Per usual, 2014 was another exciting year on the San Francisco restaurant scene. We celebrated the blockbuster openings everyone’s been waiting for and were pleasantly surprised by the quiet arrival of neighborhood gems that stole our hearts. Many of the greatest hits were expansions or sophomore attempts by seasoned vets, but some newbies impressed us with their very first go. And it seems the city is going Japanese, as the obsession with the cuisine continues (reflected by the oncoming of so many options), from ramen to sushi.
With so many new spots, it’s a task to decipher: what’s actually worth your time, money, and precious belly real estate? As food editor, it was my solemn duty to eat my way through (most of) the melee, so you can save yourself for the best ones out there. Here’s your cheat sheet to the best new restaurants of the year.
Photo courtesy of Causwells
A quieter stretch of Chestnut has benefitted from the addition of this cozy neighborhood spot tucked in next to the Presidio Theatre—it surprised me as one of the better meals this year. While not totally mind-blowing, each plate was solid, from the trio of deviled eggs to perfectly cooked octopus to one of the best burgers in the city (SF’s ode to the Big Mac keeps it real with Kraft American cheese). It’s almost enough to make me want to move to the Marina...almost. // 2346 Chestnut St. (Marina)
Photo by Schuyler Bailey
Incanto may be closed and Porcellino may have been short-lived, but all is right in Christopher Cosentino’s world with Cockscomb. The latest venture from the Top Chef Masters-winner is still meat-tastic, with offerings like whole roasted pigs head and plenty of marrow to go around, but it's balanced by more approachable fare—one of the standout dishes being a life-changing grilled cheese (a combination of mild taleggio cheese and honey on housemade brioche, with earthy shaved truffles on top). The roaring wood oven and raw bar, plus an upstairs lounge perfect for people-watching avec cocktail, are so very SF and so very welcome. It has quickly established itself as a mainstay. // 564 Fourth St. (SoMa)
Photo by Cooper Carras
One of two new spots in the Presidio by acclaimed chef Traci des Jardins to open this year, The Commissary’s celebration of Spanish flavors is the big draw here. Opt for a table or counter seat surrounding the open kitchen for the full effect, and don’t miss one of the best roasted chicken dishes in town. The historical charm of the building and picturesque locale, as well as elegant plating and stellar ingredients, make this a site worth seeking out. // 101 Montgomery St. (Presidio)
Photo by Stephanie Shih
Chef-owner Richie Nakano's much anticipated brick-and-mortar for his longstanding pop-up was well worth the wait: one of two dueling ramen shops to open in the Mission this fall, Hapa wins on atmosphere and cool factor, thanks to a Japan-meets-the-Mission interior, complete with a striking, backlit and beautiful bar, to which many a good-looking persons flock for the Polynesian-inspired cocktails. Of course, the grub is delicious, with not only the signature ramen bowls but surprising additions like an utterly crave-worthy shaved Brussels sprouts salad and supple fried chicken-stuffed steamed buns. // 2293 Mission St. (Mission)
Nigiri at Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar; photo by Aubrie Pick.
While I secretly mourn the days when I could duck into this slip of a spot on a whim at an off-hour and quietly devour pristine sashimi, the new, expanded location of this standout spot is every bit as good as the original, just with more to offer: more seats, more hot dishes (the miso asari clams and ocean trout are to-die), and more peeps enjoying the kick-ass cuisine by chef-owner Tim Archuleta. If you enjoy Biggie on loop with your omakase, consider this your very happy place. // 3282 Mission St. (Bernal Heights)
It’s a good thing David Barzelay was laid off from his last job—the impromptu dinner parties at his house, which transformed into what is now the Mission’s hottest reservation, is an experience not to be missed. Barzelay replicates the intimacy of Lazy Bear’s origins with cocktail hour in the upstairs mezzanine (akin to a lumberjack pied-a-terre), with punch bowl service, passed hors d’oeuvres, and plenty of buffalo plaid. Downstairs, the performance continues, with cooks presenting each dish in an animated monologue that both tempts the senses and prompts discussion with your dining companions—enthusiastic foodies who’ve managed to score a lottery ticket from the 1,000-plus mailing list (or paid through the nose on the black market, ahem Craigslist). From edible flowers on a coursed plate to the manzanita tree dangling from the ceiling, every detail is considered, resulting in a unique and delicious night out you won’t soon forget. // 3416 19th Street (Mission)
Photo courtesy of Loló
Many a San Francisco restaurant take themselves too seriously. Loló is not one of them, and I love them for it. The space is bright, festive, and always packed, making for a great night out. Creative small plates (hello, oyster and pork chin sopes) and a wicked mezcal-based cocktail list ensure it won’t end quietly. I do miss the under-the-radar charm of the old spot, but that’s where the Cevicheria comes in. // 974 Valencia St. (Mission)
Photo by Aubrie Pick
Call me a lush, but what a difference a liquor license (not to mention a new pastry chef) makes. While I adored the original, Marlowe’s new digs (the former Coco500) bring it up to par with the Big Night Group’s other hits (Park Tavern and The Cavalier), with a fully stocked bar and accordingly delicious cocktails, inspired decor (lowkey like the original, but with a refreshing dose of glamour), a delightful patio, and expanded menu by chef Jennifer Puccio that gives us even more to love. (Plus, brunch and that long-awaited burger window are coming soon.) This team knows that personality, solid food, excellent service, and a bit of a scene is the key to a killer restaurant, and Marlowe 2.0 has it in spades. // 500 Brannan St. (SoMa)
Beef tartare at Monsieur Benjamin; photo by Cooper Carras.
This sexy French bistro from Corey Lee (Benu) adds a dose of late-night elegance to Hayes Valley—parfait for the after-show crowd. The vibe is very Paris, with the open kitchen acting as the center of the bustle and handsome young things hanging at the bar. Stick bubbles and appetizers like the seafood sausage and sweetbreads, and don’t miss the Camembert beignets dusted with porcini. // 451 Gough St. (Hayes Valley)
Salmon collar at Izakaya Rintaro; photo by Schuyler Bailey.
Save yourself a flight to Tokyo and go here instead. No, really—mud walls, slat wood booths, and skewered meats abound at this truly authentic spot in the former Chez Spencer space. Think of it as izakaya fare with Chez Panisse-level ingredients (the owner is a vet), which means that you dunk your tsukune (chicken meatball) skewer into the freshest wasabi in the country (sourced from the only grower in the states, located in Monterey). // 82 14th Street (Mission)
Roti at The Progress; photo by Schuyler Bailey
Welp, they’ve done it again—Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski (chef-owners of this little place you may have heard of, State Bird Provisions) squeaked in this opening just in time for consideration, and it’s clear it will be among this and next year’s greatest. Like SBP, the flavor combinations are intriguing and intoxicating, and you’re very clearly on a culinary adventure in their hands (literally, you’ll check off your route on the menu; get the roti, and go on the “treasure hunt” if the Treasure Chest is on the menu). The space is akin to SBP but more grown up and quite a bit sexier. I can’t wait to go back, if I can ever get a reservation again. // 1525 Fillmore St. (Western Addition)
Photo by Aubrie Pick
Named for the French tradition of sipping brandy between courses to settle the stomach—and, after my own heart, make room for more—Trou Normand brings European sex appeal to downtown. The all-day offerings, featuring expertly butchered meats processed in-house by chef Salvatore Cracco, are matched by owner Thad Vogler’s meticulously sourced spirits-based cocktails. With decor that transports you to a far chicer time and place, and a massive patio in the center of the city, this is the place for an indulgent day of hooky. // 140 New Montgomery St. (SoMa)