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Back to Basics With Wood-Fire Cooking

Nopa's wood-fire oven, photo by Serious Eats

In an era of passion fruit caviar, cheesecake foam, and coconut bubbles, it’s a wonder that chefs even use fire for cooking anymore. Surprising, then, that one of the oldest and most traditional methods of cooking is having a resurgence: wood-fired ovens. Molecular gastronomy step aside and make room for browned roasts, bubbling pizzas, and rich seafood stews. Escape from the cold and enjoy a dish straight from a wood-fire oven at one of these local restaurants:

Cotogna

Known for its rustic Italian fare, Cotogna has been a long-time proponent of the wood-fired oven. Chef Michael Tusk offers a daily-rotating menu of roasted meats and fish, wood oven pizzas, and house-made pastas. Try a unique pie like the Cherrystone clam and wild mushroom or a bowl of wood oven roasted mussels. 490 Pacific Ave.

Tomasso’s

Known for its famous patrons including Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Duvall, and George Lucas, Tomasso’s has been a fixture of North Beach’s dining scene since 1935. Their wood-fired pizzas have been deemed some of the best in the U.S., with classic Italian toppings like anchovies, burrata, and parma prosciutto. Or, opt for one of their wood-fired specialties like eggplant parmigiana, chicken marsala, veal parmigiana, and chicken cacciatore. 1042 Kearny St.

Zuni

Zuni’s infamous roast chicken-for-two would be nothing without its brick oven. This beloved dish takes an hour of preparation, but comes out of the oven piping hot and paired with a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dandelion greens, dried currants, and pine nuts. For another taste of wood-fired, try the Santa Cruz white sea bass braised in the brick oven with white wine and marjoram, tomato, fresh shelling beans, cracker bread, and aioli. 1658 Market St.

Kokkari

While it may seem like the Italians are leading the way in wood-fired cooking, Kokkari is out to prove that theory wrong. The Greek taverna creates dishes fit for the gods — with simplicity, distinctive flavors, and beautifully baked dips, stews, and meats. Try oven-baked giant beans with tomato sauce, olive oil, and herbed feta; oven roasted beets with sweet dill and skordalia; oven roasted Brussels sprouts with capers and lemon; oven­­ roasted prawns with tomato and feta; or wood oven baked white fish in a spicy sauce with prawns and mussels. 200 Jackson St.

Nopa

Neighborhood Italian gem Nopa uses their wood-fired oven for more than just pizzas. A number of appetizers, like the giant white beans with feta, oregano pesto, and breadcrumbs, and the roasted mushrooms with bacon, poached egg, and frisee get their depth of flavor from the massive oven. Moving onto entrees, a cassoulet of duck leg, spicy fennel sausage, green lentils, bacon, and carrots joins a rotisserie herbed chicken and a fish stew of black cod, manila clams, mussels, broccoli di ciccio, grilled bread, and aioli. 560 Divisadero St.

Coco 500

Chef Loretta Keller believes that there are two kinds of wood-burning ovens: one for pizzas and one for everything else. To make her restaurant more versatile, she keeps her oven low enough to roast a whole fish, chicken panzanella, and crusted salt cod brandade. Sides like roasted pumpkin and charred broccoli are flavored by the wood fire, while a vegetable lasagna with ricotta and mint bakes side by side with sizzling shrimp. 500 Brannan St.