During December, the streets of San Francisco swell with tourists from near and far. The city offers plenty of holiday diversions and whether you’re out shopping with friends or catching a matinee showing of the Nutcracker with family, you’re going to need a welcoming and delicious place to have lunch. Here are five spots where you’ll meet superior service, savor scrumptious bites and fancy bustling atmospheres.
If you’re shopping the department stores in San Francisco’s Union Square, head to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel (on Powell and Sutter) for lunch. This always-busy bistro is large, but cozy with a cheerful ambience and accommodating staff; it’s old-school San Francisco at its best. From any given spot in the restaurant you can hear and see the cable cars cruise by. The space is decorated in shades of warm brown and brassy gold with massive still-life murals and mirrors that bring to mind a dreamy summer home on the Mediterranean. Chef Larry Finn offers an expansive menu of upscale American favorites such as Cobb salad with buttermilk blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette, classic French bistro fare such as tarte flambée with tangy crème fraîche and smoky pancetta, and Italian comfort food such as perfectly spicy, finger-licking good linguine and clams with garlic, white wine and Calabrian chiles. There’s a full bar, so go ahead and order a martini or Manhattan; after all, it is the holiday season.
If you’re on Market Street or at Westfield San Francisco Centre, walk to 1 Yerba Buena Lane and you’ll find this modern eatery with artful accents. Large orange cylinder lights dot the space that’s decorated with architectural plants, smooth wood slabs and black and brown leather. The bar is covered in little dots that resemble twinkling stars in a night sky and the floor has an African-inspired design that feels almost like an animal print. With regards to executive chef Francis Hogan’s kitchen, it specializes in whole-animal cooking utilizing only the best local ingredients. The menu reflects these aesthetics with interesting renditions of classic dishes. For example, in the Caesar salad, kale and pickled octopus replace the traditional romaine and anchovy. With roasted bone marrow, steak tartare, four different types of decadent steak dishes (think butter-poached filet and rum-soaked rib eye), lamb sausages, duck confit and acorn-fed pork, Bluestem is definitely a meat-lovers paradise.
Twenty Five Lusk
Want to avoid the downtown crowds and dine in an unbelievably chic space? Take a cab to this South Beach winner. Walk into the Cass Calder Smith-designed space and you’ll be met by black metal chairs, shiny sleek tables, mirrored accents, white orchids, exposed beams and brick walls. The upstairs dining room is airy and hip. Slide onto a smooth leather bench and order a glass of wine off the extensive list of worldly and local varietals. Typical salads and sandwiches aren’t on the menu here. Expect more complex culinary delights such as the tempura-fried bacon salad with little gems lettuce, cucumber, burrata and avocado vinaigrette; it’s a crunchy, creamy and salty piece of mind-blowing goodness. The Dungeness crab club — a mound of fresh, melt-in-your-mouth crab, thick cut bacon and romaine lettuce sandwiched between hearty slices of toasted buttery brioche — is equally scrumptious and filling without being too heavy.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
Over in Hayes Valley, and within walking distance to the War Memorial Opera House, is this bustling bar. Grab a seat at Absinthe and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a classic Parisian café. The woven chairs and circular tables are tightly packed together and the bar is lined with high stools. The bar menu was created by Jeff Hollinger, one of the top mixologists in the city, so be sure not to skip out on a hand-crafted cocktail (with gin, Lillet Blanc, and absinthe, the Corpse Reviver #2 is a personal favorite). Like the space, the lunch menu centers around traditional French food. There’s a wide selection of cheese, a raw bar, chicken liver mousse, croque-monsieur and French onion soup. The bar is open all day so pop in before or after you enjoy the ballet.
Despite the unfortunate recent passing of chef and co-owner Judy Rodgers, she helped forge one of the city’s best restaurants. On Market Street at the cusp of the Castro and the corner of Gough, Zuni Café is beloved by locals and tourists for its inviting space and memorable wood-fired, brick-oven cuisine. There are wide windows, gorgeous floral arrangements, a busy open kitchen, and fun tables. At several two-tops downstairs, in fact, diners sit side by side instead of across from each other. The roast chicken for two with bread salad is Zuni’s signature lunch dish. It takes an hour to make, but it’s worth the wait. The skin is crispy and salty, the meat juicy and moist; it’s literally the roast chicken of your dreams.
Photos Courtesy of Bluestem