San Francisco got short shrift the last couple years when it's come to the James Beard Foundation Awards and Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurants lists, but Esquire is still paying attention to our food scene.
We're back to a world when magazines can criss-cross the country and new stuff is actually opening everywhere. But when Bon Appetit expanded it's "Hot 10" to be a top 50 restaurants around the nation, revealed in September, they only saw fit to give one spot to San Francisco — and sorry for the sour grapes, but in a couple years of the last decade, SF occupied two spots in their Top 10. That restaurant was Good Good Culture Club, and they also gave a nod to Oakland's DAYTRIP before focusing their attention elsewhere.
Lists are of course subjective, and when they're from a national publication you know the editors were on some kind of travel and food budget so they relied on some friends and other critics to point them places and likely skipped a few contenders.
Esquire's latest Best New Restaurants list is the magazine's 40th edition, and so they're giving us 40 picks — like Bon Appetit, these lists in other years were not quite so long. And San Francisco gets some more attention with this one.
"We’re always hooked when there is soul and a story to go with delicious, inventive dishes," writes editor Kevin Sintumuang. "It’s hard to deny the reflection of lived experience imbued in a menu, a wine list, a cocktail, atmosphere." And the Bay Area picks for this list reflect that idea — they each have an "editorial" uniqueness that lends themselves to listicle journalism, and photography.
For SF, we have San Ho Won, the much anticipated casual Korean barbecue spinoff from Benu chef Corey Lee and Jeong-In Hwang, which also got list honors from the New York Times in September. "Be sure not to miss the gleaming galbi mandu (griddled beef dumplings) or the bubbling cauldrons of kimchi jjigae pozole that will warm your soul on even the coldest San Francisco night," Esquire contributor Omar Mamoon writes.
Next they included Le Fantastique, the Hayes Valley-adjacent wine bar that's gotten sorely little press since it opened in November 2021. "The surprises at this chic joint, where vinyl records are casually played throughout the course of the evening on speakers powered by the warm glow of a McIntosh tube amp, are luxurious yet subtle," writes Sintumuang, praising the aged raw fish and the delicately poached chicken breast in particular.
And they included the boldly colored, highly conceptual Shuggie's, a.k.a. Shuggie's Trash Pie and Natural Wine, the Mission District pizza spot that opened this past spring, devoted to making better use of food waste. "Stepping into Shuggie’s feels like you’ve entered a colorful and chaotic psychedelic maximalist dreamscape," Mamoon writes. And he's a fan of the flatbread-like pies, which are "thin, square, and crispy, topped with things like sunburned squash, ugly mushrooms, and abandoned chard."
Also on the list is Animo in Sonoma — the restaurant SFist highlighted back in April — where Chef Joshua Smookler is doing marvelous yet humble things with a wood grill, roasting aged turbot and thick prime rib and serving it with Korean-inflected sides — a marriage of his Korean heritage and his love of Basque cuisine.
At some point the Bay Area will come back into fashion, but for now the national publications are only throwing us a few bones — we'll take what we can get.
Also: Check out places that keep getting ignored that made brave pandemic debuts serving great food, like Osito, Ernest, Nisei, Routier, Handroll Project, and Sorella, as well as Abaca, which did get some NYT love.
Top image: The kimchi jjigae pozole at San Ho Won, courtesy of the restaurant