Fabulous food options abound in San Francisco and the surrounding regions. From roadside taco stands in Sonoma to Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurants in Los Gatos, great bites can be found almost everywhere.
One way to make sure your Bay Area meal is memorable is by booking a spot at the chef’s counter, the coveted seats that overlook a restaurant’s bustling kitchen. This private perch often offers an exclusive menu along with the ultimate behind-the-scenes vantage point of what it takes to run a beloved establishment.
If you’re hungry to experience a chef’s counter in all its glory, pull up a chair at any of these eight distinct spots.
One Market Restaurant
Celebrating its 25th year, this bayfront pick is an old-school San Francisco standby. Located at Market Street and Embarcadero, it’s where professionals, politicians and families can all sit down to enjoy a meal.
The large kitchen is wide open, and those sitting at the counter can easily interact with chef Mark Dommen and his team. There is no particular menu for the counter, but with the wide variety of farm-to-table fare on offer here, it’s no matter — order à la carte and you won’t be disappointed. We love the grilled Spanish octopus, the olive-oil-poached halibut and the duck breast with chanterelles.
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
Step behind the counter alongside some of the Bay Area’s best chefs during this Four-Star retreat’s Global Cuisine Series. This exclusive two-day experience is only one weekend each month and is limited to 16 guests, allowing you some prime one-on-one time with the region’s most talented toques, such as Jason Fox of Commonwealth, Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn and Gonzalo Guzman of Nopalito.
In addition to the package’s overnight stay and a $100 resort credit, you’ll also be invited into the property’s massive industrial kitchen, where you’ll learn to make a celebrated chef’s signature dish while sipping glasses of Moët & Chandon. Afterward, you’ll sit for a multi-course luncheon that comes with sommelier-selected wine pairings and plenty of time to pick the guest chef’s brain.
Though this upscale sushi restaurant resides in an off-the-beaten-path stretch of San Francisco (665 Townsend Street), the fresh fish and unparalleled dining experience are worth the trek.
The entire eatery is one big chef’s counter, and diners watch as the masters meticulously assemble each roll and bite by hand. Chef Jackson Yu sources the majority of his seafood from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market, serving a multi-course prix fixe menu that changes nightly. Opt for the sake pairing to complete the authentic experience.
The Restaurant at Meadowood
Meadowood Napa Valley is one of a handful of resorts to receive a triple Five-Star rating from Forbes Travel Guide for its standout hotel, restaurant and spa — and with good reason. At its namesake eatery, you’ll find one of the world’s most exclusive chef’s counter experiences.
With just four seats, the kitchen counter is one of the acclaimed establishment’s most coveted spots. From your seat in the heart of the kitchen, you’ll witness the graceful orchestra of efficiency it takes to run a venue such as this.
The meal is intended to be savored without modifications, so picky eaters might want to look for another experience. For foodies, however, a dinner inside renowned chef Christopher Kostow’s kitchen is a dream come true, where seasonally changing offerings might include oyster with kohlrabi, beef smoked in dry onion tops and a chocolate-walnut pan apple pastry cup.
Carb lovers should grab a spot at this Fillmore Street favorite where unique, handmade pasta is the house specialty. Although the kitchen is compact and the chef’s counter is just as tiny, the dishes that chef Matthew Accarrino churns out are packed with flavor and depth.
There’s no dedicated menu for those who choose to dine at the kitchen-facing counter, but you can’t go wrong with the pasta tasting option. A culinary adventure in itself, this one-of-a-kind session lets you try some of Accarrino’s most sublime bites, such as a risotto made with sparkling rosé, scallops and rhubarb; corn and quinoa frittella with smoked trout roe and red onion cream; and veal agnolotti with peas and whipped smoked burrata.
For the ultimate in meaty meals, reserve the six-seater chef’s table at this SoMa address. Executive chef Marc Zimmerman creates a luxe bespoke tasting menu for each seating that consists of high-quality seasonal ingredients.
The are so specific to what is available in the market that no two menus are alike. Expect anywhere between 10 to 18 courses of indulgent dishes, such as spot prawns with marrow and truffled trout roe, smoked oxtail with uni, and Japanese A5 wagyu.
If you’ve never tried this type of high-end beef, get excited — it’s buttery and rich and practically melts in your mouth. Paired with 12 different types of salt, this caliber of steak is rarely found outside of Japan.
At this Golden Gate Bridge-side lodge in Sausalito, six guests can book an intimate and personalized, toque-led dining experience on par with the property’s spectacular views. The private chef’s counter dinner takes place at the resort’s cooking school and consists of a four-course, wine-paired meal.
The interactive experience is brought to life by head chef Tony Adams, who will walk you through every step of preparation as he crafts each course before your eyes.
Unlike most chef’s table experiences, dietary needs are taken into consideration here, so you can look forward to a highly seasonal meal made of fresh, local ingredients. One recent menu included shrimp pacchetti with onion confit and Gruyère fonduta; charred sunchoke soup with smoked stracciatella; and noisette of lamb with springtime purees.
A small wooden counter overlooks a sizeable open-fire rotisserie and pizza oven, providing a place from which to take in all the action around the lively stove. You can even interact with the grill master and pizza makers as they perform their nightly tasks. Order à la carte, sit back and relax.
Must-try dishes at this vibrant spot include the raviolo with farm egg and brown butter; the seasonal sformato (a warm and savory Italian custard); the soppressata and broccoli pizza; and the bistecca alla Fiorentina.