Whatever we anticipated at the outset, it all went bottoms up quickly: What a wild ride for food and drink trends this year, from everyone baking their own sourdough and panic buying beans, to exploring fresh formats like meal kits and freezer dumplings, and finally settling into the comforts of cake and cocktails. Not to mention sandwiches. From the food-obsessed city by the Bay, even in this hard year, here’s what we couldn’t stop eating in San Francisco in 2020.
The sourdough trend started strong at the beginning of the pandemic, although maybe it didn’t finish with quite so much gusto — many home cooks seemed to fall off the bandwagon within weeks. Still, it was a fun collective moment this spring to watch local bakeries like Thorough Bread offering starter and kits to aspiring home bakers.
Ravenous bean hoarders
While panic shoppers across the country cleaned Costco out of toilet paper, here in the Bay, eaters hoarded heirloom beans: Rancho Gordo reported that sales quadrupled at the outset of the pandemic. And if anyone is still working through a stash, their latest cookbook is magical, and good inspiration to get a pot of beans simmering at the back of the stove.
Of all the dining experiences shut down this year, San Franciscans sorely missed sitting around a big circular brunch table, watching the dim sum carts swirl, and picking out a quartet of dumplings in a cloud of steam. But to tide us through, authorities like Dragon Beaux sold freezer dumplings for cooking up at home.
Pasta, pasta, pasta
“People really need carbs right now,” David Nayfeld of Che Fico quipped in the first week of shutdown, and he called it. Lasagna family meals have been a comfort this year, from Che Fico’s own offerings to the latest from Little Original Joe’s. But the carb cravings have many layers: restaurants also rolled out pasta pantry staples such as ravioli, tortellini, macaroni, and more.
Beautiful chirashi bowls
Compared to last year, the service trend has flip-flopped from intimate omakase counters to beautiful chirashi bowls. It was of course a necessity, moving from a sit-down experience to a takeout containers, but sushi spots spun them so gorgeously, especially stars like Ju-Ni and Wako.
Delightful bento boxes
Eaters also can’t stop talking about those handsome bento boxes. Fans loved popping lids from Hina Yakitori with that chicken box for only $18, Gozu with that wagyu steak bento for a luxe $95, and Rintaro iterating on lots of little compartments week after week.
Meal kit breakouts
Meal kits were a whole new format for restaurants, which may seem ubiquitous by now, but was in fact news only six months ago, remember? Restaurants got comfortable asking diners to reheat dishes, toss salads, simmer pasta, and sear steaks. It was a breakthrough: Takeout suffers for so many reasons, and a little assembly can go a long way.
And once everyone was sick of cooking, by summer, the overwhelming trend was big-ass sandwiches. At its origins, the great sandwich streak of 2020 kicked off with two meaty openings: the Philly-style hoagies from Palm City, and the pitbull-approved mortadella subs from Lucinda’s. But at peak sandwich, it seemed everyone was sandwichifying the menu, and you can still spot Dutch crunch giraffe markings roaming around town.
It was a surprisingly dense year for bagels in the Bay. In pop-ups, Poppy Bagels broke out with the New York nostalgia, in contrast to Midnite Bagel with its sourdough leavening and freshly milled grains. Reesa Kashuk from Poppy contended, “Maybe the California bagel still needs to be defined.” Many are trying: Schlok’s popped up at the Snug, Early to Rise returned with luscious lox, Boichik opened in Berkeley, and Wise Sons took over Beauty’s in Oakland.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: If there’s one silver lining to be grateful for in 2020, it’s takeout cocktails. Across categories, from spicy margaritas over the summer to hot toddies this winter, they’re the gift that just keeps. Bars are really hurting right now, so if you’re able, order something strong from your favorite watering hole. Let’s raise a glass to putting the end of this year out of sight.