Some people might argue that all dining in San Francisco is fine dining -- by virtue of it being in San Francisco.
Issues of city pride aside, the restaurants here comprise a group of personal favorites, leaning toward the upscale, where the combination food, ambiance and service make for a fine dining experience.
Since it's virtually impossible to pick a handful of restaurants in a city known for its culinary arts, I consider this a mere starter list of places that excel in their own categories.
Published in 2007 - Updated annually
Located in the upscale St. Regis Hotel, Ame is a subdued and elegant setting, with Japanese and European influences in the varied menu items (from sashimi to duck breast). Ame's ambiance is earth-toned, with window screens and an open kitchen area, with quiet music allowing for conversation over the meal.
See a short review of Ame including sample menu items and description of the ambiance.
Aqua is known as one of the best seafood restaurants in San Francisco. The space can get a bit busy and loud, so it may not be the best choice for a romantic night . . . even if the fish is superb and service gracious and knowledgeable. You'll have to make the assessment based on your own priorities.
Pick Aziza if you're looking for an excellent dinner that strays from the more common California or continental menus in San Francisco. Aziza's influences are Moroccan and Mediterranean, with an exceptional cocktail menu of interesting twists like tarragon and cardamon flavors. Great moody ambiance, with booths set in along the sides.
Bix has long been popular as an after-work bar, as well as a dining destination. So it's no surprise that their cocktails are exquisitely made, always to order. Just entering Bix is a treat, as the restaurant is set off on Gold Street, a Jackson Square Historic District byway with old brick and a sense of separation from the busy streets nearby. Bix has a supper club feel, with strains of jazz through the dinner.
Boulevard's location has a special pedigree. The Audiffred Building (1889) is one of the few structures to survive the 1906 earthquake. Boulevard is always busy so the place has a general buzz during after-work and dinner hours. If you don't have a reservation, the long bar to the side of the restasurant is a comfortable place to plant yourself with a cocktail or a bottle of wine.
See a short overview of Boulevard with links to menus, directions and public transit information.
Delfina is one of San Francisco's top Italian restaurants -- but it pays to think ahead because the restaurant is often booked many weeks in advance. Bar seating is available without a reservation. Hardwoods warm the interior which is a mix of metal table tops, candlelight, and artwork on the walls. Delfina has enclosed patio dining as well. It's a vibrant and warm place to take a meal, unpretentious and delicious.
Firefly is a Noe Valley gem with the intimate and comfortable feel of a dining room, and a friendly and laid back atmosphere. The cuisine is primarily American and Californian including vegetarian selections. Firefly is a favorite neighborhood spot but draws its patrons from around the city for its comfort food and cozy space.
8. Fleur de Lys
A known and established entity among San Francisco's French restaurants, Fleur de Lys is also among the more pricey establishments in town. Service is professional, the ambiance is warm and inviting, quiet enough to converse. Arrive with appetite intact because if you're splurging at Fleur de Lys, you might as well enjoy a languid four or five course meal. Fleur de Lys also offers vegetarian selections, not always easy to find on some of the meat and game driven menus.
Foreign Cinema is one of those places you have to try, just for the novel concept of dining with the backdrop of a classic film. It sounds more intrusive than it is. The outdoor patio shows films with volume kept at bay to keep conversation viable. For the full immersion, dine after sundown (when the films begin) and if at all possible, get yourself a spot on the patio.
Read a short review of Foreign Cinema including links to menus, hours and public transit information.
10. Gary Danko
Gary Danko is a quintessential fine dining experience in San Francisco . . . provided you plan ahead with your reservations, or luck out with an early table. Gary Danko is known for its consistency in both food and service. Servers are attentive but not overbearing, and the ambiance is warm with its earth tones. Cuisine is California and classical, with emphasis on the seasonal.
If you're new to San Francisco, cap the evening with a short walk down Hyde to the Buena Vista Cafe for an Irish Coffee, and a cable car ride from the Hyde terminus of the Powell-Hyde line.