While it has a comparatively strong nightlife identity of its own — led by beery places like Toronado, Black Sands, The Page, and Molotov’s — Lower Haight is defined in part by what it isn’t. It’s scruffier than neighboring Hayes Valley, Alamo Square, or the Duboce Triangle, better oriented to locals than the Upper Haight, and way less famous outside S.F. than either the nearby Mission or Castro. Drawing its northwestern boundary is tricky and depends largely on whether you subscribe to Nopa the restaurant creating NoPa the neighborhood, but the opinions of those lucky few people who’ve been granted entrance to the Peacock Lounge probably count for more. For our purposes, we’re drawing the line at Oak and Divis.
While it doesn’t see frequent restaurant turnover, Lower Height is simultaneously a neighborhood marked by loss. Technically, it used to be part of the Fillmore, San Francisco’s historically Black neighborhood, itself a subsection of the even more historic Western Addition — although the 2017 eviction of African-American centenarian Iris Canada stands as a symbolic end of that era. Lower Haight was also, at one time, home to the alleged best burrito in San Francisco, but that family-run operation (Cuco’s) is long gone, too.
So what’s of note in a neighborhood set off by relatively little change? Plenty, it turns out.
311 Divisadero St.
Sharon Ardiana’s nine-year-old follow-up to Glen Park’s Gialina remains her strongest endeavor to date. An eminently welcoming, wine-centric neighborhood pizzeria, Ragazza also serves house-made ricotta cavatelli, burrata, and fried arancini at spectacularly affordable price points. Could anything be more Italian than a Nutella dessert pizza with mascarpone and amaretti, alongside Moscato di Asti?
258 Divisadero St.
Kavitha Raghavan’s tiny, brightly colored wine bar served chaats from all over the Indian subcontinent, expertly pairing them with some unconventional varietals. As good for brunch as it is for a romantic date, the warmth is contagious. Overlook the jaggery-sweetened dahi sev puri at your peril.
698 Haight St.
An Ethiopian restaurant with a beer-and-wine license? Excellent. Named for a pre-Christian kingdom shrouded in myth, Axum Cafe puts out deceptively simple and extraordinarily flavorful meat and vegetarian dishes, like tibsie chicken (made with onions, jalapeños, garlic, and tomatoes) or alicha (potatoes sauteed with carrots, cabbage, and jalapeños). It’s newly renovated, and the food is as fresh as ever.
598 Haight St.
While quieter than some of the clutch of New Californian restaurants with top-tier cocktails that opened in the early part of this decade, Maven has outlasted many of its peers. Duck liver mousse and castelvetrano olives have become nearly ubiquitous, but Maven puts its own spin on each while serving inventive entrees like a mole-rubbed flank steak. Happy hour is all about burgers and Old Fashioneds, a combo that will never become old-fashioned.
The Little Chihuahua
292 Divisadero St.
The original location of San Francisco’s original sustainable taqueria, The Little Chihuahua offers all the usual tacos and burritos, then throws in some fantastic items like a red pozole stew, veggie-filled tostada salads, house-made horchata, and a $26 carafe of agave wine margaritas. Looking for a stealth brunch option? Two words: stacked enchiladas.
508 Haight St.
Owner Zahra Saleh is kind of the den mother to Lower Haight, and that’s probably why Mayor London Breed chose Cafe International as the site of a May press conference to announce increased support for the city’s small businesses. A perfect example of affordable, 1990s-style all-day spots, it’s full of murals and old-school bagels and nutritious sandwiches with sprouts on them. With its unfussy yet comprehensive menu, it’s also a great place to get work done in the afternoon. Now that you’re back from your seismic retrofit, don’t ever change, Cafe International.
471 Haight St.
You’ve probably never heard of a Flanched Farney Carney before, so let us explain that it’s probably the best egg-and-cheese sandwich with home fries you’re ever going to have. A cut above the usual more-coffee-hon? diner, Kate’s is a seven-day-a-week spot serving breakfast until mid-afternoon, especially the gigantic portions of biscuits-and-gravy under a blow-up map of the U.S. that’s straight out of a social studies textbook. Above all, it is breakfast — definitely not brunch.
422 Haight St.
Twenty-five wings with Angry Korean sauce and two limeades sounds like the recipe for two people to enjoy a Sunday afternoon. Wing Wings takes that ultimate bro-heim food and elevates it just enough to be really good without getting all pretentious about it — and bike messengers seem to flock here between deliveries. Not a big meat-eater? Try the fried oyster mushrooms instead.
Two Jack’s Nik’s Place
401 Haight St.
Nik Cooper inherited Two Jack’s from her family, and after 42 years serving seafood and soul food alongside plenty of jazz, it’s still the place to get a prawn burger or “the original snapburger” or maybe a side of candied yams. The Throwback Thursday happy hour menu is not to be believed, with a rock cod sandwich and fries setting you back a mere $4.30. Dessert is gradually falling by the wayside, but here you can get banana pudding, peach cobbler, or red velvet cake. Lastly, Danny Glover is a super-fan.
201 Steiner St.
Very much a 2019 spot, Cafe Rèveille’s outpost on the Wiggle has indoor-outdoor seating — a surprising rarity in Lower Haight — plus a menu filled with kale bowls and quinoa dishes that were nonetheless designed for people who love food. The Levantine sandwich with grilled chicken is a genuine standout, but don’t miss the soft-serve or the coconut chia pudding with apricot compote. If you reflexively bristle from minimalist decors, give it a fair shot and let yourself be pleasantly surprised.
A year-old, upscale Thai restaurant with a maritime interior, Mangrove Thai Kitchen (312 Divisadero St.) far exceeds the pad thai house that preceded it. Kibatsu (400 Haight St.) is a follow-up to Sugoi Sushi that dodges the $$$$-omakase experience in favor of quality fish. Cafe du Soleil (200 Fillmore St.) stays open late, serves wine and beer, and makes you feel like you’re in France even though you’re on The Wiggle. Emanuel Coffee (488 Haight St.) has killer pupusas and Salvadorean and Mexican breakfast items. Because every neighborhood deserves one excellent ramen shop, there is Iza Ramen (237 Fillmore St.). All but attached to Toronado, Rosamunde Sausage Grill (545 Haight St.) was basically made for beer.