To some, 2023 seemed like a down and dismal year to be a San Franciscan, with not much happening that you could count as positive, and the national media seeming to decide — for the umpteenth time — that SF is really "over." But the restaurant scene saw some vibrant, resurgent energy this year, despite all that.
There were a few trends that perhaps pointed both to our post-pandemic cravings and the economics of a restaurant world that is currently pretty gunshy about untested concepts. Italian still seems to be SF's go-to number-one — and that can be said of New York's scene too, where some of the most sought-after tables in recent years are at places like Carbone, Torrisi, and Via Carota. Established restaurateurs here banked on tried-and-true Italian menus with some unique flourishes, and some outstanding results (see below, Mattina, Barberio Osteria, La Connessa, Corzetti, The Rustic).
A city that has long been a destination for all manner of Asian food continues to deliver on unique, high-end, and regionally focused menus that are barely available anywhere else in the U.S. (see below, Prik Hom, Copra, Blue Whale). And San Francisco remains one of the best cities in the country for fine dining, with the reopening of Quince last month, and new Michelin-worthy and/or starred contenders just open in the last year like the A-team of Aphotic, Anomaly, and 7 Adams.
See our picks for the best new additions of the year below.
Best New Fine Dining: Anomaly
Anomaly opened in mid-January 2023, having grown out of a pop-up, and until recently chef Mike Lanham's intimate Lower Pac Heights tasting menu adventure had flown below my radar. The dining room may feel like you're stepping into an 80s time capsule of nouvelle cuisine austerity, but Lanham's food is all about fun and surprise, and full of thoughtful, original, sensual pleasures. Take his "Soup + Ice" course on the recent "Sweater Weather" menu — a dish of creamy, warm fennel soup served over nitrogen-frozen lemon-dill butter that creates a theatrical, stage-fog flourish as it's served, and is delicious to boot. Or the custard of lime, yam, and Hokkaido uni that beautifully marries flavors of the sea, summer, and fall. Tasting menus may be less fashionable these days, but chefs with Lanham's wit and talent can still win you over with plate-by-plate storytelling that leaves you with taste memories that linger for weeks.
2600 Sutter Street, reserve here
Most Delicious Overall: Dalida
The historic, tucked-away Presidio space that was home to The Commissary in the last decade deserved to be brought alive and made into a destination again. And after an unfortunate false start with Noosh a couple years back, married chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz have finally landed here, which is a worthy stage for their terrific food and buzzy ambiance. While I could recommend the insanely good Octopus & Sujuk — a dish of thinly sliced octopus served with olive-caper dressing and sujuk, a spicy dried pork sausage — or the must-have housemade pita with Middle Eastern dips (dubbed Breaking Bread, on the menu), I have the sense that you can't go wrong no matter what direction your meal takes here. Dalida is a love letter to the melting pot of cuisines that transcends the borders between Europe, the Middle East and Asia — as the Ozyilmazes says, "It's a little Turkish, a little Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Arabic and Persian." And the unique, Eastern European-leaning wine list by wine director Ruth Frey and internationally inspired cocktail list by bar director Evan Williams only add delights and nuances to the experience.
101 Montgomery Street (the Presidio one), reserve here
Best New Prix Fixe Deal: 7 Adams
The husband-and-wife team of David Fisher and Serena Chow Fisher got plenty of buzz from their first SF restaurant, Marlena, earning a Michelin star and accolades for their reasonably priced prix fixe menus. In the spring of 2023 they closed their restaurant over a business disagreement and partnered with Hi Neighbor Restaurant Group to open 7 Adams, which has style components in common with Marlena, and similarly offers five courses of very high-end food for $87 per person. The cozy dining room in Japantown is sleek and handsome, and savory dishes from Fisher like a recent slow-braised pork shoulder with chicken jus are complemented by delicate, ultra-flavorful pastas like tagliatelle with lamb ragu and shaved matsutake mushrooms. Desserts from Chow Fisher are also masterful and Michelin-worthy, and if you get a chance to sample the Buffalo-born Fisher's Buffalo-style quail roulade, don't miss it.
1963 Sutter Street, reserve here
Best New Casual Italian: Mattina
Fans of chef-owner Matthew Accarrino's food at SPQR had to know that his around-the-corner, more casual project Mattina was going to be a winner. And being a Michelin-star chef with consistently high standards, "casual" just means that there aren't tableside truffles being shaved and the plating on the entrees is rustic and not quite so tweezer-y. The salads are seasonal and hearty. The pastas are things of beauty, and just as hand-made and richly textured as those being served at SPQR — like duck-filled ravioli with roasted grapes and balsamic brown butter. There are also delicious, satisfying biscuit sandwiches being served here in the morning. And I'm going to say something potentially controversial: Mattina is serving, hands down, the best meatballs currently in the city. I said it.
2232 Bush Street, reserve here
The Rest of the Best
Former Quince chef Peter Hemsley is performing nightly feats of highly skilled, passionate seafood cookery at his new, already Michelin-one-star Aphotic. Not unlike Saison in its early incarnations, the courses at Aphotic are a succession of mostly Northern California flavors centered around the ocean and coast, with forays into Europe and Japan in the preparations — like a dish of Monterey abalone with swordfish bacon and dashi; or a prawn risotto with uni. The effect is both refined and personal, showing us the voice of a new executive chef with plenty of years on the line dishing up others' Michelin-starred visions. And the stunner dishes just keep coming.
816 Folsom Street, reserve here
The new Mission District offshoot of Nob Hill's AltoVino, Barberio Osteria, is a welcome addition to the Valencia corridor, and is making excellent use of the former Locanda kitchen and dining room to serve up equally crave-worthy Italian flavors. The regional lens here is more Northern Italian, with several dishes and wines highlighting a region not often seen on menus in SF: South Tyrol. The region is on the Alpine border with Austria and features many Germanic influences, highlighted in dishes like canederli — dumplings made with bread, cheese, and speck, that are a cross between a meatball and a dumpling. Barberio Osteria also serves excellent versions of pasta dishes from other parts of Italy, including paccheri (large rigatoni) with a puttanesca-esque ragu, and pappardelle with a rich, divine, 10-hour veal Bolognese sauce.
557 Valencia Street, reserve here
One of the more unexpected surprises of the year, Blue Whale debuted this fall in Cow Hollow, bringing the sophisticated palate of chef Ho Chee Boon (Empress By Boon) to a new audience. The restaurant features stylish indoor and outdoor spaces, and an eclectic pan-Asian menu that mashes up cuisines in the best of all possible ways. Early hits include XO roasted duck with noodles, and Thai-style fried chicken with papaya salad. There are also some dim sum items from Boon's repertoire, like pork and truffle xiao long bao, and there's a prettily plated chocolate cremeux gateau for dessert that has been widely documented on Instagram.
2033 Union Street, reserve here
La Connessa made one of the splashiest restaurant debuts this fall, opening in a new residential complex in Potrero alongside two sister businesses — a burger spot called Louie's Original, and a doughnut shop called Magic Donuts. It's a new restaurant from the well-proven team at Bacchus Management Group (Spruce, Selby's, Village Pub), with a highly polished menu from chef Freedom Rains (A Mano). It's one of two new restaurants (see below) serving focaccia di recco — an indulgent cheese-stuffed, cracker-thin flatbread that is not like the focaccia you know — so that seems to be trending. And across the board La Connessa is delivering a class-A experience, from the design to service to cocktails and wine to the Italian menu, with Rains's lovely pastas and damn fine, succulent ribeye tagliata being the stars of the show.
1695 Mariposa Street, reserve here
This year's happiest addition to Union Square dining is Corzetti, from Adriano Paganini's Back of the House Restaurant Group. The hip interior evokes 1960s Italy, while chef Tali Missirlian (Tailor's Son) is serving up coastal Italian delights like handkerchief pasta tossed in Genovese pesto, and penne al gamberi (shrimp). There's also a take on the Genovese stew ciuppin that inspired San Francisco's cioppino, and Missirlian is also turning out fine pizzas and focaccia di recco — which one has to order topped with mortadella, and it could be dinner by itself. Also not to be missed, former Lolinda bar manager Nora Furst's savory-leaning cocktail list, and possibly the most inventive cocktail of the year: the Pizza Spritz.
398 Geary Street, reserve here
The old bank building at Post and Fillmore has finally come alive again, and the new tenants are outdoing the old when it comes to ambiance and high-end Indian cuisine. Former Campton Place chef Srijith Gopinathan is spinning wonders at Copra with the flavors of Southern India, with must-try dishes like the the Jaffna curry leaf-rubbed, slow-cooked octopus; and varuval spice-crusted hamachi collar. Even the simple starter dish of house chutneys with pappadoms is its own tour of deep and spicy flavors. What puts Copra over the top, though, is Schoos Design's Lisa Gill's transporting, tropical design of the interior, and the overall experience from restaurateur Ayesha Thapar — who was already wowing Peninsula diners at her and Gopinathan's other restaurant Ettan in Palo Alto, before this project took shape.
1700 Fillmore Street, reserve here
A space at the edge of the Castro that was the longtime home of Chow has been the home of a couple failed concepts in the intervening years and has sat dark for far too long. But finally a winning Cal-Italian concept has taken hold, and will hopefully stay awhile, with food and wine that are far more impressive than the name implies. The Rustic has some of the usual pizza and pasta offerings you might expect, but each has thoughtful touches that raise the bar on what a neighborhood trattoria should be. Take the orecchietti Bolognese, with its genius addition of horseradish cream, or the gremolata that brightens up a rich braised lamb shank. Albanian-Turkish owner Ali "Zoti" Turap, an alum of Chez Panisse's front-of-house brings plenty of personality to both the wine list — he's a certified sommelier — and the restaurant floor, which he also manages. The Castro has needed something like The Rustic for years, and here's to seeing people fill the place up again like they used to at Chow.
215 Church Street, reserve here
With a quiet opening in early 2023, the Richmond's Prik Hom has quickly gained notoriety and a packed reservation book, thanks in part to its inclusion on this New York Times list in September. Previously Michelin-starred Bangkok chef Jim Suwanpanya, who emigrated from Thailand, seems destined to earn another star here in SF, with this tiny restaurant he opened with the help of sister Tanya. Good luck trying to get a table (they take a few walk-ins each night, for two-tops especially), but if you do, you can't miss the mushroom larb, or the sumptuous seafood curries. And everyone must have the coconut ice cream, which comes topped with candied palm seeds, rice crisps, and is enhanced by the smoke from a traditional Thai incense candle.
3226 Geary Boulevard, reserve here