Little Gem Chef Dave Cruz on His Ideal Day of Eating in SF
His picks include “dinner and drinks,” wine bars AND after-dinner drinks
Don’t let anyone tell you that the Little Gem crowd doesn’t know how to have a good time.
Chef Dave Cruz’s restaurant might be synonymous with clean, healthy eating (we once called it “the right lunch after a 10:45 Soulcycle class”), but apparently nobody knows how to let loose like a master of restraint.
We recently asked him where he goes on his days off, and Cruz — who detailed three classes of establishment with beverage service — did not disappoint.
If you like dinners that turn into all-night, multi-stop affairs, you gotta read this.
Southside Cafe (Napa)
“It might come as a surprise that there are few places in Napa — the land of world class food and wine — to have a great breakfast. Southside is my pick for simple, Latin-inflected California cuisine. Biscuits and gravy are spiked with chorizo, breakfast sandwiches contain spicy peppers with just the right amount of heat, and the chilaquiles always end up at the table.”
“When I am lucky enough to be out and about for breakfast in SF, it has to be good, period, and Plow makes food I crave. The vegetables are crisp and fresh, the broth is savory and satisfying, and the French toast and ricotta pancakes are what make the trip worthwhile.”
“Ad Hoc will always have a dear place in my heart, and so, too, will Addendum [editor’s note: Cruz was chef de cuisine at Addendum and Ad Hoc, as well as co-author of Ad Hoc at Home]. Whenever friends or family are in Napa, we just have to have fried chicken, and all these years later, I still love to eat it as much as I enjoy making it. Sitting at a picnic table in the garden with your closest people? In the middle of all that beautiful produce? With a boxes of finger-lickin’ goodness? That’s living.”
Tacos Cala (SF)
“When I travel, I love to discover those back-alley gems, the ones that make you feel like you’re part of a secret club for having known about them or even better having eaten at them. Going to the back door of Cala and eating one of each of the Mexico City-style tacos they’re serving that day is amazing because of course, the beans and meats and garnishes are fantastic, but the tortillas! Those fresh tortillas are everything, plus.”
Dinner and drinks
“This is hands-down my go-to for a day-off dinner. The food is phenomenal. The skewers and the ramen are standouts, but what I love most is how they combine gorgeous California ingredients with Japanese technique. The care and expertise with vegetables and meat and fish is worthy of any izakaya in Japan. The atmosphere, the staff and the overall feel of good energy is infectious, and even if you didn’t know anyone when you walked in, you’ll definitely have new friends by the time you walk out. Last, but not least: get the soft serve.”
Cadet Wine and Beer (Napa)
“If I ever had a wine bar, this is what I would want it to be. The owners are so cool, the staff is so friendly, and the list is straight rad. I’m always amazed by their wine and beer finds. They have such great taste and somehow know what the next ‘it’ thing is — and they love sharing it with you. Go there. Buy a bottle, pick a record.”
“When they opened the back patio at Birba it was a game changer. I’ve always loved their interesting wine list and small bites, and now that I can enjoy them al fresco, that’s where you’ll find me.”
“Dinner to me is about great food and great conversation. After-dinner drinks is about more great conversation. At Bouchon, the spirit selection is great, the wines are classic, and the environment is perfect for keeping the night rolling.”
“CC’s feels like a timepiece, one of those places that’s remained itself despite the city’s evolution. A cash-only operation with a pool table, jukebox, grandma’s house furniture and a weird location on Lombard. Bonus: if you’re hungry, they’re happy to order a pizza for you!”