Although Italy, Spain, and France border the Mediterranean Sea, when it comes to Mediterranean food, we tend to think of Greek and Turkish inspired dishes. We’re talking about warm flatbreads with thick flavorful spreads, grilled garlicky octopus, buttery couscous, and creamy cucumber sauces. Exotic dishes like baba ghanoush, fattoush, mujadara, falafel, and avgolemono. When we crave this rich zesty cuisine, we head to one of the following five establishments.
Located on the Embarcadero with a large outdoor patio, Sens is one of the best places to host happy hour or a group event. The scene is happening and the decor Moorish with lots of tiles and intricate light fixtures. During the hours after work, Sens is packed with professionals indulging in carafes of mules or sangria and delectable small plates. Poached Turkish apricots are filled with chicken tagine, sauteed shrimp are coated in garlic sauce, and lamb sliders are served on sesame brioche with tomato jam and aioli. Our favorite dish? The sensational paella that is only available at lunch. Fragrant saffron rice is mixed with chicken, Spanish chorizo, clams, prawns, and roasted peppers. It’s so good it might just be the best paella in the city!
Embarcadero Center, 4 Embarcadero Center San Francisco, CA 94111
Barcha is Sens sister restaurant; it's a little more laid back with a menu that updates classic dishes by giving them a modern twist. Croquettes are made with feta cheese and served with harissa aioli. Calamari are grilled and served with beans, tomatoes, and bright green Castlevetrano olives. Instead of the traditional beef, pork, or veal, meatballs are made with ground duck. English peas replace garbanzo beans in the excellent falafel, served with Meyer lemon labneh and salmon caviar. Barcha has an outdoor dining area with bistro chair, cozy tables, and Moroccan-inspired candles. On warm afternoons it’s a lovely place to gather with a group of friends for cocktails and snacks.
28 Fremont Street San Francisco, CA 94105
Tawla is a relatively new restaurant (they opened last June) in the Mission District that specializes in Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. Dishes are from Greece, Turkey, and the Levant (commonly referred to as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Isreal, and Jordan). The word Tawla means backgammon in Arabic—a game that is commonly played in all of these countries. The food is innovative and scrumptious. While you can order items—like beet muhammara, spicy lamb sausage with white lentils, and fried smelt with turmeric shatta—off the a la carte menu, we recommend opting for the tasting menu. The chef puts together the ultimate Mediterranean feast of Tawla’s best dishes including cold and warm mazes, large-format ilans, and house made breads.
206 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94103
4 La Mediterranee
La Mediterranean has been faithfully serving San Franciscans superb Mediterranean food for the past 38 years. The Fillmore Street restaurant is an institution and for good reason. It’s old-school Mediterranean cuisine—think warm Kalamata olives with feta cheese, combo plates of hummus, baba ghanoush, and tabuleh, lentil salad, chicken pomegranate, and Lebanese kibbeh. La Med (as locals and regulars call it) also has four different types of hand-rolled filo dough dishes. Choose from spinach and feta, cinnamon-spiced chicken, ground beef with tomato and onion sauce, or our personal favorite: melted mozzarella and feta cheese. One of the best things about La Med is they do catering. If you’re looking to host a soirée inspired by a recent trip to Istanbul or Mykonos, order items from La Med.
2210 Fillmore Street San Francisco, CA 94115
Since opening in Hayes Valley three years ago, Souvla has taken the San Francisco-restaurant industry by storm. Lines are common at this fast-casual eatery that serves up a simple, but scrumptious menu of spit-roasted meats that can be rolled into a sandwich or tossed into a salad. There are also Greek fries, classic Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and black olives, and frozen yogurt. The juicy potatoes that are cooked in the rotisserie drippings are to die for.
517 Hayes Street San Francisco, CA 94102