The Best Restaurant Architects

San Francisco has one of the country’s best food scenes. So it is only fitting that these restaurants have top-notch designs. Luckily, the city has a handful of architects who specialize in restaurant design, with portfolios of award-winning bars, lounges, and restaurants. In this list, you’ll find a little of everything: barbecue joints, exclusive wine tasting lounges, upscale French restaurants, and even what may be the most green cafe in the city. Included in this list are 3 James Beard award winners, many AIA recognized architects and the firm that designed what Thrillist named the best-designed restaurant in the country.  


8) WEISBACH architecture | design

Website | (415) 418-2440 | Featured Principal: Lev Weisbach

Weisbach’s firm is only 7 years old but has already made its mark on the San Francisco restaurant scene. And prior to founding his own firm, Weisbach was a design principal at our #1 ranked restaurant design firm – CCS. There, he directed some of the city’s top restaurant designs and made CCS a national leader in hospitality design. We can only assume he will have the same success with his own firm.

Pictures Courtesy of WEISBACH

WEISBACH architecture | design was founded in 2010 by Lev Weisbach, a 20+ year veteran San Francisco architect. The firm’s current work spans the range of residential and retail to conference halls and furniture. However, Weisbach’s greatest successes have been with restaurant design. The practice uses cutting-edge technology and a great passion for art to create inspirational and unique spaces for their clients. Prior to founding his own firm, Weisbach was a partner at CCS Architecture. There, he helped CCS become one of the country’s top restaurant design firms. He was the project principal on many iconic San Francisco restaurants, such as Twenty-Five Lux, Barbacco En Trattoria, and La Mar, among countless others. Weisbach’s work has been exhibited and featured in many top publications and been the recipient of many design awards. He received his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley and Master of Architecture from Columbia University.

Pictures Courtesy of WEISBACH

Featured Projects

WEISBACH architecture | design collaborated closely with the owner of Trabocco to create a stunning final space. The team was inspired by traditional rural Italian architecture and symbols from Abruzzo, Italy, where the restaurant operator Giuseppe Naccarelli is from. The resulting design features soft wood paneling and geometric patterns, creating an enthusiastic, warm, and beautiful environment. The architectural practice also designed the Best Lil’ Porkhouse in Alameda, California. The space carefully balances a big city feel with down home country imagery. The barbecue joint has huge industrial ceilings that feature classic signs with flashy bulbs, carefully blending a big city feel with a down home country vibe. The overall effect is a funky, fun atmosphere.


7) BCV Architects

Website | (415) 398-6538 | Featured Principals: Hans Baldauf and Chris von Eckartsberg

BCV Architects has designed restaurants and cafes across the city of San Francisco, including the upscale wine tasting room the Press Club, and a number in the works at SFO. Key to their process is incorporating sustainability – both community and environment – into the final design.

Pictures Courtesy of BCV

CBV Architects was founded by Hans Baldauf and Chris von Eckartsberg. The practice designs houses, hospitality, commercial, and community architecture, but has achieved particular success with restaurants. Their approach is to help build and sustain communities and culture, and they consider the ethical, cultural, social, economic and historical implications of their projects. Their aesthetic is simple, elegant, and timeless. Both principals are committed to environmentally-sound design from top to bottom and are LEED AP accredited. Baldauf is a strong advocate for a broad vision of sustainability and likens sustainable architecture to the “Slow Flood” movement. He has taught architecture at Yale University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Notre Dame. Baldauf has been recognized as a Fellow by the AIA and earned his Bachelors and Masters in Architecture at Yale University. von Eckartsberg has a particular passion for projects that celebrate the intersection of food, wine, and sustainable lifestyle designs. He earned his Bachelors in Visual Studies, with an emphasis in Architecture, from Dartmouth College, and a Masters in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was also an AIA Medal Award winner.

Pictures Courtesy of BCV

Featured Projects

BCV Architects designed Belecampo Meat Co. in Larkspur, CA, which was nominated by the AIA for a Restaurant Design People’s Choice Award in 2013. Their unique farmhouse style design reinvented the traditional butcher shop by seamlessly weaving the shop into a restructured cafe. The butcher counter transforms into the restaurant cook line and counter bar. The design creatively combines ceramic and concrete tiles, natural stone, and wood paneling with the bright orange colors of the surrounding market. And Von Eckarsberg is behind the firm’s award-winning design for the upscale wine tasting room Press Club. The 9,000 square foot space is an urban lounge that nods to the aesthetics of Wine Country, mixing warm, sustainably-sourced wood with exposed structural elements.  BCV Architects also designed M.Y. China for celebrity chef Martin Yan, the German beer hall Schroeder’s in the Financial District, and is also designing several cafes and retail marketplace concepts for SFO.


6) Lundberg Design

Website |(415) 695-0110 | Featured Principal: Ollie Lundberg

The team at Lundberg Design are as many artists as they are architects. With a fabrication studio in their offices, the practice is known for creating one-of-a-kind pieces for their designs. Many of their most sleek, modern, and exciting restaurant spaces can be found delicately interwoven into historic buildings across San Francisco.

Pictures Courtesy of Lundberg

Lundberg Design was founded by Ollie Lundberg and works out of a former 1933 mattress factory in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. The large space houses their architectural practice and fabrication shop. The practice has a range of expertise, including residential, restaurants, wineries, distilleries, commercial properties, apartment buildings, and hotels. They describe their style as ““nature-inspired modernism” which is presented in the simple but elegant form. They commonly work with wood, stone, and steel, and are known for their one-of-a-kind handmade pieces from their fabrication studio. Their approach is artistic and collaborative and at all times takes sustainability into consideration. In the long term, they hope as architects to have made a net positive impact on the environment, and create buildings that are physically and culturally durable. To achieve their environmentally responsible goal, they employ the latest building practices and technologies. Lundberg earned his Bachelor’s in English Literature and Sculpture from Washington and Lee University, and a Masters in Architecture from the University of Virginia.

Pictures Courtesy of Lundberg

Featured Projects

One of Lundberg Design’s most impressive restaurants is Mourad, which was closely designed with acclaimed chef Mourad Lahlou in the historic 1920’s Pacific Telephone building. Lahlou and Lundberg even took a trip through Morocco together for inspiration for this space. The design highlights its iconic San Francisco location while bringing to mind traditional Moroccan design – albeit with a modern interpretation. Its sweeping ceilings create a grand feeling, while the details still make for an intimate experience. The careful combination of new and old features fabric ceilings, mosaic tilework, perforated metal, and a patchwork of reclaimed Moroccan carpets. The brick, granite, concrete, and steel of the original frame were left alone to show the historical aspects of the site. Lundberg Design also created Hardwater, an American Whiskey bar in a historic building on Pier 3. The exterior and interior of this space highlight the firm’s artistic skills in fabrication. The bright, modern space won an AIA Constructed Realities Citation Award and was featured in Interior Design, San Francisco Chronicle, and Boutique Magazine. And the practice designed Abbot’s Cellar, again in a historic San Francisco building. The design was inspired by the firm’s use of reclaimed bricks from the 1906 earthquake. It grand character is further built through the use of reclaimed barn wood siding and flooring, recycled denim insulation, steel with high recycled content, and recycled beer bottles. Abbot’s Cellar won the Interior Design Best of Year Award, Architizer A+ Award, IIDA Merit Award, and Restaurant + Bar Design Awards. Another iconic Lundberg Design is Seasglass at Exploratorium Museum, in a transparent glass box next to the historic Pier 15 building. The design purposefully highlights its waterfront location and features  Sierra White Granite, a wall of blue and green tiles and a glass bar constructed in collaboration with the museum staff that shows the interaction of dry ice with water.


5) Puccini Group

Website | (415) 678-2714 | Featured Principal: Rob Polacek, Chief Creative Officer and Partner

Puccini Group has designed hundreds of hospitality spaces for some of the largest global names in the business. Their beautiful, award-winning designs are host to some of the most popular restaurants in cities across the US, and in Europe, Central America, and Asia.

Pictures Courtesy of Puccini

San Francisco-headquartered Puccini Group was founded by Bob Puccini in 1996 as an “outlet for his passion for beautifully orchestrated restaurants.” The Group is a successful Interior Design and Operations Studio with 4 additional specialized studios and many consultants on staff. Rob Polacek, Chief Creative Partner, is responsible for the concept development and design side of the practice. He is known for his ability to create aesthetically pleasing spaces for guests and highly-functional chef-tailored restaurants. In addition to designing beautiful restaurants, Puccini Group coordinates entire hospitality experiences. Their spaces have a great sense of personality and unique style to match each restaurant’s concept and environment. Puccini Group has completed over 1000 projects. Puccini Group’s clients include many of the world’s top hotel brands, including Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Four Seasons, Intercontinental, Hilton, and Westin. Polacek earned a degree in architecture from the Catholic University of America.

Pictures Courtesy of Puccini

Featured Projects

Puccini Group designed Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen, a 2,800 square foot bar and lounge in the Tenderloin. The interior is defined by a funky, urban feel, and decorated with local flair. The space was designed for a flexible layout, allowing for intimate private dinners, and large group events. The firm also designed Ducca in the Westin Hotel on Market Street. The space is defined by Venetian-inspired décor and features large sparkling chandeliers. This sophisticated but modern space is 4,000 square feet but still offers an intimate dining experience. Its design also incorporates reclaimed redwood olive tanks originally fabricated in San Francisco.


4) Aidlin Darling Design

Website | (415) 974-5603 | Featured Principals: Joshua Aidlin and David Darling

San Francisco-based Aidlin Darling Design has over 200 regional, national, and international awards, including a James Beard. Their designs are as artistic as they are practical, and also have a heavy dose of sustainability. One of their most recent restaurants – Bar Agricole – was even certified LEED Platinum.

Pictures Courtesy of Aidlin Darling

Principals Joshua Aidlin and David Darling founded Aidlin Darling Design in 1998. The firm designs a wide range of buildings, including institutional, academic, commercial and residential. They also produce furniture, design landscapes, and do interior design work. The firm offers a collaborative and unconventional design approach and creates truly unique spaces. The firm’s philosophy is to “bridge the demands of artistic endeavor, environmental responsibility, functional pragmatics, and financial considerations.” Their approach has turned their studio into a sort of creative hub for their large network of designers, engineers, builders, artists, and chefs. The firm has won more than 100 regional, national, and international awards, including the 2013 National Design Award from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Nation Design Museum for their body of work, 2 AIA COTE Top Ten Awards for sustainable design, and 4 American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum. A testament to their success in restaurant design, Aidlin Darling Design has also won a James Beard Award. Before founding his own firm, David Darling was the Vice President at BraytonHughes Design Studios and a project architect at Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects. Darling and Aidlin both earned their degrees at the University of Cincinnati.

Pictures Courtesy of Aidlin Darling

Featured Projects

Bar Agricole is a 1,400 square-foot restaurant and bar in a former SoMa warehouse. Aidlin Darling Design worked with local artisans to design an interior that matched the restaurants sustainable, locally sourced menu. It has a cool, beautiful, and sleek urban feel. The space features glass sculptures designed by local sculpture Nikolas Weinstein hanging by the skylights, booths made of concrete waving through the space, and a bar made of old barn beams, topped in resin. Hanging from the tall ceilings are reconstructed strips of whiskey-barrel oak. There is also an outdoor courtyard and organic garden. The design won an AIA National Award and achieved a LEED Platinum certification. Aidlin Darling Design is also responsible for the design of In Situ, SFMOMA’s sleek restaurant. This design received an American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum and European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies, a  2017 Merit Award from the International Interior Design Association, and a Best of Year Award in from Interior Design Magazine.  In addition to their restaurant work, Aidlin Darling Design recently designed four wineries in Northern California that encompass impressive sustainability features.


3) Stanton Architecture

Website | (415) 865-9600 | Featured Principal: Michael Stanton

Stanton Architecture, whose founder Michael Stanton previously served as the President of the National AIA, is a leader in the hospitality design business. The practice recently completed what Bon Appetit called the ‘Best Designed Restaurant’ of 2016. Their creatively designed restaurants can be seen across the country, from San Francisco to DC to New York City.

For over 30 years, Stanton Architecture has designed buildings and interiors for Fortune 500 companies, local businesses, municipalities, NGOs, and most famously – the hospitality industry. Founded by Michael Stanton, the practice has designed some of San Francisco’s most trendy new restaurants. Stanton, FAIA, has held positions of responsibility and leadership at all levels of the AIA. He served as former president of AIA San Francisco and of the AIA California Council, was elected to be the 75th President of the AIA in 1999. Stanton is a globally sought after lecturer on urban design and practice and delivered the keynote address to the Bulgarian Chamber of Architects. He has twice been recognized with the AIA Citation of Excellence in Urban Design and, in 2010, received a lifetime achievement award from the AIA California Council.

Featured Projects

Stanton Architecture recently completed Leo’s Oyster Bar in downtown San Francisco, which was named the Best Designed Restaurant of 2016 by Bon Appetit magazine and featured in Architectural Digest. Leo’s Oyster Bar has a nostalgic, 1950’s retro feeling with a large dash of luxury, and features accents of brass and polished marble. The firm also designed the cocktail and wine lounge and restaurant Dirty Habit SF, located on the fifth floor a building in SoMa near Union Square. The space features a fully heated, year-round patio, named by Thrillist as one of the best in the city. The design created an intimate atmosphere with a dramatic ‘film noir’ feel through a combination of straight lines and geometric patterns with steel on the walls and ceiling, and old school carpeting and artwork. The firm also designed Marlowe, in San Francisco’s SoMa, with a sleek and clean design, featuring a black, white, and silver color palette. The walls of the patio grow herbs and plants and the bar is covered in eye-catching diamond-imprinted metal.

For pictures of their works, visit their website.


2) AvroKO

Website | 415.366.5882 | Featured Principals: William Harris, Greg Bradshaw, Kristina O’Neal, and Adam Farmerie

AvroKO’s designs have been recognized with James Beard Awards, Hospitality Design Awards, and Hospitality Architecture + Design Awards for their architecture and interior design. The design practice has award-winning restaurants on multiple continents and is behind some of the most anticipated new restaurants in cities across the USA.

Pictures Courtesy of AvroKO

With offices in New York City, San Francisco, London, and Bangkok, the visionary design firm AvroKO is currently working in 14 countries and 25 cities around the world. The firm is run by four partners, William Harris, Greg Bradshaw, Kristina O’Neal, and Adam Farmerie. The group met in college and came together in 2001 to launch this award-winning practice. Their team of architects and interior designers produce intriguing concept-driven spaces for their clients. They work mainly in hospitality – on restaurants, bars, and hotels – but also have experience in residential and retail. The practice characterizes their style as a “unique convergence between the ideals of the past and an off-beat, forward-looking sensibility.” They aim for their ideas to be thought-provoking and to create a transformative experience through the environments they have designed. For their excellence, they have won many awards, including a Hospitality Architecture + Design Award for Best Restaurant Design worldwide, a James Beard for Best Restaurant Design, and numerous other James Beard nominations.

Pictures Courtesy of AvroKO

Featured Projects

Ninebark is a nearly 5,000 square foot space in Napa Valley created for chef Matthew Lightner. AvroKO designed the entire interior and also custom furniture and lighting. The 3-story restaurant with a rooftop bar has a modern, but casual feel to it, and each floor is ‘decorated’ with a rotation of herbs, products, branches and even flora that are used in the kitchen. Ninebark was named the Best New Restaurant by California Home + Design, a Top 100 Wine Restaurant by Wine Enthusiast and a Top 100 Restaurant in the Bay Area by San Francisco Chronicle. AvroKO also designed RN74 on the corner of Mission and Fremont. For this upscale urban French wine bar and restaurant, AvroKO even created custom furniture and lighting. The restaurant’s name is derived from the main highway connecting the wineries of Burgundy. AvroKO used this inspiration in the design, channeling the early railways that linked Burgundy to the rest of the country. The space features red-leather booths, a station-style board featuring its extensive wine list, and even the pendant lights that recall train signals. RN74 was a James Beard finalist for Best New Restaurant and was named one of the 10 Best Designed Restaurants in the U.S. by Dwell.


1) CCS Architecture

Website | 415.864.2800 | Featured Principal: Cass Calder Smith

Cass Calder Smith and his firm, CCS Architecture, are at the top of the restaurant design game, known for creating some of the most stunning restaurants in San Francisco and New York City. They are the geniuses behind what Thrillist named the best-designed restaurant in the country, and have can also put their name on some of the most sustainably and creatively built spots in the city as well.

Pictures Courtesy of CCS

CCS Architecture was founded in 1990 in San Francisco and opened a New York office in 2005. Although the 30-person firm has designed a range of public and private buildings, the firm is most known for its restaurant projects. Since designing his first restaurant, the landmark 1990’s San Francisco Restaurant Lulu, which was nominated for a James Beard award for Best New Design, Smith and his practice have been sought after to design iconic restaurants around the country. The practice has a clean, modernist design aesthetic, which balances creativity and innovation with practicality. CCS Architecture has won numerous awards and been featured in national publications including The New York Times, Architectural Record, Metropolitan Home, Metropolis, Dwell, and Interior Design and Abitare. Smith was appointed to the San Francisco Arts Commission in 2008. He earned his Bachelor and Master of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.

Pictures Courtesy of CCS

Featured Projects

Perhaps CCS Architecture’s most recognized restaurant is Twenty-Five Lusk in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. Built in a converted meat-packing plant, this exquisite space features exposed brick and crisscrossing wooden beams, stainless steel, laminated glass, and mirrors. Smith broke up the large space into a series of rooms downstairs, including a lounge with hanging circular steel fireplaces, and a large balcony dining room, under the soaring ceiling. Twenty-Five Lusk was named by Thrillist as the best-designed restaurant in the country and was featured in Architectural Digest. Not only did CCS create perhaps the best-designed restaurant in the city, but they also designed perhaps the most sustainable. The Plant: Cafe Organic is easily one of the greenest restaurants in San Francisco. The cafe, in two historic Pier 3 buildings, is powered by rooftop solar panels and has a water Electrolyzer to convert tap water into cleaning fluid. The design preserved the 18-foot exposed wood ceiling and 16-foot casement windows looking out to the Bay. It also incorporates reclaimed wood, recycled tiles, a floor made of coconut shells, stainless steel and zinc, and a living wall of plants designed by Flora Grubb. CCS Architecture also designed Barrel House Tavern, which won an IDA Northern California Chapter Honor Award and an Hospitality Design Award, La Mar Cebicheraria Peruana, on the Embarcadero, Terzo and Lettüs, both in Cow Hollow, Perbacco, in the Financial District, Rose Pistola, in North Beach, OneUP in the Grand Hyatt on Union Square, Cupola Pizzeria, and Delica at the Ferry Building, which won an International Interior Design Association Award.

 

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