San Francisco is as famous for its food as it is for the fog that makes outdoor dining something of a rarity. But that didn't stop the determined restaurateurs who have turned Belden Place, a block-long pedestrian alley, into a bustling paradise of alfresco feasting.
In just over a decade, a few persistent café owners have transformed this narrow lane from a nondescript passageway into a dining destination liberally laced with French attitude. Most days, Belden bursts with patrons seated cheek to cheek under awnings and umbrellas extending almost the entire length and breadth of the alley. In the evening, white lights strung zigzag overhead shine on the platters of mussels (from Plouf), Catalan tapas (B44), fried calamari (Brindisi), and osso buco (Cafe Tiramisu) being whisked to tables by waiters who call out in French and Italian.
Belden's offerings aren't exclusively Continental. Sam's Grill, a local institution that has anchored the alley's south end at Bush Street since 1946, still serves Hangtown fry in wood-paneled booths. Newcomer Voda, an urban-hip vodka bar, sports an outdoor smoking lounge formed by movable orange banquettes.
WHERE IT IS Belden is in the Financial District, in a square formed by the intersections of Bush, Kearny, Pine, and Montgomery streets.
WHO WILL LIKE IT Anyone who enjoys café society, alfresco dining, or being addressed as "monsieur" or "mademoiselle." Holiday shoppers at nearby Union Square walk over for a respite from the bustle.
WHEN TO GO Any weekday for lunch (but be sure to arrive early if you want a prime outdoor table—they're packed by noon); any evening for dinner under the stars (or, at the very least, under the glow of the heat lamps); Bastille Day, July 14, for a hearty helping of wild Gallic revelry.Vive la Belden!
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in November 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.