Usually at this time of year, we’ll look back on a bevy of new openings and declare our favorites. This time around — when simply keeping a restaurant afloat seems like a positively Herculean task — we wanted to take a slightly different tack, and simply celebrate the spots that fed us best this year.
So let’s check in on the owners and chefs throwing everything they’ve got into their work. How’d they make it through?
Note: This is a highly personal list — the places we take friends when they visit from out of town. Below, five restaurants we love, plus five meals we can’t wait to have again.
Why here: Our nicest, lowest-key lunch of the summer (low-key in the best possible way, in the sense that we could hide in a corner by ourselves and gnaw away at our sandwich in peace) was at Souvla, Hayes Valley’s finest (and most casual) fine-casual Greek establishment. “We closed our restaurants for 115 days at the start of the pandemic and kept our team together, paid and insured throughout,” said Charles Bililies, Souvla’s CEO and founder. “We knew we needed to re-open, not only for the viability and future of the business, but also because we know that thousands in San Francisco and the Bay Area at large rely on us for wholesome, and convenient meals each and every day.” (We can attest to both the wholesomeness and the convenience.)
Order this: Obvs, the sandwich (we prefer the one with Snake River Farms pork shoulder), the Greek fries with olive oil and lemon, plus the orange soda, which we’ve been trying to track down on Beverage Universe forever.
House of Better
Why here: Our favorite “What’s that?” moment of the year came courtesy of Trevor Logan (of Green Chile Kitchen fame) and his Fire Cider Wellness Tonic, with apple cider vinegar, honey, turmeric, ginger, horseradish, not soon after the opening of this exceptionally cheerful Calistoga eatery. “Things will not be done in the same way as before, and that’s OK, and we remember to find gratitude for the smaller things.” Trevor, we are grateful for your Fire Cider (and pies, obviously the pies, too).
Order this: Pies in advance! Also the grilled fish tacos with pickled onions, chipotle crema, habanero salsa, jicama slaw, and anasazi beans, plus the red and green chile nachos with carne asada.
Why here: We did a lot of complaining when the Church Street Burgermeister folded — until Beit Rima took flight on the same spot (by now, you probably know that Samir Mogannam is the son of the guy who owned the Burgermeister chainlet, and the titular Rima is his mom — it’s all in the family here). Everyone’s favorite “Arabic comfort food” is worth all the accolades. “It has been tough getting through the pandemic but thanks to our customers’ support, we made it through,” Samir told us. Now go buy some gift cards!
Order this: How about the grilled hanger steak with smoked freekeh, green zhug, and marash? Or the mezze plate with baked halloumi (the best of all cheeses), jalapeno, Meyer lemon and herbs?
Why here: As a special-occasion spot with killer views, Waterbar is heaven on earth for anyone who wants something called a “Shellfish Indulgence” (with blue crab, lobster, ahi tartare, tiger prawns, clams, oysters and snow crab) in their heaven. “The spirit of hospitality that drives us to make our guests happy,” says managing partner Pete Sittnick. “This is what we missed so dearly when we were shut down — it was still challenging and grueling, yet getting back to being a restaurant was comforting.”
Order this: Well, if you’re not getting the Shellfish Indulgence, we recommend the pan-roasted black cod — caught near Fort Bragg — with wild mushroom raviolo.
Why here: Carrie and Rupert Blease pulled off one of the year’s more interesting pivots, shuttering the Michelin-starred Lord Stanley in favor of Turntable and its line-up of new-to-us chefs. (The first series featured Argentine chefs.) “By transitioning into Turntable, we are able to offer our guests something different and exciting each month, while maintaining the comfort of visiting the same space and seeing the same staff,” says Carrie Blease.
Order this: Really, whatever they’re offering. Through January, Turntable is led by Sebastian Pourrat, the Basque Country-born French chef whose menu includes San Sebastian-style stuffed crab and burnt Basque cheesecake ice cream. The whole point of Turntable: Follow wherever they lead.
And our five favorite meals …
1. For us, Pizzeria Delfina will forever be the place where a date once told us we were bad at making eye contact “and it gets worse the more intricate the thought you are trying to process” (lol). That unpleasantness won’t stop us from going back — including to pick up the retail-only Solstice pie, with Journeyman nduja, winter chicory, roasted onion, mozzarella, caciocavallo and tomato.
2. Che Fico chef David Nayfeld told us how to make his lasagna at home — we’re pretty confident he’s still better at making pasta than we are, which is why we’ll be back for his tagliatelle al ragu.
3. Everyone has a go-to dim sum place in town. Ours is Good Luck Dim Sum (736 Clement St.), and not (only) because it is right down the block from the Green Apple. (Also because of the steamed shrimp dumplings.)
4. Can we just get this (A5 ribeye wagyu with tomato salad from David Barzelay and Lazy Bear) every night until we die?
5. Just a giant plate of enchiladas from Taqueria Vallarta, please, and all will be right with the world.
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