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The Best Places to Eat in SF in 2016

Greek french fries, Israeli ice cream, and all-American grilled cheese: It's a feast to make the whole world drool.

SLIDESHOW

(1 of 7)

The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

(2 of 7)

Souvla

(3 of 7)

Tacos Cala

(4 of 7)

Sow Juice

(5 of 7)

Réveille Coffee Co.

(6 of 7)

The Perennial

(7 of 7)

 

Read more Best of San Francisco 2016 here.

SQUARE MEALS

Breakfast Burrito: Bean Bag Cafe
601 Divisadero St. (at Hayes St.), 415-563-3634
Breakfast burritos are a little like marriages: Everyone has a different idea of what a good one entails. Eggs, however, are paramount, as is their favorable ratio to everything else, and on both of these counts the Bean Bag Cafe delivers. Scrambled and fluffy, the eggs in this resplendent gut bomb ($9.95) are folded with avocado, chunky potatoes, salsa, black beans, melted cheddar, grilled onions, and a choice of many meats. The resulting assemblage hits all of the pleasure points.
Runner-up: Parlor 1255

Brunch: ‘aina
900 22nd St. (at Minnesota St.), 415-814-3815
Small wonder that brunch lines formed at ‘aina the day it opened in April: The permanent iteration of Jordan Keao’s pop-up casts a ray of Hawaiian sunshine on the monochromatic brunch universe. Yes, you’ll find eggs and French toast at the friendly Dogpatch spot. But these eggs come sunny-side up with braised kalbi short rib, rice, smoked hon-shimeji mushroom jus, and pea tendrils in an inspired version of loco moco, and the French toast is made with taro bread from Hawaii’s Punalu‘u Bake Shop. But it’s abundant deliciousness, not novelty, that makes ‘aina a winner. And for that, we say mahalo.
Runner-up: Brenda’s Meat & Three

Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton St. (at Union St.), 415-835-9888
A pizza-making champion and a marketing machine, Tony Gemignani is also a deft showman, a dough-twirling dervish with unfailing star appeal among the 12-and-under set. And thanks to an open kitchen, there’s not a bad seat in the house; this may be the best restaurant performance space in town. But if attention spans are short, fear not: There are crayons to provide extra distraction while Gemignani fires your margherita. For kids—let’s be honest—any pizza will suffice. But these pies (from about $23) are good enough for picky grown-ups, too.
Runner-up: Pica Pica

Bibimbap: Manna
845 Irving St. (at 10th Ave.), 415-665-5969
If you’re a bibimbap enthusiast, then Manna is very accurately named: At this spare, bright, and tight Inner Sunset Korean restaurant, the vegetable-and-rice dish receives sublime treatment. Owner Moon Young Yun’s menu has three kinds of dolsot bibimbap, which comes sizzling in a scorchingly hot stone pot. Our favorite is the seafood version ($10.99), which puts squid and clams, slicked with chili paste, alongside bean sprouts, shredded carrots, radish, zucchini, and seaweed. Topped with a sunny-side-up egg, it’s vibrant and terrifically satisfying, right down to the last grain of crispy rice.
Runner-up: Jin Mi

Sushi: Akiko’s Restaurant
431 Bush St. (near Grant Ave.), 415-397-3218
If you want to know what transcendence feels like, pull up a stool at Akiko’s sushi bar, order a piece of ji-kinmedai (golden eye snapper), and sit in stunned silence as it all but melts down your throat. And then order anything else on the menu; every piece of fish here is so fresh and primally satisfying that it’s almost sexual. The omakase, which starts at around $100, is the best way to appreciate everything that this snug, streamlined Union Square spot has to offer: Surrender to the sushi chef, and prepare to meet your bliss.
Runner-up: Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar

Ethiopian: Tadu Ethiopian Kitchten
484 Ellis St. (near Leavenworth St.), 415-409-6649
It’s hard to order wrong at Tadu, a small, homey spot named for owner (and former cab driver) Elias Shawel’s grandmother, but this is the kind of place where more is more. The vegetarian combination plate ($11.95), which features small portions of four of the restaurant’s veggie-friendly entrées, is served alongside deftly spiced lentils and a salad. There are plenty of options for carnivores, too, including beef, chicken, or lamb tibs and kitfo, a particularly flavorful dish of spiced, sautéed beef. Entrées include generous amounts of warm injera (a gluten-free variety is available), giving you all the more reason to ditch the utensils and get messy.
Runner-up: Assab Eritrean Cuisine

Hole-in-the-Wall: Chile Lindo
2944 16th St. (near Capp St.), 415-621-6108
Walk too fast and you might miss this counter spot on 16th Street, though it’s harder to miss the lines that form for its giant empanadas. Served hot and with hot sauce, the flaky, buttery delicacies are stuffed with your choice of filling (beef, chicken, ham and cheese, jalapeño and cheese, or vegan), some including traditional Chilean “pino” ingredients like raisins, olives, and hard-boiled egg. There’s a short counter outside the window for those who want to linger, but these babies are best eaten on the go.
Runner-up: Chica

Dim Sum: Yank Sing
Multiple locations, yanksing.com
Bring enough friends and you’ll be able to eat your way through the dim sum alphabet at Yank Sing, the relatively posh (by dim sum standards) SoMa lunch spot that has us dreaming about pork siu mai all day long. Carts of steaming pork buns ($5.50 to $7.15), stuffed crab claws ($14), and every imaginable variety of dumpling are ferried by attentive staff decked out in bow ties and aprons; to see the carts pass by your table is to acquaint yourself with new depths of desire. There are specialty vegetarian options—think dumplings filled with green snow pea shoot or carrots—though how one could choose to avoid the succulent, tender slices of Peking duck is lost on us.
Runner-up: Ton Kiang 

Thai: Kin Khao
55 Cyril Magnin St. (at Mason St.), 415-362-7456
San Francisco was already laden with great Thai food when Pim Techamuanvivit opened Kin Khao in 2014, and this swank restaurant off the Parc 55 hotel lobby has spoiled us rotten. In two short years, Kin Khao has made a name for itself with homemade curries and sauces not typically found at other Thai restaurants, such as green-curry rabbit meatballs. Try the yauwaraj noodle, a dish similar to pad see ew but of Chinese origin ($19); the noodles are anointed with house-made XO sauce and mixed with a generous helping of cilantro and green onions. Between the flavors, the cocktails, and the kinetic atmosphere, it’s obvious why Kin Khao has become a superstar.
Runner-up: Rin’s Thai 

Burger: Belcampo Meat Co.
1998 Polk St. (at Pacific Ave.), 415-660-5573
Belcampo’s $15 cheeseburger is everything you need it to be—a thick, flavorful patty sourced from Belcampo’s own farm that serves as a delivery mechanism for cheese and caramelized onion—and nothing more. If the burger’s missing your favorite topping, you can get it on the side for $1. The sesame bun is pliant enough to squish but tough enough to withstand the juices to the end. Belcampo hits the bull’s-eye by fussing just enough with the presentation, then getting out of the way to let the ingredients work their magic.
Runner-up: Marlowe 

Veggie Burger: Roam Artisan Burgers
Multiple locations, Roamburgers.com
As close to beefy as you can get without the beef, Roam’s veggie burger ($7.99) is a brawny, beautiful mess of a thing, a fully loaded creation built on a brown-rice-black-bean-date-quinoa patty, a Pacific Coast Baking Company custom-made bun, and the hopes and dreams of underserved vegetarians. And because it’s served in a burger shop, it can be customized with numerous toppings designed for its carnivorous brethren, like jalapeño relish, caramelized onion, or truffle-parmesan fries. Call it equality at its most flavorful.
Runner-up: Super Duper Burger

Tacos: Tacos Cala
149 Fell St. (entrance on Hickory St., near Franklin St.), 415-660-7701
Gabriela Cámara’s tacos de guisados are neither established enough to inspire fierce loyalty nor served late enough to What they are is really damn good, thanks to sturdy but pliant tortillas made from fresh masa and a roster of fillings (the trout, papas con rajas, and pork in chile colorado are particularly noteworthy) whose juices are sopped up by the beans and rice that come piled into each $3.50 taco. The menu changes; the considerable quality doesn’t.
Runner-up: Taqueria Vallarta

Pizza: Pizzetta 211
211 23rd Ave. (at California St.), 415-379-9880
You can trust this tiny, four-table Outer Richmond pizzeria to take whatever’s in season and find a way to make it delicious on top of a thin-but-sturdy-crusted pie (from $13.50). Asparagus with fontina and almond picada makes for a light but savory vegetarian option, but bacon or pancetta lovers will find their jam, too. While you can’t count on eating the same thing twice, you can always bet there will be a line to get in the door.
Runner-up: Gialina

Pho: Turtle Tower
Multiple locations, turtletowersf.com
“Hot soup!” calls the waiter as he works his way through the crowd. The secret is out: Turtle Tower—with outposts in the Tenderloin, SoMa, and the Richmond—is slinging superlative pho, from the slippery, belly-filling vermicelli to the chopped scallions that fl oat on the surface of its rich, lusty broth. We’re partial to the Pho Tai ($6.75), a minimalist masterpiece of rare beef, fresh noodles, and a generous squeeze of lemon.
Runner-up: Pho Phu Quoc

Steak: Alfred’s Steakhouse
659 Merchant St. (near Kearny St.), 415-781-7058
Modernizing one of San Francisco’s oldest steak houses meant knowing what to tweak and what to leave alone. Under its new owner, the Daniel Patterson Group, Alfred’s has retained its blood-red banquettes, but its menu has been upgraded to make room for organic produce and ingredients like farro. The star attraction has also gone modern: Grass-fed, grain-finished, and mesquite-grilled, the beef is so tender it’s almost touching. No matter what you order—the rib eye, the New York strip—every cut is now a cut above (from $30).
Runner-up: House of Prime Rib  

Ramen: Hawker Eats
1650 Balboa St. (at 18th Ave.), 415-221-6288
At this snug Outer Richmond spot, Kevin Chen and Judy Chen (no relation) are serving up bowls of the city’s most whimsical ramen (from $12), crushing it with idiosyncratic elements like sweet coconut broth, garlicky clams, and pea shoots. Try the Ebirah Monster Ramen with lobster tail, scallops, mussels, and shrimp—it’s like North Beach meets Singapore.
Runner-up: Orenchi Beyond  

Seafood: Petit Crenn
609 Hayes St. (near Laguna St.), 415-864-1744
Dominique Crenn’s charming brasserie is awash with memories of her Brittany upbringing, expressed in a $79 prix fixe that can move from raw miyagi oysters crowned with smoked tomato gelée to whole grilled trout that’s deboned tableside and topped with delectable cider sabayon. It’s seafood as biography, done with precision and a lack of pretense. You could even call it Proustian, if Proust could really cook and knew his way around a trawler.
Runner-up: Swan Oyster Depot 

Hippie Food: Seed + Salt
2240 Chestnut St. (at Avila St.), 415-872-9173
Is it still hippie food if it’s served in the Marina district? It’s a testament to owner Mo Clancy and chef Ariel Nadelberg that their cuisine blows past such sociological niceties, partly thanks to what it doesn’t have: dairy, gluten, GMOs, refined sugar, trans fats, and, of course, meat. When Seed + Salt opened in late 2014, its menu encapsulated practically every thoughtfully virtuous strand of dining, even on the all-but-obligatory toasts (from $4), served with thick smears of garbanzo hummus or avocado on whole-grain or seed-and-nut bread. A year later, the generous kale salad ($12)—loaded with frisée, Rhizocali black-eyed-pea tempeh, sunflower seeds, and housemade Caesar dressing—and the BLT ($13), made with eggplant bacon, continue to satisfy vegans and the vegan-adjacent alike.
Runner-up: Judahlicious 

Grilled Cheese: The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
Multiple locations, theamericansf.com
Bread, cheese, and all that heaven allows to be stuffed between them basically sums up the gut-busting appeal of this local chainlet’s oleaginous creations: These are sandwiches that fully deliver upon the promise of a deceptively simple formula. Arguably most appealing of all is the mushroom gruyère sandwich ($11), which also involves fontina, melted-leek-and-onion purée, and thyme butter. You can order it with a salad, but it’s better to request an accompanying nap.
Runner-up: Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick Cafe & Milk Bar

Pasta: La Ciccia
291 30th St. (at Church St.), 415-550-8114
While other chefs make a show of their artisanship, presenting pasta making as a rarefied craft, Massimiliano Conti contents himself with old-world understatement, his menu built upon Sardinian staples that have been historically proven to deliver surpassing pleasure. Perhaps the most pleasurable is Conti’s stunning spaghetti with bottarga ($20). With a briny blast of dried roe in every starchy bite, it’s a dish so simple you’d swear that anyone could pull it off—except, of course, very few can.
Runner-up: The Italian Homemade Company

 

INDULGENCES

Chocolate Chip Cookie: Craftsman and Wolves
Multiple locations, Craftsman-wolves.com
One word sums up why William Werner’s chocolate chip cookie is different from other chocolate chip cookies: shrapnel. That’s Valrhona chocolate shrapnel, sprayed liberally but not excessively throughout every nook and cranny of this big (but not too big), thick, faintly salty beauty ($3.25). Each bite of its crisp-chewy-pliant crumb offers an optimum chocolate-to-everything-else ratio; you could accurately say it’s the sweetest arithmetic in town.
Runner-up: Merigan Sub Shop 

Chocolate Shop: Chocolate Covered
4069 24th St. (near Castro St.), 415-641-8123
Thanks to the tin boxes that crowd its window, it’s possible to overlook this Noe Valley shop. But to walk on by is to deny oneself the biggest, giddiest chocolate collection in town: Here, among 900-plus kinds of chocolate from 19 countries, you’ll find everything from local darlings like Dick Taylor and Michael Mischer to overseas obscurities like Pump Street Bakery chocolate (England) and Omnom Chocolate (Iceland). You’ll also find amiable co-owners Jack Epstein and Marilyn Sitkoff, who have held the keys to the kingdom since 1994.
Runner-up: Recchiuti Confections

Ice Cream: Humphry Slocombe
Multiple locations, Humphryslocombe.com
There’s nothing not to like about Humphry Slocombe, from its humorous flavors to the friendly scoopers behind the counter. You already know about Secret Breakfast and Vietnamese Coffee, but what about Princess Project Pink Lemonade sorbet, which benefits a local nonprofit that provides prom dresses to low-income youth? Or Halvabaloo, a combination of black vinegar and Israeli halva ice cream? Get a scoop ($4.25) and sit outside the company’s Mission storefront, or grab a pint ($9.50) to go; either way, you’ll never go back to Ben & Jerry’s.
Runner-up: Joe’s Ice Cream 

Doughnuts: Pinkie’s Bakery
1196 Folsom St. (near 8th St.), 415-556-4900
Pinkie’s doles out all things sweet, but it’s the cake doughnuts ($3) that illustrate owner Cheryl Burr’s true wizardry: Fat, buttery, and resoundingly addictive, they come in flavors like cookies ’n’ cream, vanilla almond, and butterscotch. There are only two kinds available at any given time: vanilla with sprinkles and the flavor of the day, chosen from a rotating list of favorites.
Runner-up: Bob’s Donuts

Breakfast Pastry: B. Patisserie
2821 California St. (near Divisadero St.), 415-440-1700
All the pastries at Belinda Leong’s Pacific Heights hotspot look like delectable little presents, but it’s the kouign amann (from $4), that flaky, buttery Breton cousin of the croissant, that has made Leong a pastry superstar. Aside from the plain variety, the bakery rotates several seasonal options that come filled with fresh fruit preserves and are even tastier and messier than the original. Our vote is for the strawberry, served warm and oozing with summer sweetness that gets all over your taste buds—and your shirt.
Runner-up: Craftsman and Wolves

Fries: Souvla
517 Hayes St. (near Octavia St.), 415-400-5458
Too often, french fries are either an afterthought, rendered soggy by the juicy burger sitting next to them, or smothered with so many toppings it’s hard to remember you’re even eating potatoes. Not at Souvla. Theirs ($4) are everything fries are meant to be—golden brown and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and salted to perfection. Topped with mizithra cheese, parsley, and lemon juice, they don’t need any additional flavor, but try one of the Greek yogurt dipping sauces anyway. Turns out you can improve on perfection.
Runner-up: Park Tavern

Wings: Namu Gaji
499 Dolores St. (at 18th St.), 415-431-6268
Red-hot wings are a dime a dozen. Badass wings are what you want. And they’re what you’ll find at this redoubtable Mission Korean-Californian restaurant, where they come topped with blue cheese and pickled onions and glistening in gochujang glaze for a perfect mix of salt, fat, and fire ($14). When God created happy hour, this was the kind of food he had in mind.
Runner-up: San Tung

 

DRINKS

Cocktail Menu: The Perennial
59 9th St. (at Jessie St.), 415-500-7788
So much of the copy spilled on the Perennial has focused on its (admirable) environmental practices that you could be forgiven for being ignorant of the fact that it’s slinging the best cocktails in town. The work of alcohol alchemist Jennifer Colliau—best known for her drinks at the Interval and her Small Hand Foods line of cocktail ingredients—they’re liquid dissertations on balance and beauty. To sample the savory citrus smack of the salted lime collins ($12) is to sample utopia.
Runner-up: Liholiho Yacht Club

Coffee Shop: CoffeeShop
3139 Mission St. (near Precita Ave.), 415-368-3802
With its roster of pour-overs, espresso drinks, and housemade toast, this minute Bernal Heights counter looks like your typical uppity third-wave coffee mecca. But for husband-and-wife owners Wilson Jones and Olga Boiko, the menu is simply a starting point, not a holy document (though maybe it should be: The $3 iced coffee comes with cold-brew ice cubes, the holy grail of drink hacks). Special requests—iced coffee with a dollop of foam? Gibraltar with a dash of melted chocolate?—are often met with glee. Buy a bag of beans (Ubuntu Coffee Cooperative is their supplier) and your cup of coffee’s on the house.
Runner-up: Andytown

Smoothie and Juice: Sow Juice
Ferry Building Marketplace (Embarcadero at Market St.), 415-637-7343
The past few years have given us a pious coven of juice bars selling everything from smoothies to vegan hemp wraps. While that’s all well and good, there’s something reassuring about Sow, which is as tiny as it is single-minded in its focus on making damn good juice. Its menu is short, but its juice (from $5), which is made to order with California produce and served in unconventional combinations like the orange-kale-mint-ginger-and-peppercress-endowed Hero, is potent, refreshing, and inspired.
Runner-up: Living Greens

Wine Bar: Pause
1666 Market St. (near Gough St.), 415-241-9463
It’s hard to pick just one best wine bar in San Francisco, because Pause’s Dogpatch cousin, Yield, almost perfectly replicates its organic- and biodynamic-focused lineup (from $10). But this low-key mid-Market spot takes the gold, thanks to a frequently changing menu of sustainable and family-owned wines (among them Chilean carménères and Taft Street rosé). Owner Chris Tavelli once worked at Millennium, meaning there’s plenty of vegetarian fare—like vegan flatbread pizzas—to complement the wine.
Runner-up: Wine Kitchen 

Tearoom: Lovejoy’s Tea Room
1351 Church St. (at Clipper St.), 415-648-5895
With its preponderance of lace and potentially breakable objects, this Noe Valley tearoom is a lot like Miss Havisham’s attic. But it’s also delicious: Traditional “cream teas” bring warm scones with Devon cream and fresh fruit. If you’re feeling grand, opt for the Queen’s Tea ($28.95), which comes with your choice of tea sandwiches, cabbage salad in a caraway dressing, and a variety of fruit and pastries. Everything includes bottomless pots of tea (with flavors such as spiced citrus and dragonwell), giving you the perfect excuse to while away an afternoon among the antiques.
Runner-up: Tal-y-Tara Tea and Polo Shoppe

 

CITY STAPLES

Bread: The Mill/Josey Baker Bread
736 Divisadero St. (near Fulton St.), 415-345-1953
Making great bread is a grind. Literally: Every morning, Josey Baker’s stone mill churns into motion, pulverizing oats, einkorn, and heirloom wheat—the wholegrain building blocks of the aptly named Baker’s breads. The resulting loaves (from $6.99), studded with nuts, flecked with seeds, and sweetened with cinnamon and raisins, hark back to an era when bakeries worked without commercial shortcuts. It’s no surprise that they disappear so quickly from the shelves at the (also appropriately named) Mill, where Baker shares space with Four Barrel Coffee. There you can, of course, also buy a slab of infamous $4 toast, a price that really isn’t that bad for what is basically a meal.
Runner-up: Tartine Bakery 

Cheese Shop: Cheese Plus
2001 Polk St. (at Pacific St.), 415-921-2001
Cheesus, look at the selection: an assortment of 200 kinds of curds, from asiago to Pt. Reyes Original Blue, overseen by smart but unpretentious staffers who know their camembert from their crescenza and encourage you to try before you buy. The “Plus” refers to sandwiches, which are made on the spot (try the Cow Hollow, which pairs roast beef with double-crème brie) and sold alongside other gourmet items that crowd the shelves at this lively Polk Gulch shop. Frankly, though, they had us at “cheese.”
Runner-up: Cowgirl Creamery

Salad: Réveille Coffee Co.
Multiple locations, Reveillecoffee.com
For a coffee company, Réveille sure knows its way around a leafy green. Its menu (which varies by location) is a salad haven, a tour de force of chlorophyll. Kale salad ($11), by now as inescapable as the wind, is here embellished with blue cheese, egg, and bacon, while tuna salad ($11.75) gets a welcome tweak from roasted beets, capers, olives, arugula, and some spankingly fresh albacore tuna. Every bite contains something you want to keep eating, which is possibly the highest endorsement a salad can get.
Runner-up: Jane on Fillmore

Falafel Sandwich: Truly Mediterranean
3109 16th St. (near Valencia St.), 415-252-7482
A great falafel sandwich is about 5 percent falafel and 95 percent the other stuff . While plenty of places can make falafel that is crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and appropriately seasoned, it’s the folks at Truly Mediterranean who understand the importance of the sandwich’s supporting players. Their falafel deluxe ($8.75) is a study in proportion and care: The balls coexist happily with creamy fried eggplant, cubes of fried potato, diced cucumber, tomato, tahini, and hot sauces. It’s all heaped into a lavash wrap that’s then thrown on the grill, turning it into a crackly, crunchy envelope that can barely contain the greatness within.
Runner-up: Liba Falafel truck 

Toast: Samovar Tea
411 Valencia St. (near 15th St.), 415-553-6887
We’re now so inured to $4 toast in this town that the prices on Samovar Tea’s toast menu, which start at $3.50, have raised nary an eyebrow. And Samovar’s toast seems made to inspire love, not war. It’s really hard to complain when you’re contemplating the splendor of the tahinimiso toast ($4.50), smeared generously with its namesake ingredients and garnished with microgreens and seeds, or navigating the Green Eggs & Ham toast ($8), which comes armed with sous-vide eggs and sprinkled with green tea salt. They’re both built on a foundation of thick Patisserie Philippe brioche whose ethereal crumb balances its heft. It’s toast whose memory lasts—and provokes return visits.
Runner-up: The Mill

Pizza by the Slice: The Mill
736 Divisadero St. (near Fulton St.), 415-345-1953
If this joint project between Four Barrel Coffee and Josey Baker Bread slung only coffee and toast, it would have been enough. But it also has the best slice in town—with a whole wheat crust, to boot ($3.50 a slice, $26 whole). Instead of commodity mozzarella, every Monday night the spot serves a new cast of toppings like paneer, mint, asparagus, and nigella seeds or kale, preserved lemon, and black pepper ricotta. (Pro tip: It’s BYOB, so bring a corkscrew and make new friends.) New York style? Chicago deep dish? Yeah, yeah. That’s fine for other cities. It’s about time for San Francisco–style pizza.
Runner-up: The Pizza Shop

Poke Bowl: Poki Time
549 Irving St. (near 7th Ave.), 415-702-6333
Nowhere is the poke bowl’s growing appeal better encapsulated than at Poki Time, which gives the Hawaiian raw-fish-and-rice staple the Chipotle treatment: Each bowl (from $9.95) is fully customizable, from the very fresh raw fish (salmon, yellowtail, or ahi) to the rice (brown, white, or both) to the multitude of dressings and toppings like seaweed, mango, sliced cucumbers, furikake, and avocado. Assembly-line poke: It may not be sexy, but it sure delivers.
Runner-up: Sammy’s Aloha

Hot Dog: Los Shucos
3224½ 22nd St. (near Bartlett St.), 415-366-3868
The big revelation of a Los Shucos dog is that frankfurters and avocados make great bedfellows. An heir to Guatemalan hot dog carts—which marry American dogs with Latin toppings—this Mission district spot starts with a tender, high-quality skinless frank (or chorizo) and builds it up with add-ons that wouldn’t be out of place in a gourmet sandwich: crunchy cabbage, lime-smashed avocado, and mayo leavened with cream. But peek under the bun and there’s no pretense—just a delicious mess. The original dog is sliced and grilled, which gives the entire assembly the affect of a chunky hot dog salad. Prefer your tubular meats uncut? The bacon-wrapped franks pack a juicy punch. Either way, these babies (from $6.95) are two-handers.
Runner-up: 4505 Meats

Diner: Eddie’s Cafe
800 Divisadero St. (at Fulton St.), 415-563-9780
Eddie’s Cafe is a breath of fresh air in a city that’s lost its breath. It’s a relaxed, charmingly quotidian, and easy-on-the-wallet spot where the menu doesn’t feature a lot of highfalutin adjectives and the coffee is served with free refills in cups apparently amassed on a cross-country road trip. You can sit at the counter or in padded booths and enjoy Al Green thumping on the speakers while you eat proper soul food cooked just right by the diner’s longtime owners and served to its gradually changing demographic of elderly churchgoers in their Sunday best and unwashed hipsters in hoodies.
Runner-up: It’s Tops

Sandwich: Merigan Sub Shop
636 2nd St. (near Brannan St.), 415-536-2991
“Subs” is a bit of a misnomer for the well-built sandwiches at Merigan’s. The bread may be pillowy and rounded, but the marriages between ingredients are a helluva lot smarter than anything on the hoagie spectrum. The roast beef gets its zing (and a welcome dose of moisture) from horseradish ricotta and pickled onions, but it never tips over into full-on fistful-of-meat territory thanks to a blanketing of arugula. Carnivores will thrill to meat-fests like the Widowmaker ($16), but inventive veggie fillings like bean fritters hold down the herbivore end of the menu.
Runner-up: Deli Board

Dumplings: Kingdom of Dumpling
1713 Taraval St. (near 27th Ave.), 415-665-6617
Loyal XLB lovers from far and wide are known to huddle outside of this Outer Sunset institution, waiting in the cold in the hopes of landing a seat at one of its nine tables, all bedecked in red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and often covered in stacks of bamboo steamer baskets. And why wouldn’t they? The dumplings here come out hot, fat, and plentiful (six for $4.95), and there are all the traditional varieties to choose from. The fresh, doughy wrappers and softly cooked pork quickly subsume the senses, making one forget all about the chilly struggle for a seat.
Runner-up: Shanghai Dumpling King

Grab-and-Go: Proper Food
Multiple locations, Properfood.com
If you want to understand what makes Proper Food such a brilliant outlier in the takeaway universe, try to wrench your gaze from its shelves of pristine seasonal salads and sandwiches and pause for a second to contemplate its $13.50 calamari and black quinoa salad. Not only are both the squid and the quinoa perfectly cooked: They’re also accompanied by two kinds of shaved asparagus, a judicious shower of feta cheese, and a chorus of black chickpeas. Black chickpeas! In a takeaway container! Welcome to the takeout renaissance.
Runner-up: Split Pea Seduction

Outdoor Patio: All Good Pizza
1605 Jerrold Ave. (near Newhall St.), 415-933-9384
It’s not shaded by a lush stand of trees (though the potted succulents are awfully nice), but All Good Pizza’s ample alfresco dining room still manages to feel like a hidden oasis, one that’s as long on charm as it is short on walls. With its floral-oilcloth-covered picnic tables, wood-chip ground cover, strings of colored bulbs, and abundance of Bayview sunshine, it’s as pleasing as the pizzas that come out of its ovens.
Runner-up: Arlequin Cafe

Date Night: Octavia
1701 Octavia St. (at Bush St.), 415-408-7507
What constitutes an ideal date-night restaurant is, like anything else concerning a date, in the eyes of the beholder. That said, Octavia is pretty hard to beat. Melissa Perello’s Lower Pacific Heights restaurant hits all of the right buttons: intensely flattering filtered natural light streamed through high windows; service that’s attentive but not overbearing; beautiful decor that’s restrained enough to keep your eyes on your date; and, of course, Perello’s seasonal California cooking, which is its own form of romance.
Runner-up: Flour + Water

 

RETAIL

Grocery Store: Rainbow Grocery
1745 Folsom St. (near Erie St.), 415-863-0620
Shopping the shelves of Rainbow reveals a bounty of produce rivaled only by farmers’ markets, a cheese section that makes Whole Foods look like a minimart, and bulk aisles rivaled by none. Need seven different types of self-serve miso? No problem. Pink or gray or black salt? Uh-huh. Dried kelp whip fronds? You bet. There’s bulk olive oil by the vat and fresh nut butters by the bucket, but if you want a steak you’ll have to go elsewhere—Rainbow is proudly vegetarian.
Runner-up: Mollie Stone’s

Butcher: Avedano’s
235 Cortland Ave. (near Bonview St.), 415-285-6328
The sign hanging out front is old-school, but the promise of this Bernal Heights butcher is decidedly contemporary. In addition to its inventory of humanely raised meat from local farms like Riverdog and Five Dot Ranch, you’ll find butchery classes, a monthly supper club, excellent sandwiches, and CSA meat subscriptions for both humans and dogs. Yep, dogs. Never mind contemporary: Avedano’s is a brave new world.
Runner-up: Prather Ranch 

Spice Shop: Spice Ace
1821 Steiner St. (near Sutter St.), 415-885-3038
You could forgive Spice Ace, with its bare white walls and single chandelier, for stinting on decor: The more than 400 herbs, spices, salts, peppers, sugars, extracts, and custom spice blends that line its shelves are all the embellishment the Lower Pacific Heights shop needs. Looking for curry? You’ll find at least 15 varieties of it here. Salt? There are more than 90, including fantastically unconventional specimens like ilocano asin and Trinidad scorpion. But this is not a monument to gastronomic esoterica: If you want plain old cinnamon, you can find that here, too (three varieties of it, to be precise). You’ll also find reasonable prices—typically between $3 and $12—and solid customer service.
Runner-up: The Spice and Tea Exchange

Produce Market: Haight Street Market
1530 Haight St. (near Ashbury St.), 415-255-0643
Less a market than an urban Garden of Eden, this compact but comprehensive shop has been peddling impeccably fresh (and often organic and California-grown) fruits and vegetables since the Vardakastani family opened its doors in 1981. The kale, wheatgrass, oranges, and their antioxidant-saturated brethren are so springy and fresh that they appear almost sentient, and their prices are sensible: Here you’ll find organic California carrots for $1.99 a bunch, four avocados for $5, and fat stalks of Washington-grown rhubarb for $4.99 a pound. Yes, there’s usually a line, but it’s there for good reason.
Runner-up: 22nd & Irving Market

 

 

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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