Food & Drink

Pub date January 5, 2010



Blurring the line between rustic and contemporary Italian, this Mission newbie doles out specialty pizzas, inspired cocktails, and two dozen antipasti options.

1199 Valencia, SF. (415) 695-1199,

Runners up: Spork, Spruce


Sugar Café

Fresh-baked pastries and near-regal environs make Sugar Café a refined coffee shop by day, while moody lighting and seasonal cocktails turn it into a perfect after-work lounge.

679 Sutter, SF. (415) 441-5678,

Runners up: Cafe Flor, Atlas Cafe


Saigon Sandwich

Three bucks and a quick stroll through Civic Center will get you one of Saigon’s crave-worthy banh-mi, the timeless combo of marinated pork, barbecue chicken, or tofu on a chewy baguette.

560 Larkin, SF. (415) 474-5698

Runners up: Little Saigon, Cafe Dolce



The charming Mission haunt continually wins over San Franciscans from all walks with seasonal ingredients, great service, and an incredible vino selection.

3621 18th St., SF. (415) 552-4055,

Runners up: Incanto, Tomasso’s


Citrus Club

From spicy curry to garlic shiitake, when it comes to slurping noodles on the cheap, this Upper Haight noodle house has something for everyone.

1790 Haight, SF. (415) 387-6366

Runners up: Hotei, Mifune


Taqueria Can-Cun

So what keeps Can-Cun packed until the wee hours? Slightly seared tortillas wrapped around well-seasoned meat; close proximity to prime drinkin’ spots; and horchata that just won’t quit.

2288 Mission, SF. (415) 252-9560; 3211 Mission, SF. (415) 550-1414; 1003 Market, SF. (415) 864-6773

Runners up: El Farolito, El Metate


Cha Cha Cha

The sangria flows freely, the small plates are built for sharing, and the good-time vibes never stop at both Cha Cha Cha locations.

1801 Haight, SF. (415) 386-7670; 2327 Mission, SF. (415) 648-0504,

Runners up: Andalu, Ramblas


Blowfish Sushi to Die For

High-tech decor meets Zen service at Blowfish, the Mission’s den of floppin’ fresh fish, where innovative sushi platters and anime-filled LCD screens are the norm.

2170 Bryant, SF. (415) 285-3848,

Runners up: Ebisu, Tsunami


A la Turca

At A la Turca, delectable pita and perfectly seasoned lamb meet on the cheap, smack in the center of the Tenderloin.

869 Geary, SF. (415) 345-1011

Runners up: Cafe Troya, Bursa Kebab



San Francisco’s favorite South Indian restaurant, Dosa churns out some mean curries, aromatic rice dishes, and of course a variety of savory dosa, its namesake Indian crepe.

995 Valencia, SF. (415) 642-3672,

Runners up: Indian Oven, Shalimar



This authentic Peruvian spot serves up fresh ceviche, seared ahi, and herb-crusted rack of lamb to salivating diners.

24 West Portal, SF. (415) 759-8087; 2114 Fillmore, SF. (415) 447-2668; 3945 24th St., SF. (415) 695-0549;

Runners up: Limon, Mi Lindo Peru


Burma Superstar

With 22 ingredients, the rainbow salad here shows that this Inner Richmond joint pays attention to the details. Imagine what it does with ginger, curry, and basil.

309 Clement, SF. (415) 387-2147,

Runners up: Mandalay, Pagan


Miller’s East Coast West Deli

Miller’s authentically conjures the Eastern Seaboard with mountainous Reubens, steamy matzo ball soup, and cheese blintzes in portions that are bigger than your face.

1725 Polk, SF. (415) 563-3542,

Runners up: Moishe’s Pippic, Mr. Pickles



With a menu full of eggs Bennies, loads of classic French options, and Bloody Marys by the pint, it’s no wonder that people happily wait hours for a brunch at Zazie.

941 Cole, SF. (415) 564-5332,

Runners up: Tangerine, Boogaloo’s



Forward-thinking Specialty’s lets you order hearty sandwiches, fresh salads, and made-from-scratch soups online or at one of its seven citywide locations.

Runners up: Zuni, Chow


Cliff House

The cliff-side art deco joint offers classic cocktails, a refined old-school menu, and floor-to-ceiling windows for taking in stunning ocean vistas and the Pacific sunset.

1090 Point Lobos, SF. (415) 386-3330,

Runners up: Beach Chalet, Greens


Memphis Minnie’s

This Lower Haight staple serves up brisket and pulled pork so tender that urban tailgaters don’t even need the three delicious tabletop sauces available for slatherin’.

576 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7675,

Runners up: Everett and Jones, Big Nate’s



Situated in the geographic center of the city, Sparky’s is a 24-hour melting pot of urban carnivores and herbivores, with kitschy environs, a menu packed with diner staples, and bottomless cups of coffee.

242 Church, SF. (415) 626-8666

Runners up: Nopa, Grubstake


Gary Danko

White linens, a doting waitstaff, and a celebrity chef … dropping a whole paycheck at Gary Danko’s innovative Californian spot is easy.

800 N. Point, SF. (415) 749-2060,

Runners up: Boulevard, Kokkari


Tu Lan

Located near the intersection of Sixth and Market Streets, Tu Lan serves up the best dive meal around, with enormous portions, order-by-number efficiency, and authentic pho.

8 Sixth St., SF. (415) 626-0927

Runners up: Pakwan, Naan ‘N’ Curry


Octavia Lounge

Our readers are head over heels for the charms and attentions of the staff at fabulous cabaret-restaurant Octavia Lounge.

1772 Market, SF. (415) 863-3516,

Runners up: Luna Park, Stinking Rose


Bob’s Donuts

Bob does most of his baking right before last call, endearing him to Tenderloin bar rats and music venue castoffs citywide.

1621 Polk, SF. (415) 776-3141 King Pin, Peoples Donuts


Ritual Roasters

Sleek, minimalist environs, an endless parade of MacBook Airs, and fair trade coffee make this the default destination for hipster techies.

1026 Valencia, SF. (415) 641-1024,

Runners up: Blue Bottle, Philz



The extensive selection of craft beers at Toronado can be bewildering. Fortunately, the bar lets you sample as many tasty local brews and fancy imports as it takes to make a decision.

547 Haight, SF. (415) 863-2276,

Runners up: Monk’s Kettle, La Trappe



Taking the pretentiousness out of the vino experience, Bacar boasts a three-story wine wall and a book-size menu by the taste, glass, flight, and bottle.

448 Brannan, SF. (415) 904-4100,

Runners up: Cav, Yield


Christine Rammey at Martuni’s: Best Classic Cocktails


Decorum stops with the slickly made manhattans, sidecars, and martinis: raucous show tunes, flamboyant crowds, and heaps of drunken revelry here break the mold.

4 Valencia, SF. (415) 241-0205

Runners up: Aub Zam Zam, Rye


Orbit Room

This stylish mid-Market spot can do things with basil, cucumber, and ginger that are positively subversive by classic cocktail standards.

1900 Market, SF. (415) 252-9525

Runners up: Bourbon and Branch, Cantina


Fog City News

Sure, Fog City peddles thousands of periodicals in its tiny Financial District locale, but cacao-lovers also drop by for one of the country’s largest chocolate collections.

455 Market, SF. (415) 543-7400,

Runners up: Edible Love Chocolate, Recchiuti



Locally grown veggies and organic Niman Ranch beef set Burgermeister’s charbroiled beauties apart, but freshly cut fries and fountain root beer put this place over the top.

86 Carl, SF. (415) 566-1274; 759 Columbus, SF. (415) 296-9907; 138 Church, SF. (415) 437-2874;

Runners up: Barney’s, Big Mouth Burgers


Ike’s Place

The rock star of the San Francisco sandwich scene, Ike’s Place puts magic on bread: whether you like it stacked or Spartan, vegan or meaty, this Castro joint rocks the sammy like no other.

3506 16th St., SF. (415) 553-6888,

Runners up: Hazel’s, Yellow Submarine


Acme Bread Company

Buttery croissants, chewy baguettes, and herby ciabatta bread make up the carb-laden menu at this Ferry Building favorite.

Ferry Building Marketplace, Embarcadero at Market, SF. (415) 288-2978

Runners up: Arizmendi, Tartine


That Takes the Cake

The fluffy homemade cupcakes at That Takes the Cake range from Southern red velvet to carrot cake — and conjure up blissful childhood memories of stuffing your face with frosting. Mmm, frosting.

2271 Union, SF. (415) 567-8050,

Runners up: Kara’s Cupcake, Citizen Cupcake


Cheeseboard Collective

This Berkeley co-op serves up specialty pizza, baked goods galore, and an impressive menu of artisanal cheeses.

1512 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 549-3055,

Runners up: Cowgirl Creamery, Say Cheese


Samovar Tea Lounge

Serving up grounding doses of ritual and history with every fair trade, organic, and seasonal cup of loose leaf, Samovar also programs cultural-specific tea services.

498 Sanchez, SF. (415) 626-4700; Yerba Buena Gardens, Upper Terrace, 730 Howard, SF. (415) 227-9400,

Runners up: Leland Tea Company, Lovejoy’s Tea Room



Nothing kills a hangover like playing hooky from work, chain smoking Parliaments, and sucking back a Bloody Mary on Zeitgeist’s gigantic patio.

199 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-7505

Runners up: The Ramp, Home


Café Gratitude

Café Gratitude caters to the raw set without isolating the rest of us; sustainably farmed local ingredients and communal seating make this the best vegan bet around.

2400 Harrison, SF. (415) 824-4652,

Runners up: Cha-Ya, Millennium



From wood-roasted calamari to warm goat cheese crostini, the rustic-chic appetizers that come from Nopa’s open kitchen are organic bits of heaven.

560 Divisadero, SF. (415) 864-8643,

Runners up: Betelnut, Town Hall


Citizen Cake

Decadent chocolate ganache, a rotating cupcake roster, and cookies aplenty make this Hayes Valley café a primo dessert destination.

399 Grove, SF. (415) 861-2228,

Runners up: Mission Pie, Tartine


Ferry Building Farmers Market

Not many markets can hold a candle to creamy cheeses, craft breads, organic fruits and veggies, and specialty oils outside a San Francisco landmark.

Ferry Building Marketplace, Embarcadero at Market, SF. (415) 693-0996,

Runners up: Alemany, UN Plaza


Eatwell Farms

For a seasonal dose of heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, and fresh basil, look no further than the local, certified-organic wares of Eatwell’s CSA program.

Runners up: Planet Organic, The Fruit Guys

Food & Drink — Editors Picks


An unpalatable shocker: despite the massive quantities of Filipino folks in the Bay Area, gourmet Filipino food has been nigh impossible to find. Sure, lumpia, those little egg roll–like wonders, are ubiquitous at street fairs, and that national dish of the Philippines, adobo (well-grilled meat slathered in the eponymous marinade and served over rice), can be found at many Hawaiian joints and Asian cultural festivals. But what about a classy take on the unexplored bounty that is Filipino cuisine? Palencia in the Castro reduces us to babbling superlatives with its inventive yet traditional dishes, including a melt-in-your-mouth sisig na boy, a combination of diced fried pork, cherry tomatoes, and green onions, and dreamy kare kare, oxtail stewed in peanut sauce with still-crisp vegetables. The interior, dotted with votive candles, trimmed in teakish wood, and edged with manila walls, appeals to a romantic notion of the islands. And yes, there’s heavenly adobo, either pork simmered in garlic sauce or chicken in coconut milk, with vinegar, fermented soy, crushed red peppers, and bay leaves. Palencia’s prices may call for a special occasion, but the tastes will linger long after the bill’s been paid.

3870 17th St., SF. (415) 522-1888,


Remy Nelson of Mojo Bicycle Café

There are few combinations as simple and viscerally satisfying as reclining on the seat of your ’74 Monte Carlo enjoying a $10 hummer and a puff or two on the glass dick. I mean, you gotta relax, right? However, it’s all about trying new things, or putting together old things in new combinations. Like, picture this: the Monte Carlo is in the shop, and you’re pedaling down the road on the Schwinn Varsity 10-speed you inherited from your pops. You realize two things: (1) This bike rides like shit, and (2) Damn, I picked a bad week to give up crack and hookers — I’m really gonna need some strong coffee before my head explodes. Mojo Bicycle Café has got you covered: you can have your ride wrenched on while you glug an expertly poured triple cappuccino, perhaps noshing on a salad or sandwich while you make small talk with your sponsor. If you decide to give up on the Schwinn, you can peruse the selection of bikes for sale, including the new line of city cruisers by Swobo.

639A Divisadero, SF. (415) 440-2338,


Calling Sabra Grill the “best glatt kosher meal in Chinatown” sounds like a backhanded bitchslap along the lines of Flight of the Conchords’ paean to the “most beautiful girl in the whole wide room.” But it’s no joke: Sabra is the city’s only restaurant with a full-time resident mashgiach (supervisor of adherence to kashrut, or Jewish dietary laws). Everything on the Israeli menu is generously portioned, and you can’t go wrong with the greaseless, well-spiced falafel tucked inside a perfectly pillowy pita with luscious tomatoes, crisp lettuce, saucy tahini, and pickles, washed down with a Maccabee beer. But don’t go on weekend nights: Sabra closes, of course, two hours before sundown on Friday and all day Saturday. Sabbath, sweeties, although a special for-Shabbat takeout menu is available.

419 Grant Avenue, SF. (415) 982-3656,


The gaggle of teenagers at Sweetheart Cafe is here for the impressive selection of boba tea, coffee “freeze” drinks, shaved ices, slushies, and smoothies, plus perhaps a snack of popcorn chicken and a bag of muscat gummies to go. But the item that really puts the sweet in Sweetheart is the ginger milk, a Hong Kong creation of warm sweetened milk and fresh ginger juice, which gels the milk. Some versions of ginger milk have the texture of flan, but this one is more like cappuccino — served in a coffee cup, it has a thick, foamy cap of custard above warm, peppery, ginger-laced milk. It’s the perfect foggy–weather drink (and yes, that does include Irish coffee). If you’re feeling more dessert-minded, try it with the optional bird’s nest or harsmar (a topping made from the dried fallopian tubes of a frog, it has a glutinous texture and sweet flavor).

909 Grant Avenue, SF. (415) 262-9998


Indian food is pretty much the best stuff on the planet, but it’s hard to eat casually, like, say, when you’re really drunk and nowhere near a table with plates and cutlery. Most ravenous sots will forgo the greasy cartons of mixed sabzi and chicken masala in favor of something more drunk-friendly, like a burrito or a slice of pizza. But there are plenty of tikka freaks who’ll risk slimy fingers and curry-stained sheets just to get a bellyful of spicy brown-and-yellow glop. Well, they don’t have to. Zante, a pizza parlor in Bernal Heights run by an Indian chef with a doctorate in dough flipping, has been serving up handheld versions of classic Indian Cuisine for years. It sounds like magic, but Zante’s “Indian pizzas” are really just traditional dishes baked onto pieces of naan bread. Genius.

3489 Mission, SF. (415) 821-3949,


The geoduck (pronounced goo-ey-duck) is a bivalve mollusk that lives deep under the sand, alerting potential predators of its presence with a geyser-like spray. This culinary delight, which can be up to three feet long, looks like a giant clam with a phallic protrusion sized to match. And like many foods that are difficult to obtain and reminiscent of human genitalia, geoducks are considered a culinary delicacy in some places. In this case, those places are Japan and especially China, where geoducks are prized for their savory flavor, crunchy texture, and rumored sexual performance-enhancing qualities. Despite San Francisco’s considerable Asian population, you can only find the suggestive dish in one local restaurant: Kim Thanh in the Tendernob, where tanks of geoducks line the front windows. Not ready to put something so big and foreign in your mouth? Kim Thanh’s salt-baked crab, seafood clay pot, and garlic noodles are great too.

607 Geary, SF. (415) 928-6627


Chef Thomas Peña knows his Mexican — he retains fond and obsessive memories of watching his mother and grandmother prepare traditional favorites in their kitchens, surrounded by family and an overwhelming feeling of comida community. Inspired a few years ago by a meal at a makeshift kitchen in a Mexico City market stall to pass on that sense of tradition to San Franciscans, Peña opened the achingly cute Regalito Rosticeria in the Mission, with its open kitchen, brightly colored walls, and snug dining area. All well and good, but does he bring the goods? Ah, si! His menu eschews fancy Californian flourishes and pumps up the basics: the handmade guacamole soothes and rocks, house favorite pollo regalito (a slow-roasted half chicken with a choice of lemon or chile-garlic marinade) leaps off the bone and into our salivating yappers, and, flawlessly, the chile verde — a stew of green chiles, pork, and green beans — mixes kick with comfort to a startling degree. Regalito means “gift” in Spanish, and we’re delighted to dig our warm tortilla into any of Peña’s bustling kitchen’s special deliveries.

3481 18th St., SF. (415) 503-0650,


Cocktail ingredients seem to be getting more and more esoteric these days, with elderflower liqueur and kumquat garnishes taking the places long held by cheap vodka and nuclear maraschinos. Lingba Lounge’s Bowl of Monkeys may not be able to compete in the Cocktail as Art category, with its basic blend of dark rum, light rum, lime, amaretto, and pineapple juice (all mixers your mom has actually heard of), but it’s giving competitors a run for their money in the Cocktail as Gimmick race. How? With its “garnish,” a flame in the center of the plastic-monkey-rimmed vessel, plus a Polaroid photo taken to commemorate what will surely be a memorable night (especially if you finish the $24 drink, meant for two but big enough for four, on your own). Once you’ve had a Bowl of Monkeys, hit the dance floor and get your monkeys up in someone else’s bowl.

1469 18th St., SF. (415) 647-6469,


Judging from the standard fare at most of the city’s Japanese restaurants, you might think the Japanese subsist solely on sushi and shabu-shabu. Not so! Japan is so full of weird and wonderful edibles, it would take a lifetime to eat your way through them all. But maybe you can start at Maki Restaurant, San Francisco’s premiere location for wappa-meshi. A “wappa” is one of those ubiquitous round wooden steamers you can find stacked to the ceiling at deep discount kitchenware shops on Clement Street, and wappa-meshi is said container filled with rice and meat, fish, or vegetables that are then steamed together. The flavor, like the best Japanese foods, is subtle and exquisite in its simplicity. Although the menu at Maki punches the pocketbook a little harder than noshing at No-Name used to, as a genteel taste of Kansai cuisine, you won’t find better.

Maki Restaurant, 1825 Post, SF. (415) 921-5215


Established in the fall of 2006 as a temporary culinary experiment by chef Thomas Keller, ad hoc is a delicious casual restaurant located just down the street from Keller’s famed flagship restaurant, French Laundry. The philosophy behind ad hoc is simple: a unique four-course prix-fixe menu is presented daily and served family-style in a cozy, convivial atmosphere. Current chef de cuisine Dave Cruz seems to specialize in comfort food staples like fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits or steak and potatoes, but endows them with haute cuisine flourishes. As with French Laundry, ad hoc’s emphasis is on fresh, organic ingredients and plenty of vegetables — so vegetarians are as welcome as carnivores. And while reservations are certainly recommended, the low maintenance hospitality of ad hoc allows you to experience the magic of Thomas Keller without the three month wait … or the exorbitant bill.

6476 Washington, Yountville. (707) 944-2487,


Chapeau!: Best Après-Dinner Smooch

Though Philippe Gardelle and his wife Ellen started their small Richmond District bistro, Chapeau!, 12 years ago, it remains one of the best sources of French cuisine in the city. Classic but far from pretentious, Chapeau! has a warm, rustic, bistro mood whose roots are more Provençal than Parisian. The menu offers a wide range of delectable dishes, from classic high-cuisine favorites like coq au vin or duck confit served with cabbage and smoked bacon as well as more traditional “peasant” fare like cassoulet. Monsieur Gardelle’s passion for food extends well beyond the plate. He is also the host and sommelier, laughing and drinking his way from table to table. After the meal, the bill comes to the table in a hat (the nominal “chapeau”) and the garrulous Gardelle will not let you leave without a kiss and a hug. As an indication of their success, the Gardelles recently purchased and renovated nearby hot spot Clementine.

1408 Clement, SF. (415) 750-9787


Caitlin Williams Miette with a pop
by Lollyphile: Best Candy for Grown-ups

People always talk about how San Francisco has more singles than any other place on the planet, but that’s just a nice way of saying that this city is full of aging hedonists who refuse to grow up. Marriage, cars, house payments? Yeah, right. Many San Franciscans are content to waste away their late 20s and early 30s in the pursuit of drink, fashion, casual sex, and candy. Yes, candy. With a population composed almost entirely of poorly groomed Peter Pans and tattooed Tinker Bells, it makes sense that the city would produce some of the best candy on the planet. Newest on the confectionary scene is Lollyphile, whose limited runs of gourmet lollipops satisfy the mature palettes of eternally young adults as much as they might make a real kid want to barf. But that’s beside the point. Flavors like bacon-maple and absinthe have been designed for the young at heart, not for those who are actually young.

(415) 690-5198,


A stop by Taquería Can-Cun at 2 a.m. will prove that the Mission is certainly not hard-up for good nachos. But when it’s Wednesday and you’ve already had more than your weekly recommended servings of the Mexican food group, try the Phoenix Pub‘s European take on this layered delight — Irish potato nachos. The pub’s version matches steaming spuds, black beans, jack and cheddar cheeses, guacamole, and crème fraîche in one big cross-cultural medley. Plus, you get complimentary Irish soda bread with table service, or on request at the bar. Add frothy beer on tap, strong Long Island iced teas, and a room full of Steelers fans, and you’ve got a perfect Sunday afternoon — unless, of course, you’re loyal to the Patriots.

811 Valencia, SF. (415) 695-1811,


Kimchee — cabbage shreds fermented with garlic and chili peppers — is about as earthy as it gets. Despite its robust flavors, it need not be crude. Context is everything, and the context at Namu is all about spare, modern style. When a little heap of kimchee appears on your complimentary platter of banchan, it doesn’t look at all out of place — even on a serving dish that looks like something acquired at the SFMOMA gift shop. The geniuses behind the inner Richmond restaurant (a trifecta of brothers: David, Dennis, and Daniel Lee) are all about sophistication, and their restaurant glows like a dark jewel on a commercial stretch of Balboa otherwise lined with Russian bakeries, laundromats, and cheap Chinese restaurants. (You’ll know you’re there when you start having to navigate through clusters of thirtysomethings in sleek black clothes working their handhelds while waiting for tables to open up.) Don’t think you’ll be stuck just eating kimchee here, either. The mostly pan-Asian fare is stellar, as is the surprisingly good burger.

489 Balboa, SF. (415) 386-8332,


All the Popeyes hopped up on all the spinach in the world couldn’t take Bakesale Betty. This fantastic bakery, famous for brilliant multitudes of chocolate chip cookies and gingersnaps, also serves an astounding fried chicken sandwich well worth a jaunt over the Bay Bridge. A veritable conveyor belt of young bakers on site assemble this breaded-poultry masterpiece with machinelike precision. Add freshly baked bread and jalapeño coleslaw garnish, and you’ve got a sandwich that has lunch-goers lined up around the block. But don’t let the wait scare you. Like any good grandmother, blue-haired Betty and her smiling staff keep the restless children (and hungry adults) occupied with refreshing lemonade slushies and complimentary cookies — not to mention hip-hop, indie rock, or electronic music playing loud enough to keep heads bobbing. Also try this Temescal hot spot’s chicken pot pie, egg salad sandwich, and fresh strawberry shortcake. Take it all to go or people watch at Betty’s genius ironing board patio.

5098 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 985-1213


Lime: Best Bottomless Morning After


There’s no reason to end your weekend on Saturday night — not when the sassy, gorgeous waitstaff at Upper Market’s Lime are serving bottomless mimosas for $7 on Sunday mornings. The brunch scene is something like a Hollywood movie set, though it’s hard to determine whether that film is more Sex and the City (beautiful people in Fendi shades) or Austin Powers (the chocolate brown and white leather decor is so groovy, baby). Either way, it works for the hungover twentysomethings who consistently fill the dining room, looking for a little protein and a lot of hair of the dog. The menu here is surprisingly good for a place built for a party, and the mini-burgers are perfect for eating even when your hands have the shakes. An extra bonus? You don’t have to bother changing out of the clothes you wore to the club last night — no one else has been home yet, either.

2247 Market, SF. (415) 621-5256,


How glam can yogurt get? Pretty darn fancy-schmancy, according to the sleek, chic, and überstylin’ Jubili. The nation’s Pinkberry-spurred soft-style yogurt explosion continues unabated, but where are the real contenders to Pinkberry’s crown? The immaculate, moderne, and nightclubby Jubili seems to be the only true potential usurper, all with only a trio of flavors: original, peach, and strawberry sorbet. Perhaps it’s because the array of dry, cereal, and fresh fruit toppings is always a boggling delight to encounter. And why choose just one? Jubili ushers in My Parfait, a tall, cool serving of low-fat vanilla yogurt, two fruit toppings, and house granola. Next up, for all you closeted teens who never quite quit gobbling Cocoa Pebbles straight from the box: My Cereal, a serving of cold nubbins or hot oatmeal, milk or soy milk, and one topping. Perfect for spooning up while sitting beside fashiony Asian girls or twentysomethings wearing mouse ears and reading manga. Yami Yogurt — we never knew ye.

1515 Fillmore, SF. (415) 292-9955,


Cantina is:

1) Filled with esoteric alcohols and weird brands you’ve probably never heard of,

2) Staffed by half of the city’s best cocktail geeks, and

3) Patronized by the other half of the city’s best cocktail geeks.

All of these factors combine to make it a bartender’s bar, the kind of place where mixologists entertain patrons with detailed explanations of just how Cynar, that herbaceous digestif, got its distinctive flavor (13 herbs, the most predominant being artichoke). This also means you can order a Pisco sour — the tangy, egg-white-shaken, grape-brandy-based beverage both Chileans and Peruvians claim as their national drink and argue they invented — while other Bay Area bars are still stuck on caipirinhas. Just don’t blame your hangover on the bartender. If you’re going to drink with the pros, you better prepare like the pros: water, chili-cheese fries from Grubstake, and a 3 p.m. wake-up call.

580 Sutter, SF. (415) 398-0195,


The laws of the working drunkard state that if you’re gonna drink, you gotta eat. Thus, within walking distance of nearly every great SF bar, there sits an equally amazing food stand. The Mission has its taquerías; the Castro has its all-night diners; and most neighborhoods have late-night pizza and Thai. But SoMa’s got something special: Crepes A-Go-Go, which robs European burritos of their foreign mystique by serving them from a broken-down trailer, the way God intended. After a night of dancing and debauchery, hit up the shack near Harrison Street for down-and-dirty crepes. You won’t find delicate Suzettes here, but you can score just about any other variation on the theme. Sweet, savory, sickening? Yup. Equipped with multiple brands of hot sauce, vegetables, meat, assorted cheeses, and jumbo jars of Nutella, this French chuckwagon will have you digesting your hangover away before your head hits the pillow … or sidewalk.

350 11th St., SF. (415) 503-1294


Somewhere between a latke and a potato pizza, the brambory, a Czech culinary favorite, is both delicious and, in the Bay Area at least, rare. Enter Frankie’s Bohemian Café, where the crisp-bottomed delight is available in several incarnations. Every house specialty starts with a thick base of shredded potato and zucchini pancake, comparable to the comforting potato pancakes you find more easily on the East Coast, which is then topped with mozzarella and your choice of meat: carnitas, sausage and meatballs, BBQ shrimp, chicken and bell peppers, or steak and guacamole. The rest of the menu is decent, standard American fare, but beer options — available in giant steins — are better than average. Add to that a quirky European-cafeteria feel (the bar looks like a deli counter, and small tables are nearly obscured by too many chairs) and cheap prices ($9 for one brambory), and you might just forget you’re in Pacific Heights.

1862 Divisadero, SF. (415) 921-4725


If you belong to the club that believes chef Carlos Altamirano’s first restaurant, Mochica, set and continues to set the standard for Peruvian cooking in the city, you will probably want to join the club that believes his newer place in Bernal Heights, Piqueo’s, is quite as good in its way. Piqueo’s serves “traditional” Peruvian cuisine “with a California twist,” and whatever this means, it’s good. Certainly all the familiar elements of Peruvian food are in place, from those supersize corn kernels to an array of ceviches to desserts made with exotic tropical fruits — not to mention alfajores, the addictive butter cookies layered with dulce de leche. Piqueo’s raises the riveting, if deeply superfluous, question of whether a cuisine as innately rich in wondrous twists and turns as Peruvian needs any California tweakings. The likely answer is no, but chances are you won’t be inclined to complain either way. For one thing, your mouth will be full.

830 Cortland, SF. (415) 282-8812,


The Imperial Tea Court may have shed some authentic Chinese teahouse accoutrements (old men, pet birds) when it shuttered its original Chinatown location. But it continues to be San Francisco’s pre-eminent teahouse at its new location in the no-birds-allowed Ferry Building. It’s not for nothing that the Imperial Tea Court is the tea vendor of choice for many local high-end restaurants and hotels. It stocks almost 200 varieties of tea, ranging from basic blends for neophytes to ultrarare aged pu-erhs for aficionados. Most are available for on-site sipping; a gaiwan tea service only runs $5 and makes for a pleasant (yet fully caffeinated) respite from the crazed foodies surging through the Ferry Building Marketplace. And true tea lovers can pick up a few ounces to savor at home.

1 Ferry Building Plaza, #27, SF. (415) 544-9830,


Nestled on a little neighborhood commercial strip four blocks from the Great Highway, the Sea Breeze Cafe looks like a dive. The decor falls somewhere between tacky and unimaginative, the low-budget tables are crammed into a small space (with a few on the sidewalk for alfresco dining during rare fog-free weather). But the lunchtime fare is outstanding and very reasonably priced. The emphasis is on American comfort food — omelets, sandwiches, burgers, and some creative organic salads. The dinner fare is more elegant and expensive, but for brunch, the place is fun, casual, and relaxed. The service is friendly and attentive, kids are welcome, and unlike a lot of upscale eateries these days, the Sea Breeze actually gives you a full plate of food. It’s a perfect place to stop after a walk in Golden Gate Park.

3940 Judah, SF. (415) 242-6022


Absinthe Brasserie and Restaurant:
Best Bar Whose Time Has Come


Being an American sucks in a lot of different ways. Perhaps worst of all is that absinthe has been illegal in this country for nearly 100 years. Our art and literary scenes have undoubtedly suffered because of the century-long ban on genius juice, and we haven’t been able to hold our own in global drinking contests for years. But those days are over. After dozens of court hearings and drug trials, the Association of American Drunkards has somehow managed to convince the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to re-legalize the production and distribution of the Green Fairy. Now Americans can get drunk and hallucinate at the same time, just like the boys across the pond. Get ready, world, the next batch of Hemingways, Picassos, and Van Goghs is about to hit the scene — and Absinthe Brasserie and Restaurant, with its green flights and psychedelic cocktails, is likely to be ground zero for the revolution.

398 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-1590,


While it might not have been the actual inspiration for Twin Peaks’ Double R diner, the Peninsula Fountain and Grill has a kooky nostalgia that puts David Lynch obsessives in the mood. Long referred to simply as the “Creamery,” this wood-paneled-and-chrome landmark in the center of Palo Alto has all of the trappings of a family-owned 1950s hang-out. There’s the ol’ Seaburg jukebox that still plays yesteryear’s hits, a working soda-jerk behind the bar, and red vinyl booths for cozying up with your sweetheart. On any given day, the restaurant is packed with Cardinal collegiates, hipster townies, and silver-haired couples ordering the daily specials. As for the menu: if there’s such a thing as Californian home-cookin’, the Creamery has perfected it. Choices include hearty omelets, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, freshly caught salmon, daily specials like the fab lemon ricotta pancakes, and milkshakes that, alone, are worth the trip. A separate bakery serves fresh breads and cakes every day.

566 Emerson, Palo Alto. (650) 323-3131


Stepping into Izzy’s Steaks and Chops on Steiner Street near Chestnut is exactly like stepping into the living room of Grandpa-with-a-capital-G’s living room — you know, that stereotypical patriarch of yesteryear who liked wood paneling, manhattans, and steak. And like all grandparents’ homes, Izzy’s doesn’t seem to have changed in the past 20 years. The menu still offers big cuts of beef, potatoes au gratin, and creamed spinach, and the classic wine list features lots of full-bodied zinfandels — just as it did in the days before Atkins, South Beach, and the Master Cleanse. In fact, the only proof that Izzy’s has entered the modern age might be the photo on the wall of a seven-year-old Samantha Duvall posing with Ted Danson; now grown up, the daughter of Izzy’s original owner can be found chatting up regulars at the bar over an aptly chosen old-fashioned cocktail. The Marina may have left its unpretentious working-class roots behind, but Izzy’s hasn’t.

3345 Steiner, SF. (415) 563-0487,


OK, let’s get this out of the way: The first person to say “you can’t get a real bagel outside of New York” is going to get it. We’re going to jump out of this newspaper and give you an old-fashioned beatdown. We’re sick of the same ol’ Big Apple bullshit about real bagels, and seeing the seasons change, and how it was so cold that one winter your uncle Maury became sterile. Face it, dillhole: you don’t live in New York anymore, and you grew up on Long Island, anyhow, so please, have a tall frosty mug of STFU. The House of Bagels in the Richmond serves a bona fide boiled bagel, which, when matched with the shop’s nova lox in either the standard two-ounce portion or the Jen’s True New York lox bagel sandwich four-ounce whopper, will bring a tear to ol’ Uncle “Ice Cube Nuts” Maury’s eye.

5030 Geary, SF. (415) 752-6000,


Who says sushi can’t be bar food? Not the folks at the Knockout’s Godzuki Sushi Happy Hour, which draws a laid-back, eclectic, friendly local crowd to the bar every Wednesday. Thanks to wonder duo Tim Archuleta and Erin Neeley of Ichi Catering (many know Tim from Tokyo Go Go), you can munch some swell sushi specials while enjoying Kirin on draft — or other beer, sake, and cocktail specials — plus some rock ‘n’ roll. Place your order with Taka, taking your pick of super-fresh rolls and nigiri, ranging from shiro maguro to inari, and famed specials like yuzu chicken wings. One perennial favorite is the spicy crab and scallop nigiri. Yum! The Knockout also just started Tuesday Raw Bar Night, with shrimp cocktails, oyster deals, and drinks — that means at least two weeknights of drinking that won’t require chili cheese fries.

3223 Mission, SF. (415) 550-6994


How is it possible that beer at the Bean Bag Coffee House is so cheap? Did the owner win a lifetime supply of imported brews on some game show and buy the café to unload them? Is it a state-subsidized effort to herd drinkers toward Divisadero Street? Once you order your $1.75 pint (of microbrew!), you won’t really care. Especially since you can also get a nice cup o’ joe, along with the light atmosphere and pleasant aromas of an espresso joint (as opposed to the darkness and rotting-hops smell of a bar). On top of its cheap beer, Bean Bag has a respectable food menu. While the culinary fare isn’t quite the value the draft options are, many items — like the burger and fried calamari — are as pleasing to your mouth as the pilsner prices are to your wallet.

601 Divisadero, SF. (415) 563-3634


While it might not be completely appropriate to tuck a Fra’Mani sausage into the waist of your pants and scream “peek-a-boo!” as you chase your lover around the kitchen table, it sure is entertaining (for you, at least). And filling lunchtime with lots of meaty double entendres is half the fun of eating Fra’Mani salumi. The other half, of course, is the salumi itself. Fra’Mani’s Paul Bertolli, who lived in Italy and trained under sausage maestros there, has been providing the Bay Area’s chichi-est restaurants with antipasto plate fixings for years. He makes cooked and cured salumi, as well as fresh sausages based on classic Italian recipes (as close to his grandfather’s as he can approximate). Everything at Fra’Mani is made and tied by hand, using the highest-quality, all-natural pork and casings that can be found. From the feather-light mortadella to chewy, salty, perfectly thin soppressata with just a hint of clove, Fra’Mani salumi are fun to play with — but they’re even better to eat.

1311 Eighth St., Berk. (510) 526-7000,


Think burgers and burritos have cornered the market on post-bar, pre-hangover food? Think again. Island Café in the Sunset has a nice, warm, Pacific Island alternative: Hawaiian food! What better way to battle the dark, the fog, and the burning in your belly from your hastily quaffed liquor at last call? It’s hard to argue with the appeal of kalua pork, chicken katsu, macaroni salad, or that pâté of the Pacific: Spam. (How do you think all those hard-partying Hawaiians manage to overcome their hangovers in time for their early-morning surf sessions?) And just in case your tastes fall a bit east of Honolulu, Island’s got the usual diner suspects, too — and all served 24 hours a day.

901 Taraval, SF. (415) 661-3303


There are plenty of places in the city that serve wings, but Kezar Pub serves ’em up with history. This former 49ers hangout gives patrons the option of buffalo or BBQ style, plus 15 televisions with killer satellite reception. And you can guarantee that most of your fellow diners and drinkers are sports fans — with Kezar Stadium, the original home of the football team, right across the street, people often find their way from soccer games, rugby matches, and Roller Derby tournaments directly into the warm, wood-paneled restaurant and bar. Those in the competitive spirit can play games of pool or darts in the back room, while thirsty folks can wash down their wings with one of the many beers on draft. Don’t forget to bring cash, though — while Kezar accepts trash talking, it doesn’t accept credit cards.

770 Stanyan, SF. (415) 386-9292


Is Milpitas the new Chinatown? It’s definitely the place to find the regional delicacies you can’t access easily in San Francisco, and Darda Seafood Restaurant will have you hopping in the car regularly to partake of its popular Chinese Islamic–style — or qingzhen — cuisine. The sizable space is oh-so-conveniently positioned next to the Highways 880 and 237 interchange, in a sprawling Chinese American strip mall. And the hordes of Silicon Valley Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani transplants converging on Darda and filling those huge round tables immediately tell the newbie that he or she found the place. Naturally lamb subs for pork — that otherwise ubiquitous über-Chinese ingredient — here, but oh, what lamb. It’s all fabulous: from the hefty sesame bread with green onions to the hot pots to the meats stewed with pickled cabbage. But the truly unique offering has to be the house-made, hand-cut noodles — soft yet toothsomely substantial, and best with lamb as fuel for riding your pony, or Honda Civic, across the steppes.

296 Barber, Milpitas. (408) 433-5199,


Presidio Social Club: Best Nuevo USO

When the USO was founded in 1941, its purpose was to give enlisted military personnel a home away from home. Which is exactly what Presidio Social Club does for us civilians — give us a 1941 home away from home. With classic ’40s decor and music, hosts and servers dressed according to period, and upscale twists on down-home classics like sloppy joes, mac ‘n’ cheese, and s’mores, it’s an ideal dining locale for those who remember the good old days — and those who just dress like they do. Make sure you don’t miss the mint smashed peas, a delightful alternative to mashed potatoes, or the cupcakes. None of this is country club fare, but it isn’t meant to be. Who wants to be that stuffy when you might be in a trench, or just in the Tenderloin, tomorrow?

Ruger Street, Building 563, Presidio, SF. (415) 885-1888,


Jesse Miner: Best Vegan Magician

San Francisco is quickly becoming a vegan wonderland. There are multiple natural foods stores in every neighborhood and numerous restaurants that cater specifically to those who shun all animal products. But vegans still suffer from the same impediments to eating fantastic, nutritious meals three times a day that the rest of us do: time constraints, tiny kitchens, and/or a distaste for cooking. Only thing is, it’s even more important for those who cut out entire food groups to pay attention to balancing their diet — one can not live on seitan stir-fry and Tofutti Cuties alone. Enter Jesse Miner, a personal chef who, for about the price of a meal at a fancy restaurant, will make meat-, egg-, and dairy-free meals for families and groups. With 15 years of experience, a degree in natural foods from Bauman College, and an internship at Millennium under his belt, he’s also adept at adjusting menus for other food restrictions, including wheat intolerance, diabetes, and raw food diets. And by the way, don’t miss his peanut butter squares and ginger snaps. (One can’t live on quinoa alone either.)


Where to take elementary-age picky eaters and discriminatingly stylish singles? Nonna knows best, and Gialina — a streamlined yet warmly minimalist, rosy-walled pizzeria that’s made a gastronomic beachhead in the adorable but otherwise culinarily challenged Glen Park village — is here to provide. Owner Sharon Ardiana — formerly of Lime, Boulevard, and the Slow Club — concentrates on a handful of scrumptious starters and salads, one or two roasts, and, last but definitely not least, delectable, slender-crust Neapolitan-style pizzas. It’s tough to choose just one when it comes to her pies, like wild nettle and prosciutto, pork belly and tomato, spigarello and sweet Italian sausage, and summer squash and sundried tomato. Top any with an egg, cooked perfectly soft and ready to be put to work sopping up with crust, and expect kids and coolios alike to emerge grateful and sated. Remarkably, Ardiana ups the modest-yet-well-executed ante even further with her desserts: the only thing better than the chocolate hazelnut sweet pizza are the house-made ices — expect an intense, refreshingly palate-cleansing jolt of ruby grapefruit or Meyer lemon.

2842 Diamond, SF. (415) 239-8500,


La Ciccia: Best Sardinian Surprise

Yes, yes, North Beach contains some of the best old country–style Italian restaurants in this country and has become synonymous with said saucy fare — so much so, in fact, that one is often hard-pressed to find a superlative spicy meatball in other parts of San Francisco. But little olive-oiled outposts do, indeed, exist, and La Ciccia in Noe Valley is fantastic. It even fills a niche we never knew we yearned to see filled: that of Sardinian cuisine, a robust cookery chock-full of splendid seafood menu items and breezy preparations rife with sweet spices. Who knew we’d want to buy our taste buds a one-way ticket to the sparkling isle of Sardinia? Husband-and-wife team Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan work the kitchen and the floor, imbuing the cozy, seafoam-tinted space with a true family atmosphere, and the staff is beyond helpful, especially when faced with questions of pronunciation. (You try ordering the brilliant cocciula schiscionera — clams dusted with bread crumbs — without slipping on your drool.) The wine list is top-notch, the pecorino-drenched pizza a sa Sarda is justly lionized among foodies, and entrées like the tonnu in padella cun cibudda e zaffaranu, pan-seared ahi with saffron onions, float on delicate layers of Mediterranean flavor.

291 30th St., SF. (415) 550-8114,


In most Latin cultures, dinner isn’t just a meal — it’s an event. Which is exactly what going to Laurel’s feels like. The small Cuban restaurant, tucked away in Hayes Valley on an otherwise residential street, is festive and relaxed. Hosts and servers, of which there are only two or so on a given night, are friendly but in no hurry — and neither will you be as you sip sangria and nibble fried beef and plantains, all while chatting with a tableful of friends. Though a bit pricey, Laurel’s menu is packed with simple, fresh, savory items for vegetarians and omnivores: particularly good is the seafood-stuffed avocado appetizer, which may have several in your party wishing for a swift end to the travel embargo. And if all of that isn’t enough to get you dancing in the narrow aisle between tables, the upbeat music will. The host might even dance with you.

205 Oak, SF. (415) 934-1575


Loló: Best Turkish-Mexican Eclecticism

You might not expect Turkish and Mexican culinary elements to mix well — or at all. And yet it is just this combination, more a mutual influence on creative cuisine than a true fusion, that qualifies Loló to compete with (and triumph over) the Mission’s other new upscale foodie havens. The menu is full of inspired items like veal carpaccio, shrimp tacos with jicama shells, and empanadas stuffed with rare mushrooms — complemented by a fine wine selection. We especially admire the atmosphere, whose tone is set with whimsical, oftentimes downright silly decor and warm, attentive service. Separate rooms, one including a sit-down bar, can accommodate (in space and in mood) either a sizable dinner party or an intimate tête-à-tête, and an understated classiness means you’ll be equally comfortable in flip-flops or formalwear. Like the Mission itself, Loló blends seemingly disparate elements with eclectic, energetic results.

3230 22nd St., SF. (415) 643-5656


North Beach is a great place for wine and pasta, but don’t you wish you could visit the neighborhood without risking the carb overload and headache? And what’s with all the old-school gangster and beatnik stuff, anyway? Sometimes you just want to kick back with a nice pint of Belgian ale and suck down some clams, burgers, and fries in a space that doesn’t remind you of Jack Kerouac or Godfather movies. La Trappe, a Belgian brew house and restaurant with a weekly-changing roster of 20 drafts and more than 180 bottled selections, is located right around the corner from Washington Square Park, smack in the middle of North Beach. It’s a bilevel job with date-worthy seating upstairs and a huge bar area with couches and larger tables in the basement. Tasty nibbles on the menu include moules à la bierre (mussels in white beer sauce) and pancetta-wrapped shrimp, which you’ll want to wash down with some heady Euro imports, of course.

800 Greenwich, SF. (415) 440-8727,


San Francisco is a pretty cool town, but it’d be a whole lot cooler if it didn’t shut down so damn early. Most SF restaurants stop seating at 10 p.m., about three and half hours before the prudish citywide last call. A night of drinking for us, then, usually starts with time-saving snacks like tacos or pizza and inevitably ends with a bacon-wrapped hot dog from a street vendor or a box of mush from a late-night Indian spot. But there are ways around the usual drunk diet plan; you just have to know where to look. In the Financial District, look for Globe, one of San Francisco’s best late-night restaurants, with a menu that doesn’t feature a list of toppings or salsa choices — instead, the tiny New American restaurant serves veal, steak, seafood, and veggie dishes until 1 a.m., Monday through Saturday. The upscale menu changes seasonally, so the selections are always fresh, and the classy preparations complement Globe’s spotless-chic interior.

290 Pacific, SF. (415) 391-4132,


San Francisco is celebrated around the world as a culinary paradise, but all the foodie fanfare has a downside. Sure, you can easily find a $1 million filet or a fresh cut of fish with a side of locally grown organic asparagus. But what if you’d rather have a huge plate of barbecue ribs and an oxtail dripping with fresh grease and pepper sauce? For some real eatin’, head to the outskirts of the city, where underground BBQ houses fill the skies with the sweet smell of smoked flesh. San Francisco’s best unsung casa de carne is Johnson’s BBQ in Portola, an old-school Arkansas-style (meat smoked with apple, plum, and other fruitwoods) barbecue shack that serves the finest flesh in the land slathered with the most atomic hot sauce this side of the Mississippi. The pork is pulled and the chickens have all been choked. But nothing is ever gonna beat Johnson’s meat: it says so right on the window.

2646 San Bruno, SF. (415) 467-7655,


If you dig Indian food — the curries, the dal, the tandoori-roasted breads — but also have somewhat, shall we say, elevated tastes, you will heart Metro Kathmandu, in the Metro Hotel. The cooking is Nepalese, and since Nepal is perched in the Himalayas near India … you see where this is going. There are some nice non-Indian touches on the menu, such as the momos, a lot like potstickers — and hey! China is Nepal’s other monster neighbor. But the food in the main is Indian-ish, and it’s fresh, carefully prepared, and wonderfully seasoned. It doesn’t cost much, either, and this helps boost the restaurant onto the top of the heap of value places. There are restaurants where you can spend somewhat less and get a lot less, but there are more places where you can spend way more but leave with the haunting sense that the additional spendage didn’t get you much. The password is dal, er, deal.

311 Divisadero, SF. (415) 552-0903,


Prohibition may have ended in 1933, but the Volstead Act wasn’t completely repealed until the 1980s, when home brewing finally became legal again. That doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of low-pro ale shacks operating throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s in places like, oh say, Hunters Point. By the time the ban was lifted, countless backyard brewmasters had already refined their methods and were pumping out some of the best porters, lagers, ales, and wheat beers the world had ever tasted. Only, the world couldn’t really taste them because lingering laws concerning global distribution had created an ale-ogopoly of sorts. It wasn’t until the late ’90s that things finally settled and smaller breweries were able to get a piece of the market. Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, a San Francisco brew collective specializing in limited runs of specialty beers (including White Lightning and Hunters Point Porter), “officially” opened its doors in 1997 and has since gained a reputation as one of the best in the West.

1195 Evans, SF. (415) 642-3371,