Best of 2019: Food & Drink

MOST DECADENT BITE

PRAIRIE’s guanciale-wrapped mochi

3431 19th St., prairiesf.com

Longtime Delfina veteran Anthony Strong ran Locanda for awhile only to depart for this free-spirited and slightly experimental Italian spot. Having opened in the former Hog & Rocks space in the Mission last fall, it’s quickly developed a serious level of devotion. While PRAIRIE has rolled out an impressive brunch menu — hello there, “deluxe” burrata toast with spring onions and lemon oil — it’s the guanciale-wrapped mochi that had us swoon. Served at both brunch and dinner, these three lightly charred little nibbles have a heavenly texture plus a smack of chicory-esque treviso plus balsamic vinegar. While we would be remiss not to give a quick shoutout to Strong’s mushroomy rice gnocchi for its glorious chew, the mochi is tops.

BEST REASON TO RECONSIDER IKEA’S SWEDISH MEATBALLS

Kantine

1906 Market St., kantinesf.com

Smørrebrød is the Scandinavian rye that’s buttered and used as the foundation for a whole range of smoked meats and fermented toppings, and Katine’s wife-and-husband team of Chef Nichole Accettola and Joachim Majholm have deputized it as the basis for any number of dishes that thread the needle between comfort food and Nordic sophistication. This slightly spartan fantasyland in the Lower Haight used to be a laundromat, but now it’s the home for revitalizing savory porridges and a lunch platter you build out of items like apple, egg, fennel, and a serious portion of pork belly. Do you really want to drive all the way to Emeryville now?

KaNtine

 

ALOHA-EST THING EVER

Trailblazer Tavern

350 Mission St., michaelmina.net

In keeping with Salesforce’s embrace of the spirit of Aloha, Michael Mina opened this Hawaiian restaurant on the second floor of the Salesforce East building — i.e., the one catty-corner from the city’s tallest skyscraper. A showcase for the culinary genius of James Beard nominees Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka of MW Restaurant in Honolulu’s Ala Moana neighborhood, it’s quickly become a standout even within the vast Mina empire. Tropical but not campy, Trailblazer dazzles with an endless parade of technical precision, from the ahi poke nachos to the Korean fried chicken in lettuce cups to the miso-honey-glazed butterfish. A Hui Hou Kākou, butterfish. (“Until we meet again.”)

MOST CONSISTENTLY EXCELLENT BRUNCH

Comstock Saloon

155 Columbus Ave., comstocksaloon.com

What would life be without char siu eggs benedict? Worse, definitely way worse. Chef Jason Raffin is an inveterate egg lover, and while we love the nightly music and Barbary Coast atmosphere of the two-rooms-in-one Comstock Saloon, weekend brunch is probably the biggest draw. Every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can feast on highbrow-lowbrow treats like the 20 Dollar Mozzarella Stick (made with saffron aioli and Tsar Nicoulai caviar), tres leches french toast, and the inimitably delicious char-siu eggs benedict, served with lemon hollandaise, nori chili flakes, and tossed greens. Wash that baby down with the Breakfast of Champions, a Modelo paired with a tequila shot and a pork sugo shooter. A chef who doesn’t loathe brunch is a joy forever.

BEST NEW PIZZA

Cellarmaker House of Pizza

3193 Mission St., cellarmakerbrewing.com

At minimum, this is a double winner, triple if you squint. Not only is Detroit-style pizza our new power-craving — a thicker, extra-crispy variation on those doughy Sicilian pies you last ate 15 years ago — but Cellarmaker House of Pizza in Bernal Heights has several options that are all delicious and beautifully presented, including a Spring Sausage with pungent green garlic cream. What’s the third part of this triple crown? Beers that pair super-well with your ’za, such as Professional Courtesy Hazy IPA.

BEST PASTA DISH

Ayala’s nori spaghettini

398 Geary St., ayalarestaurant.com

Union Square isn’t always a spot that locals flock to en masse for dinner, but Melissa Perfit’s seafood-and-pasta restaurant Ayala gave us one very good $29 reason in the form of nori spaghettini, a furikake-and-buddha’s-hand flavor bomb of serious proportions. The Hotel G, in which the Bar Crudo alum’s project sits, is lucky to have this increasingly focused operation and its rigorous, appealing cocktail list. The taglioni with Manila clams is mighty fine, but the gooey yet structured spaghettini is our pick.

BEST DAVID BOWIE TRIBUTE

Tato’s Bowie Brunch

4608 Third St., tatosf.com

What do we want in an homage to our heroes? Evidence that the people behind it are genuine superfans, and also for them not to go too overboard in making every last thing line up with the theme! Also: Bowie, lots of Bowie. Three years after the Thin White Duke’s death, Tato, a Mexican spinoff of Bayview pizzeria and hangout All Good Pizza, threw a David Bowie tribute brunch in honor of Ziggy Stardust’s 72nd birthday, with a Major Tom(ato) Bloody Maria, an Aladdin Sane (Champagne, Aperol, Lime, and Topo Chico) and more. We would climb the Berlin Wall and venture through an unnecessarily elaborate labyrinth just to see that come back.

BEST UNDER-$20 TRIP TO THE CARIBBEAN

Guava ribs at Isla Vida

1325 Fillmore St., islavidasf.com

A Fillmore successor to Farmerbrown, Isla Vida opened last fall to thrill the neighborhood with jerk chicken, cubano sandwiches, and “bumbaclot sauce” — an extra-spicy, off-menu condiment whose name is basically Jamaican for “douchebag.” We fell super-hard for virtually everything Isla Vida does, be it garlic shrimp or twice-fried plantains known as tostones, but the guava ribs are what lure us to return. They come right off the bone, and they’re served with congri, a side of rice-and-black-beans. We love them for the meat, but if it’s the guava part you prefer, know that brunch also has guava cheese pastries. SF Weekly had its holiday staff lunch at Isla Vida, so what more can we say on their behalf than that?

LEAST TERRIFYING SIGN OF THE ROBOT APOCALYPSE

Creator

680 Folsom St., creator.rest

By 2035, we’ll all be reduced to toiling in underground rare-earth-elements mines, leaving it to our robot overlords to take fake sick days and crowd-fund their lymphoma treatments. In the interim, we have Creator, the beautifully mechanical burger-making “robot.” OK, the mysterious name sounds a little like dystopian sci-fi, but this whimsical SoMa prototype puts out expertly charred patties with a variety of chef-inspired toppings — and it actually employs quite a few Homo sapiens to do it. Watching the glassed-in and decidedly analog assembly line cook your “Tunami” — a collaboration with Chef Tu David Phu — is a lot more fun than killing Terminators in a steel mill.

BEST FOOD MASHUP THAT SOUNDS KINDA GROSS BUT IS ACTUALLY DELICIOUS

Reuben Eggrolls at Finn Town

2251 Market St., finntownsf.com

The most curious item on the Finn Town menu that Chef Larry Keck describes as “hipster comfort food” is the Reuben Eggrolls, a deep-fried dish that reaches new flaky-crust heights. Finn Town replicates a rye bread reuben sandwich’s flavor by grinding caraway seeds into dust and seasoning them into an eggroll packed with corned beef, swiss cheese, and sauerkraut. This peculiar appetizer is a finger-food favorite, served with a dipping sauce that combines whole grain mustard with Anchor Steam beer.

BEST BACON-FLAVORED COFFEE

Maple Bacon Latte at Flore

2298 Market St., flore415.com

Flore coffee manager Dennis Clay was inspired to create the Maple Bacon Latte when he heard that an international traveler observe that “Americans put bacon in everything.” The light went off in Clay’s head that to put bacon in coffee — or, rather, bacon in a Ritual Coffee Roasters latte, with decorative latte art design, and an option to steam crumbled bacon into the milk. For a few bucks more, the Flore boys will add a very powerful shot of sherried scotch whiskey to your cup. The Maple Bacon Latte comes with a strip of bacon so big you’ll be munching on it through the whole cup — even if you’re a total bacon hog.

BEST ALTERNATIVE TO IPPUDO RAMEN

Nute’s

903 Cortland Ave., nutesnoodle.com

The ramen at Ippudo on Yerba Buena Lane, between Market Street and the Metreon, is solid. However, it’s hard to see past the long lines that keep parties waiting an hour or more, then tolerate a staff that rushes you out the door. (It’s also a subsidiary of Panda Express.) But while San Francisco isn’t short on ramen options — Mensho, Hinodeya, Marufuku — Nute’s is a stand-out. The tiny outpost on Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights gives diners just four-and-a-half hours, six days a week to catch its four delightful ramen dishes — spicy miso, vegetarian, shoyu with soy-based broth, and tonkotsu. Underestimate Nute’s love for spice at your own peril.

BEST LUNCHTIME JAPANESE CURRY FIX

Muracci’s Japanese Curry & Grill

307 Kearny St., muraccis.com

Don’t bet on this place for dinner — this hole-in-the-wall on Kearny Street closes at 7 p.m., setting up Financial District busybodies to grab lunch and eat at their desks. But it’s a no-frills food establishment that comes with more than enough rice to douse the curry in, as well as its popular chicken katsu with the perfect amount of crunch and grease. Curry options include beef, chicken, katsu, ebi fry, salmon, vegetarian, and cheese omelette curry. Murracci’s, which has another spot in Berkeley, also serves noodle soup, sushi, donburi, teriyaki, and dessert. With few seats, it’s more of a grab-and-go, but the portions could easily be split into two meals.

Boogaloo’s

 

BEST BRUNCH SPOT TO DITCH WORK AND THE WEEKEND LINES

Boogaloos

3296 22nd St., boogaloossf.com

Brunch culture makes hour-long waits seem reasonable even when you have a hangover. But who says brunch has to happen on the weekend? It’s well worth turning a Boogaloos visit into a “work trip,” to take refuge under a balcony of plants afforded by tall ceilings, drinking coffee in a relaxed state. This Mission brunch favorite reopened in 2018, having been closed for two years after a fire in the building, making it even more in-demand. While you could always swing a Cubano sandwich for lunch, Boogaloos’ breakfast options — from huevos rancheros to its Temple O’Spuds — are irresistible no matter the time of day.

BEST PINBALL JOINT FROM BEYOND THE ASTEROID BELT

Outer Orbit

3215 Mission St., outerorbitsf.com

Nine pinball machines line one wall of Bernal Heights’ spacey Outer Orbit, which feels like a fun replica of Hawaii generated by the computer on an interstellar spacecraft’s Holo-deck. Chef Sam DeCamp’s brunch and evening menus nail the simple, gratifying flavor profile that suits a spot where people pump quarters into the proverbial machine, with a slightly wacky (but definitely cool) jukebox playing jams from yesteryear. Boring people bemoan the infantilization of adulthood, but we are living for these togarashi tots — but if you’re a buttoned-down grown-up at heart, you can also go for crowd-pleasers like karaage chicken and Spam musubi. Oh, and there’s boozy passionfruit shave ice. Cancel that trip to the moons of Neptune and go play pinball on Outer Orbit’s 1971 Zodiac machine, on loan from the Pinball Museum in Alameda.

PLUCKIEST LA COCINA OPENING

Bini’s Kitchen

1001 Howard St., biniskitchen.com

Binitha Pradhan is famous for her momos, the Nepelese dumplings that she and her team hand-roll in vegetable, turkey, and lamb varieties. While the La Cocina alumna has been hawking them around town for a number of years, the only brick-and-mortar spot to get them has been a kiosk in a rather forlorn spot near Montgomery BART where the sun doesn’t often shine. But Pradhan has since opened Bini’s Kitchen at the corner of Howard and Sixth streets across the street from a building with many Nepalese residents — and beyond momos, it’s got a liquor license and a number of rice dishes, rotis, paneers, and other treats. Nonprofit dynamo La Cocina has empowered many immigrant women to start their own food businesses over the last few years, and Bini’s is undoubtedly one of its all-stars.

BEST NEW BREAD

Sorrel’s sourdough focaccia

3228 Sacramento St., sorrelrestaurant.com

Quick: Name your favorite breads. Probably sourdough ranks high on the list, and if you’re a sandwich fanatic, Dutch crunch is probably up there, too. But focaccia? It’s what people create by accident when they’re new to bread-making. That has changed now that Sorrel, Alexander Hong’s pop-up that took over Spruce’s former Laurel Heights home, melded it to sourdough. Served with cultured butter and a hint of small-S sorrel, it’s the perfect entry to a meal that’s going to be full of carbs, like pork sugo orecchiette and English-pea-and-mint cappellacci. The Gospels say that men shall not live on bread alone, but these days, people are basically cutting it out entirely and that’s just wrong.

BEST REASON TO LOVE THE RICHMOND

Pearl

6101 California St., pearl6101.com

To be clear, this is not to say we don’t love the Richmond plenty as it is. But the 38-Geary is nobody’s favorite bus, and while residents of that precinct know what they’ve got in the Clement Street corridor, people who live farther west also clamor for options. They have a bunch in Pearl, an all-day offshoot of Pizzetta 211 that opened on the corner of California Street and 23rd Avenue. While Outerlands in the Sunset has a toad-in-the-hole spinoff called Eggs in Jail, Pearl has Eggs in Purgatory, a marvelous combination of lamb sausage, spicy tomatoes, rosemary polenta, and lightly toasted bread. A farro bowl and wood-fired bagels give you more reasons to visit in the a.m., while mussels escabeche, handkerchief pasta, and some dashing cocktails will lure you right back after your evening commute.

Pearl

 

BEST ALTERNATIVE KITCHEN SPACE

BiteUnite

600 South Van Ness Ave., biteunite.com

Having begun in Hong Kong as a way for people looking to start a culinary side hustle to book time and counter space in a professional kitchen environment, BiteUnite is also a flexible venue that hosts book launches, dinner parties, and other cultural happenings. Founder Patta Arkaresvimun dislikes the term “incubator,” but in creating a platform and a commissary that’s available 24 hours a day, she’s enabled people who just want privacy (and a dishwasher) to focus on their craft to get it done, while impresarios with a flair for showmanship can test out new creations on a packed house.

BEST RESTAURANT REVIVAL

Greens

Fort Mason Center, Landmark Building 2A, greensrestaurant.com

Fort Mason has gone through many periods of evolution, but while much about the former military installation has changed, Annie Somerville’s Greens has been a temple of vegetarian fine dining and a stable presence on the pilings since she took it over in 1985. Then, a fire last year forced it to close and later embark upon some pricey renovations to bring a 1970s-era kitchen up to code. But a spruced-up Greens reopened in late fall, delighting diners with cauliflower-quinoa griddle cakes and wild mushroom and spinach filo. Brunch means ciabatta French toast and a Hodo Soy tofu hash made with a lacinato kale-and-basil pesto. The full package is up and running, too, as the Greens to Go counter reappeared earlier this year.

BEST EXCUSE TO BLOW YOUR (401)K ON WAGYU

Niku Steakhouse

61 Division St., nikusteakhouse.com

While the Omakase Restaurant Group has opened places at the affordable end (Udon Time, Dumpling Time) and the middle tier (Okane, Omakase), they leapt into the stratosphere with Niku Steakhouse. Under executive chef Dustin Falcon, the menu here is full of Japanese influences — particularly A5 wagyu beef. Although you could stick to outstanding small plates like a ember-roasted artichokes or bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, you have the option of splurging on a 40-day dry-aged prime bone-in ribeye for $130 or eight ounces of A5 Kobe beef for $305. If someone else is paying, you can still afford to retire.

BEST NEW RETRO BURGER JOINT

Hi-Way Burger & Fry

3853 24th St., hi-wayburger.com

Whiz Burger, Beep’s, WesBurger N’ More — there’s something quintessentially mid-century Californian about burgers. While it’s not a hop with gum-chewing waitresses, Noe Valley’s Hi-Way Burger & Fry joins the club of hamburger restaurants that feel slightly like walking into a Beach Boys song. The patties are 100-percent grass-fed beef — with a plant-based Beyond Burger available as an alternative — and the atmosphere is convivial, with a menu full of Chicago dogs, hand-cut french fries, and cookies-and-cream shakes. (There’s beer and wine, too.) Don’t “Have It Your Way,” have it at Hi-Way.

BEST DOLLAR-ISH OYSTER DEAL

Picaro

3120 16th St., no website

Let’s cut to the chase here: Dollar oysters are a pleasure as distinct as finding a $20 bill in an old jacket pocket or getting a kiss from a friendly bottlenose dolphin, only more commonly available. San Francisco has dozens of dollar-oyster happy hour deals, but most of them come with narrow time frames or other restrictions. At Picaro, a tapas restaurant on 16th Street in the Mission, the $1.25 raw oysters are available all day every day, just like the seafood paella and pitchers of sangria (which run $14 during happy hour, incidentally). Pro-tip: Picaro can get pretty busy, but you can order oysters at the bar without having to wait for a table.

CHURCH STREET’S HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Beit Rima

138 Church St., beitrimasf.com

Churches are all about saviors, right? At Beit Rima, Samir Mogannam took over a location of his father’s Burgermeister and turned it into a fast-casual Arabic restaurant with a homey vibe. While this subsection of the Castro has endured a wave of closures and disenchantment, Beit Rima holds a lot of potential to revive it more than one little restaurant otherwise probably could. Order some of the edamame-esque hamleh, a dish of pan-roasted garbanzos, with a portion of lemony, pan-roasted halloumi and a shish tawook plate whose yogurt-marinated chicken skewers are doused with garlic sauce. Shay, a minty black tea, is only a dollar a cup.

BEST NEW OMAKASE

The Shota

115 Sansome St., theshotasf.com

Some tasting menus begin to buckle under the weight of their ostentatious add-ons and the goofy theatricality of flashy knife skills, but at Chef Ingi “Shota” Son’s eponymous counter in the Financial District, the focus is as tight as tight gets. Here, top-notch team service keeps you pampered in a minimalist fashion while you watch the kitchen at work — and although you may get a quick tutorial in the different cuts of tuna with the aid of a 3D model, the real joy is the carousel of sea eel, Spanish mackerel, and cold-smoked trout nigiri. Then take a sip of Tokubetsu Kimoto, a 1,000-bottle-a-year sake manufactured through the collection of droplets of water.

BEST GASTRONOMIC PORTMANTEAU

Cafe Boho’s Seacuterie

3321 Steiner St., cafebohosf.com

Bohemianism is a tricky thing to channel, as a million failed attempts to replicate the magic of New Orleans outside the Crescent City can attest. But Cafe Boho in the Marina snaps to attention with an array of seafood dishes and reimagined dessert classics like a napoleon made with honey ricotta. The standout item, though, comes with another kind of napoleon, a savory nibble that could have come from a Tupperware party. The “seacuterie” board is a $38 plate consisting of a salmon napoleon and a salmon rillette, salmon roe, octopus dip, smoked whitefish, and sourdough, plus mustard and pickled vegetables and other little accents. Let this course be your introduction to the whole roasted branzino, or just savor it on its own.

BEST BOTTOMLESS MIMOSA DEAL

The Sycamore

2140 Mission St., thesycamoresf.com

Bottomless mimosas have become a fairly common brunch-time weekend offering, but you’d be hard-pressed to find orange juice and champagne pitchers with better bang for your buck than Mission Street dive eatery The Sycamore. You can squeeze in five full hours of mimosa-drinking, as the deal runs from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, with games like Battleship and Candy Land on the shelf to maintain your strategic skills while losing your motor skills. It’s $16 for the bottomless deal, which also requires a minimum $10 food order, but they have a person whose dedicated job it is to just refill mimosas while you’re slamming down Pork Belly Donuts and Fried Egg Sliders. Bottomlessness: It can’t be topped!

BEST SAN FRANCISCO ABSINTHE

Emperor Norton Absinthe

emperornortonabsinthe.com

Raff Distillerie’s Emperor Norton Absinthe is indeed distilled right here in San Francisco, and beautifully depicts the honorable Emperor Norton on its emerald label. But its wormwood is imported from the traditional home of absinthe — Pontarlier, France — and this version of the Green Fairy is prepared just as it was in Paris 150 years ago, making it the best tribute to S.F.’s most famous 19th-century eccentric since the State of California named the Bay Bridge after Willie Brown. The bottle calls this highly potent beverage “Emperor Norton Absinthe Dieu,” even though it is simply absinthe, thanks to a very bizarre federal law that says the word “absinthe” cannot appear as a standalone word on the labeling.

BEST NEW ARABIC RESTAURANT

Falafelland

133 Sixth St., no website

Billy Alabsi told us a few months back that he was apprehensive about the possibility of long lines. He definitely wants to do a good business at Falafelland, his Yemeni restaurant on Sixth Street. But he didn’t want to exceed the tiny operation’s carrying capacity. (That he was certain the lines would form was somewhat telling.) In any event, Alabsi and his wife, Noora, take pains to layer a pita with falafel and all its accouterments — including French fries and sugarcane vinegar — no matter how many people may be waiting for service, and insist that people have sweetened Yemeni-style tea. At Falafelland, hospitality and warmth all but trail out the door.

MOST INSANELY BRILLIANT DESSERT

The Frozen Orange at Atelier Crenn

3127 Fillmore St., ateliercrenn.com

Chef Dominique Crenn’s three-Michelin-starred, pescatarian flagship restaurant is a loving, intimately personal tribute to her father and to her childhood in Brittany. But Crenn’s ever-evolving dialogue with her chief pâtissier, Juan Contreras, is perhaps the more germane relationship — especially as the tasting-menu experience winds down. Contreras is nothing short of a wizard, and his creation of a frozen faux-orange that opens to reveal fruit, white chocolate, and some herbs is a grand complement to Crenn’s more sensuous approach, especially when paired with a magnificent sauternes. It has clearly grown in complexity over time, too. Atelier Crenn will always be the chef’s project, but Contreras’ desserts are what you walk out savoring — perhaps en route the Mauna Loa Club up the block, reportedly the staff hangout.

BEST BEER-FOCUSED RESTAURANT

City Beer Store

1148 Mission St., citybeerstore.com

Having poached Harper Matheson from the since-shuttered City Counter, Craig and Beth Wathen have turned the brew-focused City Beer Store into a legitimate dining destination at its new home on Mission Street. Larger and brighter than its original digs, it’s now where you can get a spicy-but-not-too-spicy Nashville Hot Mochiko Kitchen, a grilled sausage with spätzle and huckleberry mustard, and a Wednesday-only clam chowder with garlic-rubbed sourdough. That the beer selection veers deeply in a post-IPA sour direction is a strong plus for anyone chafing under the tyranny of hops. City Beer Store is clever and creative, a bar, restaurant, and bottle shop all in one.

 .           CUESA’S Goat Festival

MOST ADORABLE FOOD FESTIVAL

CUESA’s Goat Festival

cuesa.org

Jeanette Winterson, who was raised in the north of England by a devoutly religious mother with a melancholy temperament, once wrote that goats are thinkers, because “you can see it in the slit pupils of their rectangular eyes,” whereas sheep go to heaven with Jesus. That remark was made in jest, of course, because as anyone who’s been to CUESA’s Goat Festival — held the same day was an increasingly influencer-filled, springtime music festival in Indio — knows that baby goats are the cutest thing ev-ar. The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture endeavors to reintroduce the wonders of the land to people with a lot of asphalt in their lives, and every April, they work with Toluma Farms to expose city folk to the adorableness of baby goats. Activities like cheese-making demos, goat-horn-fashioning sessions round out the day, and lots of people show up in goat costumes. TL;DR: Baby goats!

Tags:

Related Stories