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Zuni Cafe

A San Francisco Staple

  • Zuni Cafe
    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Map)
    +1 415.552.2522

Zuni, housed in a wedge of a building covered in windows, has come to embody San Francisco bohemian luxury. The restaurant has two tiers: Upstairs diners sit at tables on various platforms like cliff dwellers. Downstairs, there’s a copper bar, for standing only, a piano player hidden behind an enormous bouquet of flowers and branches, stucco walls covered in painted canvases, and tables scattered everywhere else.

The tables are consistently filled with the beautiful and stylish. Perhaps the windows, which create the impression that diners are being observed by Market Street passersby, appeal to their sense of vanity.

The restaurant has existed since 1978, but Zuni really became Zuni in the late 1980s, with the arrival of a brick oven and chef Judy Rogers, and her literate approach to rustic French and Italian cooking.

Since then, Zuni has been a sort of San Francisco counterpart to Chez Panisse, offering bohemian glamour with carefully sourced California-Mediterranean food. Take the roast chicken for two ($48), served with a warm bread salad, which has been on the menu since those early days. It takes an hour to prepare, but is justifiably acclaimed, and well worth the wait, especially if you have appetizers to occupy you, like deep-fried romanesco and purple broccoli with onion rings ($11), or the equally famous Caesar salad ($10).

The raw bar menu is expansive and fresh. An entire meal can be made of sampling the oyster options ($2.50 to $3.75 each). Make sure to order periwinkles too ($1.25 for eight of these little sea snails), if only to get a chance to say the cutest of all food names.

Sustainable California Mediterranean restaurants are hardly rare in San Francisco. But Zuni is great not only because it was a pioneer of the genre, but because it’s still one of the best, and still introducing delicious food and drink to diners who thought they’d seen it all.

The service, which used to be defined as much by the waiters’ knowledge as by their propensity to leave you waiting for indefensible lengths of time, has improved in recent years and seems altogether smoothed out.

California Mediterranean
$$$
Reservations Essential? No