Chef Michael Mina's Guide to San Francisco for Foodies

The star chef's favorite San Francisco restaurants, bars and neighborhoods

Since he moved to San Francisco in 1989, celebrity chef Michael Mina has built an empire of 27 (and counting) restaurants across the country, including nine in the Bay Area.

What sets the Bay Area food scene apart from the rest of the country?

It's very vibrant and dynamic with so much talent. San Franciscans cheer on restaurants and chefs like many cheer on professional sports teams.

Chef Michael Mina has restaurants across the country, but he got his start in San Francisco.

What neighborhood do you explore on a free day?

What’s so magical about San Francisco is all the different neighborhoods. I always find something new and interesting. Russian Hill and the Polk Gulch are quintessential San Francisco to me. Every corner is a new experience. You feel like you’re right in the heart of the city. They’re growing and expanding with a lot of exciting options. Stones Throw, Belcampo Meat Company and Lord Stanley are all new restaurant additions to the area. And obviously I’m a big fan of the Financial District because all my restaurants are right there [laughs].

What’s a local culinary trend that you’ve noticed?

Restaurants like Stones Throw really focus on Bay Area ingredients and good culinary techniques in a neighborhood setting. To me that’s what San Francisco has always been about, the opportunity to create these neighborhood restaurants that are real dining destinations. I even did a restaurant about 15 years ago in Las Vegas called Nob Hill that was inspired by the feeling of a San Francisco neighborhood restaurant.

If you only had 24 hours in San Francisco, where would you eat?

Chef Josh Skenes is doing some great food at Saison. You’re going to use up a few hours, but they’ll be some of the most worthwhile hours that you spend here, at least food-wise. 4505 Burgers & BBQ probably has the best brisket in town. I’d go classic at Deli Board and get the Reuben. I’d get La Taqueria’s taco with the double shell, crispy and soft. And Pabu’s nigiri menu.

The dining room at Michael Mina restaurant in the Financial District

Any favorite hidden gems?

Wayo, Z&Y Szechuan, La Ciccia, Stella Bakery and the Italian Homemade Company, which is this adorable little spot run by a husband and wife with great food.

Any tips for travelers to San Francisco?

Wear layers. Try to get lost.  There is romance, mystery and beauty in random corners of the city. Go through the Presidio—the views looking out over the Golden Gate Bridge are just amazing. Forget your diet and indulge. Wear layers.

Michael Mina’s Perfect San Francisco Day

Go to Tartine Bakery for a morning bun and Four Barrel Coffee, and then walk around the Mission and Dolores Park.

Dolores Park in the Mission District has a view of the downtown skyline.

Get lunch at Swan Oyster Depot and stroll down to Fort Mason

Head to ABV or Hard Water for a pre-dinner cocktail. Order the wood-fired chicken at Zuni Café for dinner.  

End at Tosca Cafe for nightcap and late night snack. Afterward, walk around North Beach and maybe stop for some blues at The Saloon.

Michael Mina's Foodie Picks for San Francisco