The city may be small—less than one-tenth the size of Los Angeles—but make no mistake: San Francisco is a culinary giant.
If you're looking to graze around town, the challenge is figuring out where to start. Luckily, these 14 hot spots, from North Beach to the edge of the Mission, will give you a true taste of San Francisco. Some deal in classic California foods dating to the Gold Rush era. Others serve modern creations. They consist of chic bistros and cash-only stands, throwback hangouts and shrines to contemporary cuisine—a rich melting pot of options.
"This city has always attracted people from all over," says Richie Alioto, a third-generation San Francisco restaurateur. "You can taste that in our dining scene."
Alioto's grandfather, Nunzio, came from Sicily. In 1925 he opened Alioto's, a seafood stand on Fisherman's Wharf that grew into the 160-seat restaurant Richie now runs. Here, Dungeness crab stars in myriad dishes. The best bet for savoring its sweet, delicate meat? Cousin Nunzio's simple recipe: crab sautéed with garlic, lemon, herbs, butter, and white wine, then roasted.
Back when Alioto's opened, Dungeness was plentiful and cheap. Now it's often treated as a delicacy, as at Anchor & Hope, a downtown spot where crab has appeared as a crowning garnish atop sea urchin panna cotta.
Rich food reigns in North Beach, the city's historic Italian district. Here, Tommaso's stands out for its pizzas (baked in the West Coast's oldest wood-fired oven) and heaping plates of spaghetti and meatballs, redolent with the homey flavors of your nonna's Sunday supper. By contrast, Che Fico, near Alamo Square, operates on the Cal-Italian cutting edge, complementing seasonal pizzas, pastas, and roasts with elevated fare inspired by Roman Jewish comfort food, such as grilled duck liver dressed with purple daikon and onion marmellata.