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The Best Places to Eat When the Burners Leave Town

Score one for playa haters.


While a subset of San Franciscans decamp to the Black Rock Desert next week to cake themselves in dust and one-up each other’s art cars, those who stay behind get the run of the city. The Muni throngs thin; parking spots appear out of nowhere. And, best of all, the wait at some very worthy restaurants lightens up. Sure, tourists absorb some of that slack, and a few perennially booked spots—hello, State Bird Provisions—are just as unforgiving. But Burning Man (Aug. 28–Sept. 5) is not the week to settle for yet another burrito (unless that’s your thing, no judgment). Here, the best places to put your name down without signing over your entire night.

AL’s Place 
Prime-time reservations at this itty-bitty Mission spot consistently get locked up 60 days in advance, so your best bet at sampling chef Aaron London’s eclectic, mostly pescatarian menu is to eat late or walk in. To improve the odds for walk-ins, the restaurant sets aside a handful of counter seats, and they recently added some sidewalk tables. For the best shot, show up around opening to put your name in, grab a drink nearby, and if they’ve called your name by the time you return, you’ll be first on the—hopefully shorter than usual—list.

Flour + Water 
The lines snaking outside Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water in the Mission are  a testament to McNaughton’s unassuming, seasonally inspired, handcrafted Italian fare. Most of the good reservations have already been snapped up, but non-Burners have a shot at snagging one of the 20 seats at the bar or communal table, set aside for walk-ins.

While it’s usually possible to land a same-week late-night reservation at Melissa Perello’s petite Castro bistro serving California cuisine, early birds will do well to line up for one of ten walk-in counter seats. Even the lazy are rewarded: Call ahead to check on the wait and add your name to the wait list without leaving the couch.

The bad news: you’re not getting a prime-time reservation at Gabriela Camara’s temple to refined, seafood-centric Mexican cooking. The good news: you might snag a later table, or one of the roughly 32 seats  Cala holds for walk-ins at the communal table and the bar. Come for the tacos; stay for the charred sweet potato with bone marrow salsa negra.  

This much-anticipated newcomer from Jordan-born former Google engineer Azhar Hashem debuted (finally!) in June. Forget hummus and falafel, though: This Mediterranean bistro is devoted to a style ofcomfort food that favors hearty vegetables and savory meats and seafood. And though the Mission spot has just ten seats for walk-ins, you can still usually snag a prime-time table less than a week in advance.

Namu Gaji 
The number of seats saved for walk-ins at this Korean-inspired Mission fave varies, but the good news is it’s still possible to land a same-day reservation, particularly for smaller parties. Bonus for the early crowd: Come for happy hour and ply yourself with a pile of chef David Lee’s spicy, short rib–topped gamja fries

Monsieur Benjamin 
Three-Michelin-starred chef Corey Lee’s newest venture, In Situ, might attract a glut of tourists next week as the newly reopened SFMOMA’s flagship restaurant. But Lee’s modern French bistro Monsieur Benjaminhas far more gettable reservations. If you can’t find a table at your preferred time, the Hayes Valley hot spot saves 12 outdoor seats, 9 bar seats, and 10 seats at the communal table for walk-ins.

Mission Beach Cafe 
One of San Francisco’s most popular and most maligned pastimes—waiting in line for brunch—seems to get a little breezier during Burning Man. The morning lines at the perpetually crowded Mission Beach Cafe aren’t likely to dissipate entirely, but they could very well shrink from outlandish to tolerable. The sunny cafe, which puts a new spin on brunch classics, takes only a handful of reservations for brunch, giving the vast majority of tables away on a first-come, first-served basis. You can also leave your name, go for a stroll in a less packed Dolores Park, and jump to the front of the line if you’ve been called by the time you return.

Kitchen Story 
Craveable, Instagrammable food and bottomless mimosas seven days a week draw crowds to this corner Castro cafe, a classic brunch spot by day, Thai restaurant by night. They don’t accept reservations during weekend brunch, and waits can approach an hour during peak times. While we’ve no scientific proof, we’ll speculate there’s some overlap between Burners and the bottomless mimosa crowd, so we’ll call shorter wait times a strong possibility.

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