Travellers visit San Francisco for many reasons: the landmarks, the culture, and of course, the food. Often deemed the culinary capital of California, the San Francisco Bay Area continues to turn heads and draw crowds for its forward-thinking cuisine, locally sourced ingredients, and bold flavours.
To experience all of the travel-worthy restaurants here, you’d have to plan a yearlong sabbatical. But for those on a slightly tighter schedule, we’ve done the legwork for you with our guide to the top Michelin star restaurants in San Francisco.
Running a successful restaurant in one of the most competitive food cities in the world is no easy feat. Yet Gary Danko continues to win over diners year after year, holding steady for almost two decades in the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf neighbourhood. Unlike many of the modern day “casual-chic” style San Francisco restaurants, you’ll want to don some fancier threads at Gary Danko. This restaurant adopts a traditional approach, requesting “elegant, dressy attire” for its patrons. Appropriately so, because dining here feels special – from the exclusive vibe and impeccable service to the delicious, high-end dishes.
Sample as you wish from the restaurant’s tasting menu of five courses for $119 (optional wine pairings available). Expect a blend of rich and bold flavours (like glazed oysters with caviar and seared fillet of beef) as well as fresh seafood and game dishes. Reservations are highly recommended, unless you can snag one of the 11 bar seats.
One of only a small number of Michelin star restaurants in San Francisco with the highest ranking of three stars, Benu is not just a restaurant – it’s a destination. Chef-owner Corey Lee’s ever-evolving menu does not disappoint, served up in a historic setting in the SoMa (south of market) district of San Francisco. At Benu, contemporary American cuisine incorporates a strong Asian influence, including elegant dishes such as lobster coral or a thousand-year-old quail egg.
For $285 per head, diners put their faith into Lee’s hands as a seasonal tasting menu unfolds before their eyes (course numbers vary). Dishes are thoughtfully displayed, and are just as visually appealing as they are tasty. Although Benu is most definitely a fine dining experience, the approach is decidedly down-to-earth, incorporating the “cultural and ethnic influences” of San Francisco’s diverse landscape.
Contemporary California cuisine is what’s on the menu at Coi, restaurateur Daniel Patterson’s two-star establishment. Coi’s food is strongly rooted in seasonality and locality, its tasting menu always changing to accommodate what’s readily available, and of course, delicious. Locality may be an understatement – Patterson even harvests seaweeds, barks and grasses to add an extra level of complexity to his dishes. The décor reflects the serenity of Northern California, incorporating organic materials such as walnut, clay, and grasses to set a tranquil scene.