San Francisco is no stranger to the Michelin Star awards, and the Bay area has been known to be home to some of the finest restaurants in the world. The Cali climate allows for excellent sources of fresh produce off local farms– and is a stone’s throw away from the most luscious and incredible Winelands in the USA.
In addition to the picture-perfect geographical location, San Francisco is a hot spot for diversity and culture, thanks to its large immigrant population. There’s no doubt that this city has history and soul – and with all these defining attributes – it has become one of the food capitals of America and home to some of the best Michelin Star chefs.
Michelin Star Restaurants In San Francisco – 3 Stars
For those who are familiar with the San Francisco dining scene, you have probably heard of Quince, the three-star dining establishment that embodies everything San Francisco is proud of – and takes full advantage of the local farms to prepare dishes worthy of fame. The “Fresh Run Farm” that supplies Chef Michael Tusk of Quince with inspiration from its everchanging organic produce is to thank for the seasonal and otherworldly creations made by the team at Quince.
Their spring menu is currently focused on the locally sourced seafood from their farms an hour away from the restaurant. Instead of using creek water for irrigation, the farm collects winter rains in their ponds, which double as a perfect habitat for trout and salmon. Accompanied by other seasonal goodies like asparagus, the dishes are vibrant artworks enticing you to explore the raw flavours of the spring season.
With all the hard work that goes into their 10-course tasting menu, the $360 per person price tag is understandable. Their commitment to sustainability has also won them a green star from Michelin, a commendable accolade that makes Quince the blueprint for up and coming fine dining.
The dishes at Benu are culinary masterpieces, combining the technical methods of Japanese cuisine with umami punches of complex flavours. You’ll come across ferments using century-old methods and other unique ingredients like their signature “faux-shark”. The presentation is precise and eye-catching, with satisfying attention to detail. The decor matches, as the earth-toned dining room welcomes you in with a requisite wander through the perfectly manicured gardens before entering.
The menu focuses on delicate plates of small bite food, that take on redefining the classics like xiao long boa, barbecued quail with house-made XO sauce, and finishing with their famous pearl white miniature chiffon cake, iced to exquisite perfection. The influences are multi-cultural Asian inspired, so you’ll see a mixture of cuisine such as Chinese, Korean and Japanese – all taking influence from one another and resulting in perfect harmony. With the incredible talent of the chefs at Banu, the tasting menu comes at the price of $350 per person – a fair price to pay for an experience of a lifetime.
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Chef Dominique Crenn at Crenn Atelier took a cuisine that was already so refined and technical and turned it into something magical. The masterful dishes are a breathtaking display of Chef Dominique’s expression of her French heritage and her passion for the community that inspires her craft. She has made history as the first female chef in the US to achieve two Michelin stars, and in 2018, beat her own record and became the first female chef to be awarded three stars.
Atelier Crenn is all about “poetic culinaria”, which is the perfect way to describe the fantastical conceptual flow that is threaded throughout the everchanging seasonal menu. Light seafood and organic vegetables take centre stage, and you can expect to find simple yet elegant dishes like rosé oysters, or their unique dessert-take on avocado toast; avocado crémeux and passionfruit curd on a meringue “toast”. This culinary journey will cost around $410 per person, which is to be expected coming from the winner of the Icon Award of 2021.
San Francisco Michelin Star Restaurants – 2 Stars
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Saison and Quince have been neck and neck in the race to be the best contemporary Californian- cuisine restaurant in the Bay Area, with Quince currently in the lead. However, Saison has earned quite the reputation and cult following from the local crowd – as it is known for being one of the most expensive fine dining experiences in the US – and is often adorned by the elite.
The immersive dining experience tantalizes all the senses of the diner, allowing them to fully understand the beauty of the high-quality ingredients. Their menu is constantly changing and adapting to whatever produce is sourced by the local hunters, fishermen, ranchers and farmers. The only constant is that all of the cooking revolves around an open wood fire, which adds the signature Saison flavours to their innovative dishes.
The protein on their dishes is often of the adventurous kind, making use of the seafood and cattle that is native to North America and the Cali region. You’ll find dishes like dry-aged antelope with truffle or Cornetfish cured with kelp. Another Saison signature is to take a humble ingredient like carrot or radish and prepare it in several different ways, resulting in a final well-rounded dish with an array of flavour profiles and textures.
A restaurant with such grandeur is sure to be in the running for the coveted three start status, so many wonder why Saison is sitting at two. Saison, unfortunately, lost one of its stars in 2019, after the departure of executive chef and co-owner Joshua Skenes. This caused a rift in the consistency of the restaurant’s efforts and Michelin decided to demote. San Francisco locals are positive that Saison will take centre stage again once it’s established its new foundation.
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Birdsong is the new kid on the block that has made waves with its creative take on American cuisine. They’ve been open for just under 4 years, and have quickly earned themselves a two Michelin star recognition, while pioneering techniques and flavour profiles that aren’t usually associated with fine dining. Chef Christopher Bleidorn’s refined take on a classic American barbecue is what sets Birdsong apart, showing new ways to turn the common pastime into an impressive skill.
Lacquered and smoked aged Wolfe Ranch quail which is a part of the quail sando set with Parker House rolls, apricot sauce and pickles is an elegant take on the classically American fried chicken sando. Or there’s the wild antelope, seasoned with masala and served with braised endive, embracing the diversity of the US and the integration of cultures– resulting in incredible flavours.
If there’s one place to be to experience the full range the Michelin guide has to offer, it’s got to be San Francisco. It is one of the few cities to have such a multitude of critically acclaimed cuisines, with a good balance of one, two and three-star restaurants. San Francisco has definitely earned its reputation for being one of the most extraordinary culinary cities in the world.
California may just have some of the best Mexican food outside of Mexico, and San Francisco spot “Californios” has taken the much-loved cuisine to new heights. This is Mexican food and flavours like you’ve never experienced before, served in a suave dining room decorated with an elegant tropical flair.
The starting menu features a succession of small plates– which is interesting to see for those who are used to the bold flavours of Mexico being served in generous portions. Oaxacan green masa tart filled with smoked sturgeon mousse is one of the starter dishes, followed by a lamb chop with green garlic salsa and morels accompanied by a fragrant lamb jus, lemon and cilantro broth. The flavours will have you struck with familiarity, yet taken aback by the refinement.
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Acquerello has been known to transport the diners back in time to a more sophisticated era of fine dining. The food is elegant yet sticks to the traditional flavours and the simplicity of Italian cuisine. The mid-century dining style urges guests to dress for the occasion, bringing back the glamour and luxury of the dining scene. No casual denim and button-downs with theatrical performances and experimental techniques – just simple yet opulent Italian food.
At Acquerello you’ll find the silkiest risotto flavoured with wild nettle, preserved lemon and topped with stracchino. Then there’s the dish of the season; California king salmon, summer squash, basil and tomato broth. Their incredible take on pasta like the Duck-filled casoncelli, red cabbage, cipolline onion, and Taleggio with Perigord truffle with have your tastebuds singing.
The food is set to look just as charming as the guests, in addition to the decor. You’ll notice a colour palette of blush pinks, crisp whites, butter yellows and sage greens – opting for a more airy and graceful atmosphere than your usual cosy, warm Italian spots. Many guests of Acquerello choose it for special or romantic occasions like anniversaries, valentines or birthdays.
Sebastian is a former hedge fund trader who worked only to indulge his true passion – food.
He has dined at over 240 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, savoring culinary masterpieces and understanding the stories behind them. He now advises restaurants on menu design, decor and holistic diner experience.