Like many major cities, San Francisco has been hard-hit by the covid-19 pandemic, and perhaps nowhere is it more evident than in hospitality. Once thriving neighborhoods are now eerily quiet as office workers have yet to return and the restaurants that relied upon them have had to close their doors.
With ever-changing rules, popping into bars for a glass or two of wine isn’t quite the same. All establishments require proof of vaccination, many require reservations, and some restaurants have closed off their bar areas to help maintain social distancing.
San Francisco still boasts some of the best wine lists in the United States. Lists are remarkably diverse, especially considering the Bay Area’s proximity to Napa and Sonoma. Wine lovers can certainly stick to heavy-hitting Napa Cabs – and there’s no shortage of them – but why should they when there is everything from Jasnières to karasakiz to try?
Here, we explore some of the best wine-centric restaurants and bars in San Francisco and what makes each such a unique experience. We also recommend scheduling a private guided and customizable food tour with a local guide.
Top Restaurants in San Francisco with Wine-Centric Themes
Boulevard is a San Francisco institution that was very nearly lost forever. Strict covid related closures had Boulevard’s future in question but thankfully the powers-that-be pivoted to focus on renovation and renewal. Finally, after a very long year indeed, Boulevard is open again with a shiny new look and menu that manages to tie innovation to art nouveau elegance seamlessly. Toast to survival with a glass of sparkling and nibble salmon tartare.
1 Mission Street, San Francisco
As intimate as Boulevard is expansive, Bouche offers a small but perfectly curated Franco-centric menu and wine list. Fresh seasonal ingredients inspire the dishes, while the wines are mostly from smaller appellations in France. Since there’s a good chance you might not have heard of some of the wines, ask for help from the thoughtful, well-versed staff who can guide you in the right direction.
603 Bush Street, San Francisco
Where to start? When facing a 36-page wine list, that’s a reasonable question to ask. Take your time to peruse the offerings at Foreign Cinema and settle in for whatever is playing, like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”! We personally love the Urban Picnic offerings, like the lavender-scented goat cheese plate paired with a bottle of something similarly rustic, like a bottle of Janvier’s Pineau d’Aunis.
2534 Mission Street, San Francisco
If Kitchen Istanbul doesn’t convince you that Turkish cuisine is among the best in the world, well, we’re at a loss. Chef-owner Emrah Kilicoglu marries the bounty of east and west that Istanbul is known for, all alongside a focused, comprehensive wine list. It’s hard to go wrong at a place that offers Jo Landron’s Atmosphères by the glass, international favorites like Gamay from Moulin-a-Vent, and Turkey’s indigenous (and delicious) Karasakiz.
349 Clement Street, San Francisco
High Treason’s focus on wine that’s by the people, for the people actually means that it refreshingly lacks stuffiness for which the wine world has unfortunately been known for far too long. And, to make sure there really is something for everyone, there are plenty of tasty sakés to try as well. It’s worth joining their wine club to experience eclectica on the regular.
443 Clement Street, San Francisco
Admit it: you’ve been aching for an aligoté by the glass, haven’t you? The Morris is here, at your service. And if we’re tempted to stick to only what we know, the focused dinner menu provides ample excuse to experiment with pairings like serrano ham, melon and arugula with a glass of Grüner Veltliner, or grilled pork and brussel sprouts with a Cabernet Franc from Saumur. If you’re feeling really bold, ask to see The Big Wine List.
2501 Mariposa Street, San Francisco
Located in the hard-hit Financial District, we’re thrilled that Press Club has survived. It’s been home to many an industry tasting since its inception and its appeal is immediately understandable: sleek, understated, but with outstanding small bites that are crafted with pairings in mind. Ask the staff for a few personal favorites and you’re sure to experience something delightful.
20 Yerba Buena Lane, San Francisco
Empress by Boon
One of the more beautiful dining experiences to be had, The Empress likes to remain shrouded in mystery. Located in the heart of Chinatown, entry is through a nondescript office building where the concierge quickly assesses dress code before allowing patrons up. But it’s understandable once you enter the breath-taking dining room that holds an elegance little seen elsewhere. Enjoy the sweeping views of San Francisco with small bits and interesting wines by the glass, or settle in for Michelin-starred Chef Ho’s prix-fixe. Make reservations as you do not want to be denied this experience. You can also take a walkable Chinatown food tour.
838 Grant Avenue, San Francisco
Housed in a former corner store in residential Inner Richmond, Breck’s is the perfect place to relax with a glass of with friends after work before grabbing a bottle to bring home. Owner Will Eagle brings his ample wine experience to this decidedly unstuffy and down-to-earth café where he encourages guests to like what they like with no pressure to upsell or upsnob. Eagle also brings in what are considered the best bagels in the country, though this New York author raises a brow to this claim.
2 Clement Street, San Francisco
Sometimes, we just want a pizza, right? A16 serves up some of the best of the best with blistered crusts from the wood-fired ovens and classic Italian toppings. The overwhelmingly Italian wine list has some true gems nestled in there, like Pecorino (the wine) or Frappato (also the wine) by the glass. For those brazen enough to think they can make better pizza, A16 is happy to see you try, and sells pizza dough to take home.
2355 Chestnut Street, San Francisco
Let’s take a deep dive into Sardinian food and wine at La Ciccia. Thankfully the menu has English translations because we would never want to miss out on Fresh Fettucine Seafood Citrus Zest Squid Ink just because we can’t pronounce the Sardinian term for it all. And although the wine list is amazing, do yourself the honor and the favor of sticking to glasses to pair perfectly with each course.
291 30th Street, San Francisco
Aquitaine Wine Bar & Bistro
After a rather turbulent few years that involved moving from a long-established location just before covid hit, Aquitaine has held on and we are thrilled. Choose Southern French bites like duck confit salad or a croque monsieur to have with a glass of Corbières or Bordeaux. Aquitaine is just the right mix of cozy, inviting, and unassuming that allows guests to lose themselves for an hour or two.
216 Church Street, San Francisco
This Hayes Valley destination is a tribute to modern minimalism with everything except flavor! Think of it as high-brow bistro fare with dishes like onion soup kicked up a few notches. The wine list at Monsieur Benjamin rises to the occasion with everything from Muscadet to pair with oysters to Entre-Deux-Mers for that steak frites. Or, break rank and just order the house fries with aioli for a peek at the divine.
451 Gough Street, San Francisco
Mister Jiu’s may not boast the longest wine list, but it does boast one of the more creative and inspired menus. Basing cocktails and cuisine around the Chinese lunar calendar enables guests to savor the flavors of the season. Start the evening with sourdough scallion pancake or shrimp chips and a glass of sparkling albariño for an expectedly delicious pairing. Head upstairs to the Moongate Lounge after for a swanky nightcap or seasonal cocktail.
28 Waverly Place, San Francisco
Financial District stalwart Perbacco’s little sibling is back open and thriving once again and we are here for it. The Italy-centric menu at Barbacco includes a savory salumi board, a pear salad, and to-die-for pasta dishes like saffron bucatini. And while a few California wines sneak on to the list, stick with the old adage “If it grows together, it goes together” and sip on an Etna Bianco or an intriguing orange Fiano. When in Rome, after all.
220 California Street, San Francisco
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