Enjoy dining al fresco? Let yourself be romanced by the sidewalk sounds of a big city or pampered by the peacefulness of a patio garden. Be it a brunch in the breeze, sunset supper or long lunch, all of it tastes best outside. Check out our list of the Top 10 Outdoor Dining Restaurants in San Francisco/Bay Area, presented in alphabetical order.
One Yerba Buena Ln.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Adam and Stacy Jed’s sprawling Market Street brasserie showcases sustainably minded, deceptively simple modern American dishes from chef John Griffiths (Advocate). A singular steelhead trout tartare bursting with color incorporates fresh-roasted pistachios and smoked caviar. We relished the brisk pop of coriander in the silky chicken liver mousse with candied kumquats and chervil. Supple Maine scallops with roasted pumpkin receive the slightest sear and a toss of bacon-oat crumble, and the pan-roasted pork chop is served atop celery root and a bright Meyer lemon confit. Crisp asparagus in preserved Mandarin hollandaise and savory young broccoli in garlic confit and ricotta are rewarding accompaniments, but it is the seared cauliflower mingled with green harissa and fish sauce that beckons our return. A decadent quartet of desserts from pastry chef Lori Baker (Baker & Banker) features an indulgent tower of vanilla bean yellow cake, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry butter cream and strawberry jam. A well-rounded wine list includes a dozen on tap, and a cocktail lineup featuring hyper-seasonal ingredients is led by the bourbon-driven Call of the Wild, with its smooth honey-lemon start and delightful tannic Earl Grey finish. Diners can opt for the rooftop patio, overlooking the bustle of Market Street.
12 Fourth St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Bars and booze define Dirty Habit. There’s a small bar at the entrance to the fifth floor venue in the Hotel Zelos, and a much longer bar that runs the length of the inner restaurant, with backlit, glass-shelved libraries of spirits as extensive and artful as you’re likely to find. Seating for dinner is available inside and out — the outdoor covered patio is a highlight. The vast cocktail list is classically printed and bound, but to sample individual spirits you’ll need a second list, this one on a digital tablet; the rye category alone outdoes the total whiskey inventory at most places, and bourbon and Scotch come in dizzying ranges. The food menu of shareable small plates is shorter in scope. Thick-cut fries with harissa aïoli are optimal for spirits support. Squash flan is an intriguing soft play, exactly as one would expect from flan, and only lightly flavored from the squash. Some dishes are a bit erratic: sausage meatballs with cashews presented as an odd array of textures that didn’t work, and deconstructed lamb steamed buns were simply difficult to eat. But drinkers won’t mind the food’s inconsistencies, and may not bother with it anyway.
2518 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
With lush tropical cocktails, imaginative bites and expansive city views in all directions, El Techo is a fiesta in the sky. It’s the rooftop bar perched atop popular and usually packed Argentinian-style steakhouse Lolinda. Many guests start at El Techo before continuing Phase Two of their meals downstairs, but why not just stay up here above the fray? Less dark, less noisy, more casual and offering far more elbow room than its downstairs partner, this lofty aerie feels like a friendly private club. Its ample drinks menu includes nearly thirty tequilas, mezcals, rums and piscos, plus south-of-the-border classics such as peppy Cuba Libres (made with authentically super-sweet Mexican Coca-Cola) and bright, refreshing caipirinhas. Topped with perky paper umbrellas, El Techo’s piña coladas are extravagantly creamy and long-lastingly tall. Big hearty bites include ceviches, soups, sandwiches and exotica such as plantain patties and kale quesadillas. Still hungry? Consider the dulce de leche flan. The rooftop is tented and heated, so you can raise those glasses happily even on rainy days. Reservations are taken for brunch only.
350 Harbor Dr.
Sausalito, CA 94965
Fish. is right on the water in Sausalito (off the main drag — bring a map), and its broad picnic table-filled patio offers a view of the boats moving in and out of the docks. The restaurant offers sustainable seafood prepared in the East Coast clam shack tradition, ranging from fish ‘n’ chips to grilled line-caught halibut so pristine you know the fish isn’t more than hours out of the water. We recommend the white clam chowder with bacon, and locals have been known to come from all over the county for the Saigon salmon sandwich, tangy and spicy with Vietnamese relish. Be prepared to pay upwards of $23 for the sandwich — steep but worth it. Daily specials and salads round out the menu. The thoughtfully-edited collection of beer and wine includes something to complement everything from a plate of barbecued oysters to a tuna melt. Note: Most of the seating is at picnic tables with backless benches, both inside and out.
2534 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Classic foreign films (think Fellini) and independent features are screened nightly in an expansive, elegant restaurant courtyard (films are projected onto a wall), while the warmth of a fireplace flickers nearby. It’s a romantic backdrop for a night of flirtation or a welcome distraction from a date gone wrong. The kitchen’s husband-and-wife team of Gayle Pirie and John Clark, who have been into the simple and seasonal since they were co-chefs at Zuni Café, create Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Start with house-cured sardines and spiced greens crostini or beef carpaccio with anchovy mayonnaise and vinegar and sea salt waffle chips. Global culinary influences are reflected in main dishes such as the lamb sirloin and merguez sausage mixed grill with couscous and roasted apricots, and bavette steak frites with chimichurri. After dinner, try the cheese plate, or a rose geranium crème brûlée with orange blossom macaron. A full bar, wine and beer are available. Foreign Cinema also features a bar bites menu of small plates.
Celeb chef Gastón Acurio picked an apt location for his first stateside eatery: smack-dab on the waterfront. A loungy bar, heated dockside patio (which seats 130 after an extensive expansion) and lofty dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows, tall potted plants and turquoise décor create a comfortable, modern indoor-outdoor feel. The vivid peppers that are Peruvian staples — red rocoto, yellow aji amarillo, orange aji panca — inform dishes that are as sculpturally striking as they are seductively piquant. Classics from chef de cuisine Victoriano Lopez include causas (whipped-potato pedestals), empanadas (Peru’s answer to the knish) and anticuchos (grilled skewered meat and seafood). House-specialty cebiches include cebiche clásico, tender chunks of halibut transformed by tangy lime-based “leche de tigre.” We particularly like the bandeja de cebicheria, an assortment of ceviches and fish, and la gran bandeja criolla, an equally expansive array of cooked meats. Whole fish varies by the catch and is an impressive presentation. Rich, fruity desserts and complicated pisco cocktails introduce yet more memorable, if initially unfamiliar, flavors.
Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill
1520 Lakeside Dr.
Oakland, CA 94612
A festive, see-and-be-seen vibe pervades this rambling horseshoe-shaped hometown hangout anchored by a renovated boathouse at the west side of Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Lovingly restored features include high wooden ceilings. (Owners Gar and Lara Truppelli have a knack for choice locations: they also own the Beach Chalet and adjoining Park Chalet at the foot of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.) An 80-foot marble bar, three private dining rooms, and ample outdoor seating on a heated dock with its own bar attract bevies of locals in-the-know — especially for taco Tuesdays and twice-daily happy hours. Seafood and other mellow offerings compete with the view for your attention. A plump prawn cocktail with spunky house-made sauce is a hearty starter; entrées range from tender beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips to herbed pan-tossed gnocchi that will make vegetarians feel nurtured. Among desserts is blueberry bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. Sample the beer menu hailing from the microbrewery at sister restaurant Park Chalet: Lady of the Lake is a standout.
Locals pass warm weekends on the spacious lawn and patio of this coastal beer garden to sip award-winners from the adjoining Beach Chalet brewery while taking in live music. When the fog encroaches, patrons scurry indoors to warm themselves near the atrium fireplace. An overhauled menu emphasizes populist coastal pub fare, and excels in gentle tweaks to lighter dishes. We appreciated the incorporation of Fresno peppers in the flaky buttermilk fried calamari, and an avocado mousse in the ceviche. Ocean-themed salads and sandwiches offer alternatives to heavy standards such as ribs, pizza and burgers. Eight standard brews and a seasonal selection are available on tap. Seventeen wines by the glass and a handful of fruit-forward cocktails complete the bar. The atrium and patio seat 140, and on busy beach days the lawn alone easily surpasses that. Children and dogs are welcomed.
1 Letterman Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94129
Partners Michael Bilger and Evin Gelleri’s (Georges) bright transformation of the sprawling space that formerly housed Pres a Vi and Dixie aims to offer a “New American public house” in a convivial, concrete- and nickel-clad setting with seating for roughly 200. A rotation of 100 craft beers (24 draft) leans toward the flavorful session-style brews that easily pair with Bilger’s farm-driven California cuisine. A menu heavily influenced by seasonal vegetables, herbs and oils from Marin’s Skywalker Ranch features shareable plates of fresh seafood, house-cured meats and savory vegetables. We particularly enjoyed the big eye tuna crudo with garum and finger lime, and the Liberty duck liver mousse with red ale gelée and pickled stone fruit. Large plates are substantial and distinctly Californian. The Berkshire pork rib-eye confit was ever so lightly seared, and juicy throughout. The full bar highlights craft cocktails, and a California-heavy wine list includes selections from Skywalker Vineyards. A 20 percent gratuity is included on all checks.
399 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105
Restaurateur Pat Kuleto has done it again: as at some of his classics (Farallon and Boulevard among them), with Waterbar he and Mark Franz have created something of a fantasy world that treats both the eyes and the palate. Situated right on the Embarcadero, with up-close-and-personal views of the Bay Bridge, the restaurant is a two-level stunner. A duo of vertical fish tanks lend whimsy and wonder to an otherwise traditional dining room, drawing a crowd of suited Financial District types and well-dressed visitors. With a name like Waterbar, it’s no wonder that chef Parke Ulrich’s thoughtful, sustainable fare hails mainly from the sea. Ever-shifting menus spotlight oysters, creative starters such as sesame fried squid with heirloom melons, sweet pickled chili and cashews, and mains like roasted halibut with heirloom tomato gratin, pickled chanterelles and sweet corn purée. A sophisticated, well-pondered list of wines includes a suggested pairing for oysters. Consider warm berry bread pudding or an ice cream sandwich for dessert. Note: All menus are available at the bar, and no reservations are taken for the bar.