San Francisco is considered one of the best food cities in the United States, but this was not always the case. It wasn't until the late 1970s that chefs exploring new and creative ways to use ingredients and incorporate global flavors found a home in the city.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, these chefs became part of the city itself, with restaurants like The Slanted Door, Delfina, and Aziza laying the foundation for enduring culinary greatness.
While many of these influential early restaurants have closed their doors, some have become popular on the San Francisco dining scene. From Greens to Lazy Bear, these 10 restaurants have helped define our city's culinary scene for the past 40 years, and are still doing well today.
Verde, Lee. 1979
A cornmeal crust pizza topped with roasted squash, caramelized onions, asiago and goat cheese, and pesto.
Founded in 1979 by the San Francisco Zen Center, Greens was the first American restaurant to treat vegetarian food with the passion then reserved only for meat. Instead of preparing dishes with bland tofu and sprouts, founding chef Deborah Madison incorporated little-known produce like potatoes, golden turnips, and arugula from local farmers and her own organic garden...and fed them to you.gusto.
The bayside restaurant, now run by Katie Reicher, still indulges in plant-based food with dishes like winter vegetable risotto with caramelized onions and corn miso butter and radiator pasta with gorgonzola cheese, wild mushrooms, and rye breadcrumbs.
// 2 Marina Boulevard. (Fort Maurer),greensrestaurant.com
Cafe Zuni, East. 1987 (more or less)
(Courtesy of Zuni Cafe)
Although Zuni first opened in 1979 as a Southwestern-themed cafe, it wasn't until 1987 that the restaurant achieved iconic status when chef Judy Rodgers joined the team. Rodgers not only took the restaurant's menu in a more Eurocentric direction, but she added a wood-fired oven to cook the roast chicken that soon became a national phenomenon. Zuni has won several James Beard Awards, including the most recent award for Outstanding Service in 2018. Today, Zuni's menu includes dishes like roasted pork with tomatillo, plenty of oysters and clams, and of course, their beloved fried chicken.
// 1658 Market St. (Valle de Hayes),zunicafe.com
The Leaning Door, founded in 1995
(Courtesy of Slanted Door)
Before Charles Phan, Vietnamese food was in limbo. The SF chef not only showed the city, but the entire country, that much more could be done. Family-run Slanted Door, which started in Mission, eventually became a flagship store in the Ferry Building, serving dishes like cellophane crab noodles, organic chicken stew with Thai chili and caramel sauce, and herb tofu. of lemon. Although the restaurant went on an extended hiatus due to the pandemic, it is expected to return in early 2023 with a refreshed interior and more of the modern Vietnamese cuisine that put it on the map.
// 1 ferry building (Embarcadero),puerta inclinada.com
Larkspur, Este. 1998
The bar in the newly expanded Delfina.(Alberto Law)
With the opening of Delfina in 1998, the Mission District was reimagined and transformed into the city's trendiest neighborhood for innovative restaurants. Since then, the Californian-Italian trattoria has spawned pizzerias from San Francisco to Palo Alto, but only at its original 18th Street location can you experience the full breadth of Delfina's James Beard Award-winning menu. Fresh out of a Covid era lockdown andawesome renovationDelfina serves up her cult-favorite spaghetti pomodoro and rich oxtail stracotto with risotto and marrow alongside homemade focaccia, new to the menu.
// 3621 18. Street. (Mission),delfinasf.com
Estimated foreign cinema 1999
(Leonard Martín Hughet)
Like Delfina the year before, the opening of Cinema Estrangeiro in 1999 confirmed that the mission was a bold new frontier. The restaurant, which screened classic movies on the patio, was one of the most ambitious projects the city had seen, but it wasn't until 2001, when its kitchen changed hands, that Cinema Estrangeiro also became known for its imaginative cuisine. Mediterranean Sea . The rest, as they say, is history. With dishes like grilled calamari with mole from Oaxaca and fried chicken with sesame and Madras curry, Foreign Cinema remains one of the most popular restaurants and venues in SF.// 2534 Missionstr. (Mission),erangeiracinema.com
Aziza, yes. 2001
The opening of Aziza marked a shift in the San Francisco food scene from one dominated by Western flavors and techniques to one rich in traditional dishes from around the world. Like Charles Phan's Slanted Door, chef Mourad Lahlou's restaurant proved that Moroccan cuisine is exciting, elegant and delicious. Aziza, one of Outer Richmond's first notable restaurants, finally gave Franciscans a reason to head west. More than 20 years since its inauguration,Aziza is still a gemto dishes like the nostalgic basteeya with chicken confit and spiced almonds, kefta with smoked cream and burnt onions, and spreads like dilllebni with smoked trout roe.
// 5800 Geary Boulevard. (Richmond exterior),azizasf.com
A16, leather. 2004
(Courtesy of A16)
These days, Napoletana pizza is a dime a dozen in the Bay Area, but when A16 opened in 2004, it was still a rare variety, along with other southern Italian fare. Marina Restaurant was the first in the city to have a properly certified pizza maker and wines from small producers that perfectly complemented the food. His meatballs on his menu spawned a generation of Northern California restaurants serving the same thing. The Michelin Bib Gourmand A16 is still known for its crispy pizzas, excellent wine list, and southern Italian home cooking.
// 2355 Castaño Street (Marina),a16pizza.com
It is not this one. 2006
(Courtesy of Nope)
Nopa's opening in 2006 was so monumental to the area west of Alamo Square that the surrounding neighborhood has become synonymous with its name. Almost since it opened, Nopa was known as a restaurant in the hospitality industry, a place whose food and atmosphere were so good that it was a magnet for chefs, employees, and restaurateurs from across the city. While the two-story nopa is no longer the only play at the Divisadero, it's still classy. Californian-Mediterranean cuisine ranges from giant wood-roasted beans with breadcrumbs to porchetta with roasted broccoli. In 2009 the team behind Nopa opened a second pioneering restaurant,Nopalito, which ushered in a new era of haute Mexican cuisine in SF.
// 560 Divisadero Street (Nopa),nopasf.com
State Bird Regulations, est. 2012
(Courtesy of State Bird Protection Regulations)
State Bird Provisions didn't just have a gimmick (small plates served dim sum from wheelbarrow style), it had an amazing food gimmick. The combination was a revelation that propelled chefs and owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski to national fame and a Michelin star. The frequently changing Asian-Californian menu, with dishes like crab kimchi fritters, fiscalini cheddar pancakes with baby butternut squash, and the state's signature bird (California quail), still draws a late-night crowd.
// 1529 calle Fillmore (Fillmore),statebirdsf.com
sloth bear, est. 2014
An artful presentation of salmon with grilled summer peach, toasted almonds, nasturtium petals and wild nasturtium capers.
Chef David Barzelay brought food back into fashion when his 2014 breakout hit, Lazy Bear, found a brick-and-mortar house on the ground floor for a seven-course meal in front of an open kitchen. Nearly a decade later, Lazy Bear still hosts his weekly four- to five-day soirees, now with two Michelin stars to his name. Each menu is quiet until dinnertime begins, but you can expect to find dishes that play on nostalgic comfort food, such as black cod with matsutake mushrooms and harvested flavors, duck dogs confit, and grilled lamb with artichokes, dates, and sweets.
// 3416 19. Street. (Mission),lazybearsf.com