A burger, fries and side salad from Hayes Street Grill in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
With some of San Francisco’s best boutiques, bars and restaurants packed into 20 walkable blocks, Hayes Valley is synonymous with shopping, strolling, noshing and the arts.
Over the years, this enclave — one of San Francisco’s oldest neighborhoods — has built itself into a vibrant cultural hub just steps away from City Hall and world-class arts institutions like the SF Opera, SF Symphony and SFJazz Center. The heart of Hayes Valley is Patricia’s Green, an immaculate strip of open lawn housing a children’s play area and rotating installations of Burning Man-scale art.
You come to Hayes Valley for the shopping and shows, but the food is what makes you linger and return. Hayes Valley restaurants include some of the best-loved spots in San Francisco, with an array of options to match the revitalizing neighborhood. You’ll find everything from fast-fine to high-end, seafood to pizza, French to Mexican and everything in between.
While this neighborhood was once neglected, overlooked and divided by a busy freeway, it’s now a hip, urban spot full of buzzy places to grab a bite or drink. Today, a typical Hayes Valley lunch can find you being served by a culinary star on the rise. With the embarrassment of options available, figuring out where to go can be overwhelming for a tourist or someone who’s new to town. Here are the Hayes Valley restaurants that locals love most.
Handmade pasta is the star of the menu at a Mano in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
There’s something about handmade pasta that shop-bought noodles just can’t quite replicate. At a Mano (Italian for “by hand”) in Hayes Valley, handmade pasta is the star of the menu, every piece is rolled and cut by hand each day before being used in rich sauces and hearty ragùs that are simply, chef’s kiss.
Tasty antipasti options hold their own against the pasta, like duck liver mousse and cauliflower tossed in garlicky bagna càuda, and, for the carb-conscious, a Mano takes salads just as seriously with inventive new salads that change with the season. The space is large and airy, behind a wall of glass fronting Hayes Street, and every seat’s likely to be occupied. Soak up the sunshine in the streetside parklet, or angle for a seat inside to watch the chefs at work.
Find it: 450 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-506-7401
A burger and fries from Absinthe Brasserie & Bar.
By day, a quiet Hayes Valley bistro and, at night, a stylish spot for show-going crowds and late-night gathering, Absinthe has romanced San Franciscans for decades. Framed Belle Époque adverts, muraled walls, velvet banquettes and white tablecloths set the stage appropriately for the French-Mediterranean cuisine and inspired selection of classic cocktails.
Diners can choose from informal or formal dining rooms at this upscale Parisian-style brasserie, where every dish, whether petrale sole meunière, short rib bourguignon or the humble hamburger, earns rave reviews. With dishes so well executed and service so exacting, you’ll be hard pressed to find flaws.
Find it: 398 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-551-1590
A bottle of wine and appetizer plate from Birba in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
With so many Hayes Valley wine bars at your disposal, the unpretentious Birba is a true standout. It has the feel of a secret watering hole that only locals know to visit. The bar itself is small and unassuming, barely a corridor, but Birba is more than meets the eye: out back lies an expansive urban oasis shrouded with trees and crisscrossed with market lights, away from the main street that is Hayes.
Birba’s wine menu is a multi-page affair, full of classic and natural wines in most every style imaginable. Fifty or so are available by the glass, and many more by the bottle; if the options overwhelm, lean on the sharp staff of sommeliers. A menu of small plates branches beyond predictable meat-and-cheese boards to include bites like deviled eggs, marinated anchovies and a mighty tasty pistachio feta dip.
Find it: 458 Grove St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-549-7612
Lattes with heart-shaped foam from Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
Behind a garage door in an artsy alley off Gough Street is the Hayes Valley coffee favorite, Blue Bottle. Back in 2005, this tiny kiosk was the first brick-and-mortar location of a chain that’s since grown to include outposts as far away as Hong Kong. Despite all the success, Blue Bottle Coffee still sells its organic, small-batch-roasted beans and brews out of this tiny outlet off the main drag.
The focused menu adheres to time-tested options like pour overs, espresso drinks and New Orleans-style iced coffee, plus some fruity fizzes to keep up with evolving tastes. If you swing by this modest outpost for your morning cup, you’ll definitely be caffeinated like a local.
Find it:315 Linden St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 510-653-3394
Fish tacos sushi plate from Domo in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
Domo is small, mighty and unpretentious in the best way possible. This tiny sushi bar seats little more than a dozen, but its consistency, freshness and the skills of its chefs have made Domo a go-to spot for sushi in Hayes Valley. The menu is a solid mix of sashimi, nigiri, maki and poké, plus sake and classic Japanese brews.
Look beyond the standard rolls for things like the standout sushi taco, which trades the tortilla for tempura-fried nori and piles on albacore tuna, avocado, salsa and sriracha, and the panko-fried Firecracker Balls of spicy tuna with unagi sauce and tobiko.
Find it: 511 Laguna St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-861-8887
Xialongbao at Dumpling Home in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood are seen on Friday, October 30, 2020.
Believe the hype: Dumpling Home in Hayes Valley is seriously good — as good as any dumpling spot you’ll find in Chinatown, diners say. Each morsel is made in house daily by dumpling specialist Lily Wong, whom you’ll often see meticulously hand-pleating pastry right before your eyes. The standout is the soup dumpling — known as xiaolongbao, or simply XLB to fans online — with delicate skin on the cusp of soft and chewy, and fillings ranging from tongue-tingling Sichuan-spiced pork to a combination of crab and loofah squash.
Pro tip: Poke a hole in the top of the xiaolongbao to let some steam escape, then eat it all in one bite. If you try to nibble, you risk wasting the juicy broth inside, spraying it onto your tablemates or taking it to go on your shirt. Like every popular restaurant in Hayes Valley, lines form easily at Dumpling Home but fret not because they move quickly.
Find it: 298 Gough St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-503-1666
Half Moon Bay petrale sole with king trumpet mushrooms, green garlic and gingerling potatoes at Hayes Street Grill in San Francisco, California.
Hayes Street Grill carries on the tradition of old San Francisco grills like Tadich, with its focus on fresh catches prepared simply, to show off their natural flavors. Just steps from the San Francisco Symphony and City Hall, these white-clothed tables are frequented by local politicos, arts patrons and lovers of fresh, unadorned seafood. Eagerly-awaited seasonal favorites on the rotating menu include Monterey squid, local anchovies, king salmon and Half Moon Bay sanddab. On performance nights, book in advance, but once the pre-show crowd thins, you’re likely to get a table on the spot.
Find it: 320 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-863-5545
Beef Short Rib Bourguignon with potato purée and traditional garnishes from Monsieur Benjamin.
If you find French cuisine intimidating, Monsieur Benjamin’s mission is to make it approachable. Knowledgeable staff are on hand to ease you into unfamiliar territory, if you’re down for the journey. The menu consists of fashionable French classics like duck leg confit, steak tartare and braised short rib, as well as wilder dishes like fried frog legs, mustard-glazed beef tongue and roasted bone marrow.
The open-minded are seldom disappointed at Monsieur Benjamin: every dish, familiar or not, is top notch, well portioned and gorgeously plated. Got-to-try dishes include a seafood sausage packed with lobster, shrimp, scallop and sea bass; roasted bone marrow (tough to find in San Francisco) that you’ll scoop straight from the bone to spread onto grilled bread; mussels steamed with garlic sausage in a bracing broth; and, for dessert, île flottante – islands of pillowy meringue floating among a sea of crème anglaise.
Find it: 451 Gough St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-403-2233
Chicken Mole Enchiladas from San Francisco’s Papito Hayes.
Hayes Valley counts on Papito to serve Mexican food that always hits. This skylit spot is well known for lively brunches and dinners: plates covering tables from edge to edge with duck confit tacos, chorizo potato omelets, micheladas and charred-jalapeno margaritas. This organic Mexican bistro is friendly, laid back and can get quite busy, but cozy seating and swift service keep the tables turning, which is why locals keep coming back.
Find it: 425 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-554-0541
People lunch at a public parklet in front of Patxi’s Pizza and Souvla, located in the 500 block of Hayes St., in San Francisco, California, on Friday, February 22, 2019.
When locals are hungry for pizza in Hayes Valley, most go straight to the venerable Patxi’s Pizza. This no-fuss favorite may be as close to Chicago’s Lou Malnati’s deep dish as you’ll find in the Bay Area, with styles ranging from double-crust monsters to crisp, cornmeal-dusted thin crust. You can order specialty pizzas like Barbecue Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala and even a vegan option topped with gooey Daiya vegan mozzarella, or you can play the chef and build your own. Salads, starters, wine and beer round out every meal at this crowd-pleasing favorite among Hayes Valley restaurants.
Find it: 511 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-558-9991
Rich Table Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich made Sally Hurricane’s Southern fried chicken with gravy, tomato salad and mashed potatoes at home in San Francisco, California, on May 12, 2016.
“Go to the market, see what’s good and cook it” is the motto printed on every Rich Table menu, and that commitment shines in every dish. Husband-and-wife team Evan and Sarah Rich produce Northern California cuisine at its most inspired. Offerings change often, sometimes daily, but you can always expect fresh catches like urchin, clams and amberjack; an array of farm-fresh veggies and foraged ingredients, and dashes of Asian spice.
Rich Table regulars rave about the sardine chips with horseradish crème fraîche and savory porcini doughnuts dunked in gooey raclette.
Find it: 199 Gough St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-355-9085
A scoop of ice cream at Salt & Straw is shown. The creamery specializes in one-of-a-kind flavors that blend unlikely notes into a sweet dream.
Daringly delicious flavors in head-scratching combinations are what have won Portland-based Salt & Straw the cultish following few creameries can claim. The brains behind this farm-to-cone scoop shop see ice cream as a blank canvas for storytelling. Inspiration comes from unlikely sources to produce quirky flavor combos like Cinnamon and Honey Fried Chicken, Deviled Egg Custard with Smoked Black Tea, and Pear and Blue Cheese.
Salt & Straw also scoops the classics, and has been doing so in San Francisco since 2017, but its ice cream flights are round-trip tickets to adventure: scoops of seasonal flavors and tried-and-true faves, each served atop a crisp, house-made waffle. It’s a great, low-key stop after you’ve just had an elevated Hayes Valley lunch or dinner.
Find it: 586 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-549-7445
A gyro from Souvla is shown in San Francisco. The local Greek restaurant chain announced that it’s reopening two of its locations after being closed for months amid the pandemic.
Souvla’s salads of shaved fennel, pickled onions, pea sprouts and juicy citrus are what every sad desk salad dreams of being. These Cali-fresh salads are what helped Souvla define fast-fine cuisine when it opened in Hayes Valley in 2014. Like the gyro joints that dot Greece, Souvla — the Greek word for a rotisserie spit — roasts pork, chicken and lamb to thinly shave, drizzle with Greek yogurt and wrap in fluffy pita. The Greek Fries with lemon, parsley and mizithra cheese live on lists of the city’s best fries, and the Juicy Potatoes glisten with rotisserie juices. You’ll kick yourself if you miss out on the Greek fro-yo in flavors like sour cherry and baklava, so promise to save room for something sweet.
Find it: 517 Hayes St.,San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-400-5458
Suppenkuche serves up traditional German food and beer to go in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
For 30 years, Suppenküche has cultivated a friendly slice of German life in Hayes Valley. Suppenküche plates up hefty portions of traditional German dishes in its understated space modeled on that nation’s rustic inn-and-tavern guesthouses. An epic place for a Sunday Hayes Valley brunch, locals know this restaurant for its warm atmosphere, proper pints of specialty beer and protein-forward menu. If you’re thinking sausages, schnitzel and saucy braises, served alongside potato pancakes, pretzels, red cabbage and spätzle, you’re on the right track.
Find it: 525 Laguna St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-252-9289
This story was edited by Hearst National Editor Kristina Moy, you can contact her at email@example.com.
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Miles Walls is a freelance writer and art director with home bases in San Francisco and Palm Springs. Find him on Instagram and Twitter.
A burger, fries and side salad from Hayes Street Grill in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.