Cow Hollow always gets looped into being called “pretty much the Marina,” but it’s a self-contained neighborhood on its own. Aside from all the gyms and acupuncture nail salons, it has a bunch of great places to eat, with everything from a counter-service Italian spot to one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. Here are 21 of our favorite places to eat when you’re in Cow Hollow and not The Marina.
The glowing bar and living wall made of moss make Kaiyo one of the cooler spaces in the neighborhood. It’s a good spot to come on a third date or for a group dinner where a meal is all the entertainment you’ll need for the night, even with so many bars just a few steps away. The menu is a mix of Peruvian and Japanese, and everything here is great - from the raw scallops in a spicy leche de tigre that we would drink on its own, to stone pots full of saffron rice and a lobster dish that’s the love-child of paella and risotto.
This second location of Little Gem, like the first, serves mostly healthy food in a space that feels like the medical bay of a starship that also doubles as the succulent nursery. They have things like green juices and broth if you want to keep it light, but we also like the bibimbap bowl with brown rice, vegetables, and egg, and salmon tartare.
Rose’s Cafe feels like a breakfast spot that was pulled straight out of the ’90s with its bright yellow walls and colored glass chandeliers, and it’s the best place to eat a sit-down breakfast in the neighborhood. We love the smoked salmon breakfast pizza with soft-scrambled eggs and creme fraiche that you’ll end up waiting in line for unless you’re one of those people who can actually wake up when you’re supposed to. But everything here is worth it and that time spent in line will give you the opportunity to unsubscribe from all of those shopping sites you haven’t used in five years.
Every show about a tight-knit group of friends needs a diner or a bar where they happen to run into everyone they know. If there were a sitcom in Cow Hollow, Flores would be that spot. It’s a Mexican restaurant that, aside from having great carnitas, crab tostadas, and margaritas, is good for so many different social situations. You could sit at the bar for a date that’s on the lower end of romantic, bring a group that involves dogs to the patio, or even celebrate a birthday at the tables in the back. This place is always busy, and always a good decision when you’ve got plans to go out on Union Street after.
There aren’t actually any picnic tables with checked blankets in here, so come to Vegan Picnic to pick up food to take somewhere else - like Fort Mason or a James Marsden movie marathon at your old roommate’s house. The donuts are delicious and covered in sugar, the crispy “chicken” sandwich is solid even if it’s not completely convincing, and the caprese salad with non-dairy cheese tastes like something you would choose to pack in a picnic basket if you were the type of person who owned one.
Roam is a counter-service spot that’s on the upper end of fast casual, and it’s a good place to drop into after a long afternoon of day drinking when you really need a good burger. Here they’re made of high-quality meats like beef, turkey, or bison and come with great toppings like gruyere and barbecue sauce. And depending on what combination you go for, you can decide if you’ll have the energy to go back out again.
Dinner at the Union Street Italian Homemade is like a pregame for a night out if your pregames involve huge portions of delicious handmade pasta to go with the DJ sets and everyone’s drinks. Pick your pasta and sauce, grab a few seats at one of the communal tables, and get ready to start the night.
West Coast Wine and Cheese is a great place to come when you want to go out, but you don’t want to go out out. It’s pretty low-key and small, so things will never get too rowdy, but you’ll still have fun. Grab seats at the bar with a couple of friends, try a few verticals of your favorite wine (while you Google under the table what a vertical is), and order a few cheese boards to split with everyone.
At night, Hollow Cow turns into the Cow Hollow equivalent of a Buffalo Wild Wings with bar food, TVs playing sports, and a crowd wearing jerseys of people they’ll never meet in real life. At brunch though, Hollow Cow is a completely different bar with mimosa buckets and a menu of things like Cap’n Crunch french toast and pork belly grits bowls. The best part about coming here for brunch, though, is their glassed-in back patio that’s ideal for San Francisco summer days when the sun decides it’s going on vacation, but you still want to feel like you’re outside.
Having Atelier Crenn in the neighborhood is like opening a garage to a Ferrari when the driveway is full of Kias. This is one of the most inventive restaurants in the country, and it takes months of planning to get a reservation here. When you do, you’ll find beautiful, extremely expensive French food, a menu that comes in the form of a poem, and eternal bragging rights that you dropped over $300 on dinner before they even asked you if you wanted bubbly water.
If you don’t want to drop Atelier Crenn money, but still want to feel like you’re not in the neighborhood anymore, go to Gamine for dinner. This quiet French place on Union usually has a minimal wait, and they serve food like mussels, steak frites, and French onion soup that tests the limits of maybe having too much cheese. It’s a great spot for brunch or dinner, especially on a warm night when you can sit out front.
There aren’t a ton of back patios in Cow Hollow, so if that’s what you’re looking for on a nice day, head to Marengo and grab a few high tops. This place makes sliders, so you can mix and match what you want and not feel like you’re ordering three lunches. Get a bunch of beers, watch whatever game is on TV, and you’re set for the afternoon.
Tacko has the same food as Nick’s Crispy Tacos in Russian Hill, but with a nautical theme instead of a Latin-Soviet strip club-feel. The guacamole is great and so are the street tacos, and you should get them “Nick’s Way” for the full experience - a hard taco wrapped in a soft taco with cheese, beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole. You can also technically order a lobster roll here, but just because there are pictures of Nantucket on the walls doesn’t mean you should.
Rooster And Rice is an ideal place for a quick takeout dinner when you’re trying to be healthy, but can’t look a salad in the eye right now. The menu here is short and simple: boxes full of poached chicken and rice, with different sauce options, and vegetables and tofu if you don’t want meat. One box is enough for a full dinner or to split with someone for a lighter meal.
If you were ever going to fix the World Series, the conversation would probably go down in a place like The Brazen Head. It’s dark and feels like a relic of the ’50s and ’60s, and you’re coming here for Manhattans, martinis, and a steak. It’s probably the only place left in the area from “old San Francisco,” whatever that means, but if you’re in the mood for an old-school meal and don’t want to wait for House of Prime Rib or Tadich Grill, this is a good place to go.
At night people call this place “Cougar Bar,” but during the day Balboa Cafe makes one of the best burgers in the city. It comes on a toasted baguette instead of a bun and is served with pickled red onions and lettuce. The Bloody Mary here is just as legendary, and if you’re here for brunch, getting at least one is more of a rule than an option. If it’s nice out you should definitely be at one of their sidewalk tables.
This sandwich shop is about as bare-bones as they come. There are just a few guys working behind the counter, a cooler full of Coke and beer, and some small tables to sit at while you wait for your order to get called. We usually come here thinking we’re taking our sandwiches to Fort Mason, but more often than not, we sit right back down at our table and eat it here because we can’t wait. We like the Atomic with turkey, pastrami, and cheese, but you can’t really go wrong with any of their combinations of meat, bread, and cheese.
Palm House is about as close to a beachside European club as you’ll find in this city. There’s a great outdoor patio where you can have alcoholic slushies and tacos brought to your table for a leisurely brunch. Then, when the slushies start to kick in, you can make your way inside the restaurant to what usually turns into an all-out party on the weekend. It’s loud and crowded, but when that’s that’s exactly what you’re looking for, come here.
Pizzeria Avellino makes some of the best NY-style pizza around, with a thin, crispy crust and a lot of cheese. You can get it by the slice when you don’t have the numbers or desire to put away a whole pie. This spot is on the far far far west border of Cow Hollow, so don’t expect to roll out of here and straight into a bar, but the pizza is good enough to go a few extra steps out of your way.