Restaurants | San Francisco, CA

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August 17, 2015

Don't Have a Reservation? 7 Tips on How to Get One in San Francisco

Sometimes you show up in San Francisco on the fly, with no reservations anywhere, and you’re wondering which hotspot you can get into. Of course, if you have enough time, you can wait for a table almost anywhere, but here are some thoughts, tips, and ideas on what you’re in for.

Some general tips: 

  1. Always check the restaurant’s page on OpenTable (or their website) for last-minute cancellations the day of, because you never know (especially in the late afternoon).
  2. CALL the restaurant (ideally in the afternoon). Talk to them. Explain your situation. Be flexible. Be nice. Ask when they do their reservation confirmations. A table just might present itself. 
  3. Don’t show up to a place hungry or cranky (i.e. hangry)—it’s not the host’s fault you don’t have a reservation. The host is your ticket to a table, so again, be nice. You can even call ahead and see what kind of a wait you’re looking at.
  4. Take a look at dining apps like Reserve (get $20 off with code EYC1AX), Resy, and Table8 for tables that are available at popular places (although be prepared to pay a fee for the convenience).
  5. Do you know the Sosh app? Every day on the app’s Concierge section, they have pre-booked reservations and experiences at great restaurants throughout the city that you can buy. Take a look and see what’s available.
  6. Don’t show up with a group, you’ll be more nimble if it’s just two of you. If there are more than four of you, you really should just look on OpenTable and see where you can get in.
  7. Be okay with dining at the bar or communal table. Those seats are usually more fun anyway.

Where You Should Get a Reservation

Boulevard (One Mission St.)
A San Francisco favorite for upscale California cuisine, a fair number of seats are reserved for walk-ins here. They often have seats at the chef’s counter where you can watch the kitchen, so if you’re a bit of a voyeur, it’s a fascinating place to perch. There’s also the bar area, but it’s up to you to decide if you’re okay with having a more casual atmosphere than the dining room. www.boulvardrestaurant.com

Frances (3870 17th St.)
Melissa Perello’s much-adored California bistro in the Castro is on the small side, so it’s a tough one to score a walk-in table—walk-ins will be seated at the front counter on a first-come, first-served basis (not at a table). But soon enough, you’ll have all your attention on the applewood smoked maple bacon beignets.

Quince (470 Pacific Ave.)
Look, a walk-in is just not going to happen here. But you can slip into their gorgeous lounge (which they call the salon), and you’ll find a special menu you can order from. Or, head to their casual sister restaurant Cotogna next door, which has a lot more ease with finding space for walk-in diners (your wait can be under an hour, so you may as well enjoy some Champagne and caviar in Quince’s salon while you wait). Good news for oenophiles: you can order off the Quince wine list in Cotogna. www.quincerestaurant.com

State Bird Provisions (1529 Fillmore St.)
Every day, hopeful guests line up in front of this nationally acclaimed restaurant around 4 p.m. to be the first walk-in diners. But after those spots are filled when the restaurant opens, you’re looking at something like at least a two-hour wait. Fortunately, there are plenty of places where you can kill time in the neighborhood, starting with a drink and dishes off a large menu of bites at the bar and lounge area of sister restaurant The Progress next door. There’s fantastic beer at nearby Fat Angel, or cocktails and snacks at Dosa (1700 Fillmore St.). Explore Japantown. Walk up Fillmore Street. And good luck.

If you can’t deal with the wait time, check out our article with ideas on where to go instead.

Where to Walk In

Hungry? Don’t want to wait two hours? Here are some places that serve tasty food, and are relatively easy to walk into or have lounges/bar areas where you can eat, check ’em out:

1601 Bar & Kitchen(1601 Howard St.)
This under-the-radar Sri Lankan-inspired restaurant in SOMA is truly a hidden gem—you’ll encounter fascinating flavors in elegantly executed dishes (don’t miss the egg hopper and mulligatawny soup), and the room has a modern and urban look to it. The experience over-delivers, and you’ll find quality wines (and beers) on the list.  www.1601sf.com

Bix (56 Gold St.)
A clubby and jazzy spot, this elegant restaurant is hidden away on an alley in Jackson Square, and it feels like you’ve entered a Deco ocean liner once you’re inside. There’s a comfortable bar and lounge area where you can hope to snag a spot. Order a classic cocktail, enjoy an array of their appealing appetizers (like the potato pillows with caviar), and don’t miss the steak tartare or burger. Live piano and music nightly makes this supperclub a local favorite. www.bixrestaurant.com

Jardinière (300 Grove St.)
This upscale French restaurant has a spacious bar and lounge area, which services the post-symphony/opera crowds—try to time your visit for after the shows have started and you can expect to slip in. www.jardiniere.com

MY China (845 Market St.)
Don’t let the address in the Westfield Centre deter you, this Chinese restaurant from Martin Yan and other local restaurant partners is all about quality, from handmade noodles to dim sum to Peking duck. It’s also a good spot if you have a group. www.mychinasf.com

Out the Door (1 Sausalito, Ferry Building)
While everyone crowds Charles Phan’s Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, this is where the locals go for a menu of updated Vietnamese classics that use excellent ingredients and fresh flavors, like daikon rice cakes, shaking beef, and their fried chicken. The kitchen counter and communal table help seat walk-ins easily.

Spruce (3640 Sacramento St.)
This elegant Pacific Heights restaurant has a beautiful bar and lounge—you’ll hardly miss having a table. Their burger is pretty famous around these parts, or you can enjoy their boudin blanc, a Caesar salad, and a fantastic French omelet, plus excellent craft cocktails and choice wine. www.sprucesf.com

Zero Zero (826 Folsom St.)
This is one of those perfect restaurants for when you’re hungry and craving some hearty Cal-Italian dishes, from housemade pasta to wood-fired pizza, and you want a place where you can come as you are. You’ll notice some seasonal flair on the appetizers, and dishes are easy to share. The bar is a good place to hunt for a seat. www.zerozerosf.com

Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column, tablehopper, about the SF dining and drinking scene, get all the latest news at www.tablehopper.com. Follow @tablehopper on Twitter and Instagram for more SF finds!

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