We’ve been busily tracking the trends that are shaping Bay Area food culture in 2023.
Since being in vogue doesn’t automatically mean greatness, we’ve narrowed down the best of what’s hot in the local restaurant industry now. Here are the San Francisco food trends we’re into right now.
The Best Bay Area Food Trends in 2023
Fennel pollen gramigna with milk-braised pork ragù at Sorella.
(Courtesy of @sorella_sf)
ICYMI, Mendocino and northern Sonoma are fighting a climate-induced purple sea urchin invasion that has devastated the coastal ecosystem. So what’s the most sustainable way to destroy the spiky army? In the kitchen. Chefs throughout the Bay Area are incorporating the briney, velvety urchin (in some cases, bringing in other urchin varieties from elsewhere) into a wide range of dishes and cuisines, from Mourad (140 New Montgomery St.) to Ernest (1890 Bryant St.) to Chisai Sushi Club (3369 Mission St.).
Equitable CompensationA handful of SF’s most interesting new and old-school restaurants have abandoned the traditional tipping model, where most of the gratuity you leave is kept by your server while other staff get a smaller fraction of the pot (or none at all), for an equitable compensation fee. Instead of tipping at the end of the meal, equitable compensation fees are included in the bill and distributed fairly among everyone who had a hand in making your meal great. Early adopters include Good Good Culture Club (3560 18th St.), Liholiho Yacht Club (871 Sutter St.), Zuni (1658 Market St.), and Damansara (1781 Church St.); and we expect to see others shifting to the model throughout the year.Tech-Immersive Dining
In 2023, restaurants are reimagining the concept of dinner theater. Tech-assisted tables and dining rooms are bringing the show straight to your plate with imagery and narratives that interact with your meal. At Napa’s CIA at Copia (500 1st St.), a 3D dining experience has animated chefs Nya and Ned saving the world (and your dinner) from evil villain Dr. Animator. Meanwhile, down in the heart of Silicon Valley, iChina (2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara) boasts the region’s first virtual reality dining room. In the VR Realm, you’ll dine on Cantonese cuisine while the table, ceiling, and walls come to life with stunning imagery. Expect more tech-immersive opportunities popping up over the coming months.
Restaurant Subscriptions + Memberships
Every year, it seems, it gets harder and harder for restaurants not just to turn a profit but to survive at all. This has some experimenting with new subscription and membership models for loyal customers. Those who visit Spanish wine bar El Lopo (1327 Polk St.) at least once a month, for example, can join the take-care-of-me club, where in exchange for paying into a monthly house account, they’ll bring you your regular order with no need for the rigmarole of menus and bills. At Merchant Roots (1365 Fillmore St.), members of the Chef’s Circle get perks like early access to reservations and quarterly dining credits. Keep an eye out for more of these to come.
Intrepid pasta and noodle chefs are re-envisioning the standard flour, egg, and oil recipe into something with a little more oomph. These days, you’ll find everything from miso to ginger to brassicas incorporated into the dough, lending depth, umami, and spice in new and interesting ways. Try the trend at Sorella (1760 Polk St.) with dishes like swiss chard ravioli filled with lemon ricotta, at Flour + Water (2401 Harrison St.) with dishes like green garlic spaghetti with braised squid, and at Oakland’s Daytrip (4316 Telegraph Ave.), with miso butter pasta with tomato miso and kelp pearls.
Planet-friendly eating is on the rise. But while some of us are willing to give up meat and dairy completely to help reduce carbon emissions and improve agricultural sustainability, others are about as likely to give up their cheese as aliens are to land on Earth. What if you didn’t have to give up your favorite foods, though? What if, instead, you just cut down a little, prioritizing plant-based meals and decreasing meat and dairy consumption to a few times a week. That would make you a reducetarian, and the growing availability of vegan options at Bay Area restaurants and markets alike attests to the rising trend. For a meal that proves just how good a plant-based meal can be, head to Greens(2 Marina Blvd., Marina), Lion Dance Cafe(380 17th St., Oakland), or Millennium (5912 College Ave., Oakland).
Caviar Everywhere (Even Dessert)
Caviar, that luxury food from the frozen north, is having a Bay Area moment. Not only is it showing up where you might expect it—at seafood-focused restaurants like The Anchovy Bar (1740 O’Farrell St.), for example—it’s also showing up in places where you might not, like Filipino restaurant Abacá (2700 Jones St.). And guess what? Caviar’s not just for dinner anymore. Chefs are incorporating the salty, umami roe into sweet desserts, too. For a taste, order up the donuts with caramel and caviar at Birch & Rye (1320 Castro St.), or head to new sustainable seafood spot Aphotic (816 Folsom St.), where undersea flavors are incorporated into the tasting menu’s final courses.