Okay, let's talk about what a serious year 2014 was for eating in San Francisco. We saw an insane number of openings, ranging from the highest of high end to serious street food; we saw the rise of nascent new dining neighborhoods. Overeating was inevitable.
We've culled the 10 openings that excited us the most over the course of the year, one classic SF spot we fell in love with all over again and the most memorable bite of all. (Note: We limited our picks to San Francisco restaurants for sanity's sake.)
Cheers to a damn-good year of dining and to more great things to come in 2015.
Best Special-Occasion Splurge: Lazy Bear
Welcome to the dinner party of your dreams: Lazy Bear's intimate, multicourse extravaganza best be on your must-eat list, if you haven't snagged a ticket yet. The menu ($120 a person) changes often, but we had a gorgeous nugget of dry-aged beef served with fat-roasted cherry tomatoes we're still dreaming about.
Best Downtown Powerhouse: PABU
Want to make like a big shot and eat some of the most stunning sushi this side of Market? Michael Mina's PABU is your spot, from the killer cocktails and sake list to the immaculate cuts of raw fish. You cannot miss the Happy Spoon ($8), an orgasmic mouthful of raw oyster, uni, ikura, tobiko and ponzu crème fraîche.
Best Reason to Get the Meat Sweats: 4505 Burgers & BBQ
All hail Ryan Farr, the sausage king of San Francisco! Really, though: We can't get enough of his new patio-centered restaurant, holding court on Divisadero. The brisket is tops, but we think your best bet is to go all in with the Presidential ($95), a platter of all the meats, sides and fixin's on order.
Best Steinbeck Reference: Doc Ricketts and Doc's Lab
Who says you can't catch a show and eat delicious food at the same time? Thanks to Doc Ricketts in North Beach, you 100 percent can. We dig the Steinbeck-inspired name and the marvelous roast chicken ($22), though the side of spaetzle ($6) has a special place in our hearts, too.
Best Thai Food, Ever: Kin Khao
How have we lived this long without Kin Khao?! Pim Techamuanvivit has channeled the bold and bright flavors of her native Thailand, which, combined with chef Michael Gaines's Manresa-honed chops (and cocktails from the Bon Vivants), are more or less unstoppable. We're still sighing about the wonderfully complex green curry with rabbit ($22).
4505 Burger & BBQ's meat spread and lettuce, Lazy Bear style | Photos: Courtesy of 4505 Burgers & BBQ and Lazy Bear
Best New Pie: PizzaHacker
PizzaHacker's permanent Bernal Heights spot makes us feel like kids all over again—we can order all of the pizza we want and pitchers of beer, and it's basically the best thing ever. Jeff Krupman's pies (and their gorgeous, leopard-spotted crusts) are all pretty-darn delicious, but there's no beating the simplicity of the Top-Shelf Marg ($15), made with Early Girl tomato sauce, fresh-stretched mozz, smoked salt, Grana Padano and a healthy pour of Bariani olive oil for good measure.
Best Comeback: Hog Island Oyster Co.
How do you make a waterfront oyster bar even better? You double the space, add a cocktail menu and expand the food offerings to include even more seafood-centric deliciousness. You should eat all of the raw oysters (of course), but the rustic seafood stew ($20) with spicy tomato broth is a modern-day cioppino that should be slurped year-round.
Best Restaurant Pretending to Be a Bar: Dirty Habit
We see you, Dirty Habit, with your dark lighting and sexy fire pits and encyclopedic list of cocktails from bar star Brian Means. But we also see your true colors, in the form of a fabulous selection of crave-worthy "bar food" from chefs David Bazirgan and Francis Ang. That said, the sweet-and-spicy chicken wings ($12) truly are some of the best in town. Fine, you can be a bar if you want to. We'll play along.
Best Bar Pretending to Be a Restaurant: Trou Normand
The sophomore project from the Bar Agricole team was top notch from the start: Show up around lunchtime and you might be convinced that this is another well-heeled, downtown dining spot. Show up around happy hour, though, and you see Trou Normand shine—the bustling vibe is as intoxicating as the incredible cocktails (try the House Old Fashion, $12, made with cognac). The house-made charcuterie and salumi (combination boards are $21 to $63) are worthy of your attention and all of the boisterous accolades that will inevitably ensue.
Best Year-End Bang: The Progress
Just when we thought we'd had our 2014 all wrapped up, The Progress had to go ahead and open, upsetting everything. We'll take it. This new restaurant from the hotter-than-hot State Bird Provisions team was more or less guaranteed to be incredible; the similar brand of genre-bending, impeccably executed food and a new family style format are the only elements needed to make this the official hottest restaurant in town. Order the tender-crisp roti topped with sunchokes and truffles, and life will be amazing.
Rediscovered Classic: Sotto Mare
When word got out that longtime Sotto Mare owner Gigi Fiorucci was selling his North Beach institution, we got worried. Would the petrale sole be as crisp and buttery? The scallops as tender and sweet? The Dungeness Crab Louis as dressing laden (in a good way)? In short, yes: Sotto's new owner has, thankfully, left things exactly the same. Order the Best Damn Crab Cioppino ($41), don a bib and prepare to smell like garlic for the next week; there's no San Francisco night out quite like it.
Best Bite of the Year: Lamb Gyro from The Whole Beast
Choosing a best bite of the year is like choosing a favorite child. There were the high-end wonders, the gorgeous examples of local meat and produce, the greasy bar food that came at just the right time.
But when we're talking bites, it's hard to beat something as elemental as that combination of meat, bread, condiments—a sandwich, a burger, a burrito. When done right, all of the ingredients make it into most every bite. And when done amazingly, those ingredients are top notch, lovingly prepared and bursting with flavor.
So we went with the lamb gyro ($9) from The Whole Beast, currently offering its own brand of whole-animal deliciousness daily at The Hall on Market Street. Made from tender, meltingly rich lamb neck, doused in yogurt and chermoula, and wrapped in a warm fresh lavash, the balance of sinfully good texture and major flavor is pure pleasure.
Sometimes, it really is all about keeping things simple.
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