2018 was a weird year. Thankfully, the news from our city’s kitchens was less ambiguous.
We had world-class openings from the ranks of the Michelin-starred. Innovative new projects from alums of places like Farmerbrown and Locanda. And a welcome number of tip-top fine-casual spots offering good food on a budget.
So here’s to our 10 favorite restaurant openings of 2018 — and their continued success in the year that lies ahead.
Dine on and drink well, people.
Angler (2 images)
Stellar “sea-life” from a superlative talent
It's no accident that Esquire named Angler its best new restaurant of 2018. Any restaurant can stock a worthy raw bar; only a chef like Joshua Skenes can convince you that he hand-selected each purple sea urchin and diamond turbot from their undersea homes. Skenes also told us that the on-premise Game Room Bar is his favorite drinking space in the city; who are we to argue?
True Laurel (2 images)
The top craft cocktail bar in town
We loved this craft cocktail spot from Nicolas Torres and David Barzelay so much that it was the only bar we dedicated an entire story to in 2018. It’s that great, from the glam, modern mid-century interiors to Barzelay’s small plates menu (get the oysters with tomato gelée and horseradish). Our top cocktail pick (the Golden Child, with mezcal, clarified golden beet, gentian wine reduction and black lime bitters) is currently off the regularly updated menu, but we’d happily drink whatever’s on offer.
Che Fico (2 images)
Superior pizzas, pastas and pies
We said in March that this gorgeous pizza and pasta spot on Divis would show up on myriad best-of-the-year lists — and so it is. (Including our own mention of the pappardelle al ragù on our list of the six best pasta dishes in town.) What we didn’t predict was that delicious Theorita downstairs — the meatloaf-and-pie project from the same team — would shutter in December. Look for a phoenix-like rebirth (in a smaller, cheaper place) in 2019.
Nyum Bai (2 images)
The success story of 2018
Only a grinch could root against chef Nite Yun, who was born in 1982 in a refugee camp in Thailand after her Cambodian parents fled the Khmer Rouge. Raised in Stockton, she didn’t visit her family’s homeland until 2007. At Nyum Bai — the name means, roughly, “Let’s eat” — she showcases their culinary traditions to spectacular effect.
Piri Pica (2 images)
A first-rate meal for under $15
Not every meal needs to be a Michelin-starred extravaganza served beneath chandeliers the chef hand-forged from iron scavenged from the sunken wrecks of luxury liners. Our choice for the 2018 fine-casual category: Piri Pica, a stylish update on the Mozambican-style chicken beloved of anyone who's ever been to a Nando's. Grab a late lunch between 2 and 6 and add a $3 happy-hour beer to a half chicken with grilled corn and braised greens.
Pearl (2 images)
Everything a neighborhood spot should be
From the same team as Pizzetta 211, Pearl is a neighborhood restaurant par excellence — a boon to the Outer Richmond during the afternoon lunch-and-coffee service as well as the swanky-feeling dinner seating. Take your pick from the Med-inspired menu; ours was the wood-fired octopus with lentil purée, romano beans and spicy olive tapenade, starting with the blistered shishito peppers and roasted cauliflower.
Bon Voyage (2 images)
Destination dining … right here in your backyard
There's no better place for sundowners this side of the savannah than this gently safari-themed Mission bar. If the décor is eclectic — part Palm Springs, part Papeete — the menu hews closely to the Chinese theme, with "explosive Kung Pao chicken," chow fun fried noodles and an array of dumplings, including lamb mini pot stickers and pork and shrimp wontons.
A worthy successor to a beloved BBQ
This Afro-Caribbean restaurant from the Farmerbrown team brings new life to the Fillmore Street address once occupied by David Lawrence’s terrific Black Bark BBQ. Come for the maduros, Cuban-style half chicken and barbecued guava spare ribs. There’s no alcohol on the menu yet, but the guava limeade should tide you over before heading to the neighborhood’s bars. (Note: Farmerbrown closed doors this week, but the vibe will live on at Farmerbrown’s new SFO outpost, as well as at Little Skillet, the lunch-y offshoot in SoMa.)
Prairie (2 images)
If you think pasta’s just too predictable
The best restaurant not to earn a space on our list of the city’s six best pasta dishes was indubitably Prairie. Maybe we were just confounded by the uniform excellence here, thanks no doubt to the culinary magic of former Delfina mastermind/Locanda executive chef Anthony Strong. Our vote for the best of the innovative “small plate” pastas here: the Gulf shrimp and burrata tortelli in a fermented chili sauce.
Kaiyo (2 images)
Peruvian + Japanese = TLA
This may be the best-ever reason to head to Cow Hollow. If you never thought a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese made perfect sense, Kaiyo will set you straight, with dishes like big-eye tuna ceviche with aji amarillo leche de tigre, compressed watermelon and pickled hearts of palm. Spare a long moment for the extensive drinks list, from Peruvian lagers to cocktails like the Kill Bill Vol. 1, with Suntory Toki, Aperol, matcha, sarsaparilla and sparkling water.
Images via respective restaurants