Zarzuela 2000 Hyde St./Union St., Russian Hill. With an open, yet cozy dining room warmed by butter-yellow Mediterranean walls and beamed ceilings, this gem serves tasty Spanish tapas. Each meal starts with bread and olive oil plus a complimentary plate of exquisite olives. For a terrific tapas dinner, begin with a small plate of salted almonds. Continue with grilled eggplant rolled around creamy goat cheese, crisp fried potatoes with garlic and sherry vinegar, and shrimps sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Make the meal more filling by adding a daily special such as fresh sardines, or paella, or a larger plate--traditional Catalan seafood stew, grilled lamb chops, ox-tail stew—and wash it all down with some traditional sherry. Liqueur-soaked sponge cake stuffed with fruit is a perfect ending.
After, jump on one of the cable cars passing by outside and take a refreshing ride.
Zazie 941 Cole St./Parnassus St., Cole Valley. Situated in an appealing neighborhood near Haight-Ashbury and featuring a cozy ambiance, this small French Provençal-style bistro has tall ceilings, brick walls, and a heated garden patio for sunny-day dining. Breakfast offers vast choices--some common, some less so: Irish oatmeal brûlée; gingerbread pancakes with roasted pears; French Toast Tahiti stuffed with caramelized bananas and walnuts; scrambled egg dishes (Fontainblue mixes several kinds of mushrooms with spinach and fontina; Mexico mixes chorizo with peppers and white cheddar); poached egg specialties (the colorful Valence features roasted eggplant, goat cheese, and a spicy tomato sauce). Eggs are from free-range chickens, and milk is organic. Lunch brings on delicious sandwiches and salads. A citron presse and chocolat chaud are reminiscent of Paris, as is the restaurant in general, but the blend of cranberry juice, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and bubbly water that is the Zazie spritzer is most definitely the drink of choice. A selection of mimosas is also an option.
Should the wait to get in be ridiculous, many options are nearby: an Italian restaurant, a sushi bar, a crêperie, a burger shack, a coffee house, and a French bakery serving huge French-style cafes au lait.
Zuni Cafe 1658 Market St./Franklin St., on the outskirts of Hayes Valley.