Zuni Café

Zuni Café is a San Francisco institution. Established in 1987 and named after a Native American tribe, Zuni continues to impress  with its top notch food and classy ambiance. With several James Beard awards under its belt, Zuni serves a strong, tight menu – I’ve never been disappointed by a dish I’ve had there. And its south Hayes Valley location on Market Street makes it a perfect spot for a special dinner before a night out on the town.

View of the bar from the upstairs dining area. The live piano player adds to the classy, urban vibe.

When those familiar with the restaurant hear its name, they immediately think of one thing: that chicken. I don’t think I’ve had a meal at Zuni and not ordered the chicken – it’s just too good to pass up. But all the starters and sides I’ve tried have been delicious as well, so I would venture to guess that all the entrées are worth ordering. But the chicken is just soooo good.

Jack and I had dinner at Zuni a couple weeks ago before seeing the show A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (which was fabulous, by the way). Zuni is about a 20 minute walk/5 minute cab ride (and a pretty easy Muni train ride) to Golden Gate Theatre, and the restaurant staff is always very accommodating of those rushing off to see a show after dinner.

The Chicken for Two takes about an hour to prepare, so if you have somewhere to be after dinner, I recommend asking your waiter to put in the order right when you are seated; then you can focus on drinks and starters. On this visit, we brought a bottle of wine and skipped the liquor (though the full bar and makes a great, well-balanced cocktail). Zuni serves really good bread (though I wish it was served with warm spreadable room temperature butter!) We started with a dozen oysters, which were very good quality (though quite pricy). We let our server choose the oysters for us.

Bread and butter. Just wish the bread was warm and the butter was room temperature!
Clockwise from the lemon: Redwood Kumamoto (Humboldt Bay -$4), Island Creek (Massachusetts – $4.50), Pacific Hog Island (Tamales Bay – $3), Fanny Bay (British Columbia – $3), Shigoku (Washington – $4.50), Drake’s Bay Oyster Company Pacific Coast (Baja -$3)

Jack and I were both a bit under the weather, so we decided to split the Green Cabbage and Chickpea Soup with Sage Pesto. I did not have high expectations for the soup, since the description was so simple. But it was amazing. I have no idea how they made their broth so tasty (I question whether it was vegetarian with all that flavor!), but it was so delicious and comforting. It was also served HOT. I am very particular about my food being served at the correct temperature, especially soup, and Zuni did not disappoint. Highly recommended!

Green Cabbage and Chickpea Soup with Sage Pesto

Then for the main attraction: Chicken for Two roasted in the brick oven, served with warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, mustard greens, dried currants, and pine nuts. I never really understood what all the fuss was about chicken skin until I had Zuni’s chicken; the skin is so crispy and full of flavor. Both the white and dark meat are always juicy and succulent. And the combination of the chicken with the tangy salad, crispy bread (flavored with pan drippings), sweet currants, and toasted pine nuts is to die for.

Chicken for Two

We passed on dessert and opted for tea and coffee to give us a little kick before our 8pm show. We left Zuni feeling satisfied and happy, as usual. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Zuni Caféwww.zunicafe.com 1658 Market Street (between Franklin and Gough). (415) 552-2522. Reservations via OpenTable. Open Tues-Thurs 11:30am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-midnight; Sun 11am-11pm; closed Mon.
Oysters/shellfish/dessert served all day. Lunch served 11:30am-2:30pm Tues-Sat; Brunch 11am-2:30pm Sun; Dinner 6pm-closing Tues-Sat, 5pm-closing Sun; Afternoon Menu 2:30-5:45pm Tues-Sat, 2:30-4:45pm Sun.
Corkage $20 per 750ml bottle. Full bar.

Zuni Café’s Chicken for Two with Bread Salad via Smitten Kitchen (adapted from Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Café Cookbook).



If you’ve eaten at Zuni, tell me about your experience. What other dishes have you tried and how would you rate them?

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