cafe and bistros make up SF's A-team on the French dining scene.

La Folie
French · Russian Hill · $$$$
Food 4.7 · Decor 4.6 · Service 4.8

Each "work-of-art" course "feels like an event" at this "first-class" French "cornerstone" in Russian Hill, an "epicurean delight" where ever-present chef Roland Passot’s "magnifique" prix fixe dinners are "crafted to perfection" and accompanied by "fine wines" and "stellar" service in a setting of "intimate" "elegance" ; it's "pricey indeed but worth it" , and the adjoining lounge offers a "comfy" alternative for a less formal bite.
Atelier Crenn
French · Cow Hollow · $$$$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.5 · Service 4.8

Dominique Crenn "stretches the boundaries" of French cooking at this Cow Hollow "treat" , where the "spectacular" tasting menu and "elegantly orchestrated" service are like "a piece of performance art" that makes foodies "swear they’ve died and gone to culinary heaven" ; with only a "low-key, natural" setting and a chef-penned poem to introduce the "enchanted evening" , it’s a "memorable" way "to be surprised at every course" – even at "once-in-a-lifetime" prices.
KEIKO à Nob Hill
French · Nob Hill · $$$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.4 · Service 4.4

For "sublime food" in an "elegant" , "old-world setting" , fans head to this "amazing" Nob Hill sleeper that turns out Japanese-influenced French tasting menus showcasing some of the "most innovative" cooking around; the "excellent" staff offers "spot" -on wine pairings from the "impressive" list, and while it comes at a "high price" , a "less formal" bar area offers à la carte izakaya options.
Cafe Jacqueline
French · North Beach · $$$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.0 · Service 4.2

"Good things come to those who wait" insist fans who "don't mind spending the entire evening" at this piece of "soufflé heaven" in North Beach, where the "amazing" Madame Jacqueline herself is "still holding the fort" with "a whisk and copper bowl" , whipping up the nightly offerings to order; "romantic" and "charming" with "leisurely service" , the experience is "something special" – and the desserts are a "must."
French · Hayes Valley · $$$$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.6 · Service 4.5

Pre-theater dinners are "so much a ritual" that chef Traci Des Jardins’ "fantastic" , California-inspired French fare "ought to be included in the Civic Center ticket prices" say followers of this Hayes Valley "triumph" , a "classy" , "long-running hit" boasting "wonderful wine" and servers who "treat you like royals" ; the "supper-club vibe" signals "pricey" tabs, but it’s "always hopping" , and seating upstairs provides an elevated "people-watching" perch.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
French · Hayes Valley · $$$
Food 4.4 · Decor 4.3 · Service 4.3

Experience "Paris in San Francisco" at this Hayes Valley French-Med brasserie where the "charming" dining room serves as a "romantic" backdrop for "varied, flavorful" fare "prepared to perfection" ; "standout" cocktails, an "impressive" wine list and "expert" service draw a crowd ranging from "young hipsters" to "Civic Center" attendees.
French · Cole Valley · $$
Food 4.4 · Decor 4.0 · Service 4.2

"C'est magnifique!" exclaim locals about this "small" but "dependable" "slice of Paris in Cole Valley" that's "roaringly busy" at brunch (served daily) when the "extremely long wait" for a table is rewarded with "fantastic" food from a "warm, friendly" staff; it's also "lovely" in the evenings out on the "magical" heated patio, where Bring Your Dog to Dinner commences every Monday; P.S. "now tips are included in the bill."
French · Downtown · $$
Food 4.3 · Decor 3.7 · Service 4.1

"Feel like you're in Europe" at this "industrial" -chic Downtown seafooder, where Francophiles declare the mussels and fries ( "prepared many different ways" ) are among the best "this side of Belgium" ; the "French waiters" can be "nonchalant" and the outdoor seating on Belden Place can get "jammed" , but it's still a "go-to" for a "romantic" tête-à-tête at a moderate tab.