San Francisco Restaurants
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San Francisco Restaurants: Insider Picks
Dennis Leary has the city covered from morning to night, with breakfast at the Golden West, sandwiches at The Sentinel and late-night drinks at his newest outpost, the revamped House of Shields. But his most ambitious cooking is at this Union Square counter-only spot (there are a few booths), where he serves brilliant weekly-changing dishes like a pureed mussel soup with house-made harissa. (The best deal is the $50 three-course prix-fixe dinner, offered only on Tuesdays and Saturdays.) sfcanteen.com
Photo © Frankeny Images.
This Mission District restaurant has a deceptively laid-back vibe (brown paper menus, guest DJ nights) with seriously high standards. Chef Thomas McNaughton makes his own ricotta, butchers his own meat—and, using the skills he learned during a pasta-making stint in Bologna, Italy, hand-rolls his own fresh pasta, usually eight different kinds each night. McNaughton is also an expert at another flour and water combo: pizza. His pies are wood-fired Neapolitan-style and, along with the classic Margherita, include toppings such as shaved squash, wild arugula, and capers. flourandwater.com
For Bay Area shellfish lovers, few things surpass the thrill of eating oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Co. in Point Reyes, located about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, just a few yards from where the bivalves are harvested. The next best thing is to eat at the wraparound bar at Hog Island’s Ferry Building Marketplace outpost. Selections like glistening Sweetwaters are accompanied by Acme bread, which is baked just a few doors down. hogislandoysters.com
“We never serve obvious cuts of meat, ever,” says Chris Cosentino, who has been cooking kidneys, tripe and heart since he started at this Noe Valley restaurant in 2002. While his style of nose-to-tail eating feels very modern, he would argue that he’s simply reviving a thrifty Italian peasant way of cooking, in which no part of the animal is left uneaten. That commitment to “whole animal” dining translates to intriguing dishes like roasted lamb necks with polenta cooked in a combination of sheep-milk whey and whole milk. incanto.biz
After serving PB&Js (pork belly and jicama sandwiches) from a taco cart, husband-and-wife duo Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz founded a permanent restaurant, Mission Chinese Food, in an unlikely setting: a dingy Chinese restaurant that’s still in operation. Out of a laughably tiny shared kitchen, chef Danny Bowien mixes up Sichuan and other regional Chinese ideas with cross-cultural references, top-notch ingredients and classical technique for dishes like Kung Pao pastrami and a fiery Ma Po tofu prepared with ground Kurobuta pork shoulder. missionchinesefood.com
East Coast pizza purist Anthony Mangieri made his name as one of the country’s finest pizzaiolos, first at Una Pizza Napoletana in New Jersey, then at a second iteration of the pie shop in New York City’s East Village. Una Pizza’s third time around is in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, where Mangieri’s menu has just six (and one is only sold on Saturdays) of his super thin, blistered, charred pizzas, including the Filetti, topped with halved cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. The Ilaria is a smoked mozzarella-arugula-topped creation, named after Mangieri’s wife. unapizza.com
San Francisco Restaurants: Splurge
One of the Bay Area’s most exciting chef-restaurateurs is Daniel Patterson. At his flagship Coi, set in a serene, intimate space on a down-and-dirty corner of North Beach, Patterson prepares foraged and local produce with a brainy, modernist slant. The result is imaginative dishes like his upside-down tomato tart in which peeled, quickly charred cherry tomatoes sit on a bed of pesto and are topped with a tomato puree (made in a whipped-cream dispenser) and a crispy tart shell made from olives. coirestaurant.com
In this sleek, modern space in Oakland, chef James Syhabout offers an eight-course menu that reflects his time as chef de cuisine at Manresa in Silicon Valley and his stages at Spain’s El Bulli and the Fat Duck in England. Among Syhabout’s impeccable dishes is a squid and puntarelle salad dressed with a lemony, anise-accented vinaigrette. commisrestaurant.com
Photo © Greg Silva.
Chef-owner David Kinch is known for his serious commitment to farm-to-table cuisine, procuring organic, biodynamic fruits and vegetables from just one producer, the nearby Love Apple Farms. But instead of letting ingredients speak for themselves—the mantra of so many Bay Area chefs — Kinch mixes California seasonality with avant-garde technique at his restaurant in the quiet Silicon Valley suburb of Los Gatos. His wonderful style is best showcased in his genius “Into the Vegetable Garden” dish, a composition of seeds, stems, buds, leaves and shoots served with edible “dirt” made from roasted chicory root and dried potatoes. manresarestaurant.com
Photo © Sarah Remington.
Michael and Lindsay Tusk have settled into the Jackson Square neighborhood, where they reopened their much-lauded Quince in larger digs in 2009 and debuted the more rustic Cotogna in the adjoining space just last year. At Quince, Michael’s French- and Italian-inspired California recipes—in particular his exquisite pastas, like the oversized ravioli with six fillings —remain as terrific as ever. quincerestaurant.com
Saison used to be a sparsely decorated pop-up spot where customers had to walk through the kitchen to get to the very casual dining room. Now, after remodeling, it’s a real restaurant with a real entrance, offering a luxurious dining experience that is surprising and delicious, with constantly changing prix fixe menus that showcase chef Joshua Skenes’s cooking philosophy: “It’s going toward purity and depth of flavor,” he says. Skenes achieves this with his fierce commitment to detail—he makes everything from scratch, from the butter to the pasta, which he prepares with wheat that he stone-grinds every single day. That pasta is key to his incredible “just ground” pappardelle with sea urchin, cauliflower and crushed chile—a plate of silky pasta with briny seafood and a hint of heat. The best table: the one in the center of the kitchen. saisonsf.com
San Francisco Restaurants: Classic
Alice Waters first introduced her local, seasonal, sustainable cooking philosophy with the opening of Chez Panisse over 40 years ago. The two-story Berkeley restaurant, still housed in the same cozy Craftsman-style building outfitted with redwood trim and copper-shaded lamps, hums steadily along led by a cadre of talented chefs who follow Waters’s mission. Jérôme Wagg (who started at Chez Panisse in the early '80s as a busboy) cooks with Cal Peternell in the downstairs kitchen, creating the daily-changing three- and four-course prix fixe menus for the original restaurant. At the more casual café upstairs, which opened in 1980, Beth Wells and Nathan Alderson turn out à la carte classics like the baked Andante Dairy goat cheese and Monterey Bay squid-topped pizzetta. chezpanisse.com
Opened in 1995, chef Charles Phan’s Slanted Door (now located in the Ferry Building) continues to be one of the toughest reservations in town. There’s an amazing view of the bay and an incredibly appealing menu that marries organic vegetables and meats from local farmers with the tart, bright and spicy flavors of Vietnam. Thankfully, it’s no chore to wait for a table in the bar, which features one of the most creative cocktail menus in the city. slanteddoor.com
Three generations of Chan family members have run this half-century-old dim sum institution. It now has two locations, one in the Financial District’s Rincon Center, and a second, smaller outpost a few blocks away on Stevenson Street. At both, servers roll around carts stacked with bamboo baskets holding traditional har gow (shrimp dumplings) and Shanghai dumplings filled with minced Kurobuta pork along with inventive creations like the signature cabbage, walnut and honey salad. yanksing.com
A pre-dinner martini at the zinc bar with a couple of oysters from the exhaustive daily-changing list is a rite of passage for any serious Bay Area diner. The Mediterranean-focused menu here is anchored by signature dishes like the now iconic wood oven-roasted chicken served over bread salad by chef/co-owner Judy Rodgers, who has run the kitchen since 1987. The restaurant is usually packed, though walk-ins are often available for lunch or after 10 p.m., which is also the only time to try the famous burger, served on grilled focaccia with homemade bread-and-butter pickles. zunicafe.com
San Francisco Restaurants: Best Value
Photo © Kira Stackhouse.
Heidi Gibson was an MIT grad working as a web producer until she won the national Grilled Cheese Invitational. Now she sells her blue-ribbon creation and more in an old tobacco warehouse in San Francisco’s startup-heavy SoMa District. Tech geeks come for well-constructed sandwiches like the Mousetrap, with cheddar, Havarti and Monterey Jack on artisan sourdough. theamericansf.com
Commis chef James Syhabout is known for five-course menus that incorporate fanciful touches like ginger snowpeas. In 2011 the Thai-born chef opened the super casual Hawker Fare, serving street food-inspired dishes from Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Every dish on the menu, like poached chicken over rice cooked in chicken fat with fermented mung beans and ginger, costs less than $14. hawkerfare.com
Chef Traci Des Jardins, co-owner of San Francisco’s powerhouse Cal-French restaurant Jardinière, looked to her Mexican-born grandmother for inspiration when she opened tiny Mijita in 2004 in the Ferry Building Marketplace. The shop specializes in Mexican street foods like tacos and quesadillas as well as homey dishes like meatball soup in a tomato broth. mijitasf.com
Bay Area veteran chef Craig Stoll is known for marrying Northern California ingredients with Northern Italian tradition at his longstanding Mission District trattoria, Delfina. In 2005, Stoll and wife Anne opened Pizzeria Delfina next door in a narrow space with a colorful mural by Mission artist Andre Karpov; there they serve Neapolitan-style charred thin-crust pies topped with local ingredients like broccoli rabe and house-made fennel sausage. In 2011, the Stolls opened their latest, the Roman osteria Locanda, also in the Mission. pizzeriadelfina.com
San Francisco Bakeries, Coffee Bars and Breakfast Spots
After a stint cooking at Chez Panisse Café, Alison Barakat opened this bakery in Oakland’s Temescal District selling traditional American sweets, like ginger cookies, lemon bars and vanilla berry shortcake. But the biggest draw is the fried chicken-and-coleslaw sandwich, which diners eat on the sidewalk at tables made out of ironing boards (there’s no indoor seating). bakesalebetty.com
Photo © Frankeny Images.
Blue Bottle Coffee brings hyper-fresh, single-origin beans; ultra-concentrated Roman-style espresso; pour-over drip coffees; and out-there innovations like the Japanese coffee siphon to its many locations throughout the Bay Area. There are outposts in the Ferry Building, Hayes Valley, SFMOMA, and just off Mint Plaza, a brightly lit corner café that serves the largest food menu (breakfast, brunch and lunch) of any of the other spots. Founder James Freeman’s wife, Caitlin Williams Freeman, creates pastries like shortbread with Parmesan and fennel for all the cafés. bluebottlecoffee.com
Sara Spearin, formerly a baker at the Liberty Café, struck out on her own in 2008 with this tiny Mission District spot specializing in that classic combo, coffee and doughnuts. To go with the Fourbarrel Coffee are pastries in unexpected flavors like Bacon Maple Apple (loaded with bacon bits and covered in a maple glaze) and the Cornmeal Rosemary Cherry (a cornmeal and rosemary doughnut with dried cherries and a buttermilk glaze). dynamodonut.com
It’s been almost a decade since husband-and-wife team Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt first opened the doors to Tartine Bakery, but their stellar, slow-fermented yeast breads—among the finest in the country—still command a cult-like following. The faithful (and there are a lot of them) line up around the Guerrero Street storefront to scoop up fresh loaves at 5 p.m. (when they’re just out of the oven) and in the morning for breakfast pastries like the orange-scented Morning Buns. tartinebakery.com
San Francisco Bars
The owners of this 4,000-square-foot bar are committed to locavore mixology; bitters, syrups and sodas are house-made, often with ingredients from Bar Agricole’s 500-square- foot biodynamic garden of citrus trees and herbs. The best drinks by star mixologist Thad Vogler (who created the cocktail list at Charles Phan’s Vietnamese restaurant, the Slanted Door) tweak the classics, like the rum Agricole Mule, which uses rich, aged agricole rum in place of the gin in a Gin-Gin Mule. baragricole.com
This Mission District spot combines the best of late-night dining: superb thin-crust pizzas and expert cocktails. Chef Ruggero Gadaldi handles the pizzas, with toppings such as burrata and spicy coppa, while bar manager Ryan Fitzgerald takes care of the drinks, like the Lonsdale, a gin, apple juice, honey, basil and lemon combination. Another draw: the cameos by guest bartenders like Damon Boelte of Prime Meats in Brooklyn. berettasf.com
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