San Francisco is notorious for being a food-obsessed city. Chefs are pushing the boundaries, and sounding out their own dialect of California cuisine. From in-house butchering and curing, to foraging and fermenting, restaurants are paying attention to all the details that go behind that hand-crafted plate before you. Not to mention the swoon-worthy produce that California is naturally blessed with. The result is a killer dining scene that will make your head spin. Before you have a panic attack, take a cruise through our top ten picks. Hope you’re hungry.
From farm-to-Rich Table, husband and wife team, Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich, have enamored San Francisco’s most discerning diners with creative dishes like homemade garganelli pasta topped with octopus Bolognese and pickled beets. We can’t get enough of their dried porcini doughnuts, served with melted Raclette, one of the staple bites on the otherwise frequently changing menu.
Culinary artistry at its finest, a meal at Atelier Crenn is full of delightful surprises. Chef Dominique Crenn masterfully uses modern techniques in a convincingly organic way that celebrates the essence and beauty of nature and her ingredients.
State Bird Provisions
This quirky little spot took SF by storm last year with its creative menu of small plates passed from table to table on a re-fashioned dim sum cart. Be sure to try the namesake dish, California State Bird with Provisions (a delectable fried quail served with lemony onion jam and parmesan shavings), garlic fry bread with burrata, and duck liver mousse with duck fat almond madeleines.
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The food at Bar Tartine is hard to categorize into one neat package. It is an eclectic combination of Cali new age homesteader meets Hungarian grandma, meets Scandinavian forager, meets Japanese trained chef. Like I said, hard to define, but utterly delicious. From pickles and krauts to beverages like craft sodas and water kefir, pretty much everything on the menu is made, aged, and fermented in-house. And since this is part of the Tartine family after all, you’ll find some incredible bread, guaranteed.
Step into Benu and enter culinary zen. Chef Corey Lee’s French Laundry pedigree is apparent in his exquisite attention to detail and impressive technique, but the style here is all his own. Dishes like eel wrapped in feuille de brick, or faux shark’s fin soup floating over luxurious black truffle custard are complex yet harmonious.
Named after the emblem of the Roman Empire (Senatus Populesque Romanus), it’s clear that the food at SPQR is inspired by Italian cuisine, but it is so much more than that. Would your nonna make mortadella out of wagyu beef? I thought not. Sit at the chef’s counter for a great show.
Trying to impress a date? Head to Bar Agricole where the beautiful food matches the sexy urban-chic space. You’ll find elegant bites like sea urchin deviled eggs, or an alluring black cod in tea broth on the menu. And don’t miss the great cocktail menu.
From pop-up phenomenon to bi-coastal empire, Mission Chinese plays by its own rules. Kung pao pastrami? Tea-smoked eel wrapped in smooth, slippery rice noodles? Ma po tofu ravaged with Sichuan peppers? Yes, on all counts.
Flour + Water
Crazy how simple things like flour and water can be transformed into the most sublime pleasures. The pastas at Flour + Water are the stuff dreams are made of. Tortelli, agnolotti, bucatini…don’t pinch me, the pappardelle hasn’t come yet. Chef Thomas McNaughton nails it, balancing Italian tradition with the Californian mantra of drawing out the best seasonal flavors possible.
Our bar pick of the bunch, Trick Dog is the spot to go to for those who prefer sustenance of the liquid persuasion. Well-designed, precisely crafted cocktails…the biggest problem about going to Trick Dog is the hangover you’ll have the next day because these drinks just taste too good to stop. Indecisive drinkers beware, there are also way too many that you’ll want to try. If you get hungry, you won’t have to go far. Salumeria and Central Kitchen (Flour + Water’s sister restaurant) are right next door.
Stephanie Hua is a writer and photographer based in San Francisco. Her food blog, Lick My Spoon, chronicles her culinary adventures and love for all things delicious. Her favorite place to travel at the moment is Sicily, mainly for the cannoli and arancini.
Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Stephanie Hua