Bring the party home with whole Dungeness crab, sushi, and more.We’ve all been there. It’s someone’s birthday, a noteworthy anniversary, a big promotion, a long-awaited graduation — and there’s nary an open table in sight to celebrate the milestone event. Ah, the roses and thorns of living in the great restaurant city that is San Francisco!
Thankfully, many of these restaurants can come to you via Caviar, so the hottest table in town is now your own. All you need to do is set the table or spread out a blanket in front of the TV. Go black tie or in your PJs. Along with everything else for the evening, the choice is yours.
Hong Kong Lounge
The xiao long bao are so good at this Richmond District dim sum house that a whole evening could be designed around slurping down the Shanghainese dumplings bursting with brothy liquid and meaty filling. The same goes for the restaurant’s other dumplings — shrimp-filled ha gao, pan-fried chive dumplings — which are best paired with tangy hot-and-sour soup and soy sauce–lacquered beef chow fun for a very full spread.
No menu description can do justice to the contemporary Vietnamese artistry on display at this Inner Richmond hot spot. So go with your gut when ordering. Try the Shaking Filet of Beef Salad with its Oscars-like list of local farm ingredients, or the turmeric market fish brightened with dill, onions, and a fermented shrimp-pineapple sauce, served alongside rice noodles.
Two words: kebab party! Enjoy this Lower Pacific Heights haunt’s skewers on a platter brimming with crispy smashed potatoes, pickles, and the flavor bomb that is Brussels sprouts buried in pistachio, Urfa biber, mint, and preserved lemon. Or eat your fill of spicy chicken or grass-fed beef and lamb alongside mujadara (seasoned lentils and rice), charred onion, and sumac-sprinkled veggies.
Union Street’s plant-based darling makes the impossible possible with delicious vegan renditions of global classics. Marvel at the Mexican corn cakes enriched with coconut queso, the ensalada Andalusia topped with coconut bacon and black-ash cashew cheese, the orecchiette alla Pugliese crowned with coconut Parmesan, and the meatless satisfaction of “neatball” masala (the secret is in the grain, lentil, and walnut mix!).
You know what you’re here for: fat cuts of sustainably sourced USDA prime beef. At this Embarcadero restaurant, chef Parke Ulrich builds a decadent menu around succulent rib eye, tender filet, and tartare. Pair the goods with the house Caesar salad studded with croutons made with Acme bread and “Julia Child’s potatoes,” a burnished brick of thinly sliced potatoes and gooey Gruyère cheese.
Farmhouse Kitchen San Francisco
Behold, the Panang Neua: a slow-braised short rib drizzled in a bright-red panang-style curry and framed by grilled Broccolini and blue jasmine rice. Or the Basil Bomb, a melange of seafood, crispy pork belly, and minced pork finished with a fried egg and prik nam pla. For an extra-fancy touch, order the Tsunami Lobster, with prawns, scallops, and mussels in yellow curry.
A special-occasion destination for nearly 40 years, Nob Hill's white tablecloth steakhouse dry-ages and sears gorgeous hunks of Midwestern Angus beef fresh from their in-house butcher shop. Round out your meal with the classics: a crisp wedge salad crowned with a cascade of blue cheese dressing and the quintessential creamed spinach.
More than 30 years after it opened, there’s still a wait to get into this Burmese landmark in Richmond District. And there’s a reason: It’s unwaveringly delicious. Indulge in the legendary tea-leaf salad (and kits for future salads!), tangy breaded and fried sesame chicken, dry-fried string beans, creamy pumpkin pork stew, and more for a family-style feast for two — or 20.
Canela Bistro & Wine Bar
When you can’t fly to Spain for a congratulatory tapas crawl, just order in from this Spanish spot in Upper Market. It regularly imports ingredients from Europe to offer versions of the greatest hits: thick slices of Spanish tortilla de patata, crispy croquetas de jamón, aioli-topped patatas bravas, and lemony seared shrimp with garlic. Pro tip: Add a bottle of cava or sherry to get the party started.
The website for Clement Street’s long-loved French bistro explains that without an exclamation point, “chapeau” simply means “hat,” while with the punctuation it means “Wow!” Chef Philippe Gardelle conjures the wow factor with garlicky escargot, hearty cassoulet, and filet mignon with a velvety red wine–and-truffle sauce. If you want to put an exclamation point on date night, make sure you order their perfect crème brûlée.
Che Fico Alimentari
This NoPa restaurant isn’t just a salumeria and wine bar but also ground zero for all the makings of a luxurious night in. Plates are sizable and designed to be shared, so don’t hold back with your order. Go all in on the loaded chopped salad, juicy roasted half-chicken, textbook spinach lasagna, and irresistible tiramisu. They’re the perfect accompaniments to your special evening.
When the night calls for the best, call in the tea-leaf salad from this iconic Burmese restaurant in the Mission. Sunset magazine deemed the textural masterpiece of fermented tea leaves, nuts, beans, and garlic the “best of the West.” Round it out with traditional curries, luscious garlic noodles, flaky samusas, and chicken wings doused in sweet chili glaze. And if you feel like you’ve had Burma Love before, that may be because it’s the sister restaurant of Burma Superstar.
Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup
The expanding empire that is Daeho is founded on the irresistibility of kalbijjim, a braised short rib dish enjoyed by Korean royals and aristocrats during the Joseon dynasty and these days by many Koreans during the Lunar New Year. In other words: It’s special-occasion-worthy food. Gather a group to dig into tender slices of prime-grade beef swimming in a rich stew (and spiced to your liking) with your choice of toppings and sides: rice, noodles, and melty cheese(!).
Given the small dining room and no-reservations policy of this popular Hayes Valley stalwart, the easiest way to enjoy its ultra-fresh sushi is by ordering in. A robust menu of nigiri, maki, and sashimi — including vegetarian options — ensures that every craving is easily satisfied, and the special rolls (like the shrimp tempura–stuffed Red Dragon roll) are celebrations in themselves.
This perpetually packed Outer Richmond spot is a choose-your-own-adventure, courtesy of dim sum legend (and Koi Palace founder) Willy Ng and partner Jenny Huang. Will you start with a dim sum course of jumbo scallop shumai, finished with abalone and chicken sticky rice in lotus leaf? Or are you going straight for mains like ginger-scallion Dungeness crab, sautéed Chilean sea bass with black truffle sauce, or Peking duck with golden buns? There’s no wrong choice here.
Break out the candles and dim the lights: There’s romance in the from-scratch Mexican cooking of chef/owner Gonzalo Guzman. His love for his heritage and local, seasonal ingredients radiates through his Michelin Bib restaurant and even in the fundamentals, like the oh-my-god-delicious handmade corn tortillas, cabbage salad, and salsa cruda that accompany the pull-apart-tender carnitas.
One Market Restaurant
You may want to save your big night in for a Friday or Saturday, so you can get chef/owner Mark Dommen’s legendary prime rib. Imagine dipping slices of spit-roasted standing rib roast into savory jus and horseradish cream, then soaking up residual juices with airy popovers. Velvety mashed potatoes and creamed spinach are part of the epic dinner package from the Financial District restaurant.
PPQ Dungeness Island
Cracking and devouring whole roasted crab is the messy but fun business of this 20-year-old Vietnamese institution in Richmond District. A Set Dinner for two to 10 people is a full-blown banquet featuring buttery, garlicky whole crabs and an astounding array of sides (imperial rolls, chicken-laced cabbage salad, house garlic noodles). Not a crab fan? Go with their equally elaborate (and tasty) lobster dinner.
Palette Tea House
Charge your phone before ordering the inventive dim sum from the team behind the revered Koi Palace and Dragon Beaux. The universally applauded Ghirardelli Square restaurant’s modern take on Cantonese seafood and dumplings couldn’t be more Instagrammable. Fill up with a painter’s palette of vibrantly hued soup dumplings and Wagyu beef potstickers.
If anyone can turn a fried chicken dinner into a special occasion, it’s Food Network chef Tyler Florence. At his Financial District spot, the buttermilk-brined, double-battered, generously seasoned fried chicken pieces (Food & Wine crowned them America’s Best) are flaky-crisp and clucking flavorful. Team them up with burrata-whipped potatoes and a bottle of sparkling rosé.
Go big with high-roller Edomae-style sushi, courtesy of chef Jackson Yu. He flies in primo fish three times a week from top vendors at Tokyo’s Sakasyu fish market, and with his expert knife work and rice-making skills, transforms them into stunning nigiri boxes. Expect toro, Wagyu, caviar, and sushi nirvana.
Join the debate: Is the draw of this Chinatown destination the iconic battered and fried salt-and-pepper Dungeness crab or the slightly sweet, crazy-tender stir-fried R&G Special Beef? Nearly 40 years in, there’s still no consensus. Order both, with a side of fried rice, and see if anyone can pause eating to actually weigh in.
Nothing says “chic” like a table filled with Family Meal from Jackson Square’s premier modern Japanese restaurant. Your order may be a collection of crunchy spicy tuna rolls; fried chicken scribbled with chili aioli; buttery magnolia-leaf-wrapped, yuzu-miso-marinated black cod; butter-and-soy-brushed sweet corn; and steamed rice dotted with black sesame. Finish strong with the warm Valrhona chocolate cake alongside a caramel-almond ganache.
Bacon-pickle deviled eggs, a grilled rib eye, and crisp beef-fat fries equal a party, and SoMa’s swanky brasserie delivers all three — and then some. The menu from executive chef Jennifer Puccio (of ever-popular Leo's Oyster Bar and Marlowe) offers additional inspiration for your festivities. Partner thick, brown-butter-kissed seared salmon with garlicky Broccolini or go all in on a hunky herbed pork chop with maple-laced butternut squash. Don’t skip the sticky toffee bread pudding.
Meze platters are meant to be shared, but that won’t stop you from wanting to hoard the tangy muhammara, citrus-kissed baba ghanoush, and ultra-creamy hummus. At the Castro outpost, chef/owner Samir Mogannam conjures addictive Arabic flavors and textures. Add the Flintstones-size braised lamb shank over hand-rolled couscous and the head-turning whole fried branzino, and try your best to share.
Woodhouse Fish Co.
Lobster rolls! Clam chowder! Fish tacos! Seafood Louis! Fillmore Street’s bicoastal seafood house brings home the comforts of the Cape and the California shore, leaving the nautical setting to your own discretion. Don’t forget the fries, onion rings, and slaw.
Z & Y Restaurant
Some like it hot, and if that’s you and your crew, look no further than Chinatown’s Michelin Bib Gourmand–recognized Sichuan landmark. Topping the hit list is the aptly named Chicken with Explosive Chili Pepper, a hearty mound of bite-size fried chicken pieces buried in dried peppers. It’s fire in more ways than one. On the cooler side, frozen pork-and-cabbage dumplings and soup dumplings mean you can throw a milder party at your leisure.
What do you get when you combine uni, truffle, and salmon roe on a toasted sourdough square? The perfect start to a memorable night in (but also the Japanese Bruschetta). Given that this Mission District omakase destination is part of the local sushi monopoly known as the Mins Group (behind Sushi Ondo, Sushi Hon, and Sushi Hakko), there’s no limit to the quality seafood they fly in regularly from Japan, and their artful sensibility is on point with their sashimi and sushi tastings and chirashi bowls.
Whether you’re in Mission Dolores, Hayes Valley, or Little Saigon, you’re always in reach of incredible Thai food that will send eyes joyfully rolling into the backs of heads. Start with the pork belly, the pinnacle of salty, fatty, crispy, melty texture, then get the pad see ew and fried whole black bass with perky sweet chili sauce. Be sure to save room for a side of garlic frog because, just trust us.
If you don’t have an Italian grandmother to cook for you, this family of restaurants — with locations in Sunset, Russian Hill, and Outer Richmond — is your trusted stand-in. A meal as comforting as a sure-armed hug means wood-fired thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza; hearty Nonna’s Meatballs wading in tangy marinara; and housemade pastas like the rigatoncini al Bolognese and chitarra cacio e pepe. You might find yourself humming “That’s Amore” as you sop up all the sauces.
Izzy's Steaks & Chops San Francisco
Pull out that special bottle of red for an old-school steakhouse experience brought to you by this decades-old, family-owned Marina restaurant. You know the drill: Select your favorite cut, style (grilled, au poivre, or blackened), and temperature, then choose the requisite sides (hello, brown butter fries and creamed spinach!). Not feeling carnivorous? Izzy’s also offers lemony sole piccata and seared salmon with mango salsa.
Chef Jennifer Puccio’s burgers are built with party vibes in mind. Out of her New American bistro in SoMa, she mixes ground beef with lamb, cooks the patties to order, and crowns them with cheddar cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, and peppery horseradish aioli. Add in the golden-skinned poulet vert, a deconstructed herb-marinated half-chicken, and enough fries to go around. It’s a white-tablecloth-worthy meal.
This ever-crowded, decades-old Union Square dining den continues to deliver for big occasions, literally and figuratively. The menu traverses the familiar — edamame, classic nigiri, chicken teriyaki — and the unexpected: Do shrimp tempura and peanut butter go together? The popular Volcano Roll proves heck, yes! The thread that ties these adventurous dishes is prime ingredients: fresh, organic produce and natural premium meats. And did we mention you can order sake?
Photo credit: Che Fico Alimentari by Audrey Kuhn