The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most beautiful regions in the United States, and also home to an incredible food scene, thanks to Northern California’s diverse cultural influences and agricultural bounty. Get a taste for the fresh local produce and artisan ingredients that the region’s top chefs use along with panoramic waterfront views at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. If time permits, you can also venture just north of San Francisco to Sonoma and Napa Valley for wine tastings and vineyard visits.
Here’s our insider’s guide to the best food in the Bay Area – including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
San Francisco’s most exciting new fine dining restaurant is right across the street from the Civic Center. Stop in before or after a ballet, opera, or symphony performance for an abbreviated bar snacks menu, or settle in for the full 18-course tasting menu, a culinary tour de force by chef-owner John Wesley accompanied by warm, gracious service led by general manager and co-owner Julianna Yang. The duo met while working together at Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters before striking out on their own. Recent menu highlights include a beet chip cornette filled with bone marrow, burnt honey glazed squab and beautifully braided fermented potato caraway bread served with a smoky mushroom broth and slow-poached egg yolk. Wine pairings are worth trying, and non-alcoholic pairings are excellent too, inspired by classic cocktails and tea.
Chef Kathy Fang grew up in her family’s Cantonese restaurant in San Francisco and now she has her own modern Chinese restaurant, blending her Cantonese heritage with other regional Chinese cuisines at Fang. You might have seen her on Food Network’s Chopped (she’s a two-time champion) or read her cookbook, and now you can try her signature dishes like spiced sizzling rice soup, crispy honey chili short ribs, and spicy twice-cooked pork belly. There are lots of tofu entrees and vegetarian sides too like Szechuan eggplant and dry braised green beans. Fang is open daily for lunch and dinner, which is lucky on Mondays when most of the best restaurants in the city are closed!
Chef and owner Mica Talmor serves California-Israeli food in a casual setting at Oakland’s Pomella. Her dedication to high-quality ingredients, bold bright flavors, and taking care of her staff set her apart. Talmor celebrates every staff member’s birthday by making them an item of their choice that’s available for customers as well. There are always hearty, fresh salads on the menu like persimmon pomegranate feta and roasted celeriac and beluga lentils with spinach and goat cheese. This is the perfect lunch or dinner with a group to share hot and cold mezze, or for a grab-and-go bite if you’re going on a road trip or hike. The falafel, za’atar spiced pita chips and date cookies are ideal road trip snacks!
4. CA Bakehouse
San Jose is home to more Vietnamese residents than any other city outside of Vietnam and this mother-son-owned family bakery is a mash-up of Asian and American flavors located in San Jose’s Little Saigon neighborhood. The pandan waffle, fluffy Singaporean pandan chiffon cakes, and Chinese and Portuguese-inspired egg tarts are signatures, but satisfyingly chewy mochi cakes and flaky croissants filled with ube and pandan cream are also popular. Our San Francisco food guide tip is pre-ordering online since they sell out quickly on weekends. If you need some savory food to balance out the sweets, Pho Ha Noi is just around the corner.
Listen to vinyl records while enjoying Japanese-influenced food and cocktails at this new hi-fi listening bar and restaurant in the SOMA district. The casual, lively atmosphere reflects chef Marc Zimmerman’s passion for music (he was studying to become a music engineer when he decided to pursue cooking instead) and the menu highlights Japanese binchotan charcoal grilling with skewers of baby Spanish octopus, Wolf Ranch quail, Sonoma duck and Hokkaido scallops. The live fire touches most items on the menu, from smoked olive oil dressing raw yellowtail to the ember-stewed strawberries in ice cream stuffed kakigori for dessert.
The dining room at this opulent contemporary Cantonese restaurant at Westfield Valley Fair Mall looks like a scene out of “Crazy Rich Asians” with sumptuous upholstery, soaring ceilings, and gold flourishes. Dim sum is popular at lunch – especially the Chinese chive dumplings and crispy wagyu puffs – and the Peking duck with caviar is a fittingly luxurious option for dinner. Afternoon tea is offered daily as well, with a pastry tower accompanied by a lovely selection of tea from Red Blossom Tea Company. There’s even a virtual reality private dining room offering a multi-sensory tasting menu pairing food with audio and visual effects.
Executive chef Daniela Vergara is the youngest female chef within MINA Group and has worked for them for nearly seven years. She works closely with several fish purveyors to select the fish for the Greek restaurant’s signature fish cart, highlighting local fish as well as fish from the Mediterranean and beyond. Diners can select their preferred fish and preparation – ranging from simply grilled with olive oil, to plaki Greek-style braised fish with roasted peppers, tomatoes, and olives, or kakavia Greek fisherman’s soup. Save room for Vergara’s sweet finale – tableside baklava sundae for dessert.
This Jamaican restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building started as a catering company named for founder and executive chef Shani Jones’ mother, whom she credits for her love of bold spices and culturally rooted recipes. Peaches Patties is one of the few Caribbean restaurants in the Bay Area, specializing in savory Jamaican baked patties filled with beef, curry chicken, spinach, or lentils. There’s also jerk chicken, fried plantains, and a vegan rastafarian stew of black beans, chickpeas, and tomatoes. Browse the other Ferry Building food vendors while sipping lightly sweetened Jamaican ginger beer or sorrel – a freshly steeped Jamaican hibiscus drink.