In the quest to do best-of lists at the Chronicle Food Department without actually replicating Michael Bauer's once-popular Top 100 Restaurants list, there have been some false starts since Soleil Ho began her tenure as critic two years ago.
Through the pandemic, it sounds like she's continued dining around in earnest — she moved here from the midwest and was notably not super familiar with the Bay Area restaurant scene when she started. And after that bizarre Top 25 list came out in January with a promise to update it quarterly, we now have something more akin to the Top 100 in its scope. Except it's not one list, it's four, covering San Francisco, the East Bay, Marin County, and the Peninsula/South Bay in separate lists, which makes some sense. And it totals 91 restaurants and pop-ups, which gets us close to 100 — leaving out the food-rich area of Wine Country, with no Sonoma or Napa representation.
People up in Sonoma and Napa counties still read the Chronicle, so this could ruffle some feathers — but maybe the Wine Country list just isn't done yet.
The San Francisco list of course omits some restaurants that haven't made it back open yet — including mainstays like Marlowe, Frances, and Octavia. But with 34 entries, this is at least a good swath of SF's best dining destinations — and unlike that Top 25, this one doesn't ignore heavy hitters like AL's Place, Mister Jiu's, State Bird Provisions, Rich Table, and Atelier Crenn.
The SF list makes room for El Farolito to represent for Mission burritos — SFist still stands by the superiority of Cancun — and includes longtime Michael Bauer pizza favorite Gialina's, along with Del Popolo and Square Pie Guys. And Ho does a better job than Bauer of finding some gems to include in Chinatown — she's a fan of Capital, barbecue spot Hing Lung Co., and dim sum spot Good Mong Kok Bakery.
Notable among the omissions, though, are Angler, Benu, Saison, Cotogna, and SPQR, to name a few, and Michelin three-starred Quince is likely left off because it hasn't been open for the last 15 months.
Interestingly, Nyum Bai, the popular and lauded Oakland Cambodian restaurant which was praised in one of Ho's first reviews after her arrival at the Chronicle, did not make the cut for the East Bay.
Ho refers to these combined lists saying "we essentially just put out an extra Top 100 list, simply for the hell of it." So, I guess it wasn't intentional that these four lists cover 91 restaurants, and once she gets around to dining in Napa and Sonoma a bit more, we'll probably have something more like a Top 115. Bauer always complained that the 100 limit seemed more arbitrary every year. And perhaps this is more digestible and more easily searchable this way, separated geographically.
For those of you who love a list, there you have them. And this is pretty similar to the collection of spots in that Top 88 they put out last year, when so many things were closed — though this time Yamo didn't make the list. Sad.
Top image: A salad at AL's Place. Photo: Jay Barmann/SFist