Food & Wine

San Francisco Alfresco: The Rise of Outdoor Dining

By Katie Sweeney

Waterbar’s outdoor space is open daily with tables on the looking glass terrace and the patio.

Whether you’re craving an impeccably fresh platter of sashimi, in the mood for artisanal hand-cut pasta or looking to devour a messy, juicy cheeseburger, there is one comeback San Franciscans are genuinely looking forward to: restaurants. As summer kicks into full gear, the City’s chefs, waiters, bartenders and hosts are heading back to work. Rejoice! San Franciscans can finally dine out — literally. While it’s too soon for eateries to fling open their doors and invite customers inside, those with patios, gardens and decks can now serve food. And, thanks to the Shared Spaces temporary permit issued by the City, some restaurants that lack an outdoor space can set up shop on the sidewalk or parking lane near their storefronts. Here are a few spots with new — or existing — outdoor spaces to check out. Bring a mask — and a light jacket!


Owner and chef Umberto Gibin has secured permitting for a small, six-seat patio on California Street in front of Perbacco. Gibin is anxious to welcome back his patrons. “We’re ready and waiting for you,” he says.

Perbacco’s patio is open. Order the fritto misto with fried shrimp and lemon aioli; pappardelle with slow-cooked short rib ragu; and ravioli filled with smoked salmon.

Waterbar and Epic Steak

These sister restaurants boast spacious patios that overlook the Bay, and have long been a favorite spot to enjoy a meal outdoors. Chef Parke Ulrich excels at elegant seafood preparations, and has a new all-day menu. If beef is your thing, Epic Steak is right next door.

Waterbar’s outdoor space is open daily with tables on the looking glass terrace and the patio. Menu highlights include Humboldt Bay oysters on the half shell; grilled sea scallops with sweet corn agnolotti, English peas and pancetta; and a glass of Chablis.

Epic’s patio is open for dinner nightly. It’s also open for brunch and happy hour on Saturday and Sunday. Order the smoked half chicken with truffle butter and marinated cherry tomatoes; Wagyu striploin; extra creamy mashed potato aligot; and the Epic martini with blue cheese olives.


If Mexican cuisine is what your heart desires, head to Flores, another Union Street standby, for margaritas, guacamole and tacos. The lively hot spot can be a scene, but in the best kind of way.

Flores is open daily, with plans to add parklet seating. Treat yourself to the esquite (salted corn) with crema, red onions, tomato and cotija; mushroom quesadillas; crab tostadas; and fried cod tacos.


Bix, the legendary Jackson Square supper club, has moved its experience outdoors. Gold Street, the alley that runs in front of the restaurant, has been decorated with bistro lights and is where longtime Bix lovers can look forward to dining.

Reservations are encouraged for dinner, served Tuesday through Saturday. Guests will have minimal contact with Bix staff to ensure social distancing. Menu favorites include the potato pillows and caviar; steak tartare; lobster spaghetti; and a Manhattan.


When Belga on Union Street closed and transformed into Wildseed, a plant-based concept, industry insiders wondered if the finicky Cow Hollow neighborhood would embrace it. They did and then some. Wildseed is a sensation and arguably one of 2019’s best new eateries. Now diners can sip spritzers in the sunshine while eating super grain bowls and crisp pizzas.

Wildseed is open daily and is doing an in-person wait-list, so prepare in advance; on a sunny day, there maybe a wait for tables. Order the Andalusia salad with butter lettuce, coconut bacon, black ash cheese and Marcona almonds; mixed mushroom and potato pizza with truffled béchamel; and the aloe gin and tonic.

54 Mint

While international travel might not be on this summer’s schedule, a meal in the plaza in front of 54 Mint instantly transports you to Italy. Owner Gianluca Legrottaglie greets guests with a warm smile, and diners are invited to savor a leisurely experience and cuisine reminiscent of an afternoon in Tuscany.

54 Mint is open daily. Menu offerings include the sea urchin and stracciatella bruschetta; rigatoni alla carbonara; and grilled lamb chops with broccolini and rosemary oil.

An offering from The Vault.

The Vault

The restaurant inside the office building at 555 California Street has created an entirely new concept: The Vault Garden. Partner Ryan Cole calls it a “garden oasis in the heart of downtown.” Cole and company transformed an outdoor space by adding a bamboo garden, heaters, custom-made tables, and blankets for purchase.

The Vault Garden is open daily and there’s an on-site parking garage. Be sure to try the XO baked clams; smoked trout roe with latke tots and creme fraiche; and the fried chicken sandwich with farm egg, pickled onions and arugula.

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