The best San Francisco restaurants, according to Traci Des Jardins

Traci des Jardins of Jardinière, Mijita, The Commissary, Arguello and Public House. Photo credit: Frankeny Images.
Traci des Jardins of Jardinière, Mijita, The Commissary, Arguello and Public House. Photo credit: Frankeny Images.

Hometown: Firebaugh, California
Occupation: Chef and owner, Jardinière, Mijita, The Commissary, Arguello and Public House
Years worked as a chef: 33
Years lived in San Francisco: 24
Awards/Accolades: Semifinalist, Outstanding Chef, James Beard Foundation (2015)
Runner-up, Top Chef Masters (2011)
Best Chef Pacific, James Beard Foundation (2007)
Nominee, Best New Restaurant for Jardinière, James Beard Foundation (1999)
Rising Star Chef of the Year, James Beard Foundation (1995)
Best New Chef, Food and Wine (1995)

What do you love best about San Francisco’s food scene?

The product in the Bay Area is beyond compare, which leads to the opportunity for chefs here to be on the leading edge of innovation, as well as having the ability to sit soundly in simple preparations of amazing products.

Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to San Francisco should try. 

Zuni remains a “must stop” in San Francisco. Caesar salad, local oysters on the half shell, roast chicken and the inimitable burger.

Swan Oyster Depot for cracked crab and oysters in a classic San Francisco setting.

The newest restaurant I have been to that blew my mind was AL’s Place from Ubuntu alum Aaron London.

Describe your perfect dining out day in San Francisco.

I don’t eat breakfast, so a perfect coffee at Four Barrel.

Lunch at Zuni: oysters, Caesar and roast chicken or a burger.

Drinks at Bar Agricole or Trou Normand because any drink Thad [Vogler] makes is the BEST!

I just ate at an amazing new place called AL’s Place. The food was stellar. Perfect Bay Area local food, delicious, simple. Amazing food, casual atmosphere, a place to watch for sure.

Chocolate anything from Dandelion on Valencia Street. And pastries from b. Patisseriekouign amann or anything!

If you had to pick one favorite dish from each of your restaurants, which would you choose?

I love the warm bread salad with baby artichokes and crescenza at Jardinière. It has been on the menu since the beginning and has stood the test of time. The carnitas at Mijita are amazing. The green rice and sepia dish with ink aioli at The Commissary and the chicken chile verde at Arguello because it’s my grandmother’s recipe, but with chicken instead of pork.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?

The Mission is my favorite and has been since I moved to San Francisco, and before it was a hip destination, it was always the neighborhood I ate in for great Mexican. Now some of the best destination restaurants are in the Mission.

Your ancestry is French and Mexican, and it’s reflected in the dishes at your restaurants. What French and Mexican restaurants in the Bay Area have impressed you?

I love Nopalito for Mexican. When it comes to French, I want an absolute classic and there isn’t anything in San Francisco that absolutely hits the mark for me.

What other cuisines do you enjoy eating or cooking? 

I love Japanese food. Again, though, I lean towards traditional rather than interpretative or modern twists. I wish we had an absolutely classic and traditional Japanese sushi bar here; that said, I do love PABU. I love Vietnamese but tend towards the dives for that. I love PPQ – two locations, one has excellent pho, the other is a “must stop” for Dungeness crab during the season.

What’s one dish in San Francisco that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?

I don’t think about food that way in terms of innovation and envy. If anything, I am envious about the time to think about food rather than a particular dish. But the grits, goat cheese curd at AL’s Place was mind-altering…

What are your favorite budget, mid-range and high-end dining places in San Francisco?

Budget: La Taqueria for a carnitas taco with everything.
Mid-range: Bar Jules.
And I don’t do high-end!

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at the San Francisco area airports or in the city’s hotels you would recommend?

The Napa Farms Market in Terminal 2 [of SFO] for great coffee from Ecuador and great cheese, bread and chocolate from local producers. Sadly, the great hotel bars of yesteryear are no longer. I used to love the Redwood Room.

What’s your guilty pleasure and where in San Francisco do you go to get it? 

The burger at 4505.

Do you have any favorite watering holes?

Thad Vogler’s places are amazing, Bar Agricole and Trou Normand.

Are there any foods native to San Francisco that you particularly like?

Local oysters and Dungeness crabs when in season. Anything from our farmers market. The bread from Tartine. Tacos from La Taqueria (and supposedly burritos, too, but I don’t eat burritos).

Finally, what would you say any visitor must see or do before leaving San Francisco? 

The Ferry Building and Farmers Market for food. The Presidio is a great walk.

Chef Des Jardins’s Shortlist:

Jardinière, 300 Grove Street (Civic Center); French-Californian, dinner only daily.

Mijita, 1 Ferry Building, #44 (Financial District North); Mexican, breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Monday-Saturday.

The Commissary, 101 Montgomery Street (The Presidio); Spanish-Californian, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Arguello, 50 Moraga Avenue (The Presidio); Mexican, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch only Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday.

Public House, AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza (Mission Bay); sports pub, open daily.

Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street (Hayes Valley); French-Italian, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Sunday, closed Monday.

Swan Oyster Depot, 1517 Polk Street (Nob Hill); seafood, lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

AL’s Place, 1499 Valencia Street (Inner Mission); dinner only Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday.

Four Barrel Coffee, 375 Valencia Street (Inner Mission); coffee shop, open daily.
Second location: 736 Divisadero Street (Alamo Square); open daily.
Third location: 2 Burrows Street (Portola); open daily.

Bar Agricole, 355 11th Street (SoMa); Californian, dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Trou Normand, 140 New Montgomery Street (Financial District South); lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Dandelion Chocolate, 740 Valencia Street (Mission Dolores); chocolate factory and café, open daily.

b. Patisserie, 2821 California Street (Lower Pacific Heights); pastries, open Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Nopalito, 306 Broderick Street (North Panhandle); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 1224 9th Avenue (Inner Sunset); lunch and dinner daily.

PABU, 101 California Street (Financial District North); Japanese, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily.

PPQ Beef Noodle House, 1816 Irving Street (Central Sunset); Vietnamese, lunch and dinner daily.

PPQ Dungeness Island, 2332 Clement Street (Central Richmond); Vietnamese, lunch Saturday-Sunday, dinner daily.

La Taqueria, 2889 Mission Street (Inner Mission); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily.

Bar Jules, 609 Hayes Street (Hayes Valley); American, lunch Wednesday-Saturday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday, brunch Sunday.

Napa Farms Market, San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 2; food market, open daily.

4505 Burgers & BBQ, 705 Divisadero Street (North Panhandle); American, lunch and dinner daily.

Tartine Bakery & Café, 600 Guerrero Street (Mission Dolores); French-style bakery, breakfast and lunch daily.

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, 1 Ferry Building Marketplace (Financial District North); open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Presidio of San Francisco; national park, open 24/7.


About the Chef: As owner of five restaurants in San Francisco and recipient of two James Beard Awards, Traci Des Jardins stands out as one of the city’s rockstar chefs. A native of California’s Central Valley, she quickly developed a love and passion for food early on, thanks to her Mexican and French-Acadian grandparents.

“FOOD WAS CENTRAL TO MY CHILDHOOD. MY MEXICAN GRANDMOTHER MADE FRESH FLOUR TORTILLAS EVERY DAY, MY LOUISIANA GRANDFATHER HAD MASSIVE CRAWDAD FEEDS AND SHRIMP BOILS, MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER WAS AN AMAZING BAKER AND HAD A HALF ACRE KITCHEN GARDEN. EVERYTHING WE DID WAS AROUND FOOD. ”

Chef Des Jardins grew up frequenting San Francisco’s restaurants, and she says she always knew she would end up living in the Bay Area. Before settling there, she trained in the classical French style in Los Angeles under Chef Joachim Splichal (of Patina) and worked at top restaurants in France and New York City. 1997 saw Des Jardins open her first restaurant, Jardinière. Between 2004 and 2014, she opened four additional restaurants, and an announcement of her upcoming sixth restaurant was made in January 2015. With French food being considered the ultimate cuisine within her family, and Mexican being her soul food, her restaurants naturally feature these familiar flavors that heavily shaped and influenced Des Jardins’s life.

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