During decades of singledom, it seemed like I ate dinner out every night. And for years my beloved restaurant-bars were the late (and still lamented) Liverpool Lil’s in Cow Hollow and Enrico’s in North Beach. Neither featured Michelin-starred fare, yet their menus were rife with cozy, delicious comfort food. But the biggest draw was determined by the atmosphere these joints exuded: welcoming staff; a favorite table; savvy bartenders and lively ambience. Now wed to a wonderful Frenchman, whose Gallic DNA imbues him with the inherent talent to create perfectly roasted potatoes (in duck fat, naturellement) or exquisite, made-from-scratch vinaigrette, I must note that my dining-out days have dwindled. So we asked die-hard San Francisco epicureans to share their treasured destinations.
Deputy chief of protocol at the mayor’s office
The Gangway in the Tenderloin feels like you’ve stepped in a Charles Bukowski novel. It’s the type of dive bar where people are happy to come together, be themselves, and truly connect. I am inspired by the Gangway’s unique history as the oldest continuously operating gay bar in San Francisco and one of the oldest in the country. People love the nostalgia here—from locals, hipsters and tourists to trans, gays and lesbians, everyone. It’s one of the few places of its kind left in the city.
Its location from my home is every San Franciscan’s dream: to walk just a few hundred feet for a cocktail at a historic bar. It’s such a luxury.
None of the drinks are precious. My go-to cocktail is a vodka soda with a slice of lemon, never lime. Everyone’s favorite patrons are those who buy a round of drinks for the house, and are celebrated with the ringing of a ship captain’s bell.
Three key elements compose my restaurant requirements: Skilled front-of-house staff. A special corner table. Expert service.
People tease me that I always dine at the same places. But when I take friends out for dinner, I go where I know the atmosphere is beautiful, the food is impeccably fresh and the chef-owners are organizational perfectionists.
Nancy Oakes (Boulevard, Prospect); Gary Danko; Mourad Lahlou (Mourad); Lindsay and Michael Tusk (Quince, Cotogna) and Anna Weinberg (Leo’s Oyster Bar, Petit Marlowe) are stars of the city’s dining scene. And I adore them all.
At Boulevard, Nancy serves the finest quality white truffles. She understands freshly harvested truffles must be enjoyed within seven days. So she flies them in from Italy. And I always drink white Montrachet; it’s my weakness.
Kathleen Dowling McDonough
SF Giants Community Fund trustee
In West Portal, Spiazzo Ristorante and the Philosopher’s Club bar are my favorite neighborhood spots. I didn’t realize that until I remembered I’ve gone to both places the last five times I’ve been out for dinner or cocktails.I’ve been going to Philly’s, as it’s known to natives, for 35 years. If you do the math, that means a fake ID. The owner-bartenders, Debbie and Kevin Sullivan, are so warm and all the patrons, friendly. The ceiling features a mural of famous philosophers (Gandhi, MLK Jr., Bob Dylan). There’s a pool table, sports games on TV and an outdoor patio too.
I love the food at Spiazzo. The Calabrian-inspired pasta and pizzas are always consistent Even Italian people say it’s authentic. I always order the same thing: chicken with capers and tons of perfectly cooked veggies.
YBCA chief of civic engagement
Finn Tavern on Market between Sanchez and Noe. It feels like the West Side of town. Though not nostalgic, everything about Finn Tavern reminds me of the best of my high school years in the city. The hands-on owner Rick Hamer is a fellow Wildcat from St. Ignatius College Prep. He fills the room with such a warm and unforced vibe, complete with a soundtrack that places me right back at prom (think Boz Scaggs and less “Stairway to Heaven”). The seating is varied but always comfortable, the colors are warm, and the burger is as close to anything I’ve eaten that reminds me of Doggie Diner, which warms my San Franciscan heart to no end. Bonus point: It’s a block and a half from my house.
I don’t cook, so Kokkari Estiatorio is the restaurant I call “my kitchen.” It’s also the first “Where to?” destination that pops up on my phone’s Uber app. Even Uber realizes how much time I spend in this charming Greek restaurant, owned by George Marcus and Dr. Kenneth Frangadakis. Walking in the door feels like “Elvis has entered the building”: Every staff member, from the valet to bus boy, greets me with a big smile and compliments.
I love Kokkari’s atmosphere. It’s one of the most stylish places in San Francisco. And it inspires patrons to dress up: There’s no Lululemon in the dining room. The Mediterranean ambiance features a fireplace and rotisserie that twirls chickens. I like to say, my ex-boyfriends are similarly slow-roasted like Kokkari’s chicken.
I regularly try new SF places but I absolutely can’t live without Kokkari’s friendly warmth and impeccable service.
Living in a quiet West Side residential neighborhood, there’s not much of a restaurant scene. But I virtually eat out every evening and count Bix Restaurant or Florio as my “canteens.” And I’ve figured out a quick route to both.
Restaurateur Doug Biederbeck, a dear friend, owns both restaurants. At Bix, I’m drawn by the warm welcome, cool design and convivial ambiance. The amazingly courteous staff always makes me feel right at home, whether I’m enjoying a big meal or lighter fare. In late summer, Bix’s “Heirloom Tomato Cart,” served table-side, is a winner and the lobster spaghetti is delicious.
Upon arriving at Bix, I always order my signature cocktail, “Martin’s Martini” (Ketel One vodka, a drop of white Lillet, shaken very cold and served straight-up with a blood orange twist), which is always perfectly made.