Keeping up with restaurant openings in San Francisco can be a challenge, even for locals. While some new restaurants get a lot of buzz, others fly under the radar. Whether heavily hyped or best kept secrets, these recent additions are worthy of a detour.
Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani are restaurant royalty adored for their Michelin-starred restaurants as well as their gracious hospitality, but their latest restaurant opened very quietly. Urchin Bistrot, located on Mission Street, offers cozy dining in booths downstairs or at small tables upstairs. It’s an informal take on bistro food, with dishes like duck liver mousse, tripe stew, steak tartare, and a ridiculously affordable prix-fixe that offers 4 courses and an amuse bouche for just $50. The signature dish here is the spaghettini, dressed simply with sea urchin and egg yolk. It is rich and luscious in the best way possible. The wine menu has some great picks and good values, and there are cocktails too. The space exudes warmth and has a friendly vibe, making it the perfect place for a date or an intimate celebration.
One of the newest spots in Hayes Valley is Souvla, which means spit or rotisserie in Greek. Sure enough, the menu features spit-roasted free-range chicken, pork shoulder and leg of lamb. The delectable meats are served in a soft pita sandwich or on top of a hearty salad. You can’t go wrong either way for an affordable lunch or dinner. Just don’t miss the Greek fries, with olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and a generous sprinkling of mizithra cheese. While the chef has Greek heritage, his cooking isn’t strictly traditional. His take on baklava pairs crumbly bits on top of a frozen soft serve yogurt. All in all, it’s soul-satisfying food.
Ramen has been all the rage for quite some time, but udon is another story—few, if any, restaurants specialize in it. Udon Mugizo in Japantown not only makes handmade udon noodles, but serves them in a wide variety of preparations you may not have seen before. You can see the noodle machinery in the front window of this small restaurant with a traditional Japanese interior. There are rich and creamy sauced udon noodles with ingredients like shrimp, codfish, roe, or sea urchin, as well as cold udon noodles with dipping sauces. A favorite is the sesame shabu udon, which comes with a pile of paper-thin Kobe beef slices and tangy, cold sesame-ponzu sauce. For dessert, try the unique udon parfait, with green tea ice cream, cubes of warabi mochi, and deep-fried-and-sugar-coated udon noodles.
Lazy Bear is an anagram of the name of chef David Barzelay. For years, it was a popular pop-up restaurant, but now Barzaley has set down roots in the Mission district and is offering two seatings a night for a tasting menu via an online ticketing system. Dinner begins in the mezzanine, where drinks and various nibbles are served, then proceeds downstairs to the main dining room. There are other little touches that make the experience unique, and even the presentation of the menu has been reimagined, but some things are best kept a surprise. What won’t surprise you is the creativity and beautiful plating of dishes like guinea hen, lobster mushroom, fines herbs, and hen jus with a Red Leicester chip; or seared sun gold tomatoes, smoked beef strip loin with basil, amaranth and tomato raisins. It’s no longer a pop-up, but it’s not a traditional restaurant either, and that makes for quite a unique meal.
Dim Sum Club
Dim Sum Club is not actually a club but a restaurant adjacent to the Villa Vinci Hotel. In the morning, there are cereal dispensers and a coffee machine, but by 11 am, it’s dumpling heaven. Particularly outstanding are the xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, called “Shanghai dumplings” on the menu. Other noteworthy dishes include tender stuffed eggplant and delicate noodle rolls, filled with either shrimp or barbecue pork, and the crunchy, thin house pan fried noodles served with a variety of toppings. Diners are given a sheet to mark their selections rather than having to wait on roaming carts.