No question about it, the past year has been an exciting one for new San Francisco restaurants. There were several eateries with counter service that went full service in the evening and a plethora of prix-fixe-only, ultra-fine dining tasting menus as well as sushi restaurants. Also in the mix were some restaurants reimagining American cuisine with focuses on everything from sustainability to pure creativity. These are some of our favorites.
Entering Michelin-starred Hashiri is perhaps the closest thing to being transported to Japan. Traditional Japanese influences meld with the modern in the dining room with plenty of art and a video installation on the ceiling that projects natural imagery that changes with the seasons; in fact, the very theme of the restaurant is the micro changes in season. Perhaps the most luxurious of Japanese restaurants, it quickly earned a Michelin star and offers the unique combination of both omakase-style sushi and kaiseki in one out-of-this-world meal. Expect many courses, each in tune with the season and designed to provide an extremely memorable experience. Make a reservation at Hashiri.
Bellota means acorn in Spanish, and, sure enough, the restaurant offers Jamon Iberico De Bellota, the prized ham of Spain. The food and drink is all inspired by various Spanish régions and is created under the watchful eye of executive chef Ryan McIlwraith, who combines the freshest California ingredients with imported Spanish products. There’s a wide range of choices — meats grilled on a wood-fired hearth, paellas, stews, fresh seafood, tapas, montaditos, and bocadillos, and imported charcuterie and cheeses, as well as slow-roasted vegetable dishes. Housed in a historic building South of Market, the interior has a Moorish feel. In addition to cocktails, there is a sizable menu of Spanish wines and sherry. Make a reservation at Bellota.
On trend this year? Casual spots serving stellar food. At Corridor, they offer full service in the evenings when you might just need a reservation if you’re going to make it to one of the theaters across the street. The menu is comprised of elevated comfort food — think French onion soup, meatloaf wellington, or butternut squash and leek risotto with maitake mushrooms, black truffle butter, and Parmesan. It’s seasonal, affordable, and brought to you by Michael Mina veterans who know a thing or two about providing fine fare and service regardless of the environment. Downstairs you’ll find a lively bar and communal seating area and on the mezzanine a quieter setting for table service. Make a reservation at Corridor.
The Perennial is one of the more ambitious and unique restaurants to open recently — and possibly ever. Developed by husband-and-wife restaurateurs Anthony Mynt and Karen Leibowitz, known for a number of restaurants in the Mission including Commonwealth, The Perennial was created with the goal of being sustainable in every way possible. Key elements include an aquaponic greenhouse to reduce food waste, bread made with Kernza, a new perennial grain that counteracts climate change, and meat and dairy from ranches engaged in carbon farming. Seasonal dishes show creativity such as delicata squash and chicharónnes with avocado and geranium, paprika, bergamot, and mint. Make a reservation at The Perennial.
From the acclaimed bakery comes a restaurant — there’s counter service during the day, but also tables you can reserve for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. At dinner, you can expect bread service featuring toppings like cultured butter, buttermilk, and koji salt or sea urchin and mustard smorrebrod. The larger plates have a California sensibility with simple yet enticing combinations like salt-baked whole petrale sole with preserved lemon and pickled onion or skillet roasted chicken with leeks, sherry vinegar, and hazelnuts. Desserts are straightforward, such as rice pudding with persimmon, pomegranate, and almonds or a seasonal Pavlova topped with vanilla ice cream, tangerine, and passionfruit. Make a reservation at Tartine Manufactory.
Leo’s Oyster Bar
San Francisco has its fair share of classic restaurants and bars, but Leo’s has been positively retro from day one. With black and white tile floors, a long pink onyx bar, chandeliers, and splashy tropical wallpaper, it has a decidedly early 1950’s feel. In addition to the platters of chilled seafood, caviar service, and a New England lobster roll, there are also plenty of other seafood entrees, such as miso broiled trout, crab and lobster cakes, seafood bisque, and a tea leaf salad with gem lettuce, crunchy sunflower seeds, peanuts, and toasted garlic that can be served with ahi tuna carpaccio or charred avocado — or both. Make a reservation at Leo’s Oyster Bar.
Little Gem originally opened with counter-only service and a simple mission: to serve delicious food and make people happy. Now, they are full service at dinner. At lunch, you’ll find soups, salads, bowls, and flatbreads with various toppings. At dinner, the menu expands to include small bites, like salmon tartare and Asian-style meatballs, as well as chef plates such as king salmon with red quinoa, kalamata olives, almonds, wilted spinach, and a lemon scallion vinaigrette. Veterans of the Thomas Keller Group run the restaurant, but the concept is all about convenient, accessible dining that’s simple and fulfilling but also happens to be good for you. Yes, it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined sugar-free, but you might never know it. Make a reservation at Little Gem.
A Michelin-star winner, Mosu is a modern kaiseki-style restaurant in a contemporary style. Chef Sung Anh’s cuisine showcases Chinese, Japanese, and Korean influences. He trained at The French Laundry and at Benu under Chef Corey Lee. While the menu changes frequently, chef Anh’s signature dishes include burdock bark composed of thinly sliced burdocks cooked in sweet soy then dried and grilled over hot coals served with butter, fermented kombu, and sansho berries, and sea moss soup with sea moss from the Southern shore of Korea served with foie gras, turnip, steamed rice, and traditional condiments (pictured). Make a reservation at Mosu.
From the descriptor “comida + sangria,” you know Fenix is going to be a fun place. There are small plates to share, and the large plates, like carne asada or goat birria, are reasonably priced and all come with “little tastes,” including chilled watermelon chipotle soup, sweet and hot preserved pumpkin, eggplant, orange, and scallion, and grilled pineapple adobo, in addition to tortillas, rice, and beans. If you’re not in the mood for one of the three different sangrias, you can choose from a short wine and beer list. The interior reinforces the casual and inviting feel with colorful walls and loteria cards affixed to the walls. Make a reservation at Fénix.
Nightbird offers dishes reflecting chef-owner Kim Alter’s commitment to technique, whole animal cooking, and support of local farmers. The dining room feels warm, with soothing neutral and blue tones. The tasting menu changes frequently, but you can expect sophisticated and creative combinations that speak to the season, like kabocha squash, burgundy truffles, and hazelnuts or sweetbreads, cauliflower, and barrel-aged soy sauce. Pastry chef Luis Ayala is responsible for desserts, which include persimmon cake with caramelized chocolate mousse and cream cheese ice cream. Make a reservation at Nightbird.
Ijji is located on the edge of the Haight Ashbury and offers two seatings a night for a beautifully prepared omakase tasting menu that includes five starter dishes and about 13 pieces of nigiri sushi. Sushi chef Billy Kong was previously at the revered Sushi Sam’s in San Mateo and also owns Saru Sushi. Kong travels to Japan frequently seeking sushi inspiration. There are only 15 seats, and the simple, minimalist aesthetic allows you to focus on the dining experience. The ingredients are of the highest quality — 90% of the fish is from Japan, and even the soy sauce is housemade. Make a reservation at Ijji.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Krescent Carasso (Bellota); Alanna Hale (The Perennial); Tartine (Tartine); Aubrie Pick (Leo’s Oyster Bar); Marija Vidal at Olio Studio (Nightbird);