San Francisco

Everything You Need to Know About Outdoor Dining in SF

It's finally back.

Courtesy of Izzy's
Courtesy of Izzy’s
Courtesy of Izzy’s

San Francisco got some amazing news this week. After a month and a half of being relegated to take out and delivery, we can finally go to restaurants again. Of course, it’s outdoor dining only. And the tables have to be six feet apart. And you’ll need to wear a mask when you’re not eating or drinking, but still-doesn’t it feel fantastic to have even a little more freedom? We sure think so, and we think that freedom tastes even better when it comes in the form of heated patios and beer gardens and dishes that are prepared by professionals and served straight from the kitchen on a (gasp!) plate instead of after 30 minutes of rolling around in a box in the back of someone’s car. This list has just a few of our favorite spots for outdoor dining in the city and covers everything from pizza to prime rib and sushi to sandwiches. (Please be sure to double check hours because though dining is permitted as of Thursday, January 28, it is going to take some restaurants a little more time to ramp up and reopen.)

Da Flora

North Beach
This beloved North Beach Italian restaurant, helmed by husband-and-wife team Jen McMahon and Darren Lacey, has a parklet with a covered roof and heat lamps for dinner service Wednesday through Saturday. The dinner menu with seasonal dishes like pesce en brodo with Dungeness crab, jumbo prawns, PEI mussels, and ling cod is available from 5 to 8 pm. Call 415-981-4664 for more information or to make a reservation.
 

All Good Pizza

Bayview
All Good Pizza’s expansive (7,000 feet) outdoor beer garden is a great spot for a socially distanced pizza feast. They’re currently open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:30 am to 5 pm for  Neapolitan-style brick oven pizzas, organic salads, paninis grilled on fresh baked local bread, and beer and wine. And since Bayview is one of SF’s sunniest neighborhoods, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to dine jacket-free.

Violet’s

Outer Richmond
This cozy neighborhood bar, beloved for their on-point cocktails and bacon cheeseburger, is open for sidewalk dinner and drinks every evening from 4:30 to 8:45 pm with last call at 9:30 pm. Reserve your spot on OpenTable or by calling 415-682-4861; they have limited space for walk-ins, too.

4505 Burgers & BBQ
4505 Burgers & BBQ
4505 Burgers & BBQ

4505 Burgers & BBQ

Western Addition
4505’s Divisadero patio, long a go-to for warm days and barbecue cravings, is open daily from 10:30 am to 9 pm. The counter service model remains, and while diners are required to maintain six feet of distance while waiting to order, you can also order online for pick-up ahead of time. Bonus: They now have pitchers of beer available for dine-in, too.
 

Prubechu

Mission
Prubechu, a destination for Guamanian food and flavors, is open for outdoor patio dining in a plant-bedecked lot adjacent to the Mission Street restaurant. Satiate your cravings for Chamorro flavors, including Guam-style barbecue, empanadas, local beer, natural wine, and more, Wednesday through Saturday from 12 pm to 8 pm and Sunday from 12 pm to 6 pm.

Sunset Reservoir Brewing Company

Outer Sunset
Sunset Reservoir, usually a neighborhood go-to for beers, burgers, and trivia, might be best known for its sister company, Devil’s Teeth Baking Company, purveyor of one of San Francisco’s most justifiably famous breakfast sandwiches. Those are on offer, along with a limited dinner menu of snacks, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and tacos, and can now be enjoyed alongside a cold one or three at one of their first come, first serve outdoor tables on Noriega Street. They’re open every day from 3 pm to 9 pm (10 pm on Friday and Saturday), plus additional brunch hours on weekends from 10 am to 2 pm.
 

Red’s Java House

Embarcadero
The patio at Red’s is as essential to summer in San Francisco as Giants baseball, and an unbeatable place for a pre- or post-game beer (and a giant pile of fries, naturally). We might not be watching baseball in person this year (or at least not during the spring), but Red’s is open for business. The patio, jutting over the water in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, is open from 7 am to 6 pm, and is as fine a place as ever for a cold one and one of the most affordable burgers (served on sourdough) in town.
 

Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store

North Beach
Mario’s, a legendary all-day cafe and a go-to for in-the-know North Beach regulars, has been holding court on the corner of Columbus and Union since 1971. Now, you can grab a seat at one of their sidewalk tables for a cappuccino, pitchers of cold beer, and most importantly, their unbeatable, oven-baked focaccia sandwiches, made on green-onion flecked slabs of olive oil-rich glory from Liguria Bakery, located right across Washington Square Park. Mario’s is open from 11:30 am to 7 pm.

The Vault Garden
The Vault Garden
The Vault Garden

The Vault Garden

Financial District
Opening a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic is no small feat; opening a restaurant concept specifically designed to fit our pandemic moment is an exercise of true agility. Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group, the team behind Trestle and Corridor, did just that with The Vault Garden, a 100-seat, fully outdoor restaurant. In addition to a roster of built-in safety protocols, there’s an all-day food menu from chef Robin Song, along with wine, beer, and cocktails, as well as all kinds of special events, including caviar dinners, drag show brunches, wine dinners, and more. Reservations are available, and recommended, though 30 percent of tables will be held for walk-ins. The Vault Garden is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 8:30 pm.
 

Zeitgeist

Mission
The iconic SF beer garden is open for food and drinks and toned-down debauchery. The space looks a little different than before-the picnic tables have been divided by plexiglass into “booths”-but the vibe is mostly the same and so is the grub: bugers, grilled cheese, etc., and the drinks: 20+ beers on tap, mixed drinks, and the famous Bloody Mary. 

Courtesy of Izzy's Steaks
Courtesy of Izzy’s Steaks
Courtesy of Izzy’s Steaks

Izzy’s Steaks

Marina
Izzy’s new covered and heater patio, complete with foliage and twinkle lights, was the place to be seen before outdoor dining came to a halt, but even if you don’t care about that stuff, it’s also a great place for a satisfying steak dinner and local seafood. 
 

Pacific Catch

Inner Sunset
Pacific Catch’s Inner Sunset location has one of the biggest outdoor dining situations in SF with both sidewalk seating and a “Tiki Terrace,” both excellent spots to enjoy coconut shrimp, a poke bowl, and lots of delicious cocktails. It’s open for all of that Sunday through Thursday from 11 am to 8 pm and Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm.

Courtesy of Palette Tea House
Courtesy of Palette Tea House
Courtesy of Palette Tea House

Del Popolo

Union Square
Neapolitan pizza is one of those things that needs to be eaten straight out of the (wood-fired) oven. Del Popolo, which does arguably the best Neapolitan pies in the city, does have flash-frozen pies you can heat up at home, but even though they’re tasty, it all still tastes better when enjoyed on the restaurant’s pop-up rooftop patio.
 

Palette Tea House

Ghirardelli Square
Indulge in delicious pork siu mai and steamed pork buns and garlic butter crab at this dim sum palace with a spacious patio that comes with Bay Views. If you manage to leave enough room, you can grab a sundae from the namesake ice cream and chocolate shop before you go home. Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.

Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelance writer who is taking advantage of these strange times by exploring San Francisco on foot. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see where she goes next

Lauren Sloss is a contributor for Thrillist. 

San Francisco

Where to Eat in SF's Chinatown, According to Local Experts

Just in time for Lunar New Year.

Photo by Brian John Godfrey
Photo by Brian John Godfrey

Last February, when there were only a handful of COVID cases in the United States, throngs of people stopped going to San Francisco’s Chinatown out of an unfounded fear that the neighborhood was more likely to have people with the virus. Business for bars and restaurants almost immediately dropped 50 to 70%. Unfortunately, despite our Chinatown being the oldest in North America and an important part of Chinese culture in the city since it was established in 1848, the tourists stopped going there. And then so did locals outside of the neighborhood. And soon, the bars and restaurants were mostly empty and the owners uncertain of how they could survive.

Joceyln Tsaih, an artist who made her way to Oakland by way of Taiwan and Shanghai, saw what was happening to SF’s Chinatown and other Chinatowns in the Bay Area and decided she needed to do something about it. In March of 2020, she created Save Our Chinatowns, an initiative to support Chinatown communities in the Bay Area through art, conversation, and shared love of food.

Courtesy of Joceyln Tsaih Instagram
Courtesy of Joceyln Tsaih Instagram

“I created it as a direct response to the COVID-related racism that was impacting Chinatown businesses in a negative way. I wanted to use my platform as an artist to create a way for people to support them.” Save Our Chinatowns originally launched as a GoFundMe fundraiser (eventually raising over $40,000), and soon, a few more women joined Tsaih’s grassroots efforts to create art and culture-focused initiatives to benefit their beloved Chinatowns.

Because here’s the thing. While Tsaih and the rest of her team believe San Francisco’s Chinatown is an important part of the city’s cultural makeup, it’s more than just that. It’s also personal. “I’m not originally from the Bay Area,” Tsaih explains. “I grew up in Shanghai, China, so Chinatowns across the US have served as a slice of home from me. Being in a Chinatown environment makes me feel immediately like I’m closer to home even though my family is in Shanghai and Taiwan and I’m very far from them.”

“I feel like in Chinese culture and in Chinatown, everything is largely centered around food. That is a big part of how we come together as families and the community and I want people to experience that,” she adds. Not sure where to start? Tsaih recommends the famous Dragon Gate. “That area has been kind of tailored to tourists. It’s very flashy and fun and an eye-opening way to start your journey.” (And it makes for a great Instagram photo as well.)

Want to know where to go from there? We asked the women behind Save Our Chinatowns about their favorite spots and what makes them their go-tos. After all, who better to get recommendations from than people who are using their free time to help save the neighborhood? Here are their picks:

Photo by Christine Calara
Photo by Christine Calara
Photo by Christine Calara

Kam Po Kitchen

“Kam Po Kitchen is an old-school Hong Kong style eatery that I adore. The staff has a no-nonsense attitude and service ethos that is actually kind of endearing and somehow comforting. It’s a spot that is beloved by locals as well. The roast duck over rice is my personal go-to, but everything I’ve had there has been delicious. As an added bonus, the portion sizes are huge!” Maya Kulkarni, a Berkeley-based artist and designer who is “very inspired by how food can shape identity.”
How to order: Call 415-982-3516.

Photo by Telstar Logistics
Photo by Telstar Logistics
Photo by Telstar Logistics

Sam Wo

“Sam Wo is a classic SF staple since it opened in 1907. Its casual, no-frills community has always been my favorite to go to late at night when the lines weren’t stupid long. Nothing beats ending your night out more than orders of BBQ pork rice noodle rolls and waiters forgetting to give you water after asking multiple times. Feels familiar and like home.” – Linh-Yen Hoang, a Vietnamese-American artist and designer whose work is “informed by her identity and experiences, both ordinary and nuanced.”
How to order: Use UberEats for delivery.

Lucky Creation 

“Lucky Creation is paradise for vegans. Everything is plant based and affordable, with a wide range of fake meats. The seasoning is subtle but complex, as opposed to in-your-face flavors of more tourist-oriented spots. You can’t go wrong ordering anything with bean curd.” Megumi Tanaka, an interdisciplinary designer, artist, developer, and expert on obscure information.
How to order: Call 415-989-0818.

Photo by Gary Soup
Photo by Gary Soup
Photo by Gary Soup

R&G Lounge

“When I think of R&G Lounge, I think of sitting at the round tables with family for special occasions. I also think of their signature salt and pepper crab and other Cantonese banquet style dishes. It’s a whole experience we’ve certainly taken for granted in the past.” Daphne Wu, an Oakland-based freelance web designer who is passionate about community building through food, drinks, and storytelling.
How to order: Use Caviar for delivery.

Lai Hong Lounge

“You can’t go wrong with Lai Hong Lounge if you’re looking for dim sum. All my favorite dim sum dishes are great here and even their egg tarts are the classic dim sum ones that can be hard to find nowadays! If you’re feeling fun you should order the custard buns because they come in the shape of little pigs.” – Jocelyn Tsaih
How to order: Use GrubHubPostmates, or UberEats for delivery.

Photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
Photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
Photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

Golden Gate Bakery and Dragon Papa

“I’m obsessed with egg tarts, so when I’m in Chinatown, I always try to see if Golden Gate Bakery is open (their hours are very unpredictable), and if not, sometimes I’ll get a snack called Dragon Beard Candy. It kind of looks like floss, which is why they named it Dragon Beard, but it’s a sweet pastry. I like getting a box of that candy from there.” Jocelyn Tsaih, an Oakland artist by way of Taiwan and Shanghai, interested in utilizing art as a tool to amplify voices, raise awareness, and give back to communities. Her work is a reflection on human connection and identity.
How to order: Golden Gate Bakery is temporarily closed. Call 415-539-7728 for Dragon Papa.

Want to help save the Bay Area’s local Chinatowns? There’s a list of things you can do on the Save Our Chinatowns homepage, and right now, you can donate money and get a digital copy of their limited-edition zine for the Lunar New Year, titled “Have You Eaten Yet?” that includes recipes from Oakland Chinatown businesses.

Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer who was lucky enough to grow up going to the famous Chinese New Year Parade most years. She’ll miss it this year. Gung hay fat choy! 

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