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Dining Out 2 minutes 07 December 2018

5 Affordable Michelin-Starred Restaurants in San Francisco

Make it to one of these establishments and get the most bang for your buck.

Michelin star San Francisco

While lavish 20-course tasting menus are indeed the cream of the crop, for many of us, we’re only able to enjoy them once or twice a year, likely during special occasions.

Thankfully for Bay Area gourmets, there are some starred establishments offering reasonably-priced cuisine at the ready for whenever you please. Here’s where to get your Michelin star fix while watching your wallet.

Al’s Place
Michelin Rating: One Star
Entrée Price Range: $16-18; MP for special selections

What Our Inspectors Say: Vegetables are the star of the menu at this bright-blue oasis on busy Valencia Street, which adheres to a mostly pescatarian philosophy, with carnivorous options available on the side. If that sounds like a deal-breaker, it shouldn’t be—Chef/owner Aaron London (a.k.a. AL) is wildly adept with the seasons’ bounty, making a dish of blistered squash with pickled kohlrabi, hummus, and creamy burrata feel as lush and luxurious as the offerings at a steakhouse. Like the menu, Al's space is bright, open, and cheerful, with plenty of natural light, bold colors, and a casual but engaging staff. Embrace the energy, perhaps with a glass of French wine or a craft beer, and let the boisterous, creative spirit of the restaurant win you over.

Kin Khao
Michelin Rating: One Star
Entrée Price Range: $17-23

What Our Inspectors Say: Kin Khao's menu conjures up dishes from across Thailand and is a virtual homage to local purveyors. Imagine a meaty and rich five spice duck noodle soup infused with duck bones and stocked with bok choy, noodles, and delightfully tender duck leg confit; or a deliciously fresh take on som tum, with julienned green papaya tossed with golden tomatoes, long beans, dried shrimp, and crushed red chili. More traditional options may include classic pad kee mao showcasing wide, flat noodles stir-fried with a potent mixture of ground pork bits, bell pepper, onion, and holy basil. Needless to say, those avoiding spicy food or craving plain old pad Thai should look elsewhere. But, if you're craving a vibrant and zesty meal, then strap in for a wild and enticing ride.

The max amount of money you'll spend on a dish off of Commonwealth's á la carte menu: $21.
The max amount of money you'll spend on a dish off of Commonwealth's á la carte menu: $21.

Commonwealth
Michelin Rating: One Star
Á La Carte Price Range: $15-21
Tasting Menu Price: $85; $140 with wine pairings

What Our Inspectors Say: The cool kids of the Mission flock to this upscale spot, all sleek vibe and warm welcome. Set on one of the neighborhood’s grittiest stretches, the one-story brick building wears its history in the form of an old painted doughnut ad—and though frosted windows keep the environs at bay, Commonwealth cares for its own by donating a portion of profits from each night’s six-course tasting menu to charity. Everything here is offered à la carte, but most opt for the aforementioned tasting menu, for which the cheerful servers are happy to mix and match dishes. The results are as creative and ambitious as the techie-hipster clientele, with breathtakingly beautiful, Asian-influenced bites: think sea urchin under a canopy of seaweed brioche topped with tomato and watermelon pearls, or seared diver scallop in a corn-and-white miso emulsion with tarragon and fennel. It all pairs nicely with an intriguing, terroir-driven wine list-or if you're feeling adventurous, a nightly frozen cocktail chilled with liquid nitrogen.

State Bird Provisions
Michelin Rating: One Star
Entrée Price Range: $15-30

What Our Inspectors Say: Welcome to the dining evolution, where streams of plates are passed between guests in dim sum-style, and the supremely seasonal California cooking is always very good, even vibrant and unexpected. You may not understand all of what you ordered, but prices are reasonable so pile on a few extra items and try everything that comes your way. No one leaves here hungry. Highlights include a Vietnamese salad of deep-fried pork belly with plum, mint, basil, and cilantro in a lime-fish sauce vinaigrette. Heartier but wow-inducing bites of crisp pan-fried ravioli stuffed with guinea hen and bathed in rich broth will have you wishing for a larger portion. Be forewarned: getting a reservation here is the ultimate challenge and walk-in spots require lining up around 4:30 P.M. Best to avoid nights when large parties are booked-this may negatively impact your experience.

Terrapin Creek
Michelin Rating: One Star
Entrée Price Range: $27-$38

What Our Inspectors Say: Dramatically situated above picturesque Bodega Bay, this lovely retreat is just steps from the water. (During the January-March whale-watching season, you might even catch a glimpse of these gentle giants bobbing in the Pacific.) The small-town staff is every bit as warm as the space, and treats everyone like a regular. A meal might begin with a mixed greens salad topped with goat cheese, persimmon, prosciutto, and a tart cherry vinaigrette. Then segue into three coins of ravioli filled with kabocha squash and floating in a fragrant black truffle-and-butter sauce. Tender duck breast with deliciously seasoned and crisped skin is then cooked to pink perfection and coupled with a sauté of cabbage, shiitakes, and fingerling potatoes. Paired with a Napa red blend, it’s equal parts modern and classic.

Al's Place hero image by Molly DeCoudreaux.

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