San Francisco is a city where new openings continue to hit every week. Even those of us who spend most nights dining out can’t keep up. If you want to know what’s worth visiting, we’ve got our six new standouts the month here, from modern Moroccan to quality plant-based dishes.
A Modern Moroccan Classic Reborn: Aziza
Aziza is back! If you weren’t lucky enough to know the original when it opened in 2001 (or his first restaurant Kasbah in 1996), it was the name-defining restaurant for Mourad Lahlou, who taught us all about Cal-Moroccan cuisine and has arguably crafted the best modern Moroccan food in the country the past couple decades.
October 2019 saw the rebirth of Aziza (his Michelin-starred, upscale restaurant Mourad is downtown). The space is opened up with higher ceilings and a separate bar, soothing with Moroccan tiles and wicker light fixtures. Mourad and chef de cuisine Frank Hanes keep Mourad’s Moroccan classics like chicken basteeya and addictive spreads (might be a muhammara-esque pequillo almond spread or dill lebnah topped with roe). But try the likes of silky smoked sea trout crudo or roasted heirloom carrots, earthy-sweet with cumin coffee honey and crispy black olives. They also serve weekend brunch, quality cocktails, Mediterranean wines and a killer chicken liver mousse accented with smoked raisin, pickled onions and baby turnips.
Taproom with a FUN Food: Fort Point Valencia
From the beginning of its launch amid the Presidio’s idyllic woods and views, Fort Point Beer Co. nailed crowd-pleasing beers. They quickly rose to fame and in October 2019 opened their first taproom/restaurant in the heart of Valencia Street. Thankfully, there are more reasons to go than just their beers (and thoughtful guest beers) on tap.
Electric blue walls, sleek lamps and skylights make the hip, bright space pop during the day, though expect communal seating at most of the large tables and a standing-room bar. The real surprise is chef Eric Ehler’s (Mister Jiu’s, Black Sands) utensil-free dishes that blessedly go beyond the usual brewpub fare. His yeast-leavened “party bread” is a fluffy-chewy joy, on the menu in a few forms, including paired with a Sichuan-spiced hummus. Instead of a ubiquitous (and tired) fried chicken sandwich, the porkchop sandwich on a Dutch crunch roll delights, pounded flat, schnitzel-style in black pepper sauce and ginger scallion. Save room for Dungeness crab rangoon.
Nurturing (and Delicious) Vegetarian & Vegan Food: Wildseed
If initial opening week crowds at Back of The House group’s latest, Wildseed, are any indication, it’s clear we crave healthy, sustainable food that is still delicious. You won’t miss meat with these plant-based dishes once you find out talented chef Blair Warsham is behind the menu, it further confirms the quality.
Starters hide standouts like a vibrant masala dal (mung bean lentils, tomato, coconut, kaffir lime) or smart beet poke that recalls proper Hawaiian tuna poke but with beets, macadamia nuts, cucumbers, ponzu and sesame seaweed crackers. Desserts also shine, especially banana whip with red wine-steeped Concord grapes, almond-tahini-cinnamon sauce, toasted coconut and hemp seeds, as do seasonal juices, house shrubs and mocktails.
Drinks, Dancing & Food with a View: Lizzie’s Starlight
A stellar view with good food and drink rarely go together, especially in touristy spots. While the newly revamped and iconic Starlight Room on the 21st floor of Kimpton’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel still may not be a top locals destination in a city rife with stellar dining and bars, it has had a welcome rebirth as Lizzie’s Starlight, an elevated “nightclub” locals could get behind.
Former dark colors have been replaced with whites, pyrometric light play and Elizabethan design touches, making those 360 degree views glow from raised windows and extended ceilings. Completely transformed, food and drink is stepped up thanks to chef Justin Deering (try playful bites like caviar cannoli or trio of tartare from longtime SF chef George Morrone, who was in the kitchen the night we visited), with solid cocktails like Maligned Star (St. George Terroir gin, lime, pear, tarragon, sparkling wine). A DJ station and dancing remain central but now it’s sleek, even futuristic, with a dose of elegance, a classic SF nightclub reborn for a new era.
A Meal Under $6 — With Quality Ingredients: Apizza on Fillmore
From the experienced Pascal Rigo and Nicolas Bernadi of local mini-chains La Boulangerie de San Francisco and Loving Cup, apizza is a refreshing new fast casual concept with plans to soon expand in the Bay Area. There’s a thin 9” pizza or a foldover pizza, more like a flatbread “sandwich.”
As a great model for others, they source only organic wheats and meats, gluten-free dough, sustainable and quality ingredients though affordability is key. Their thin-crust pizzas run $2.75-$5.99 each, and they’ve kept costs lower and aided the environment by folding to-go pizzas in compostable trays instead of boxes. With friendly staff and that irresistible cheeseburger pizza (ground beef, cheese, tomato, lettuce, red onion, cornichons, Thousand Island dressing, sesame seeds), this is a promising fast casual model for the future.
Swiss Chalet & Fondue Escape: Matterhorn Restaurant + Bakery
We are oh-so grateful Matterhorn’s new owners (who lived in Switzerland for years) preserved the pinewood Swiss chalet feel and theme of one of SF’s longtime old school treasures, which recently was reborn on Van Ness street. With delightful new changes like opening up the back windows to display an elaborate Switzerland diorama or a red mountain cable car that is also a private table. we appreciate the option of individual or larger raclette orders and the selection of cheese to choose from.
Berner rosti (grated potato cooked in a cast iron skillet with your choice of three toppings) was lackluster compared to versions we’ve had in Switzerland, but traditional “Moitie-Moitie” cheese fondue hit the spot mixing 12-month aged Gourmino Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois cheeses — even better paired with Swiss and Austrian wines. We are waiting for their menu expansion of cheese fondue offerings as we miss that from the original but they have more fondue plans in the works.