This article was first published at Zagat on December 17, 2015. All photos and the article by Virginia Miller.
2015 has been another banner year in Bay Area restaurants. New openings remain quick and steady and often of such high quality, it’s tough to call out the most notable. While the East Bay brought us a range of openings from the ambitious (Calavera) to neighborhood gems (Salsipuedes, La Marcha), a few SF restaurants garnered new chefs and are better than ever (1760, The Keystone, Bluestem Brasserie). The most welcome comeback? Michael Mina’s trio menus at his flagship restaurant, Michael Mina. Now let’s talk about the 10 most important openings of the last 12 months.
Honorable mentions and other important 2015 openings: Bon Marche, Petit Crenn, Belga, Cala, Octavia, El Capitan, Hawker Fare, Old Bus Tavern, Whitechapel.
Open in the last few days of 2014, husband-wife team Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza have created another of San Francisco’s great restaurants, The Progress, neighbor to their perennial hit, State Bird Provisions. Their cooking is as exciting as it is next door, showcased in multi-course dinners served family-style at a reasonable $58 per person all with excellent drink pairings and service.
Why It’s Important: Besides being another welcome source for Brioza and Krasinski’s cooking, The Progress epitomizes quintessential San Francisco style of fine dining-worthy technique and impeccable ingredients served with inviting, casual flair.
1525 Fillmore St.; 415-673-1294
Liholiho Yacht Club
Open at the end of January, Liholiho Yacht Club (from beloved pop-up to brick-and-mortar restaurant) has fast become an SF favorite. Chef Ravi Kapur’s roots are lovingly shared (his mom’s dreamy coconut mochi dessert, for one) in creative Hawaiian-Asian-influenced cuisine served in a bustling space that feels sunny with light woods and yellow and blue tiles. Dishes like Kapur’s off-menu spam and rice or marinated squid and crispy tripe cabbage salad already feel essential.
Why It’s Important: It’s a burst of light that delivers invigorating Hawaiian breezes and a unique menu not typical anywhere in the US.
871 Sutter St.; 415-440-5446
Though we’ll always miss Chris Cosentino’s Incanto, Cockscomb, now a year old since opening last December, is a treasure of a restaurant in SoMa. The cool, two-level, industrial-cool space emits a glow around its raw bar, wood-fired oven, massive meat platters and extensive gin selection. Cosentino is back and we are glad.
Why It’s Important: Rarely is oversized decadence done at this quality level and with such playfulness.
564 Fourth St.; 415-974-0700
Open this spring, Montesacro is an Italian oasis on gritty Stevenson Street, serving a rarity: ancient Roman pinsa, an oval disc somewhere between pizza and flatbread made from three different kinds of flour (soy, rice and wheat). 54 Mint partner Gianluca Legrottaglie and Roma native brought two pinsaiolis (akin to a pizzaiolo) from his home city, engaging diners with a gracious, Italian welcome in this casual, century-old space.
Why It’s Important: Besides serving a specialty rarely found outside Rome, Montesacro feels like a true escape to Italy, vividly recalling Italian travels and hospitality over Italian beers and wine and house porchetta.
510 Stevenson St.; 415-795-3040
Fat Angel and Stones Throw owners (of Hi Neighbor restaurant group: Ryan Cole, executive chef Jason Halverson, Tai Ricci, Jason Kirmse, Cyrick Hia) successfully launched a much-needed concept in Trestle, opened this spring in North Beach. Their nightly changing, three-course prix fixe for only $35 offers artful-yet-comforting New American dishes with the option of an additional (often stellar) pasta course for $10. Stay tuned for their next visionary concept, Corridor, soon-to-open at 100 Van Ness Ave.
Why It’s Important: High quality in SF translates to the best possible ingredients and world-class food and drink to do all this with such value and engaged staff/service as Trestle does, makes for one inspiring business model.
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531 Jackson St.; 415-772-0922
Mourad Lahlou’s Mourad lofty, industrial space is warmed by his visionary Cal-Moroccan cuisine, reminiscent of his long-beloved Aziza but with fine dining spirit and tasting menus. The addition of new bar manager Anthony Parks’ fantastic culinary cocktails makes the bar a destination as well and an ideal perch from which to enjoy Mourad’s unusual chicken wings or ever-popular basteeya.
Why It’s Important: Mourad has been one of our notable SF chefs for over a decade and now his creative Moroccan-influenced cuisine can be found on both sides of the city, in forms casual to upscale, traditional to elevated.
140 New Montgomery St.; 415-660-2500
At Commonwealth, chef-owner Jason Fox has been creating one of SF’s great innovative menus since the restaurant opened in 2010. Thankfully, Fox spreads the wealth, opening Oro this fall with Timothy Felkner (formerly of Zero Zero) in Mint Plaza. The inspired dishes play with international flavors in Fox’s signature style, alongside a vibrant wine list and Randy Mariani’s lovely cocktails. It’s tough not to lose it over those insanely good fried pig ears in whipped buttermilk and fermented chili sauce.
Why It’s Important: Oro is one of those “whole package” restaurants that exemplifies SF’s stellar dining scene now.
8 Mint Plaza; 415-974-1212
Mexico City (MX) inspiration has been showing up everywhere, including at Cala (an honorable mention opening this year) recently opened by one of MX’s top chefs. Californios opened at the beginning of 2015 helmed by chef Val Cantu (who cooked at MX’s acclaimed Pujol) and his wife, maître d Carolyn Cantu. Val’s inventive tasting menus are a value, even better with beverage director Charlotte Randolph’s wine pairings, showcasing bites like Cantu’s “chips and salsa,” nixtamalized chips dotted with fish roe, fermented pepper cream and black bean.
Why It’s Important: The chic, intimate space, hip hop soundtrack, rust-orange Italian leather banquettes, vibrant Mexican-influenced dishes and informed service make it a one-of-a-kind, upscale Cal-Mexican dining experience.
3115 22nd St.; 415-757-0994
Given all the national acclaim, Aaron London’s AL’s Place, is a tough reservation these days. The cheery corner restaurant in the Mission opened in February and is rightly revered for the return of London’s visually striking, delicious plates heavy on seafood and vegetables with “sides” of meat.
Why It’s Important: Just as in his Ubuntu days in Napa, London’s artful, delectable interpretations of vegetables are hard to beat, while he takes it even further with seafood and meat in this low-key, neighborhood gem serving food that would stand out in any city.
1499 Valencia St., 415-416-6136
Chef Matt Lightner has cooked in some of the most acclaimed kitchens in Europe and garnered major accolades in NYC at Atera. Since the fall, he’s been bringing his deliciously approachable dishes to the three-floored Ninebark in downtown Napa in the former Thomas/Fagiani’s space. Complete with sweeping Napa River views from the rooftop, it is the exciting Wine Country opening of the year showcasing Lightner’s international food and AvroKO’s (the group behind the opening) signature service.
Why It’s Important: While there has been no shortage of world-class dining in Napa Valley for many years, Ninebark brings something different to Napa, reinterpreting itself with food and drink menus tailored to each floor in varying ranges of casualness, whether you seek elegant cocktails and bites or a full meal.
813 Main St., Napa; 707-226-7821