Californian

9 Can't-Miss Bay Area Restaurants Where You Can Actually Snag a Table

We'll never stop loving these community-approved bites.

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December 28, 2018
Photo by Chris Chabot/Flickr

We've partnered with OpenTable to highlight some of our favorite restaurants across the country, from neighborhood gems making a difference in their communities to the inspiring spots we're excited to travel for. Like us, OpenTable is proud to support restaurants making a difference with their Open Kitchen initiative. Here, we share our picks for the Bay Area.


My family is wonderful in so, so many ways.

One of those ways, however, is not patience-while-hungry. Sure, I might get a round of enthusiastic nods a few days in advance when I suggest checking out a new walk-in-only spot I read about on my flight back home. "Sounds fantastic, let's do it!" my dad might say, brightly. But try reminding him of that days later when he feels "crammed into a windowless vestibule," waiting for a table, alternating between a staring contest with his watch-face and looking at me blankly, as if he's not really sure whether we've ever met.

This means that whenever I head back to Northern California, reservations are the name of the game. (Snacks that fit in my purse and can be distributed rapidly in the case of highway traffic are the name of the backup-game.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I live in SF (well, Tiburon actually) and have often been to and loved eating at most all of these restaurants, but I think you are greatly misleading your readers by suggesting that it is easy to get a table at all of them. It is only easy if you book weeks in advance and if even then you are willing to eat at 5:00 PM. :)”
— Harold S.
Comment

This year, when I visit for the holidays, I'm not taking any chances. I'll of course be snagging tables at a few of my favorite Bay Area stalwarts (hi, Tartine!!!), but I've also polled my colleagues for their top picks. With so many suggestions for spots that have not only incredible food, but also exceptional workplace ethics (think: locally sourced ingredients, leading the gender equality conversation by example), I'm thinking this trip's going to be a breeze.

Have any other suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments!

State Bird Provisions

The husband-and-wife team behind State Bird Provisions—who are also advocates for the Open Kitchen movement to create safer workspaces in restaurants—in San Francisco’s Fillmore District might be best known for their signature fried quail, but there are plenty of fun, tasty surprises on the ever-changing menu. You’ll want to snag a reservation for this spot early, as the line for walk-ins often stretches down the block. — Eric Kim, Senior Editor

Flour + Water

I have been dying to try Flour + Water for years! Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district, their rotating menu of house-made pastas and Neapolitan-style pizzas are legendary. The restaurant also always stays active in the community; they’re currently donating proceeds from pizza sales to California wildfire victims. — Erin Alexander, Assistant Editor of Partner Content

Cala

Gabriella Camara’s Cala is a literal dream for a seafood lover (hi, hello, I’m talking about me here). From the locally sourced ingredients (lookin’ at you, Hog Island oysters) to the inventive flavor combinations (like trout tostadas with chipotle and fried leeks) there’s a whole lot to write home about. — Ella Quittner, Recipe Developer & Food Writer (that's me!)

Gracias Madre

Enter Gracias Madre in San Francisco’s trendy Mission District and you’ll notice the wide communal tables and colorful murals on the wall—these aspects speak to the whole restaurant’s ethos and vibe. Not only does it serve amazing vegan iterations of traditional Mexican dishes, it’s super-focused on seasonality, sustainability, and local sourcing. — Brinda Ayer, Books & Special Projects Editor

Mourad

The blockbuster sequel to Chef Mourad Lahlou’s groundbreaking Moroccan-meets-California first restaurant, Aziza, Mourad is very much a San Francisco restaurant; think global, cook local with a bit of technical flash. Bonus: It's conveniently located and can accommodate a group. The basteeya and couscous are must-orders for the table. — Peter Romero, Senior Account Executive

Delfina

With its warm open kitchen and twinkling string lights, Delfina might just be the coziest little Italian restaurant in all of San Francisco. It’s perfectly homey vibe and seemingly simple fare (the spaghetti with tomato sauce is to die for) is precisely the reason this local favorite took home a James Beard Award. Chef Craig Stoll, also regularly gives back—he recently teamed up with local chefs to raise money for a non-profit promoting sustainable agriculture. — Eric Kim, Senior Editor

Kingston 11

I’ve got a feeling Kingston 11 will be the first stop on my next trip back to the East Bay. It specializes in a blend of Jamaican and California cuisine (think: jerk chicken and oxtail stew) using local and organic ingredients, doubles as a community space, and offers plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. — Erin Alexander, Assistant Editor of Partner Content

Laili

One of my favorite parts of heading home to visit my parents in California is a trip to Laili in Santa Cruz, which highlights local ingredients and organic wines. We all geek out over dishes like kadoo boranee, the crispy, chewy bolani, and the Middle Eastern Caesar salad, but most importantly, how lovely it is to have an old-meets-new, east-meets-west (just like us!) place to enjoy dinner around the same table. — Zoe Paknad, Director of Revenue Operations

Tartine Manufactory

I live and die for anything baked by Elisabeth Prueitt or Chad Robertson. And Christa Chase’s menu is full of delightful dishes like coddled eggs with roe and fresh horseradish (on za’atar toast!!!!), which for the record is what I’d like to eat for every meal from here on out. (Plus, Elisabeth and Chad helped found CECSF, a non-profit school for children with motor disabilities.) — Ella Quittner, Recipe Developer & Food Writer (me again!)

In partnership with OpenTable, we're excited to share our some of our favorite tried-and-true restaurants that are doing right by the community. For more delicious recommendations around the country, check out our locals-approved picks for New York City and New Orleans. But before you plan your big night (or breakfast, lunch, or brunch!) out, don't forget to make a reservation using OpenTable—there's nothing worse than putting your name on a two-hour waitlist.

Photo by Chris Chabot/Flickr.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Harold Sogard
    Harold Sogard
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    Janice Wacha
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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.

7 Comments

Harold S. January 7, 2019
I live in SF (well, Tiburon actually) and have often been to and loved eating at most all of these restaurants, but I think you are greatly misleading your readers by suggesting that it is easy to get a table at all of them. It is only easy if you book weeks in advance and if even then you are willing to eat at 5:00 PM. :)
 
Janice W. January 2, 2019
Outerlands - serves lunch, brunch & dinner. Che Fico - be there at 5:00 pm to get seats at the counter when they open at 5:30. Also Cotogna serves lunch and dinner.
 
Natasha January 2, 2019
P.S. And Food & Wine magazine included Oakland, California as a top spot in the U.S. to discover all kinds of other amazing new restaurants and food in 2019...
 
Natasha December 29, 2018
I second Jake and would add, try Sequoia diner in Oakland's Fruitvale for wonderful breakfast or lunch and delicious, house-baked pastries - cheese and seasonal fruit danishes and more.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. January 8, 2019
Thanks for these suggestions! Will give them a try next time I'm in town.
 
jake` December 28, 2018
Hi, these are great, but wanted to add a couple in the East Bay. Reems or Dyafa are new additions and definitel worth checking out in Oakland. Also Nyum Bai is fantastic in Oakland too.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. January 8, 2019
Can't wait to give them a try.