The 8 Best Historic Restaurants in San Francisco

In a city rich with culinary history, these are the classics still worth a reservation

March 5, 2024 7:14 am
painting of a girl holding a white dog, green couch, green curtains, two chairs, books on a coffee table, lamps
Mark Mediana

San Francisco’s dining scene is fast-paced and studded with glitzy openings and fast closures. In this beautiful mess, there are some iconic establishments that remain a constant — and the fact they’ve been thoroughly tested by time only makes them more exciting. From a traditional steakhouse to old-world Italian to a 36-year-old Indian staple in 110-year-old digs, these institutions have all been around long enough to be called classics. Here are eight of the best historic restaurants in San Francisco.

Tosca Cafe

San Francisco’s culinary history isn’t complete without the iconic North Beach institution, which has been on the scene since 1919 as a cornerstone of the city’s Italian community. Many big names have dined inside Tosca’s muraled, dimly lit rooms, and many big-name chefs have cooked in its kitchen. When it comes to food, the classic Italian restaurant sticks to the big guns — impeccable short rib rigatoni, crispy melanzana fritta and the pastas can’t be skipped. 

242 Columbus Ave.

red booths, yellow walls with paintings and loghts hanging, table with tablecloths, food, flowers, and candles
Jeanne d’Arc
Frank Wing

Jeanne d’Arc

A charming French restaurant with a medieval vibe and whimsical murals? San Francisco has that, too. Jeanne d’Arc, which was originally established in 1966 and recently reopened after a long hiatus, was part of the city’s original French wave; it’s located on the basement floor of Cornell Hotel de France and feels like another world altogether. Among the romantic arches and the demure lighting fixtures, diners are offered trusted French classics: buttery escargot, coq au vin, creme brûlée. You can’t go wrong no matter what direction you go in, and if you encounter a souffle special, order it without hesitation. 

715 Bush St.

people having dinner, wooden walls, chandeliers, food on plates and glasses
Redwood Room
Redwood Room
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Redwood Room

Hidden inside the downtown Clift Royal Sonesta, the Redwood Room has kept some of the city’s hottest secrets inside its dramatic, dark-red walls (the paneling and bar are indeed made from redwood trees). Operating since 1934, the Art Deco-styled restaurant and bar offers a sultry atmosphere and a full menu of cocktails and food to soak them up. Against the classy atmosphere, the food is decidedly modern — the cheeseburger is especially good, as well as the burrata, which is served with grilled peaches. 

495 Geary St.

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Originally opened in 1936 under a different name, Harris’ — occupying a whole street corner in Nob Hill — is as classy and glam as classic steakhouses get. Think indoor palm trees, leather booths and original murals, plus a jazz band. You’ll be happy to discover that the menu here is blissfully frozen in time, yet executed with the freshest local ingredients. You can’t go wrong with the steak selection (always ask for a side of scalloped potatoes) paired with a classic Martini, served here with an impressive extra serving on ice.

2100 Van Ness Ave.

inside of restaurant, columns, tables with tablecloths, chairs
New Delhi
Russell Abraham

New Delhi

Open since 1988, the oldest Indian restaurant in San Francisco welcomes guests with Maharaja banquet-style decor — ornate pillars, tapestry and colorful tile — and a decidedly vintage feel. No wonder, since New Delhi is located in a century-old former hotel ballroom originally built in 1914. Chef and owner Ranjan Dey executes curries, kofta and saffron lamb with equal aplomb; since the menu is expansive, you can’t go wrong with the chef’s tasting menu, which serves two people generous portions of the restaurants biggest hits. 

160 Ellis St.


The city’s glitziest new opening is, in fact, the return of an old classic. Starlite, the sultry Art Deco restaurant and lounge, which used to occupy a grand sky-facing space at the former Sir Francis Drake Hotel, reopened this month at the renamed Beacon Grand, with a swanky, retro design and a menu that pays homage to San Francisco’s most famous landmarks. On the drinks is the well-known Trick Dog co-founder Scott Baird, and on the food menu is Michelin-starred chef Johnny Spero, who has included inventive dishes like baked oysters in brown butter and cider sauce.

450 Powell St.

green marble outside on the street, sign, windows, and light
Tadich Grill
Craig Lee

Tadich Grill

Drive by on any given day, and you’ll see a lively stream of people coming in and out of this institution. The now-famous Tadich Grill started its local journey in 1849 as a humble coffee stand. Now, it’s a full-blown restaurant with timeless, elegant interiors, and a menu that reads like a journey back in time — oysters Rockefeller, cioppino and Crab Louie salad all make appearances, alongside some slightly more modern takes like ahi tuna salad and mesquite-broiled salmon with grilled veggies. 

240 California St.

Trader Vic’s

While not technically in town, the historic spot — it just celebrated its 90th anniversary — is a short drive across the bridge. (And how could we not include it?) Located in the picturesque Emeryville marina, Trader Vic’s was originally designed to evoke an island vacation, with strong cocktails, then-novel bites and tiki decor. These days, the restaurant is as popular as ever. Definitely order the world-famous Mai Tai, and don’t sleep on the Maui Waui Shrimp and the 5 Spice Duck. 

9 Anchor Dr., Emeryville 


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