The 10 Best Bay Area Restaurants That Opened in 2019
From wagyu steaks and $50 burgers to all types of comfort food
In these strange times, money (tons of it) and creativity (drawn here by all that cash, among other factors) have combined to create a roiling, super-fantastic, super-apocalyptic dining scene in the Bay Area.
You want a $50 burger with truffles (side of that caviar, too, please)? We have that now. A wagyu beef takeaway counter? That too. And if you want your food served by robots (since waitstaff can’t afford an apartment within commuting distance of the city), well, we’re sure that’s out there as well.
This list is an echo of some of those dichotomies. Think of it less a “best of” — since you could eat a different Michelin-starred meal every day for a year here before running out of options — and more as a “favorite meals at” list. These are the meals we most enjoyed eating in 2019, and think you will, too. Dine on and drink well, people.
Superlative Eastern European: Dear Inga
We could predict a wagyu-centric steakhouse or the slightest of tweaks on the ramen trend. but Dear Inga? Bratwurst and sauerkraut? Blood sausage and apple butter? Give us all the pork-jowl meatballs, all the rye glazes, all the melancholic smoked sturgeon. Sometimes what you want isn’t a celebratory ode to conquest (see: Selby’s, below) but comfort. Dear Inga has it in spades.
Middle Eastern Culinary Heritage Meets Burgermeister: Beit Rima
Ten years ago, no one sitting at the Church Street Burgermeister — ourselves included, since that was our pick of the city’s Burgermeister locations — could have guessed it would one day transform into Beit Rima, city-wide HQ for “Arab comfort food” (that’s how Samir Mogannam, son of Burgermeister’s founder, described his menu to the Chron). Our pick? The halloumi, noting that the grilled hanger steak with smoked freekeh, green zhug and marash is so good that we don’t even mind fighting for a seat after spending 30 bucks on dinner.
Bigger, Bolder and Better from Pim Techamuanvivit: Nari
Bangkok-born chef Pim Techamuanvivit earned a Michelin star for Kin Khao, her five-year-old Union Square Thai spot. Judging by the reception for Nari, she’ll have a small constellation’s worth with this new offering within the Hotel Kabuki. Everything is bigger, brighter and more reactive to Techamuanvivit’s boundless imagination. (Get everything, but start with the pla haeng tangmo: watermelon topped with sweet and salty crispy trout.)
A Wagyu-Centric Dream House: Gozu
A hundred years from now, maybe we’ll look back on this time as a high-water mark in our most deluxe foodie fever dreams: Gozu, the wagyu steakhouse with the sterling pedigree (including co-owner and executive chef Marc Zimmerman, formerly executive chef at Alexander’s Steakhouse). Best of all, Zimmerman’s 10-course, 15-item prixe-fixe menu is $150 — by no means a bargain, but you could imagine that price tag quite a bit higher, too.
Like We Said Above, But With Lobster Newburg: Selby’s
Selby’s follows Gozu for a reason: if Gozu is the neighborhood steakhouse in a wealthy neighborhood, Selby’s is the equivalent town hangout — at least in a town like Atherton, with a median income of nearly a half-million dollars. Come for the spectacle, stay for the 20,000-bottle wine list, kaluga caviar with cured Hokkaido scallop and that $50 “Black Label” burger with Australian black truffle.
Our Favorite Backyard BBQ Gets the Space It Deserves: 4505 Burgers & BBQ
Now for something completely different: S.F.’s best barbecue spreads out in Oakland’s Laurel District. All that extra space makes way for patio dining, whole-hog cooking and soft-serve ice cream, with malted vanilla ice cream cones and root beer floats — plus regular appearances from the pop-up favorite, chicharrones-breaded fried chicken sandwiches.
Today Oakland (and the Ferry Building), Tomorrow the World: Brown Sugar Kitchen
Tanya Holland took a giant leap forward with her plan for world-dominating soul food with the opening of the new BSK — a gleaming glow-up after 10 years on Mandela Parkway. The Ferry Building concession offers a greatest-hits menu — buttermilk-fried chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, beignets and buttermilk biscuits — but the Oakland spot is worth the trip for the full dinner menu (blackened catfish, braised oxtail) and cocktails (like the Brown Sugar Sangria).
Our Favorite New Bar (and Small-Plates Stop) of the Year: Elda
If you liked True Laurel — and that was our best bar of 2018/very late 2017 — you’ll love Elda, a product of the same brain trust (Eric Ochoa, Alvaro Rojas and Jay De Natale, whose fingerprints are similarly on the woodwork at ABV, Trou Normand, Bar Agricole and El Techo). Here, the aesthetic is like a mash-up of California, coastal Mexico, and the Caribbean — so basically, all the best beach vibes. Think Jamaican beef patties and rockfish ceviche, plus cocktails.
Gimme Some More of That Cheese and Potato: Matterhorn
Similar to Dear Inga, Matterhorn falls one firm step outside S.F. food trends. Debuting our most welcome reboot of 2019, new owners doubled down on the original Matterhorn concept, with all the fondue specials, wood paneling and rösti (the skillet-fried potatoes with bacon, egg and cheese of your carb-loading dreams) you could want. Any more après-ski chic and you’ll need to go to Tahoe (or better still, the Swiss Alps).
The Sunny Patio We Needed This Year: The Backyard
Our new favorite outdoor drinking spot. Grab a margarita. Or a cerveza? Or a glass of cremant? Or some agave? Or all of it? It’s been a weird year … do some intense self-care in the sunshine.