Where to Eat Spanish Food and Tapas in San Francisco
The Spanish restaurants in San Francisco have grown in quality and quantity in the recent years. Today, in 2018, it’s probably one of the cities in the US with the best selections of restaurants from Spain, providing everything tasty the country can offer: high-quality paella, delicious and fun Spanish tapas (those small plates that allow you to try and share everything), and very well served wine bars – including a variety of Riojas and Ribera del Duero wines.
If you live in the Bay Area and you want to experience the internationally acclaimed Spanish cuisine, head over one of these Spanish restaurants. You’ll enjoy the gastronomy of Spain and enrich your experience with the Spanish language and culture, maybe even in your own neighborhood!
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20 Spanish Restaurants in San Francisco in Google Maps
Did you know you can create your own Maps on Google Maps, with your favorite pins in the city? That’s what I did for this list of the best Spanish Restaurants in San Francisco.
You can add it to your Places, or just click here and see where all these places are. It’s pretty convenient! It’ll let you know which ones are close to you, or not. It’s a good way to quickly check their star reviews… if you trust them enough!
I have not visited all the restaurants on this list. My goal is to make them clear to you so you can choose according to your taste and your current preferences. The order of the list is just based on my personal opinion and might change over time.
Also, I have to say my wife and I don’t eat meat (we sometimes eat fish), so we won’t try all the options in these restaurants. But that also means if you’re vegetarian, you can find some yummy dishes to taste here, too!
There are already tons of reviews on the internet for any of these places, so there’s no need (or any possibility) to repeat all of them here. Once you got a good general idea of what they are, you can dig in Tripadvisor, Yelp!, or your review site of preference.
4 Spanish Restaurants in San Francisco In San Francisco I’ve Personally Visited
A very hip Spanish restaurant in the Castro. It’s in my neighborhood, and that’s why it was the first one I visited. It’s always packed, people love it!
Menu here: http://www.besosf.com/menu/
Type of food: Catalan Tapas and dishes
Atmosphere: Hip and modern
Specialty: We tried the Fish Paella and it was awesome (although not cheap).
Meaning: “Beso” means – you guessed it – “kiss”
Zarzuela is a more traditional Spanish restaurant. It doesn’t have that Northern Californian vibe that many of the other, more modern, restaurants have. But the food is amazing, and the place really captures the flavor of an actual Spanish restaurant from Spain in both food and decor. I really enjoyed my dinner there.
Type of food: They have delicious tapas, cold and hot, and also full dishes. It’s inspired by different regions of Spain, so you can have a taste of everything.
Location: Hyde St in the Russian Hill
Atmosphere: Traditional and cozy. Almost like being in Spain, except that you have the cable cars right there!
Specialty: We loved the “Berenjenas con queso de cabra” and the “cazuela de queso de cabra” (you can tell we like “queso de cabra” – goat cheese). The “tortilla española” was pretty decent, too!
Meaning: “Zarzuela” is a type of traditional musical comedy in Spain – and also a seafood dish. Ah, and the Royal Family lives in the “Palacio de la Zarzuela” in Madrid!
3. Canela Bistro
We visited Canela for my wife’s company Christmas dinner, and it was a good choice. The ambient is nice and relaxed, the waiters were really accommodating, and the food (tapas style) was a good way to interact with each other. They also have a very good selection of tapas.
Menu here (changes everyday): http://canelasf.com/
Type of food: Tapas, seafood and meat dishes in a Californian-Spanish combination.
Atmosphere: Modern and hip, cozy
Specialty: I liked the octopus, they had a white gazpacho the day we went that was different and special. They also have “cocas”, kind of like Catalan pizzas or flatbreads.
Meaning: “Canela” means “cinnamon”!
4. The Commissary
A Californian high cuisine restaurant in the heart of the Presidio. The location is stunning, and the dishes are interesting – not what you’d find in Spain, but a good American interpretation. I might be biased towards The Commissary – this is where my wife and I got married!
Menu here: http://www.thecommissarysf.com/menu/
Type of food: Californian high cuisine with Spanish inspiration
Location: The Presidio
Atmosphere: Spacious, chic and romantic
Specialty: Their bread and oil is amazing. We had a pasta in squid ink that was really special, not sure if they still have it
Meaning: English name! 🙂
17 More Awesome Spanish Restaurants in San Francisco
Bellota is probably the most popular place on this list. It’s a refined restaurant in a very nice location (the Airbnb building), and they do a great job adapting traditional Spanish dishes to today’s palates. People say they have the best paella in San Francisco, and that’s a lot to say! It’s managed by the Absinthe Group.
Menu here: http://www.bellotasf.com/
Type of food: Upscale Spanish, with a very nice finish and quality ingredients.
Location: Brannan St in the Design District
Atmosphere: Modern and high-end.
Specialty: Their paellas are famous, and you can taste the traditional “soccarat”, the crust at the bottom of the pan – a common feature of the paellas in Valencia, the region they come from. Also, try their awesome “patatas bravas”.
Meaning: “Bellota” means “acorn” in Spanish. The “jamón ibérico de bellota” is the highest version of “jamón serrano”, produced from pigs fed with “bellota”. This is one of the places in SF where you can taste it, hence the name of the restaurant.
Pícaro, in the Mission, seems to me like a very authentic Spanish place in the Bay Area. They offer a wide range of tapas, and many of them are the same that you would find in Spain. What about a visit here before your trip to Madrid, just to get used to them?
Type of food: Authentic, traditional Spanish tapas, and paellas.
Atmosphere: Lively, cozy and unpretentious.
Specialty: People love their Sangria during happy hours, and I can’t wait to try their Spanish comfort food, seems just like the dishes my parents and grandparents cook!
Meaning: “Pícaro” means “rogue”! (It’s actually a common name for restaurants in Spain).
7. Patio Español
Patio español is not actually in the city, but it is definitely worth being included in this list. The place is unpretentious and relaxed, and they really serve authentic Spanish cuisine as you’d have it in Spain. The prices are not high, probably due to its location, and there’s a ton of parking available! They have a Sunday buffet too, with special dishes and the Chef’s Home Made Soups. Definitely worth paying a visit if you want to try authentic Spanish food in the Bay Area!
Menu here: http://www.patioespanol.com/menu.html
Type of food: Actual authentic Spanish food
Location: Oceanview, on Alemany Blvd
Atmosphere: Unpretentious, family-oriented, and spacious
Specialty: Their paellas and alioli are awesome! Also, their big and small plates are traditionally prepared and well finished
Meaning: “Patio Español” means “Spanish patio”. Pretty straightforward!
Contigo is a Catalan cuisine restaurant in Noe Valley. They have their own garden where they pick their herbs. The restaurant was rated the Best Spanish Restaurant in Zagat in 2016! The two owners managed to bring the Barcelona bubbling food scene right here to the Bay Area.
Menu here: http://www.contigosf.com/menu.html
Type of food: Modern Spanish and Catalan cuisine, in a farm-to-table style.
Specialty: Their “cocas” (Catalan flatbread) are famous, and also their “jamón de bellota” (see number 4).
Meaning: “Contigo” means “with you”. The owners say the chose it to create a sense of community.
A Spanish restaurant on Lombard St, in the Marina. Alegrías is on the small, family-run side of the list. They offer “rustic authentic Spanish cuisine” in a cozy environment.
Menu here: http://www.alegriassf.com/menu/
Type of food: Traditional Spanish
Location: The Marina District
Atmosphere: Cozy and homey
Specialty: People like their “empanadillas” and “croquetas”.
Meaning: “Alegrías” means “joy” (in plural).
A colorful place with Spanish-inspired decoration in the Mission. Esperpento is like your regular “bar de tapas” in Spain: they have some drinks (Sangría is the most popular one here), some tapas to eat with friends, and you can order also larger dishes, like paella and seafood plates.
Type of food: Spanish traditional, tapas-style
Atmosphere: Relaxed and low-key
Specialty: The tapas selection can give you a general idea of what people eat in Spain every day
Meaning: “Esperpento” is a specific satiric literature genre born in Spain. The word has been used since then to denote something weird and sometimes grotesque, but funny.
A fancy restaurant in the Embarcadero, Coqueta is the most Californian-influenced of the Spanish inspired restaurants in the Bay Area. Probably they take the most modern approach to their food within the restaurants of this list. The location is great, with views of the docks from the seating area. Definitely a nice and fancy experience.
Menu here: http://coquetasf.com/menu/
Type of food: Modern Spanish-inspired dishes, California style
Atmosphere: Fancy and upscale
Specialty: Patatas bravas, octopus, and meatballs are a good choice to taste
Meaning: “Coqueta” is a woman that cares about her aspect and might be flirting sometimes. It´s a nice, spicy Spanish word!
Bota is a chic Spanish restaurant inside the Hotel Warwick, in Union Square. It seems that people don’t love the food, though. Their dishes are what you’d expect in a Spanish restaurant in the US: for tapas, shishito peppers, patatas bravas, pulpo. And then, seafood, meat, and vegetarian paella, plus wines.
Type of food: Classic American version of Spanish cuisine
Location: Lower Nob Hill
Atmosphere: Trendy and chic, industrial style
Specialty: The oxtail seems to be a good option to go for
Meaning: “Bota” means “boot” in Spanish. For some reason, it’s a popular name for Spanish restaurants!
One of the two Basque restaurants in SF. Since the Basque region is a coastal region in Spain, they specialize in fish dishes. They also have all the popular, well-known Spanish dishes that we love. Good location on Columbus Ave.
Menu here: http://www.basksf.com/basque-lunch-menu/
Type of food: Traditional Basque and Spanish
Location: Jackson Square
Atmosphere: Cozy and low-key, with a nice patio
Specialty: The calamari are addictive and the Royal and Black paella are popular.
Meaning: Maybe a wordplay with the English meaning and the Basque inspiration of the restaurant?
The other Basque restaurant in SF. Piperade is defined by its owners as “West Coast Basque Cuisine”, having a combination of Basque and Spanish inspiration plus Californian ingredients and techniques. The location is great, and the place decor looks really good and cozy.
Menu here: http://www.piperade.com/menus/
Type of food: A Californian version of Spanish and Basque dishes
Atmosphere: Modern and industrial, but still cozy
Specialty: The lamb chops and the chef’s Daily Special
Meaning: “Piperade” is a Basque traditional dish – you can actually order it at the restaurant!
15. B44 Catalan Bistro
A very lively, Catalan inspired spot in the Financial District. They have an interesting mix of dishes, with a focus on rice and fish. It’s on the pricey side, but the quality is high and the location is hot. It’s a place you could definitely enjoy in Barcelona itself.
Menu here: http://www.b44sf.com/food-wine/dinner-menu/
Type of food: Catalan-Spanish dishes in an upscale finish
Location: Financial District
Atmosphere: Fancy, intimate, romantic
Specialty: Go for the ceviche, fish, or their paellas – especially the “arroz negro”
Meaning: It’s located on 44 Belden Place, hence the name
Barcino is more of a “bar” than a full-blown restaurant. They offer a variety of drinks, and dishes to go with them. It’s own by the Absinthe Group, same as Bellota, but Bellota being their fully realized Spanish restaurant. Still, a lively, interesting place in Hayes Valley for a night out.
Menu here: https://www.barcinosf.com/home#menu
Type of food: Modern Catalan
Location: Hayes Valley
Atmosphere: Modern, urban, upscale and lively
Specialty: People like the drinks and the “alboóndigas”.
Meaning: Barcino is the old, Roman name what today is the city of Barcelona (thanks to Gloria for the fact-checking!).
Barvale is more of a gastropub: a place to have some drinks and maybe a couple of dishes to go with them. barvale has tapas to offer with their also Spanish drinks, and that makes them different! They have a variety of gin-tonics (the most in fashion drink in Spain as of today). And you can taste paella as a tapa, along with many other dishes.
Menu here: http://barvalesf.com/
Type of food: Some Spanish famous tapas
Location: Divisadero, on NoPa
Atmosphere: Busy and loud, bar style
Specialty: Probably their drinks, but for tapas, paella and octopus can be a good start.
Meaning: “Vale” is a ubiquitous word in Spain – it basically means “ok”, and you might hear it as much!
Asiento is basically a drinking bar with some tapas (not really the kind of tapas you’d eat in Spain). The portions are small, and in fact, they have dishes that aren’t really Spanish – like tacos and tostadas. More the kind of place to go for some drinks (they have a couple of Spanish wines).
Menu here: http://www.asientosf.com/asiento/Menus.html
Type of food: Not really a food place, but you can order a version of “tapas”.
Atmosphere: Nightlife style, with a DJ, too.
Specialty: People like the Basil lemonade and the Albóndigas
Meaning: “Asiento” means “Seating” in Spanish!
19. Thirsty Bear
As its name says, Thirsty Bear is a place to go and drink. More a bar than a restaurant, they also craft and sell their own organic beer. It’s worth including here since apart from their drinks and food it’s the only place they offer the best known Spanish show: Flamenco! Every Sunday at 7.30 they have their “Flamenco Room”, with singer, guitarists, and dancers from Spain and the Bay Area.
Menu here: http://thirstybear.com/spanish-cuisine/
Atmosphere: Lively and bohemian
Specialty: For food, they have your regular Spanish tapas and also paella. But try their organic beer they brew themselves
Meaning: English word! 🙂
This place is now permanently closed! It looked good, though. Did you have a chance to try it? Let us know in the comments.
What is your Favorite Spanish Restaurant in San Francisco?
Leave me a comment if I missed something or you want to share your experiences in any of these Spanish restaurants. And feel free to suggest other, if you know them!