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SF’s Top Restaurant Standbys

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Eater editors and friends of Eater on their go-to spots this year

The bar at Zuni Cafe
Zuni Cafe/ Instagram

Welcome to Year in Eater 2018, Eater’s annual ritual of eulogizing the past 12 months through input from the city’s top food writers. For 2018’s final week, Eater SF will be posting questions daily about San Francisco’s restaurant scene in the past year, with answers from those who know it best: Eater editors and friends of Eater. Today’s topic: What were the top restaurant standbys of 2018? These are the places people returned to time and again.

Ellen Fort, editor of Eater SF: I return again and again to Ramen Shop for bowls of delicate ramen with seasonal ingredients and excellent cocktails, though I often get it to go, too (even though they make you boil the noodles and heat your broth at home). Nyum Bai and Reem’s are always on repeat for me as well. In SF, lunchtime standbys are always Souvla, RT Rotisserie, Sababa, and Yank Sing. And, duh, Zuni.

Caleb Pershan, senior editor at Eater SF: Pauline’s, just down the street from where I live, basically kept me alive on pesto pizzas this year — but sadly it closed this month after more than 30 years in business, so now I have to move. I also developed a serious habit at Stonemill Matcha (the katsu sandwich and sparkling matcha are favorites).

Janelle Bitker, Eater SF reporter: As an East Bay dweller, I found myself happily returning again and again to Reem’s for mana’eesh, Belotti Bottega for pasta cravings, Teni East Kitchen for Burmese without the wait, Pyeong Chang Tofu House for soondubu, and Alem’s Coffee for shihan phool.

Greg Morabito, pop culture editor for Eater National: My favorite frequent lunch is whatever the hell the special is at Yank Sing 2 Go. My hunch is that they’re just using whatever’s about to go bad for that less-than-eight-dollar white board combo, but it’s always well-cooked and just so satisfying — usually some variety of stir-fried noodles and dim sum. (It helps that it’s a block and a half away from Eater SF HQ). La Mission on University Ave is my burrito jam of 2018, because I love the carnitas and also how artfully they have transformed an old Taco Bell into an all-around terrific non-chain taqueria. And every meal I had at Jaunita and Maude in 2018 was unique and generally excellent.

Rachel Levin, former Eater SF critic and author of upcoming Wise Sons cookbook: My top standby in 2018 was probably my top standby in 2017, and 2016... and 2015... and 2014... and I hope will still be my top standby when I’m old and gray in 2048: Zuni

Peter Kane, editor-in-chief of SF Weekly: I don’t often have the luxury of repeat patronage after I’ve written about something — soooo hard, I know — but apart from my true love, Tu Lan, I’ve steered people toward Marugame Udon whenever a trip to Stonestown is even remotely feasible. And I will bike through the Stockton Tunnel and the rain for dim sum from Good Mong Kok if the craving is strong enough.

Paolo Lucchesi, food editor at SF Chronicle: Honestly, the places I frequented most often were probably El Tonayense for tacos and La Playa for burritos. I’ll never tire of the bars at A16 and Outerlands. My favorite place in the world is the Pelican Inn. My lunch standby is forever and ever Kin Khao. I stop at Bini’s at any Off the Grid or market situation. Zuni.

Esther Mobley, wine and spirits critic at SF Chronicle: Heirloom Café in the Mission continues to be the unsung star of San Francisco dining, in my opinion, and thanks to its owner Matt Straus one of the most special places to drink wine in the country.

Jonathan Kauffman, food reporter at SF Chronicle: On the higher end, I haven’t gone wrong with Nopalito and Tartine Manufactory. We spend the most time at Ragazza partly because it’s so close to our house (a sleeper: Brenda’s Meat & Three for dinner).

Marcia Gagliardi, founder of Tablehopper and columnist for KQED’s Table Talk: I’m always on the hunt for new places, but here are some spots where I ended up more than once: I try to have as many meetings as possible at Noon All Day, Tartine Manufactory, and China Live; Italian Homemade Company’s authentic meat-filled tortellini are always callllling meeeeee; I love grabbing an impromptu bite or brunch at my neighborhood spot, Indian Paradox; and late-night bites, brunch, and cocktails at The Saratoga. I keep popping in to A16 and Cento Osteria (yay, ‘nduja and rigatoni), Chili House is always on repeat, Noodle in a Haystack is my top ramen, Rooster & Rice is some of my favorite delivery (KMG!) — oh, and RT Rotisserie — and the medianoches travel well from… Media Noche.

Virginia Miller, freelance writer and editor at At over 600 meals out every year, I always get around back at home when I’m not traveling for more of the same. I continue to return to the great Cafe Jacqueline (souffles), Anchor Oyster Bar (seafood), Helmand Palace (Afghan), Marcello’s (old school American Italian) and Mandalay (Burmese). A few more favorites remain Jannah (Iraqi), Kitchen Istanbul (Turkish), Montesacro (Roman Italian), Glena’s (Mexican), Yuzuki (Japanese), Brenda’s Meat & Three (Southern American), Kin Khao (Thai) and always, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Little Star Pizza.