Taste Test: How to Cool Down a Spicy Mouth
An opulent bar and restaurant inside of the new Virgin Hotel
If there’s one thing this city’s dining and drinking establishments are lacking in, it’s sex appeal. Commons Club on the ground floor of the Virgin Hotel on 4th Street aims to change that with its self-described “mix [of] San Francisco’s Victorian-era past, the city’s 1960s rock ’n’ roll appropriation of Victorian styling, and a 19th-century British feel.” What the hell does that mean exactly? We’re not really sure, but we guess it’s a chaotic way to describe towering ceilings, blue and purple velvet chairs and sofas, enormous chandeliers, dramatic drapes, and a general feeling that this is a place you go either right before or right after sex. Luckily, the vibe isn’t the only thing oozing sex appeal: the cocktails (order the Culture Club for both the photo and the taste) and a lot of the food also deliver, specifically the caviar bites, the wild mushroom tortellini, and the parker house rolls, which come in an order of four and should only be shared with one other person.
The popular Outer Richmond Italian spot has a new home on Polk Street
Good news: Now you don’t have to go all the way to the Avenues to partake in Fiorella’s mouth-watering wood-fired pizzas. A sibling outpost just opened in the former Goia Pizzera space and has everything you love about the original: the clam pie, the linguine vongole, weekend brunch (coming soon), and even the famous everyone-loves-to-Instagram-it wallpaper featuring Bay Area icons, like Too Short and Alice Waters, but more. It’s a little darker, has an even bigger custom-built wood-fire oven imported from Italy (5,000 lbs), and best of all: has calzones on the menu. FYI: We highly recommend making a reservation.
Cocktails and dim from the folks behind Mister Jiu’s
The only thing you need to know before you checkout this swanky new lounge above Mister Jiu’s is the fact that it’s from the same team responsible for the exceptional Michelin-star restaurant beneath it. But in case you need more, know that the former massive banquet hall space has been transformed into a stylish salon with mid-century modern vibes that pays homage to the moon gates in Chinese gardens. This is a place people can pop in for a cocktail and a snack, or linger a little longer (we recommend lingering). As far as those cocktails and snacks go, they are completely different from anything you’ll find downstairs. The former are inspired by the Chinese lunar calendar and look as pretty as they taste, and the latter are modern/Californian takes on dim sum. Make sure Moongate Lounge is opened before you go though because it doubles as an event space, so it does close more often than we’d like for private parties.
Lower Pacific Heights
Eastern Mediterranean food in a cool, casual environment
Noosh means “lovely, attractive” in Farsi, and everything about this highly anticipated restaurant, from the food to the design, lives up to the name. It feels like you’re walking into Santorini when you enter the enormous light-filled space, which has several seating areas (the front lounge is the best for people watching; a nook in the upstairs lounge is the best for a third date). The food is fine dining-meets-casual with an emphasis on house-made ingredients and so much flavor. The majority of the menu is meant to be shared with an emphasis on small plates, like lamb meatballs and falafel, Turkish flatbreads, spreads (hummus, red pepper muhammara, etc.), and kebabs, but there are also “chubby pita sandwiches” for people who require that comfort that is knowing there’s no way they’ll leave hungry. There’s been a lot of chatter about Noosh’s technology (mostly the 18 security cameras that may one day use facial recognition to track where diners sit after their order has been taken at the door, but right now the most tech-forward thing about the restaurant is that its cashless, a decision that is not without controversy... though a little less so in a town where everyone uses Apple Pay all of the time, anyway.
An adventurous new bar and restaurant from the guys behind Trick Dog. What more do you need to know?
Josh Harris and Morgan Schick of BVHospitality and The Bon Vivants could have opened this much-anticipated bi-level Mission spot without a whimsical narrative to explain the thought process behind the vintage treasures, exotic animal sculptures, giant disco ball, tropical cocktails and artwork, and menu of Chinese food, but that wouldn’t be very on brand for the creative duo whose other Mission bar was recently named to the “World’s 50 Best Bar” list for the fifth year in a row. These guys don’t do anything without a story.
In the case of Bon Voyage, Harris says the inspiration is “a guy who lives in a hotel and travels throughout Southeast Asia and Africa in the 1950s, moving his way across the world, collecting art and mementos from his journey who ends up in 1970s Palm Springs, where he buys a house to fill with his worldly treasures and throws killer disco cocktail parties and serves Chinese food.” Specific? Absolutely. But it makes perfect sense when you’re ensconced in your seat at the downstairs or upstairs bar, on the back couches in the mezzanine, or at one of numerous hi-tops and tables throughout, sipping expertly crafted cocktails, and enjoying Chinese dishes “from the wok,” as well as an assortment of dumplings and buns. Don’t skip the pork belly baozi, the glazed pork riblets, or Szechuan green beans. Best of all? You can order it all -- the drinks and the food -- until 2am.
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.
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.
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.