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The Best Restaurant Meals Bay Area Food Insiders Had in 2020

The best indoor, outdoor, takeout, and delivery from the folks in the know

Pizzetta 211’s arugula pizza blew the SF Chronicle’s Serena Dai away
Pizzetta 211/Instagram

We asked a group of local writers, restaurant industry voices, and other assorted, and uniformly brilliant, friends of Eater SF to weigh in on this past year in food (and what a year it was). We’ll share their answers to this, the annual “Year in Eater” survey, over the course of several articles over the next two weeks. Today, they’re sharing what their best restaurant meal of 2021 was.

The takeout from Cotogna is fantastic — especially being able to quickly boil that corn ravioli and eat it fresh at home as if it were just made to order. But the best thing I tasted was probably the ribs at Saison Smokehouse. It was a bite so perfectly spiced and seasoned and tender my eyes rolled to the back of my head, and I’m not even a big rib person. — SFist editor Jay Barmann

Chef Christa Chase and a few colleagues did a cioppino pop-up at Friends and Family Bar right before the lockdown that was off the charts. I generally don’t like cooked oysters (only raw) but absolutely loved the whole meal, including the Oysters Rockefeller. — Chef, activist, and author Preeti Mistry

My husband and I went to Curio for our anniversary this year. They’ve definitely sprawled out and taken over a large chunk of Valencia Street as well as in the back patio area. The ribs were delicious and the live outdoor music was lovely! — San Francisco restauranteur Rica Sunga-Kwan, the owner of Portola District ice cream shop Churn Urban Creamery

Hands-down it was the Mad Tea Party experience at Merchant Roots, which was not only my most delightful meal of 2020, but my most delightful meal in a long time. The tasting menu is fancy tea party-meets-traditional British food and it’s all delicious (I never eat every bite on every plate, but there was nary a crumb left on any of them), but the experience is what puts it over the top. The cozy open-air parklets (there are only two) are decorated with lanterns and tea kettle “fountains” and everything else you’d expect at a Mad Tea Party. But even better, there are little antics and surprises throughout that make the evening so much fun, which I didn’t realize I needed so badly until I was in my best mood in weeks. It opened days before outdoor dining was shut down again, and I was so excited to tell everyone I know about it; luckily, it will be back whenever we’re allowed to eat at restaurants again. — SF food writer Daisy Barringer

There weren’t too many times that I splurged on “fancy” takeout, but the one time I did — getting one of each the day’s entree options at San Ho Won on a summer Friday, each one more spectacular than the last. I still think about the glutinous rice-stuffed fried Cornish hen all the time. Meanwhile, in the Before Times, the one night when I did chawanmushi and pork belly nabe at Fish & Bird Izakaya followed immediately by cocktails and desserts at Viridian was pretty tough to top. — Eater SF food editor Luke Tsai

There were so many pleasant surprises. But honestly, I cried tears of joy when Monsieur Benjamin reopened for soignee takeout with steak frites and chicken liver pate, and again when chef George Dingle decided to pop round Casements, with properly British pies. No offense to the delivery classics, but I was never going to make it through this year on pizza alone. — Eater SF reporter Becky Duffett

Since moving here, I’ve been trying to get to know the dining scene, in part by taking recommendations from my colleagues on the spots that define Bay Area dining. By far my favorite has been Pizzetta 211, which was simple and unassuming in both its menu and vibe — but blew my mind when the pizza came. At a server’s rec during outdoor dining, I got a tomato sauce-based pie with arugula and mascarpone and a potato pie with sausage and some sort of wilted greens. The quality was unreal. Every element sang while also working together in balance. Also I was extremely skeptical of arugula on pizza because every one that I’ve had feels like a bag of lettuce from the grocery store has been dumped on perfectly good pizza, but Pizzetta’s more than proved me wrong. And the generous glass of (really good) wine only cost $10.50?! Is this what California dining is? — SF Chronicle senior features editor (food, travel and magazines) Serena Dai

I wasn’t sure how I felt about outdoor dining at first, but the meals I did have outside this summer and fall were pretty incredible for the almost... normalcy of them. A couple of highlights include an anniversary lunch at Zuni, complete with oysters, anchovies, and The Chicken (and bubbles) followed by a wander over to the early voting site at Bill Graham to participate in our shaky, but still standing democracy, and a magically excessive dinner at Bell’s in Los Alamos (one of the few times I’ve left the Bay Area since late February). One of my favorite takeout nights was the night before the election in a friend’s backyard with a couple of pies from Sunset Squares paired with wine from the Queen’s ‘Natty Wines and Snacky Things” wine club. It didn’t dissipate the anxiety, but it helped. — San Francisco food writer Lauren Sloss

I’ve been really careful with outdoor dining — there are so many setups (cough Chestnut Street cough) where people look even more packed in than they used to be indoors! I was intrigued by the switcheroo fancy-pants gin bar Whitechapel made into a parking lot dining room situation called the Barbican Cocktail & Beer Garden. When I went to check it out in August, I was impressed by how well-spaced its tables were, and — for the first time since the pandemic began — placed an order to eat on the spot. I got the fish and chips and they were great: High quality, and prepared with care. But, also, the meal was such a strong reminder that while takeout is an important lifeline for restaurants, we’re still missing so much by not being able to safely dine on the spot. Fish and chips are the opposite of revenge: they’re best served hot and fresh, and, ideally, in a crowded (but not too crowded) setting. I haven’t had a meal that I recall as fondly, and as strongly, since. — Eater SF editor Eve Batey

Last night at the Charter Oak’s yurt village, a partnership with American Express and Resy. We had our own private yurt and enjoyed an intimate, multi-course meal. The Stracciatella toast was the night’s winner. — Napa food writer Jess Lander

Top Hatter’s Kitchen. — Author, activist, chef, and Sankofa pop-up founder Selasie Dotse

In January, before all this started, I really enjoyed feasting on spicy, pepper-laden dishes at Wojia Hunan Cuisine in Albany. A standout from the meal was the steamed sliced fish with chopped peppers, but my mouth still waters when thinking of the meatballs with spicy tofu — the dish comes to the table in a ceramic hot pot, bubbling and jiggling like it’s alive. Man, it was so good! — Berkeleyside Nosh editor Sarah Han

In a year where pretty much all restaurants were teetering on the edge and run by folks putting their health on the line to earn a living, my best restaurant meal of 2020, for which I’m so grateful and appreciative, was literally every meal that came from a restaurant. — Resy editorial director (and Eater SF’s founding editor) Paolo Lucchesi

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