Fireball Whiskey Apple Pies: A Dessert Fit for a Frat Party
A casual seafood-centric spinoff from the team behind Saison
Chef Joshua Skenes is known for being one of the best in the Bay Area, but until recently, in order to eat his food, you had to be willing to drop $298 for the tasting menu at Saison. Now, with the opening of Angler, a “sea-life focused” restaurant that revolves around a 32-foot, wood-burning fireplace, anyone who’s willing to spend $12 to $28 for appetizers and $20 to $48 for mains (everything is a la carte) can savor locally sourced seafood and meat served raw (try the antelope tartare) or “simply roasted over the embers.” There are two dining rooms in the spacious restaurant, both with great views of the Bay Bridge, but only one with a taxidermy bear.
Fancy salads for ladies (and gentlemen) who (power) lunch
Freds San Francisco is going to give The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus a run for its money when it comes to stylish places in Union Square to lunch (as a verb). The new bar and restaurant on the sixth floor of Barneys New York is airy, modern, and minimalist, but in an inviting way that makes you happy to settle into one of the comfortable velvet chairs or banquettes for a long lunch (that very likely will include a glass of wine or two).
Despite what we secretly wanted, Freds at Barneys has nothing to do with the Flintstones (it was named after the founder’s son), but it turns out that’s a good thing because dino ribs and T-Rex steaks probably aren’t in high demand for the clientele Freds will attract. However, the famous “Mark’s Madison Avenue” chopped salad, “SF Club” with Dungeness crab, and “Freds Spaghetti” with shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, sun-dried tomato, and pesto sauce hit the mark perfectly, especially when paired with a side of the crave-able Belgian pommes frites. Freds certainly isn’t inexpensive (most dishes hover around $27), but if you’re the kind of person who lunches while shopping or finalizes deals over a fancy club sandwich, then that’s probably not an issue.
Colorful, creative, and flavorful Japanese-Peruvian (just don’t call it “fusion”) cuisine
Kaiyo, the new Nikkei-inspired restaurant on Union Street, may very well be putting out the best (and most beautiful) food we’ve eaten in all of 2018. Nikkei is Japanese-inflected Peruvian food that first came about when Japanese workers went to Peru to build railroads in the 1880s, although Kaiyo’s version feels very California thanks to the focus on amazing local ingredients.
Truly, everything on the menu is worth ordering, but you absolutely cannot skip the Hokkaido scallop tiradito, the Japanese bluefin tuna, the smoked duck breast sashimi with shaved foie gras torchon, the Japanese mentaiko pasta with clams and pork, or the cusquena-brined Mary’s chicken. Kaiyo’s vibrant interior perfectly pairs with the colorful dishes and cocktails, and though we do love the bright green living wall and yellow leather banquettes, it’s hard to resist the heated patio if seats are available.
An indoor beer garden, bar, and restaurant inside of Magnolia’s biggest brewing location
People were pretty bummed when SF beer pioneer Magnolia’s new owners shut down Smokestack, the barbecue spot inside of its Dogpatch brewery, but now that we’ve seen the new space and tasted the new menu, we admit it was the right call. Be honest: How often do you go out for BBQ? Probably not that often. The new menu, which has dishes like chicken meatballs with mushroom gravy, clams “cioppino,” a grass-fed beef burger with special sauce, a bunch of salads, and a roasted chicken that comes by the quarter, half, and full, is a lot more accessible, which means this revamped concept is the kind of place you’ll end up going to more than once or twice a year. And, thanks to the remodel, you can also opt for a full-service dinner in the plush main dining room, find a stool at the original marble-topped main bar, or sit on the bleachers or at one of the communal tables in the indoor beer garden while you watch the game. We don’t always love change, but we’ll admit that this new set-up all makes a lot more sense, and as long as the beer is still excellent and coming out of 20 taps, which it is, we’re happy.
Portuguese fast-casual and your new go-to spot for flame-grilled chicken with a kick
San Francisco is currently obsessed with two things: fast-casual restaurants and chicken, but when it came to really flavorful, spicy flame-grilled chicken, there was a complete void. Shout out to chef Telmo (Uma Casa) who fixed that with his menu at Pira Pica (translation: “Pepper Sting”), which has four styles of spice (basic bird: mild, piri-piri: spicy, pica! pica! pica!: extra spicy, and lemon and herbs: zesty -- and which we prefer on the shrimp skewer), a great menu of sides (the cabbage-herb slaw is mayo-free with a perfect amount of crunch), and several salads that all taste better when topped with chicken, obviously. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the crispy chicken sandwich that comes on a rustic roll with the aforementioned slaw, aioli, and tomato, and which is so delicious, we almost wish we didn’t know it existed since Caviar delivery means it’s at our fingertips every day from 11am to 10pm. We’ve also heard the same can be said about the “wrap,” which is really a burrito complete with rice and beans. What Caviar can’t deliver, however, is the great selection of Portuguese beer and wine that makes a physical visit to the fun, colorful restaurant well worth it.
A modern diner with some of the best comfort food and pie you’ll find in SF
It’s probably going to be a long time before you can get a reservation at Che Fico, but its downstairs sibling, Theorita, is now serving nostalgic comfort food and (nearly) endless amounts of pie all day long, and it’s at least slightly easier to get a seat at one of the railcar booths or counter stools, probably because the modern play on an American dinette doesn’t actually take reservations. The menu is all about the food you shouldn’t eat all the time, but totally want to eat all the time. You know, dishes like a breakfast sandwich on a housemade English muffin, a fried chicken sandwich on housemade bread, a burger with a special sauce and onion two ways, and so many kinds of delicious pie. That, and things like shakes, floats, and a brownie sundae, all made with ingredients from some of the best Northern California ranches and farms. There’s also a great selection of predominantly natural wines, beer, cider, low-ABV cocktails, housemade sodas, and coffee drinks.
One of the best tasting menus in San Francisco
This fine dining restaurant from chef/owner Chris Bleidorn (Saison, Atelier Crenn, Benu, Alinea) was one of SF’s most anticipated openings of the year and it absolutely lives up to the hype. Bleidorn’s goal is to look to cooking techniques of the past as a way to understand and bring back those methods that have been transformed or lost. That means lots of open fire and smoke, dry-aged meat (which hangs in a glass meat locker in the downstairs bar and dining area), and different fermenting techniques. So what will you find on your plate? Heritage cuisine inspired by the Pacific Northwest like Pacific scallops, creek-raised trout, and wild boar. You’ll even get a chance to watch your meal get cooked as the light and homey space has one of the most open kitchens we have ever seen in a restaurant. (Pro tip: Get a seat at the chef’s counter). Right now Birdsong only offers a 13-14-course tasting menu ($168), but like the menu, you can expect that to evolve, as there are plans to offer a la carte options once the restaurant really finds its groove.
Rustic, casual Italian that’s worth the month-long wait for a reservation with “San Francisco style” pizza.
San Francisco has an abundance of excellent Italian and pizza restaurants, but there’s always room for one more, especially when that one more is Che Fico (“Kay-Feeco”), a new restaurant on Divisadero from Matt Brewer and chefs David Nayfeld and Angela Pinkerton. Pro tip: Line up before it opens to grab a spot at the communal tables or bar or go late night. Reservations are NOT easy to grab. The menu at Che Fico is all about rustic, casual Italian fare with a heavy California influence throughout. That means “San Francisco style” pizzas, including one with pineapple, red onion, and fermented chili (all fired in an oven imported from Naples). Try this regardless of your feelings about pineapple on pizza.
There’s also insanely delicious pastas that are categorized by handmade, machine-made in-house, or dried, and a selection of “Cucina Ebraica,” small plates that are reflective of the Jewish-Italian tradition, like chicken hearts and gizzard salad and grilled chopped duck liver. Still not convinced? Try the caciocavallo and realize it’s the best (and most bizarre) deconstructed version of a grilled cheese sandwich (it’s fried) you’ve ever had in your life. And remember: don’t expect to walk in without a wait -- luckily, there’s plenty of standing room at the 15-seat bar.
One of SF’s best Italian restaurants… that always books well in advance
Go here for the spaghetti with plum tomatoes, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and pepperoncini. Does it seem crazy that we’re recommending you pay $15 for a plate of what sounds like very basic spaghetti? Totally. But once you taste Delfina’s signature dish, you’ll be a believer. After all, there’s a reason it’s been on the menu for 16 years.
Home to SF’s most popular burger and fantastic cocktails
Everything’s really good at nopa, but there’s a reason it's famous for its hamburger, and that’s because it’s one of the best in the city. If you go for brunch, order a piece of the custard French toast to share with the table. Trust us on this one.
Strong drinks, food unlike anything you’ve ever eaten, and a reservation book that fills up fast
You probably don’t even know it, but when you use the phrase "California cuisine," you’re totally describing the food at Liholiho Yacht Club, despite the fact that chef Ravi Kapur’s menu is heavily influenced by his Hawaiian heritage. It may sound confusing, but when you take your first bite, it’ll all make sense. Oh, and it’s also the only SF restaurant to be nominated in the 2016 James Beard Awards Best New Restaurant category... which, yeah, means you’re going to have a hard time getting in.
An elegant, yet casual spot with a fresh rotating menu
Sara Hauman (Huxley, Mister Jiu's) recently took over as chef de cuisine at the Melissa Perello-led Pacific Heights restaurant, and she’s knocking it out of the park with dishes that are somehow both refined and rustic, as well as elevated yet approachable. The menu changes often, but if the calamari with kimchi is available, it’s a must-order, though truly everything on the menu at this small, elegant neighborhood spot is worth a try.
Lower Nob Hill
You can’t call yourself a San Franciscan unless you’ve eaten at Swan
There’s always a line down the street to get into this tiny seafood market and lunch counter, but this is one (up to two-hour) wait that’s worth it... assuming you like super-fresh crab, oysters, shrimp, lobster, clams, and uni that is. Good luck deciding what to order, though you can’t go wrong with one of the seafood salads, the Sicilian sashimi (not on the menu), and the seafood cocktail. Seriously though, you really can’t go wrong with anything because again: super-fresh seafood. Even the hot chowder, which we only ever skip because great chowder's pretty easy to find in SF.
A very popular, very hip restaurant where dishes are served up dim sum-style
Your best shot at getting into this incredibly popular restaurant is as a walk-in right when the doors open at 5:30pm. Just be sure to arrive hungry and with an open mind: The food lives up to the hype, but the dining experience is anything but traditional (in a good way). Servers roam the dining room with pushcarts and platters of delicious small bites dim sum-style, which means you get to try lots of different dishes, many of which won't be familiar, but all of which will be delicious. No matter what, don't miss the CA state bird with provisions… otherwise known as fried quail.
If you can’t make it to Spain, you can at least get a sample of the country at Bellota
This Spanish-inspired restaurant, the latest from The Absinthe Group (Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, Boxing Room, Comstock Saloon), is already a huge hit with SF diners who are making it clear that they’re ready for more glamorous dining experiences. At 5,300sqft, the former warehouse space is quite sizable, and is able to offer the best of all worlds: counter seating for those who want to watch the action in the open kitchen, where there’s a wood-fired oven and spit for roasting meat; cozy booths for people who want a more intimate experience; and a bar and lounge area with a large U-shaped bar and live music on the weekends. You really shouldn't come here without ordering one of the four kinds of paella, or from among the huge selection of imported charcuterie and cheese. There’s also an all-Spanish wine list, but before you order from that, try one of the Spanish-focused cocktails, including one of the three "Gin Tonics."
California cuisine at its finest and one of the best dining experiences in SF
It can be hard to get a reservation at this Hayes Valley spot, but it’s worth planning ahead of time to dine there. The space and vibe is totally casual, but the California cuisine is beyond inventive (our favorites include the sardine chips, porcini doughnuts, and any pasta that’s on the menu) and all in all, it’s consistently one of the best dining experiences in SF.
A cocktail bar with craveable food from the folks behind Lazy Bar
The focus at True Laurel is on the drinks -- which makes shelling out $14 or $15 for each one bearable. And what makes it even more bearable is that the food -- which we lovingly describe as elevated stoner food -- is absolutely affordable. None of the dishes (which average around $12 or $13) are huge, but if you get a couple to share, you’ll be set. The problem will be choosing which ones to order. Whatever you do, don’t skip the Dungeness crab and aged Cheddar fondue or the TL Patty Melt (which has a special sauce). And save room for warm chocolate chip cookies (with a side of milk for dunking) for dessert.
Stones Throw has been a go-to spot for Russian Hill locals since it opened in 2013, but with Robin Song (Hog and Rocks, Gibson) now at the helm as chef de cuisine, it has transformed into a restaurant that San Franciscans should make a point to travel to when they’re looking for California cuisine that is rustic yet refined and made with the best local and seasonal ingredients, as well as a friendly, knowledgeable staff, and an incredibly interesting wine list that’s as fun to read as it is to order off of.