San Francisco is overrun with spots, and while some are insanely popular, others are tucked away in plain sight and are local favorites which are often not talked about in fear of being taken over by tourists. This blog post lists some of my favorite, tried and tested San Francisco brunch spots that you must not miss and includes everything from local favorites to fancy feasts. Here, in no particular order are these places to get your Sunday brunch fix. Read my other posts on budget dining in San Francisco, SF brunch spots with a difference and my top 6 San Francisco cafes for more food inspirations in the city.
San Francisco brunch spot # 1. Zazie
The buck for San Francisco brunch stops at Zazie, a tiny French bistro in Cole Valley that is possibly the most famous brunch spot in San Francisco as testified by the long lines and crowds of patient brunch-goers waiting on the sidewalks to get a seat for their out of the world buttermilk ricotta and buckwheat pancakes, and all this because Zazie does not accept brunch reservations. You need to put your name down on that notorious brunch list to sit inside or the indoor garden, but the best way to break the Zazie’s code is to either arrive on a weekday for breakfast or just grab a seat outside in the small outdoor patio, where it is strictly first come, first help yourself. They also have Monday nights on their patio open to dining with dogs, how cool is that?
The food is delicious, to say the least and the portions are just right, with choices for the number of pancakes that can be ordered. The best part is that the restaurant provides fair wages to employees, with full healthcare benefits and matching 401k; thus tipping is discouraged. In other words, Zazie’s is one place where dining is a socially responsible act! Another reason why Zazie wins brownie points in a dog lover’s books is because it has dog friendly dining on Monday nights where your fur kids are allowed in the indoor garden area. The menu has several vegetarian and vegan options.
San Francisco brunch spot # 2. Chow
If you find yourself with an empty belly on a Sunday morning, head over to the neighborhood favorite, Chow in at the Church & Market neighborhood known for its relaxed, quintessential San Franciscan vibe, great food (lots of meat free options) and an amazing outdoor patio, that is a rarity in the city.
Chow does not accept reservations, but this place is huge and so even on a busy weekend, you will be seated promptly! Food is local, sustainable and seasonal cuisine, aka, Californian-American, so think of light pastas with an Asian flair, pizza, soups and sandwiches. They have an impressive collection of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic and lots of meat free options for vegetarian/vegan friends. Their garden pasta (comes either as an entree or smaller portion size) is my absolute favorite! Service is prompt and friendly and the overall ambiance is very relaxed and inviting. Do check this place out if you are in town! Prior to writing this post, I had no idea that they have several other locations in the Bay Area since we always go the one on Church street, but the website gives you the lowdown on their other establishments.
San Francisco brunch spot # 3. Park Tavern
From the trendy Church & Market to the hustle and bustle of North Beach, the next hotspot for brunch is Park Tavern, the sister restaurant to Marlow (in SOMA) and Cavalier (Downtown). Park Tavern is right across another insanely popular brunch spot Mama’s to which tourists make a beeline for, and is next to Washington Square Park, the spot of green for North Beach folks. Park Tavern has an outdoor patio, but you will encounter a swelling crowd on the weekend. So it is best to make a reservation beforehand.
The brunch menu at Park Tavern is short, sweet and uncomplicated with small plates, drinks and of course larger entree sizes. Most dishes are egg based (as is customary for brunch) so this might not fare well with vegans or vegetarians who do not eat eggs. We settled for polenta with poached eggs and shrimp &grits, and although the food was divine, I felt the shrimp was a tad too salty. I washed down my food with some peach bellini and we had the healthier berries and coconut cream for dessert. As much as I liked Park Tavern, I still prefer it’s sister restaurant Cavalier (see below) for a more relaxed ambiance and the variety in food (it is British inspired). North Beach has lots of dining options, but if you are in a mood for brunching with friends, Park Tavern is a very good option.
San Francisco brunch spot # 4. Cavalier
Cavalier, the British themed restaurant nested inside Hotel Zetta, in downtown SF and is my go to San Francisco brunch spot. Reservations are accepted for both brunch and dinner and so we duly made ours for the former and showed up (we were glad to have done that since it got crowded pretty quickly). And, boy some upscale it was! Plush red leathered seating contrasting with dark, gleaming, sturdy wooden chairs, metallic accents (the horse being one of the notable ones, a deft nod to its namesake hotel), very British photo collages on the wall, a beautiful bookcase at the very end with a plush Mr. Fox perched on one if its shelves, ample lighting and sun streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows-the place was oozing with traditional British meets modern SF sensibilities.
Our host seated us after a brief wait and our extremely friendly server got us the menus. The offering was surprisingly very eclectic, ranging from traditional British like Earl Grey and honey scones with clotted cream (I read it and died briefly out of sheer ecstasy of imagining that creation in my mouth) , English sandwich to Shakshuka and Avocado Tartine. We started off with the scone (I had to get it) and got the Shakshuka and Sandwich with a ginger-carrot juice on the side. The food was CRAZY good and service prompt and attentive. The scones were lightly sprinkled with sugar (reminds one very much of the Indian biscuits served with tea) and the elderflower jelly and clotted cream were like music to the tongue. The Shakshuka was spicy and thankfully not too eggy and the gob of yoghurt was just what was needed to cool your tongue from the spice. S made a couple of clicks with his tongue while devouring on his sandwich, which means it was great (the accompanying potatoes were awesome!). Overall, a San Francisco brunch good enough to make me forget that Monday was near. A must visit if you are ever in San Francisco and want to indulge yourself in some Californian American fare laced with British flair!
San Francisco brunch spot # 5. Trou Normand
Trou Normand is relatively new to the San Francisco brunch scene and also serves lunch and dinner on weekdays. Thad Vogler, the owner of Hayes Valley’s beloved Bar Agricole (which closed down recently and is now occupied by Dominic Crenn’s famed Petit Crenn) is in charge of all the spirits and poisons here. Given the name, which comes from the North of France tradition of drinking a small glass of brandy in-between meals to cleanse the palate, Trou Normand definitely has a very impressive alcoholic beverage list plus some non-alcoholic drinks. Thad’s farm based spirit program at Bar Agricole got him nominated to the famed James Beard list three times in the past for best Bar program, so this is definitely one of the “it” places in the city to grab a drink. Executive Chef Salvatore Cracco (formerly at Bar Agricole) is in charge of the kitchen and charcuterie, the latter because of the fact that the meals are meat centric with an entire menu section devoted to Salumi (cured meat).
What catches your eye as you make your way into the restaurant via the tiny entry way in the fashionable art-deco building where its located (opposite the other popular restaurant Mourad), is the mural on the wall above the bar which is a simple, yet super impactful ink sketch of a lady in half repose. The decor is stylish and the white walls and french windows allow plenty of light to flood in. The booths are plush and the bar seating stools are stylish and comfy. As mentioned before, the food is pretty meat heavy and there are only a few vegetarian options (sides and one entree) which come with eggs. So although great for carnivores, vegetarians may not be too thrilled by it. Also, portion size is just about decent, and so a side or two is a good idea. We got the scrambled eggs and braised pork along with a buttermilk biscuit with honeyed butter. The dishes were delicious, but I have to issue fair warning that everything came drenched in butter/olive oil. I had a house lemonade to drink but the beverage list is extensive, with lots of boozy drinks. Final verdict: great food and ambiance, but for the price ($$$), portion size and the fact that the menu was not balanced out too well with enough vegetarian options, it does not bode well for frequent visits. For meat lovers and purveyors of good food and drinks, this place should be on your list, specially for a late evening drink.
San Francisco brunch spot # 6. Bodega
Bodega which is a tiny little bistro serving small plates and drinks is one of the new entrants to the San Francisco brunch scene in the busting neighborhood of North Beach/Little Italy.
Not to be confused with the “other” Bodega, Vietnamese bistro in the Tenderloin district, this North Beach newbie has a relaxed ambiance in a tiny little space which was pretty full with patrons looking for a relaxed brunch over mimosas and sangrias. We managed to get a seat at the communal table and got our orders of ricotta toast with saffron honey and fruits, sweet potato taco, street corn with crema and a hibiscus agua fresca placed. Although the service is very friendly, it is kind of slow since there are only three people manning the kitchen, out of which two doubled up as servers as well. So you really need to come prepared for a winding and relaxed brunch time without any particular hurry to go anywhere. Food, true to as being advertised, was small plates but everything that we ordered was very good to pretty tasty. The sweet potato taco was literally a baked sweet potato with veggie filings inside. The ricotta toast, lathered with honey, was just the right amount of sweet. The corn was crunchy and buttery to taste. 5-6 dishes are recommended for a hearty brunch since they are all on the smaller side. The menu has several vegetarian options, but due to the presence of cheese in almost everything but the avocado toast it might not be too vegan friendly. I recommend this place more for small bites and drinks rather than a full fledged meal.
San Francisco brunch spot # 7. Foreign Cinema
The trendy and unique Foreign Cinema is in the heart of the Mission district on the very busy Mission street. Foreign Cinema has a beautiful patio where guests can enjoy Al fresco dining under the warmth of heaters and enjoy a movie in the evening shown on the giant projector (hence the name). The interior is spacious with large windows and glass ceiling to let the sunshine stream in. The food is a mix of Californian -American with south of the border influences and the portion size is adequate for each person. Plus point-they accept brunch reservations. Owing the egg heavy brunch, vegan options are very few but there are more choices for meatless dishes. They showcase some famous guest chefs from time to time (who rarely cook publicly) and so watch out for their special announcements!
San Francisco brunch spot # 8. Buttermilk Southern Kitchen
In recent years San Francisco has seen many a joints spring up that serve creole/Cajun and southern food and Buttermilk Southern Kitchen is one of the newest entrants adding some southern spice to San Francisco brunch scene. A super popular brunch place, it whips up southern comforts like chicken and waffles, veggie hash (can be made vegan minus the egg), grits with shrimp and of course, gravy laden biscuits. We started off with some sweet tea followed by our grits and hash and boy, were they finger licking, greasy good! Even with the place being abuzz with hungry brunchers, service was pretty good and efficient. I highly recommend calling ahead and making a reservation even for brunch since there is a long line of famished folks in front of the restaurant. Add to it the fact that San Franciscans take their brunching too seriously, and you might be waiting for quite sometime to get that table. If you are in the mood for greasy, comfort food or just want to slip into a southern state of mind, Buttermilk is definitely an option worth checking out!
San Francisco brunch spot # 9. Huxley
Huxley, described as a “25 seat charmer” by SF eater (read more about it here) is one of the newest entrants to prized gem in the San Francisco brunch scene and must be applauded for choosing the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood as its home. The Team behind the restaurant have had impressive stints at other famous SF restaurants to their credit and that amply reflects in the offerings from their kitchen. It is a pint sized restaurant and reservations are highly recommended (for dinner and weekend brunch). The cuisine is again Californian American (i.e. sustainable practice of cooking with local ingredients with a hint of Asian/Italian/French influences). For brunch, we had their rice with vegetable bowl, egg scramble, little gem salad and yogurt parfait, all of which were delicious. Portion sizes were small to moderate, as is the norm in all other San Franciscan restaurants, which is another sign of dining done right (i.e. you do not want to crawl on the floor after your meal). Finally, the ingredients came to together wonderfully to deliver on flavor, texture and taste. The servers were friendly, attentive and extremely kind to let me shove my annoying camera everywhere for photos. The interior decoration was minimalist industrial chic with wooden and metal accents with very comfortable seating.
San Francisco brunch spot # 10. Nopalito
Nopalito, named after Nopal leaves or cactus pads found in Mexico which are edible, is the sister restaurant of the equally famous NOPA and is located in the Western Addition/North of Panhandle neighborhood near by the notorious DMV. There is a second location in the Sunset neighborhood as well. Nopalito cooks traditional Mexican cuisine using local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients and does not accept reservations (all walk ins). It is one of our favorite spots to bring guests to for their taste of hearty Mexican food in San Francisco.
The restaurant is spacious and once seated you are welcomed with a bowl of crunchy, spicy roasted chick-peas. Though they have an impressive list of Mescals and Tequilas, I highly recommend getting their almond horchata (a traditional Mexican rice drink with cinnamon) to get yourself ready for the meal. There are plenty of shareable plates such as fish tacos (excellent) and tamales (another favorite) or you can get the pulled pork sandwich just for yourself if you are extra hungry. Although the menu is vegetarian friendly, they can be made vegan if you specify no sour cream or cheese. Nopalito has a small but impressive selection of Paletas (mexican ice creams on a stick) in different flavors which are highly recommended, especially the Mayan chocolate. We skipped dessert, but the kitchen was kind enough to send us off on a sweet note by sending traditional Mexican sweet bites which were small donut ball shaped cookies. Overall, Nopalito is not to be missed if you are looking to have a cozy Mexican meal (lunch or dinner) beyond the bustling taquerias.
San Francisco brunch spot # 11. August 1 Five
Ex-Googler Hetal Shah’s long awaited dream becomes a boon for those of us starving for some modern, clean Indian food minus greasy curries. Chef Manish Tyagi (of Rasika fame, Washington DC) brings you a modern Indian or Cal-Indian palate of cuisine along with an ensemble of international wines, libations and cocktails at August (1) Five, right across from SF City Hall. The decor of this chic-modern bistro is very much in line with its sensibilities and is clad in a peacock blue color along with matching colored plush seats as well as wooden tables and chairs. The tall french style windows ensure ample light streaming in and the decor is minimalist, yet cheerful with a huge lifelike mural of the Maharaja of Patiala staring royally over the diners.
The bistro serves lunch and dinner and we were pretty impressed with the lunch menu, which was light and so very different from other Indian restaurants. There were appetizers comprising of enticing salads (we had the must try avocado puffed rice salad which is basically “jhal-muri” with a Californian twists by addition of the avocados whose softness gels well with the crunch of the puffed rice), wraps, sliders and rice bowls. Wraps and sliders come with sides of dal and raaita. The menu was clean and the portions were good for one person so as not to indulge in a very heavy meal. S had a masala chai while I opted for a mint lemonade which seemed too watery for me. My chicken wrap was a tad spicy but still pretty tasty while S loved his samosa slider which were basically samosas smashed between two burger buns/paos. Rice bowls or a few more shared items are better options for those wanting a heavier lunch. For dessert, we settled for the seasonal tart with pumpkin, saffron, chickpeas and mascarpone cheese and loved every bite of the sinfully, creamy filling garnished with fruits. This restaurant is brand new and seemed a bit empty for lunch, post 1 PM, so you might not need reservations during lunch time. We cannot wait to be back for dinner and see what the menu has to offer! Finally, as is the norm with Indian cuisine in general, there are lots of vegan and vegetarian options that are clearly marked on the menu.
San Francisco brunch spot # 12. Palace Hotel
Ending this post with our fanciest brunch in San Francisco at the The Palace Hotel. It is one of the oldest hotels in San Francisco and was built in 1875, when the city was still young and was being thronged by waves of people trying to make hay in the California gold rush mania. The hotel was razed to the ground in the infamous 1906 earthquake but brought back to life again in 1909. Although an icon of luxury, the hotel imbibes the spirit of San Francisco very much in the sense that it does not seem intimidating in it’s grandeur at all. The Garden Court, where brunch and afternoon high tea is hosted, is a warm, inviting space, beautiful decorated in Parisian style with chandeliers, flowers and live music at the piano. The place is huge and despite several servers being around, service can get a little slow on Sunday mornings. The breakfast menu has both vegetarian and of course, meat and fish choices. Drinks include OJ on the house, a great wine selection as well as bellinis and mimosas (their mango bellini is yummilicious to say the least). Everything that we ordered (my lobster roll, S’s florentine omelet and a side of spicy potatoes) was delicious! If you have some time and a desire to indulge in yourself in some old school luxury and do not mind a slight pinch on the wallet (the food is $$$) or need to entertain business clients over a laid back brunch or are meeting friends for a good time over afternoon tea, do check out the Palace Hotel!
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