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The Best Places to Eat in SF in 2017

From pork-fat ramen to wild-rice bowls and back again: superlative options for every kind of eater.

SLIDESHOW

(1 of 7)

Trestle.

Photo: Brandy Yowell/Trestle

(2 of 7)

Namu Gaji.

Photo: Courtesy of Namu Gaji

(3 of 7)

Neighbor Bakehouse.

Photo: Courtesy of Neighbor Bakehouse

(4 of 7)

Andytown Coffee Roasters

(5 of 7)

SPQR.

Photo: Courtesy of SPQR

(6 of 7)

Salumeria.

Photo: Courtesy of Salumeria

(7 of 7)

Read more Best of San Francisco 2017 here.


SQUARE MEALS

Weekday Breakfast: Réveille Coffee Co.
Multiple locations, reveillecoffee.com
A workday breakfast is a different beast from a weekend brunch. Where the latter exists to immobilize you, the former (ideally) exists to energize you. So it’s appropriate that the best we’ve found just happens to be at a coffee shop. Réveille’s menu is as smart as it is concise. You’ll find eggs, but they’re showcased in a lusty shakshuka instead of a typical scramble. There are permutations of toast and, in a nod to the health conscious, a creamy chia seed pudding. All of it is excellent.
Runner-up: Boulettes Larder

Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Chow
Multiple locations, chowfoodbar.com
It’s the little touches that parents of young kids appreciate at Chow—for instance, the fact that you have the option of ordering a single pancake at breakfast, and that most entrées are available in a “medium”-size portion suitable for pint-size appetites. It helps that the bulk of the menu sits squarely in the pizza, burger, and spaghetti-and-meatball comfort food sweet spot—and that’s not even accounting for the actual kids’ menu, which is highlighted by a Velveeta-style mac and cheese ($9.75) made elegant by a sprinkle of grated parmesan.
Runner-up: Tenroku Sushi

Chicken Potpie: The Big 4
1075 California St. (at Taylor St.), 415-771-1140
A couple of years ago, fancy potpies became a trend in San Francisco. But this elegantly old-school Nob Hill restaurant understands that there is nothing fleeting about a well-made chicken potpie, and its version is a monument to the form. Where many potpies lure you in with a golden, bubbly crust only to reveal a deadening void underneath, the Big 4’s ($32) is stocked to the brim with flavorful chunks of chicken and well-cooked vegetables. For $7 extra, you can order it with a glass of Napoleon amontillado sherry, and if you want to know true, deep contentment, you should.
Runner-up: Mission Pie

Modern Indian: August 1 Five
524 Van Ness Ave. (at Redwood St.), 415-771-5900
True to its name, which draws from India’s date of independence, this stylish restaurant rebels against tired constraints. Rather than crank out the same old creamy curries, the kitchen deals in playful dishes like pistachio-dusted lamb chops plated over pointillistic dots of beet-and-daikon gelée, and steamed chickpea dhoklas dressed up with jalapeño jam and coconut snow. Don’t come here seeking korma. Show up with a craving for bison keema ($17), a crock of cardamom-and-ginger-seasoned ground meat that’s served with spongy dinner rolls and tastes like an exotic sloppy joe.
Runner-up: Rooh

Peruvian: Cholo Soy
2301 Mission St. (at 19th St.), 415-312-7232
Restaurants don’t come much scrappier-looking than this Peruvian lunch counter tucked inside the hallway of a Latino community center in one of the few remaining stretches of the Mission that still feel mostly ungentrified. But it is here at Cholo Soy, and not at one of the city’s white-tablecloth Peruvian joints, that you’ll find the best ceviche ($8.50) in San Francisco—a generous pile of limey-bright basa fish whose simplicity is surpassed only by its deliciousness. The rest of chef-owner Yeral Caldas’s daily rotating menu might feature several homey stews or a mammoth two-bone pork chop served with beet-tinged potato salad. Runner-up: Mochica 

Budget Tasting Menu: Trestle
531 Jackson St. (at Columbus Ave.), 415-772-0922
Let us pause to consider the highly specific miracle that is Trestle, home of the three-course, $35 prix fixe menu that tastes like it should cost at least twice as much. An oasis in a city of relentlessly rising costs, it offers the promise of striped bass, New York strip steak, and elderflower-spiked chocolate budino for roughly the price of two movie tickets and a large popcorn. If you want a pasta course, you’ll pay $10 extra; if you want a better deal on a tasting menu, you’ll have to leave town.
Runner-up: Nico

One-Bite Wonder: Nightbird
330 Gough St. (at Linden St.), 415-829-7565
Amuse-bouches are to entrées as short stories are to novels: To pare down a narrative to its essence, you really need to know what you’re doing. And Kim Alter knows what she’s doing when it comes to encapsulating a universe within a single bite. See, for example, the soft-poached quail egg she tops with brown-butter aioli and serves on a bed of fried leeks. Crowned with a bit of caviar, it tells a potent tale of onion dip that grew up, learned to speak a new language, and married into royalty. It’s a story you’ll want to repeat again and again, until you know it by heart.
Runner-up: An Japanese Restaurant

Regional Chinese: Taste of Jiangnan
332 Clement St. (near 5th Ave.), 415-702-6711
“Regional Chinese,” by San Francisco standards, means anything not Cantonese—which, given the embarrassment of riches in the Richmond and the Sunset, is so broad as to be nearly meaningless. Still, we’ll take any excuse to celebrate this bustling Wuxi-style eatery whose highlights include a salted-egg-yolk-topped steamed egg ($7.95) that quivers seductively with the gentlest tap, as well as several dishes balanced on the knife’s edge of savory and sweet—among them what might be the most luxurious red-cooked pork belly ($11.95) in the city.
Runner-up: Hakka Restaurant

Fast Casual: Sababa
329 Kearny St. (near Pine St.), 415-800-6853
The promise of a quick, relatively affordable, well-prepared meal becomes even more promising when you throw hot, just-baked pita into the bargain. That’s one secret to the success Guy Eshel has had with Sababa, his Israeli pita bar. The bread emerges from the oven throughout the day, ready and willing to cradle the meats, falafel, and retinue of vibrant salads that populate Sababa’s customizable menu. Add some of Eshel’s fiendishly addictive amba sauce to the mix, and you have a recipe for fast-casual domination.
Runner-up: Barzotto

Whole Fish: Tawla
206 Valencia St. (near Duboce Ave.), 415-814-2704

Samakeh harrah. Say it, repeat it, and remember it, because it describes possibly the best thing that has ever happened to a whole baked fish. At Tawla, the Lebanese classic ($55) has appeared most memorably as a rockfish impregnated with spicy walnut stuffing and garnished with fruit, but its more recent spin, featuring fig leaves, charred lemon, and sizzling oil, is also exceptional. You can’t go wrong, even if you can’t say it right.
Runner-up: Z&Y Restaurant

Burmese: Mandalay
4348 California St. (near 6th Ave.), 415-386-3895
If tea leaf salad is a bellwether for Burmese eateries, you need just one taste of Mandalay’s rendition ($12.50) to see that this restaurant pulls no punches. While Americanized Burmese spots sissify these salads with shredded lettuce, Mandalay gives diners the option of a no-lettuce version: just toasted lentil seeds, shrimp powder, fried garlic, peanuts, sesame seeds, jalapeños, and fermented tea leaves—straight-up spice, acid, funk, and outrageous crunch. It’ll change the way you think of salads, just as the Mandalay Special Noodles ($14), with their delightful textures and lime-leaf fragrance, will open you up to possibilities you never imagined for a simple bowl of curry noodles.
Runner-up: Burmese Kitchen 

Ethiopian/Eritrean: New Eritrea Restaurant and Bar
907 Irving St. (near 10th Ave.), 415-681-1288
Options abound at New Eritrea, a friendly, sunny spot that pays homage to the skinny African state that sits cheek by jowl with Ethiopia. Vegans and vegetarians are in particularly good hands, with a combo plate ($26.95 for two) that features portions of seven of New Eritrea’s deftly spiced vegan entrées—the hamli (collard greens and spinach) and the tumtumo (simmered lentils) are standouts. Meat eaters can indulge in chicken, lamb, and beef, and everyone benefits from the spongy injera, which is both plentiful and delicious.
Runner-up: Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen

Old-School Joint: House of Prime Rib
1906 Van Ness Ave. (near Washington St.), 415-885-4605
There is a time for a 20-course tasting menu, or for finicky little salads assembled with tweezers. Other times, you want a big ol’ hunk of meat cooked the right way, carved tableside by a gentleman in a starched white chef’s hat at a restaurant that has changed barely a smidge since it opened in 1949. For those nights, and for always, there is House of Prime Rib, where a meal is made up of timeworn rituals: the leather banquettes; the anachronistic green salad, tossed at the table in a spinning bowl; and the way the waiter asks, almost hopefully, if you’d like seconds while you’re gnawing the last bits of meat off the bone of your mammoth King Henry VIII Cut of prime rib ($46.85).
Runner-up: Swan Oyster Depot 

Korean Fried Chicken: Namu Gaji
499 Dolores St. (at 18th St.), 415-431-6268
Everyone likes being in on a secret, especially when it comes double-fried with a side of gravy. So it goes, anyway, with Namu Gaji’s Korean fried chicken plate ($20)—a half bird served on the bone, available as an off-menu special during dinner service on Wednesdays. Chef Dennis Lee’s chicken stands apart owing to the precision of the cooking process, which involves gentle steaming followed by the traditional double-fry, yielding tender meat and sublimely crunchy gochujang-slathered batter. The accompaniments—pickled daikon and cabbage slaw—are mostly traditional, but the real stroke of genius is the rich dashi gravy, which ensures that not one bite of chicken suffers from blandness.
Runner-up: Sunday Bird

Hippie/Health Food: Little Gem
400 Grove St. (at Gough St.), 415-914-0501
For a restaurant whose food is often talked about in terms of what it doesn’t contain—namely gluten, refined sugar, and dairy—Little Gem is a place where you never think about what you’re missing. Instead you think about the perfectly fried egg on the bibimbap, the silkiness of the polenta that accompanies a cut of tender roast pork, and how nice it is to eat healthy food that doesn’t preach or make you rue the day someone discovered that chia seeds could grow wellness fads as well as gag plants. True to its name, the place is a gem.
Runner-up: Nourish Cafe

INDULGENCES

Doughnuts: Dynamo Donut + Coffee
Multiple locations, dynamodonut.com
Given the fanfare surrounding its maple-bacon-apple doughnut, you might think Dynamo was some gimmicky trend chaser, tossing pork products on pastries willy-nilly. But the most amazing characteristic of co-owner Sara Spearin’s doughnuts isn’t anything faddish: It’s the fact that her yeast and cake bases are the best around—as tender, and with as delicate a crumb, as the finest fancy-bakery layer cake. While Dynamo’s flavor combinations—like strawberry and Earl Grey, lemon and Sichuan peppercorn, and, yes, that smoky, bacon-topped number—do tend toward the unconventional, it’s all done with a restrained hand and an eye toward deliciousness.
Runner-up: Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Toast: Scullery
687 Geary St. (near Leavenworth St.), 415-440-4497
Most Americans have no idea what Welsh rarebit is, but they do know that they like cheese melted onto toast. That’s more or less what Welsh rarebit is, and it also happens to be a specialty of Scullery, the little Tenderloin storefront where owners Sharon and Jason Lindley melt Collier’s Welsh cheddar over a slab of the Midwife & the Baker’s sourdough toast and top it with McQuade’s fig-and-ginger chutney ($8). Never mind the terminology: This is the most glorious display of toast-based pleasure you’re likely to find anywhere.
Runner-up: the Mill

Savory Pastry: Neighbor Bakehouse
2343 3rd St. (near 20th St.), 415-549-7716
You know you’re in for something special when, before you even bite into Neighbor Bakehouse’s sauerkraut-cheddar tart ($3.75), you’re greeted by a congealed, slightly caramelized puddle of cheese that has leaked from the pastry and cooled into a sort of amuse-bouche. It only gets better from there: Beneath the latticed, shatteringly flaky crust lurks a bounty of sharp cheese and tangy kraut, along with a deposit of sweet Peppadew peppers. And, of course, butter. So much butter. And so much uncomplicated pleasure.
Runner-up: Craftsman and Wolves

English Muffin: Marla Bakery
3619 Balboa St. (near 37th Ave.), 415-742-4376
Drowned in hollandaise sauce, suffocated by poached eggs, and ignored in favor of bagels, the English muffin is a sadly overlooked breakfast bread. So we owe a debt of gratitude to Amy Brown for doing her part to give it its due. The crumpets that emerge from her oven at Marla Bakery are crisp and golden-brown on the outside, fluffy and craggy on the inside, and so delicious they barely need adornment—though to deny them butter would be a crime beyond the pale.
Runner-up: Universal Cafe 

Chocolate Chip Cookie: B. Patisserie
2821 California St. (at Divisadero St.), 415-440-1700
Belinda Leong says she started with a classic recipe and began switching the ingredients and proportions to create the ideal chocolate chip cookie in her mind’s eye. In part, what that means is that B. Patisserie’s chocolate chip cookie ($3.25) will please the serious chocolate obsessive—made up, as it is, not so much of “chips” as of big slabs of Valrhona chocolate just barely held together by dough. It’s a cookie that splits the difference, beautifully, between crunchy and chewy—a texture for every kind of cookie lover. At nearly five inches in diameter, it’s fit for sharing. Not that you’ll want to.
Runner-up: Jane

Layer Cake: 20th Century Cafe
198 Gough St. (at Oak St.), 415-621-2380
Michelle Polzine’s Russian honey cake ($6) has been recognized as a towering feat of pastry artistry since the baker opened her jewel box of a café in 2013. So let’s take a moment to praise it again: This is a cake composed of 10 (10!) ethereal layers, frosted with what looks like buttercream but tastes not of sugar or butter but of dark, slightly spicy honey. Served as a sliver on a crystal plate, it’s neither too sweet nor too heavy, and thus a miracle. When was the last time you ate a 10-layer cake that left you feeling resurrected instead of comatose?
Runner-up: Black Jet Baking Co.

Nondairy Ice Cream: Garden Creamery
3566 20th St. (at Lexington St.), 808-224-6626
Let’s face it: Vegans and the lactose intolerant are to ice cream shops what wallflowers are to orgies. Most of the time, it’s better to just stay away. Not so at Garden Creamery, where you’ll find a third of the ice cream case dedicated to the dairy averse. Owner Erin Lang’s vegan flavors are both creative—mint chocolate chip and coconut sit next to banana-lilikoi (yellow passion fruit) and strawberry-lychee—and impressively creamy. You won’t find booby-prize sorbet here. Only joy.
Runner-up: Gelateria Naia 

Soft-Serve Ice Cream: Tartine Manufactory
595 Alabama St. (at 18th St.), 415-757-0007
To understand the incredible power of Elisabeth Prueitt’s soft serve, look not at Tartine Manufactory’s soft-serve machine but into its glass refrigerator. There you’ll find soft-serve pies, the filling swooped into peaks atop cookie-crumb crusts. That said, the stuff that comes out of the machine—thick, silky, and made from Double 8 Dairy’s water buffalo milk—is equally alluring, with smart flavors like sweet cream, matcha, and basil-flavored herb di latte. Do yourself a favor and just go.
Runner-up: Bi-Rite Creamery

Dessert Menu: Octavia
1701 Octavia St. (at Bush St.), 415-408-7507
Some people believe that no one really needs dessert, particularly after a lengthy restaurant meal. We, however, believe in Sarah Bonar’s wildflower-honey crumb pudding ($10). Topped with fat, jammy cherries and shards of honey toffee, it soaks in a shallow pool of crème fraîche—the picture of everything that is right about Bonar’s dessert menu at Octavia. Here, balance and flavor are prized over gimmickry. The desserts, from the pudding to the coconut Eton mess, look like desserts, not studies in negative space. To eat any one of them is to understand the necessity of dessert, and of pleasure.
Runner-up: Rooh 

DRINKS

Coffee Shop: Andytown Coffee Roasters
3655 Lawton St. (at 43rd Ave.), 415-753-9775
There are coffee shops for Wi-Fi zombies and pastry connoisseurs, for espresso nerds who geek out over properly textured milk foam and for social media influencers looking for something pretty to post on Instagram. This Outer Sunset charmer is the rare coffee shop that checks every box: beans that are roasted in-house; friendly staff; the city’s most exquisite, crunchy-topped blueberry corn muffins; and reliable Wi-Fi. If you’re feeling adventurous, try Andytown’s signature drink, the eminently Instagrammable Snowy Plover ($4.50), which is like a sweet-and-creamy iced coffee except subtly carbonated, with a double-espresso-shot caffeine kick.
Runner-up: Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

Tearoom: Samovar Tea Bar
411 Valencia St. (near 15th St.), 415-553-6887
You can smell Samovar before you see it, at least when its staff is brewing its glorious chai. The aroma beckons you into a space that, with its clean lines and white surfaces, has more in common with an Apple Store than with a traditional tearoom. But that means less distraction from the tea, which is well curated and expertly steeped. It’s also accompanied by an impressive food selection (get the miso-tahini toast) and, more important, the sense that so long as you can sip a cup in Samovar’s calm confines, at least one thing is right in the world.
Runner-up: Japanese Tea Garden

Wine List: The Morris
2501 Mariposa St. (at Hampshire St.), 415-612-8480
Even at a staggering 63 pages, this doorstop of a volume fails to fully catalog a collection that grows faster than sommelier-owner Paul Einbund can type. For now, it numbers more than 4,500 bottles, a majority from France and California but many pulled from Germany and Italy as well. Since not everything is listed, it always pays to ask about special pours. But it’s hard to beat the value of the house red and white—bright, food-friendly wines that Einbund makes himself. They come in a carafe, and you only pay for what you drink, at a price that roughs out to $6 a glass.
Runner-up: Benu

Beer Garden: Anchor Beer Garden, the Yard at Mission Rock
100 Terry A. Francois Blvd. (at 3rd St.), 415-863-8350
There are hipper beer gardens, but none happier than this one by McCovey Cove, all the more so on a sunny afternoon when the Giants are playing and batting practice balls are splash-landing in the bay. Everything on tap is made by Anchor Brewing, but there’s plenty of variety—lagers, wheat beers, porters, IPAs, and on—to satisfy your inner cicerone. Not that the crowd here is filled with beer snobs. Kids and dogs are welcome. And there are lots of moms and dads in baseball caps and jerseys—proof that you don’t have to dress like an urban lumberjack to appreciate a pint or two.
Runner-up: Biergarten

Cocktail Menu: The Saratoga
1000 Larkin St. (at Post St.), 415-932-6464
While it’s now de rigueur for restaurants to come armed with a craft cocktail menu, it’s rare for an establishment to create food that actually pairs well with hard liquor. So let’s raise a glass to the Saratoga, where brown spirits star on the cocktail list and make formidable partners to the starch- and meat-heavy grub. Whether it’s the bourbon-forward Avenue ($14) or a classic Vieux Carré, barman Brandon Clements has created well-considered cocktails with an eye toward both pleasure and—gasp—actual food. Cheers to that.
Runner-up: Black Cat

CITY STAPLES

Breakfast Sandwich: Tartine Manufactory
595 Alabama St. (at 18th St.), 415-757-0007
Tartine Manufactory’s porchetta-and-fried-egg sandwich strains the limit of what you can slap an egg onto and still reasonably describe as “breakfast.” Surely this particular gutbuster of a breakfast sandwich has too many microgreens piled on top of too much lavishly fatty roast pork—to say nothing of the $15 price tag. But once you tuck in, you realize that each component is pitch-perfect: the toasted brioche bun, which soaks up the flavors of all that pork grease and runny egg yolk, and the thin slather of salsa verde, and those microgreens, which add just enough freshness to make this a healthful morning option. At least that’s what you tell yourself as you crunch away on another pork crackling.
Runner-up: Wise Sons

Salad: Nopalito
Multiple locations, nopalitosf.com
There’s a saying that no one ever died wishing they’d eaten more salad, but maybe they never tried Nopalito’s ensalada de lechuga con duraznos ($10). Roughly translated, that means a salad of lettuce and peaches, but that hardly does justice to this joyous commingling of avocado, cotija cheese, pickled red onions, peaches (if in season), and spicy peanuts atop a bed of Little Gem. Dressed with a smoked-jalapeño vinaigrette, it’s bright, balanced, and unexpectedly decadent. If ever a salad could inspire deathbed longing, it’s this one.
Runner-up: Jane

Pasta: SPQR
1911 Fillmore St. (at Wilmot St.), 415-771-7779
Plenty of chefs can make exceptional fresh pasta. But few know how to dress it up as beautifully as Matthew Accarrino. At SPQR, the chef plays the role of expert costumer, clothing smoked-sturgeon-stuffed pyramidi pasta in fennel soffrito and brown butter, and embellishing Meyer lemon linguine with garlic chips, bottarga, and an abalone “Alfredo.” He’s matched king crab and smoked tomato to ribbons of Senise pepper pasta and pancetta and fava leaves to cocoa-bean rigatoni. But most important, his pasta’s wardrobe isn’t trendy. It is, in the manner of the truly stylish, timeless.
Runner-up: Flour + Water

Bread Basket: Aster
1001 Guerrero St. (at 22nd St.), 415-875-9810
Restaurant bread baskets: so deceptively simple, and so terribly taken for granted. But as Aster’s demonstrates, a good one is something to marvel at. The bread is sourdough, made on the premises and served in thick, warm, floppy slices fanned out over a ceramic plate paved with house-cultured butter and sprinkled with flaky salt. It is, no exaggeration, the Platonic ideal of bread and butter, and worth every cent of its $5 price tag.
Runner-up: Tartine Manufactory 

Vegetarian Sandwich: Salumeria
3000 20th St. (near Alabama St.), 415-471-2998

Don’t let the name make you think otherwise: The Ne Timeas group’s sandwich shop knows how to treat vegetarians. Instead of offering the quota-filling cheese-plus-tomatoes number that darkens most deli menus, Salumeria halves a mini-loaf of ciabatta and loads it with black olive hummus, arugula, pickled onions, and avocado, then anoints it all with red-wine vinaigrette. It’s a beaut and a brute, and the lunchtime answer to many an herbivore’s prayer.
Runner-up: the Sentinel

Thin-Crust Pizza: Una Pizza Napoletana
210 11th St. (at Howard St.), 415-861-3444
Pizza making meets performance art. Working in the center of a soaring warehouse, the dome of a blue-tiled oven rising behind him, Anthony Mangieri cuts a dramatic figure. But the true star power belongs to his pies. Blistered at the edges and tender in the middle, they come in five restrained styles (a sixth, topped with eggs and salami, is available on Saturdays only), including an impeccably simple margherita and a summery one called the Iliara, which uses fresh tomatoes in lieu of sauce. Pounding dough at his worktable, Mangieri makes good theater. Dinner’s even better than the show.
Runner-up: Fiorella

Sicilian Pizza: Golden Boy Pizza
542 Green St. (at Jasper Pl.), 415-982-9738
The complaints of cranky New York transplants notwithstanding, one thing San Francisco has in spades is good pizza—much of it of the thin-crusted, Neapolitan-adjacent, and, well, round variety. One delightful exception: the square, Sicilian-style pizza at Golden Boy, where the line stretches out the door even at odd hours of the afternoon and especially during the late-night shift, when these substantial, grease-slicked slices have sobered up many a wobbly-legged partygoer. Go for whatever’s fresh from the oven, or throw caution to the wind and snag a clam-and-garlic slice, which is a marvel of charred parsley, briny oceanic flavors, and, best of all, a true Sicilian pizza’s characteristic crunchy, olive oil–soaked, golden-brown undercrust.
Runner-up: Slice House 

Taco: La Taqueria
2889 Mission St. (near 25th St.), 415-285-7117
You may have heard about how a prominent data-based journalism outlet proclaimed this Mission Street standby’s burritos the best in all the land. What you might not know is that La Taqueria’s tacos are even better. It all starts with the quality of the meats—the obscenely juicy carne asada and the lush, fatty carnitas, which takes on a lovely kiss of smoke from the grill. Then there’s the creamy savoriness of the pinto beans, the zippy heat of the green salsa, and, if you splurge on the $6.40 “super” taco, the added decadence of guacamole, sour cream, and cheese. Inside tip: Order your tacos “dorado” and you’ll get a crunchy corn tortilla shell tucked inside the usual soft one.
Runner-up: Taqueria Vallarta

Fish Taco: Pancho Villa Taqueria
3071 16th St. (at Rondel Pl.), 415-864-8840
Finding great tacos in San Francisco is as easy as finding sand on a beach. But fish tacos? Not so much—at least until you belly up to the counter at Pancho Villa. Whether you order the salmon ($3.75) or the red snapper ($3.25), the fish will arrive grilled, silky, and cradled by a double layer of tortillas with just enough crema, lettuce, and salsa to enhance its aquatic charms. The tacos are presented like bouquets, and the message is clear: Why say “I love you” with flowers when you can do it with fish tacos?
Runner-up: Taqueria San Jose

Grain Bowl: Craftsman and Wolves
Multiple locations, craftsman-wolves.com
The first thing you need to know about Craftsman and Wolves’ grain bowl ($11) is that, while described as a grain bowl on the menu, it is in actuality served on a plate. The second thing you need to know is that it is everything you want a grain bowl to be. The grain in question here is wild rice, cooked tender but with bite, and might be accompanied by asparagus, tatsoi, slices of hard-cooked egg, and—if you pay $2 extra—buttery chunks of avocado. Finished with a sweet-tart honey-mustard dressing, it’s a triumph of taste over semantics.
Runner-up: Nourish Cafe

Veggie Burger: WesBurger ’n’ More
2240 Mission St. (near 18th St.), 415-745-9371
Yes, the Impossible Burger has come to save us, but there’s still a place for the proudly old-school veggie burger, particularly if it’s served like Wes Rowe serves it. All of the chef’s burgers can be made with veggie patties, which he constructs from pinto beans, mushrooms, barley, and panko. But you won’t be thinking about beans when you eat the Okie burger, with its mess of grilled onions, mustard, bread-and-butter pickles, and American cheese. You’ll be thinking that you’re playing dirty pool, and winning handily.
Runner-up: the Lodge on Haight

Meat Sandwich: Dip
1318 Grant Ave. (near Vallejo St.), 415-757-0775
Open the dictionary to the term “gilding the lily” and you might find a picture of the porchetta sandwich ($13) at Dip. Lush, fat-laden roast pork—both shoulder and belly—and a slather of rich arugula pesto already threaten to make this too decadent for workday lunch fare. Then you have to account for the fact that, like all the sandwiches here, the porchetta is presented as a French dip, which means you still have the tub of super-savory, slow-simmered au jus to reckon with. Oh, but it is good: richness on top of richness.
Runner-up: Buster’s

Ramen: Mensho Tokyo
672 Geary St. (near Leavenworth St.), 415-800-8345
There’s no reason to stand in line for an hour just to order a bowl of noodles—that is, unless it’s a bowl of the tori paitan ramen ($16) at Mensho Tokyo in the Tenderloin. Nearly a year and a half after its debut, the Japanese chain’s first U.S. outpost shows no signs of getting less busy. And no wonder: None of the local ramen joints that serve the thick, milky, chicken-based paitan-style broth boast a soup base that’s as rich and well-balanced as Mensho’s—or thick ramen noodles that are as perfectly springy, or chashu that’s as tender and jiggly. And Mensho’s soupless aburasoba ($9)—noodles and toppings in a garlicky sauce made with pork fat—is so good it renders all but the most flavorful ramen broths obsolete.
Runner-up: Orenchi Beyond

Bar Food: ABV
3174 16th St. (near Guerrero St.), 415-400-4748
Good bar food is just good food with a very specific set of requirements. You don’t want anything too needy of your attention or utensils. You don’t want something highfalutin or totally uninspired. You want the bar food at ABV, where you can use your fingers to pluck grilled asparagus from a smear of garlic ramp cream, succulent octopus tendrils from a basket of fries ($10), and za’atar-freckled carrots from a puddle of yogurt. This is pub grub that soaks up alcohol while displaying its own powers of intoxication.
Runner-up: Old Bus Tavern

RETAIL 

Prepared Foods: Canyon Market
2815 Diamond St. (at Wilder St.), 415-586-9999
“Prepared foods” describes a comforting purgatory that exists between eating out and cooking at home. It’s particularly comforting if the food is prepared by Canyon Market, where a display case the length of a tractor trailer is stocked with everything from enchilada pie and cochinita pibil to stacks of grilled eggplant and a quinoa risotto served in the form of a savory cake. Add to that Canyon’s impressive assortment of spreads and dips, and you have plenty of reasons to never patronize either restaurant or stove again.
Runner-up: Bi-Rite Market

Cheesemonger: Cowgirl Creamery
Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Embarcadero (at Market St.), 415-362-9354
Whereas a lot of cheesemongers try to capture the world under one roof, Cowgirl Creamery gives its customers California—or, rather, the best dairy that the state has to offer. In doing so, it has emerged as a champion of both local farms and people who like to eat great cheese. While its Ferry Building kiosk houses some imports, it’s wheels like the Point Reyes Toma, the Redwood Hill smoked goat cheddar, the Bleating Heart, and Death & Taxes, along with Cowgirl’s own roster of cheeses, that really make the place special.
Runner-up: 24th Street Cheese Company 

 

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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