Everyone in San Francisco lives here for a reason. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s a deep love for unreasonably steep hills within a major city. Maybe you can’t function without a pourover coffee shop nearby, or you’ll immediately die if there’s no Fernet available at a bar.
As great as it is here, though, sometimes you can’t handle another conversation about micro-fasting or the crypto markets, and you want to take a little trip to a place that doesn’t feel so much like SF. A place where butter is the number two ingredient in most dishes, the drinks are strong, and avocados don’t have their own section of the menu. Where the space is dark and the atmosphere is a party and people are just sitting down to dinner at 10pm.
When you get that itch, head to Alba Ray’s in the Mission. This New Orleans-inspired spot serves the best Cajun food in the city, with energy and alcohol fit to match any part of New Orleans - except maybe Bourbon Street.
The menu is seafood-centric, and everything from the shrimp and grits to the grilled oysters is extremely close to the type of food you’d actually be eating in and around the French Quarter. All the dishes are rich and fairly heavy - exactly as they should be - and the portions aren’t small, so the best approach is to head in with a group and get a few things to share. The jambalaya (vegetarian or regular) is not to be missed, and you definitely want the oysters we just mentioned, as well as at least one dish involving grits. Overall, Alba Ray’s is a step up from other takes on Cajun food we’ve had in the city - the menu feels closer to stuff you’d really find in New Orleans, and the kitchen doesn’t lean too heavily on just throwing things in batter and frying them. Other than the beignets, which you should absolutely get for dessert.
The interior is dark with a few colorful elements, like a purple couch and emerald tiles - plus some chandeliers and cool wall plants. The bar, where they make great sazeracs and French 75s, is long and even optimal for watching some sports, since they have a few pretty big TVs. People tend to come here in the mood to party, but not in a spilling-drinks-on-you or vomiting-into-the-plants kind of way. It’s ideal for a big group dinner when you’re all willing to share food, and maybe want to have a drink or two too many.
Despite the New Orleans theme and strong drinks, this place doesn’t devolve into a drunken bachelor party after too many Hand Grenades. It’s a lot of fun without being too much - maybe because everyone’s just so full. So when you want to take a one-night vacation from the grain bowls and California wine lists and check out a place that knows how to have a good time, hit up Alba Ray’s.
You need to ease yourself into a meal here. Start with some greens. The spinach, pecans, and lentils in this salad go really well together, and it’s refreshing while still tasting damn good.
These are excellent and may even win over those in your group who aren’t usually big on mollusks. Get at least one order for the table. The butter sauce, and touch of cheese, puts them over the top and on our list for some of the best oysters in the city.
A solid few bites to share. There’s an appropriate amount of shrimp and not too much mayo, plus they throw on a radish or two so you can say you ate some vegetables. The bread itself is not great, though, so this is definitely not a must order.
This is our favorite thing here, and we daydream about it sometimes when we’re hungry. They serve two equally good versions - one with pork and chicken, and one that’s vegetarian. Even the non-meaty one is substantial enough to keep a carnivore happy. It would be aggressive to tackle one of these on your own, so plan to share.
This is some very good sausage on top of even better grits. The grits are creamy without being too rich, and the sausage has just the right amount of gaminess. Definitely worth your time.
A solid take on shrimp and grits, and the best version you’ll find in San Francisco. We prefer the rabbit sausage as a grits accompaniment, but this is tasty too, and the more classic choice.
Yep, yes, you need these. Topped with potentially too much powdered sugar and served with a salted caramel sauce, these donuts are fantastic. Are beignets hard to mess up? Maybe. But these are legitimately good, and you’ll be sad if you leave without them.