Culture | December 22, 2015 9:00 am

Table Stakes: Best of 2015

Our 7 favorite SF restaurant openings of the year

By The Editors

To keep tabs on every restaurant and bar opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past lunar cycle (or so). Bon appétit.

Chalk it up to the weather, the land, the Napa, the talent, the everything: we live in the “Best Food City in America.”

These seven restaurants represent our best-of list for 2015. Ask us tomorrow, and we could give you seven more.

Thanks for a great year, chefs of the Bay Area, and we can’t wait to see what you have up your collective sleeve in 2016.

For a city set so firmly in the future, it was heartening to see the resurrection of this 100-year-old Chinatown icon. When its owners came up against the Department of Health in 2012, they were backed — as S.F. Gate memorably recorded the scene — by “priests, hippies, architects and politicians all testifying one after the other, the line looked like the Canterbury Tales.” That’s the real San Francisco, the one that will outlast the bubbles, the rent hikes, the everything. The updated joint is a couple blocks away and a few seats bigger, but basically the same. Just as it should be.

Sam Wo, 713 Clay Street, (415) 989-8898, (map)

Gabriela Cámara is already a culinary star in her hometown of Mexico City — and she’s done the city a favor by bringing her first stateside restaurant, Cala, to your hometown. The aesthetic is pure S.F., with interiors courtesy of the same design team that did State Bird Provisions, and the philosophy is blessedly even-handed: budget diners can grab tacos de guisado at the just-opened walk-up annex next door, Tacos Cala. No seats, but you were probably planning on eating at your desk anyway.

Cala, 149 Fell Street, (415) 660-7701, (map)


There’s just something heartening about the caliber of cooks the Bay Area draws each year. Ninebark chef Matthew Lightner is as well pedigreed as they come: he’s a Noma grad and Food & Wine Best New Chef whose New York City restaurant, Atera, earned two Michelin stars and a spot on Bon App‘s Best 50 New Restaurants. Ninebark offers up his skills on an even bigger canvas, and we expect he’ll make the most of it.

Ninebark, 813 Main Street, (707) 226-7821, (map)

A sexy space on an unsexy corner, and one worth visiting for a menu that’ll make you hungry just thinking about it: potato and black pepper dumplings, black cod with chard leaves, red trout and peach, frozen chocolate with kumquat. The man to thank is chef and owner Brett Cooper, who put in several years at Outerlands before jumping ship to build his own enterprise here. Their loss is our gain.

Aster, 1001 Guerrero Street, (415) 875-9810, (map)

Dominique Crenn has two Michelin stars for Atelier Crenn, the Hayes Valley restaurant that pays homage to her father, a painter. Now she’s exploring her maternal family’s Breton heritage with Petit Crenn in the space of the former Bar Jules. Two seatings per night, with the sole option being a $79 tasting menu; à-la-carte-ers and walk-ins can grab a seat at the bar. Breakfast is served French style: think coffee and a newspaper, not bacon and eggs. 

Petit Crenn, 609 Hayes Street, (415) 864-1744, (map)

Melissa Perello is one of a handful of female American chefs to hold a Michelin star — which explains the excitement behind Octavia, which feels both more mature and more relaxed than Frances, its sister restaurant in the Castro, though it shares its commitment to yummy New American. Hop on it now if you want to order their special-for-the-holidays lumberjack cakes. 

Octavia, 1701 Octavia Street, (415) 408-7507, (map)


Emblematic of the growing number of pop-ups that put a ring on it, Liholiho Yacht Club had us from the go — if by “go,” you mean the Bluth cocktail, with Giffard Banane du Brésil liqueur and rum. Non-Arrested Development fans, meanwhile, may find themselves equally charmed by Hawaiian chef Ravi Kapur’s menu, based in the Aloha state but borrowing notes from all over Asia. We’ll go back for the spiced tuna belly every day and twice on Sunday, crowd be damned.

Liholiho Yacht Club, 871 Sutter Street, (415) 440-5456, (map)