To find under-the-radar gems, head out to the neighborhoods. Often run by husband and wife teams, these noteworthy spots are just off the beaten path. But they are definitely not just for insiders only. Try one out on your travels to the Bay Area to dine like a local in San Francisco.
Noe Valley is known for many things—it’s where Mark Zuckerberg resides (along with the church that was featured in Sister Act)—but it’s not typically a dining destination. However, there are a couple of places that are destination-worthy including Contigo. Opened by a chef with a passion for Barcelona and his wife who runs the front of the house, the menu offers both tapas and larger raciones both cold and hot. Staple items since day one include wood oven-roasted Half Moon Bay sardines with avocado toast served with pickled red onions and smoked salt and Catalan coca flatbreads with seasonal toppings. A must-order dish is the Monterey chipirones (squid) a la Plancha with arroz negro, chorizo, squid ink, and aioli. Make a reservation at Contigo.
Spaghetti Brothers is off the main drag of the Marina and practically on the edge of the Presidio. True to its name, the spaghetti with uni could make an Italian diner weep tears of joy. The restaurant’s dark interior, strong drinks, and retro specialties, such as toasted ravioli served with marinara, garlic bread, and a chopped salad with feta, sharp cheddar, and salami give it an old school Italian-American vibe. In a word, it’s fun. Don’t miss the lively happy hours and the popular brunch, which is served until 4PM on Sundays. Make a reservation at Spaghetti Brothers.
Chef Kris Toliao is a rising star to be sure. His skills were honed working for Dominique Crenn and at a 2 Michelin star kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo. His wife, Yuka Loroi, smoothly oversees both the front of the house and the beverage program. The reasonably priced wines, beers, and sakes perfectly complement Toliao’s imaginative cuisine. Dishes include the creative use of grains, housemade pickles, cured salts, and jams. Locally sourced fish is a specialty often combined with seasonal ingredients in dishes like Seared Catalina Island Yellowtail with summer corn, olive oil-poached carrots, summer kale kimchee, and bacon black rice. Even simple salads are elevated to something special, such as the Sonoma Little Gem, Green Beans & Strawberry Salad with Armenian cucumbers, dried blueberries, herbed crème frâiche, crispy brown rice, and almonds. Make a reservation at Cassava.
1601 Bar & Kitchen
Another restaurant owned by a husband and wife team, 1601 Bar & Kitchen serves food from chef Brian Fernando that is a fusion of Sri Lankan and California flavors — and positively compelling. In fact, you can’t go wrong with a single dish on the menu. There are two choices for dining — a tasting menu or small plates. And the small plates are very well portioned for sharing. A few of the dishes on the tasting menu, such as the street food favorite egg hopper, are available as a small plate as well. It’s a lacy rice flour and coconut milk crisp crepe, topped with an egg and served with sambals. It’s in a decidedly odd location South of Market but still well worth seeking out. Though the house-smoked salmon and bavette steak are incredible, the vegetarian dishes, including a kale salad with coconut, Parmesan, and black garlic vinaigrette and the crispy okra with cashews, are equally satisfying. Make a reservation at 1601 Bar & Kitchen.
1760 is on a stretch of Polk Street more known for late night drinking than eating, and yet it’s fitting that it’s the perfect spot to indulge in a post-work drink or a leisurely brunch on the weekends. The current chef adds welcome Filipino touches to the menu. On the menu, you’ll find Crab Fat Congee with crispy pork, a soft-cooked egg, and heirloom tomato, and on the dinner menu Pork Sisig with sieved egg, kohlrabi, and ginger aioli. These dishes are so tasty it, will make you wonder why Filipino food has yet to take the country by storm! Make a reservation at 1760.