The harvest season brings a cornucopia of new restaurants stuffing themselves into the husks of your favorite dearly departed eateries. Promising new concepts just opened up at the former homes of legacy legends like Postrio, Herbivore, the Slow Club, and other locales. The old Cafe Elite is now The Elite Cafe, and the highly anticipated Bar Tartine spinoff has finally found a home (ironically, four blocks from Bar Tartine). Let’s join a table where people are already seated and have look at a menu of San Francisco’s best new restaurants.
All of the restaurants on this list are part of our ongoing quest to find this year's best new restaurants in America, and we're combing through every opening in every Thrillist city. Get involved on Instagram -- #BestRest2016 -- to let us know your picks and your favorite dishes at each of these new spots.
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If you need any more evidence that the massively hip Hotel Zeppelin is inspired by the rock band Led Zeppelin, its new restaurant has been christened with the “Ramble On”-evoking sobriquet Rambler. After a mid-October opening hosted by the Gettys (yes, those Gettys), Rambler’s new menu features “Going To” California cuisine like foie gras torchon and wood-grilled octopus with fresh chorizo. Classic rockers will recall that this Union Square hot spot was once Wolfgang Puck’s celebrated Postrio, and Chef Puck’s original wood-fired ovens are still producing a whole lotta lovely pizzas. Right now Rambler is a dinner-only spot, but they’ll offer a delicious lunch and brunch menu in the weeks to come.
SoMa is tossing another organic, farm-to-table salad joint your way, as Sweetgreen joins Mixt Greens and Tender Greens for an increasingly verdant neighborhood. Yes, Sweetgreen is a chain with more than 40 franchises nationwide, but its Washington, DC, Chicago, and Philadelphia locations have carved out significant cult followings among the veggie set. As with all the Sweetgreen locations, the new SoMa Sweetgreen features locally sourced produce, seasonal menus, and gourmet salads so big you’ll take half of it home in a take-out box for an extra bonus meal.
‘Aina is not a new restaurant, having brought its loco moco, custard-filled donuts, and deliciously rich Polynesian delicacies to Dogpatch earlier this year. But what’s new here is that ‘Aina’s long-promised dinner menu finally arrived this month, with pu-pus, poke, and octopus luau all prepared with Pacific flair. ‘Aina just received a 2017 Michelin Bib Gourmand award, a distinction given to value restaurants, which makes it probably one of the only places with a Michelin award where you can actually order spam.
For the Downtown lunch crowd looking for a quick bite for $8, The Bird is the word. You may balk at our inclusion of a restaurant that offers only a fried chicken sandwich, but oh, what a fried chicken sandwich it is! The Bird serves up a free-range chicken breast prepared with a berbere spice blend, loaded with fresh, crunchy apple slaw, and sandwiched on a freshly baked bun. The sandwiches brought to you by Adriano Paganini (Beretta, Starbelly) and chef Blair Warsham fall smack in the middle of the guilt-pleasure continuum -- but they’re also made of locally sourced and organic ingredients, so you shouldn't feel too bad if The Bird becomes your twice-weekly lunch spot.
Lower Pacific Heights
Good times roll with the happy return of The Elite Cafe on Fillmore St, now under new management and the culinary expertise of New Orleans Chef Chris Borges. The previous incarnation of Elite made our Best SF Brunch in Every Neighborhood list, though the new iteration of this New Orleans-inspired restaurant serves brunch only on the weekends. But son of a gun, you’ll have big fun with the new dinner dishes such as chicken jambalaya with squash and turnips, crawfish étouffée, duck gumbo, and a whole lot more. Try to save room for the bacchus, a giant bananas Foster sundae with crème fraîche ice cream, chocolate pearls, toasted coconut, and walnuts.
If you’re slowly getting over the demise of the legendary Slow Club, you’ll make fast friends with location’s new tenant, The Morris. The menu features whole animals such as a smoked Pekin duck with roasted veggies, lovingly hand-prepared by Chef Gavin Schmidt of the two-Michelin Star Campton Place. The Morris figures to be the new go-to destination for the well-heeled wino, as legendary sommelier Paul Einbund (formerly of Frances) has developed a wine list that exceeds 50 pages, mostly comprised of well-aged, old world wines.
Continuing their tradition of bringing groceries to neighborhoods that conspicuously lack real supermarkets, the Duc Loi gang just opened a new supermarket in Bayview. You'll find all the fresh produce and groceries of Duc Loi's 18th and Mission St location, but also a built-in deli serving what we've declared as one of the best banh mi sandwiches in San Francisco. The new Duc Loi pantry occupies the location of the Bayview's long-defunct Fresh & Easy, giving the neighborhood its first functioning grocery store in more than two years. The family-owned and run business has fed San Francisco since 1987 and promises to offer affordable groceries that reflect the meaning of Duc Loi -- “ethical earnings.”
We don’t usually cover pop-ups, as they tend to disappear in a blink. But the new Mission District pop-up Motze is notable because it’s a Bar Tartine spinoff from owner/chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns. The spot that you used to call Herbivore will be Motze’s new home for the next 18 months, and will offer a $58-per-person, three-course Japanese fusion menu with ingredients sourced exclusively from Full Table Farms in Yountville. SFGate reports that experimental dishes include zushi, a riff on sushi where the fish is preserved in the rice, and black koji bread with salmon roe, and house-made mung bean noodles. True to cutting-edge style, Motze will also feature the new so-San-Francisco “no tipping” model.
You don't often hear the phrase “farm-to-table" applied to South Indian food, but this new fast-casual Indian spot pulls off the concept credibly with an inventive array of fresh Indian dishes. Dakshin does serve traditional rice bowls and dosas, including a gun powder dosa (for those with spicy sensibilities), but ingredients like quinoa or ginger-garlic-tamarind sauces are anything but ordinary. Dakshin has a solid list of curries, including a daily special that represents “the best from our mother’s kitchen.” Platter dishes are served too, each prepared in a unique style specific to a certain different region of South India. This Russian Hill restaurant gets extra points for being open late -- until midnight on Friday and Saturday.
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1. Rambler545 Post St, San Francisco
2. sweetgreen171 2nd St, San Francisco
3. 'āina900 22nd St, San Francisco
4. Elite Cafe2049 Fillmore St, San Francisco
5. The Morris2501 Mariposa St, San Francisco
6. The Bird115 New Montgomery St, San Francisco
7. Dakshin2127 Polk St, San Francisco
8. Duc Loi Pantry5900 3rd St, San Francisco
Housed inside Hotel Zeppelin in Union Square, in the space where Wolfgang Puck's celebrated Postrio once reigned, Rambler serves Italian-influenced food and craft cocktails. The luxe bi-level space has separate bar and dining room areas, each of which sport exposed brick, wooden tables, vintage photography, and leather furniture. The spot has a rocker feel thanks to its host hotel, but the menu is more classic than edgy, with dishes like tagliatelle with lamb sausage, foie gras torchon, and plenty of wood-fired pizzas.
Sweetgreen is known for its customizable salads and grain bowls topped with locally sourced ingredients. The fast-casual chain changes its menu seasonally, but signatures like the wild rice- and kale-based Harvest Bowl and mesculin Guacamole Greens are always available, as is the option to create your own bowl from scratch. Your order is prepared assembly line-style behind a glass counter, and you can usually see greens being washed and vegetables being chopped in the open kitchen. The Soma location marks the first Sweetgreen outpost in San Francisco proper.
'Aina is a pop-up gone permanent thanks to the much-deserved hype surrounding its exceptional Hawaiian food. The breezy restaurant is known for its quintessential Hawaiian brunch, which includes taro French toast, loco moco, and you guessed it: spam. The Portuguese-style doughnuts filled with guava custard are a must-try, as are the tropical-style morning cocktails like coconut milk punch. Dinner options tend to change with the seasons but have included plates like charred octopus and Okinawan sweet potato gnocchi.
Nestled into Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, the handsome, wood-laden Elite Cafe is beloved for its New Orleans-inspired brunch and dinner menus, which feature dishes like breakfast biscuits with fried ham, chicken jambalaya with squash and turnips, crawfish etouffee, and duck gumbo. Make sure you save room for the bacchus, a giant bananas foster sundae with crème fraiche ice cream, chocolate pearls, toasted coconut, and walnuts. In addition to Creole classics, there are exceptional cocktail standbys like a Hurricane, a Sazerac, and (of course) Bloody Marys at brunch.
The casual yet stylish Morris in Potrero Hill is heaven for Bay Area winos, as legendary sommelier Paul Einbund (formerly of Frances) has developed an immense wine selection that's mostly comprised of well-aged European bottles. The 50-plus-page list pairs beautifully with refined dishes liked Peking duck with roasted vegetables and crispy pork trotters with Asian pear.
For all you Financial District folk in search of a quick and cheap lunch, Adriano Paganini's (Beretta, Starbelly) The Bird keeps things simple with two items: fried chicken sandwiches and curly fries. The standout fried chicken is made with free-range, berber-seasoned chicken breast, topped with celery apple slaw, and sandwiched on a toasted sesame bun. The ingredients are all organic and locally sourced, so you should feel minimal post-meal guilt, even if you make The Bird a weekly routine.
This slim, fast-casual Indian canteen in Russian Hill serves an array of home-style dishes from traditional rice bowls and dosas (including a gun powder one that packs a fire-breathing amount of heat) to Thali platters and stews. The solid list of curries involves a daily special representing "the best from our mother's kitchen," though the recurring prawn curry is a must-order. A bonus? Dakshin is open 'til midnight on Friday and Saturday for your late-night spice cravings.
At the Bayview outpost of the family-owned and operated Duc Loi, you'll find all the same organic produce and groceries as the Mission Street location, plus a built-in deli serving banh mi sandwiches. They're worth coming to the market for even if you don't have any groceries to buy. Go for "The Authentic," a massive torta-style sandwich brimming with roasted pork belly, five-spice-rubbed pork shoulder, picked veggies, house-made head cheese, and Vietnamese pork sausage.