Best Use of an Old Navy Basement
10 Fourth St., 415-536-7801 or traderjoes.com
You’d be forgiven for not even realizing that the Old Navy store at Fourth and Market Streets once had a basement. That space has sat empty for the last few years, but the February opening of a downtown Trader Joe’s signals a new era for lovers of Three Buck Chuck, Triple Ginger Snaps, and cookie butter. The drawback, of course, is the lack of a dedicated parking lot in this particular location. But the proximity to the Powell Street BART station and several Muni lines make this TJ’s easily accessible to any San Franciscan, and a heck of a lot more useful than 15,000 square feet of second-rate Gap apparel.
Best Trashy Food
The Ringmaster Donut Cheeseburger at Straw
203 Octavia Blvd., 415-431-3663 or strawsf.com
Bestill my heart (attack), the inspired culinary maniacs at Hayes Valley’s carnival-themed Straw restaurant serve a cheeseburger that uses two glazed donuts in place of the buns. They call it The Ringmaster, and this high-calorie delight is every bit as delicious as it is bizarre. The burger patties are Golden Gate Meat Company certified-organic beef, as if that matters to someone eating a glazed donut cheeseburger. Life is short, but you can make it even shorter by adding a fried egg (for an additional $1.50) or making it a double burger (for an extra $3.50).
Best New Super-Upscale Ice Cream
Salt & Straw
2201 Fillmore St., 415-829-2803 or saltandstraw.com
A Portland import by way of Los Angeles, Salt & Straw immediately joined Bi-Rite Creamery, Humphry Slocombe, and Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous as a major player in San Francisco’s artisanal ice cream scene. The Pac Heights shop upcycles spent foodstuffs for its specific-to-S.F. menu, including old popcorn from the Roxie Theatre for “Roxie Road.” But if you want (relatively) normal flavors, there’s always rhubarb crumble with toast anise or a sorbet made with raspberry liqueur and edible flower.
Best New Bakery
132 Sixth St., 628-444-3666 or frenabakery.com
How many kosher bakeries does San Francisco have? Not many. Frena, which opened last fall as Taboon, is unique for boasting a stone oven on Sixth Street, where bakeries of any kind are scarce. More bread-y than full of pastries, Frena has sambusak (basically artisanal Hot Pockets), bagels, and the Israeli jelly doughnuts known as sufganiya. There are monster couscous salads for the carb-averse, too. Just be warned: Owing to the Sabbath, Frena closes early Fridays and doesn’t reopen until Sunday.
Best Ambiguously Defined Mediterranean Restaurant
206 Valencia St., 415-814-2704 or tawlasf.com
What’s the only thing that could make California cuisine better than it already is? A stronger relationship with the sea. Combining Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and the distinctly non-Atlantic-adjacent Iran into one superior regional fusion experience, Tawla takes two of the world’s Mediterranean regions and combines them seamlessly. Whether it’s the halibut molokhia (with mallow leaves, fermented chile, coriander, and fumet) or the minty lamb tartare known as kibbeh niyyeh, Tawla is effortlessly fresh.
Best New Place to Improve S.F.’s Reputation for Bad Pizza
2339 Clement St., 415-340-3049 or fiorella-sf.com
There are cracks appearing in this edifice, but San Francisco still has a reputation for middling pizza. While we’re 100 percent on board with Tony Gemignani’s empire of elaborate pies, it’s Richmond restaurant Fiorella’s integration of great pizza with an otherwise excellent Italian menu — cacio e pepe, nettle arancini — that wins our hearts. Go for the burrata, slathered in fresh basil, or the salciccia, fired with house-made sausage, fennel, provolone picante, fior di latte, oregano, and onion.
Best Place to Pretend You’re in San Sebastian
888 Brannan St., 415-430-6580 or bellotasf.com
A tapas restaurant underneath Airbnb headquarters that’s also a hamhock-filled seafood spot, Bellota is among the few ambitious projects from the past two years to have not merely survived by thrived. In a dining room frequently filled with live Spanish guitar, you can dive into incredible paellas and a stew from the hearth called a fabada (Asturian white beans, chorizo, morcilla, pork belly, grilled octopus, and charred and fermented cabbage). In San Sebastian, people do nothing but eat. Here, you can live like them.
Best Exemplar of the Seven Seas
900 22nd St., 415-814-3815 or ainasf.com
With all due respect to the incredible Liholiho Yacht Club, a new contender emerged on the scene last year that did wonders for Hawaiian food. Strictly speaking, ’Aina merely made the move from Bernal Heights pop-up to Dogpatch brick-and-mortar, but Jordan Keao’s menu of loco moco, charred octopus luau with vadouvan peanuts, and shoyu-cured pipikaula (thin-sliced beef that’s marinated a one week and then dry-aged for another) is responsible for causing long lines even on rainy weekend mornings. The national food press is coming, believe us.
Best New Indian Restaurant
333 Brannan St., 415-525-4174 or roohsf.com
A trio of high-profile contemporary Indian restaurants hit San Francisco over the past several months: August 1 Five, Babu Ji, and Rooh. All are quite excellent — and very different from one another. Rooh is the most culinarily adventurous of the bunch, serving breads like mint chili lachha paratha alongside tuna bhel with tamarind gel and puffed black rice and a “non-vegetarian tasting menu” consisting of five bowls of butter chicken, vegetable curry, dal, saffron rice, and an outstanding avocado raita around a smaller bowl of chutney. Woo-hoo, Rooh.
Best New Brewpub
2704 24th St, 415-932-6531 or almanacbeer.com
Seven years after its founding, Jesse Friedman’s Almanac Beer Co. decided not to open a brewery, going with a brewpub instead. In the southeasternmost corner of the Mission, it’s got a rotating list of 15 beers — mostly but not exclusively sours — along with Spam musubi, house-made charcuterie, and high end bar fare like burgers, fries, and a cheese plate. Don’t miss the Nectarine Cobbler, a stone-fruit-and-baking-spices brew that could operate as the gateway sour for IPA fanatics.
Best Non-Mexican Latin American Restaurant
3465 19th St., 415-655-3904 or medianochesf.com
With all the near-infinite Mexican options available in the Mission, a new and beautifully tiled Miami-Cuban restaurants stood out the moment it opened. Named for the sandwiches eaten as late-night street food, Media Noche’s titular offering is a Cubano (pork shoulder, ham, Swiss, pickles, and mustard) on brioche. Brioche! The best bread! And don’t overlook the Mi Abuela Favorita “moon bar,” made of guava cheesecake ice cream, crushed maria cookies, and dark chocolate on a stick. The post-Fidel world is full of wonders.
Best New Reason to Go to the Marina
2030 Union St., 415-796-2926 or floressf.com
Adriano Paganini’s Back of the House group is known for fast-casual places like The Bird or Super Duper, but don’t let that overshadow its more ambitious restaurants, such as Lolinda or Starbelly. Just as we fell in love with Paganini’s Belgian brasserie Belga in 2015, we’ve found ourselves voluntarily venturing north of California Street for Flores’ combination of handmade tortillas, huitlacoche quesadillas and Mayan dishes like s’ikil pak (pumpkin seed, tomato, and habanero dip, and gem lettuce). Flores happens to be next door to Belga, incidentally. Coincidence?
Place We’re Glad Took So Damn Long
28 Waverly Place, 415-857-9688 or misterjius.com
After a three-and-a-half-year gestation period, Quince veteran Brandon Jew achieved instant-classic status with at Mister Jiu’s. By channeling Cantonese food into new and wonderful directions, Jew revived a cuisine that’s too often relegated to takeout status and, creating intensely pleasurable little bites like Dungeness crab cheong fun and shiitake daikon cake alongside sizzling rice soup. The banquet format has given way to an a la carte menu, but the big guns — whole roasted duck, say — remain. Mister Jiu’s was truly worth the wait.
Best Local Business We Would Gladly See Become a National Chain
Although 4505 Burgers & BBQ on Divisadero Street is the best kind of flagship location — sit down for some meat the right time, and you might see the staff walking a whole roasted pig through the outdoor patio — it’s the chicharrones that put them on the national map. The first humanely raised pork rinds out there, they’re increasingly available at Whole Foods everywhere — and the sausages aren’t far behind. Go ahead and conquer the planet, 4505. We’ll be eating a Best Damm Grass Fed Cheeseburger while you do.
Best Place for a Steak and a Martini
1000 Larkin St., 415-932-6464 or thesaratogasf.com
Basically an upscale steakhouse where grandpas in three-piece suits could have a blast arguing over a Giants game from 1972, The Saratoga is also a contemporary restaurant with a great sense of play. There’s a New York steak, sure, and you could definitely go the gin-with-two-olives route. But don’t overlook the ’Toga Tots with cheddar and chorizo, the kimchi beef tartare, or the martini-strength Free Trade Agreement (Pisco, Cachaça, Singani, lemon, agave, egg white, and bitters). The walls are mohair, the butter of the day is Art Deco shaped, and the patrons are having a lot of fun.
Best Non-Coffeehouse To Get Work Done In
981 Mission St., 415-886-6206 or hellocovo.com
We’re a little tired of laptop farms that breed pitching meetings and not altogether unhappy when cafes stealthily get rid of their wifi. Coworking spaces feel like the best compromise when your three roommates are also working from home, and for $3 an hour, Covo in SoMa gives you a beautiful setting with office amenities — while the monthly membership includes bike parking, bottomless coffee, and even day showers. It’s professional yet approachable, and less ridiculously luxe than the place in Pac Heights that crows about having an “oil tycoon” as a member. (Hard pass, but thanks!)
Best Michelin Bait
330 Gough St., 415-829-7565 or nightbirdrestaurant.com
Kim Alter’s temple to haute gastronomy was a long time coming. The chef-owner of Nightbird, Alter had worked with Suzette Gresham (Acquerello) and Daniel Patterson (Coi, Alta CA, Plum Bar) for years before everything came together for this owl-filled Hayes Valley spot of her own. In that time, many ambitious projects within a one-mile radius vanished. But, along with the attached, seven-seat Linden Room bar, Nightbird is everything the august Michelin tasters could hope for: an exceptional tasting menu of lovingly assembled California dishes, executed by a kitchen that seems thoroughly trained in the classic techniques. Your move, France.
Best New Cajun-Creole
2293 Mission St., 415-872-9409 or albarays.com
You don’t have to be entirely certain where the line of demarcation is between Cajun and Creole to judge that this is an authentic spot, with cast-iron grillwork as if you were sauntering down Toulouse Street. Created by the team behind Causwell’s and Popson’s, it’s got a smoked eggplant and carrot jambalaya that’s even better than the meat version. Don’t miss the rabbit sausage over grits, either. And the check presenters come in the form of a stuffed felt voodoo doll. The Cat People would be proud.
Best Al Fresco (and Elevated) Dining in Chinatown
744 Washington St., 415-392-7958, no website
Chinatown Restaurant might look like every other joint in the neighborhood — and have much the same menu — but there’s one huge difference: It serves food on a second-story balcony framed with red railing and window boxes filled with succulents. In a post-Empress of China world, no other eatery offers the same heights and views, overlooks Portsmouth Square and makes for a wonderful people-watching perch. The only things it lacks are umbrellas, so pray no birds let loose when flying overhead.
Best Place for Natto, the Fermented Japanese Soybeans
Multiple locations, 415-671-4706 or onigilly.com
Natto, a sticky, fermented soybean paste, is incredibly hard to find in restaurants outside of Hawaii and Japan. Apart from Japantown (or Berkeley Bowl), the only other local place we know that sells it is Onigilly Express, a chain of Japanese restaurants — but you won’t find it on the menu, because it’s generally unlisted. The Embarcadero location has a little sign in the window advertising its existence, and it’s occasionally written as an addendum on the whiteboard behind the register. But how many more people would order natto if they knew it was an option?
Best New Portuguese Food
1550 Church St., 415-829-2264 or umacasarestaurant.com
How San Francisco went this long without a Portuguese restaurant is beyond us. But Telmo Faria, formerly of Tacolicious, went above and beyond with this Noe Valley charmer, full of piri-piri chicken, potato-heavy pasteis de bacalhau (salt cod fritters), and elegant bread and butter. It’s warm, it’s dare-we-say romantic, and it’s unafraid of tackling complicated recipes like an arroz de pato made with duck-confit risotto in lieu of paella plus roasted duck breast and a red-wine reduction. As much as we love the Portuguese corner at Grubstake, Uma Casa fills a gaping void.
Best Fast-Casual (Cheap)
115 New Montgomery St., 415-872-9825 or thebirdsf.com
Simple models tend to excel, and in the case of The Bird, Back of the House’s fried-chicken spot on art-student-heavy New Montgomery Street, the template appears to have succeeded. Get a (very!) spicy chicken sandwich made with celery, pickles, slaw, and mayo plus curly fries and a beer for only $12.50 — it’s called the “Happier Meal” — or otherwise keep it real cheap in the morning with a sausage, egg, and cheese buttermilk biscuit plus three apple fritters for only $6. Either way, let this SoMa spot clog your arteries without unclogging your wallet.
Best Fast-Casual (Slightly-Less-Cheap)
71 Stevenson St., 415-236-3984 or dabba.com
Fast-casual can mean joyless salads that emphasize wellness over any kind of aesthetic enjoyment, or it can mean hearty, sustainably prepared meals that feel like a proper lunch. At Dabba, the “ethnically confused” Middle Eastern and South Asian breakfast-and-lunch spot in SoMa, it means choosing a taco, burrito, or bowl and then filling it with meats like chicken or lamb, plus papadums, avocados, quinoa, or egg. How about a kombucha, a chai tea, or even a mango lassi? With food this quick and good, there’s no reason to make a fuss over authenticity.
Best New Gastropub
Old Devil Moon
3472 Mission St., no phone, olddevilmoonsf.com
Get your palm read while eating a fried Oysters Rockefeller po’ boy at this slightly mysterious New Orleans-accented bar, the only such place in America to have three cicerones at the helm. There’s plenty of beer on tap — Fernet, too — but the cocktail roster is equally impressive, including assertive drinks like the Alcachofa (reposado tequila, Cynar, and grapefruit bitters). Like a Ouija board that blesses you with good fortune, Old Devil Moon has just the right amount of black magic — plus it’s locally oriented, working with nearby Avedano’s Meats, Paulie’s Pickling, and Gulfish. And you’d better believe there’s a patio.
San Francisco Has Some Great Liquor Store Names
In an increasingly fancified and bougie San Francisco, the only retail sector that’s seemingly immune to gentrification is the corner liquor store. Unapologetically gritty and no-frills, our rough-trade corner markets have no aspirations to boutique status, describing prices in terms of an item’s “out the door” cost. That lack of pretense comes across in the the stores’ names, which are often unintentionally ironic, inadvertently misspelled, or charmingly stupid. Capturing the spirit of the urban booze-buying ethic, a few stand out.
The proprietors of Drink Liquor (601 Second Ave.) seem to know exactly what you’re going to do the moment you step out of the store. With an obviously hand-painted storefront sign whose paintbrush strokes are wearing off at noticeably different rates, Drink Liquor is a praiseworthy illustration of truth and integrity in convenience-store naming.
It’s one day at a time at AA Market (667 Broderick St.), the liquor store whose initialized name is a enduringly amusing contradiction in terms. No need to keep your alcohol anonymous at this corner market, because heading to AA to get drunk is a NoPa tradition.
The cute play on words of Liquor Locker (1223 Taraval St.) is a whimsical ray of sunshine in the foggy Inner Parkside. While otherwise unremarkable, the name renders Liquor Locker a lock to make this list.
Whether it was intentional or not, the possessive-singular apostrophe in the name 49er’s Liquor & Groceries (3701 Mission St.) has spared the ownership all manner of legal hassles from the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers football organization. Brands pay millions to license NFL names and likenesses, but this Bernal Heights liquor store found a great hack to do it on the cheap.
The only arguably nice establishment to make this list is the Outer Sunset’s Easy Money (2312 Irving St.), which is kept exceptionally clean and has legit-nice handsome wooden shelving on which to display its liquors and groceries. The self-proclaimed “biggest little market in San Francisco” is is also topped with a banner that inaccurately declares, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”
The Microbrew Scene Explodes in Malty Foam
Apartment-hunting in San Francisco is a nightmarish Sisyphean ordeal, but apparently late-20th-century deindustrialization left this city with a plethora of large, commercial spaces suitable for setting up a brewery. (When the owners of Standard Deviant were on the hunt for a home base, they sifted through dozens of potential sites.) And while Portland retains the title of Craft Beer Capital of America on a per capita basis, San Francisco has seen an explosion of excellent to where the Brewers Guild now contains more than 30 members.
Magnolia has been in operation in the Haight for decades, but the expansion into the Dogpatch was a shrewd move for a firm that filed for bankruptcy not long before. Smokestack at Magnolia Brewery (2505 Third St.) pours cask ales and the company’s “core four” — including Kalifornia Kolsch and Proving Ground IPA — at this production-facility-slash-gastropub, which smokes its meat over almond wood. Amid the pickles and the pecan pie, there’s a killer chopped pork sandwich with vinegar sauce and creamy slaw, plus tri-tip.
On an stretch of 14th Street lined with auto-body shops, Standard Deviant Brewing (280 14th St.) opened last year and has spent most of its energy on building a distribution network among S.F. bars. (Being in the Mission makes deliveries fairly simple, after all.) But the space, filled with picnic tables and arcade games, is an inviting spot for a pint of smoked rye pale ale or brown Altbier.
Further south, Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery (1439 Egbert Ave.) set up shop in the Bayview with an operation that produces all manner of booze, and the kettles sours and Small Axe Pale Ale made by Harmonic Brewing (1050 26th St.) aren’t that far away, in Dogpatch.
Over in Portola, Ferment Drink Repeat (2636 San Bruno Ave.) feels like a home-brew operation with a storefront. The neighborhood-y spot puts out a regular rotation of unusually named beer with a fair number of political references, from When They Go Low, We Go Rye (a session IPA) to a raspberry porter called The Queen’s Spare.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s Argentine-inflected Woods Beer continues its expansion, fueled by its MateVeza IPA, made with the ubiquitous tea-like herb from the Southern Hemisphere. Woods Island Co., the so-called “beer beach” on Treasure Island (422 Clipper Cove Way) burst on the scene last summer, and Woods Outbound (4045 Judah St.) solidified the quirky brewery’s hold on the Outer Sunset with a bar reminiscent of a postwar commuter train.