18 Classic Restaurants Every San Franciscan Must Try
The best old-school dining establishments in SF
A 40-year-old Hayes Valley institution, Hayes Street Grill has seen the neighborhood through its growth spurts over the years. Its owners, including former SF Chronicle food critic Patty Unterman, opened it as an option for theatre, opera, and symphony goers. It’s still a mainstay, serving sustainably sourced fish served with fries and choice of sauces (beurre blanc is always a winner), produce from local farms, and a remarkably good warm goat cheese salad. The carpeted dining room is a great place to catch a glimpse of local SF flavor.
“On a crisp early morning in December, Patty Unterman is ordering fish over the phone in the back of her seminal restaurant, Hayes Street Grill. A few pounds of Georgia white shrimp, Dungeness crab, scallops, oysters. She’s awash in a flurry of scribbled notes—ideas, changes to yesterday’s menu, a shopping list for the market. That she’s already this deep into things at 8:30 a.m. tells me she’s either been here for a while or that she moves at a preternatural pace. Soon enough, she’s tearing up and down the stairs between the kitchen and the basement like a silver-haired gazelle, leaving me lumbering like a hippo in her shadow. I’ve got my answer.
This lightening sprint is Unterman’s menu writing ritual, springing between the kitchen and the basement office. On one trip, she rips into a fresh grapefruit to see if it might be right for a salad. It’s sweet, perfect. On another, she checks on the satsuma sorbet. One batch is too icy, but the other’s fine. And on it goes for nearly every single item on the menu. Breathlessly, I wonder if it might be more efficient to save up a few questions at a time, but suggesting an easier way to a spring loaded person like Patty Unterman seems beside the point.”
“Hayes Street is like mirage in the desert for the exhausted traveler, unapologetic to the modern restaurant OCD mania of mixology, temperament, smoke, and mirrors. Instead, there is great fish and lovely wine, each consummately executed with the confidence and wisdom of a sagacious matriarch of a large boisterous family. And let’s not forget those glorious French fries. Check your ADD at the door, relax and experience the gold standard of a culinary vision created over 30 years ago.”