Where to Eat in Civic Center and Hayes Valley
Hayes Valley and Civic Center aren't just located near the center of San Francisco and the seat of government. They're also the seat of new chefs' tables. With a fast-dining empire and ice cream that will make people line up for blocks, this neighborhood has quietly edged up on the Mission as the place to eat. It's easy to hop back and forth for a multitude of delicious meals. Plan on trying all of these yummy treats the next time you visit.
20th Century Cafe (198 Gough St.)
A chic, retro corner bakery and cafe reminiscent of eastern European cities like Budapest, Prague and Vienna, this is s a perfect place to enjoy a slice of cake or a cup of coffee and get your Instagram game on. Dishes to get: a slice of the Russian Honey Cake or an open-faced bagel.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar (398 Hayes St.)
Continue the romantic European feel at Absinthe, a French brasserie in the vein of a romantic Paris outpost. It's been anchoring the neighborhood well before the trend caught on. Dishes to get: soft garlic pretzels, Coq Au Vin, French Onion Soup. www.absinthe.com
Arlequin Cafe (384 Hayes St.)
Arlequin Cafe has a tranquil outdoor patio and an attached wine shop, the perfect combo for a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Dishes to get: Lamb Burger or any one of the salads or sandwiches. Don't forget about that bottle of wine.
Biergarten (424 Octavia St.)
You can never have too many options when it comes to drinking beer outside. Enter Biergarten, the perfect spot for a liter of beer and communal seating, which means you'll be making new friends in no time. Dishes to get: Deviled Eggs, a bratwurst and, of course, a very large beer.
Cala (149 Fell St.)
This isn't your typical Mexican restaurant. Think tacos and tostadas, but elevated. Gabriela Camara, who is a celebrated chef from Mexico City, has broken ground in San Francisco with her first U.S. restaurant. You're sure to have a seafood-centric feast here. Dishes to get: seasonal ceviches, trout tostadas and the bone marrow salsa.
Chez Maman (401 Gough St.)
Think Paris brasserie, but on the more casual side. This is the perfect spot to start your morning. Yeah, we are already thinking about brunch. Don't judge. Dishes to get: Moules Poulette, crepes and the smoked salmon panini. www.chezmamansf.com
Espetus Churrascaria (1686 Market St.)
Get ready to feast your eyes on some meat. At Espetus Churrascaria, you will experience the authentic flavors of Brazil and the unique service concept of Rodizio (espeto corrido - continuous service) where guests can choose from 12-14 grilled meats served tableside, as well as treat themselves to appetizers, gourmet salads, and hot side dishes. www.espetus.com
Jardiniere (300 Grove St.)
For that quintessential night out on the town, you'll want to go to chef Traci Des Jardin's restaurant, which serves California-inspired French Cuisine. It's become a pre-theater ritual that some say should be a part of the ticket price. So don your best and head to this certified San Francisco treasure. Dishes to get: the tasting menu with the wine pairing. www.jardiniere.com
Ler Ros (307 Hayes St.)
Look on the adventurous side of Hayes Valley and you'll find Ler Ros, serving refined Thai specialties and exotic meats like alligator, rockfish, quail, frog, eel and catfish.
Little Gem (400 Grove St.)
If you have a stereotype in your head about healthy, California cuisine, you probably think it has to be gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and no refined sugar. You might not think that's too appetizing, but at Little Gem, you'd be 100% wrong. A cafe with large windows and table service serving small plates, Little Gem is the perfect place to indulge and still feel and eat healthy. Dishes to get: Korean-style bibimbap, "I Can't Believe It's Not Fried" Fried Chicken (Ok, we made up the name, but it really isn't fried).
Monsieur Benjamin (451 Gough St.)
From Benu's Corey Lee comes his take on an upscale French bistro. Like Benu, you can expect attention to detail, a re-imagining of bistro fare and an excellent wine list. Dishes to get: bone marrow, beef tartar and duck confit.
Nightbird (330 Gough St.)
The newest restaurant in Hayes Valley, Nightbird is the brainchild of chef Kim Alter, formerly of Coi and Plum, the Daniel Patterson empire. Expect to be delighted by the highbrow California cuisine built around what's in season. There's also an adjacent cocktail lounge. We've never been able to say no to that. Dishes to get: the tasting menu (because that's your only option).
Plaj (333 Fulton St.)
There aren't many options for Scandinavian fare in San Francisco, but Plaj has become a legendary hidden gem inside the Inn at the Opera. Locals and visitors flock here for a savory, modern take on northern European cuisine. Dishes to get: Swedish meatballs, herring (done three ways) and the potato dumplings.
Off the Grid (in front of City Hall)
In partnership with San Francisco Recreation & Parks, Off the Grid brings you a collection of San Francisco's most delicious food trucks to serve lunch every Friday. This event is located right in front of San Francisco City Hall in the Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Plaza. The trucks change every week. www.offthegrid.com
Rambler (545 Post St.)
From the team behind local favorites the Brixton and the Redford, comes the Rambler inside Hotel Zeppelin. This restaurant serves upscale American fare and strong cocktails that will make you want to stay from happy hour through the end of dinner. Dishes to get: Chorizo pizza, and anything on the happy hour menu. www.ramblersf.com
Rich Table (199 Gough St.)
With its reclaimed-wood decor, you'll instantly feel like you've walked into a barn that feels both inviting and accessible. That's when Rich Table hits you with its approachable California cuisine. You'll want to stay a while, eating your way through absolutely everything. Dishes to get: Porcini Doughnuts, sardine chips and the Tagliatelle.
Souvla (517 Hayes St.)
Souvla has taken San Francisco and the nation by storm, carving out a fast-casual empire that has since expanded to other neighborhoods in the city. However, the location that started it all is right here in Hayes Valley. What might seem like simple Greek food will melt in your mouth. Dishes to get: pork shoulder, leg of lamb, greek fries and frozen greek yogurt with baklava crumbles
Straw (203 Octavia Blvd.)
Straw is your Hayes Valley neighborhood spot serving carnival-inspired comfort food. Yes, you heard that right. And, we only bring a fire-breather upon request. It's so over-the-top that this restaurant could only be made a reality in San Francisco. Dishes to get: Ringmaster (a bacon cheeseburger between two donuts) and sweet potato tater tots. www.strawsf.com
Suppenkuche (525 Laguna St.)
Suppenkuche, from the Biergarten team, is the grownup version of a beer garden, serving authentic German fare from pretzels to schnitzel. Be warned: just like in Gemany, the dishes come in big portions. Dishes to get: spatzle, potato pancakes and beer.
White Chapel (600 Polk St.)
After you've made your way through this list, you'll probably be thirsty. For a nightcap and another burger (when in San Francisco, right?), head to one of America's best bars, White Chapel. As you cross the threshold, you'll be transported to the London Tube, minus the grime but with a lot of gin--almost 400 different kinds of gin. This is a place where it's OK to ask for the bartender's choice. www.whitechapelsf.com
Zuni Cafe (1658 Market St.)
We end this list on an iconic note with Zuni Cafe, emblematic of San Francisco, which has been sticking to what it knows best since 1979: an incredibly well-executed menu of local, sustainable food. In 2003, Zuni Cafe was awarded the Outstanding Restaurant award by the James Beard Foundation, the top award for any American restaurant. Dishes to get: Roast Chicken and bread salad (for two), a bloody mary and arguably the best burger in the city.