After the economic doldrums of 2009, when many best bites materialized from behind self-service counters, 2010’s choicest morsels moved back to the dining room. The year saw a surprising number of restaurant openings from hot-shot chefs, who knowingly kept things affordable.
The Pot Sticker
150 Waverly Place, San Francisco,
With new chef-owner Truman Du in the kitchen, this cozy Chinatown fixture turns out titillating, often incendiary, expertly balanced Sichuan dishes. Yes, there are pot stickers, but try boiled dumplings in red chile sauce or cold, chile-blasted slices of brisket and tendon wrapped in a warm, flaky pancake. The chilled Dungeness crab (perfumed but not overtaken by four types of pepper) and “rural fence basket fish” smothered in a luscious chile and black bean relish engage, too.
826 Folsom St., San Francisco, (415) 348-8800
Pro Bruce Hill has come up with the ultimate casual restaurant that satisfies both traditional and adventurous tastes: wood-fired pizza paved with sausage and spicy sopressata; boards of prosciutto and cured American hams; creative and beautiful salads and antipasti; and Hill’s magnificent, hand-made pasta. Don’t miss Straus soft serve drizzled with Da Vero olive oil and sea salt.
Hog & Rocks
3431 19th St., San Francisco, (415) 550-8627
Maverick chef-owner Scott Youklis is behind this roaring gastro pub where he serves oysters on the half shell, tissue-thin slices of American country hams and irresistible, over-the-top bar food. Don’t miss the ultimate clam dip with warm potato chips, jars of pimento cheese with white bread; juicy chopped salad, and a memorable patty melt on rye.
2500 Folsom St., San Francisco, (415) 821-2500
Though I consider Heirloom Cafe a special-night-out restaurant, one that crafts a handful of hyper-local dishes to pair with really nice wines, I also go for an epoisse burger, a thick, juicy, patty with this truffle-y soft French cheese mixed into it — excellent with a glass of syrah. Also look for pillowy gnocchi, tender-sliced New York steak with shelling beans and salsa verde, and a well-considered cheese plate.
Una Pizza Napoletana
210 11th St., San Francisco, (415) 861-3444
You have no choices and have to play by the rules dictated by purist Neapolitan pizza maker Anthony Mangieri. He creates a wood-oven-baked pizza crust that is magically elastic, and stays interesting to the last chew, yet is sparsely dressed with just buffalo mozzarella, tomato in some form, sea salt, olive oil and a few basil leaves. That’s it. Oh, and some wine. And it takes forever to finally get your pizza. Is it worth it? What do you think?
4112 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, (415) 668-8898
Chef-owner Sarah Le, veteran of five restaurants, has finally opened her ultimate place with spacious, skylit dining rooms, a wine bar and an inclusive menu. Her Vietnamese shredded chicken salad is a masterpiece. So is the lotus root and jellyfish salad. Her versions of north Vietnamese street food are unsurpassed. Try banh xeo, a crispy crepe folded over bean sprouts, shrimp and pork; any pho dish with rich broth; or bun cha ha noi, a bowl of juicy pork patties and grilled pork eaten rolled up in lettuce and torn herbs.
2031 Chestnut St., San Francisco, (415) 346-1966
In the midst of this deafening Marina bar scene, you can legitimately eat classic, made-to-order guacamole; thin, warm tortilla chips, fantastic raw albacore and avocado tostadas, soft tacos piled with moist stuffings served with three distinctive salsas, Baja-style fried fish tacos with pickled chiles and ceviche. Sabroso.
474 Third St., San Francisco, (415) 392-8353
At lunch, chatty Chinny Kakuturu serves a first-rate south Indian thali — a silver tray with little bowls of curries, soup, yogurt, dal, pickles, chutney, a pile of rice in the middle and tandoor-baked flat breads (not so southern, but delicious). At night, lose yourself in her home-cooked dishes from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the southwestern-most states of India: chicken chettinadu, vegetable poriyal, greens pullakoora, nellore fish curry — and don’t forget the coconut rice.
3741 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, (415) 668-5888
The rhythmic thwack of dough slapped on a wooden board provides the background music as you wait for your bowl of chewy hand-pulled noodles in sour vegetable pork soup, one of the great dishes in town. Another is spicy charred stir-fried cabbage with sexy, hot wok smokiness. Sliced-beef pancakes, crispy fried little king fish, cucumbers in black vinegar and grilled skewers of meats and vegetables dry rubbed in aromatic Silk Road spices are also fun. I like the fish balls.
805 S. B St., San Mateo, (650) 401-6568
There’s a lot of talk about ramen these days, but the bowl of soup and noodles here is worth a big detour. I like the bitter pork-broth ramen called tonkotsu. The creamy, full-bodied, actually-not-bitter pork broth caresses thick slices of fat-striated roasted pork, a sheaf of Chinese chives, wood ears, a quail egg, a leaf of curly lettuce, a spoonful of bolognese-like “chicken gravy,” soft, golden cloves of roasted garlic and a splash of sesame chili oil. The noodles are thick, square and elastic. No meal is more complete or satisfying.
Patricia Unterman is the author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.