For anyone wondering which sit-down restaurants are currently hot in San Francisco right this second, you have arrived at the right figurative Internet place. What does “hot” mean, you ask? Well, it’s safe to say that we put on relatively cute outfits to dine at each restaurant below (possibly even eye makeup and our “good deodorant”). A night out at one of these places - whether it’s for a casual catch-up with a friend or an impressive date night - feels overwhelmingly of the current moment. A few of them are brand spanking new, but we’ve also listed a couple of spots doing something noteworthy for the first time (like debuting a completely new menu, or setting up a cool parklet in the street).
And, as always, we wouldn’t be recommending any of these restaurants simply for having a memorable scene. We’ve been to each and every spot and loved the food they serve - so you can plan your dinner confidently.
Six years after it first opened in the Mission, Al’s Place is still one of our favorite spots for double dates, birthday dinners, and any other small-group occasion. This is thanks to their newly-expanded parklet, great playlists, and a fantastic menu of seasonally-changing dishes. From the massive baby lettuce salad with carrots, herbs, and avocado spread - which you’re encouraged to eat with your hands - to the stone fruit curry poured tableside over black cod and blueberries, everything is creative, super fresh, and just fun to eat. Standouts on our most recent visit were the blistered corn and smoked stone fruit mayo, and crispy duck parts served with a side of fermented black bean mayo we want to put on everything.
Ernest in the Mission now has walk-in bar seating, so eating here no longer requires setting up a billion Resy notifications before getting a table - which is all the more reason to get here ASAP. You can choose to go with the chef’s pick menu ($95) or order a la carte - but either way, everything that lands on the table will be fantastic. The menu has some Asian influence and focuses on seafood and dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients. Get into the raw bar section, where you can choose from dishes like buttery scallop sashimi or an uni and Serrano ham spoon - the very definition of a perfect bite. They also have larger meat and seafood dishes, like uni carbonara or pork tonkatsu with green goddess dressing and heirloom tomatoes. Whatever you do, save room for the soft serve.
Empress By Boon
Step into the dining room at this upscale Cantonese restaurant, and you’ll meet one of the most stunning views in the city. The Chinatown restaurant has colorful, intricate wooden panels and massive windows throughout the dining room that overlook Coit Tower, plus a cocktail lounge with a pergola and skylight. Reservations at one of the city’s buzziest new spots can be tough to snag right now, but the trick is to walk up, grab a seat at the bar, and order from a pretty extensive a la carte menu that has more options than the $78, seven-course prix-fixe menu they’re serving in the dining room (the grilled black cod and crispy sea prawn roll are hits). This should definitely be your move if you want a more casual cocktails-and-small-plates experience.
Ever since Tony’s added bigger parklets last year, this North Beach spot has felt like a pizza party on steroids. For lack of a better phrase, Tony’s is and is always bumping - huge sidewalk tables and booths are filled with people chowing down on the restaurant’s wide-ranging styles of pies, from Neapolitan to Detroit-style to Roman. The price of admission for a spot to hunker down with a tangy margarita or Sicilian soppressata: a long wait surrounded by some in-your-face chaotic energy. But you’re looking for a spot with a scene, after all. Add your name to the waitlist, go for a walk, and come back once the restaurant texts you that your table is ready. Excellent pies await.
In April, Liholiho temporarily relocated to Dear Inga’s space in the Mission while their Tenderloin spot undergoes some renovations. They’re now doing dine-in, so you can finally get reacquainted with some favorite dishes (an exciting experience in its own right), like the Baked Hawaii, tuna poke, and anything with house-made spam. Though the dimly-lit space will probably inspire a longing for their louder, brighter, and buzzier space on Sutter Street, you should still absolutely get here. Or maybe just consider a seat on the new, colorful rooftop patio.
Eating at Lily is a thrilling journey from start to finish. The new restaurant in the Richmond serves incredible contemporary Vietnamese dishes, each created with unparalleled attention to detail. From the intricate presentation (think watermelon radishes cut into flower shapes, or a whole fried fish perched neatly on top of a bed of kimchi and pineapple chow fun) to each dish’s complex layers of sweet, spicy, and salty flavors, everything that lands on the table is both stunning to look at and a joy to eat. Get a bunch of dishes to share, and be sure to order the Vietnamese coffee with salted duck egg foam, which has definitively ruined all other coffees for us. Also, in case you’ve been following the saga of the $72 fried rice, the dish is now making a comeback at $500 a pop, with proceeds going to local community organizations.
When we think of Nari, we enter a state of mind similar to when our work crush watches our entire Instagram story: satisfaction, delight, and pure bliss. The upscale Thai restaurant in Japantown is one of our favorite spots in the city, period. But what makes it so exciting right now is the chef’s pick tasting menu ($95 per person), which started during the pandemic as a takeout option and now lives on the dinner menu. It comes with practically every “first course” item, plus a couple of mains and desserts. Each dish practically explodes with sweet and fiery flavors, whether it’s the phenomenal melt-in-your-mouth pork jowl with squid, the tender duck confit curry puffs, or the spicy black cod curry that’ll make your nose run. Wash it all down with one of their great cocktails as you enjoy the bustling energy of the dining room, which looks like a sleek greenhouse.
Loló may have recently nixed weekend brunch, but they’re now open Mondays - traditionally a tough day to find standout restaurants accepting reservations - so, basically, nature is healing. The Mexican restaurant does Jaliscan food with a very California twist: the panko-crusted shrimp tacos are served on jicama tortillas; fried fish tacos are amped up with a piquin pepper-peanut sauce; and the empanadas are perfect, puffy pockets filled with mushrooms, corn, and cheese. Excellent cocktails and an atmosphere that has more buzz than a deuxmoi rumor drop - a dinner at Loló always adds up to a fun night.
The Anchovy Bar opened last October by the people behind State Bird Provisions - but even as the sibling restaurant to one of our favorite spots in the city, it shines in its own right. The seafood-focused restaurant in the Fillmore serves small, shareable plates and has an extensive wine list, and we go here whenever we want to chill with a glass of wine and catch up with friends over plates of 24 month-aged prosciutto and salty anchovies with crusty bread and a tomato vinaigrette. From the soft-boiled egg buried under a pile of fluffy parmesan to the bowl of whipped, cloud-like Wagon Wheel cheese, each dish is so unique and beautifully plated it deserves its own MoMA art exhibit.
Owned by La Cocina alum Heena Patel, this Dogpatch restaurant serves up excellent Gujarati dishes inside the industrial Minnesota Street Project building. Early last year, she revamped the meat-heavy menu, making it entirely vegetarian and opting to serve everything tapas-style. Which is a great thing for us: it’s now easier than ever to mix and match plates from each of the menu’s four sections (divided by cities within Gujarat) - and to order a lot. Watch as your table becomes brimming with everything from blue cheese-stuffed paratha and fiery charred eggplant stew to the ceramic carafe of herby lemon-tamarind water you pour inside small pani puri puffs and take like a shot. Don’t forget the house-made chutneys and pickles.
The Mission izakaya recently reopened their serene, minimalist dining room, which feels like a dry sauna with its light wood booths and high ceilings. You can also sit outside in their gorgeous courtyard to enjoy things like charcoal-grilled chicken meatballs, hand-rolled udon, and sashimi you could cut like butter. Everything is light enough that you won’t feel overly stuffed after a meal here, and simply prepared with high-quality ingredients.
When’s the last time you sat down for hickory and cedar-smoked duck, an impressive charcuterie plate that included incredibly buttery tête de cochon, and wine from a list that reads more like a captivating novela? If the answer is never, get to The Morris, a laid-back bistro with some serious fine-dining chops. Service in their dining room or out on their new parklet is attentive and never rushed, which makes eating and drinking here with a date or a small group an ideal way to spend a night.
If you’re looking for Spanish food in a non-stuffy, relaxed environment, head to Red Window in North Beach. The colorful restaurant is covered with bright florals and looks like it was designed by JoJo Siwa, and low-proof cocktails are mixed tableside with a bar cart - in other words, eating here feels like you’re attending a festive soirée that also happens to serve excellent food. Since opening in March 2021, Red Window is now one of our go-to spots to catch up with friends on a weeknight over glasses of sangria, plates of bacalao or paella-stuffed croquetas, crispy patatas bravas, and delicate mushroom skewers.
Much like Buster Posey’s right arm, State Bird Provisions is a beloved San Francisco treasure. And a whole pandemic later, they’re still serving phenomenal, creative small plates and the titular fried quail - but minus the dim sum carts and plus a really cool new parklet. If you’re dining outside, you’ll be seated under glowing paper lanterns and string lights, and surrounded by leafy plants, all of which help to create a relaxing ambiance that will make you forget you’re sitting in the street. Once you’re situated, order as much food as can fit on your table, sit back, and enjoy a meal you’ll think about for a while after. But be warned - reservations tend to get snapped up pretty quickly, so plan ahead.
When you come to um.ma and dine out on their spacious back patio, the smell of sizzling meat will waft through the air, and you’ll probably hear an early 2000s playlist blasting on a speaker (anyone else here remember Ryan Cabrera?). The backyard party vibes and massive picnic tables make um.ma the perfect place to get together with a group of friends you haven’t seen since 2019, and catch up while you cook a few pounds of pork belly and sweet kalbi on a tabletop grill and share soju or a beer tower. Other standout dishes you and your friends shouldn’t leave without trying are the crispy, chewy seafood pancake and the charred gai-lon with oyster mushrooms that soak up the ssamjang dressing nicely.