If I'm dining with a larger group, this place is tops. Can't-be-beat atmosphere, and such fresh, delicious food with great personality. 11 years old and still rocking it.
I think Zuni is a great classic SF place that feels modern & I've always had memorable meals there. They have great oysters & a lively bar which always feels special.
If I am dining with just one out-of-town friend, I love to take them to this flavor-packed little spot!
Cheff Matt and his team are showing us where the "new" Italian cuisine is going. The food is amazing, and you and your guests will not be dissapointed. Flavor combinations are spot on, good wine list, nice space, and friendly staff. I've taken on separate occasions friends from out of town, best friend, mom, dad w/step mom. All have absolutely loved it, including Italian step mom, who is a good cook in her own right.
Great post; can't wait to see the answers here. For me, the restaurant should score in each of the following areas:
* memorable, distinctive, quality food
* unique atmosphere, character
* neighborhoody, not touristy
* great service
Local Mission Eatery is tops in my book in all those areas and I heartily recommend it!
I like good small neighborhood places for visitors too. We've taken foodie visitors to Namu in Richmond & it's been a big hit. Small, cozy and hip. Excellent Korean/Japanese fusion food - not a combination that you find often.
I know this is one of the hot places right now so this isn't exactly a surprising answer, but I have to say that Commonwealth is a good view into what eating in San Francisco is like right now, and unless your visitors are coming from a city like New York, I think the experience will feel pretty unique.
Flavors are great. Ingredients are top notch. Ideas are adventuresome. Decor / vibe is eclectic. Price is right (for the quality). It's everything I like about eating in San Francisco.
I vote for A16 or Nopa. The food is always outstanding at both.