This article was updated in March 2019, but still includes relevant bars and restaurants originally recommended by sommelier and winemaker Rajat Parr in 2015.
Stylish-yet-casual, and a good date venue, newly-opened Verjus offers an extensive wine list with new takes on classic regions, including several fresher styles of wine emerging from California. Natural wine fans would identify with a good proportion of the list, from Georgian orange wines to a delightful Zinfandel-Carignan blend by California’s Martha Stoumen. Beyond the US, there is a strong focus on France, including Champagne, Loire, Rhône and Languedoc, as well as Italy.
Manchego sausage meets pâté en croute in a range of sharing plates with a clear French bistro and Spanish tapas bar influence. Pain perdu is a must-try dessert. No reservations and closed Sundays. www.verjuscave.com. Recommended by Chris Mercer.
Light-filled and bustling on a corner of Market Street. Looking beyond the epic roast chicken, the wine list is well-stocked by wine director Thierry Lovato, with the best of France, Italy and the US. Finish with a Calvados. www.zunicafe.com. Recommended by Rajat Parr (2015).
Another new entrant on the SF scene, Ungrafted was opened by sommelier couple Chris Gaither and Rebecca Fineman MS in the up-and-coming Dogpatch area of the city; not a regular haunt for tourists as yet, which is good in many ways – and not least because this feels like a place that locals might drink.
A light and airy warehouse space is given an intimate feel with warm, relaxed service, a well-appointed layout and wall-art. There is a suitably hefty wine list, featuring a large number of Champagnes, a good amount of half-bottles and a mix of classic heavyweights from Burgundy and Bordeaux, mixed with the likes of Porter Creek ‘old vine’ Carignan, sourced from California’s Mendocino County and available by the glass.
On the food side, delicately presented sharing plates show an eye for detail here. Talley Chardonnay from the Arroyo Grande Valley, with its well-integrated oak and bright acidity, was great when paired with crispy chicken skins served with avocado and michelada. Reservations are best for evenings, but a small number of front tables are held for walk-ins. www.ungraftedsf.com. Recommended by Chris Mercer.
Slightly further north of Zuni, you’ll find Arlequin wines. It’s not the biggest wine shop, but one of the best curated. Here’s where you find cutting-edge, boutique California wines, as well as many hipster wines from Europe. The real secret is the elegant courtyard out the back, where you can drink any bottle. www.arlequinwinemerchant.com. Recommended by Rajat Parr (2015).
Happy hour from 5pm until 7pm is a regular gig at many bars in San Francisco, but it would be a great time to drop by Amélie. This bar is perhaps not as polished as some of the others on this list, but it offers a great cosy corner on Polk Street to enjoy a night of thoroughly French fare – think baked camembert and snails. The wine list can be slightly kinder to your wallet than some of the other places on this list, if you want it to be, although not necessarily at the expense of your enjoyment. Wines naturally skew towards France, but there are some interesting California options, such as the 2010 Beaucanon Estate Cabernet Franc from Napa Valley. My only hesitation would be the slightly odd red-lit bottles adorning the walls – but at least the soft lighting creates the right atmosphere. A local favourite, with a sister venue in New York. www.ameliewinebar.com. Recommended by Chris Mercer.
Every city in the world needs a bar like the Snug, serving great sharing bites and brilliant cocktails while you people-watch on San Francisco’s fashionable Fillmore Street. The Old Fashioned has a lemon twist, but has a beautiful balance and is not to be missed. Scribe Chardonnay by the glass is also a great aperitif wine to kick off the evening. Lighting is low, service is great and this must be one of the best-stocked bars in the city. Aim for a window seat or a table on the mezzanine floor to avoid weekend crowding at the bar area on Friday and Saturday nights. www.thesnugsf.com. Recommended by Chris Mercer.
Created by Shelley Lindgren, Italian wine expert and now the venue’s wine director, SPQR started as a Roman restaurant, but executive chef Matthew Accarrino has turned it into something else – modern, refined, but with truly soulful Italian-ish food. With Lindgren a southern Italy maestro, Nerello Mascalese is a good bet. www.spqrsf.com. Recommended by Rajat Parr (2015).
Taxi drivers will tell you that only tourists visit the Ferry Building for its boutique stores, but the place transforms on Saturday mornings for a fresh food market attended by producers from all over northern California. Organic meat and fresh vegetables – for those staying in Airbnb, perhaps – and all manner of snacks can be found, from oysters to dumplings.
Top tip: Head to Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, then drop by Acme bread bakery and also pick up some artisan goat’s cheese from one of the stalls (we’d recommend the fresh goat’s cheese from Tomales, which has an outdoor stall) and find a spot to enjoy the sun by the bay. Better yet, put your supplies in a rucksack and cycle the 10 miles over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, which inspired the song ‘Dock of the Bay’. If you do this, take a ferry back with your bike… www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com. Recommended by Chris Mercer.
Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski are two of the country’s most adventurous chefs. Their place next door, State Bird Provisions, has become accustomed to long lines of hopeful diners. The Progress is a little more civilised. Wine director Jason Alexander has fashioned one of the city’s best lists. theprogress-sf.com. Recommended by Rajat Parr (2015).
Every city needs a nopa. A bustling restaurant that stays open late and does everything well. The menu is always filled with things you feel like eating right now. The cocktail programme is one of the city’s best and the wine list is stocked with interesting finds. Book ahead. www.nopasf.com. Recommended by Rajat Parr (2015).
Still want more?
More places to check out include Saison, a regular fixture in world’s best restaurant lists and with a wine list overseen by respected sommelier Mark Bright, who is wine director and partner here.
Press Club in the financial district has a wine list that could keep you busy for several days, including a number of rarer bottles if you’re interested in trying a broader variety from the US. There are also ‘wine flights’ that can help you navigate the list more quickly and hone your knowledge of particular varieties and styles.
Got a pasta craving? Flour & Water in Mission district has two pasta tasting menus, both carniverous and veggie, that can also be matched with particular wines. There is an unashamedly Italian wine list here, which is eclectic and impressive but it depends on what you’re after.
If you’re looking for a good morning coffee, try Blue Bottle.