Each year, the Eater Awards celebrate the restaurants and chefs who have made the biggest impact on the dining scene in 24 cities around the world. This is the tenth annual edition of the awards, which focus on restaurants that have opened in the last 12 months. Here in the Bay Area, the Eater staff has spent the last two months narrowing down the field to the very best candidates in three categories: restaurant of the year, restaurant design of the year, and pop-up restaurant of the year.
The 2019 winners encapsulate the restaurants that have had the most influence in helping to shape the distinct culinary culture of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Each winner will receive a traditional Eater tomato can trophy and will be the subject of additional coverage in the months to come. Without further ado, here are this year’s winners.
Restaurant of the Year
Almost every year, the restaurant of the year honor goes to a new restaurant, but Besharam is the exception that proves the rule. Open since last May, Heena Patel’s Dogpatch restaurant — named after the Urdu word for “shameless” — did a full reboot after the chef’s much-publicized split with Daniel Patterson’s Alta restaurant group this past spring. Besharam stayed open, though; the dining room kept the same layout and the same overall vibe, with Maria Qamar’s colorful murals and plateware setting the playfully unapologetic tone.
But here’s the thing: The restaurant got much, much better. With full control of the restaurant and her own staff in place, Patel shifted the menu away from its initial “California Gujarati” cuisine concept toward a fuller embrace of the regional Gujarati dishes she grew up eating and launched a family-style vegetarian tasting menu option. Customers may have never previously tried dhokla, a kind of fermented chickpea cake, or the smoky, spicy eggplant stew known as ringan no oro. But even more than before, Besharam made no apologies — it presented bold flavors and textures with a new confidence.
The restaurant also started to feel more personal and intimate, with kind, knowledgeable service led by Patel’s husband Paresh. It’s a quiet success in a dining scene that tends to prioritize places that are big and splashy — and it offers a ray of hope that a small, independent spot can still thrive without the backing of a major restaurant group.
Design of the Year
Nari isn’t just the buzziest new restaurant opening of the past several months, it’s also the most beautiful. Helmed by accomplished restaurateur and writer Pim Techamuanvivit and rising star chef de cuisine Meghan Clark, the menu offerings like the laab hed and a dish of squid and caramelized pork jowl are bold — and the decor is arguably even bolder.
Designed by Lundberg Design, the high-ceilinged space at Japantown’s Kabuki Hotel abounds in lush greenery, striking light fixtures, and minimalist wood. The dining room feels so vast that it’s almost too much to take in all at once, and instead reveals itself layer by layer: Here is a little fern-filled nook that feels hidden away from the rest of the restaurant; here is a curved banquette upholstered with a lovely Thai fabric; here is a laid-back, carpeted upstairs bar area that almost feels like a completely separate restaurant.
At Nari, every detail is well considered and thoroughly modern — a space whose design lives up to the grand ambitions of the restaurant itself.
Pop-up of the Year
One of this year’s most surprising and inspiring food stories has been the rise of El Garage, which grew from an unknown pop-up hosted under a tent in the driveway of its proprietors’ Richmond home to the East Bay’s buzziest taco vendor. Today it boasts 21,000-plus Instagram followers and counting and hour-long lines at every event it has hosted — whether those initial pop-ups in the family’s own driveway, or later ones in random empty lots or at various Bay Area breweries.
The excitement has a little bit to do with the the elusiveness of the mostly-underground operation. But mostly it is because El Garage slings one of the Bay Area’s best versions of quesabirria, the red-tinted, consomé-dipped birria taco sensation that has swept up from Los Angeles to Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco. That alone hasn’t been a guarantee of success — local health department inspectors have foiled the pop-up at every turn for its lack of permits. But for now, El Garage’s story has the happiest ending any upstart pop-up might hope for: Early next year, it plans to open a proper restaurant storefront near the Richmond BART station.