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Bay Area Food Writers Air Their Biggest Dining Grievances of 2019

SF dining experts don’t mince words about their personal pet peeves

A bowl of food from Chipotle in Miami. Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

We asked a group of local restaurant critics, journalists, and other assorted, and uniformly brilliant, friends of Eater SF to weigh in on this past year in food. We’ll share their answers to the annual “Year in Eater” survey over the course of several posts during this next week. Now our esteemed panelists air their biggest dining grievance of the year.

Eve Batey, senior editor at Eater SF: I like a sexily lit restaurant as much as the next person (who wants to look good), so you won’t find me arguing that a spot needs to turn the lights up. But if you’re going to go dim, you have to enlarge the font on your menus, folks. I was recently at a moodily lit upscale Italian place in Pacific Heights and every single table was packed with people using their incredibly harsh phone flashlights to read the menu. It really ruins the mood when every table has to pull out a pocket-sized pool of Kmart-style lighting. Just make the words bigger so we can remain in flattering darkness!

Soleil Ho, restaurant critic at SF Chronicle: Restaurants and bars that don’t have hooks under counter seats are my enemy.

Elena Kadvany, food reporter at Palo Alto Weekly: Tablets at restaurants. Aren’t we already disconnected enough from the people who make and serve our food?

Luke Tsai, editor at Eater SF: Contrary to popular belief, not every dish in every cuisine known to mankind is meant to be adapted into a Chipotle-style fast-casual “bowl.” Also: Please don’t be the kind of snitch who calls the health department to rat out your neighborhood street cart or underground pop-up.

Katherine Hamilton, restaurant critic at East Bay Express: Can fine dining restaurateurs please stop describing their businesses as “neighborhood restaurants?” Every restaurant is, by default, located in a neighborhood. If you want to be accessibly priced and family-friendly, the kind of place people of modest means could actually visit on a regular basis, then you gotta walk the talk.

Becky Duffett, reporter at Eater SF: I don’t care about a fast food burger chain from New York (cough, Shake Shack). I don’t want to eat a fast food fried chicken sandwich (cough, cough, Popeyes). But mostly, I’m alarmed about delivery apps, and how they’re hurting our neighborhood restaurants.

Paolo Lucchesi, editorial director at Resy: Sweet potato fries, mostly. No, but seriously, probably my biggest restaurant-related grievance is this: We are now in the year of our lord 2019 and there are still so many diners whose knee-jerk reaction to a Bay Area restaurant is to complain about its prices. We, as the collective Bay Area dining public, love to say we support all these Bay Area values surrounding labor, producers, and small businesses, but there is too often a disconnect when comes to backing up that talk with financial support. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be conversation about value, but to quickly dismiss or bemoan something — whether it’s a taco or a bowl of curry or a tasting menu — because it’s simply more expensive than it was five years ago, or because it’s more expensive than its competitors, is missing the point.

Ellen Fort, food editor at Sunset Magazine: This is the part every year where I complain about tiny cups of tepid water served in a stack at your table. Give me a cool glass of water that I don’t have to refill 20x PLEASE.

Sarah Han, editor at Berkeleyside Nosh: The golden handcuffs of third-party food delivery services. Sure, delivery is convenient, especially when you’re too tired to cook or go out, and it’s awesome to have so many more options these days. But I always think of how our dependence on these services is negatively impacting small businesses and the people who are trying to make a living through delivering food. Plus, they make me realize how lazy I can be when I’m paying close to $40 for two burritos from a restaurant that’s just a short drive (or bike ride) away.

Janelle Bitker, food enterprise reporter at SF Chronicle: I don’t need to wait in line for another Japanese sando, thank you very much.