We’re coming to the end of what was, for many, a difficult year.
One bright spot?
Where, and what, we ate.
Few things say “resilience” like seeing restaurateurs — equal parts entrepreneurs and artists — make a big bet, and win.
We saw that time and again this year — beginning with Robin, our top pick of the year.
Photo: Albert Law
Stellar omakase, in a crowded field
In the City of 1001 New Omakase Places With Super-Spendy Menus, Robin stood alone with the stellar totality of its experience, from the thousands of dollars of rose-gold resin dripping down the walls to the showstopper slate sushi bar. There’s little to choose here beyond whether you feel like spending $79 or $179; pick and let the chef do the rest of the work to figure out your sushi nirvana. This is Adam Tortosa’s masterwork — we’re just lucky to get a reservation.
Peasant food par excellence
No one does hearty like the Central Europeans, and no one in San Francisco does Central European like the ex-Bar Tartine team of Cortney Burns and Nick Balla, now united behind Duna. It’s the next-best-thing to a ticket to Hungary, where many of the flavor profiles here originate: we’re definitely on the eastern side of Central, so think creamed herring and chicken paprikas rather than currywurst. Settle in with the flatbreads with liptauer paprika cheese dip; stay for the stuffed cabbage and pork belly.
Wine and oysters, à la francaise
The cutest little French wine bar this side of boulevard Saint-Germain, Petit Marlowe picks up where big brother Marlowe leaves off: with raw bar platters, deviled eggs, and FG&Js (foie gras and jam, on bread). There’s nowhere nicer for an after-work second date, thanks to a selection of two dozen sparkling wines, as well as our very favorite happy hour in the city: half-price oysters and $25 rosé until 6 p.m.
Portugese plates in modish environs
You may know Telmo Faria from his work at Tacolicious, where he was the chef for seven years. Come to Uma Casa and you’ll discover all that this massively talented chef — born in the U.S., raised in his parents’ native Portugal — is capable of. Think of it as Portuguese tapas. Nothing says summer in Ericeira like the sardinhas asadas — grilled Monterey sardines with caramelized onions and egg — followed by polvo na chapa, pan seared octopus and white bean fennel puree.
The best Creole cooking north of the I-10 and west of the Rockies
Chef/co-owner Adam Rosenblum is best known S.F.-side for his work at Popson’s, but he’s a veteran of the New Orleans dining scene, having worked at Donald Link's landmark Herbsaint before heading west. Anyone who loves Cajun and Creole cooking is better for Rosenblum’s move; usually the best you’ll get outside of Louisiana is “credible,” but here, classics like the chicken and pork jambalaya, liver-centric dirty rice, braised rabbit and crawfish étouffé are perfect.
Photo: Kelly Puleio
Catalan tapas, in a gorgeous space
Designed in collaboration between the Absinthe Group and exceptionally local (like around-the-block local) architecture firm Sagan Piechota Architecture, Barcino is the one of the best-looking dining rooms for a mile — which is saying something, given the Hayes Valley location. The cuisine is Barcelona-centric tapas. We’ll have anything from the raw bar and the “crispy potato cup” bravas, the charred octopus and broccoli, and the garlic-chili shrimp paella.
Photo: Kassie Borreson
Chicken and New American sides, done right
Spin-offs are better when the original is a James Beard-nominated vet that also appeared on Bon Appetit’s compilation of the best new restaurants in the U.S. — such is the case with Rich Table, which opened to critical acclaim in 2013, and its brand-new baby sister, RT Rotisserie. The latter is the embodiment of what the fine-fast, fine-casual trend should be: simple, peerless plates. A half-chicken with umami fries and a Mexican Coke is about as good a lunch as you’ll find.
Marin meets Tokyo in an accomplished take on fusion
Next time you’re in Marin make a point of heading to San Anselmo for Madcap, the full expression of chef/owner Ron Siegel. Siegel’s resume reads like a best-of-the-Bay round-up, with stints at French Laundry up the road in Yountville, Masa’s, the Ritz Carlton, Michael Mina and Rancho Nicasio. In 1998, Siegel was the first U.S.-born contestant on the original Iron Chef — and the Japanese inflection remains evident in dishes like a Mt. Lassen trout served with dashi and tatsoi.
Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux
The best new sandwich in town
Here’s another exemplary take on fast casual. When we first stopped by in March, we wrote that we’d “bet [it] will be on some best-of lists by the end of the year” — nine months later, we stand by our original prediction. Order the Evil Twin Hipster Ale with the titular sandwich, which is an El Cubano updated on brioche; otherwise, opt for the original — with roasted pork shoulder, smoked ham, Swiss, and house-made pickles — and the pilsner.
Photo: Wes Rowe
The city's most inventive cocktail space debuts its final edition
Over Proof concludes its hugely successful, inspiringly experimental run with “Lágrimas,” its fourth and last iteration, focusing on Mexico and closing February 24. Expect high-end examples of mezcals, tequila, raicilla, bacanora, and sotol in the range of five new drinks; on the menu, look for mushroom huarache with grilled hen of the woods mushrooms and huitlacoche (“a fungus known as the truffle of Mexico.”) We haven’t been yet to this just-debuted showcase yet — but if it’s good as the predecessors, we need to book, stat.