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Four New Restaurants to Try Right Now

Jerk chicken, skillful tapas, and inspired Thai food.


A duo of tropical cocktails at Kaya.

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The bar that is the centerpiece of the dining room at Kaya.

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The jerk chicken at Kaya.

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Photo: Courtesy of Barvale

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Pad Thai with shrimp and shallots at Funky Elephant.

Photo: Pete Ivy

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Civic Center
For all its claims of being an international food city, San Francisco has not up to this point had much to offer the jerk chicken enthusiast or the ackee-and-saltfish connoisseur—and especially not for those who wanted to enjoy their Caribbean eats in an upscale setting. Enter Kaya, the Mid-Market sister restaurant to Kingston 11, chef Nigel Jones’s popular Jamaican spot in Uptown Oakland. The San Francisco iteration is already popular with the after-work crowd because of its swank bar counter, easy-drinking rum cocktails, and maximally chill vibe (thanks in part to the DJ who spins reggae a few nights a week). But the real star is the cooking: oxtails so savory and tender you’ll find yourself sucking each bone clean; jerk chicken that’s smoky and succulent enough to make even the Jamaican food novice understand that jerk is a cooking technique, not a spice mix. Rest assured, Kaya’s other cultural lessons are just as tasty. 1420 Market St. (At Fell St.), 415-590-2585 —Luke Tsai

The sleek, dimly lit space might feel a little bit cookie-cutter, and, at first glance, so might the menu of mostly straight-ahead Spanish tapas. Where Barvale shines, however, is in the execution of those classics. Spanish food as done by Adriano Paganini, San Francisco’s king of the surprisingly reasonable price point, means three cold tapas—a light meal all on their own—for $16, affordable sherries by the glass, and portion sizes that belie the minuscule-small-plates cliché. Chef Patricio Duffoo’s best dishes are pure comfort food: oxtails braised to peak tenderness and ladled over mashed potatoes; whole white anchovies, slender and toothsome in a pool of spicy Iberian sauce; and octopus, well charred and lemon spritzed, served with oblong slices of fingerling potato—a dish you’ve probably had before, but done with the kind of homey elegance you’d hope to find at a neighborhood bar in Madrid. 661 Divisadero St. (At Grove St.), 415-654-5211 —L.T.

A menu built on mainstream multicultural dishes and all-American classics is never going to represent the height of hipster fashion. But that has never been the point of Chow. True to its successful template, the latest outpost in Tony Gulisano’s empire serves competently prepared, please-the-masses standbys: a burly burger, a nicely blistered margherita pizza, and a heaping portion of spaghetti and meatballs that might not bowl you over—but, at $12, neither will its price. This location doubles as a grocery store and prepared food market, all cordially but chaotically run in a dark wood building that looks like a ski lodge, if a ski lodge had a rooftop patio and bins of organic vegetables for sale out front. 3770 Piedmont Ave. (Near W. MacArthur Blvd.), 510-260-2469 —Josh Sens

Funky Elephant
This may not be your grandma’s Thai food. But it is the Thai food Supasit Puttikaew’s grandma made him when he was a kid growing up in Bangkok. It’s also reminiscent of the kind of cooking Puttikaew went on to master as chef de cuisine at Hawker Fare. That means feisty dishes like not-too-sweet pad Thai with shrimp and shallots; crispy rice salad with fermented pork and pig skin; and succulent beef short ribs, shimmering in coconut milk and turmeric glaze. The counter-service space, which Puttikaew runs with his wife, Nanchaphon Laptanachai, is no more than a nook, but it’s a font of big, bold flavors. Take the vermicelli noodles with rock cod, which are served in a red curry that makes your mouth water when you lay eyes on it, then makes your eyes water when you take a bite. 1313 9th St. (At Gilman St.), Ste. 120, 510-356-4855 —J.S.


Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco 

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