Against the background of an ever-morphing series of scandals involving sexual harassment and abuse, 2018 had some pretty extraordinary flops: a drag-queen restaurant with atrocious drinks, a catastrophically terrible non-gastropub gastropub, a pastry dinette years in the making that didn’t make it to the six-month mark. Plus The Salzburg burnt down and Farmerbrown, La Victoria Bakery, and Hog & Rocks closed.
The Bay Area has never had so many Michelin-starred restaurants, and a healthy economy — for the time being, anyway — has allowed eateries at the upper and lower price tiers to flourish even as retail implodes. It’s hard to say 2018 was a singularly outstanding year, but it had a number of newcomers strong enough to cast their own shadow and maybe nudge the overall scene in a particular direction.
132 The Embarcadero,
Chef Joshua Skenes of three-Michelin-starred Saison has an aesthetic of punctiliousness and determination, and this fishing lodge full of vigorous seafood preparations and ebullient cocktails doesn’t deviate one whit. Esquire rated Angler the Best New Restaurant in America for 2018, and its perfect harmony of style and substance makes that seem entirely plausible.
1906 Market St.
With apologies to anyone who washed their undies at the former Little Hollywood Launderette, this Scandinavian spot is a step up. Chef Nichole Accettola’s pork belly smørrebrød and savory porridge might have you convinced that you need to make a fundamental adjustment in the way you approach breakfast. Kantine distills the very best of Denmark to make us feel good and whole without succumbing to the cult of wellness.
680 Folsom St.
It’s not a burger robot. It’s not like the quinoa place that banishes human workers behind an impenetrable wall. It’s not the latest techie billionaire’s fad. OK, it might be a little bit of that last one, but after a rocky start, Creator’s eminently affordable and flavorful burgers won us over. Between the clever chef collabs and the mesmerizing machine itself, Creator is a model for the future of this quintessential American food.
1325 Fillmore St.
Does the praise seem fulsome when this restaurant is reviewed in this very issue of SF Weekly? Does it seem as though insufficient time has passed to make a critical evaluation of this kind? Tough! This successor to Farmerbrown is the model for what fast-casual ought to be: Distinctive, earnest, and positively bursting with flavor across the board.
Stonestown Mall, 3251 20th Ave.
A chain?!? Yes, a chain — and a damn terrific one, cafeteria-service and all. Although we will never get tired of excellent ramen — and there was plenty of that this year, too — Marugame’s consistently excellent noodles and multiple flavor combinations are even more exciting. The Thai spicy chicken udon with chicken tempura is simply the best.
350 Mission St.
When you walk up to this Hawaiian-influenced, second-floor Michael Mina project, your first thought might be, “Is this an abandoned Dreamforce set piece?” Then you fully enter it and realize it’s a rigorously playful restaurant that further advances the Aloha State’s already dynamic cuisine. This might be a West Coast version of what The Grill in NYC was hoping to achieve.
6101 California St.
Heaven means Eggs in Purgatory at this breakfast-lunch-and-dinner spot in the Richmond that’s a project by the team behind adjacent Pizzetta 211. An almost-overflowing combination of lamb sausage, spicy tomatoes, rosemary polenta, and toasted bread, it’s the best dish at a place that exemplifies what a neighborhood cafe can be.
2301 Clement St.
Twinned with nearby Pearl, the Richmond got two examples of how to fill a niche. Not only is this Fiorella follow-up open late, Violet’s is a chic, convivial spot for (very) elevated bar food and inventive cocktails. Chef Dante Cecchini’s food and Boris Nemchenok’s wines are the perfect match.
3228 Sacramento St.
Two words: sourdough focaccia. Chef Alex Hong and the team behind Sorrel, which started as a pop-up and is clearly headed for national acclaim, invaded the former Nico in Presidio Heights and brought one seasonal Italian masterpiece after another to a beautiful space. Sometimes, the urge to cheer someone along is so overwhelming that you have to give in and scream, even if you’re on a hot date.
584 Valencia St.
Trick Dog is always going to be the Madonna of bars, hellbent on perpetual reinvention. Bon Voyage, its tiki-esque little sibling, is simultaneously better-traveled and more firmly rooted. Tiki has sprouted up all over the place, but only Bon Voyage has the Rancho Mirage, a rum-and-scotch-filled take on the Coachella Valley “date shake.”
Runners-Up: Birdsong, Besharam, the reimagined Nico, The Board, Barvale.
Oakland’s Top Five: Nyum Bai, Dyafa, Belcampo Meats, Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, F.O.B. Kitchen.