After being a loyal patron for over 5 years and having only written a fairly brief review about the magical dessert menu, the time has finally come to put joking aside and pay tribute to what I consider to be the best restaurant in San Francisco. Delfina, even after this long you are still the restaurant to which I compare all other restaurants in the City. Why? It's simple - you are the epitome of what you are trying to be.
Let me explain. You're not, nor are you trying to be a Michael Mina or the Dining Room at the Ritz - you're not serving cuisine worthy of the Bocuse d'Or and you're not about to offer up a 9 course tasting menu with a wine pairing. You're also not trying to blend in with your Mission neighbors by offering cheap, quick food for hipsters on the go.
You are an upscale, neighborhood restaurant (that has clearly garnered much fame outside the neighborhood) that finds the essence of traditional, regional Italian preparations and uses our local, seasonal ingredients to put a modern, updated spin on those dishes. Your food and atmosphere are not arrogant or exaggerated; you're also not stuffy and quiet. You're a lively, busy, friendly fine-dining establishment run by people that love what they do and want to make great food. That's the kind of restaurant that you're trying to be, and I don't believe there is any dining establishment in SF that fulfills their role as well as you.
While some dishes are always available, the menu changes nightly, giving you the chance to go back over and over again and try something new. I've had almost everything on the menu, and there has not been a single dish that hasn't made me say "Wow, that's delicious." My personal favorites (aside from the fresh bread from Tartine!) are the GRILLED FRESH SQUID, the BURRATA when it's on the menu, the various preparations of their rosemary TAGLIATELLE, the AGNOLOTTI (again in many different ways), and the veal SWEETBREADS. And of course as I said in my previous review, this is a place where skipping dessert should be a crime - the buttermilk PANNA COTTA is mind-blowing, as is the CHOCOLATE TORTA with olive oil gelato. Both of those dishes inspired me to try them myself, and although I did them really well, I think Delfina would still win that throw-down.
What's really amazing is that if you read through all 700+ yelp reviews, almost every diner has had completely different meals, but each reviewer has amazing things to say about almost every item. Delfina doesn't just do 1 dish well, they do every dish well on a constantly changing menu, every time. It's fairly shocking to me that, unlike the James Beard Foundation, Michelin hasn't recognized Delfina with a star - something that will hopefully change in the next publication.
As far as the service is concerned, it's always impeccable. The servers are there when you need them, engaging, attentive, and control the pace of the meal perfectly - everything you could expect out of a well-trained, tight-knit staff. Also, unlike many successful executive chefs, the owner, Craig Stoll, is in the restaurant almost every night. I have been lucky enough to speak with him at length a few times now, and he is one of the friendliest, warmest restaurant owners I've ever come across; the depth of his culinary knowledge and experiences is fascinating, and it's just simply obvious that he loves what he does.
Craig, and everyone else involved with this restaurant, thank you for so many wonderful experiences, and for setting the standard for what fine-dining in San Francisco should be.
3621 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Hi Kels! I am going to San Fran for the first time and I am a major foodie and your website is so helpful! I hv 3 nights in SF and after reading your comments I am thinking of trying SPQR and Delfina for sure. Can u recommend one other one that u think I must they? would u say Coi or Benu? Or would u recommend another one? Look forward to hear from you! 🙂
Are you looking to do something fancy? In that case I'd recommend Coi for sure. OOOO or Aziza! Check out my write up on that too, you can't go wrong there. Otherwise if you want cheap, Mr. Pollo is really excellent and fun (byob!) and NOPA is the best burger in town. Let me know what you end up doing!