Zuni Cafe is one of San Francisco's most popular restaurants, yet sometimes the most misunderstood.  So, a few words of advice may be helpful.

Seating

The best tables are either downstairs near the wood oven, with a view of Market Street, or upstairs near the railing. There, you have a view of the animated scene at the bar. Sometimes you must be seated in the back rooms upstairs, which is fine for enjoying conversation with the other members of your party.  If you know where you want to sit, ask when you make your reservation what the best time is to get the table of your choice.  Also, downstairs bar tables are always first-come, first served, so if you can do without a tablecloth, a party of two or three can usually get in without a reservation.

Limited menu

For both lunch and dinner, you will find only a small number of first courses, and a small number of main courses, plus salads. This is a feature, not a bug, because it gives the chef a chance to really shine.  But it also means that if you don't want to order the chicken for two (always on the menu), or the fish of the day, you will typically have only one or two other choices.  If you insist on a longer number of choices, you may want to choose a different restaurant.

Wines by the Glass

As with the menu, so with the wines.  There will only be two or three red wines and two or three whites. The choices are rarely big, "knock your socks off" wines.  Usually, they are chosen to be good "food wines", that you will appreciate only when you have started to eat.  If you want  one of the California or French wines that you've heard of before, you can order a bottle from the wine list, which is reasonably priced. 

Champagne and Shellfish

Zuni has the best selection of oysters in town. Unless you have a strong preference, you can't go wrong letting the staff  choose which ones to bring you. They also have shrimp or prawns and other raw shellfish, and cracked crab in season (it can run out fast, though).  Many Zuni regulars splurge and have a glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne ($12.50), or order a bottle of that or some other sparkling wine, to start the meal. 

Try Something Different

Sometimes you will see something on the menu you've never heard of, or seems really "different". This is always something the chef is proud of, and trying the unusual dishes will usually delight you. 

Or Try an Old Standby

Zuni's caesar salad is the authentic recipe with egg, made to order, with big pieces of romaine and lots of garlic.  Many people think it sets the standard for what a caesar should taste like.  At lunch, hamburgers are available, made from the best available meat, served between two slices of foccaccia. Always good, provided you can do without the usual kind of hamburger bun. The soups are usually familiar, but more flavorful than what you will get elsewhere.  Risotto is often on the menu during the winter months, and is a house specialty.  And the polenta, with mascarpone or parmesan, is always a favorite with children (and many adults, too).  Oh, and if you have three or four people, and certainly if you have a child with you, the thin, crisp shoestring potatoes are a must.

Save Room for Dessert

The desserts are all quite wonderful -- they change daily, but almost always there is espresso granita and a rich chocolate dessert and a fruit-based dessert.  Zuni provides another opportunity to splurge if you like dessert wines or liqueurs, since their selection is one of the most extensive in town.

Price

The menu prices are much more reasonable than at several other top restaurants in San Francisco. However, the final bill is often more than you might have thought you'd spend.  The reason, of course, is that you can choose to have more courses, and drink more wines or spirits, than you might elsewhere.  One way to avoid spending too much is to come in mid-afternoon and just have a salad and a burger or pizza.  A mid-afternoon visit is a very good way to get familiar with what the restaurant has to offer, and you will of course be able to find a good table.