12 San Francisco restaurants perfect for special occasions

The special occasion-worthy dishes at AKIKOS in East Cut include egg custard with snow crab and Hokkaido uni. | Credit: Joseph Weaver

Some special occasions were made for a glam gold-trimmed steakhouse. Other major moments call for family celebrations over outstanding pizza pies. And nothing beats a royal Cantonese banquet when it comes to hosting large and festive get-togethers. Luckily, San Francisco’s got it all.

Whether you’re marking a big birthday, entertaining out-of-towners, or just going extra-big on a random weeknight, these standout celebration spots are for you. Read on for a guide to 12 of San Francisco’s best restaurants to book for special occasions right now.

AKIKOS (East Cut)

A red lacquer bowl with fish dumplings and miso broth at AKIKOS in San Francisco
Mark a big birthday or anniversary at AKIKOS, where the swish omakase lineup includes fish dumplings in miso broth. | Credit: Joseph Weaver

AKIKOS (not to be confused with Akiko’s Sushi) recently moved to a dazzling new space in East Cut and continues to serve raw fish sourced from Japan’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market and local purveyors. Pull up a seat at the chef’s counter and savor zuke (soy-cured bluefin tuna), the freshness of Hokkaido scallops, and rich chawanmushi (egg custard, sea urchin, and maitake mushrooms) while you gawk at chef Ray Lee’s impeccably choreographed knife skills. The seasonal omakase menu includes six to seven small courses and ten pieces of nigiri, plus dessert. This is a meal reserved for the most special occasions.

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The Empress by Boon (Chinatown)

Leather, glass, and antique woodwork accents enhance the royal blue interiors at Empress by Boon in San Francisco.
The interiors at Empress by Boon impress with royal blue sofas and geometric screens. | Credit: Jean Bai

The Empress by Boon is a modern Cantonese destination from acclaimed chef Ho Chee Boon, who has more than 25 years of experience under his belt (including a stint as the executive chef of clubstaurant Hakkasan). Boon took over the 7,500-square-foot-space that was once home to Empress of China—a historic Chinese banquet hall that existed for nearly half a century—and continues the landmark’s legacy. To dial up the wow factor, Boon even recruited a UK-based design firm to revive the space with geometric screens and royal blue sofas with skyline views. Come for the five-course prix fixe featuring Cantonese-inspired hits like crispy lobster puff and wine-braised squab breast—a very sought-after celebration meal in town. 

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Greens Restaurant (Marina District)

A view of boats in the harbor from a corner table at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco
A coveted corner table at Greens Restaurant has prime bay views. | Credit: Greens Restaurant

 Women-led Greens made a name for itself as an iconic vegetarian restaurant—but you don’t have to be an herbivore to celebrate here. The sensational seasonal menu features locally grown organic produce (including some from the restaurant’s own farm) with highlights like grilled peaches with watercress and hazelnuts and fresh pappardelle tangled with sweet zucchini and lemon butter. Grand wooden sculptures make dining indoors feel like you’re at an art gallery. Not to mention floor-to-ceiling glass windows with prime bay views, ensuring the dining experience is extra special. Reserve early to grab seats by the window for a front-row sunset view.

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State Bird Provisions (Western Addition)

The signature fried quail dish at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco
The menu at State Bird Provisions changes, but well-loved constants include its signature fried Californian quail for the table. | Credit: Freda Banks

Thanks to an ever-changing menu, you can try something new each time you celebrate at this MICHELIN-starred hotspot. The casual but refined Californian restaurant treats New American dishes to Asian accents. Case in point: pork belly salad with pluots (a plum and apricot hybrid) and fish sauce vinaigrette or steamed egg tofu with garlic-chile oil, among other creative cultural mashups. No matter what else you order, round out your special night with faithfuls like a big platter of the restaurant’s claim-to-fame Californian quail for the table, plus housemade peanut milk for dessert.

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Foreign Cinema (Mission)

Fairy lights, outdoor seats, and a large screen playing a movie at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco
Movie screenings make the Cali-Mediterranean experience at Foreign Cinema extra special. | Credit: Foreign Cinema

In 1999, John Clark and Gayle Pirie transformed a struggling movie theater into a bohemian Cali-Mediterranean restaurant. Today, Foreign Cinema is still home to one of SF’s most dramatic spaces—and memorable meals. The heart of the space is the patio brightened with twinkle lights and old movies flickering in 35mm. And the plates match the spectacle: Diners love to feast on housemade pop tarts for birthday brunches, rack up seafood towers for Valentine’s dinners, and raise a glass at many a wedding party.

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Lolinda (Mission)

Lolinda is a consistent SF favorite for group get-togethers. The solid Argentinean steakhouse expertly blends Latin American flavors with Californian vibes. Medieval-esque wagon wheel chandeliers light up its spacious dining room, and a wood-fired grill adds a signature smokiness to the pitch-perfect meat dishes. Diners are seated at individual tables or at a large communal table to devour sausages, short ribs, pork chop, and ribeye steak. Get the full experience via the asado mixto (barbecue mix for two) that includes chorizo, morcilla, flap loin, short ribs, potatoes, and peppers. If you want to stretch your celebration, end upstairs at the open-air rooftop El Techo for a margarita and sweeping city views. 

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Bansang (Fillmore)

A black-and-white speckled dish with uni scallop toast topped with trout roe at Bansang in San Francisco
Bansang’s tapas-style menu was designed for sharing and includes stars like uni scallop toast. | Credit: Pork Belly Studio

This bold Korean place is the rising star in the Daeho Dining Group’s growing portfolio. Chefs Ethan Seunghuyn Min and Jin Lim are both originally from Korea and come with high-end cred—Atelier Crenn and Michael Mina, respectively. At Bansang, you’ll celebrate with artful small plates designed for sharing. Expect Korean ingredients with Japanese and French flavors like decadent uni scallop toast, galbi ribeye, and radish kimchi fried rice. The restaurant recently scored a MICHELIN Bib Gourmand, so be sure to book in advance.

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Miller & Lux (SoMa)

A 52-ounce wagyu tomahawk with an assortment of sides at Miller & Lux in San Francisco
Nothing says special occasion quite like a 52-ounce wagyu tomahawk at Miller & Lux. | Credit: Miller & Lux

Celebrity chef Tyler Florence dazzles at this glamorous modern steakhouse in Thrive City, the newly developed area just outside Chase Center. Ascend the stairs to a handsome dining room decked with tan leather booths and mid-century-style brass details. Suited servers roll through with trolleys, so you can watch them toss Caesar salads tableside or pick from a few different bottles of bubbles on ice. But the main event is the steak, and nothing says happy birthday, anniversary, or promotion quite like a 52-ounce wagyu tomahawk.

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Dalida (Presidio)

A Middle Eastern feast featuring lamb shoulder, kebabs, and octopus at Dalida in San Francisco
A full-blown Turkish feast awaits at Dalida. | Credit: Maren Caruso

San Francisco rejoiced when chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz (the wife-and-husband duo behind adored Mediterranean lounge Noosh) finally returned to the city and opened their stunning new restaurant inside Presidio National Park in June. Dalida took over the former Commissary space and added bright Mediterranean tiles and custom murals that take cues from the Presidio itself, meaning your celebration photos will be epic. The party of a menu is inspired by Sayat’s hometown of Istanbul, Turkey. Live it up over dishes like a 12-hour lamb shank falling off the bone, many-layered borek pastry stuffed with greens and cheese, and a Californian spin on tahdig that tops the crispy-bottomed saffron rice with uni and trout roe.  

Delfina Restaurant (Mission)

This Cali-Italian neighborhood gem still shines after 25 years in Mission Dolores, especially after a gleaming makeover last year. Delfina is back and better than ever, slinging arguably the best classic spaghetti in San Francisco, plus seasonal treats like Brentwood corn casonsei (half-moon shaped pasta), cherry tomato pizza, and charred Jimmy Nardello peppers—with anchovies, of course. There are new additions like a full bar and a metal-vaulted ceiling, but the warm dining room remains cozy enough for a date—and memorable enough for a birthday.

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Aphotic (SoMa)

Aphotic—previously home to the art-centric Palette—flipped open this spring with a menu that takes a deep ocean dive. Snag a table in the low-lit, black-walled dining room for a theatrical celebratory meal (“aphotic” comes from the Greek word for “without light”). Chef Peter Hemsley still leads the kitchen, which now focuses on a ten-course pescatarian tasting menu that might include spot prawns topped with caviar, abalone sunk in dashi, and oyster ice cream. The creative concept snagged a MICHELIN star this year, along with a green star for sustainability, so swim, don’t walk to this legend in the making.

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Atelier Crenn (Cow Hollow)

Many MICHELIN stars sparkle across the Bay Area. But if a special occasion calls for the coveted three-stars treatment, Dominique Crenn’s French fine-dining stunner is the ticket. The menu reads like a poem, and the modernist dishes draw from nature, resembling bird’s nests, flowers, and tree stumps. Atelier Crenn’s splurgy 14-course tasting menu stars the finest local and seasonal fish and produce from Crenn’s own regenerative farm in Sonoma. And never underestimate pastry chef Juan Contreras’s exquisite desserts like avocado mint mochi or a piña colada cupcake, which hold the power to level up any marquee night.

Becky Duffett is a food writer living and eating in San Francisco. Follow her on Instagram at @beckyduffett.

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