Carolyn Alburger, Eater cities editor
Akiko's omakase is so good that it's bad for conversation, especially the nigiri of albacore belly drooped over a pile of impossibly just-sticky-enough, sweet-sour sushi rice.
The surprising beef lung dish at Terra Cotta Warrior — crisp-tender Szechuan-style chipped beef sprinkled with peanuts and sesame seeds — is also a must order.
I still can't find a hot cocktail better than the "Rich Coffee" at Rich Table, a new spin on the classic Irish coffee made with Fernet, Sightglass beans, and a layer of heavy cream laced with pistachio liqueur.
Ravi Kapur's bao at Liholiho Yacht Club is my ideal bite of food: pillowy poppyseed-covered bun, velvety funky beef, pickled veg and aioli.
Ellen Fort, Eater SF editor
Hotsy Totsy Club is one of the best bars in the East Bay, and their leather-bound book of cocktails has many gems within it. However, one of the best in recent memory is one called "A Pirate's Life For Me," composed of butter-washed Privateer rum, King's Ginger, orgeat, walnut bitters and oatmeal stout. Something about liquor that's been fortified with delicious butter appeals to my dark side — plus it's just delicious.
Has anyone had Herbsaint recently? It's an anise-flavored liqueur from New Orleans, so it's not the most popular Bay Area beverage (though considering the local appetite for Fernet, there's no reason why another weird alcohol can't join the party). However, I tried it in the "Herbsaint Frappé" at the recent preview for David Kinch's The Bywater in Los Gatos, and I couldn't get enough of this low-ABV cocktail. Herbsaint, Lo-Fi Vermouth, apple and lime juice are rapidly shaken then poured over crushed ice for a refreshing, herbal treat.
It's been said before and it will be said again: Saison's uni toast is one of the best bites in town. Although it's hard to include such an expensive and arguably unreachable bite in a roundup like this, honesty is also important. So here's the truth: the uni on liquid toast is the purest, most decadent mouthful of food I've had all year.
Liholiho Yacht Club's off-menu spam dish really rubbed me the right way this year. In addition to the fun of ordering "secret" menu items, this homemade version of Hawaii's favorite canned meat treat is super flavorful and homey, featuring browned spam atop white rice, with an aioli of tamari and sriracha. Yep.
Stefanie Tuder, Eater SF senior editor
Melissa Perello's deviled egg at Octavia is one of those deceiving dishes that you think you could totally make at home but you definitely cannot. It's just a soft-poached egg topped with spices, but under Perello's guidance, that simple egg turns revelatory. The creaminess of the runny, brined yolk combined with the bold Marash pepper spices and Fresno chile relish makes for one exciting bite.
Ninebark's salt cod beignets are basically doughnuts with a PhD. Chef Matthew Lightner makes perfectly pillowy beignets drizzled with honey and filled with a savory, fishy (in a good way) garlic aioli, and they're so damn delicious that I just had to take an extra order to go after the meal was over.
I was delighted by the "CoCoBang" cocktail at Lazy Bear, named for bar manager Nicolas Torres' favorite late-night Korean barbecue spot, where smoke fills the air at all hours. Smoky drinks are de rigueur these days with the advent of mezcal, but this one takes it to an entirely new level.Torres smokes creme de cacao liqueur with applewood and combines it with Diplomatico extra-aged rum, amontillado sherry, vermouth and housemade coffee bitters, then smokes the entire drink again before delivering it to the table all sealed up. Like dishes of fine-dining restaurants gone by, the lid is lifted and your drink eventually appears beneath a cloud of disappearing smoke. It's sweet, spicy and intensely smoky all at once, and each intriguing sip makes you want to return for more.
Under Tim Hagney's deft guidance, you'd never know that Maven recently had a bar manager shuffle. His drinks uphold the bar's serious cocktail reputation, and I particularly loved the "Unwritten Law." Hagney reduces Belgian wheat beer and combines it with rum, Asian pear and a hopped whipped cream. It's rich and bitter and sweet and kind of what I imagine butterbeer would taste like, and that is truly the highest compliment I could possibly pay the drink.
Daisy Barringer, Eater SF contributor
Jason Raffin's double smash burger at Scotland Yard is exactly what fast food burgers wish they could be when they grow up. Two patties perfectly charred on the grill, bone marrow aioli, aged cheddar dripping down the sides, and a cornichon remoulade... If not for a fear of things like obesity and heart attacks, I'd eat one every week.
Is it weird to to say that a salad was one of my favorite dishes of 2015? Probably, but I don't care because the grilled broccoli salad at Ninebark in Napa was so good, I would eat it for lunch every day of the week if it could. Basically: if parents want their kids to get stoked on broccoli, they should serve it with smoked cheddar cheese, green goddess dressing, and arugula.
So technically a loophole cocktail is what restaurants serve when they don't have their liquor license. Lucky for everyone, Belga doesn't have that issue because Nora Furst's "Loophole" cocktail (Aperol, IPA, gin, eggwhite, lemon) is a lot tastier thanks to the gin. It sounds like it would be heavy due to the eggwhite, but this cocktail is actually incredibly drinkable. Like, I could have one for breakfast and go from there. And by "go from there," I mean "have another one for lunch and cocktail hour and dinner."
Gin is really having a moment this year and I'm really okay with that. Especially when the moment is the "Lamplighter's Story" (Plymouth gin infused with hibiscus, grapefruit marmalade, serrano chili, bitter orange soda, lemon) at Whitechapel. Doesn't hurt that it's also one of the most gorgeous new bars to arrive in SF in a long time.