For a long time, San Francisco was the undisputed king of West Coast dining, though in recent years Los Angeles has been gaining ground. But the Bay Area hasn’t been content to rest on its sustainably grown laurels, pulling in James Beard Awards for Best New Restaurant (State Bird Provisions) and Best Chef: West (Christopher Kostow of Meadowood in St. Helena) in 2013, a banner year for the city that saw important openings spilling into 2014. These are the five spots you shouldn’t miss on your next trip.
The Saturday night hostess isn’t kidding when she looks up from her black book with sympathy in her eyes and levels the blow: “It’s probably going to be three hours.” As is typical at Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield’s New York restaurants, the duo’s first Bay Area effort, Tosca Café (average main: $20), does not take reservations for the butterfly-backed chairs and oxblood leather banquettes in the handsomely restored, sepia-toned dining room. Fortunately, the bar is a blast, and Bloomfield’s chef de cuisine, Josh Even, makes his full menu available for the seat-less. Hits include the rotating bar sandwich, sticky vinegar-glazed pig tails, and punchy lumaconi pasta dusted with lemony breadcrumbs. Make sure to order the roasted chicken for two, presented on a raft of charred bread smeared with ricotta, as soon as you arrive. The bartender also isn’t kidding when he says it can take two hours.
To follow his established Napa Valley restaurant, Bottega, chef and TV personality Michael Chiarello opened the sultry Spanish Coqueta (average tapa: $8) last spring on the San Francisco waterfront, an olive's throw from the Ferry Building. Rustic wood beams hold up the high ceilings and big windows open onto the bay, creating a barn-like setting. The menu features an array of dishes, including bite-sized tapas (lardo-and-uni sandwiches, patatas bravas), boards of skewered pintxos (pickled quail eggs, boquerones) that look like acupuncture kits, party-sized charctuerie, cheese plates, and two styles of paella. The petal-and-herb-topped gin and tonics are ecosystems in glass globes, more fun to look at than to drink. Instead, order one of the porrons, vessels whose contents (sherry with roasted-lemon soda, Mexican Coke, cinnamon sangria) are poured directly into your mouth from a long-fluted spout. Think syringe shots at a Cancun nightclub, but classier.
Craftsman & Wolves
The Rebel Within looks like any other ordinary muffin, but slicing it down the center—as you must at the Mission’s too-cool-for-school patisserie, Craftsman & Wolves (average pastry: $4)—reveals a hidden surprise. Baked inside the biscuit-like bread is a perfectly cooked egg crying golden tears of semi-liquid yolk. The Rebels go fast, so get to C&W when they open at 7 a.m. (8 on weekends). Too early? You may miss the marquee breakfast, but fortunately, William Werner crafts dozens of wildly creative, sweet-and-savory treats: yuzu-pear and root vegetable croissants (two different flavors), crème fraiche morning buns dusted with Grains of Paradise, pine-and-kaffir “Cube Cakes,” smoked cheddar gougeres, and lemon-espresso snails—all arranged liked precious artifacts in this living pastry museum.
You can see the Twitter headquarters from the dining room of Alta CA (average main: $18), a new Daniel Patterson (Coi, Plum) restaurant with soaring ceilings, brainy cooking, and a fittingly tech-heavy clientele. Upgrades to populist starters such as deviled eggs and poppy-seed bialys ply the heartstrings, but the fried beef tendon puffs are the snack to reach for. Piled high on a plate, they look like a coral formation and have a crunch like chicharrones—the perfect complement to the Roger Rabbit, an elixir of vodka, Meyer lemon, and carrot ginger beer. Patterson does a terrific bacon cheeseburger, too, though the savory cracked-wheat porridge laden with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and baby turnips is, surprisingly, even more decadent.
Insiders have spent the past eight years romancing Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan’s homey Sardinian restaurant, La Ciccia, in Noe Valley. Now, the couple has given fans another bit of catnip, La Nebbia (average plate: $12), an enoteca located around the corner from the flagship. The name means “the fog,” but there’s nothing obscuring about Conti’s straightforward menu of Italian cheeses and prosciuttos (nine types!), augmented with bites of minted albacore conserva, squid-ink pizza, and little lasagnas served cold. Unfortunately, there are no reservations here.
Adam Erace writes about food, drink, and travel for Fodor’s, Details, Southern Living and Men’s Journal. He loves exploring far-flung destinations and their regional specialties almost as much as his hometown, Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife and two rescue pups.