Food & Drink

An editor's guide to eating around town

West Coast Executive Editor Kevin Alexander

As the lyrical genius 2Pac once said, "From Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down, Cali is where I eat a lot of organic, local greens and good avocados, especially when they're in season." But with so much good food around, how does one choose where to get the bombest burrito, and pasta so good it would make a thug cry? Well, just ask our West Coast Executive Editor Kevin Alexander, who is here to answer those questions and tell you about all of his favorite places to eat in the city. Favorite Restaurant: Frances. Yes, it's small, perpetually packed, and on a random stretch of the Castro. But there is a reason for this, friends: it serves just about the best everything in SF. And if you don't get the Applewood-Smoked Bacon Beignets with maple chive creme fraiche, you will regret it for the rest of your days, and write sad, very specific poetry about the experience. Best Late-Night Eats: A lot of people say Sam's in North Beach for burgers, but the best place to get late-night food is Nopa, north of the panhandle on Divis. It's also one of the best restaurants, period, but the fact that they serve such incredibly kick-ass food so late makes it a must-hit. Also, their last cocktail list was Wu-Tang Clan-themed. So, yeah, please go there. Best Cheap Eats: Go to Turtle Tower in the Tenderloin. Avoid the definitely insane people wandering around outside. Be slightly disappointed when you find out it's neither a tower, nor packed with turtles. Get the beef and tendon pho gai. Rejoice. Best Sandwich: Many people swear by the Menage a Trois at Ike's, and I'm also partial to the #1 Super Special at Lucca Delicatessen in the Marina, but Wise Sons has an absolutely ridiculous pastrami Reuben. And if you feel like you need to nap the rest of the day in a ball on the couch watching the Nancy Drew movie, order it with a side of the pastrami cheese fries. Best Pizza: Ragazza, in the Lower Haight. You're going to have to wait, but luckily you can do that over at The Page across the street. Once you're in, get the Amatriciana, then do like my friends Jackie and Mike, and get two farm eggs on top. Then weep tears of sweet, pizza joy. Best Dish: If you can get in there, get the CA state bird with provisions at State Bird Provisions. It's deep-fried quail and it is glorious. And now you know that quail is the California state bird. Best Izakaya: Namu Gaji. After everyone said delightful things about their street food whenever it showed up at the Farmer's Market, the Lee brothers opened up NG on Dolores, and now everyone is saying delightful things all the time about their "New Korean American cuisine", which they awesomely also describe as "aka No Known Allergies, National Karate Association because we eat everything and we will flying side-kick your ass." But before they do that, get those Gamja fries. Best Italian: Locanda, in the Mission. It's from the Stolls -- who own Delfina, another amazing Mission resto with serious Italian chops -- and the cacio e pepe is so damn handsome, George Clooney once asked it for style pointers, and IT IGNORED HIM. Best Cajun: Boxing Room. If you couldn't tell from the "eaux" on the end of his name, Chef Justin Simoneaux is from Louisiana, so he's not messing around in a genre he doesn't speak fluently, and you can see it in the menus at BR, with everything from the crispy boudin balls, to the duck & sausage jambalaya, which is currently my favorite thing on the menu. Best Chinese: Ever since Danny Bowien, the chef at Mission Chinese, opened a location on the Lower East Side in NYC, the hype has been nearly deafening, but it's kind of worth it. It's purposefully not authentic -- they serve "Americanized Oriental food" -- but the preparations are so silly and amazing you might not even hate that you waited 45mins next to a dude in a beanie talking about "optimizing SEO". Best Mexican: There are some choice sit-down Mexican spots in the city -- Nopalito, for one -- but SF is known for its burrito and taco joints, so really, if you're doing it, you need to go to La Taqueria, get carnitas tacos, and make a mess of your face and shirt. Best Food Truck: With Off the Grid and a few others, SF is lousy with food trucks, but I personally dig the Chinese-style steamed and baked buns at Chairman Bao Bun Truck. Get the Coca-Cola-braised pork. And the spicy chicken. And the pork belly. And the duck confit. Best Bakery: Though perpetual front-runner Tartine and other heralded newcomer The Mill are both damn incredible (get Josey Baker's toast at The Mill, and you will FREAK OUT), my favorite right now is B. Patisserie. Not only do they have delicious open-faced tartines (be cool, lawyers associated with Tartine!), but the Kugeloph (like powdered German donuts, but better) and the kouign-amann (it's like a croissant with melted sugar inside made by the Devil himself) are honestly the best pastries I've had since I stopped exclusively eating those discontinued Hostess fruit pies. Best Burger: Though I'm also a large fan of the Kronnerburger (especially if you wash it down with a gin-based Stranger Juice -- perhaps the best-named cocktail in SF), my favorite burger in the city is a tie between the 4505 Meats burger at the Ferry Building Tuesdays and Saturdays (it's $8 for Magruder Ranch beef, Gruyere & special sauce on a scallion-sesame bun), and the bacon burger at Rickybobby, which mixes bacon and beef together in the patty, comes as a double-burger, and adds American cheese, pickles, onions, and a house ketchup/mayo mix. Most Gut-Busting Dish: The Super Carne Asada burrito from El Farolito. It wins SF's vaunted "Best Burrito" nearly every year, but it's also two pounds of Mexican food to take down all at once. You will fall asleep after eating it, so don't even bother trying to fight it. Best Fine Dining: One could make a case for Gary Danko, or the newly re-opened Saison, or Benu, but my favorite is Quince. Though the atmosphere was better when they were in a small house up in Pacific Heights, their brick digs are sleek, the service is impeccable, the pasta courses are some of the best anywhere, and they'll make a Bobby Burns cocktail table-side. Place I Could Go Every Night: Fat Angel. Between the highly curated, impressive beer list (huzzah, sour beers!), and the super-simple menu with shareables like warm Firebrand French bread with maple-bacon butter and the salty, sweet, and spicy Chinese nuts, this is easily one of my favorite go-tos in the city. So much so, that I actually just created a category to rave about it. Most Romantic: Bix is an old-school SF favorite, down a back alley in Jackson Square. Tell them you know Willie Brown and ask for a corner booth up top. Below you, someone will likely be playing the piano. Don't sing, but do stare provocatively at your date, and ask her if she likes that Ben Folds cover of "Tiny Dancer". Best for Partying: Park Tavern in North Beach. It's big, it's already noisy, it has a raucous if not scene-y bar, um, scene, the food & drinks are choice, and they even have a super-secret upstairs bar called the Eden Lounge, if you feel you need to continue things in a more aggressive, yet more secretive manner. Best for Work: Boulevard. It's expensive, sure, but it sits right on the Embarcadero overlooking the Bay. All the movers and shakers and people in suits that do complicated things with money go here, and the food is pretty damn incredible, especially that Kobe Bavette steak. Best Lunch: Marlowe in SOMA is one of my favorite restaurants in the entire city for dinner, drinks, whatever, but the lunch menu has just been elevated by the addition of the McMarlowe, a boneless lamb rib sandwich. They've also got a killer burger, and a fried chicken number, but come on...THE MCMARLOWE RIB SANDWICH. Best Brunch: On a kind of random corner in the Lower Haight, Maven is a mostly-locals-only hang that quietly has some of the best food and drinks in the city, and it will likely anger the locals who frequent it that I said it. You can get their famous burger (with Angostura bitters!) on said menu, but the smart move is to order the bread pudding French toast for the table, then stock yourself with the Duck Hash (w/ braised sofrito), some Billionaire's Bacon (likely the best bacon in the entire world -- I'm almost positive it's dipped in magic, heroin, and unicorn glitter) and a Smokin' Jefe (essentially a mezcal take on the Bloody Mary). I'm so hungry right now. Weirdest Food: The duck hearts at The Alembic. They're jerk-spiced. And come on pineapple. And yeah, they're duck hearts. Most Local Food: If you want to get one of the signature SF meals, you can't go wrong one of three ways: fresh oysters from Hog Island, Roast Chicken for Two at Zuni Cafe, or Chuck Phan's cellophane noodles with crab at The Slanted Door. Best Wings: I don't even care that it's cheating, but Zero Zero in SOMA has skillet-fried chicken thighs with chili sauce and a caraway yogurt that boggle the mind. It's like eating wings if God was in the kitchen working as a line cook who was really good at cooking fried chick-- Okay, so the analogy doesn't exactly add up. Best Donuts: Because I feel bad about my self-image, I try not to eat donuts all that often, but when I do, I crush at least a half-dozen from Dynamo Donut in the Mission. Specifically, the Bacon Maple Apple, the Monte Cristo, and the Cornmeal Rosemary Cherry. And the Banana de Leche. And the Lemon Sichuan. And -- WHY AM I SO HUNGRY, STILL?!?

The interior at Frances
The bar at Nopa
Pho gai at Turtle Tower
The interior at Wise Sons
Deep-fried quail at State Bird Provisions
Chefs at Locanda
A roll at Mission Chinese Food
Chairman Bao Bun Truck
A delicious burger
A dish at Quince
The interior at Bix
The interior at Marlowe
French toast at Maven
Wings at zero zero
Donuts at Dynamo Donut