The best (affordable) outdoor dining in San Francisco

By Liv Combe

It’s not summer in San Francisco until a perfectly good alfresco brunch or dinner is nearly ruined by a freezing wave of fog. Thankfully, the City by the Bay is packed to the gills with heated patios and garden seating so charming you won’t even notice that you’re wearing three scarves and an extra pair of pants. The lack of Vitamin D this time of year might hurt, but your wallet won’t when you head to these spots for meals that cost you $25 or less.

Souvla (in Divisadero)
Founder Charles Bililies’ first location was an instant hit in Hayes Valley, and his recent addition to the Divisadero neighborhood has been met with equal, if not greater, gyro-fueled ardor. Order at the front register, walk down the hallway, and you’ll find yourself in a two-level garden seating area, complete with heat lamps. The menu is simple and affordable—choose from pork, chicken, lamb, or veggie as a savory, warm gyro-style Greek sandwich ($10 to $13), or skip the carbs and order it as a salad ($11 to $14).

Out the Door
Okay, the view over the Bay Bridge from the Ferry Building doesn’t technically belong to Out the Door, but the “little cousin” of modern Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door, led by executive chef Thomas Phan, still makes it onto our list. After all, there’s nothing better than ordering a pile of five-spice chicken with vermicelli ($12) or a steamed pork bun or two ($3.50 each) and enjoying them in a patch of sunshine along the Embarcadero.

Nopalito (Inner Sunset)
Nopalito’s two San Francisco locations are favorites for elevated-yet-traditional Mexican cuisine, but the Inner Sunset location still feels like one of the city’s best-kept secrets. And an even better-kept secret is the patio out back. Whether you’re in the uncovered garden or the covered portion of the indoor-outdoor space, you’ll feel miles from the city as you chow down on your tacos de carnitas ($12) during lunch, which are stuffed with braised pork seasoned with orange, bay leaf, milk, cinnamon, and beer. The carnitas is also available in a larger portion during dinner hours ($22). If you’re feeling extra hungry, order the totopos con chile ($8) as a mouth-watering appetizer.

All Good Pizza
Bayview is one of those neighborhoods that doesn’t get a ton of foot traffic, but is full of hidden gems, and All Good Pizza is certainly one of those. A shipping container outfitted with a brick pizza oven churns out thin crust, Neapolitan-style pizza starting at $12 for the classic Margherita. The atmosphere is reason enough to go, as the shipping container sits in a 7,000-square-foot beer garden with picnic tables, lights, and all the good vibes. Bonus? Bayview is one of the sunnier ‘hoods in the city. Head there on a weekend and linger for a couple hours.

Sparrow Bar & Kitchen
You wouldn’t imagine a restaurant on Haight Street to have such a peaceful garden patio, but you’ve been wrong before. Walk through Sparrow Bar & Kitchen’s main restaurant, past the kitchen, and out onto the spacious patio, where you’ll find heat lamps, hanging lights, and small but plentiful herb gardens that keep the kitchen in stock. Sparrow is a great spot for dinner or weekend brunch, but go in the evening if you’re looking to skip the lines and order the grass-fed burger with sweet pickled onion, house dill pickle, and ranch ($14).

Stable Café
Part former carriage house, part succulent oasis, Stable Café is a go-to breakfast and brunch spot any day of the week. Owner Thomas Brian Lackey draws inspiration from his Italian roots (see: the variety of panini $9) and his love for Latin American cuisine (huevos rancheros, $11). The cafe itself is perfect for a working remote kind of morning, but the adjacent garden courtyard is where you’ll want to sip your coffee and take in the spectacular people watching—after all, the building is also home to a cheese school, an architectural firm, a bike courier service, and a plant design studio, to name a few.

Brenda’s Meat & Three
Louisiana native Brenda Buenviaje experienced instant success when she opened Brenda’s French Soul Food in the Tenderloin in 2007, and that success has carried on over to her second location, Brenda’s Meat & Three, on Divisadero Street. Named for the Southern tradition of meals being based on one large protein and three smaller sides, the weekend brunch and lunch are our favorite times to go. Always, always, always start with the calas (sweet friend rice donuts, served with berry compote and molasses butter, $5) and then choose between the fried seafood po’ boy ($13.75) or the addictive fried bologna sandwich ($10.50) as your main course. Lines are notoriously long, but it’s worth the wait to sit on the back garden patio, which has 22 seats, strung-up lights, and greenery galore.

The Ramp
Originally opened in 1950 as a bait shop, The Ramp has evolved over the past six decades to become one of the best spots for enjoying views over the Bay with a hearty side of beer and food; after all, 90 percent of the restaurant is outside. Wait for a warm weekend now through October and head here in the evening, when live Salsa and Brazilian music is playing and the kitchen rolls out their special summer barbecue menu. Try the sausage and peppers ($13.50) and choose two sides from potato salad, barbecue beans, and corn on the cob.

Stable Cafe (Photo credit: Nick Johnson)

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