For this year's final Best Of, SFist staffers looked back on their 2013 dining experiences to pull out a few of their personal food favorites this year. Some of the restaurants and pop ups here are new, some are classics, but all have touched us in one way or another this year. Leave your year's favorites in the comments, and be sure to check out the rest of this year's Best Of collection before we start rounding up the next batch of SFist picks come 2014.
Rabbit Terrines with Peas - Central Kitchen
Back in the spring, we had a terrific meal from chefs Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow. A highlight was this dish featuring a traditional protein of spring, rabbit, in several forms (rillette, head cheese, liver pate, and mortadella), along with a puree of English peas, fresh peas in the pod, kumquat, and pistachio. It was complicated and multi-layered without feeling overworked, and it marked the first time we'd ever had rabbit mortadella. — Jay Barmann
3000 20th Street
Lobster Ceviche - 1760
Among a number of stellar dishes at the new Acquerello spinoff on Polk is this starter of raw, citrus-marinated lobster tossed with pineapple, caramelized coconut, kaffir lime, and garnished with fresh flowers. It's a simple but immensely flavorful combination, marrying elements of Mexican and Thai cuisines, not to mention a beautiful looking dish. — Jay Barmann
Buckwheat Gnocchetti Wrapped in Cabbage - SPQR
You can't see the tender little gnocchi in this photo because they're inside that pillow of Savoy cabbage. They come in a sauce of sartori fontina, with cipollini onions, and are shown here with shaved white truffles on top. It's a perfect example of the stellar and original food the chef Matt Accarrino continues to make at this Pacific Heights Northern Italian spot. — Jay Barmann
Meatballs - Tosca Cafe
Though the whole experience of the new Tosca Cafe is pretty cozy and cool, from the cocktails to chef April Bloomfield's excellent foccaccia, one of the most memorable bites of the year were Bloomfield's fantastic, complex, boldly flavored, off-menu meatballs. They're packed with guanciale as well as a touch of liver (we assume) that gives them a slightly funky, amazing umami quality unlike any meatball we've ever tasted. The rich, meat-infused tomato gravy they come in is also something we could dip bread in all day long. — Jay Barmann
Short Ribs with Poblano Salsa - La Urbana
The new, high-end, Mexico City-style Mexican restaurant on Divisadero is notable not just for introducing San Francisco to a refined style of contemporary Mexican cuisine we haven't seen here before, but also for some specific, delicious preparations of familiar meats and vegetables. Our favorite was their Costillas de res, a spin on braised short ribs with Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, yam puree, and poblano salsa. — Jay Barmann
Grilled Abalone and Abalone Porridge - Saison
Chef Joshua Skenes and crew relocated to SoMa this year and managed not only to land on Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurants list, but also to retain their two Michelin stars and earn a rave from the New York Times. Quality is never a question at this place, and neither is inventiveness the parade of dishes are a study in delicacy and distillation. One of our all-time favorites, available when in season on the a la carte lounge menu was this preparation of abalone two ways a stew of sweet abalone liver with rice and served with a bright green puree of coastal greens, served alongside grilled slices of tender abalone topped with lardo. It's the ultimate in abalone dishes, showcasing the local mollusk next to flavors of its own Northern California environment, and a great example of Skenes' talents. — Jay Barmann
Roasted Kale with Rye, Seeds, and Yogurt - Bar Tartine
We recommend eating everything on the menu at Bar Tartine where co-chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns are turning out dish after dish that meld the flavors of Eastern Europe, Japan, Scandinavia, and Northern California in new and delightful ways each week. One of our most memorable bites there this year was this dish, from back in the spring, featuring roasted kale paired with rye sprouts, sunflower seeds, yogurt, and a hummus-like puree that felt bold, ancient, and comforting all at once. — Jay Barmann
561 Valencia (bet. 16th and 17th)
Rainbow Trout With Root Vegetables - Rich Table
We are lucky in this town to have so many amazing restaurants, and to have restaurants like Rich Table tucked away in neighborhoods doing world-class food on a small and humble scale. Evan and Sarah Rich have been honing the menu here for a year and a half now, and while it's drawn comparisons to Frances for its service, polish, and all-around greatness, the food tends to push more boundaries than at four-year-old Frances, and many of the dishes feel totally original and new. One of the most successful dishes we tried was this preparation of Rainbow trout topped with a mirepoix of potato and pickled root vegetables, sitting on a spinach puree and garnished with Miner's lettuce. It was a wildly delicious, balanced, and beautiful dish, and it's just one of many. — Jay Barmann
Chicken Wings - Frances
Chef Melissa Perello continues to kill it at her cozy Castro restaurant, and four years in Frances is still a tough reservation to get on short notice. There's always an array of gorgeous, seasonal, comforting small plates, and these lightly breaded chicken wings served with chili-dusted Meyer lemon were one that stuck with us this year. They were perfectly tender, ultra-juicy wings, and an example of how Perello is never afraid to put out the humblest food in its most perfect form. — Jay Barmann
3870 17th Street (near Noe)
Milk-Braised and Pan-Fried Celery Hearts - Hard Water
These delicious appetizer bites are one of the big stars of the menu at the cocktail-focused Hard Water, the newest part of the Charles Phan empire. The recipe is based on an old New Orleans tradition and makes use of the often discarded cores of celery. They're braised in milk, breaded, fried, and served with Old Bay aioli, and they are the ultimate cocktail snack. — Jay Barmann
Wood-Roasted Chicken - Fog City
We mentioned it a couple months ago, but chef Bruce Hill's chicken at the newly made-over Fog City is definitely in contention for the top-five roast chickens in town. It's served with roasted corn and fingerling potatoes, and it's seasoned with cumin, coriander, Maldon sea salt, lemon zest, chili, and black pepper, and it's heavenly. — Jay Barmann
Cheeseburger Ramen from Hapa Ramen
As far as stunt foods go, Hapa Ramen's team of noodle-slingers nailed it with this insanely rich and deliciously self-aware bowl of ramen. After the disappointment that was the ramen burger, this bowl of "liquid animal" gave me the meat sweats in the best way possible. Unfortunately, I doubt the cheeseburger ramen will be making any more appearances at Hapa Ramen's weekly pop-ups, but recent bowls have matched it in quality without needing to be quite so bloggable. — Andrew Dalton
422 Haight; Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. Tuesday nights at Wing Wings.
Lamb Poutine from The Whole Beast
I only eat this once a year when the Whole Beast shows up at Outside Lands*, but this is basically the platonic ideal of music festival food: salty fries, moist lamb, smokey lamb "bacon," crumbly sheep's milk cheese and a drizzle of meaty lamb gravy. (*That's a lie, I had it again this year at Oakland's Eat Real Fest). — Andrew Dalton
(Photo: Wes Rowe)
Frito Pie Burger - Wesburgers
If you can't find joy in an already amazing burger patty, topped with a pile of chili, some Fritos and a drizzle of queso sauce, then there's no hope for you. It's another ephemeral menu item, but the elusiveness of this burger only makes me want it more. Catch it if you can. — Andrew Dalton
Sundays at Mr. Pollo (2823 Mission Street), Wednesdays at Mojo Bicycle Cafe (639 Divisadero)
Dinner - Ad Hoc
I didn't hit too many fancy dinners in 2013, but snapping up a last-minute 10 p.m. reservation in Yountville after a day around Napa was one of my most memorable meals of the year (despite the wine buzz). Everyone raves about the place, and with good reason: the rotating menu doesn't disappoint, the portions are heartier than most prix-fixe options and it won't set you back a whole paycheck either. — Andrew Dalton
6476 Washington St, Yountville
Omekase - Maruya
Masa-san's omekase menu at newly opened Japanese spot Maruya isn't cheap, but $85 gets you a hand-crafted voyage through chef Masa's imagination, from delicate uni-topped homemade tofu to the best toro nigiri and kumamoto oysters you've ever had. This was the quietest dinner I've ever had: there was too much flavor and subtlety to savor for much conversation. Make sure to get a reservation at the smooth-as-silk wooden counter to watch the chefs do their thing (and you'll want to hurry with the reservation, since word on the street is big name reviewers are about to drop glowing recommendations).
2931 16th Street
(Photo: Anthony N./Yelp)
Duck Confit Basteeya - Aziza
Nearly everything on the menu at Aziza is outstanding, which is why they've maintained a Michelin star despite slightly hokey digs. But dine with someone in the know, and you'll order a few classic items: the plate of spreads, the short rib, and the melting duck confit basteeya. Don't let the humble exterior fool you: this dish isn't for looking at, it's for eating. Take a bite out of the flakey filo dough crust to get into the luscious duck filling, studded with almonds and seasoned to perfection. It's super rich, so don't go it alone: I recommend assembling a crack team of good eaters to share the table.
5800 Geary Blvd
Bar snacks at The Restaurant at Meadowood
You don't have to be a big spender to savor Meadowood's impeccable atmosphere and inventive dishes. Venture to St. Helena gem for a drink or two in the cozy Rotunda, which boasts fireplaces and lounge seating for the discerning diner who doesn't want to drop multiple hundos. Starting at $20 per person, the bar snacks consist of a progression of canapés to enjoy along with your drinks and excellent company (if you don't like someone, don't bring them here). The snacks are so good it's almost a blur, but I remember delicate seaweed puffs, pillowy mini puff pastries, a delicious riff on pastrami and a pristine slice of salt-baked rutabaga with white truffle — probably the best thing I put in my mouth in 2013.
900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena
Butter - Rich Table
That's right, butter. Out of the entire Rich Table oeuvre we experienced in 2013 — all of which was exceedingly phenomenal and memorable — what sticks out most is the butter we ate at the beginning of each meal. We smeared it on bread with abandon, wolfed it down risking suffocation, and groused when we had to share. It's that good. (And pretty too.)
Campari Pork Belly "Bahn Mi" Taco - Tango N Stache
Josh Oakley jumped started the booze-soaked taco craze (later emulated at other taco places that shall remain nameless). His Campari pork belly "bahn mi" tacos in particular were a favortie of mine. It boasted pork braised in booze, a tortilla fried in bacon fat, fresh summer herbs, and whiskey pickled jalapeños. A fried duck topped it off and elevated the taco to high art.
Donuts - Pinkie's Bakery
Served on Saturdays only, something about Pinkie's donuts pinged something inside me. Deep inside me. Mexican chocolate was our favorite, but what made them all special was the thick layering of glaze. No mere smear here, kids. A blanket-like dome of donut topping that make Pinkie's donuts an experience like no other.