San Francisco is home to many celebrated chefs, among them Gary Danko, Tracy Des Jardins, Mark Franz, and Judy Rogers — serious trendsetters all. In the end, however, locals decide whether a trend succeeds or not. Of the many restaurants that have opened in San Francisco over the past year, the ones below have made the grade.
A boisterous crowd — coworkers at the end of the day, folks in from the avenues, conventioneers from nearby Moscone Center — packs this high-ceilinged, brick-lined dining space that once housed a printing press. Rusted girders, chandeliers fashioned from old postcard racks, and water poured from vintage milk bottles create a casual mood. The small plates, like a plump housemade boudin blanc (French milk sausage with Cognac) paired with red cabbage, are so appealing that most diners find it hard to move to the mains, which include a first-rate roast chicken with preserved lemon and garlic. Single diners can grab a seat at the big communal table. 545 Mission St., SOMA, 415/543-8900. No lunch Sat. and Sun. Main courses $19-$28.
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Chef Massimiliano Conti quickly won a loyal following after opening this charming neighborhood trattoria serving Sardinian food. The Italian island’s classics are all represented and prepared with care. Sardinian cuisine offers an exciting alternative to the familiar Italian flavors. Recommended dishes include the tender squid with mint and white wine, pasta with bottarga (salted mullet roe), and fregola (pebble-shaped pasta) with tomato, saffron, and clams. The space came with a pizza oven, so Conti also turns out four types of crispy thin-crusted pies. Opt for one of the Sardinian gems on the large wine list. 291 30th St., Noe Valley, 415/550-8114. Closed Mon. No lunch. Main courses $17-$21.
With its long marble bar and open kitchen, this brick-lined two-story space oozes big-city charm. The arrival of skinny, brittle bread sticks is the first sign that the kitchen understands the cuisine of northern Italy, specifically Piedmont. If the bread basket doesn’t convince you of this, try the antipasto of house-made cured meats, the delicate agnolotti dal plin, veal-stuffed pasta with a cabbage-laced meat sauce, or pappardelle with full-flavored short rib ragù. The clientele, a mix of business types and Italian food aficionados, appreciates the big, smart wine list. 230 California St., Financial District, 415/955-0663. Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. Main courses $19-$29.
With its zinc tapas bar, fireplace, big communal table, and mix of leather banquettes and oak tables, Terzo has what it takes to pull in the neighborhood social set and everyone else who appreciates expertly prepared small plates of Mediterranean cuisine. On the compact menu you might find choices like smoky roasted beets and pickled onions, slightly charred grilled artichokes with serrano ham, rich roasted marrow with crisp toasts, and tender mint-flecked fresh fava beans and feta with flat bread. But a plate of wonderfully crispy, seriously addictive onion rings is always available. The pricey wine list, which is loaded with interesting vintners and varietals, has more than two dozen choices by the glass. 3011 Steiner St., Cow Hollow, 415/441-3200. No lunch. Main courses $7-$15.
Daniel Patterson, who has made a name for himself both as a chef and as a pundit on contemporary restaurant trends, has had a restless career, but he seems to have settled in at this intriguing 50-seat spot on the gritty end of Broadway. Coi (pronounced kwa) is really two restaurants. One is a 30-seat formal dining room — ascetic gold-taupe banquettes on two walls — that offers a four-course prix-fixe menu ($75), with three choices for each course, and an 11-course tasting menu ($105). The food matches the space in sophistication, with such inspired dishes as a delicate cauliflower-almond milk soup with green olives and Marcona almonds, or sautéed sea bream on braised lettuce dotted with cubes of spiced pork belly. The menu in the more casual lounge is a la carte, with items like crisp-skinned roast chicken and a bourbon and Coke float with warm chocolate cookies. 373 Broadway, North Beach, 415/393-9000. No reservations accepted for lounge. Closed Sun. and Mon. No lunch. Prix fixe menus $75-$105.