The 15 best spots in San Francisco for celebrating right now

Fried quail with stewed onions, the namesake dish at State Bird Provisions. | Credit: Freda Banks

The Bay Area is rich in restaurants that make occasions feel special, and the options on this list up the ante for any celebration, from marking big birthdays to entertaining out-of-town guests. Choose a historic prime rib haunt or a recently opened modern Cantonese spot in a swish, royal setting. A waterview vegetarian icon is right for some occasions, but also consider the understated New American spot with MICHELIN cred. And don’t forget a destination restaurant that is more than worth the drive to Wine Country. This list of 15 of the top Bay Area’s restaurants for celebrating has a little something for everyone. 

Akiko’s Restaurant (Chinatown)

Not to be confused with Akiko’s Sushi, Akiko’s Restaurant is an intimate omakase bar near Chinatown serving up raw fish sourced from Japan’s infamous Tsukiji Fish Market and local purveyors. Pull up a seat at the chef’s counter and savor the hon maguro akami (lean bluefin tuna) from Kyoto, the freshness of the Hokkaido scallops, and the richness of the Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin) while you marvel at the chefs’ skillfully choreographed moves. The $250 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 of occasions.

Empress by Boon (Chinatown)

Interior of Empress by Boon

The interiors at Empress by Boon. | Credit: Jean Bai

One of the hottest new restaurant openings of 2021, Empress by Boon is a modern Cantonese destination from chef Ho Chee Boon, with more than 25 years of experience under his belt including as the executive chef of Hakkasan. In taking over the 7,500-square-foot space that once held Empress of China — a historic Chinese banquet hall that served the community for nearly half a century — Boon hopes to continue the venue’s legacy. He enlisted a UK-based design firm to revive the space with royal blue sofas and geometric screens, with seats facing a skyline view. Empress by Boon has a five-course prix fixe menu at $98; book your spot now as reservations fill up fast.

House of Prime Rib (Nob Hill)

A crowd-pleaser since 1949, this prime rib establishment is a local institution known for its 21-day aged beef rib. The noteworthy dish is blanketed in rock salt to help it hold onto its juices and flavors during roasting before the chef carves fresh slices to order in the main dining room right before your eyes. Accompaniments include a cult-favorite salad tossed in a spinning bowl tableside, as well as baked potatoes served with butter, sour cream, and chives. Ask your server for wine recommendations from the extensive list. Feast on it all in a dining room that recalls a classic British brasserie, all plush sofas and white tablecloths. This is highly worth a stop for locals and visitors alike—if you’re looking for a hearty meal and attentive, personalized service, you won’t be disappointed.

Kokkari Estiatorio (FiDi) 

Kokkari is the kind of versatile spot where diners can either cozy up to a date or gather the whole family for a feast. The massive stone hearths and wooden tables make it especially warm and welcoming. The Greek fare is rustic and delicious, featuring pillowy flatbread and array of dips, including a whipped taramosalata (fish roe dip), crispy zucchini cakes, and calamari stuffed with feta. It’s officially a special occasion if you order the grilled whole fish of the day, or lamb any way one’s heart desires, whether that’s in the form of smoky grilled chops, succulent braised shank, or spiced and baked into a moussaka.


Bellota (SoMA)

Interior seating and open kitchen of Bellota

A view of the open kitchen at Bellota. | Credit: Kelly Puleio

From The Absinthe Group comes Bellota, a Spanish tapas, pintxos, and paella restaurant with an ample open kitchen where all the action unfolds. Diners are seated at tables around the open kitchen or at the counter where a leg of jamón ibérico de bellota (salt-cured and air-fried ham) is sliced to order—a special occasion must. The jamón ibérico de bellota is highly prized because the pigs are naturally raised foraging on acorns, giving the meat a stunning marbled quality. There are four types of paella to choose from, but if you can’t decide Bellota has special pans on hand in which you can have two paellas served in one pan. The energy in the dining room is always lively, amplified by live music. 


Greens Restaurant (Marina District)

The trailblazing female-led, vegetable-forward Greens made a name for itself as a vegetarian restaurant where you will not miss the meat in your meal. The seasonal menu features locally grown organic produce. The late summer menu included grilled peaches with hot honey, Thai basil, and almonds; sweet corn and zucchini enchiladas; and kimchi and corn pizza with charred scallions. Dining indoors feels like you’re at an art gallery with wooden sculptural pieces and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that have a prime view of the breathtaking sunset overlooking the bay, making the dining experience extra special. Reserve early to grab seats by the window for a front-row view of the sunset. 


State Bird Provisions (Western Addition)

The casual yet refined Californian restaurant with a MICHELIN star serves inventive small plates of new American dishes with Asian influences on an ever-changing menu, so you can try something new each time you visit. The latest menu features duck liver mousse with almond financiers, pork belly salad with pluots (a hybrid fruit from the plum family), and corn mochi with goat gouda and chiles. No matter what you round a meal out with, the restaurant’s eponymous fried Californian quail and housemade peanut muscovado milk are both must-tries. 


Foreign Cinema (Mission) 

Movie screenings meet Californian Mediterranean plates at Foreign Cinema. | Credit: Foreign Cinema

In 1999, John Clark and Gayle Pirie transformed a struggling movie theater into a bohemian retreat of a restaurant. Today, Foreign Cinema is still one of the most dramatic spaces and memorable meals in San Francisco. The heart of the space is the patio illuminated with twinkle lights and old movies flickering in 35mm. And the plates match the spectacle: Diners love to feast on pop tarts for birthday brunches and rack up seafood towers for Valentine’s dinners, and many a wedding party has raised a glass in these side rooms.   


Lolinda (Mission)

An Argentinean steakhouse serving up Latin American flavors with Californian vibes, this restaurant is a favorite among groups, business dinners, birthdays, and date nights. Medieval-esque wagon wheel chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling illuminate the spacious dining room. Diners are seated at individual tables or at the large communal table feasting on the finest cuts of beef. The wood-fired grill lends the meats an irreplaceable smokiness and a slight char. Fire up your choice of sausages, short ribs, pork chop, ribeye steak, or get the full experience in the asado mixto (barbecue mix) that includes chorizo, morcilla, flap loin, short ribs, potatoes, and peppers. To end the night, head upstairs to the open-air rooftop El Techo for a drink while enjoying sweeping views of the city. 


Californios (SoMa) 

During the pandemic, Californios moved from its original intimate home in the Mission to a more ambitious space in SoMa. The new digs boast a generous patio and dramatic, blacked-out interior. Despite the address change, Californios held onto its two MICHELIN stars, and continues to impress restaurant critics and even the occasional celebrity—Colombian singer J Balvin dined here before performing at the Outside Lands music festival. Chef Val Cantu dives deep into Mexican and California ingredients and flavors, playfully presented in small bites across many courses, from fresh crudo and colorful masa to a baby banana topped with caviar. Prepaid tickets start at $267.

Calavera Mexican Kitchen & Agave Bar (Oakland)

In the bustling community hub of Oakland Hive, Calavera is an Oaxacan restaurant inspired by the cuisines of southern Mexico. The restaurant is lofty and stylish, and it’s worth snapping pictures of your group in front of the geometric liquor shelf or the sculptural pendant lights. This all-day dining location covers all the bases with brunch, lunch, dinner, and cocktail specials. Try the plato de cochinita pibil, a hearty dish of braised pork, roasted tomato, grilled onion, and habanero salsa, served with nixtamal tortillas. Combine that with the fish tacos made with avocado sour cream and slaw. The venue becomes livelier at night when the atmosphere is buzzy and drinks are flowing.


Ettan – Palo Alto (Palo Alto) 

Skylight with hanging plants and chandelier

Ettan’s double-height dining room. | Credit: Patricia Chang

 Stemming from the desire to add Indian cuisine to the local dining scene, first-time restaurateur Ayesha Thapar partnered with chef Srijith Gopinathan, formerly of two MICHELIN-starred Campton Place. The result is the contemporary Cal-Indian menu that is Ettan. The space is designed by Thomas Schoos, interior designer to the stars, whose other awe-inspiring interiors include TAO, Morimoto, and Koi. Blue accents are scattered across the double-height dining room with plants and chandeliers hanging from the dome skylight; natural sunlight floods the interior. On the menu, Gopinathan’s creativity is on full display through the cast-iron “monkey buns” with eggplant chutney, edamame veda black lentil “dumplings,” and Kerala fried chicken with roasted coconut milk and green apple. If you’re feeling luxurious, opt for the Ettan reserve caviar with crème fraîche, kulcha (flatbread), and chives.


Commis (Oakland) 

The only MICHELIN-starred restaurant in Oakland has not one but two stars, earned for showcasing local ingredients in a sleek and modern space on Piedmont Avenue. Chef James Syhabout nestles a slow-poached egg yolk in smoked dates and alliums, dots caviar atop velvety taro root, and showers oysters with granitas and foams on a tasting menu that starts at $225 per person. For more low-key celebrations, some diners slide into the bar for cocktails and caviar service with chive biscuits. For an intimate private party, a heated terrace with an open fire pit cozies up to a dozen guests.   

Kiraku (Berkeley) 

This cozy izakaya has been a neighborhood gem on Telegraph Ave since 2011. Small plates—the multi-talented chef makes most of the ceramics used here—pair well with the outstanding selection of beer and sake. Try crispy corn tempura sprinkled with green tea salt, grilled jumbo squid glazed in teriyaki, and beef tongue skewers with yuzu miso. With limited seats, there’s often a line; a few reservations and a waiting list are available via Kiraku’s website.  

the girl & the fig – Sonoma (Sonoma)

A neighborhood classic that has been around since 1997, the girl & the fig describes its style as “country food with a French passion.” The Provençal-inspired menu comes alive by fusing the freshest of seasonal ingredients with an award-winning wine list,. Expect plenty of fig—in the tartine, in an arugula salad, and even in the sparkling wine cocktail with caramelized fig syrup. For special occasions, the three-course meal with an optional wine pairing is the way to go.


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

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