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The Best Places to Eat in S.F. in 2018

From Salvadoran breakfast cakes to late-night biryani, this city will keep you well-fed from dawn to dusk.

SLIDESHOW

True Laurel

(1 of 7)

RT Rotisserie

Photo: Kassie Borreson/RT Rotisserie

(2 of 7)

Eight Tables

Photo: Robert Birnbach/Courtesy of Eight Tables

(3 of 7)

 

'aina

Photo: Eric Wolfinger/Courtesy of 'aina

(4 of 7)

Les Gourmands Bakery

(5 of 7)

Three Babes Bakeshop

(6 of 7)

Gibson

(7 of 7)

Read more Best of San Francisco 2018 here.


SQUARE MEALS

Weekday Breakfast: Cassava
3519 Balboa St., 415-640-8990
The typical Western sit-down breakfast loads a person up with carbs and fried meats. Consider, instead, easing into the morning with Cassava’s Japanese breakfast ($11). The particulars change from day to day, but there’s always a poached egg, juicy cubes of stewed daikon, miso soup, some kind of pickled vegetable, and, optionally, a piece of fatty black cod (or some other fish) and a plate of housemade black-turtle-bean natto, all delicious when chopsticked over nutty koshihikari rice. Something pungent, something unctuous, something vinegary and crunchy, nothing too intensely salty. Like stretching your limbs, it’s a gentler way to wake up all of the different parts of your palate in the morning.
Runner-up: Tartine Manufactory

Khao Mun Gai: Kin Khao
55 Cyril Magnin St., 415-362-7456
Last year truly was the year of the rooster, and not just in the zodiacal sense. There was also the number of new counter-service restaurants specializing in the Thai chicken-and-rice dish known as khao mun gai, the latest manifestation of our region-wide fast-casual craze. Still, for the best khao mun gai, you’ll have to dine at a proper sit-down restaurant: The version on Kin Khao’s lunch menu ($19) passes the dish’s most basic requirement—tender poached chicken—but it’s the other components that really shine: the punchy fermented-­soybean dipping sauce, the bowl of soul-restorative chicken broth, and, best of all, the mound of impeccably cooked jasmine rice that glistens, gloriously, with a slick of chicken fat.
Runner-up: Hawker Fare

Lasagna: Italian Homemade Company
716 Columbus Ave., 415-712-8874; 1919 Union St., 415-655-9325
The wonders of Italian Homemade’s meat lasagna ($12) start with the size of a single portion, which nearly spans the circumference of a paper plate—an alarming amount of layered pasta, béchamel, and cheese for a person to eat in one sitting, and maybe twice as much orange-tinted Bolognese sauce as is strictly necessary. But this is pretty much the Platonic ideal of Italian-grandma food, each oozy bite deeply familiar and comforting. So maybe you won’t finish the whole plate all by yourself. It won’t be from a lack of desire.
Runner-up: Marcella’s Lasagneria

Rotisserie Chicken: RT Rotisserie
101 Oak St., 415-829-7086
Though our prehistoric forebears likely came up with the concept—skewer a bird on a stick and set it turning over an open flame—we can’t give them credit for its perfection. That honor goes to Evan and Sarah Rich, proprietors of this counter-service spin-off of Rich Table. Served with your choice of sauces, the Riches’ chickens are bronzed beauties, both dark and light meat done just so, hot juices waiting to gush forth from beneath crackling skin. You can get the birds half ($10) or whole ($19), but either way it’s over in a blur of primal pleasure. The only difference is the number of clean bones left on your plate.
Runner-up: Souvla

Chinese American: Mr. Jiu’s
28 Waverly Pl., 415-857-9688
Americanized Chinese restaurants have long gotten a bad rap, with their limp lo mein and gloopy, oversweet sauces. Thank goodness, then, for chefs like Brandon Jew, part of a vanguard of cooks creating a new kind of Chinese American cuisine—filtered, in the case of Jew’s glamorous Chinatown restaurant, through the lens of Northern Californian techniques and ingredients: crackly-sweet Dutch crunch pork buns ($11), or prawn toast ($9) fried in lard and crowned with trout roe. This isn’t your grandfather’s dim sum, but it represents something even rarer: food you can’t imagine being cooked anywhere else.
Runner-up: Mission Chinese Food

Fried Chicken Sandwich: The Bird
115 New Montgomery St., 415-872-9825
When the craving for a proper fried chicken sandwich hits, it makes sense to seek out a specialist—ideally this SoMa fast-casual joint, where you’ll find nary a beef patty or grilled breast on the menu. The sando in question ($8) is pretty much flawless: the tender brined thigh, the airy-crisp crust, the squishy bun, and, best of all, if you opt for the spicy version, the hit of Nashville-hot-chicken-inspired heat.
Runner-up: Rhea’s Cafe

Palate Teaser: Eight Tables
8 Kenneth Rexroth Pl., 415-788-8788
Forget an amuse-bouche. The Chinese have long known about the palate-opening benefits of a series of light, cold dishes at the beginning of a heavy meal. At George Chen’s private château-style $225 tasting-menu restaurant, the practice is taken to particularly elegant heights in the form of the Jiu Gong Ge first course: a tray of nine one-bite plates, each presented gorgeously in a tiny porcelain bowl and representing a quintessential Chinese flavor: say, a sweet stuffed jujube, poached chicken wrapped around a salt-cured egg yolk, or smoky fried smelt.
Runner-up: Nightbird

Homestyle Mexican: El Buen Comer
3435 Mission St., 415-817-1542
San Franciscans are well versed in the vocabulary of burritos and even bougie $6 tacos. But when it comes to the homey stews and braises known as guisados, many of us are relative novices. It is a special delight, then, to sit down at El Buen Comer and order family-style, as chef Isabel Caudillo suggests, a couple of the guisados, rice and beans, and a heap of gorgeously blistered tortillas. As for the guisados, it’s hard to go wrong, but our favorite boasts luscious chunks of pork enrobed in pumpkin-seed-and-tomatillo mole verde ($17/$36/$45) that’s so velvety and full flavored, you’ll want to lick the bowl clean.
Runner-up: Poc-Chuc

French: Bar Crenn
3131 Fillmore St., 415-440-0460
Haute French cuisine may no longer represent the height of fashion in the Bay Area, but it’s doing just fine, thank you, at this swish bar and lounge, where Dominique Crenn doffs her toque to the giants of Gallic gastronomy. Her homage of a menu reproduces recipes from singular chefs, including such iconic dishes as iced poached oysters à la Guy Savoy ($5 each) and tarte flambée as Alain Ducasse makes it ($17). Another item on offer is buttery brioche ($10) with a side of whipped beef fat, drawn straight from the mind of another brilliant French chef: Crenn herself.
Runner-up: Cafe Jacqueline

Tasting Menu: Avery
1552 Fillmore St., 415-817-1187
Gone is the heyday of the torturously long tasting menu, those fussy degustations that Monty Python mocked. At Avery, an exemplar of today’s model prix fixe evening, the service is crisply paced, the food Asian-inflected, the vibe tech-age cool. You book by buying a ticket: 7 to 8 courses ($89) or 13 to 15 courses ($189). A bright curry of lobster with coconut and lentils is emblematic of the cooking. Ditto cured horse mackerel spread over lime gelée. Dressed in stone-washed jeans and sport coats, the servers spare you elaborate disquisitions, though they take time to suggest that you eat the Osetra caviar straight from your hand.
Runner-up: Nightbird

Soul Food: Auntie April’s Chicken, Waffles, and Soul Food
4618 3rd St., 415-643-4983
The shrimp and grits ($9/$15) alone is worth a trip to the Bayview. The soul of that dish is a generous pool of dark-brown gravy, enlivened, if you opt for the spicy version, with a tingle of chili heat. It’s the kind of gravy you want to dunk everything in, and Auntie April’s provides plenty of options: the lush corn grits, of course, but also cornbread, craggy-crusted fried chicken, and perhaps your own fingers, dipped, double dipped, and then licked clean.
Runner-up: Brenda’s Meat & Three

Spa Food: Onsen
466 Eddy St., 415-441-4987
What do you eat after a two-hour soak in a 104-degree communal tub, when you’re feeling as refreshed and healthy as you ever have—pores wide open, limbs and muscles all loosey-goosey? Nothing too heavy, that’s a given. But Onsen’s ­Japanese-inspired menu is proof that spa fare doesn’t have to skimp on flavor. Not when you’re feasting on chicken-meatball skewers ($12) dipped in yuzu-kosho aioli, or a luxuriously jiggly egg custard topped with uni, or udon in a wholesome ginger broth. Chase it all down with hot oolong tea or, if you aren’t feeling overly ascetic, maybe a soju cocktail or two.
Runner-up: Archimedes Banya

Chef’s Table: ‘aina
900 22nd St., 415-814-3815
The top of the menu promises a “mo’olelo,” or story, woven into chef de cuisine Chris Yang’s $80 chef’s table prix fixe. That might sound like standard PR boilerplate translated into Hawaiian, but ‘aina delivers the goods. Available only at the intimate six-seat countertop, the prix fixe gets you the chef’s undivided attention for the night as Yang waxes nostalgic about his grandma’s tea-smoked duck, or the misoyaki butterfish that made him want to become a chef, or the history of Hawaiian cowboys. The menu changes from night to night, and chances are, at least two or three dishes will linger in your memory—perhaps the charsiu-style duck manapua buns, which come topped with a slice of Grandma’s pride and joy.
Runner-up: Mr. Pollo

Tapas Bar: Barvale
661 Divisadero St., 415-654-5211
For too long in this city, going out for tapas has been synonymous with an expensive night out. That’s not the norm in Barcelona, and thankfully it isn’t at Barvale, either. Not when you can order three cold tapas—say, tomato bread, anchovies, and a big wedge of classic Spanish tortilla—for $16 and make a light meal of it. And not when the larger plates, like the rib-sticking braised oxtails, are portioned generously enough for a family of four to split.
Runner-up: Barcino

Fast Casual: Marugame Udon
3251 20th Ave., 415-680-1280
Besides the 45-­minute queues that often form, Marugame is the ideal quick-service restaurant: You grab a tray. You watch as fresh noodles are churned out of a machine, then boiled in single-serving batches, then passed on to another worker, who arranges your bowl according to your order: noodles in soup with marinated beef and an egg ($8.50), or in a pool of Japanese curry ($6.90), or naked in a wooden tub, with dipping sauce on the side ($4.50). Then it’s on to the help-yourself tempura and rice ball station. Everything is delicious, jaw-­droppingly inexpensive, and blazingly efficient. (Except for that line, of course.)
Runner-up: RT Rotisserie

Pakistani: Pakwan
Multiple locations, pakwanrestaurant.com
How many late nights out in the Mission and the Lower Haight have been saved by Pakwan, where even at 10 p.m. you can cut through the alcohol with a steaming-hot plate of lamb biryani and a round or two of garlic naan? Not that the restaurant is just a place to fill up on late-night drunk food—though it is that. It also serves some of the most boldly spiced Pakistani food in town. Look no further than that biryani, the glistening grains of rice loaded with caramelized onions, fatty lamb, and so much savory, deeply satisfying flavor.
Runner-up: Aslam’s Rasoi


TREATS

Ice Cream Sandwich: Milkbomb
1717 17th St., 415-780-4429
Ice cream sandwiches are almost always better in theory than in practice. The cookies are too hard and the ice cream all squishes out, or they’re too warm and everything melts into a gooey mess. Which is why Milkbomb’s central product is such an unexpected stroke of genius. Loosely patterned after the Sicilian custom of sandwiching gelato inside brioche, the Milkbomb ($5.70) turns warm glazed doughnuts into compact, mess-free vessels for housemade ice cream. It all holds together just long enough for an eager ice cream eater to polish off every last bite.
Runner-up: Bi-Rite Creamery

Croissant: Arsicault Bakery
397 Arguello Blvd., 415-750-9460 Every croissant worth eating could be fairly described as flaky and buttery. But Armando Lacayo churns out croissants ($3.75) that are so good, they stretch the limits of our usual vocabulary for laminated pastry. Each crisp, golden-brown specimen is astonishingly flaky, so much so that you may find your shirt covered with tiny shards within the first couple of bites. The insides are improbably tender and light, with a swirl of air pockets and a deep butter flavor. One of these, snagged when it’s still warm, might be the most elemental form of pastry bliss in the city. ­
Runner-up: B. Patisserie

Sweet Bread: Les Gourmands Bakery
280 5th St., 415-872-9461
In the hierarchy of French prestige baking, the croissants and kouign amanns are the divas that tend to dominate all conversation. So it’s refreshing to visit this SoMa newcomer and find another star player altogether: brioche. At Les Gourmands, this sweet bread is made with good Normandy butter and takes on dozens of shapes: made into a simple bun that might serve as a child’s lunch, or rolled up like a fossilized snail and studded with chocolate, or, in the case of the Supreme ($5.50), sliced in half and filled with almond cream so it resembles a cross between a cream puff and an almond croissant. Tender richness on top of tender richness, it’s almost too much.
Runner-up: Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Pie: Three Babes Bakeshop
2501 Phelps St., 415-617-9774
The baking maestras behind Three Babes understand that pies aren’t meant to be cookie-cutter. Each pie on their menu has its own style: crowned with a classic all-butter lattice top or a toasty-crunchy crumble, or undergirded with a crust made of crushed graham crackers. Many of the pies are at the pinnacle of their form: the banana cream pie, all lightness and fluff; the crumble pies, whose topping is akin to a crisp oatmeal cookie; and Three Babes’ trademark salted honey walnut pie, with its luscious, custardy insides.
Runner-up: Mission Pie

Restaurant Dessert: In Situ
SFMOMA, 151 3rd St., 415-941-6050
Some desserts are comforting in their familiarity; others are meant to surprise and delight. Rare is the dessert that accomplishes both on the level of In Situ’s Jasper Hill Farm Cheesecake ($22), a replica of a dish by Albert Adrià of Tickets in Barcelona. Served on a wooden board, the dish is, at first glance, the spitting image of a traditional cheese course, down to what looks like a dusting of mold on a wheel of brie. Cut out a wedge, though, and you realize that the rind is sweet, made of white chocolate and hazelnut, and that while the cheese inside has a savory funk, its texture is akin to the lightest, airiest cheesecake. Spread on butter cookies, it makes for a sublime taste—like a magic trick, but one whose secrets you somehow knew all along.
Runner-up: Nightbird

Fast Food Dessert: Top Round
2962 24th St., 415-780-3811
Best known for its roast beef sandwiches, this Los Angeles–based chain’s real contribution to the San Francisco food scene is its version of the mostly midwestern treat known as the concrete ($5.99): frozen custard blended with an array of toppings and chunky mix-ins—say, bananas, salted peanuts, and hot fudge, or Oreos, marshmallows, and whipped cream. The result is halfway between a milkshake and a half-melted sundae, liable to start dripping down your sleeve before you’ve even taken your first spoonful. This is a dessert whose messiness you embrace, especially since by the end you wind up with every kid’s favorite indulgence: ice cream soup.
Runner-up: Super Duper Burgers


DRINKS

Wine List: A16
2355 Chestnut St., 415-771-2216
For decades now, Shelley Lindgren has crisscrossed central and southern Italy, driven by an interest in indigenous grapes. Her wine list at A16 reads like a collection of impassioned postcards conveying her enchantment with finds such as frappato, a fruit-forward red varietal rooted in Sicily, or carricante, a bright and stony white that flourishes on Etna’s volcanic slopes. Once unfamiliar around these parts, many of Lindgren’s early favorites have become local fixtures (ah, good ol’ greco di tufo!). But because she keeps exploring, she remains a wine director in the role of travel guide, always introducing diners to something new.
Runner-up: Benu

Cocktail Menu: True Laurel
753 Alabama St., 415-341-0020
At Lazy Bear’s bar offshoot, every drink is an exercise in discovery. One might feature a cider made from fermented pears and a smoked-salt-and-blackened-citrus rim; another might boast perfectly spherical droplets of bright-green shiso oil. Instead of the usual barrage of brown spirits, co-owner Nicolas Torres wields an array of fortified wines, fruit infusions, and spiced spirits like aquavit, resulting in balanced drinks that are a little bit lighter on the palate and go down smoothly with food. Mostly, they’re a reminder of a fact that sometimes gets lost: At the end of the day, cocktails are supposed to be fun.
Runner-up: The Saratoga

Teahouse: Asha Tea House
17 Kearny St., 415-549-3688
The Bay Area is home to probably a thousand boba shops and just a handful of high-end teahouses geared toward oolong and matcha connoisseurs. Asha is the rare shop that straddles both worlds. Its boba drinks are a cut above—the tapioca balls just soft enough and, often, still warm; the seasonal fruit teas loaded with fresh pulp. But grab a seat at the back counter and you can indulge in traditional tea service that’s as intimate, and as thoughtfully sourced, as at any fancy teahouse in town.
Runner-up: Samovar Tea Bar

Housemade Soda: The Ice Cream Bar
815 Cole St., 415-742-4932
Lots of restaurants have soda “programs” these days. But if you want to feel less like you’re drinking a trend and more like you’ve been transported back to a ’50s soda fountain, this Cole Valley throwback is where it’s at. Scoot up to the counter and geek out over phosphates and bottles upon bottles of tinctures that the soda jerks make in-house. If you want offbeat flavors, try the (fairly intense!) candy cap mushroom soda. If you just want to feel like your own grandpa, try the frothy egg cream soda, which, raw egg yolk and all, tastes like the creamiest, most comforting ice cream float you’ve ever had.
Runner-up: Roam Artisan Burgers

Bloody Mary: Gibson
111 Mason St., 415-771-7709
The clear Bloody Mary ($14) at Gibson relies on simple sleight of hand: Beverage director Adam Chapman uses clarified tomato water instead of regular tomato juice to infuse the drink with the essence of a peak-season heirloom tomato without a hint of its color. More than a gimmick, though, it’s one of the most compulsively drinkable Bloody Marys we’ve ever had—mellower and less aggressively spicy and vinegary, with the natural sweetness of the tomato water front and center and the addition of shoyu ponzu and togarashi taking the drink in a more savory, Japanese direction. Since Gibson isn’t currently open for brunch, the drink’s popularity is proof that evenings make for a perfectly good Bloody Mary time too.
Runner-up: Zuni Cafe


CITY STAPLES

Breakfast Burrito: El Castillito
136 Church St., 415-621-3428
In California’s rough-and-tumble world of burrito fandom, the rice-versus-potato debate is serious business, pitting North against South, hermana against hermano, and the reasonable against the wrongheaded. But all burrito lovers should come together in praise of El Castillito’s sublime breakfast burrito ($7.39), which dispenses with extraneous carb fillers altogether. No mushy rice. No soggy potatoes. Instead, these foil-wrapped beauties are stuffed entirely with chorizo and eggs that have been cooked together to form a kind of meaty, well-spiced scramble. The finishing touch: a dollop of pico de gallo for tangy brightness and some nominal vegetable content.
Runner-up: Taqueria Cancun

Breakfast Sandwich: Newkirk’s
1002 Potrero Ave. (Near 22nd St.), 415-962-7695
When it comes to the humble East Coast–style breakfast sandwich, we Left Coasters have a tendency to overcomplicate things with over-the-top meats, obscure cheeses, and excess greenery. At Newkirk’s, the basic egg sandwich ($7) has everything a right-minded person would want in a breakfast sandwich—crisp bacon, a fried egg, melted American cheese, and a soft bun—and not one thing more. Even better, it costs about half as much as some of the more fancily composed options in town.
Runner-up: Tartine Manufactory

Vietnamese Noodle Soup: Mong Thu Cafe
248 Hyde St., 415-928-6724
In terms of sheer name recognition, pho might be king of the Vietnamese noodle soups. But noodle lovers shouldn’t sleep on the lesser-known regional dishes that can be found in well-hidden pockets of the city. At the tiny, family-run Tenderloin restaurant Mong Thu, the bun rieu is a knockout dish. The soup, with its juicy pork meatballs and crab-infused tomato broth, is as homey and soul satisfying as a noodle bowl gets. Better yet, try the bun mam, whose funky broth is spiked with fermented fish. You can’t go wrong.
Runner-up: Turtle Tower

Veggie Burger: Cockscomb
564 4th St., 415-974-0700
The Impossible Burger has gone from being almost impossible to find to being the latest plaything for celebrity chefs—a fixture, already, on dozens of Bay Area menus. Chris Cosentino’s version ($19) isn’t just one of the best veggie burgers in town; it’s a pretty great burger, period. It turns out the key isn’t the fact that the faux-meat patty “bleeds”—its most famous trait—but rather the basic Maillard reaction: The well-charred crust makes the burger taste great. Add simple complementary elements that don’t get in the way (lettuce, pickles, caramelized onions, Dijon mayo, cheese), and you wind up with a burger you’ll crave even when it isn’t Meatless Monday.
Runner-up: Popson’s

Pasta: Che Fico
838 Divisadero St., 415-416-6959
Even in this age of automation, there are certain things machines still cannot do. They can’t produce pasta of the pliancy that David Nayfeld expects in his orecchiette ($26), or plump his agnolotti ($26) with a braised-lamb-and-­artichoke filling—at least not with the artfulness that the chef achieves with his own hands and a wooden rolling pin. Nayfeld isn’t doctrinaire; he’ll rely on an extruder when it’s right for the job. But not, for instance, when turning out his triangoli ($23), a three-cornered pasta that he fills with sheep’s milk cheese and flecks with mint, walnut, and honey before serving it proudly in a new-world setting where an old-world tradition is alive and well.
Runner-up: Quince

Dim Sum: Dragon Beaux
5700 Geary Blvd., 415-333-8899
With its mushroom-and-chicken bao that resembles a thick-capped dried shiitake and its rice-crepe rolls with a jewellike reddish hue, Dragon Beaux is easily the most Instagrammable of the city’s dim sum options. It’s also the most delicious. Those rice rolls, for instance, are filled with crispy, batter-fried fish—the perfect contrast to the steamed noodles’ soft, slippery exterior. Plump shrimp dumplings come topped with exceptional, umami-rich XO sauce. And the classic siu mai, crowned by a thin slice of fresh scallop, might be the juiciest version in the whole Bay Area.
Runner-up: Hong Kong Lounge II

Ramen: Iza Ramen
237 Fillmore St., 415-926-8173; 1155 Folsom St., 628-444-3070
Of all the innovations in the world of contemporary ramen, none has captured the noodle lover’s imagination quite like tsukemen, in which springy noodles and an intense, concentrated broth are brought to the table separately for the diner’s dipping pleasure. And no San Francisco ramen shop has mastered the style like Iza Ramen, where the gravy-like tsukemen ($14) broth is luxuriously thick, with bold, complex layers of flavor—garlicky, briny, jam-packed with umami to the millionth degree. Dip some noodles into the broth. Slurp. Repeat. Immediately start planning your next visit.
Runner-up: Mensho Ramen

Chinese Barbecue: Hing Lung Company
1261 Stockton St., 415-397-5521
The Chinese barbecue shop, with its menagerie of roast ducks hanging in the win dow, is a mainstay of any Chinatown. And Hing Lung is in all ways a classic of the genre, except with the addition of a small but well-tended selection of fresh meat. Mostly, this pint-size shop sells the same roast meats by the pound as every other barbecue specialist; it just manages to achieve the most consistently excellent results. The honey-brushed char siu is uncommonly succulent. And the thick shards of crunchy skin that come with each order of roast pig are among Chinatown’s greatest treasures.
Runner-up: New Moon

Housemade Hot Sauce: Azalina’s
1355 Market St., 415-660-2020
For chiliheads, this is the first rule of dining out: Always, always ask if a restaurant has hot sauce available. At Azalina’s, that query yields a tub of Azalina Eusope’s potent Malaysian sambal, a thick burgundy paste that she makes using seven kinds of chili pepper, all grown in the East Bay and prepared in various ways—roasted, fermented, raw—before they’re pulverized together. Try the sambal on its own and it will straight-up set your tongue on fire—but not before its other flavors bloom: fruity, charred, slightly sweet. Mix a dab into stir-fried noodles and you’ll swear you’ve seen God.
Runner-up: Mr. Jiu’s

Bar Food: True Laurel
753 Alabama St., 415-341-0020
The proprietors of True Laurel will be the first to tell you that the Lazy Bear spin-off is first and foremost a cocktail bar, and a quick glance at the menu, divided into such categories as “small items” and “items that are also small,” might not lead you to think that this is a place where you’d want to sit down for dinner. But then chef David Barzelay works his magic, and you wind up with a menu of knockout hit after knockout hit: braised oysters topped with paper-thin lardo, fried mushrooms served with an absurdly delicious twist on sour-cream-and-onion dip, and a compact patty melt that, pound for pound, might be the best burger in the city.
Runner-up: The Snug

Bread Service: Gibson
111 Mason St., 415-771-7709
Once a starchy supplement that restaurants served for free, bread now claims a price as a course on many menus. This can seem like overreach, or worse, like over-charging. But not at this lively bistro, in the Hotel Bijou, where the bread is crusty sourdough, fresh from a wood-fired hearth, offered with a choice of spreads and dips. The loaves are large and round, and they crack like earthenware, exposing a warm world of soft and yeasty goodness. Smeared with house-cultured butter ($5), they’re a worthy course, alright. But dredge them through a purée of roasted cauliflower with curried currants ($9), and they’re pretty much a meal all on their own.
Runner-up: Aster


RETAIL

Supermarket Bento Boxes: Super Mira Market
1790 Sutter St., 415-921-6529
In this era of the sad desk salad, the Japanese bento box is a welcome upgrade to any lunch takeaway rotation. While the large chains might boast a bigger selection, this charming little market is tops when it comes to the consistent excellence of its prepared meals, which might consist of, say, grilled salmon belly, a scoop of potato salad, a batter-fried shrimp, rice, and a hodgepodge of bright pickled things. And the oden, a stew loaded with an assortment of colorful fish cakes, is delicious hot or cold. Like so many of Super Mira’s offerings, it has the soulfulness of a home-cooked meal.
Runner-up: Nijiya Supermarket

Latin Bakery: Panaderia La Mexicana Bakery
2804 24th St., 415-648-2633
Tartine Bakery and its ilk deserve credit for bringing artisanal sourdough to the Mission, but the Latino heart of the neighborhood has long been perfumed with the smell of fresh-baked bread. The best of its panaderias stands out for the eggy richness of its pan dulce, which comes not just in the traditional concha seashell form but also in fun shapes like a turtle or an alligator. Expand your pastry horizons with the custard-filled empanadas, which are like little hand pies, or the savory-sweet Salvadoran sesame-seed cake known as a quesadilla, which resembles a tender, cheesy cornbread and makes for the ideal breakfast.
Runner-up: La Victoria

 


Originally published in the July issue of
San Francisco

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