San Francisco Feature


Dining in SoMa, Civic Center, and Hayes Valley

These areas prove that terrific restaurants can spring up in gritty surroundings—and often they'll help spur a general neighborhood improvement. This serving of gentrification comes with tempting menus and stylish dining rooms.

The hip SoMa once was a warehouse district punctuated by blue-collar households. Nowadays, the same streets are chockablock with residential lofts, trendy bars and clubs, and scores of restaurants that fuel the mostly young and single local crowd (or business types in town for a convention).

The Civic Center is heavy with government buildings and grand performance spaces. Its dining scene is geared for people grabbing a bite before or after La Bohème or Mahler.

Hayes Valley is sprouting several hip and haute dining destinations around its main stem, Hayes Street. The low-key vibe in its wine bars and cafés makes it easy to feel like a local.

Wake Up

One of the better locals' secrets is at Arlequin Café & Food To Go (384 Hayes St., near Gough St. 415/626–1211), the little sister to the classy Absinthe restaurant. The casual place has plenty of self-serve items, plus homemade granola or oatmeal for the healthy set; egg lovers should go for the egg sandwiches that come on a bagel, levain, or a croissant. The best part? There's a garden patio in the back with tables among the trees. It's so comfortable, you might even stay for lunch. And why wouldn't you, with choices like Indian-spiced lamb burger and a three-cheese mac 'n cheese.

Snacking Around …

SoMa: Tree-lined South Park is a charming green oasis. The park is bordered by 2nd and 3rd streets, and Brannan and Bryant streets. A cute neighborhood café is The Butler & the Chef (155 S. Park St. 415/896–2075), which offers organic breakfast and lunch items, including croissants and croque monsieurs (grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches) that will make you think you're in Paris. Take your pick of inventive grilled-cheese sandwiches (with soup on the side) at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen (1 S. Park Ave., Suite 103A, at 2nd St. 415/243–0107). Closer to Market Street, the takeaway-only Sentinel sandwich shop (35 New Montgomery St. 415/284–9960), with Canteen's star chef Dennis Leary at the helm, builds and wraps one of the city's best Reubens.

Hayes Valley: You can enjoy duck meatballs or a stellar Wagyu burger off the J Lounge menu at Jardinière (300 Grove St., at Franklin St. 415/861–5555). Sit at the bar at Absinthe (398 Hayes St., at Gough St. 415/551–1590), which has an excellent and filling French onion soup for under $10. At Frjtz (581 Hayes St., near Laguna St. 415/864–7654) you can opt for Belgian fries (with a wild array of dips!), mussels, or crepes.

Another option is to visit the proxy project along Octavia Street between Hayes and Fell. Shipping containers have been transformed into local food business stands, like Smitten Ice Cream, Ritual Coffee Company, and Biergarten; food trucks are also known to park nearby. You can sit in the park (Patricia's Green) just across the street.

SoMa Sophisticates

Around Brannan and 4th streets and nearby South Park, several classy restaurants dish up eats, including the Japanese-influenced Alexander's Steakhouse (448 Brannan St. 415/495–1111 1:E6), the lively small-plates Coco500 (500 Brannan St 415/543–2222 4:H6), and the very French South Park Café (108 S. Park St. 415/495–7275 1:G6).

And for Dessert

We hope you're up for a French macarons tasting, because the neighborhood is full of these brightly colored meringue-based treats.

First stop is Chantal Guillon (437 Hayes St., near Gough St. 415/864-2400), a store featuring macarons made by a French pastry chef and full of flavors like Italian pistachio, jasmine green tea, and Persian rose.

Head to the nearby Miette Confiserie (449 Octavia St., near Hayes St. 415/626–6221) and take your pick of candies and confections from local artisans and from around the world—get a few of their buttercream-filled macarons to nibble as you stroll.

SoMa's Patisserie Philippe (655 Townsend St., between 7th and 8th Sts. 415/558–8016), good for both walkabout and sit-down, is no slouch either when it comes to perfect French macarons—or to tarts, cakes, pastries, croissants, and more, for that matter.

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