When a chef and critic agree on the best spot for fresh seafood with knockout views, it pays to take note.
THE CHEF Srijith Gopinathan – the head chef at Campton Place, where his inventive Californian-inflected Indian cooking earned the restaurant a second Michelin star in 2019.
THE CRITIC Jessica Yadegaran – A food writer and restaurant critic for the East Bay Times and San Jose Mercury News.
Is there one restaurant that really nails the San Francisco vibe?
SG: State Bird Provision (above) presents that classic Californian-melting-style cooking so very well. It’s cuisine with no borders and it has that liberal-cool vibe with a laidback, easy service style that’s totally San Francisco.
JY: There’s this tiny oyster bar in Nob Hill called Swan Oyster Depot. It’s been open since 1912 and with just 18 counter stools the lines snake around the street. It’s a must for anyone who wants to feel that old-school seafood vibe that embodies San Francisco; they have the freshest, most delicious oysters you can get.
What’s your favourite best fine-dining restaurant?
SG: For a special occasion, I would go to Single Thread (below). It’s not just a restaurant; it’s also a farm. And it gives you a whole experience – they tell you where the food came from, what it is, how it’s grown and cooked.
JY: San Francisco has some of the most incredible Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. But most of us want a neighbourhood bistro where you can enjoy a highly curated wine list and beautiful high-quality, sustainable food. So somewhere like Spruce comes to mind. I repeatedly recommend it to people who want a fine-dining experience that won’t break the bank but will still make you feel really spoiled.
Where do you go for your caffeine fix?
SG: Bluebottle Coffee. I go to the one in the Ferry Building for my flat whites. The single-origin beans that they roast in small batches are super-consistent.
JY: There’s a little café on Market Street called Mazarine Coffee, which takes inspiration from Paris’s first public library, Bibliotheque Mazarine. Rather than focus on one coffee they curate the best of the best. They do incredible lattes and savoury toast and they don’t have wi-fi so you can actually talk to your companions and enjoy your food.
What about breakfast or brunch?
SG: There is a diner on Clement Street in my [Jordan Park] neighbourhood called Eats where I go with my wife and son. Brunch isn’t about being fancy and these guys do the classics like avocado toast or huevos rancheros but the seasoning and spices are so right. It’s the perfect spot for a couple of mimosas and a chat.
JY: Nopa. Weekend brunch there is an experience. Blueberry buttermilk biscuits, custardy French toast and eggs for days. Strong Bloody Marys and great lo-fi cocktails, too.
Read more: What to Know Before You Go to San Francisco
Where’s a great spot for a casual lunch?
SG: A Burmese restaurant called Mandalay. Burmese cuisine is like a cross between Chinese and Indian, so you get coconut rice and you also get noodles; the best of both worlds.
JY: Noosh in Pacific Heights. It feels like Santorini in there; all white and sunlit. They do bold interpretations of the flavours of Turkey and Armenia like a pork dish called sujuk and a Turkish flatbread with cheese, butter and egg that’s insanely delicious. Leave room for the sour cherry ice-cream sandwiches.
Who’s doing the best food with waterfront views?
SG: The Waterfront Restaurant in the Embarcardero has the most incredible views across the bay. I’m a seafood freak because I come from a coastal town in southern India and I love their raw bar and their whole crab and lobster which are simply grilled, poached or boiled.
JY: I would stay away from the touristy Fishermans’ Wharf and stick to the Embarcadero. Waterbar looks right at the Bay Bridge and I’ve never had a bad meal there. Their seafood is fresh-caught daily and they do a rosé-all-day program in summer.
San Francisco is famous for its Chinatown. Which spot in Chinatown is your pick?
SG: A friend of mine has an awesome modern Chinese restaurant there called Mr Jiu’s. Chef Brandon Jew creates food that has Chinese soul and Californian ingredients.
JY: There’s a place called China Live, which has invigorated Chinatown. It’s a two-storey, 20,000 square foot destination with matcha bars, retail, cafés and more. The casual fine-dining restaurant, Market, has an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs make the bao in the most enormous cast-iron pans. They do the best dumplings I’ve had in a while.
Where should I go for killer cocktails?
SG: There’s a great place near Union Square called Pacific Cocktail Haven, or PCH. They don’t serve food, their only thing is cocktails and they do them well. Last time I was there they made me something with passionfruit, mint and lime zest with not too much alcohol which is what I like.
JY: I love the cocktails and the vibe at Leo's Oyster Bar (above), which has a speakeasy-style lounge called the Hideaway inside and another hidden bar called the Tiki Lounge within the Hideaway. The cocktails are tropically themed an balanced, which I appreciate.
San Franciscans love their bakeries. Where’s your favourite and why?
SG: There’s a stall at Caw Farmers Market on Saturdays called Craftsman and Wolves, and they also have a couple of cafés. They do this brioche with a quail egg inside it, called The Rebel Within. The quail egg oozes out. It’s incredible.
JY: Without a doubt Tartine. Eating their bread is an experience. It’s amazing to see how this small Mission District shop has risen to fame; they even have locations in Africa and Korea. They’re most famous for their rustic country loaf and their croissants.
Is there an incredible restaurant in San Francisco no one knows about?
SG: There’s a beautiful restaurant in Nob Hill called Acquerello, which is in the Michelin guide but not everyone knows it’s there. The first time I went it didn’t have any stars and it took them a lot of time to get recognised but I thought they did a wonderful job from day one. The food is classic Italian with that Californian edge.
JY: The most exciting food at the moment is happening over in Oakland, a place which is often referred to as the Brooklyn of the Bay Area. One that stands out is Reem’s California. Chef Reem Assiel is doing incredible Arabic street food and her pastries, bread and kabobs are out of this world.