TABLEHOPPING If we were finance people, we'd say Q1 of 2014 was a hella strong start to the year. But since we're food people, we're just going to hook you up with our version of a PowerPoint slideshow of all the latest openings, hot spots, and new dish faves. Please, leave your Google Glass at home, turn off your iPhone flash when taking food pics for Instagram, and just dig in.
Any of you SF old-timers will remember how nuts it was when Blowfish and Tokyo Go Go opened in the city. Yeah, both those places were bonkers. Well, the new incarnation of ICHI Sushi and NI Bar (3282 Mission, SF. www.ichisushi.com ) in Bernal is registering on the same Richter scale, with hip-hop blasting, hour-plus waits at the sushi bar — on a Tuesday! — and crazy-delicious izakaya dishes, like miso asari clams (you will want to drink the entire bowl of porky and garlicky broth, trust) and ICHI's famed yuzu-fried chicken wings. Why have spinach gomae when you can have asparagus gomae? Exactly. And deep-fried ocean trout in dashi is the best of both worlds: beautiful sushi-grade fish with a homey and belly-filling presentation. Be sure to try the ICHIBIER, a partnership with local brewer Almanac: It's a shiso-yuzu ale that's built for lather, rinse, repeat.
Well, that's not exactly true, but it sure seems that way at the new Valencia Street digs of Loló (974 Valencia, SF. www.lolosf.com ). When you're not busy ogling the darling servers, the caliente bartenders making you mezcal-y cocktails, or the cute clientele, the menu will also be winking at you with sabrosito dishes like fried-in-panko avocado tacos (you gotta get 'em!), smoky and juicy gorditas with mezcal barbecue beef, and the tuna tacon with seared albacore and a shellfish aioli. Ay, papi. The megawatt interior provides all kinds of color therapy — you'll definitely leave even happier than you were when you arrived, for a multitude of reasons.
A classic Margherita pizza at Il Casaro
Have you hit Verbena (2323 Polk, SF. www.verbenarestaurant.com ) yet on Russian Hill? What, you don't like the sound of sourdough pancakes with maple butter, biscuits and herb sausage gravy with pepper vinegar, and poached eggs with braised duck ragout with peas and their leaves — plus excellent craft cocktails, handsome dining room decor, and an appealing wine list? Maybe the new brunch launching the weekend of April 5th is what's going to get you to come visit. Really, you ought to experience the flavor-packed vittles from chef Sean Baker, also of beloved Gather in Berkeley.
You may be inspired to simply hit the sauce once you look over the thirst-inducing drink lists at Trou Normand (140 New Montgomery, SF. www.trounormandsf.com ) and The Coachman (1148 Mission, SF. www.coachmansf.com ), both new joints in SoMa with exceptional cocktail pedigrees. But that would be a mistake, because you would miss the beef tartare topped fried smelt at The Coachman, or the charcuterie plate and the honking pork chop at Trou Normand. You can still down a whiskey-laced Calvados cocktail at Trou, or let ye olde Coachman's barkeeps fix you up a sherry cobbler or three. Just do it all. More is more.
PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA! OH, AND PIZZA.
Just because our city likes to prove that you can never have enough pizza, here are four more pizza outposts for you, starting with another place for a legit Neapolitan-style pizza: Il Casaro (348 Columbus, SF. www.ilcasarosf.com ). Since casaro means "cheesemaker," you should dive into the raspa dura, a cheese shaved off its wheel and served in a cone. Plus there's housemade fior di latte mozzarella, pure heaven. Looking for something new to North Beach? Try the panuozzo, a pizza dough sandwich. Sounds good, huh!
Pizza lovers are making the pilgrimage to La Lengua to sink their choppers into the pies by Jeff Krupman at PizzaHacker (3299 Mission, SF. www.thepizzahacker.com ). A good place to start? The Yo Vinny (marinated onions, Mama Lil's pickled goat horn peppers, 4505 hot Italian sausage, tomato sauce, mozzarella). The arugula pie with lemon, chile paste, and garlic is also big on flavor. Grab a seat and share a slice with some strangers at indoor picnic tables. Drink beer. Good times.
Another quest-worthy pie can be found in Dogpatch at Long Bridge Pizza Company (2347 Third St, SF. www.longbridgepizza.com ), whose pizzas are a little bit New York and a little bit Neapolitan in style. Pile on the toppings with a Loading Dock, or go tomato-less with a White Pie. Small or large — wait, scratch that, isn't the answer always large?
The Mission has a new slice shop, and it's definitely not one of those nasty places you so often find around town claiming to be the best. (Like, the best of the worst at 1am, maybe.) Anyway, swing by The Pizza Shop (3104 24th St, SF. 824-1840) for a $4 slice or $19 whole pie. Thin crust, yes! Check out the white spinach. Be impressed. And bring your cash.
Cochon de lait po'boy at High Cotton Kitchen
MEAT-SEEKERS, HUNT THESE DOWN
Not like we're trying to exclude vegetarians here, but here are five meaty dishes that really have us sharpening our canines.
— There is some very special fried chicken and waffle (2-piece plus side, $9.25) action for brunch — and that's all-day brunch during the weekend, people! — at soul food respite Little Skillet's expansion into the kitchen of Victory Hall & Parlor (330 Ritch, SF. www.victoryhallsf.com ). Cocktails too. Fun.
— The $6.95 El Frijolazo hot dog at Los Shucos Latin Hot Dogs (3224 1/2 22nd St, www.losshucos.com ) is gonna be your next bad habit. A toasty bun comes with a bacon-wrapped frank, refried beans, smashed avocado, mayo, imported salsa chapina (a green sauce from Guatemala), and queso fresco. WHAT?! Ridiculous!
— The $8 housemade chorizo burger — with a runny fried egg, oh you know it — at New Central Café (301 S. Van Ness, SF. 722-0601) is great for breakfast, lunch, brunch, whenever. Plus it comes with sautéed kale, roasted squash, and cilantro mayo, and you get sweet potato fries. Sweet.
— The $9 cochon de lait po'boy at High Cotton Kitchen thrills at Second Act Marketplace (1727 Haight, SF. www.secondactsf.com ). Juicy, mustardy, drippy, messy as hell. And made by a legit New Orleans native, which means it's big enough to share. (Really, you should.)
— The $5 bacon Twix at Pinkie's Bakery (1196 Folsom, SF. www.pinkiesbakery.com ) is also on this list. I was lucky to work with owner Cheryl Burr on this custom-treat twist for a special promotion, and now she's offering these bad boys for sale. Dare we say they're better than the original? We dare!
THE LATE-NIGHT BERMUDA TRIANGLE
We often complain that San Francisco shuts down too early — but, in fact, we're the ones who can't stay up. So many restaurants open with the noble intention of wanting to feed us late into the night. But six weeks after opening and seeing too many empty tables at midnight, well, they start rolling back the kitchen hours to 10pm. Unless. We. Support. Them. So here are three new spots serving up post-midnight snacks. Do your civic duty and hit them up after bar time. (And hey, if you're a night owl, you should download my app, Tablehopper's Top Late-Night Eats, ya heard?)
Pim Techamuanvivit's Kin Khao (55 Cyril Magnin, SF. www.kinkhao.com ) a very unique Thai place — how often do you get Devil's Gulch Ranch rabbit in your handmade green curry? But it also boasts late-night bites, 11pm–1am, and a full bar, with a cocktail list created by the Bon Vivants. Try the Thai chili-spiced Priew Wan Sour or the mezcal-kicked Kafe Mao if you need a little boost. Don't miss the pretty hot wings, the kua kling ribs (fried pork ribs in a dark and spicy dry rub, you do the math), Dungeness crab rice noodles that will make you give up pad Thai forever, and the beautiful yum yai salad with tempura asparagus and chili jam. Bonus tip: the restaurant is just blocks from ACT, making it a perfect pre– and post–theater stop — go see Venus in Fur, right now.
Yum Yai salad at Kin Khao
It's not like we ever get tired of the late-night hours of our beloved Zuni, but just a few blocks down Market Street is Alta CA (1420 Market, SF. www.altaca.co ), a new-ish NorCal bistro from the Daniel Patterson Group. It opened in December, with a kitchen serving until 1am. Chef de cuisine Yoni Levy's housemade bialy and pastrami, a mighty-fine burger, and the much-lauded cracked wheat porridge with mushrooms are as awesome at 11:30pm as they are at lunch, when you'll probably have some Twitter folks (the HQ is kitty corner) and City Hall types filling the room. Late night draws more of an industry crowd (der). It's a handsome space with a horseshoe bar, where you can get your craft cocktail on too. Winos, you'll be happy here as well.
North Beach is usually where the wheels come off the proverbial party bus. (Girls! Girls! Girls! Drinks! Drinks! Drinks!) Fortunately, there are a number of tasty places that can catch you before you fall (Comstock Saloon and Golden Boy Pizza, I'm looking at you). But there's a brand-new kid on Washington Square, appropriately called The Square (1707 Powell, SF. www.thesquaresf.com ), with a bit of a pedigree: The owners are behind lauded Sons and Daughters. Unlike that upscale restaurant, this lovely spot is less about tweezer food and more about shareable, satisfying fare, like gougères, steak tartare, an aged cheddar cheeseburger, and some large-format feasting: whole roasted crab and guinea hen, a delectable rack of ribs. Manly! Cocktails, check. All until 1am Wed—Sun.