It’s here: Eater’s third annual National Essential 38 from critic Bill Addison is now live, featuring four of San Francisco’s heavy-hitters. The list itself is the result of extensive research that’s taken place over the course of year, involving a near-constant travel and dining schedule from our critic.
And this year San Francisco takes the cake, with more restaurants represented than any other city (though NY also has four if you count Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which is an hour outside the city). Following this year’s Michelin coup, in which SF received as many three stars as New York, it’s a real indication that the country is taking note of what we already knew: San Francisco rules.
Without further adieu, here are the three newcomers to the list: Saison, Liholiho Yacht Club, and Zuni Cafe. Meanwhile, Corey Lee’s flagship restaurant Benu returns for another year as an essential part of the SF dining scene. Here’s a look at each restaurant that made the list, and why they were chosen, from the critic himself:
For this national project I take my cues from the local 38 lists compiled by city editors; “best” is catchy shorthand but more specifically I’m thinking about restaurants that are essential to their communities and that also, when considered together, define dining in America right now. And like the local lists, the national counterpart is meant to evolve slowly; it wouldn’t hold water as a list of essentials if I chose an entire new roll call of restaurants every year.
That said: the Bay Area, along with Los Angeles, is the most difficult place in the country for me to narrow down contenders for this list, and there are substantial changes. In the past there have been restaurants from around the Bay Area; this year they’re all in San Francisco. That’s just the way it shook out. Benu has been included all three years of the list’s existence; Corey Lee takes the modern tasting menus in a direction like no one else.
I’ve stated before that the Bay Area is the lodestar for fine dining right now in America, and after another astounding meal at Joshua Skene’s Saison this fall, I knew I had to include it on the list as well.
Zuni Cafe, honestly, has been on the short list every year. I was a regular when I lived in San Francisco a decade ago, and as the paradigm of an American neighborhood restaurant, it has a timeless relevance.
But the list includes restaurants from all eras and angles of American dining, and Ravi Kapur sets the tone locally and nationally for a modern, personal style of cooking. His food at Liholiho defies easy labels but is so easy to love. — Bill Addison