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San Francisco’s Most Important Restaurants, According to Michael Bauer

The Chron critic plays food historian

Michael Bauer
The man himself
The New West

Say what you will about San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer, but the man certainly knows the San Francisco dining scene. In fact, no one may know it better than him, considering he’s been covering it for 30 consecutive years. To mark that grand occasion, Bauer put together a nifty list of “the 30 most important Bay Area restaurants of the last 30 years.” The paper clarifies that these are “not always the best restaurant of the year — or even the most prominent — but rather, the one that offered something special, moved the conversation forward and made the Bay Area the food epicenter it is today.”

Bauer has been in the hot seat lately, with a recent takedown-style article in San Francisco magazine that focuses on the power his boyfriend Michael Murphy wields over the local restaurant scene through his involvement in IfOnly, a luxury experience service. Bauer himself has been featured on the site, with an experience that touted being “treated like a royal” at a dinner with Bauer for $2,000. There is also a new anonymous Instagram account that calls for Bauer’s “impeachment.”

Regardless of all that, though, whether or not you agree with Bauer’s reign over the Bay Area dining scene, the last 30 years have undoubtedly given him a knowledge that puts him in the unique position of being able to publish such a list. Most restaurants named are still open and still very relevant, so it’s an interesting question to ponder if that’s a result of Bauer’s influence, or just his ability to spot truly important restaurants — has San Francisco’s restaurant evolution been fairly/unfairly influenced by his predilections?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but you can check out his list in full below, though the original story is definitely worth a read for context.

1986: Sushi Ran
1987: Zuni Cafe
1988: L’Avenue (closed)
1989: Acquerello
1990: O Chame (closed)
1991: Slow Club (closed)
1992: Esperpento
1993: Lulu
1994: French Laundry
1995: Slanted Door
1996: Rose Pistola
1997: Chow
1998: Asia SF
1999: Foreign Cinema
2000: Chez Nous (closed)
2001: Aziza
2002: Incanto (closed)
2003: Ferry Building Marketplace
2004: A16
2005: Pizza at Pizzeria Delfina, Pizzeria Picco, Pizzaiolo
2006: Coi
2007: Ubuntu (closed)
2008: Camino
2009: Nopalito
2010: Benu
2011: Bar Terra
2012: State Bird Provisions
2013: Tosca Cafe
2014: Lazy Bear
2015: Cala
2016: In Situ