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One of the best cocktail programs in SF now has the food to match
When Gibson opened two years ago, it was clear that the cocktail program lead by Adam Chapman was in a league of its own, which is saying a lot in a cocktail-centric town like SF. But even though the glamorous art deco-inspired restaurant was a fantastic place to get a boozy drink made with unusual ingredients and techniques, the food faltered and we feared Gibson might not make it. Luckily, chef Louis Maldonado (you know him from Spoonbar, Aziza, and season 11 of Top Chef) recently took over the helm of the large open kitchen and is now serving bold ingredient-driven dishes with French-inspired flavors that pair perfectly with Chapman’s inventive drinks. Highlights include oysters with grilled barbecue mignonette and chive oil; the beef tartare with dill, apple, cucumber, pine nut, lavash, and horseradish; smoked duck breast and leg; and the build-your-own tres leches ice cream sundae. Our recommendation? Opt for the chef’s tasting menu so you can try as many dishes as possible, and add the beverage pairings, which are also served tapas-style, so you can experience a range of unusual and delicious concoctions.
SF’s premiere Swiss fondue restaurant… namely because it’s our only one
The Matterhorn is one of those places that even if you don’t go to it all that often, it still brings you comfort to know that when you do have a craving to dip bread and vegetables into a pot of cheese fondue in a room that looks very much like a Swiss chalet, you can. Which is why when the owners retired and closed up shop last fall after 25 years, San Franciscans had a mini meltdown (pun not intended). Luckily, there were two people who couldn’t bear the thought of not having a fondue option in SF, so they bought the place and revived it with just a few changes. There were some updates to the kitschy decor, including a real gondola you can sit in and eat inside of, as well as a model train you can see through the picture windows. There’s also a streamlined menu that includes two classic cheese fondue choices and new housemade sourdough bread for dipping, as well as a beef fondue and raclette with three different cheese options, and even more baked goods for when the spot eventually also opens as a daytime cafe.
Lower Pacific Heights
Fast-food pizza for hella cheap
SF has some of the country’s best pizza… that just so happens to come at a price. A margherita pie Del Popolo will cost you $15. At Flour + Water or Pizzeria Delfina, you’ll have to add another buck to that. Want one from A16? That’ll be $19 before tip and tax. Head to Apizza, the new pizza spot from Pascal Rigo (Boulangerie), however, and you can get a super thin crust nine-inch margherita made with organic dough and tomato sauce for … wait for it … $2.75. A pepperoni pie is $4.99, and a cheeseburger pie inspired by In-N-Out is $6. The owners are saving money in a couple of ways, but the most interesting is that they’re foregoing the traditional pizza box. You’ll either get it flat on a plate if you dine in or folded in half in a compostable (open) container to-go. You can find ways to make your meal more expensive if you’d like: add an egg ($3), substitute ground beef for Impossible burger ($3), or get a gluten-free crust ($2.50), but no matter what modifications you make, you’re still getting a good pizza with plenty of money leftover to buy a beer, which is luckily coming to Apizza soon.
Mouth-watering fried chicken sandwiches from all over the world
Good news for those who work downtown: there’s a new quick-service spot with a slew of fried chicken sandwiches that hit the spot at lunchtime any day of the week, but will especially hit the spot after you’ve stayed out a little too late on a school night. The Classic is everything you could want in a sandwich: a fried chicken cutlet with cabbage and carrot slaw, house ranch, and bread and butter pickles. But there are also globally-inspired sandwiches for the more adventurous eater, like the Tel Aviv (hummus, tomato, little gem, brine pickles, za’atar, tahini sauce) and the Seoul Food (Asian slaw, pickled daikon, shiso, sesame mayo, gochujang pepper sauce). There’s also a couple of salads, all of which can (and should) be topped with sliced fried chicken, and breakfast. Beer and wine are in the works.
Est. 2018 | Dogpatch
Soulful Indian food in a fun and hospitable environment
Besharam opened up last year as a partnership between Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group and chef Heena Patel, but it wasn’t until Patel, an alum of SF food incubator La Cocina, cut ties with Patterson and took over creative control a few months ago that the food and vibe at Besharam (roughly translated to mean “shameless”) really started to sing. Patel started to cook professionally later in life, but one would never know, as the way she translates the bold flavors from the traditional Gujarti food prevalent in her childhood come across as though she’s been doing this her entire life. Standout dishes include the drunken pani puri, crispy semolina puffs with curried peas; dahi vada; urad dal dumplings; saag paneer with spinach, mustard greens, fenugreek, fresh paneer; the arugula salad with chicories, roasted corn, pistachio, fried garbanzo beans, tamarind ginger vinaigrette; and the hand-rolled parathas served with myriad dips and chutneys. Everything can be ordered a la carte and is served family style, but the best way to really experience the food is with the new prix fixe menu served to the entire table, which is Patel’s way of saying “let me cook for you,” and just so happens to be vegetarian. Though had we not told you, you likely wouldn’t notice. Of course, if you don’t go that direction, we must tell you to get the grilled half rack of lamb with gunpowder rub and aloo methi. Besharam also has a fun cocktail list and a couple of fun Instagrammable moments thanks to an expansive mural and playful plateware with satirical quotes designed by HateCopy’s Maria Qamar.
Est. 2018 | Jackson Square
A European wine bar and bottle shop from the folks behind Quince
This wine bar, bistro, and bottle shop from the restaurateur duo behind three-Michelin star Quince and the oh-so popular Cotogna found instant popularity with a SF crowd that didn’t even realize it was craving a Paris-meets-San Francisco-via-Downtown Manhattan wine bar that manages to represent the best aspects of both casual and fine dining. When we first wrote about Verjus, we noted that the good news was that you don’t need a reservation, nor can you even make one. Unfortunately, that’s now bad news as it has quickly become one of the most popular eating and drinking spots in the city. Still, if you can find a seat, you’ll be able to enjoy natural wines, an ever-changing menu of house-made charcuterie, cheese, the already very famous pate en croute, as well as larger plates like a pithivier (a glazed puff pastry filled with varying types of shredded meat) and steak slathered in the perfect amount of butter (meaning: a lot), before popping into the retail shop before you leave to grab a bottle or two to enjoy later.
Est. 2018 | Mission
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.
Est. 2018 | Embarcadero
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.
Est. 2018 | SoMa
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.
Est. 2018 | Western Addition
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.
Est. 2017 | Mission
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.
Est. 2016 | SoMa
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."
Est. 2015 | Lower Nob Hill
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.
Est. 2015 | Lower Pacific Heights
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.
Est. 2012 | Hayes Valley
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.
Est. 2011 | Fillmore
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.
Est. 2006 | Western Addition
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.
Est. 1999 | Mission
Twenty years after it first opened, this classic Mission mainstay continues to delight diners with its romantic atmosphere and California-Mediterranean fare
People flock to Foreign Cinema for special occasion brunches because of its open air courtyard, quality oyster selection, house-made pop tarts, and madras Bloody Marys. But this beautiful restaurant, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is equally as delightful at night when the long walk through the entry corridor into the various dining spaces feels like a journey into a magical world. And, indeed, it is, especially if you can get a seat in that aforementioned courtyard where you’ll be able to watch classic films on the back wall under twinkling lights while sipping on wine from a phenomenal list, enjoying shellfish from the raw bar, and eating one of the best pork chops in all of San Francisco.
Est. 1998 | Mission
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.
Est. 1979 | Hayes Valley
An SF staple with a passion for fresh, local ingredients withstands the test of time
Zuni Cafe is a 40-year-old San Francisco classic that hasn’t changed much since Judy Rogers became a partner in 1987, but whereas for most restaurants that would be a death sentence, at Zuni, it’s what makes a reservation just as hard to get in 2019 as it was 30 years ago. Housed in a bi-level flatiron-shaped building with huge windows and tons of natural light, there’s no bad seat in the house, although we prefer the first floor bar for a first date and the upstairs balcony for a third. As far as what to order, it’s predictable but for good reason. For dinner try the Caesar salad and the chicken for two that’s roasted in the wood-fired bread oven and served over a warm bread salad, and at lunch opt for the house-ground burger on grilled rosemary focaccia (add Cheddar, grilled onions, and a side of shoestring potatoes). Sure you could deviate from that order, but why?
Est. 1949 | Nob Hill
A San Francisco institution known for its -- you guessed it -- prime rib
There’s only one thing to order when you go to the House of Prime Rib, a traditional English-style restaurant that’s been a go-to destination for San Franciscans and tourists since 1949, and that is the fish of the day. No, no it is not. It’s the prime rib obviously, which is carved tableside to your specification (there are four cuts to choose from depending on how much you want and how you like your roast beef sliced). Every dinner is served with a salad (also prepared at the table), mashed potatoes and gravy or a baked potato, Yorkshire pudding, creamed spinach, and fresh horseradish sauce, and, if you still have room, you can ask for seconds on your prime rib, which is just the type of gluttony that makes this old school spot so popular. Arrive a little before dinner and enjoy a martini at the bar; just beware: it comes with a sidecar, so that one martini is actually two. It’s just another example of the type of decadence that makes it so difficult to get a reservation.
Est. 1947 | Western Addition
A beloved hofbrau serving up affordable plates of meat
What you see is what you get at this no-frills cafeteria-style joint known for its colorful mural, neon sign, and crazy affordable fresh-carved hot meat sandwiches and dinner platters. You may have to wait in line, but it moves quick, so you’d better know what you want before you get to the counter. We’re fans of the BBQ brisket platter with mashed potatoes, salad, and bread and butter ($12.90) and all of the “great big sandwiches” ($8.80) that are piled high with meat and that’s it (you can add cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon, or sauerkraut for a little extra). You’ll want to pair your meat with a beer or a cocktail, and don’t worry if you’re on a budget because those are also incredibly affordable ($3.50 bottles and $4.50 well drinks). Best of all? Tommy’s is open until 2am, a more-than-solid option for when you leave the bar and don’t want pizza.
Est. 1912 | 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.