San Francisco Restaurants
199 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This is the kind of place you bring a friend from out of town to, because it shows off the best of what SF's food scene has to offer. The restaurant is owned by Evan and Sarah Rich, a married couple who met when they were working in the kitchen at Bouley. Though both Evan and Sarah come from fine dining backgrounds, the vibe at Rich Table is much more relaxed, which results in ambitious dishes and exotic ingredients presented in a refreshingly unfussy way. The move, if you can, is the chef's picks. Photos: Kassie Borreson
451 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This is one of those restaurants you can always count on to be great, no matter when you come, or what the occasion—and the subtly French menu is that magical length that gives you options without being overwhelming. While the wine list is thorough and creative, it's the cocktails that really shine—try a refreshing Daybreak (a combination of genepy, elderflower, tonic, and lemon), or their subtle absinthe drink, which is served with gin, mint, and Lillet. The space, which you'll know from the neon cat that hangs out front, is around the corner from the symphony and the War Memorial Opera House, so it's the perfect spot for a date before a performance.
20th Century Café
198 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This café came to us by recommendation from Kim Alter, who calls it one of the neighborhood's hidden gems. Inspired to open up shop after visiting cafés in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, owner and chef Michelle Polzine is known for knishes; linzer tortes; a drool-worthy, 10-layer Russian honey cake; and for her eclectic collection of vintage dresses and aprons. As Alter told us, "She's just the whole package."
Good Mong Kok Bakery
1039 Stockton St., Chinatown
"If you are on the go in SF and don’t have time for a sit-down meal, be sure to head over to this bakery and pick up some takeout. This is where Chinatown’s denizens shop for everything from breakfast to afternoon tea. Arrive early, since things sell out fast, and then power down into full Zen mode while hanging around in that long line. The counter ladies can be cranky and rarely speak English, but then again you just need to hustle your way to the counter, place your order, plunk down your cash, and leave. Snag some baked char siu buns, whatever steamed dumplings grab your fancy, and a couple of flaky pastries." —Carolyn Phillips
5821 Geary Blvd., Richmond
“A Hakka-style restaurant at night, by day this is a nice place to relax over some Cantonese dim sum. You can’t go wrong here with anything that has shrimp in its name, as well as the foil-wrapped chicken, chicken feet, crab claws, and sweet fried sesame balls. Lots of non-Chinese diners are fans, but many of Ton Kiang’s dishes still manage to remain authentic. Service and prices are good, and it tends to be quieter here than in most Chinese teahouses. Lines can frustrate, especially on the weekends, so try to arrive ahead of the rush, which is also when parking is less of a hassle.” —Carolyn Phillips
Peony Seafood Restaurant
388 9th St., Ste. 288, Oakland
“Peony has recently really stepped up its game, and the dim sum here is now simply fabulous. Master chefs in the back make just about everything to order: stellar har gow, garlic chive packets, and fried fun gor (filled half-moon dumplings) with a dipping sauce, while their crackly suckling pigs and lacquered ducks are slowly cooked over open flames. The truffled baozi are beautiful and delicious, too. This cavernous place fills up quickly at lunch and is almost impossible to squeeze into on the weekends, but the service is great and the prices are reasonable.” —Carolyn Phillips
1821 Webster St., Alameda
“Few outsiders are even aware that this little spot on the island of Alameda exists, and its name isn’t do it any favors, either. But Chef’s Wok has the Bay Area’s best Portuguese-style custard tarts in puff pastry, duck chins in Maggi sauce, honeycomb taro-wrapped pork, sesame rollups, herbal guiling jelly, and red bean tapioca balls. It’s a hidden treasure with excellent roast and braised pork and poultry, good service, and reasonable prices. Other than the lovely and huge hand-painted wallpaper of an idyllic Chinese landscape, the décor is barebones and a little tatty. But no one is coming here for anything but the food.” —Carolyn Phillips
330 Gough St., Hayes Valley
Kim Alter's been a fixture of the SF food scene for a long time, working with the Daniel Patterson Group and several of the area's high-end restaurants, but Nightbird is her first solo project. It comes highly recommended by Chef Thea (who calls Alter a "kitchen badass"), which is as about good a seal of approval as you can get at #goophq. Go for Nightbird's stunning $125/person tasting menu that changes with the seasons; next, head to the Linden Room, her teeny-tiny cocktail lounge next-door, for after-dinner drinks.
595 Alabama St., Mission
Opened a year ago, Tartine's light-filled, warehouse-like offshoot is a foodie paradise with lines out the door to prove it. There are the same amazing breakfast and lunch options you can find at the original location, but here you'll also find beer and wine, a soft-serve machine, and (blessedly) a full-on dinner menu. There's a separate, and semi-secret, line for people who are just buying bread and jam, but if you want to wait for something from the full breakfast menu, or a gem from their pastry case, there's a Blue Bottle next door offering sustenance and caffeine in the meantime.
772 Pacific Ave., Chinatown
This place is as cavernous as a high school basketball court, but it's inevitably jam-packed with Chinese folks. Lots of them are elderly, telling you that it's good and cheap. The deep-fried radish cakes, Chinese beignets, and crackly-skinned pork belly here are the best. Always order off the menu and get things freshly made—this is especially important with the fried and steamed items, which lose too much of their magic when they’re wheeled around that enormous room. Get here before the rush. Park in one of the city lots and then wander around old Chinatown to work off those delicious calories.
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