Best Seat in the House: Zuni Cafe, San Francisco

Vinny Eng, Wine Director of Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco, can tell you–he’s sat in all of them.

February 12, 2019 ● 2 min read

By Richie Nakano | Photo via @engvinny via @hcsrih (Joe Hirsch)

Zuni Cafe needs no introduction. It’s the restaurant whose cookbook informed a thousand menus. Its roast chicken has been the industry standard for…well forever. It’s the place you can take your parents for a polite pre-theatre dinner or go with co-workers for a late night drink. It’s the restaurant that has managed to, in its 40 years in business, find a way to appeal to, well, everyone.

Which brings us to Vinny Eng, Wine Director of Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco, playing tour guide this week for Best Seat in the House–your crib sheet for getting maximum enjoyment out of a restaurant, direct from one of its biggest fans in our expert community. We'll leave it to him from here:

Where to Sit: 

A few years ago Eng jokingly told the manager that he had a little game where he wanted to sit in every seat in the restaurant. They gave him the seating chart so he could. Knowing the floor plan so intimately, Eng says there is a perfect table for any circumstance: 

“They have the most romantic two tops ever, like the two seats that are side by side watching the wood oven, and one that is upstairs on the window, overlooking Rose Alley. The bar seats are great for walk-ins, and if you go at off-peak hours it's really easy to get in. If you’re a solo diner, some of the most incredible tables are reserved for you! For large parties, they have these beautifully asymmetrical tables.” 


When to Visit: 

Eng’s choice is as San Francisco as Zuni is. “The most fun times are during Folsom Street Faire or Dore Alley. You can watch everyone walk by on Market Street in their leather outfits. Crispy shoestring fries and ass-less chaps!” 

What to Order: 

“Depending on who I’m with I’ll change my order. If I’m going with my goddaughter, we get the anchovies, then the Caesar. We eat them our fingers, because it's more fun that way. Then we get the pasta of the day because they always do it so well—they’re always fresh and lovely.

If you’re there for lunch you have to get the Wagon Wheel cheese pizza. [It’s only available on the lunch menu.] Always get a chicken and save half for later, because the bread salad gets better as it gets wetter. For dessert: the chocolate cake and the pavlova.”

What to Drink: 

Wine geeks take note, Eng’s beverage background gives him special insight into the collection at Zuni.

“I inhale the iced tea there, but it’s a great place for people that enjoy classic wine. It’s stocked with the most incredibly hard to attain red and white Burgundies. They have such a deep cellar and it is reasonably priced–really under market for San Francisco. And if you’re looking to splurge, the reserve list is amazing.”

Who to Talk To:

 “The host team has been there for a long time. Those incredible beings have manned that door for a long time. You can go in for a perfect 45-minute meal or a 3-hour meal–the support staff is so in sync and attentive. It’s really understated, really classic and completely thorough. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, everyone gets treated with the same care.”