June 12, 2010

HLFD in SF: Zuni Cafe

During our research about dishes that everyone must try once in San Fran, items from Zuni Cafe's menu kept coming up.  The legendary Roast Chicken and Bread Salad was the #1 item we had to eat, the burger is considered one of the best in America, and the House-Cured anchovies were one of the Best of S.F. 2010 dishes.  So we took the streetcar away from the downtown core and entered this quiet oasis for a late lunch.

The lattice of House-Cured Anchovies ($8.25) with celery, Parmesan, and nicoise olives was a surprisingly classic, yet elegant plate.  This is my husband's perfect antipasti plate.  The anchovies were not overly salty, tender, meaty, and completely de-boned.  The preparation allowed for the fish to stand on its own (no need to bury it under pizza ingredients!)
Our White Bean salad ($10) with bacon and artichokes was also flavorful given the seasonal ingredients.  The plate was not a show-shopper like the other ones we had, but it held its own.  Next time, I'll try their famous Caesar salad (in spite of my hubby feeling that almost $11 is a bit much for it).
The piece de resistance:  Roast Chicken and Warm Tuscan-Style Bread Salad for 2 ($48).  It takes 1 hour to prepare this dish for your table, but fortunately we did not have to wait.  Two friendly retired teachers seated next to us ordered the dish and I engaged them in conversation and asked if I could take photos of this flagship entree (note: they had both already eaten pieces of chicken, so this photo reflects only some of the food).  They kindly extended the offer and gave us a portion of the dish to try for ourselves.

This is one tasty chicken dish!  You must eat it while it's hot to enjoy its succulent juices and tender meat.  The bread salad is comforting and the greens add a nice bite.  We would return with others to share this plate and try other dishes on the menu.  Though we don't have a brick oven like Zuni Cafe, we still may try making this dish at home (recipe here).
The infamous House-ground Hamburger ($15) on grilled rosemary focaccia with garden lettuces, aïoli, and Zuni pickles was a juicy bite.  The burger was perfectly cooked (we asked for medium rare and it was nicely pink inside), meaty, not overworked (so the meat was tender), and was almost like a mini steak.  We liked the Zuni pickles and the burger, but thought that for the price, the burger should have come with a side (note: the shoestring fries were $6+).
Finally, our neighbors enjoyed the Piccola Meringata ($ 9.75) with strawberries, pistachios, and creme fraiche for dessert.  The meringue wafers were paper-thin and light, while the fresh strawberries added a sweet summery touch.  Zuni seems to always offer some variation of this dessert, but changes the fruit, nuts, and sauce to reflect the seasonal produce.

We were told Zuni Cafe can get crowded at night, but the large space was fairly empty when we dined at 4pm.  The prices are a little steep, but given the quality of ingredients and that almost everything seemed house-made, we felt that the experience dining here was worth the price (and meeting and chatting with our dining neighbors was priceless!)

Zuni Cafe is located at 1658 Market Street in San Francisco, CA.
ZUNI Café on Urbanspoon


  1. Zuni is a classic in San Francisco. It's amazing that the signature dish roasted chicken with mint has been on the menu for so long. I remember having it in the late 90s during the dot.com boom when reservations were impossible. It simply is that good.

  2. I've been to Zuni, but I must return for the chicken! Their interior is so cool, being wrap-around and all. This is a very popular place with the theatre, opera, ballet, and symphony crowd.

  3. When we were in the San Fran area last August we did three top restaurants: Zuni, The French Laundry, and Chez Panisse. I have them all reviewed on my site. I loved the kitchen visit for all three, too. Take a look at the Zuni kitchen and how they roast the chicken. It is truly amazing. But, Chez Panisse had them under the table, hands down with their feature roast chicken the night we were there. It was simply the chicken. Not the roast. I loved the Zuni experience - though we had been in Carmel for the day, and were exhausted, and already not too hungry. I "should have" just ordered the chicken for me to try, and taken the rest home. Lauren really wanted the fish... and I CANNOT believe we didn't order dessert... even IF we were full. Look at how beautiful it is. When we were there - it was packed. I would definitely go again. The menu is varied and wonderful. I even got to see Judy Rogers in "real life". Such fun. Thanks for the beautiful photos and wonderful post.


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