San Francisco was always known for sourdough bread, clam chowder and of course Ghiradelli chocolate! These days it is one of the hottest food destinations in the world, championing new trends and trialling new concepts.
There are fun restaurants in San Francisco, cool restaurants in San Francisco, fine dining restaurant options in the Bay Area, dim sum, ice cream and so many other exciting options that make for unique dining experiences.
I have decided to take a broad definition of the word restaurant and to include a mix of kitsch and cutting edge – I do love a silly eating experience as much as a fancy one. Here is my guide to the Unique Restaurants in San Francisco you must visit – from the classics to the latest!
1. Unique Restaurants in San Francisco – The Meatball Bar
The Meatball Bar formalizes meatball consumption – which means table service for a unique dining experience! It’s all about handmade meatball extravaganzas from lamb to chicken to vegetarian (eggplant and zucchini) and sauces from truffle fondue to Korean.
The Meatball Bar has a very relaxed air. I went for happy hour. During this time there are beer/wine and meatball deals on offer. I ordered the three meatballs and wine option and was able to try three different meatballs – the Italian classic, turkey and lamb – plus some of their delicious tomato sauce. This is one of the best value quirky restaurants San Francisco has on offer!
The first Meatball Bar opened in the Financial District in May 2017 and a new branch opens in Hayes Valley in February 2018.
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2. Unique Restaurants San Francisco – The Progress
The Progress was one of my favourite meals last year! This lovely relaxed restaurant and dining room is located on Fillmore Street and specializes in doing innovative things with local ingredients.
The menu at The Progress changes regularly and is designed to be shared – with lovely wines! The night I went we enjoyed everything from dumplings to filet mignon. This has to be one of the best places to eat in San Francisco.
3. Unique Places to Eat in San Francisco – August 1 Five
An Indian restaurant is not particularly unique. However, Indian brunch is new to me! The menu at August 1 Five features coconut and date pancakes, French toast with cardamom and cinnamon and chicken and waffles.
4. Unique SF Restaurants – Mezcalito
Mezcalito bar and restaurant themed around mezcal with mezcal-focused cocktails plus pork belly benedict with corn hollandaise, gouda burgers, taco Tuesday and a generally Mexican themed menu.
5. Fun Restaurants in San Francisco – Manufactory Food Hall (San Francisco International Airport, Boarding Area A)
When have you read about a great restaurant recommendation that is at an airport? Exactly! Well, four of San Francisco’s favourite chefs Pim Techamuanvivit of Kin Khao, Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of Tartine, and Gabriela Cámara of Cala—have joined forces to change that!
On offer will be tacos and breakfast Tortas, great Thai and morning buns and seasonal tarts from Tartine’s. All at the Manufactory Food Hall – Boarding Area A at the International Airpot.
6. San Francisco Unique Restaurants – Eight Tables by George Chen
This new opening in Chinatown is based on Si Fang Cai or private chateau cuisine of the Chinese elite. That means a 10-course tasting menu that starts after you cross a gold-threaded welcome mat into a private elevator and are whisked up to your own private club! Eight Tables by George Chen is one of the top restaurants in San Francisco.
7. Unique San Francisco Restaurants – Dumpling Time
For one of the most fun places to eat in San Francisco head to Dumpling Time. You can watch cooks prefer the dumplings in front of you. Make sure you order the King-Dum – the largest soup dumpling you have seen in some time that comes with a straw.
Noodle ingredients at Dumpling Time San Francisco included everything from roasted pork belly to peanut butter. There are also noodles on offer if you are a complete freak and don’t like dumplings (does anyone not like dumplings??). These dumplings are a must-eat in San Francisco. This is one of the most fun San Francisco restaurants.
8. Unique Restaurants in SF – Foreign Cinema
Foreign Cinema combines amazing locally sourced food with classic films. This restaurant is very much known for its food – particularly its fried chicken. They have an art gallery and a VIP lounge. Foreign Cinema is one of the more unique dining experiences San Francisco.
9. Interesting Restaurants in San Francisco – Urban Putt
Who hasn’t wanted a fantastic dining experience pre or post-playing mini-golf? And wouldn’t it be better if you could play mini-golf to say 11 pm or midnight indoor? Well, Urban Putt heard about these desires and combined food and mini-golf.
Urban Putt San Francisco has two restaurants – one for bites and one for some great California eating that goes far beyond the usual putt putt kiosk. And have a drink at the Copper Bar first featuring many exciting craft brews. All of this makes for one of the great unique dining experience bay area options.d
11. Interesting Restaurants San Francisco – Farallon Restaurant
Farallon Restaurant specialises in seafood. It has been one of the best restaurants in the bay area with an extensive raw bar for over 20 years. In addition to providing fantastic seafood cooked and raw, the Farallon Restaurant is also known for its Jellyfish Bar.
This bar has been themed to make you feel like, well, you are under the sea. Most fabulous are the Jellyfish chandeliers – closely followed by the octopus stools. One of the best atmosphere restaurants San Francisco options.
12. Unique Dining San Francisco – Straw
From under the sea to the carnival! Straw has a carnival theme and even has a tilt and whirl booth. Like many of the other “themed” restaurants in this article, Straw is also known for its food – particularly its doughnut hamburger and fried chicken waffle.
Not for those looking for a lower calorie eating experience! But perfect for those seeking San Francisco restaurants fun atmosphere options.
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13. Funnest Restaurants San Francisco – The Tonga room
If you’re looking for the most fun restaurants in San Francisco head no further! I loved The Tonga Room! This classic San Francisco restaurant is located in the beautiful Fairmont Hotel in the heart of San Francisco. One of the things which makes this one of the most unique restaurants San Francisco has on offer is that it has a 75-metre swimming pool in the middle of the restaurant!
The swimming pool at the Tonga Room San Francisco also has a little boat in it that appears to be for a DJ. Best of all it actually rains inside the restaurant over the pool! I have never seen anything like this in a restaurant before!
There is a great bar as well as a restaurant which has its tables clustered around the pool. The theme is Asian fusion with a bit of Tahiti and Hawaii. I enjoyed some fantastic ahi poke tuna tacos.
The Tonga Room is one of those restaurants that has a sense of an occasion about it. It has a fantastic fun and upbeat atmosphere that is detectable from the moment you walk in. Put the Tonga Room high on your list for fun San Francisco restaurant options!
13. Most Unique Restaurants in San Francisco – Asia SF
If you are looking for fun places to eat in San Francisco look no further! The Asia SF restaurant is fully staffed by fabulous transgender ladies. Not only do these lovely ladies serve you food and drinks they also perform hourly on the Red Dragon Runway Bar!
Dinner shows happen nightly and the food has a good reputation. When it comes to candidates for best dining experience in San Francisco Asia SF fits the bill!
14. Unusual Restaurants in San Francisco – Burma Superstar
I visited Myanmar/Burma a few years ago and fell in love with the food. I became particularly obsessed with their salads. The dressings feature a unique mix of sour and sweet flavours that take a tomato and particularly aubergine salads to a whole new level. However, there are very few good Burmese restaurants around – they tend to be more casual.
I had to include Burma Superstar in this article as I know this is difficult to find cuisine! The menu is classic Burmese and best sampled shared.
15. Unique Dining Experience San Francisco – Forage SF
Forage SF is both a restaurant, Wild Kitchen, and an experience. You can choose to do one of their amazing food-foraging classes and get involved in farm to table first hand – from urban sea foraging to wild food walks. If you are too hungry to forage yourself Wild Kitchen is a roving underground supper club that brings 100 diners together for an 8-course meal.
16. Unique Restaurant San Franciso – Eno Wine Bar
This super cute little wine Bar was virtually next door to the Hotel G, my boutique hotel of choice on my last visit to San Francisco. Eno Wine Bar features an extensive menu of wine flights. I love wine flights! From Mission Impossible (featuring the mission grape) to Faux Bordeaux it is going to be a big night when you hit Eno Wine Bar San Francisco.
They also serve wine, cheese and chocolate from local providers that constantly varies based on what is in season – which just allowed me to classify this as a restaurant as you can have the equivalent of a meal here! It’s not one of the best restaurants in San Francisco but it is a great place for drinks and snacks!
17. Unique Places to Eat San Francisco – The Ferry Building
I have saved the best to last! I completely fell in love with the Ferry Building on my last visit to San Francisco. It is artisanal food heaven – if that is such a thing! Multiple foods and wine providers are in one place – from stalls to full-on restaurants.
There is a fantastic outdoor seating area as well. I went on a San Francisco food tour that covered the Ferry Building and then went back again the next day!
Everywhere here is good – from the amazing Acme bread (favourite of local restaurants) to Blue Bottle Coffee (you’ll know when you have found it from the queue). Frog Hollow Farm has fantastic local produce and does a great brunch. Fantastic Vietnamese is on offer at The Slanted Door – and I love the name of its takeaway area – Out the Door!
The Ferry Building is home to some of the most interesting restaurants in San Francisco and quirky new food concepts. On my most recent visit, I was delighted to discover Humphrey Slocombe ice cream. This ice cream stall was named after two characters from the classic British comedy Are You Being Served.
Their speciality is unique flavours. I enjoyed some very delicious Vietnamese coffee ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe. This was probably the least adventurous flavour on offer that day – I did try the pumpkin but it didn’t quite work for me. There are then a variety of toppings available. I tried the bourbon caramel which was full-on – and hardened on top of my ice cream for some textural contrast.
Humphrey Slocombe also sells its products in tubs so you can take some back to your hotel – of course, you will have to eat it all to ensure that it doesn’t melt!
When it comes to where to eat in San Francisco, The Ferry Building is at the top of my list!
The other highlight for me at The Ferry Building is the Cowgirl Creamery. Firstly – great name! Secondly wow cheese heaven!!! Then there is the menu – cheese toasties, grilled cheese of the day, Macaroni & Cheese – really it covers every cheese base! Cowgirl Creamery cheese is a must eat in San Francisco.
There are so many amazing, unique and cool restaurants in San Francisco. It has become such a foodie city! I think it is almost impossible to nominate the best dinner in San Francisco or even the best restaurants in the Bay Area – there are too many options! I would love to hear about your San Francisco eating experiences – please do email and let me know!
For all of the above, it is always a good idea to book before you go. I use Open Table. Their website also has some good maps and directions. Also, check out websites like Eater San Francisco and Time Out before you go to find out the latest openings.
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2 Fantastic San Francisco Boutique Hotels
Hotel G is a stylish boutique hotel with an amazing location only one block from Union Square. The rooms have a chic Scandinavian feel with lots of plump white duvets and sheets and darker oak. Great value and style.
For amazing views and a bit military history check out The Inn at the Presidio. This is particularly good for runners and outdoor enthusiasts as it is located in the large park area that is the Presidio. The stylish design mixes with military memorabilia. My room was lovely with a very comfortable bed and a fantastic shower. And don’t miss the big European breakfast!
For a complete rundown from a local check out this fantastic post on Where to Stay in San Francisco.
If you would like to be as close as possible to the famous Golden Gate Bridge then Cavallo Point may be for you. This also has a military background – it was former military quarters. It is located in the charming area of Sausalito which is literally just over the bridge from San Francisco.
For those of you who are into high tech and hip, Hotel Zetta could be a great choice. The hotel is super close to shopping district Union Square and has one of the hottest restaurants in town inside. You can also bring your dog!
Getting to San Francisco
There are some fantastic drives around San Francisco – from head south down to LA to drive around the Napa Valley.
Tours Around San Francisco
Whatever you do make sure you book Alcatraz before you leave home. If possible book it quite sometime before you leave home – particularly if you are heading over in the North American summer. If it is booked out there are some extra tickets on the day but they go fast.
There are so many options for tours in San Francisco! From boat cruises to food tours to helicopter trips as well as day trips to the Napa Valley, Yosemite and so much more.
Other things you might like to read
If you’re feeling foodie check out some of my other food-related posts from around the world:
⇒Top 10 Restaurants and Cafes in Medellin Colombia
⇒Maltby Street and Druid Street Markets in London
⇒The 6 best brunches in Melbourne Australia
⇒The hottest new eating out district in Sydney Barangaroo
For some other great foodie cities in the United States:
Check out the Top 10 Instagrammable Places in Baltimore
Who Paid for What in this Post
I paid all the costs associated with this post – from restaurant meals to flights to the hotels.
This post does contain affiliate links. This means that if you click on them and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. Just wanted to make sure that you were aware of this.
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Also published on Medium.