I’m in San Francisco at least once a month these days for clients and conferences, and invariably these trips have me staying in and around Union Square. It’s close to Moscone Center and some of the larger hotels that host conferences, so I’ve gotten to know the surrounding area quite well.
This includes where to eat and drink, off the beaten path and the tourist spots that are everywhere down there.
Over the next several weeks, B2B sales & marketing professionals will descend on the Union Square area of San Francisco, specifically for event such as this week’s Sales 2.0 Conference, next week’s Eloqua Experience and November’s Dreamforce.
This isn’t a definitive guide by any means, but if you’ll be joining one of these shows and are either hungry or adult-thirsty, here are a few recommendations. Maybe I’ll see you there!
For a classic greasy-spoon breakfast
You can’t beat Pinecrest Diner, just a block up from the Hilton. Perfect greasy-spoon from the menu, booths, counter, and surly staff. It’s open 24 hours, so great for an early power breakfast or hangover cure before heading back to conference sessions.
For a Hof Brau experience
Check out Lefty O’Doul’s. The bar there is underrated, and great for a quick beer and a couple innings of a ballgame. But you’re mainly going there for the platter meals – corned beef, prime rib, sammiches and more. It’s a San Francisco institution, and fun for a quick lunch with fellow attendees.
For fast, fun, boat-delivered sushi
Check out Sushi Boat. It can be easy to miss, as it’s basically just a door heading down to a basement restaurant. The restaurant centers around a sushi bar surrounded by a moat, in which wooden boats float a variety of small plates. They make great teriyaki and other Japanese dishes too, plus it’s only a couple blocks from the Union Square Hilton and Moscone Center.
For all the garlic you can stand
Check out The Stinking Rose. It’s a cab ride away from Union Square but worth it, especially if you like garlic. Just confirm that your meal-mates like garlic too, or plan on jogging back to your hotel to get it out of your system. Most restaurants start you off with bread and butter. At The Stinking Rose, it’s bread with warm roasted garlic paste. Amazing.
For great steak & frites
Across from the Marriott Marquis and just two blocks from Union Square is Annabelle’s, a small and intimate but casual French place with a nice menu and experience bartenders. They can make anything you want, and I recommend the steak & frites if you’re hungry.
For a great meal AND great cocktail
Check out Absinthe, a short cab ride west and behind the symphony hall. It’s packed all the time so get reservations, but the first time I went there I was by myself in town for the evening, started three back of the bar with a cocktail, and left four hours later having finally found a seat at the bar for a couple more cocktails, a great meal, and two new friends on either side of me. Good drink, food and conversation on both sides of the bar.
Best burger & Manhattan combo in town
The Four Seasons bar doesn’t have a TV, so if you want to watch a game you’ll need to go somewhere else. But if you want an amazing burger and great cocktail, plus a chance to run into someone famous, check out the Four Seasons. They have happy hour specials pairing burgers & cocktails. Plus, I’m serious, I’ve run into actors, singers and sports stars there regularly. Good people watching if nothing else.
For a secret and amazing, Prohibition-era cocktail
My favorite bar by far in San Francisco is Bourbon & Branch. It’s less than two blocks from the Union Square Hilton, but you’ll have a hard time finding it. The front door is painted black – no signage, no indication of what’s behind it. You will need reservations, even to sit at the bar. You will also need the daily-changing password to get in. But once you’re in, it’s Disneyland for old-school cocktail fans. Dimly lit, a phone book for a cocktail and spirits menu, plus a secret library bar in the back that’s only accessible by pulling out a single book from the secret library wall door. Seriously cool. Make your reservations now (and take me with you!).
For a great cocktail & cigar
Another short cab ride but worth it to Cigar Bar & Grill. Good food and drinks, but outside in the patio you can also enjoy one of a great selection of cigars. Nothing better than hanging out with old or new friends, sipping on Single Malt and puffing a stogie. If you like that kind of thing.
For a great Italian meal without going to North Beach
If you have time and a reservation, there are some amazing Italian restaurants all over San Francisco. But just a half block from Union Square in the Sr Francis Drake hotel is Scala’s Bistro. Small, good food, great ambiance. Good for a quick lunch between sessions or a nice dinner with partners, prospects or customers too.
For the best Chinese food in town
That’s saying something for a city like San Francisco, and although I haven’t been everywhere, nothing beats House of Nanking. Another cab ride into Chinatown, and it’s a tiny place that doesn’t take reservations, but every dish is amazing.
For a good dive bar
This is the glaring hole in my personal recommendations, so I went to Oracle Eloqua social community manager and San Francisco resident Lauren Harper for a recommendation. She recommends Burritt Room and Mikkeller Bar in the Union Square area for “safe” dives, but also Local Edition, Rickhouse and Jones Bar.
That should be enough to get you started. Would love to hear other recommendations in the comments.