Last year’s “Where to eat in 2010” column sent readers to Quince, Wexler’s, Contigo, Flour and Water, Nopalito and Out the Door in Pacific Heights, among others. Given the economy, it was an amazingly fertile year for new places. The pace and quality has only risen during 2010, keeping San Francisco one of the top culinary destinations in the world. Really.
490 Pacific Ave.
Mike and Lindsay Tusk’s rustic little place next to their upscale Quince is everything we dream of in an affordable eatery — meats slowly turning over a live fire, pizza emerging from a glowing oven, lush handmade pasta ferried from the kitchen and elegant antipasti that you might find next door that costs less than $10. Cotogna has 50 seats, and half can be reserved. Otherwise, the best strategy is to come in early.
2224 Mission St.
Chef/owner Jason Fox and his crew literally perform magic in a small, open kitchen in full view of those seated at the bar, which happens to be the best spot in the 35-seat dining room. Fox weaves together Japanese ingredients, cutting-edge cooking techniques and seasonal, local products in his striking yet soulful dishes. You always know what you are eating, but you are often surprised. Both the a la carte menu ($6 to $16) and a $60 prix fixe are bargains for this level of cooking.
22 Hawthorne St.
Corey Lee, the former French Laundry chef de cuisine, has struck out on his own in this pared-down, if luxe, space, where he invents multicourse prix-fixe culinary narratives ($160) that take diners on a fanciful yet disciplined exploration of the way East and West intersect. The kaisekilike experience is fully realized — from world-beat drink pairings to plates and serving utensils — and choreographed so you walk out light on your feet and eager to return for more enlightenment.
300 Spear St.
Chef Ravi Kapur and his partners from Boulevard have mounted a sophisticated, food-centric, unmistakably San Francisco restaurant in a contemporary New York-style space on the ground floor of a glass residential tower. From modern bar bites in the windowed lounge to lush, multifaceted dishes that integrate unexpected and exciting ingredients taken in the spacious dining room, everything tastes gloriously of itself.
355 11th St.
All the facets of this soaring, contemporary, LEED-certified urban tavern — food, cocktails, wine, design, even service — flow from one central idea: sustainability. Everyone flocks to the bar for exquisite cocktails made with a cheflike sensibility. The drinks are created to pair with Brandon Jew’s lush, farm-inspired dishes. Some of the most talented barmen, cooks, architects and craftsmen in the Bay Area spent two years creating this gastro pub that conflates cutting-edge modernity with old-fashioned agrarian values.
6 Claude Lane
When superpro chef Bridget Batson took over the kitchen in this raffish, Bohemian hideaway in a downtown alley, it became a destination. Her fanciful but soulfully delicious versions of Basque, Catalan, Portuguese and French Mediterranean dishes possess depth, complexity and fun, especially when paired with fine Spanish and Portuguese wines, sherries, madeiras and ports from an explanatory list.
3870 17th St.
If you have not bagged a table at this small, personal, wildly popular year-old restaurant from Melissa Perello — one of the most naturally talented chefs I know — plan on it in 2011. She has the touch with all the local, seasonal ingredients we see on so many menus. A master of texture and proportion, she is a three-star chef who would rather cook accessible, sparkling, home-inspired food.
Ferry Building, The Embarcadero
Delica, the expansive Japanese delicatessen in the Ferry Building, now serves dinner at refectory tables and boasts a tiny sushi bar that magically appear when the busy counter shuts down every night. A small crew crafts pristine, sustainable sashimi and sushi, along with lush Japanese “tapas,” many precisely deep-fried and all accompanied with artisan sake, making Delica one of the most original and curiously intimate Japanese restaurants in town.
2300 Chestnut St.
With this roaring, super-Italian restaurant and wine bar, Gary Rulli, the king of Italian pastry, crosses over to the savory side. We have no shortage of this genre in San Francisco, but Ristobar is the most urbane, the most Italian, the most European. You realize this with your first bite of a suave Angelo Auriana pasta, a roasted quail, a delicate cardoon custard or a hot, crunchy crochette — each paired with a glass of distinctive Italian wine.
3340 Steiner St.
Chef/owner Jonathan Beard closed his Marina institution for most of 2010 to completely rebuild. He installed a wood-fired grill in the kitchen and enclosed the patio in the back, so now his regulars luxuriate when they eat farm-egg tagliatelle with duck sugo and morels, juicy shrimp a la plancha or one of his hearty meat dishes that elevate comfort food to exhilarating new heights.
Patricia Unterman is the author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.