San Franciscans understand what Shel Silverstein meant when he wrote, "somebody has to go polish the stars."
In the past, Tenderloin alleyways have looked a little too much like forgotten dreams and despair. It's no doubt that the neighborhood has carried the most questionable reputation in SF, but gentrification in recent years has given the Tenderloin some much-needed hope and shine. There is an undeniable charm in the convergence of art and style and grit here, and surprisingly, the 'hood is now home to some of the coolest stays in town for visitors seeking an authentic moment in San Francisco. Plus, a diverse range of cuisines, cocktail lounges, and theaters make the TL a sweet spot for a culture fix.
The Best Restaurants in the Tenderloin, San Francisco
Regulars with a hankering for genuine NOLA-style beignets and shrimp-and-grits line up at Brenda's French Soul Food (652 Polk St). // Rusty's Southern (750 Ellis St) brings more southern comfort—Georgia fried chicken, Texas barbecue, and Louisiana catfish. The crispy fried chicken and brunswick stew are best paired with a sweet tea, but try a beer from their decently large selection if that's what you are feeling. // Elephant Sushi (380 Golden Gate Ave and 705 Geary St) is a must-try fusion sushi spot. The sushi chefs pride themselves on creatively mixing together unlikely flavors to create unique, "fancy" plates. The narrow, intimate eatery is known for its extremely fresh trout which is raved to need no soy sauce or extra flavor. // Join the crowd at Mensho Tokyo (672 Geary St) for a taste of the Japanese capital's modern ramen scene. Patient foodies and lovers of all things authentic will revel in the Spicy Tori Paitan, which is one of their richest dishes. The line moves quickly so don't fret. // Check out Chambers (601 Eddy St) at the Phoenix Hotel for small plates like their "drunken nachos" or ahi tuna as well as a satisfying selection of sandwiches, wraps and burgers. The marquis signage, "Be amazing," is guaranteed to spark your interest in bottomless mimosas on Saturdays. // Kin Khao (55 Cyril Magnin St), in the Parc 55 hotel, maintains one Michelin star for its zestful menu including favorites like their house made curries. Try the rabbit green curry with apple eggplants. // Redford (673 Geary St) takes traditional American pleasures such as whiskey and comfort food and heightens them with an upscale twist. Redford's dim and fly ambiance is magnetic. // Tratto (501 Geary St) is a refined Italian trattoria—order up house made gnocchi and butternut squash ravioli. // It's all about Thai cuisine at upscale-yet-affordable Lers Ros (30 Larkin St). From soups to salads, rice and grilled chicken, the choice is yours. // If you're in the neighborhood and craving good Korean food, Barnzu (711 Geary St) is the place for you. Their modern, brick wall design makes eating here a delicious and aesthetic experience. // But wait, there is more! Another spot for Korean cuisine is Aria Korean Tapas (932 Larkin St), known for its fried chicken. // The Tenderloin serves up diverse cuisines: For Ethiopian, head to Tadu (484 Ellis St), a cute little spot where the specialty is Kifto, lean ground beef sauteed with spices and homemade butter. // For healthy breakfast (think savory porridge), lunch (all the salads), and afternoon pastries (even GF options), there's no place like Jane on Larkin (925 Larkin St.). // Grab a $4 cinnamon toast and coffee at Scullery (687 Geary St).
Where to Grab Drinks in SF's Tenderloin
Black Cat (400 Eddy St) is craft-beer-in-narrow-glasses by day and an underground vibey jazz club by night. Head here in your swanky oxfords for a horn-, sax- and charcuterie-fueled night in a dark, sleek atmosphere. // 800 Larkin (800 Larkin St) was once a sports bar famous for hosting a parade of the TL's most debaucherous locals. At this local favorite you'll want to kick back on the couch and watch sports on the big screen or play a game of pool. // Nite Cap (699 O'Farrell St) is a fashionable yet straightforward bar filled with friendly regulars and a lengthy happy hour including shot and beer specials such as the $9 bartender's choice. Head one block down O'Farrell for a post-Nite Cap burrito at El Tesoro. // Bourbon & Branch (501 Jones St) channels a speakeasy from the Prohibition era—think secret rooms and a list of house rules that ask visitors to put their phones away, refrain from ordering cliche cocktails, and avoid taking photographs. // When the allure of the mysterious is strong and you've got a feel for one speakeasy, why not find another one within it? There's no playin' around in Wilson & Wilson (501 Jones St), a hideout inside of Bourbon & Branch that resembles a detective's lair. This space is preferred for private parties and reservations and, yes, there is a password to enter. // Swig (561 Geary St) is a happy hour haven to corporate types on the weekdays and really gets popping just before midnight on the weekends when the roaring live music ranging from jazz to "top 40" draws crowds from off the street towards the magnetic dance floor (the free cover doesn't hurt either). // While Jones (620 Jones St) doesn't technically consider the Tenderloin home, this indoor-outdoor spot is the crème de la crème of trendy nighttime spaces. // Get crafty (in terms of beer and cider, that is) surrounded by oaky decor at Beer Basement (222 Hyde St). This casual lounge is open every evening and features a large rotating draft selection from such local small-batch breweries as Mission Trail and AleSmith. They often have stand-up comedy on Fridays. // On the outside, Whitechapel (600 Polk St) looks like a historical London train station. Once you enter, you're immersed in Victorian decor and privy to the largest gin selection in North America. Try their famous "Stolen Valor" cocktail made with Tanqueray, mezcal, Hayman's sloe gin, Cynar 70, vanilla orange bitters, and absinthe. // Mikkeller Bar (34 Mason St) is well known among beer lovers who come for 42 beers on tap. // Aunt Charlie's Lounge (133 Turk St) isn't the trendiest gay bar in town, but it is one of the oldest. Go for their iconic drag shows on Friday and Saturday night.
Things to Do in SF's Tenderloin
Modernism Inc. (724 Ellis St) has been around for nearly 40 years, but continues to feel new and fresh with rotating historical and contemporary art. // Jessica Silverman Gallery (488 Ellis St) has been in the SF art scene for less than a decade and prides itself on a vibrant roster of artists. The installations vary and always offer an exciting representation of international art and other concepts. // Celebrate this SF neighborhood's rich history at the Tenderloin Museum (398 Eddy St), which hosts an array of public programming including photo exhibits, drag shows, walking tours, and more.
If you've always wanted to see a Broadway show but have never had the chance, SHN Golden Gate Theatre (1 Taylor St) offers the New York experience for a fraction of the cost. Look for regular stagings of Broadway productions. // With more than 2,000 seats, music venue The Warfield (982 Market St) has welcomed everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Bob Dylan to The Gypsy Kings. // Great American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell St) is another big music venue with a long history in the 'hood. // For a more community-driven, indie arts vibe, PianoFight (144 Taylor St) hosts comedy, improv, live music, and open mic along with bar food and drinks. // Glide Memorial Methodist Church (330 Ellis St) has long been on a mission to make the world a better place—promoting diversity and supporting communities in need—and it's working here at home in the Bay Area. Sign up to volunteer, check the online schedule for speakers, or simply go to church, which is truly one-of-a-kind. // A coin laundry doesn't have to be so bad. TL Cafe and Laundromat (517 O'Farrell St) combines an essential chore with leisure, offering beer, food, and sports on the TV. // A few blocks away in the TenderNob, August Hall (420 Mason St.) is a one-time 1930s speakeasy turned live music venue housed in a grand space with a restaurant (Fifth Arrow) and subterranean bowling alley.
Shop + Spa
Inspired by Japanese bathing culture, Onsen (466 Eddy St) offers San Franciscans an escape from the chaotic hustle of daily life with a serene atmosphere that will cleanse your body and soul. In addition to their bathing rooms is a restaurant and spa, the seasonal, wellness-focused Onsen restaurant offers teas and sake from a local brewer, Sequoia Sake. // The TL is not SF's shopping hub, but there are a few neighborhood gems. RS 94109 (835 Larkin St) is part record store, part coffee shop where laid back guys spin vinyl and serve beer. // Vintage store Vacation (651 Larkin St) has a basement for curated artistic experiences. Come for the polka dot midi skirts and embellished jean jackets, stay for the poetry readings and open-mic nights. // Give yourself a break at Plant Therapy (687 O' Farrell St). where anyone can have a green thumb when supported by this lovely staff. They even host workshops on terrarium making.
Hip Hotels in San Francisco's Tenderloin
The Tilden Hotel's (345 Taylor St) furnishings have a crisp, organic feel that will surely be a stylish sanctuary from the sensory explosion that is downtown San Francisco. Look out for rotating works by local artists and a streetfront cafe serving Equator Coffee, breakfast, and snacks. // The Phoenix (601 Eddy St) is the TL's mainstay cheap motel turned party central turned civilized hipster stay, now under management by the Bunkhouse Group (think San Cristobal in Baja and El Cosmico in Marfa). With forever rock-and-roll vibes and pool parties throughout the summer, this lodging option, also home to the restaurant/bar Chambers, promises a scene. // Hotel Nikko (222 Mason St) is an SF classic with chic looks, grand views and, most importantly of all, a nightclub right on site—Feinstein's knows what show biz is all about.
Technically located in the TenderNob, that transitional sliver of SF between the grittier TL and tony Nob Hill, the Philippe Starck–designed Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel (495 Geary St) may be under new ownership, but with its velvety-luxe Redwood Room and location beside two landmark theaters consistently showcasing popular plays, it remains a hot spot for visitors. // Down the block, The Marker (501 Geary St) is a four-star stay with an exquisite lobby and luxury rooms. // Nearby Hotel Zeppelin (545 Post St), part of the Viceroy group, is a boutique stay that takes modern, elegance and dresses it in a pair of metallic platforms. With peace sign sculptures and concert crowd murals, the Zeppelin offers an experience like that of a glam rock superstar, the edgy yet sophisticated boutique hotel is SF "to a T." // Hotel G (386 Geary St.) is a modern, urban spot that doubles as a dining and drinking destination for locals thanks to its killer seafood restaurant, Ayala, and intimate upstairs bar, Benjamin Cooper. // A bit closer to Civic Center, The Proper (1100 Market St) has completely redesigned a historic flatiron-style building to stunning results complements of Kelly Wearstler, who dressed the place in vintage furniture reupholstered in bold prints and artwork from local creators. It's also a locals' hangout thanks to proper eats at Villon and fire pits at the rooftop bar.
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