The theme of this month’s crop of new openings is “bigger is better,” as soaring restaurants moved in and elaborate concepts came to life. Make your way through this list and you could find yourself sipping cocktails in an immersive steampunk shrine to gin, dining on tacos created by one of Mexico’s best chefs, or traveling back to mid-century glamour.
Four hundred gins and 120 gin-based cocktails is impressive, but the best part of this new Tenderloin oasis is the fact that you can sip said drinks in basically a real-life page of an I Spy book. Doing for gin what Smuggler’s Cove did for rum, owner/eccentric visionary Martin Cate transformed the former bridge-and-tunnel nightclub into "an abandoned Victorian London subway-turned-gin distillery.” No detail is spared in this steampunk fantasyland that features two bars, plenty of sexy, cozy corners, secret, hidden details planted by Cate himself, and a full dinner menu, inspired by the regions integral to the gin trade. (Think upscale English/Scottish pub fare accented with Indian spices.) Don’t know how to tackle the bible-like menu? Start with the Dutch Nemesis and order the booze-soaking farmer’s cheese with handmade naan, then head to the “distillery” portion of the bar, a private-ish alcove decked out in distilling paraphernalia, botanicals, and rivets where you can play "I Spy" until your vision blurs.
The guys behind BIX and Fog City have taken over the former The Republic space, upgrading it from rowdy sports bar to a soaring-yet-casual barstaurant that caters to every kind of dining experience from casual date drinks to full-on steak dinners you should get your parents to pay for. If you’re going for the former, head to the massive copper-top bar that boasts five kinds of Negronis or the cozy, plaid-adorned booth to dine on the likes of green chile mac & cheese and toasted handmade ravioli. The back is home to the quieter, white cloth-laden tables that’re perfect for special occasions or when your parents visit.
Like its neighbors further north on the Embarcadero, this charming Italian trattoria is luxe and spacious -- much different from San Francisco’s usual preference for small bistros. Sleek, modern fire pits line the entrance, and inside, brick facings, antique wood accents, old gas lamps, and marble bar tops set a classic mid-century vibe. The open kitchen reveals the rustic wood-fired oven, which fills the space with the pleasant aroma of classic Neapolitan pizzas and other wood-grilled dishes, such as whole branzinos, porcini-dusted Wagyu coulotte steak, and California lamb. If you live in South Beach, this is your new neighborhood jam for comforting Cal-Italia fare. And if you’re like the rest of us and only venture to the Embarcadero when you have visitors or work events, Caputo’s grandeur and delicious food holds up to the classics further north, even if the waterfront view isn’t quite as grand.
Michael Mina’s second pop-up debuted late last month, this time bringing family-style rustic Italian-American cuisine -- inspired by Chef Adam Sobel’s Italian upbringing -- to the Marina space. The menu changes often but features classic, rustic dishes Sobel grew up eating, such as baked clams oreganata, tortellini alla panna, and veal and eggplant Parmesan, lending the space a cozy Sunday dinner vibe. The ticketed dinner is open Wednesday-Sunday and runs $49/person not including tax and tip.
FiDi pros get a new upscale fast-casual lunch option with this spacious spot, featuring Mediterranean apps, wraps, and salads. Once the sun goes down, the space transforms into a sexy Mediterranean wine bar that dishes out shared plates and tapas as the gorgeous, handmade Moroccan lamps cast a glow that will probably make your date want to take you home ASAP.
After three and a half years of roaming city streets with a massive wood-fire oven, Del Popolo's popular pizza truck has found a permanent home in Nob Hill. While the oven is the focal point of the 50-seat space (which also includes a bar and communal seating), an expanded seasonal menu including rock cod with winter squash, persimmon and chicories with pistachios, mint and yogurt, and Monterey Bay squid with fennel and olives join the party as well. Make a reservation on their website (if the massive lines outside the food truck are any indication, this cozy pizzeria is poppin'). And don't worry, the truck is still available for private parties and catered events.
Gabriela Cámara’s high-end Mexican eatery Cala has launched a casual back-alley taqueria, serving weekday tacos for lunch. The simple menu features tortillas made the handmade, traditional way with three filling options, including vegan- and vegetarian-friendly choices. Agua frescas, iced horchata coffee, and beer and wine also join the party.
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1. Whitechapel600 Polk St, San Francisco
2. Spaghetti Brothers3213 Scott St, San Francisco
3. Caputo100 Brannan St, San Francisco
4. MINA Test Kitchen2120 Greenwich St, San Francisco
5. Barcha28 Fremont St, San Francisco
6. Del Popolo855 Bush St, San Francisco
7. Tacos Cala149 Fell St, San Francisco
This Tenderloin bar is a gin oasis. The best part about Whitechapel isn't the gin selection (400!) or the gin-based cocktails (120!), but the Victorian London-meets-subway station decor. The space includes two bars, plenty of cozy corners, subway tiled walls, and generally eccentric paraphernalia. It serves food inspired by the regions integral to the gin trade, which means English pub fare with a hint of Indian spice (think fish & chips with saffron aioli).
Cow Hollow’s Spaghetti Brothers has been garnering rave reviews for their upscale ambience, old school fine dining experience, and, of course, incredible pasta. Using fresh ingredients and timeless techniques, Spaghetti Brothers whips up simple, but sensational dishes like the spaghetti with local uni butter, juicy pork chops with asparagus and mushroom gravy, and dry aged Prime New York. Settle into the candle lit tables and booths for a romantic date spot or special night out.
With an idyllic location on the Embarcadero featuring those singularly San Francisco views, Caputo is a luxe and spacious trattoria serving Neapolitan pizzas, whole branzino, and porcini-dusted Wagyu culotte steak all cooked to perfection in a wood-fired oven. Sleek, modern fire pits line the entrance, and inside, brick facings, antique wood accents, old gas lamps, and marble bar tops set a classic mid-century vibe. Take a seat on the bay-facing patio as you enjoy the Cal-Italian food, like whole branzinos, porcini-dusted Wagyu coulotte steak, and California lamb, and handcrafted Italian cocktails.
MINA Test Kitchen isn't a restaurant, it's a dining experience. The 1,600sqft space in the Marina is an R&D lab for Michael Mina and a rotating cast of all-star chefs to experiment with different cuisines and techniques. A series of pop-up dinners showcases the latest creations, which will eventually end up on various MINA restaurant menus. The pop-up themes are always changing, but past ones focused on Italian-American and Mediterranean food.
From the team behind Sens, this FiDi staple offers quick wrap- and salad-type options at lunchtime for the working crowd, but come dinner it transforms into an upscale Mediterranean wine bar serving up shareables like housemade merguez with cucumber mustard, spicy pork turnovers with mint yogurt, and heftier mains like harissa-glazed chicken with medjool dates.
For three and a half years, Del Popolo put most food trucks to shame, roaming city streets with a massive wood-fire oven. Finally, the beloved ‘za found a permanent home in Nob Hill, where you can enjoy your pizza seated inside with a glass of wine. The 50-seat space offers an expanded menu that includes antipasti like frisee and sunchoke salad and fried green tomatoes. But don't worry, the truck is still available for private parties and catered events.
Tacos Cala is the casual back-alley taqueria of Gabriela Camara's high-end Mexican eatery in Hayes Valley. The simple menu features a changing selection of Mexico City tacos, all served with rice and beans. Handmade tortillas are filled with three-to-five options that include vegan- and vegetarian-friendly choices. Agua frescas, iced horchata coffee, and beer and wine also join the party.