Be sure to check out the Zuni Cafe Book
Zuni Cafe is a popular American restaurant on Market street near Hayes Valley. Judy Rodgers has served classic fare that stays timeless since their inception in 1979. She passed away in 2013, but her tradition continues. Menu changes daily, yet the classics stay one. Zuni uses sustainable and humane ingredients. They are packed most of the time. Bar tables are available first come first serve. Our last meal was takeout during the Pandemic in 2021.
Pandemic Zuni Notes:
- They use a reusable takeout container system from Dispatch Good that you need to return to them or other restaurants using this system. Great to prevent garbage, but bad if you live outside San Francisco.
- It took us 20 minutes to get home and we had to re-heat the fries and bread salad
- Zuni chicken for 2 ($58 with $10 donation) was good but a little dry
- Avocado and grapefruit salad was decent ($16)
Decor, Vibe – Zuni Cafe is an odd, pie shaped building with exposed brick, large windows, large bar area and oyster bar. Noisy and crowded with Lots of folks in their 30’s to 50’s, better dressed, a bit of a scene. Their seats are old school wooden ones with no cushions. Zuni has paper covering their tablecloths, making this a bit of an anachronism.
Zuni Cafe Menu
Their menu is pretty straight forward, a handful of appetizers, raw shell fish, and a couple entrees. The food leans towards the California Mediterranean direction.
Zuni Cafe Picks:
Chicken for two ($48) roasted in the brick oven with white wine and marjoram, warm bread salad with scallions, currants, and pine nuts is their signature dish. This dish is good enough for 3 people. Order it as soon as you sit down, as it takes an hour. Some of the best chicken around, it was juicy and tender. Even the breast meat was good. Baked Bread was crispy and a perfect accent. A bit of a char. This chicken was still good when reheated the next day. They vary the accompaniments such as the vegetable from time to time. This dish is often imitated but rarely surpassed.
Oysters ($12) Wescott Pacific, Hog Kumamoto, and Olympias were fresh and served with champagne vinaigrette. On another visit we ordered the smallest ones, Washington Kumamoto, Sand Isle Kumamoto, Kusshi, and Olympia ($3.25 – $3.50 each). Freshly shucked, simple but excellent.
Rabbit Ragout with soft polenta, Lamb’s lettuce, and black trumpet mushrooms ($12.50) was very good. The rabbit was thinly pulled and topped off the smooth polenta. Zuni kept the polenta not too rich.
Piccolo fritto ($11) deep-fried radicchio, onions, and lemon with balsamic vinegar was crunchy and satisfying. How could deep fried food not be?
Llano Seco Ranch mock Porchetta ($29) rubbed with rosemary, garlic, and lemon zest was another good entree. Tender simple pork with some really well done lentils, chard, and purple carrots.
Wills Ranch Pork Chop ($25) roasted with cardoons, chickpeas, and almond green garlic picada was cooked just right, tender, and juicy. Good beans.
Farro soup ($8.25) with 3 greens and one egg was excellent. Good broth and fresh greens.
Pistachio ice cream cones ($8.75) with chocolate sauce were small but the ice cream was smooth and creamy. Yes, it was someone’s birthday.
Espresso granita ($8.75) with whipped cream was a refreshing dessert. Caffeine and zingy coffee flavor balanced with cream.
Coffee-Cinnamon ice cream profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce and almonds ($10) was a large dessert. Some good finger food to nosh on, especially when you want to share a dessert.
Quince sorbet with huckleberry sauce and sesame seed biscottini ($9) hit the mark. Not too tart and clearly home made fruity sorbet.
Creme Brulee with gingersnap cookies ($9) had a nice thick crust and some smooth egg custard.
Zuni Caesar Salad ($12) is a classic dish. Lots of Fresh greens and classic dressing. It has grown messier and fallen behind the times over the years. Not very delicate with lots of sourness and overwhelming anchovy flavor.
Tomales Bay Mussels and Hog Island Manila Clams ($10) with saffron, coriander seed, orange zest and harissa was only fair. Fresh shellfish combined with good sauce. Good dip for bread.
Spaghetti with cardoons, onions, mint, Urfa pepper, and ricotta salata ($16.75) was based on a high quality dry bought pasta . Thin noodles full of a complex rich flavor.
Serrano Ham with Twin Girl Farm cherries and fennel ($11) was fair. Too simple, we guess. The other appetizers were better.
Polenta ($5.25) with parmesan cheese was fair. A litle on the hard side.
Vin d’Orange ($8) a house-made liquor, was on the bitter side. We had to get it sweetened with simple syrup.
Zuni Cafe had above average service that was friendly. All food came out paced well. Classic food that is very accessible, no wonder they are always packed. No fancy New American cuisine. Be sure to try the Burger during lunchtime or late night.
Cocktails like the Mojito and Margarita were strong and well made. Zuni Cafe adds a 4% San Francisco Health Surcharge to your bill.