Best of the City 2009: Eat + Drink


Chocolate and caramel, curry carts and cocktails for the road. Mexican fiestas, Hawaiian loco moco and Shanghai Bucks. Where to get goat in the Marina, black-sesame popsicles in the Mission and … Tums (available at any Walgreens).

Best Lo-Fi Trend: Food Carts

The one positive thing about this downturn? The uptick in think-outside-the-restaurant mentality—Mission Street Food started it and others have continued. Now Amuse-Bouche dishes up $1 mini breakfasts at the 24th Street BART; Chez Spencer has just launched a truck with a French accent (; plus, the “magic curry kart” often teams up with the crème brulee cart for the one-two punch. DIY and generally delicious. Follow the carts on Twitter to find their whereabouts: @magiccurrycart, @cremebruleecart, @AmuseBoucheSF

Best Foodie Book: Righteous Porkchop by Nicolette Hahn

Factory hog farmers sure make commercial strawberry growers look downright sweet. The book that proves this is Righteous Porkchop (Collins Living) by Nicolette Hahn Niman—the tale of a NYC-based environmental lawyer (and vegetarian) who goes after the hog industry. Along the way she falls in love with Niman Ranch founder Bill Niman and moves to Bolinas to become a rancher. The expected, horrific revelations about big ag are tempered by the author’s endearing, unlikely romance.

Best Biscuit: The Broken Record

SF is not really a biscuit town, so an expertly crafted, Southern-style buttermilk version at The Broken Record in the Excelsior is notable indeed. Chef Katharine Zacher treats her dough like puff pastry—folding in butter and letting it rest. The result is a flaky wonder that needs neither honey nor butter. 1166 Geneva Ave., 415-963-1713.

Best New Chocolates: Neo Cocoa

Fledgling chocolatiers dangerously tinkering with infusions of lavender are a dime a dozen. That’s why SF’s Christine Doerr, who launched Neo Cocoa last year, is so valuable. Her truffles separate themselves from the masses; her touch is subtle and sophisticated. She skips the enrobing and dips the balanced ganache, enriched with Straus cream, only in cocoa. Try the ginger, toasted coconut, cocoa nibs (pictured above) or our favorite, almond butter and sea salt.

Best Mexicatessen: La Palma Foods

La Palma Foods, the 56-year-old Mission District Mexicatessen, has long been our go-to source for masa, fresh tortillas and carnitas by the pound—but it also offers one of the cheapest ways to throw a party. For just $180, you and 25 of your closest friends can chow down on enchiladas, tamales, beans, rice, salsa, guacamole and chips. At $7.25 a person, this thrifty party leaves enough moola for muchos cervezas—which is of critical importance. 2884 24th St., 415-647-1500.

Best Cocktail: Heaven’s Dog’s Famous Shanghai Buck

If we could only have one cocktail on our island, it would be this one: Heaven’s Dog’s Famous Shanghai Buck. Made with a bracing shot of fresh-pressed ginger juice, Pampero Aniversario rum, lime and a stick of ice and served in a thin highball glass, it’s like a tropical vacation in the middle of SoMa. Have three and a cab. Or bring a designated driver. It’s almost as good prepared like a virgin. 1148 Mission St., 415-863-6008.

Best Mini Supermarket: Duc Loi

The recent opening of the Duc Loi mini supermarket brings to the Mission District a food lovers’ treasure trove. There’s a fresh section here, but the shelves and frozen section are where it’s at: You’ll find plantain chips, palmiers, chicharrones, pizzelle cookies, dried guajillo chilis, black sesame popsicles, biscotti, Korean sweet potato noodles, canned vegetarian mock chicken, Jeremiah’s Pick Coffee and Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Hooray for multiculturalism. 2200 Mission St., 415-552-1772.

Best High/Low Wine Bar: RN74

The new bustling RN74 (Mina Group does “casual” wine bar) is an oenophile’s dream. From one of the country’s deepest wine lists, choose between a $12,500 bottle of 1870 Lafite-Rothschild (a steal, by the way) or a $29 bottle of 2007 Lapierre Morgon Beaujolais. And drink it all while wearing jeans and a T-shirt. 301 Mission St., 415-543-7474.

Best Butcher: David Budworth of Avedano’s and Marina Meats

Dividing his time between Bernal Heights and the Marina, affable David Budworth works for both Avedano’s and Marina Meats. On Chestnut Street, where the choice of the day consists of chicken breast or salmon, he’s a proselytizer for goat and beef cheeks. In Bernal, he sells his hand-cut porterhouse steaks. The 20-year vet wants to educate: He recently spoke on whole animal butchery at UC Berkeley. But to those who stop by either shop, the lesson is free. Avedano’s, 235 Cortland Ave., 415-285-6328; Marina Meats, 2395 Chestnut St., 415-673-6700.

Fresh Prospect: Ravi Kapur, Chef de cuisine, Boulevard
Ravi Kapur is a reflection of the melting pot-influenced new American cuisine that he cooks: The Mission District resident was born in Hawaii to a Hawaiian-Chinese mother and an Indian father. Prepping to be the executive chef of Boulevard’s next project—a SoMa restaurant called Prospect, set to open next spring—keeps him busy. But on his Sundays off, you’ll find him with his dog Hoku, hunting squirrels in Buena Vista Park, or sitting down for a pizza breakfast at Beretta. Read More...

Best Sandwich: Roli Roti porchetta sandwich at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

The Roli Roti porchetta sandwich at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market makes you want to sing for your lunch (It's one of our top 100 things you must eat in SF before you die. It’s made with Heritage Range free-range pork stuffed full of herbs, rolled in a pork belly wrapping and let to laze around on the rotisserie for four hours until crispy. Only then is it sliced and placed inside a ciabatta roll that’s been sopped with the juices and topped with greens. We’re not the only ones who love it. Get in line.

Best Bookstore: Omnivore Books

Since Celia Sack opened Omnivore Books last fall, this teeny shop (hawking both antiquarian and new cookbooks) in a quiet corner of Noe Valley has lured just about every big culinary personality with a book to do a signing or talk. The shop itself is only 500 square feet, which gives disciples the chance to actually rub elbows with heroes like Eric Ripert and Deborah Madison. This month, catch Alice Waters and Michael Pollan. 3885 Cesar Chavez St., 415-282-4712.

Best Cookware: The Iittala Sarpaneva Cast Iron Pot from Aldea

While a summer evening 20 miles out of town inspires a salad of sliced heirloom tomatoes, here in SF, the fog rolls in, and all of the sudden, tomato soup sounds just about right. The Iittala Sarpaneva cast iron pot, lined with white enamel, is a classic from 1960 revitalized 40-some years later. It makes every braise, soup and stew seem seasonless. At Aldea, 3338 17th St., 415-865-9807.

Best DIY Winemaking: Crushpad

SoMa-based Crushpad no longer limits its DIY winemaking experience to California vintages. That means you can now compare your Howell Mountain Cab to the Bordeaux you made using grapes from Crushpad’s new facility, located in a chateau in Saint Emilion, France. The genius is that the whole process—from grape selection to labeling—can be done from your computer.

Best Kids’ Menu: Foreign Cinema

You want oysters and Champagne; they want ice cream and a coloring book. It’s all at Foreign Cinema. We favor the patio brunch, where parents can nibble on a croque monsieur while the kids get crayons, a little coloring book made of Xeroxed drawings from The Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking and a prix-fixe menu, including fresh fruit, their choice of excellent French toast or grilled cheese, and ice cream. No compromising necessary. 2534 Mission St., 415-648-7600.

Best Candies: Anastasia Hagerstrom’s Sweet Revolution Caramels

Anastasia Hagerstrom’s Sweet Revolution caramels, made by hand in a Dogpatch kitchen, are a magical alchemy of five ingredients: honey, maple syrup, butter, cream and gray sea salt. We. Can’t. Stop. Eating. Them. At Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th St., 415-241-9760.

Best Farmer's Market Bag: Timbuk2

Now that the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market has just stopped using plastic bags, going to the market is all about your carry-along cool-factor. This option, in cheery teal recycled PET fabric, made by locally owned company Timbuk2, starts out wallet-sized and opens into a full-fledged backpack, perfect for stuffing full of produce and biking back home along the waterfront.

Best Lunch To-Go: Kitchenette SF

Kitchenette SF—the new to-go, lunch-only operation run by catering company Living Room Events out of its loading dock—is our idea of love in the afternoon. While most sandwich joints lack creativity, the daily-changing menu here is inspired, including a slow-roasted pork banh mí (pictured right); a big spring salad with asparagus, fingerling potatoes and hard-cooked eggs; and a Korean taco (a trend picked up from L.A.). Don’t miss the crackly, chewy chocolate “coconut devil” cookies. And arrive early—when it’s gone, it’s gone. 958 Illinois St., (no phone).

Best Cooking School: The Art Institute of San Francisco

Do you TiVo repeats of Iron Chef? Do you geek out on knives? We can’t promise you the chairman will come calling, but your dreams (might) come true at The Art Institute of San Francisco, which opened its new culinary school this year in sleek new facilities in Civic Center. Unlike some schools where the teachers used to cook in professional kitchens back in the day, the instructors here are all working chefs. Which means they’ll tell it like it is in the real world (a lot of blood, sweat and tears).

Best Drink Mixer: Dolin Vermouth de Chambery

No, it’s not the gin. Or vodka, for that matter. Dolin Vermouth de Chambery is the latest darling of SF bartenders, from Bourbon & Branch to Beretta. The French vermouth—which comes in dry, blanc and rouge—is made the same way it was when the company launched in 1821, with a subtle flavor and a higher-than-normal acidity. It’s great in a martini, but also enjoyed over ice as a summer aperitif. At Cask, 17 Third St., 415-424-4844.

Best Delivery Service: Rye on the Road “Bottle Service”

Talk about drinking and driving: One of the best bars in town, Rye, now offers Rye on the Road “bottle service.” Order your beverages of choice (Rum Swizzle? International Sour? Basil Gimlet?), and they’re delivered to your party, shaker-ready—allowing you to play mixologist, if but for one glorious night. 415-474-4448.

Best Delivery Service: Rye on the Road “Bottle Service”

Talk about drinking and driving: One of the best bars in town, Rye, now offers Rye on the Road “bottle service.” Order your beverages of choice (Rum Swizzle? International Sour? Basil Gimlet?), and they’re delivered to your party, shaker-ready—allowing you to play mixologist, if but for one glorious night. 415-474-4448.

Check out our other 2009 Best of Picks

Eat + Drink • DesignFashionDayNight

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