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Five New Restaurants to Try Right Now

Seafood in Union Square, new-school dim sum in the Mission, and tacos in an Oakland shipping container.


El Pípila

Photo: John Ater Courtesy of El Pípila

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El Pipila

Photo: John Ater Courtesy of El Pípila

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The dining room at Ayala.

Photo: Courtesy of Ayala

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Cioppino verde at Ayala.

Photo: Courtesy of Ayala

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The Lil Yachty at Ayala.

Photo: Courtesy of Ayala

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Tacos Oscar

Photo Courtesy of Tacos Oscar

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Pushcart Kitchen

Photo: Courtesy of Pushcart Kitchen

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Pyeong Chang Tofu House

Photo: Courtesy of Pyeong Chang Tofu House

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El Pípila
Forget Guardians of the Galaxy. The real superheroes, to regional Mexican food enthusiasts, are the “Guardians of Guanajuatan Cuisine”—the moniker chosen by the proprietors of El Pípila, a longtime Off the Grid vendor turned sleek Design District brick-and-mortar. Here, at the only restaurant in the city that claims its roots in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, Guadalupe Guerrero serves rare regional specialties such as her tomato sauce-soaked enchiladas mineras—a traditional lunch for Guanajuatan miners—and a rich black chili-based dish of stewed nopales, which the chef uses as a topping for sopes and tacos. Other pleasures know no regional boundaries, like Guerrero’s fat handmade tortillas or her sublime pozole verde, which comes studded with smoky deep-fried bacon. That one isn’t particular to Guanajuato per se, but it’s a family recipe through and through. 879 Brannan St. (near Eighth Street) –Luke Tsai

Union Square
Named for an 18th-century Spanish explorer, this seafood-focused restaurant, off the Hotel G lobby, looks the Mediterranean part, with soaring archways and whitewashed walls. It’s also a worldly traveler, pulled by currents near and far. Under the dual command of Bar Crudo alum Melissa Perfit and Bill Montagne, a big-name chef from Chicago, the kitchen sojourns smoothly from oysters on a half shell to brown butter-sauteed whole petrale sole, while tacking past interesting ports of call. It plucks sea urchin from Santa Barbara, then spikes it with shiso, cucumber and tobiko. It sails past Baja for a south-of-the-border style cioppino, bathing a rich array of shellfish in a feisty tomatillo-and-poblano broth. The space itself is just as versatile: Ayala’s main dining room is flanked by an oyster bar and lounge, both ideal environments for slurping bivalves and Champagne. 398 Geary Blvd. (at Mason Street), 415.374.7971 –Josh Sens

Tacos Oscar
After 18 months of snags and lags, the refurbished container ship is operational, and this beloved former pop-up has a Temescal home. Loyal fans, identifiable by their “Taco Stalker” T-shirts, can now spy Oscar Michel and his kitchen partner, Jake Weiss, through a corrugated metal window slinging the same farm-to-tortilla street food that has earned them a staunch following. Those tortillas are housemade, and the great stuff that adorns them runs the gamut from chicken mole and pork chili verde to braised and roasted delicata squash. There is no going wrong, and, now, there is also beer and wine, and a shabby-chic courtyard with seating: This charming neighborhood hangout was very much worth the wait. 420 40th St. (at Webster Street) –JS

Pushcart Fare
When the mapo tofu comes mixed with shredded cheese and waffle fries, you know you aren’t in grandma’s musty old dim sum parlor anymore. Run by a trio of food-truck entrepreneurs, Pushcart Fare is kissing cousin to the Chinatown dim sum deli, offering a mishmash of modernized classics, including one of the more succulent versions of siu mai in town. But the most enjoyable dishes veer from the canon entirely, drawing on the restaurant’s freewheeling food-truck roots. There’s Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken mixed with caramel corn and served in the kind of bucket you’d get at the movie theater, and, of course, those spicy-meaty mapo tofu fries—a kind of Sichuan-meets-Texas take on chili cheese fries that might be the oddest or most delicious thing you’ll eat all week. Quite possibly both. 3224 22nd St. (near Bartlett Street), 415.957.1688 –LT

Pyeong Chang Tofu House
The swanky new outpost of the East Bay’s pre-eminent soondubu house boasts a fancy host stand, a more spacious dining area and lots of elegant stained wood. But in all of the most important ways, the Pyeong Chang’s Berkeley sequel stays true to the original Oakland location, trafficking in simple, soul-satisfying pleasures: the softest tofu, the most full-flavored soup, the homiest banchan spread. You can get solid renditions of other popular Korean dishes such as bibimbap and grilled short ribs here, but most regulars opt for one of the bubbling-hot tofu stews that anchor the menu. For a change of pace, try the one with Spam and cheese—a slightly more wholesome, higher-class version of many Korean Americans’ late-night snack of choice. 1269 University Ave. (near Chestnut Street), 510.548.9781 –LT


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco 

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