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Empanadas from Chao Pescao Chao Pescao

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The Best Dishes Eater Editors Ate Last Week

Mining the latest dining gems SF has to offer

Even with dining restrictions during the coronavirus crisis, the Bay Area remains an exciting place to eat — but when you’re stuck at home it’s ever harder to think beyond your usual spots. Fortunately, Eater’s editors take our responsibility to steer you toward fresh new takeout options and dining gems seriously (with the recycling bins filled with takeout containers to prove it). We report all of our most exciting finds here, so check back each week to find out what you should be eating, too.

August 27

Mentai Cream Sauce Udon from Udon Mugizo

Mentai creamy sauce udon topped with green onions, slivers of seaweed, and pieces of tempura batter from Udon Mugizo in Japantown Lauren Saria/Eater SF

Ramen tends to get all the love, but if you need to be reminded of the pleasure that can be wrought by a bowl of udon — those thick and springy, wheat-based noodles also of Japanese origin — look no farther than Udon Mugizo. It’s a Japantown standby, and I’ll be honest, I just love wandering the echo-y, winding halls of the aging malls on a Sunday afternoon. And even if there’s a 45-minute wait for a bowl of ramen right across the way, you can usually get a table at Udon Mugizo within a reasonable amount of time. The uni-topped option was sold out on both of my recent visits (I’m really into this dish, y’all) but the mentai cream sauce makes a more-than-acceptable backup choice. This highly slurpable tangle of fresh noodles delivers creamy, cheesy flavor that’s brightened with a flurry of green onion and seaweed and pops of salty roe. It’s comforting and somehow a little bit decadent at the same time. — Lauren Saria, editor

Sardine Banh Mi at Dragon Eats

Sardine banh mi from Dragon Eats Rachel Levin

Parents hate taking their kids to the orthodontist as much as kids hate going. I say this as both a past metal-mouth and current mother of one. Pre-COVID, I’d ease my appointment pain by going to 20th Century Cafe conveniently around the corner. But now it’s sadly closed, so the other mid-day, starving, with 60 minutes to kill, I started wandering in search of my new happy meal. I wasn’t in the mood for Souvla or a whole sit-down to-do, I just wanted something good to eat. And suddenly, I found myself on Gough street, looked up, and there it was. Dragon Eats. Sold! On the sardine banh mi: the soft baguette was crammed with shredded pickled carrots and onion, cucumbers, sprigs of cilantro, rings of jalapeno, and — blissfully— fat hunks of oily fish. Best $8 I’ve spent in San Francisco in a while. See you in six weeks Dragon Eats. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

Empanadas and arepas at Chao Pescao

Empanadas at Chao Pescao Chao Pescao

Before jetting out of town for a few days, I caught a last dinner at the new Chao Pescao at Civic Center. It was kind of wild to see theatergoers dressed up for Hamilton, just like in pre-pandemic times, and the bar was hopping with the pre-show crowd. I never made it to Soluna Cafe & Lounge, which was previously in this space, and was surprised by the depth and height of the dining room, which Chao Pescao has now redone in a burst of bright colors. Chef-owner Rene Denis is leaning into Cuban and Colombian comforts, and the highlights are the empanadas and arepas. The empanadas are Colombian in style, made with tender masa, and deep-fried until crispy, packaging a thick crust around flavorful braised fillings. The shredded flank steak has to be the favorite, but the veggie version is a treat, too, stuffed with satisfying sweet potatoes and juicy kale. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

August 20

Whole Fried Branzino from Prubechu

Whole fried branzino from Prubechu Lauren Saria

With the current state of the world being what it is, I’m not planning any exotic vacations this summer. But an al fresco dinner at Prubechu this week sort of scratched the escapism itch. The restaurant has taken over the parking lot adjacent to its Mission Street home and has done an impressive job transforming a swath of blacktop into an inviting oasis. Brightly colored, floral-patterned oilcloths add color while potted palms and bouquets of succulents add vibrancy to the space. Close your eyes and you could almost imagine that you’re far away in the Marianas Islands. Starting your meal with the shrimp kelaguen, a coconut and pepper flecked Chamorro dish similar to ceviche, is a must — but don’t sleep on the whole fried branzino. Crispy skin sheathes mild, flaky meat and the whole thing comes dressed with a tangle of pungent green onions, cabbage, and eggplant. — Lauren Saria, editor

Patty Melt from True Laurel

Patty melt at True Laurel Lauren Saria

Of course cocktails are the star at True Laurel, the Lazy Bear team’s Mission bar, but let’s not forget that this mid-century styled spot is also a great option for late-night food (the kitchen’s open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights) and serves a seriously memorable patty melt. It starts with sandwich bread that’s griddled in fat (I mean, come on) and continues with a patty of dry-aged beef, caramelized onions, thick slices of tomato, and pickles. A sheet of melted cheese seals the deal. You’ll need a napkin or two and it goes down extra easy with a Melons Triple Lindy, a smoky mezcal mixture lifted with aloe and shiso. — Lauren Saria, editor

Bean and Cheese Burrito from Gordo Taqueria

I realize this is supposed to be about the best thing I ate this past week but I’m still back East, and what good would it do for you to hear about the exceptional Thai food we had from Long Grain in Camden, Maine? (Maine: It’s not all lobster rolls!) So instead, I’ll share what we’re looking forward to eating when we’re back. Because, I’ll be honest, with vacation over and wildfires not, eating is kind of all I’m looking forward to about being back. My kids have been missing burritos, and talking about burritos, and demanding a First Burrito Supper since before the Chronicle’s burrito package. They didn’t read it. They also didn’t care that Gordo didn’t make the list. Gordo never makes the lists, including one I once wrote. But kids have strong burrito feelings, too — and for them, it’s Gordo or bust. They like that the Inner Sunset spot has no line. As well as flour, not whole wheat tortillas, like Underdogs across the street. They also like that the people are nice and that the cheese is “melty.” And so Gordo it will be. Two pinto bean and cheese, please. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

August 13

Beef Tartare at Ernest

I finally slid in at the bar to try Ernest, the cool new restaurant from Brandon Rice, the former chef de cuisine at Rich Table. It’s hard to catch a reservation these days, but yes, yes you can get the full tasting menu at the bar, and why wouldn’t you. This is Rice’s first solo restaurant, and the menu is his own personal style, with Californian farm ingredients and a few Japanese-inspired touches. Everything was inventive and delicious, but the early fan favorite has to be the steak tartare, shaped into a round of sticky sushi rice, topped with tender steak and briny salmon roe, and served with toasted nori for folding and munching with a crackle. It’s a whole vibe with chilled oysters, warm Parker House rolls, cultured butter, and dry bubbles. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

Dry-Fried Chicken with Green Beans at Mama Ji’s

What is there not to love about Mama Ji’s? Step inside this cozy little restaurant, which sits on a quiet street in the Castro, and the black Formica-topped tables and white walls give off a distinctly neighborhood-cafe-type vibe — except that instead of eggs and bacon, this kitchen unleashes plates piled with wok-fried vegetables and steam baskets of springy dumplings. As longtime fans already know, dim sum is a draw, but I’m absolutely thrilled to have Mama Ji within arms reach when it comes time for dinner. The dry-fried chicken with green beans (also available with beef) could have served as a textbook example of wok hei, that hard-to-explain and fleeting flavor that’s only achieved when a talented wok chef perfectly caramelizes the meat and vegetables over impossibly high heat. I’d almost forgotten how magical a piece of onion can taste when touched by the “breath of a wok.” Then again, maybe the sizzling heat of those peppers just got to my head. — Lauren Saria, editor

A Dozen Sweetwaters at Hog Island Oyster Co.

Oysters on the half shell on a bed of ice at Hog Island Hog Island

Scoring a summer reservation at one of Hog Island’s weathered tables and sitting on edge of the bay slurping cold, briny — or bubbling hot barbecued — oysters is one of Bay Area life’s preeminent joys. Standing in line and grabbing a bag of Hog Island Sweetwaters to-go and shucking them yourself, then grilling them yourself, then cleaning up after them yourself is, too. (Though maybe, as we recently discovered, after dealing with three dozen, a little less joyful.) The other day, though, back home in New England making up for lost COVID time, sitting in a weathered Adirondack chair on the edge of Massachusett’s wide Westport River, I ate equally delicious, already-shucked oysters. And they were accompanied by one glorious thing Marshall, California rarely has: sunshine. If you find yourself fleeing California, find your way to Westport Sea Farms, outside Providence, Rhode Island. It’s Hog Island’s East Coast doppleganger! But — dare I say —with no weekday line and, okay, lobster rolls heaped with fresh meat. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

August 6

Empress at Sea at Empress by Boon

The Empress at Sea cocktail at Empress by Boon
The Empress at Sea cocktail at Empress by Boon
Lauren Saria

If you want put on your fancy clothes and oogle the interior of the new Empress by Boon, the restaurant’s bar isn’t a bad place to do it. You’ll get to experience the eye-popping effect of the restaurant’s glamourous indoor pagoda adorned with dramatic, architectural floral arrangements and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to set yourself down at the bar’s communal high top, from which you can stare shamelessly at Chinatown’s rooftops and Coit Tower rising proudly beyond. Of course, you’ll need to do it with a drink in hand and the elegant Empress at Sea makes a fitting choice. It’s an umami bomb of a cocktail served up in a cold martini glass and made with a briny blend of dry fino sherry, icy cool vodka, and polugar — which if you’re not familiar is a very old-school Russian spirit that used to be flavored with anything on hand but in this case gets kick from garlic and pepper. Settle in and sail away on those saline waves. — Lauren Saria, editor

The Full Tasting Menu at Octavia

“Will Octavia be as perfect as ever,” I fretted, making a reservation a month ago, before we even hit publish on the news that the Michelin-starred restaurant was reopening after more than a year. Star chef Melissa Perello got stuck in LA during the pandemic, and had to rehire her team from scratch. Finally sitting down last week, we went all in on the full tasting menu, and dear reader — it was flawless. I refuse to pick a single dish, but rest assured, you’ll get all the Cali summer hits: milky fresh mozz with charred Jimmy Nardellos; a stonefruit salad topped with peppery greens; Brentwood corn lasagna that layers sweet corn with bright chiles; and our precious local king salmon, so crisp, so succulent, and sunk in sungolds and saffron. Desserts are never an afterthought, and the posset was thick with cool cream and arched sweet-tart with gold peaches and raspberry granita, while the malted chocolate cremeux satisfied with crunchy candied hazelnuts and salted chantilly. We’re so glad you’re back, Octavia. We really missed you. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

Fresh mozzarella with Jimmy Nardellos at Octavia Becky Duffett
Stonefruit salad from Octavia Becky Duffett
Corn lasagna from Octavia Becky Duffett
King salmon from Octavia Becky Duffett

The Cat Onigiri from Haraneco

Well, I’m currently back east and the dreamy summer squash and stracciatella focaccia I had in way-Upstate New York was the very best thing I’ve eaten lately. (Two New England lobster rolls, and counting, included.) But before I left, I hit the Point Reyes Farmers Market. Now under AIM, it’s a wee bit bigger than before. (One stall noticeably absent, though, was my beloved G.B.D.— the Golden Brown Delicious loaf-sized slabs oozing with Toma. No more Osteria Stellina, which closed last fall. No more grilled cheese. Sad.) But that’s okay! Because Haraneco is there! Locals Yuko Kaneko and Erika Hara launched their made-to-order onigiri in 2018 and it’s become a market staple—and my kids’ “Can we get?” favorite. Kaneko’s tweenage son took our order: Two Little Cats (kids) and one Big Cat (me), please. The translation? Respectively-sized rice balls molded with ume and shiso leaves and miso paste and green onions; wild salmon, plus mini-sides of pickled zucchini, tamago, and matcha soba noodles with mushrooms. Meow. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

July 30

Korean Fried Chicken Wings from

Korean fried chicken from
Korean fried chicken from
Lauren Saria

While I’m still dining out at restaurants despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, I’m also opting more often to take out meals when I can. So when a mid-week craving for fried chicken hit, I called Inner Sunset’s for a fix. Not only do’s hefty wings stand up well to travel, but they’re also a prime example of what makes Korean fried chicken so alluring. Each piece flaunts a glossy exterior of sauce — you can choose two flavors or pay a dollar more to indulge in all three — that sheaths an interior of slippery meat. Both the bright and spicy citrus gochujang and sweeter honey butter have their charms and come with a scattering of nutty black and white sesame seeds on top. Want to round out an otherwise particularly carnivorous meal? I’d suggest the kimchi pancake, which you can also top with a couple scrambled eggs the next morning for breakfast, should you have leftovers. And, yes, your order does include banchan; mine came in the form of an 8-ounce deli container overstuffed with kimchi and seasoned soybean sprouts and squash. — Lauren Saria, editor

Nam Tok Beans at Kin Khao Dogpatch

Nam tok beans from Kin Khao Rachel Levin

Upside to COVID: No one can quite keep up with who’s opening/closing/ceasing takeout/doing delta-friendly outdoor dining. Which means it’s possible to luck out with a last-minute reservation for seven on a Saturday night at Kin Khao’s newly launched patio service at its new Dogpatch location. (A better location than the Union Square hotel, at least from my local’s perspective, if not a business one). Downside to COVID: QR code ordering. Everyone together but alone, staring into their phones. We all started to scan the eyesore on the table, but then, our server offered old-fashioned menus! From the abridged selection, we basically ordered, then devoured, everything. A star among Pim Techamuanvivit’s Milky Way: the nam tok beans, which are a pile of Ranch Gordo’s cranberry beans, plump, crisp, tossed with chili and lime, and born to be swaddled in leafy lettuce cups. It brought tears to my eyes, in the very best way. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

Mexican Corn Cakes at Wildseed

Corn cakes from Wildseed Becky Duffett

Wildseed is a vegan restaurant that opened in Cow Hollow in 2019, so it still feels new, because of pandemic years? But it’s not really new. It’s another smart restaurant From the Back of the House group, which owns everything from Beretta to the Bird. But Wildseed is all vegan, except they’re too cool to call it vegan, they’re going with “plant based.” Even on a weeknight, it was hopping; the plant eaters of Cow Hollow clearly dig it. The not-small dining room, sidewalk seating, and all five parklets were filled up. I took a sincerely vegan friend, who has more discerning taste in faux cheese. We loved the tender corn cakes, topped with grilled corn, cherry tomatoes, bedded on a spicy cashew mayo, and finished with a squeeze of lime and sprinkle of fresh cheese. And yeah, I did sip the “Harry Styles” cocktail with watermelon and gin. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

July 23

Yosedofu at Rintaro

Silken tofu with Meiji soy milk, katsuobushi, ginger, scallion and shiitake shoyu from Rintaro Lauren Saria

There are a lot of forces working against restaurants these days, making it harder than ever to give diners an impeccable experience from start to finish. And yet, Rintaro did last week when I had the pleasure of enjoying dinner in the warmly lit, wood-encased dining room. From the rumbling earthiness of konbu-cured hirame to the delicate purity of the dashi-soaked tamago, the meal was a master class in clairity of flavor with no dish serving as a better example than the yosedofu, or silken tofu. Savoring the quivering, shimmering alabaster block was like tasting tofu for the very first time, its mildly sweet essence resonating like a the ringing of a bell. Shiitake shoyu, thick shavings of katsuobushi, and flakes of ginger and scallions harmonized to make for a plate that I won’t’ easily forget. — Lauren Saria, editor

Afternoon tea at Maison Danel

Afternoon tea at Maison Danel Becky Duffett

The last in-person, sit-down afternoon tea I can find in my calendar was in December 2019, at the Fortnum & Mason tea salon in London. After a long day of shopping, it was restorative to settle in for the display of china tea pots and silver trays, tidy sandwiches, and perfect sweets. Of all the indoor dining experiences to miss during the pandemic, afternoon tea has to come in at the top — it might be cozy at home, but it can be dazzling in person. Which is why I was so grateful to finally have the opportunity to set foot inside Maison Danel, the newish patisserie and salon de thé on Polk. Husbands and owners Danel and David de Betelu went over the top with the space, which sparkles with blues and silvers, not least an enormous chandelier hanging over the glass pastry case. And the afternoon tea was a treat, with the tea poured from Blue Willow pots, and mini croissant sandwiches and sweets stacked up three tiers high. It’s a lovely place to take your mother, or godmother, or really anyone, for tea and a catch up. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

BLT with Jalapeno-Lime Slaw from Turner’s Kitchen.

BLT from Turner’s Kitchen Rachel Levin

I’m a sandwich person. I like my lunch between two slices of bread. The problem is, I’m also a creature of habit. It’d been a long time since I’d ventured beyond my old favorite sandwich shops to find a new favorite sandwich shop. Soleil Ho’s recent Top Sandwiches list, though, was just the inspiration and sandwich shaming I needed to, finally, try a new spot. Specifically, to finally try Turner’s Kitchen. I went with the simple Southwest BLT and a side of blissfully lip-burning jalapeno slaw. It did not disappoint. Shatteringly crisp Applewood smoked bacon, superfresh tomato, fat slices of avocado, roasted poblano peppers offset by a few sprigs of arugula — all tidily stuffed between two slices of toasted yet still squishy sourdough generously brushed with jalapeno-lime mayo. It’s my sandwich of the summer! It likely won’t last forever. The best BLTs never do. No matter. I found a new favorite sandwich shop. In Turner’s I trust. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

July 16

Mango Pineapple Puff from Pineapple King Bakery

A mango pineapple puff from Pineapple King Bakery Lauren Saria

If you’re feeling the need for an early morning mood boost, I’d suggest heading to Pineapple King Bakery, where the scent for fresh bread wafts down Irving Street and a warm glow emanates from the bakery’s snug storefront. Bring cash (no cards accepted here) and for less than the price of a gallon of gas you can treat yourself to a duo of the mango pineapple puffs, a seasonal item that sort of feels like a tropical vacation in every greedy bite. For being relatively a hefty pastry thanks to that custard-y filling, the dough itself is airy and light — but it’s the filling that seals the deal. The mango flavor is beguilingly subtle and just the right amount of sweet. Warm from the oven and paired with a hot cup of coffee it’s an excellent way to start the day. — Lauren Saria, editor

Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cream Mousse at Tiger Sugar

Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cream Mousse at Tiger Sugar  Becky Duffett

Brown sugar boba mania seems to have sunk its claws deep into the Bay Area, arguably ever since Tiger Sugar landed in Cupertino in September of 2020. The Tawainese chain has been popularizing a specific type of boba, where the pearls are slow-cooked in a deep caramel, and then topped off with cold milk — there isn’t even any tea involved! But those dark caramel stripes running down the sides of a creamy drink are entrancing, and have led to Instagram and TikTok fame. I had to try it, and recently made the voyage down the Peninsula, where the Cupertino strip mall scene is slamming on a Saturday night. My friends and I slurped boba from a bench on a warm night, while two teenagers full-on made out on the hood of their car. But the boba was cool and creamy, with that extra rich, extra buttery flavor that comes with dark caramel. And I have been savoring the popsicle version ever since, and just restocked on two boxes from H Mart. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

A Baker’s Dozen Bagels from House of Bagels

Last Sunday morning, I found myself running by House of Bagels, the almost 60-year-old shop on Geary Boulevard, where one used to go when one wanted a good bagel. Before people posted bagel pics on social media. Before the frantic, pre-order-before-they-sell-out emails. You know, back when clearly someone thought painting a kitschy mural of bagels flying over the Golden Gate Bridge would be cool. There is absolutely nothing hip about House of Bagels, unless you count the prune hamantaschen in the display case. But I bought a Bakers dozen (for $19.99) plus scallion cream cheese and a pint of whitefish salad. I grabbed some tomatoes from the Clement Street farmers market for good measure. And brought the mini-feast home to my house, which was full of family and cross-country friends. “The original and still the best” reads House of Bagels tag line. Is it still? Maybe not. But on this morning, it was. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

July 9

Basteeya from Mourad

Basteeya from Mourad Lauren Saria

A celebratory dinner at Mourad was more than just an excellent meal; it was a much-needed reminder of how enjoyable and exciting fine dining can be. After long months of meals transferred from plastic to-go containers onto my own dinner plates, followed by several months of sheepishly outdoor dining while feeling slightly guilty about it the entire time, dining at Mourad felt like sinking into a warm bath — luxurious, relaxing, downright fun. There wasn’t a single thing, from the cocktails to the rich brown-butter couscous, that didn’t exceed expectations. But the thing I can’t get out of my mind the restaurant’s elegant basteeya. Equal parts delicate (those gorgeous edible flowers!) and robust, bursting with the flavors of perfectly cooked duck and the subtle tang of cherries, this interpretation of the Moroccan classic is a chef Mourad Lahlou signature that stands the test of time. — Lauren Saria, editor

Falafel Sandwich from Falafel Drive In

Falafel pita sandwich at Falafel Drive In Becky Duffett

I’ve been ruminating on falafel for many months, ever since researching drive-ins and drive-thrus last summer. But finally, on a road trip south, I pulled up to the legendary Falafel Drive In in San Jose. The Nijmeh family first opened it in 1966, starting with classic burgers and dogs, but gently switching to falafel over the years, and the menu still includes both. I got a large falafel pita sandwich, and walked it over to the lightly hot-sauced picnic tables, next to a mural that included falafel fan Guy Fieri. It wasn’t a gorgeous sandwich, with standard lettuce and tomatoes thrown in the soft pocket. But for all of $7, it was probably the best falafel I’ve personally experienced in the Bay Area, crusty on the outside, and tender, parsley-flecked, and garlic-rich at heart. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

Coconut Flan from Otra

Flan at Otra Becky Duffett

Otra is a cool new Cali-Mexican restaurant, from the Son’s Addition family, where chef Nick Cobarruvias is making fresh masa for the tortillas and tostadas, most topped with veggies, and great with tequila and mezcal cocktails. The mushroom tacos appear to be in the lead as an early crowd favorite, with a good amount of crust on the frilly edges of the Hen of the Woods or trumpets, and a dollop of avocado, a squiggle of cream, and a bright-tart drizzle of chile over the top. But as regular readers know, I’m a sucker for pudding, and the sleeper hit for me was the coconut flan. It was thick and rich, a little more set than wildly jiggly, and that burnt caramel flowed over the top, with toasted coconut flavor singing through. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

July 2

Squash from Beit Rima

Delicata squash with brown butter lebneh from Beit Rima Lauren Saria

An early evening walk turned into an al fresco dinner on Tuesday night; I just couldn’t bear to head inside with the sun finally asserting itself through the fog and the palm tree-flanked front patio at Beit Rima looking so cozy. I opted for a DIY mezze in lieu of a single entree, and even when the sun abandoned its fight, Beit Rima’s vibrant plates of Arabic food provided plenty of comfort. A layer of cumin-scented beef grounded the hummus ma’ lehma, while minced jalapeno lended brightness to the dish, and the shakshuka’s pleasant heat made it more interesting than expected. The sleeper hit was a tangle of thinly sliced acorn squash topped with pine nut dukkah. I’m a sucker for a simple but well-executed plate of vegetables and the rich, nuttiness of brown butter and cinnamon contrasted with the tang of labneh made this by far my favorite plate of the night. — Lauren Saria, editor

Pancakes from Zazie

You know what makes any normal, otherwise mundane day feel some kind of special? Pancakes. There’s just something inherently luxurious about foregoing the usual piece of fruit or toast for breakfast in favor of a short stack of pancakes, hot off the griddle. And while waiting for a table during weekend brunch at Zazie is basically the law, there’s never a wait if you swing by to pick up a takeout order on your morning walk. You can even put in your order online and pay ahead of time. It’s a bit self-indulgent, sure, but when you’re easing into the day with a pair of warm buttermilk pancakes topped with fresh fruit and sticky, sweet maple syrup, I highly doubt you’ll have any regrets. — Lauren Saria, editor

The Kalbijjim from Daeho

The Kalbijjim from Daeho.  Becky Duffett/ESF

For a wild and crazy Friday night, I finally went to H Mart. Even with a couple of months to calm down, San Francisco is still hyped to have our first location of the wildly popular Korean-American supermarket. But the line moved along efficiently, I got in within 10 minutes, and it wasn’t too much side-stepping to get the chef-approved spicy noodles, freezer dumplings, honey-butter chips, and oh so much more. Never least, we hit the food court for dinner on the way out, and I got to experience the gurgling glory that is the kalbijjim from Daeho, which has a full restaurant in Japantown, but also a new stall within the market. As Eater SF’s former food editor Luke Tsai promised, it was an experience: It costs at least $50, but it feeds several people, despite the moms interrogating the cashier about whether there’s enough beef in the depths. You have to wait 20 minutes for them to finish braising the short ribs. You definitely want the cheese topping. And when it comes out, they blow-torch this whole situation! So you are left with a stone pot filled with a simmering, spicy, cheesy, meaty stew. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

June 25

Chive Cakes (Gui Chai) at Kin Thai Street Eatery

Chive cakes from Kin Thai Street Eatery in Sacramento
Chive cakes from Kin Thai Street Eatery in Sacramento
Lauren Saria

I won’t go so far as to say Kin Thai Street Eatery will make me forget how much I’m going to miss lingering on the patio after dinner at Phoenix’s Glai Baan restaurant on a cool spring night. But this family-owned midtown Sacramento restaurant’s menu of Thai street foods will sufficiently ease the suffering. A sprawling midweek takeout dinner left me anxious to return to dine in person, when I’ll be able to order the hat yai fried chicken — a speciality dish that seemed better suited for enjoying on-site. In the meantime, the chicken and rice (kao mun), a Thai variation of Hainanese chicken, was a stunner with luscious, tender meat and a heap of garlic-ginger scented rice. But it was the pan-fried chive cakes I can’t stop thinking about: crispy on the outside with a chewy interior, elevated by the contrasting flavors of garlicky chives and sweet chile-soy vinaigrette. — Lauren Saria, editor

The Crispy Chicken in Curry Sauce at Empress by Boon

Crispy chicken at Empress by Boon Becky Duffett

Empress by Boon grandly opened last weekend, serving modern Cantonese in a historic banquet hall. It’s one of the most exciting restaurant openings in San Francisco in the past year, and it was a thrill to finally step inside the restored space, which is now washed in oceanic blues, while keeping the antique woodwork. But how was the food? Everyone has asked, and it was good, modern and striking dishes, what you would expect from the former Hakkasan chef. The standout was the crispy chicken, which was half of a little bird, with remarkably golden and crackling skin, crisped up almost like a peking duck, then sliced and sunk into bright yellow curry sauce. Chef Ho Chee Boon is originally from Malaysia, and this was one of the moments on the menu, where you could taste the crossover between the Cantonese dishes he’s mastered over the past 30 years, and the Southeast Asian flavors he grew up with. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

The White Rabbit at Viridian

The White Rabbit cocktail at Viridian Viridian

Oakland has so many cool new bars at the moment, and I recently went on a crawl with a friend, which was wildly over ambitious after an undersocialized year. And while this particular bar really does not need any more hype (see Noah Cho’s thoughts on the milk bread, below), I have to be honest with you, dear readers — Viridian was neon-electric fantastic. First of all, as a lifelong Lisa Frank fan, I was always behind the color scheme. Second, I love a menu that puts cocktails and desserts first. And finally, my favorite drink of the entire night was the White Rabbit, so named after the chewy Chinese candy with a bunny on the label, which has been popping up in pastries lately. This cocktail reimagination is creamy with condensed milk, bourbon, oolong tea, and the melted candies, and to me, it tasted like milk punch on Christmas morning. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

June 11

Funghi Pizza at Itria

Itria, one of the hottest new restaurants in SF, is generating a lot of conversation, so I thought it would be worth checking out. Though I love meat-topping pizzas quite a bit, the funghi version of Itria’s pizzas pan-style pizzas in a rectangular shape caught my eye on the menu. With a good helping of earthy hen of the woods mushrooms, a rich (very rich) pecorino cream, and nicely roasted cabbage that had just the right touch of char on it, I came away delighted by each bite of this pizza. I didn’t snap a picture of them, but I also got an order of Itria’s meatballs, which were expertly composed and had just the right amount of tomato sauce. If this is the sneak preview of what Itria will have to offer when it fully opens, I’m definitely on board. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

Shoestring Fries at Zuni Cafe

A couple of weeks ago, I didn’t really ever even want to dine indoors again. But then, okay, three friends with whom I’ve been Zooming every Monday night since March 15, 2020, made me. It was our first time being all together in real life, all this time. For years, pre-pandemic, we used to have dinner once a month or so, closing down whatever restaurant we’d selected (and debated). Our go-to place, though, has always been Zuni Cafe. Last Sunday, we showed up early and slid reservation-free into our favorite table. The one in the far left downstairs corner, with all banquettes, backed by windows and exposed brick, and beneath a ginormous painting of a woman with a headful of flowers by Amilli Onair. We hugged and laughed and cried and sat for hours, through two bottles, and the usual: the anchovies, the Caesar, the roast chicken, and, yes, the shoestring fries. “I think, by now, can we just call them French fries?” my friend George said to the server. We could, but let’s not. They are shoestring fries. And they are Zuni’s. And they were, I believe, the first fries I’d eaten in 18 months. Takeout fries never cut it. The tangled pile of crisp, lanky, pinky-thin potatoes looked bigger than I remembered. The ramekin of ketchup looked smaller. The fries themselves were exactly, blissfully, the same. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

Drunken Boba from Palette Tea House

Drunken boba at Palette Tea House Becky Duffett

I took a drive down to the Aquatic Park last weekend, to actually enjoy the pleasure of sitting down inside Palette Tea House. From the same team as Koi Palace and Dragon Beaux, the splashy dim sum restaurant serves their most creative and artistic dumplings yet, in a beautiful setting in historic Ghirardelli Square. Palette is back with fresh dishes and weekend specials, including crispy taro puffs dotted with caviar and gold leaf, comforting braised wagyu beef potstickers, rich duck fried rice with fragrant truffles, and bouncy yi-fu noodles with lumps of Dungeness crab and buttery uni. And while the dumplings are good at brunch, they get along great with cocktails, including a throwback lychee martini that was floral without being too sweet, and a super slurpable boba milk tea spiked with Taiwanese whisky. Who doesn’t love a cocktail for dessert? Especially one with Ceylon tea, creamy condensed milk, black sugar boba, and a whisky kick. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

June 4

Mama’s Roasted Chicken Bento at Taiwan Bento

Roasted chicken bento from Mama’s Bento Noah Cho

Inspired by KQED’s recent series on Taiwanese food in the Bay Area, I decided to trek back to a reliably delicious spot: Taiwan Bento in Oakland. All of their bentos and dishes are satisfying here, and I especially love nibbling on their snacks like the popcorn chicken and the salty fried pork chop bones, which are amazing and taste as advertised. I always come back to one of my favorite bentos, though: Mama’s Roasted Chicken Bento. The name alone promises comfort and deliciousness, and the bento delivers. The chicken always has a gently charred skin, the rice comes with fatty pork on top, and the pickles are zippy to counteract all that other rich flavor. I also added a side of their house chili oil, and if you like fresh soy milk, their ever-so-lightly sweetened version really hits the spot, as well. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

Blackberry Pie at Three Babes Bakeshop

Among the good things to come out of COVID have been the big-hearted gifts that friends near and far have sent one another. Not Amazon cards via email, but real-life care packages: I’ve randomly received banana bread and bottles of wine, and I’ve randomly sent oysters, delivered pho, and dropped off warm challah. The other day, deep in the fog, at an old-school party in Golden Gate Park, I was a tangential beneficiary of another food surprise: A blackberry pie from Three Babes Bakeshop. Apparently, a friend of the birthday man’s had dropped off this golden gift on his doorstep, all the way from the Bayview to Ocean Beach, by the way. It sat there, on the weathered picnic table, dwarfed — and somehow overlooked — by a ginormous Safeway sheet cake. I love a sheet cake — who doesn’t? — but I loved this flaky, buttery, goddamn beautiful pie busting at its seams with sweet, deep-purple fruit more. I was the first (and perhaps only?) party-goer to dig in. It was delicious. And it deserves to be delivered to anyone, at any time this gray, freezing summer, that you know. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

The Avenues Garibaldi at Violet’s

The Avenues Garibaldi at Violet’s Becky Duffett

I found myself in the Richmond yesterday afternoon, after catching up with our governor about the future of cocktails to go. It was a big news day, at the end of which I decidedly needed a drink. And then I did something that I haven’t done in a very long time — I slid in at Violet’s neighborhood bar, without a lot of worrying and planning, just like that was a completely normal thing to do on a Thursday night. The kind bartender recommended a tall pink drink: The “Avenues” Garibaldi, which is a riff on the classic Campari cocktail, adding in a buddha’s hand liqueur made in house, as well as sherry, orange, lemon, egg white, and pink peppercorn. It was frothy and refreshing, as bitter as my heart, and all too easy to chase with fried chicken and grilled little gems Caesar. Can we also just take a moment to appreciate the friendly neighborhood prices at Violet’s — where else can you get a lovely cocktail for all of $12 in San Francisco? — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

May 28

The Seafood Tower at Waterbar

The seafood tower at Waterbar Becky Duffett

Of all the things that don’t work as takeout, seafood towers might top the list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to catch and crack my own crab, and I really don’t mind popping oysters at a picnic table. But it’s a dazzling restaurant moment, to be served an array of sea creatures on sparkling ice. I finally grabbed a reservation for Waterbar, that seafood restaurant by the side of the bay, which has always served fresh fish, but is even more tempting at the moment, given their generous outdoor seating on the Embarcadero. The seafood tower was loaded with Dungeness crab, snow crab claws, lobster, oysters, prawns, and hamachi crudo, along with the requisite lemon wedges, tart mignonette, and cocktail sauce with a good hit of horseradish. It was a scene, too, with older couples who must love the attentive service, a pair of high school kids dressed up in full evening tux and gown (is prom happening?!), and an influx of Giants fans wandering through after the game. I have never seized a tiny fork with such a thrill. It’s good to be back, San Francisco. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

Duck Larb at Larb Thai Food and Tapas

The duck larb at Larb Thai Food and Tapas Noah Cho

As the weather warms up, I start craving dishes that aren’t overly hot in temperature. In this category is larb, which combines meat and salad, two of my favorite things. Who doesn’t want or love a good meat salad? Larb Thai Food and Tapas in El Cerrito serves, of course, larb as it name implies, and has a wondrous variety of their signature dish, with protein options like pork and liver, beef and tripe, and even vegetarian options like crispy tofu or mushrooms. My favorite, though, is the duck larb. The inherent fattiness of the duck pairs well with the citrusy flavors, sharp shallots, and fresh mint and cilantro. All of the different textures and flavors combine into satisfying bite after bite, and you may find yourself lamenting finishing your order of this and kicking yourself for not ordering more. Bonus for spice chasers like me: their spicy levels are actually, thankfully, painfully accurate. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

The Chicken Basteeya at Aziza

Chicken basteeya, almond, caramelized onion Albert Law

It had been the kind of gray, bone-chilling day that makes you rethink your parklet plans (or any plans) on a San Francisco Saturday night. Maybe I’ll just stay home in my slippers, I thought. I did it for 400-something nights, what’s one more? But alas! A reservation had been made, and an outdoor table awaited at Aziza — in the even-colder avenues. “You could always move inside,” the reservationist had offered earlier. I could .... if I were mentally ready to ... but I wasn’t. Which was fine, because at half-capacity (even at gorgeous Aziza), indoor dining is kind of depressing. And because Aziza has outdoor dining nailed. Sitting at a sturdy, mosaic-topped table in a wind-protected sukkah — cozy-ified by a colorful rug and E.T.-height heaters — was a triumph. As was our meal itself. It’s hard to pick one thing (we ate a lot). But the basteeya: a flaky cushion of chicken confit, onions, and spiced almonds was like an artist’s rendering of a plain-ole potpie. Slicing it into fours before our shared entrees arrived was our server’s smart idea. Digging into a warm hearty, family-style feast, with fellow humans outside your family, outside your home, engulfed, but not bothered by, the San Francisco fog … what a treat. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

May 21

Fried Chicken from Aburaya

Fried chicken from Aburaya Noah Cho

The third best thing about getting the superb fried chicken from Aburaya in Oakland is that the restaurant’s name translates to “Oil House,” which is honestly my kind of house. The other two best things are the two seasonings I went with: tingly, numbing sansho pepper and radiant, sinus-nuking karashi honey. Sansho shares a lot in common with another plant it shares a genus with, the Sichuan peppercorn, though sansho is a bit less floral than its Chinese counterpart and a bit more citrusy, at least to my tastebuds. Karashi, on the other hand, is a type of mustard that is incredibly powerful and pungent. While the sansho seasoning is a dry seasoning, the karashi is blended with honey before it’s tossed with the chicken. The combination is one that will explode your taste buds in the best way possible. Eat it over rice to capture the remnants of both the sansho and karashi honey mixed together. You might find you don’t even need the accompanying miso ranch to add any flavor at all. Bonus for vegetarians: Aburaya has these flavors available to go over their chicken substitute or fried tofu. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

Fried Chicken from Nopa

Fried chicken from Nopa Becky Duffett

Pre-pandemic, Nopa sold roughly 38,000 burgers a year. “That’s a lot of burgers,” chef Laurence Jossel told me in a recent interview. “And our burger is a lot of fucking work. Maybe we should call it that,” he said, half-joking. “‘A Lot of Fucking Work, with Cheese.’” (The Chron doesn’t actually let you say “fucking,” but Eater does!) And, yes, Nopa should 100 percent call it that. Maybe it’d help quell any complaints about its burger’s current price: $24, with fries. (And you have to have fries.) Pre-pandemic, I probably ate at least 12 of those 38,000 burgers. So, when I settled into Nopa’s new parklet the other day, I was all set to order it; my inaugural Nopa burger! But then, in a spontaneous turn of events, I went for the fried chicken. Maybe I was influenced by all the hoopla surrounding Epicurious’s recent renouncement of beef. Maybe I was influenced by the cult-like popularity of Nopa’s newest addition. (Jossel’s fried chicken debuted with COVID and has since become Nopa’s number two best seller). Maybe I was just in a fried chicken mood. Whatever it was, it was everything I wanted it to be: a juicy, buttermilk-brined, deeply flavorful interior; a thick, shatteringly crisp double-dredged crust with a cayenne kick: accompanied by a sticky-sweet chile-honey sauce. And it was the right call, for that night. And, I don’t know, maybe, forever? — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

Little Lao Set from Farmhouse Kitchen Thai

Going three for three on this completely coincidental fried chicken theme, I too feasted on fried chicken this week, but specifically Hat Yai fried chicken dunked in a yellow curry sauce, which is just one of the many delicacies arrayed in the Little Lao Set from Farmhouse Kitchen, that pandemic delivery legend. A friend recently gave me a hard stare, and said, “No one wants takeout anymore. They want to actually go places.” But I respectfully disagree. I do want to go places, and I also don’t want to cook dinner sometimes. Last night, I went to order some noodles and curry from Farmhouse Kitchen and remembered what a truly spectacular deal the full platter really is. For 70 bucks, you get a huge tray filled with fresh rolls, samosas, steak bites, fried rice, pad Thai, a couple of prawns, a caveman-worthy beef rib, and two Thai iced teas. It’s really fun to go picking and choosing from such an over-the-top pretty platter. And it’s more than enough to feed two adults and a kid, were you to have a kid, which I don’t, so I don’t have to make dinner tonight, either. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

May 14

Caviar and Potato Chips from Ashes & Diamonds

Caviar and potato chips at Ashes & Diamonds Becky Duffett

Let the record show — I actually did something fun last weekend. Double vaxxed and fully immune, I drove up to Napa to visit a friend, and we caught a tasting at Ashes & Diamonds, the very mid-century cool winery. (The same designer that did Jay Z’s Magna Carta cover does their wine labels, as they will casually mention.) I covered Ashes & Diamonds early in the pandemic, when they were rocking a wine and caviar drive thru, but it was a relief to finally be able to sit down, especially with your favorite Jack Russell (chill dogs allowed). The Cabernet Franc was elegant and earthy, they make their own focaccia, and they also serve that ultimate snack — caviar and potato chips. This luxe chips-and-dip situation arrived in a shallow bowl, with smooth creme fraiche, generous dollops of caviar, truffle, and chive blossoms. Please don’t get upset, but I did share a bite with the terrier. It was the thrill of his small life. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

Allium Milk Bread from Viridian

Allium milk bread from Viridian Noah Cho

A cliche thing about me, a Gen X/Millennial cusp-er, is my love of Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai. So when Viridian was first announced and showcased a year ago as being partially inspired by the vibe of Wong’s films, my soul nearly left my body. I didn’t get in before the pandemic closed its doors (though I did get truly beautiful cakes for takeout a few times), but when they reopened, I steeled my pandemic-induced nerves and stepped in to try their food and cocktails. All of it is good — like an album with no bad songs. My favorite track (or uh, dish), though, is the milk bread with allium butter. The butter itself has scallions and garlic, two things that are kind of essential to my very being, and the bread itself has that ethereal fluffiness that’s sharply contrasted by a gentle toasting. It’s a transcendent dish, one that I hope to return to Viridian for again and again. Maybe I’ll even film myself eating it in slow motion to sad music, bathed in the pink and purple hues of the lights, just like Wong Kar Wai would shoot it. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

Martini from Pearl 6101

Martini from Pearl Rachel Levin

Do cocktails count? How about a cocktail floating with an onion and delicious spindly sea bean? I’d been dreaming about Pearl’s martini all pandemic. I drank more than my fair share of wine this year, but I didn’t do the pricey, premade cocktails-to-go thing all that often. So on a recent night: bundled in the fog, sitting in the pretty open-air parklet, clinking glasses, and sipping this beautiful, briny, sea gin cocktail was a true treat. “Would you like another?” the server asked, whisking away my empty glass? Yes, I said. But no. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

May 7

An Egg at Low Bar

Scotch egg at Low Bar in Oakland Noah Cho

One of the reasons outdoor dining in Oakland so appeals to me is that I’ve always liked dining outdoors in Oakland, even before the pandemic. A few good drinks, nice bites, sunshine, and lovely weather — so many places in Oakland offer this. So I was delighted to add another destination to my rotation: Low Bar. Low Bar’s drinks are all great, especially the Deadbeat Summer, but it was their take on a Scotch egg called, wonderfully, “An Egg” on their menu that really captured my heart. The crispy outside made with a “corn tortilla panko,” the chorizo as the sausage shell, and the gooey, tangerine-colored yolk nestled inside — all of it sublime. I especially loved dipping the egg into jalapeño gribiche, which felt kind of surreal to do since you’re dipping an egg into a sauce made from another egg, but it all worked together. I ate this at one of their outdoor tables, with the sun setting and Oakland feeling more alive than it has in months — and honestly? I did, too. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

Cold Sesame Noodles at Mamahuhu

Cold sesame noodles from Mamahuhu Rachel Levin

My husband always complains that I’m an over-order-er. And I am, especially when ordering takeout. Pre-COVID, fine, he had a point: leftovers often went uneaten. But during the pandemic, my big eyes have been justified: The more I order, the more money a restaurant operating at half-mast makes! The less I have to make the next day! The extra day I gain before having to procure groceries (again). Last week, I over-ordered jade fried rice and egg drop soup for dinner from Mamahuhu. Along with sustenance for the next day: cold sesame noodles. Chewy, organic, black rice noodles slicked with chile oil and a black vinaigrette, snuggled with spicy peanuts and cold cukes, to be covered in a thick sesame sauce. “Don’t Eat,” I actually scrawled on the compostable container in Sharpie before sticking it in my fridge — to avoid what happened last time I intentionally ordered these leftover cold noodles for lunch: my husband ate them. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

Russian honey cake from 20th Century Cafe

Russian honey cake 20th Century Cafe Becky Duffett

I was heartbroken to share the news that 20th Century Cafe is closing permanently after eight years of grand pastries, serving the last of its iconic honey cake on good china. It’s simply one of the best cakes in San Francisco, and even though star pastry chef Michelle Polzine says she doesn’t want to be a business owner anymore (and fair enough), she is promising fans that the honey cake will live on, potentially popping up on some other menus around town. Still, I couldn’t risk it. I placed an order for one of the small, sized-down honey cakes, which are square and a mere six layers, instead of the big round cakes, which are a breathtaking ten layers. Even with a preorder, the line was no joke — this is a beloved bakery community in mourning — so eat a reasonable breakfast, put on some sunscreen, and find a good podcast, because it’s going to be an hour. But it’s a cake that’s worth the wait: equal parts frosting to layers, baked off ever so thin, and stacked so precisely, that a fork cuts through beautifully, and big flavor, that isn’t just sweet but blooms nutty and toasty with that edge of burnt honey. I’ll miss the wonderful cafe with its marvelous vintage china and silver, but the thing about cake is that it can conjure up memories, and sometimes brings back the party on its own. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

April 30

Chicken for Two from Zuni Cafe

Overwhelmed with Friday night takeout indecision, I gave up on trying to decide between new cool restaurants and went back to the classic the roast chicken from Zuni Cafe. Zuni started serving its iconic birds to go for the first time in its forty-plus-year history during the pandemic, in completely reusable takeout containers. At first, fans vacillated between the thrill of a rare takeout opportunity and fear and doubt that the skin could never be just as crispy if it didn’t come straight out of the oven. Honestly? The haters could be just a little bit right. But it’s still a Zuni roast chicken! With that golden crackle on the outside, perfect dry brine to the bone, and a whiff of woodfire. And the torn sourdough and tendrils of greens were a dream to gently reheat and toss together. As usual, it was more than enough for two, and who doesn’t love leftover cold chicken to munch on for lunch. And the takeout containers weren’t even too tedious to return. Just shoot Dispatch Goods a text, and kick them to the curb. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

Housemade Soft Tofu from Fish & Bird

Soft tofu from Fish & Bird Noah Cho

I deeply love fresh tofu, especially the kind that has a spoonable, custardy texture. There are several great examples of it around the Bay Area, but one of the superlative versions I’ve had in recent memory was at Fish and Bird Sousaku Izakaya in Berkeley. It comes on lovely plateware and is accompanied by fresh ginger and scallions as well as soy sauce. It’s not complex in its design, but it is absolutely rapturous in its texture. To get that silky and creamy bite with the sharpness from the scallions and gentle warming spice of the ginger it’s perfectly simple and simply perfect. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

Mezze Sampler from Beit Rima

Mezze sampler at Beit Rima Beit Rima

I’d been walking by Beit Rima’s sweet, red-and-white-checkered-topped tables for weeks/months/what felt like years, watching my Cole Valley neighbors sitting across from each other, chatting, laughing, dipping pita into hummus platters like it was no big deal. So, finally, double-vaxxed and pandemic anxiety at bay, I met friends on the civilized sidewalk on a Friday afternoon. Overwhelmed by the ordinariness of it all, I kept it simple: two mezze samplers; a palette of crudité, pretty in pink watermelon radishes, and one fattoush salad, because with those candied bits of charred dates, crisp shards of pita, and slivers of sumac-tinged onions, the fattoush is one of the city’s great salads and enough falafel for four. (Plus, the Banshee rose, because: Friday. And I wasn’t making PB&Js.) Sure, I’ve been enjoying Beit Rima in my backyard — but sharing a table, for four, on the sidewalk, in the sun, lapping up lebna with that warm, zaa’tar-dusted poof of “Samir’s hand-kneaded bread” was not the same. It wasn’t just good, it was glorious. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

April 23

Sichuan Hot Chicken from OK’s Deli

Sichuan Hot Chicken from OK’s Deli Noah Cho

Look, I know there are a lot of fried chicken sandwiches competing for your hard-earned dollars out there. From Popeye’s to Hot Boys in Oakland to Birdbox’s Cronenberg-esque sandwich with a claw hanging off it, there’s no shortage of tasty, crispy, greasy delights in the Bay Area. However, even though I have tried and almost always enjoyed most of these fried chicken sandwiches, only one has actually made me moan out loud in a carnal way, and that is the Sichuan hot chicken from OK’s Deli, currently popping up Fridays and Saturdays at Mago. If you, like me, revel in both pain from a good hit of spice and the numbing, floral delights of ground Sichuan peppercorn, there is no way you can resist this sandwich. On top of that, it comes on OK’s signature bun, toasted and generously covered in nutty sesame seeds. They don’t always have it on their constantly changing menu, but if you see it when they post their weekly menu on Monday you should jump on it immediately. — Noah Cho, freelance writer

Anchovy Bar’s Anchovies

Anchovies from Anchovy Bar Rachel Levin

My First Supper Out. And the anchovies were in. It was so windy, shaved parmesan (piled over “deviled” eggs) was flying around the parklet like snow flurries. I wore socks with my clogs, a ridiculous Elmer Fudd hat, my favorite mask, and what was basically a sweater-bathrobe, for the place I’ve been wanting to try since I first heard the words: Anchovy Bar. (With my Anchovy Club, of course.) What Stuart Brioza can do with boquerones from San Francisco’s very own bay (watch the magic here, from Whetstone) — was worth the wait, in every way. Occasionally, at times throughout COVID, hunkered at home and eventually content to be there, I wondered whether I’d come out of the pandemic a person who, I don’t know, doesn’t need restaurants anymore... doesn’t need other people anymore. Nope! Dining out, dining here, devouring these fat glistening, silver slivers, pulled fresh out of our sea then brined in lime juice and jalapeno and sprinkled with esplette, snapped me right back. And reminded me who I was: Someone who loves restaurants. And friends. And anchovies. Especially together. — Rachel Levin, freelance writer and former Eater SF restaurant critic

The Buttermilk Biscuit from Plow

By the cruel light of Wednesday, it had already felt like a very long week. I texted my outdoor workout buddy. “What if we didn’t work out tomorrow,” I floated. “And just ate pancakes or something.” We met at 7 a.m. at Plow in Potrero Hill, right at opening, and there was only one early bird ahead of us, and generous outdoor tables. This was my first experience at the popular breakfast joint, and it was spot on: Lemon-ricotta pancakes tender with fresh cheese and topped with sweet-tart lemon curd and blueberries. A soft scramble rich with earthy mushrooms, and the potatoes that everyone goes on about, smashed and griddled until crispy. But speaking personally, I loved the buttermilk biscuit most of all. A good biscuit can be hard to find in San Francisco, and this one was still warm from the oven, good and craggy on the outside, and yellow and tender on the inside, with distinct folds. It comes with honey butter for melting into the layers, and bottomless mugs of strong coffee to stave off the fog and midweek ennui. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

April 15

Chicken Shawarma from Wally’s Cafe

When a restaurant’s rice blows me away, I feel pretty confident the rest of the meal will be perfect, too. That was definitely the case for a recent meal I ordered from Wally’s Cafe, a Lebanese restaurant in Emeryville. Over a bed of that perfectly salty long grain rice was a very generous pile of crisped chicken shawarma. My chicken and rice came with an excellent salad, a little container of toum — that garlicky condiment which hits hard and fast, and makes everything more delicious — as well as lentils, and some tart, cool tzatziki to cut through all the saltiness. The cherry on top was a shatteringly crisp square of baklava, a small gift from the kitchen. During a year that’s been so hard for restaurants, to feel so much care and attention poured into a plate of food feels more special than ever. — Elazar Sontag, staff writer

Camarones Empanizados from Sol Food

Plantain-fried shrimp from Sol Food Becky Duffett

I took a much-needed week off before officially joining Eater SF as a full-time deputy editor (a recent development which I’m incredibly excited about, by the way). A friend started referring to that week as spring break, and honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a spring break, and apparently I’m still a huge fan. Mostly, I wanted to escape the city, and kicked it off by hiking redwoods and eating fried shrimp. After hitting the Marin trails with my friend’s cattle dog puppy, we swung by Sol Food in San Rafael, where I finally did something I have always wanted to do — order the largest fried shrimp combo plate they’ve got. It was seven plantain-fried prawns, served with rice, beans, and plantains. As always, it was so, so good, with a thick crust on the crispy shrimp, pink beans simmered with green olives, vinegary hot sauce to pour over, and garlicky mayo ketchup for dunking. And of course, I grabbed a big bottle of the pique hot sauce to take home. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor

March 15

Lentil Soup from Bistro Mediterraneo

I’m calling out the soup at Bistro Mediterraneo, but, really, any dish on the menu is worth ordering. This bodega and deli on a quiet Clement Street block serves some of the most soul-warming Middle Eastern–style foods you can find, from freshly fried-up falafel to a stunning cheese bi ajeen, smothered in halloumi atop a springy flatbread. It’s the soup I think about the most, though, a (vegan, I’m told) preparation so savory and flavorful that I don’t need distractions like bread or cheese to send me to the bottom of the bowl. And before you go, do grab some of the housemade baclava (I’m a fan of the showstopper-y nightingale’s nest, with strings of phyllo, pistachios, and loads of honey) for now or breakfast tomorrow. — Eve Batey, editor

Inari Sushi and Fatty Tuna from Yubu by the Shota

Sushi boxes from Yubu by the Shota Becky Duffett

After a rough week, I was feeling sulky and self indulgent, and finally splurged on the prettiest sushi ever from Yubu by the Shota. Okay, okay, there are a lot of gorgeous chirashi bowls and yakitori boxes right now, but I have been entranced ever since I first saw the Shota’s inari pockets stuffed with mini mushrooms. It just took a minute to actually make the drive downtown. It was kind of a trip, driving into the dark FiDi on a Friday night, watching the every-direction pedestrian signals blink for no one. But the Shota was as serene as ever, glowing golden from within the lobby of one of those elegant old Beaux Arts buildings. And it was revelatory takeout, with the tidiest of tofu pockets, luxuriously fatty tuna, and such good sushi rice, all stacked into square boxes, and tied up with red bows and gold stickers. — Becky Duffett, reporter

March 8

Golden Veggie Roll from Daigo Sushi

A vegetarian sushi roll
Daigo’s Golden Veggie Roll
Eve Batey

Respected by many as one of the most reliable sushi spots on the west side of San Francisco, Daigo Sushi strikes a balance between crowd-pleasing maki rolls and delicate carpaccio or nigiri preparations. Folks who eschew animals aren’t stuck with just a sad avocado or cucumber roll, though: In fact, Daigo’s Golden Veggie Roll just might be my favorite new vegetarian dish. It’s a huge roll packed with well-seasoned slices of shiitake mushroom, delicate sweet potato, and perfectly-fried tempura asparagus (there’s egg in the tempura, so it’s not a vegan option). The veggies are held together by a thin strip of seaweed, and then there’s a layer of sticky rice that, honestly, you might not even need to douse with soy sauce, the vegetables are so flavorful and sharp. A single roll makes for a generous lunch or a light dinner, which at $11 is a pretty remarkable and high-quality deal. — Eve Batey, editor

Choconilla Concha from Norte 54

Concha from Norte54 Becky Duffett

After chatting with pastry chef Raquel Goldman from Norte54, I had to try her conchas, those shell-shaped pastries, inspired by summers with her grandmother in Mexico City, but enriched with butter to make them even more flavorful and soft. I swung by the new Nopalito takeout window on 18th Street on a Saturday morning, before the throngs could descend on the park. Stepping up to the window, the coffee was brewing, and the case was full of buns, and this week, the flavor was choconilla, a childishly delightful swirl of chocolate and vanilla, spinning into the sugar crust. The chocolate topping was thick and crumbly, the bun was pillowy perfect, and it all washed down like a dream with cafe de olla, coffee sweetened with piloncillo raw sugar and scented with cinnamon and orange zest. — Becky Duffett, reporter

March 1

Stuffed Artichoke at Woodhouse Fish Co

An artichoke stuffed with shrimp and crab Eve Batey

As an inveterate artichoke freak, I’ll try almost any dish that contains the thistle. Over the years, Woodhouse has rolled out several different iterations of a seafood-stuffed version, but the one they have on the menu right now might be my favorite yet. It’s an artichoke split and grilled, its outside amply coated with a house-made concoction of garlic, greens, and butter. Served open-faced, one artichoke half is stuffed with fresh and pristine shrimp, simply cooked. The other side is smashed full of crab, which is similarly unadorned. The artichoke is cooked so perfectly that the majority of the leaves are tender enough to eat in full, and though its served with a side of aioli, everything tasted so perfect-as-is I didn’t need that additional adornment at all. — Eve Batey, editor

Black Sesame Kouign Amann from B. Patisserie

Black sesame kouign amann from B. Patisserie Becky Duffett

I hate to tease, because of course Lunar New Year has now run its course, but I had an out-of-body pastry experience when I ripped into the black sesame kouign amann from B. Patisserie. It’s a seasonal special, that queen of kouign Belinda Leong only does this time of year. My best food friend and I had to revisit our strategy, because of course it’s usually an early-morning get-in-line situation, but due to the pandemic, the bakery introduced preorders, which didn’t go quite perfectly. There was still some milling around, and free baguettes were apologetically handed out like roses to the crowd, to thank fans for waiting. But we made off with big boxes of kouign amann, still warm from the oven, crusty on the bottom from those sugared layers, and almost molten in the center of their black syrup hearts. — Becky Duffett, reporter

February 22

Pineapple Cake at Home Flavory Eats

Cross section of a Home Flavory Eats pineapple cake Luke Tsai

When I wrote about Home Flavory Eats’ homemade Taiwanese pineapple cakes, or feng li su, I hadn’t even had a chance to try the pastries yet, and my excitement was already through the roof — that’s how starved I’ve been for the flavors of my native country, to the point that even the mass-produced pineapple cakes from 99 Ranch even felt like a special treat. I’m happy to report: These are so much better than that. I think it’s been years since I’ve had feng li su in Taiwan, so I’d forgotten how buttery and delicate the crust can be, how wonderfully tangy the filling is when it’s made from scratch from fresh pineapples exclusively, not cut with winter melon like so many of the more commercial brands do. Friends, the box came with 10 cakes, I’m down to the last one, and my only regret is how many of them I had to let my children eat — and how long the waiting list now is to secure another batch. — Luke Tsai, food editor

Brown Buttered Coffee at the Snug

Brown buttered coffee to go from the Snug Becky Duffett

I met a friend for a cocktail on either end of a park bench last week, which was a very exciting social interaction, and the closest I’ve gotten to happy hour in a long time. And because she suggested the truly elegant Lafayette Park, that gave me an excuse to swing by the Snug, and pick up some to-go cocktails and popcorn chicken. (Pro tip: You want to be a hit with the cutest dogs at the park? Get yourself a box of popcorn chicken.) I finally tried the brown buttered coffee, which was in fact a dream: strong coffee, strong bourbon, roasted chestnut, and amaro whipped cream. It was sweet, bitter, and buttery, with those big roasted flavors and a good sprinkle of salt. One revelatory sip and I knew I would never sleep that night. It was worth it. — Becky Duffett, reporter

Slow-Baked Trout at Fava

Poached trout from Fava Elazar Sontag

I get out very little these days, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that sometimes I forget that the freshest, simplest, most delicious food is being prepared by talented chefs right outside my front door. I was reminded of this reality when I picked up lunch from Fava, a tiny takeout counter in Berkeley, run by two Chez Panisse alums. In one compostable takeout container, a generous filet of perfectly poached trout nestled into a pool of the creamiest, most delicious lentils, along with lightly dressed beets and a couple pieces of broccolini and cauliflower. I added an egg for good measure, which was cooked just past the point of soft-boiled, as the gods intended. I also ordered a salad, and for the first time in my life, was not devastated to be eating raw spinach. There were big rounds of juicy blood orange, tart little kumquats, and plenty of briny feta. The most disappointing aspect of this little restaurant operation is that it’s closed Sunday through Tuesday, giving me entirely too much time to obsess over my next visit. — Elazar Sontag, staff writer

Bomboloni from Haight Loaves

Two bomboloni Eve Batey

Over the course of the pandemic, Haight Loaves has gone from underground bread-and-pizza pickup business to intermittent pop-up to its current incarnation as a Friday-Sunday business at Divisadero Street’s Wine Kitchen. Having a place to rely on has allowed baker Joseph Norton {Neighbor Bakehouse, Lazy Bear) to try out some new offerings, including sourdough bomboloni, those sugar-coated Italian doughnuts stuffed with fillings Norton makes himself. Typically, there’s a jammy, fruity option and a custardy choice — this weekend was “my take on Boston cream,” Norton said. The sourdough rise makes them airy and chewy, while the sharp and fresh-tasting fillings has ruined me for mass-produced “jelly doughnuts” forever. — Eve Batey, editor

February 12

Chuleta Plate at Boriqua Kitchen

Cardboard takeout container with fried pork chop, sweet plantains, and arroz con gandules Luke Tsai

While eagerly awaiting the opening of Oakland’s only full-fledged Puerto Rican restaurant this past weekend, I got a wicked craving for arroz con gandules. So, as you do, I looked up the schedule for the food truck Boriqua Kitchen, and lo and behold, they were parked outside the Richmond Costco that very day. I may have overdone it a little bit when I ordered chicharron de pollo and pollo encebollado (an onion-y saute) and tostones (garlicky and delicious) and a juicy beef pastelillo. Which doesn’t even account for what turned out to be my favorite dish of the night, the “Piñones” plate: a thin, aggressively seasoned fried pork chop with well-charred and crispy edges, served over a big scoop of the truck’s flavorful arroz con gandules with sweet plantains on the side. This was hearty, rib-sticking, deeply comforting food, yielding plenty of leftovers — which, I’m happy to report, made for a killer midnight snack. — Luke Tsai, food editor

Pad Thai and Yellow Curry at Marnee Thai

I’ve been thinking about Marnee Thai ever since last summer, when I interviewed a number of old-school chefs around town, who were scaring their kids by still going into work. Marnee is a neighborhood gem in the Inner Sunset, known for a long menu of less expected and lovingly crafted Thai dishes, and somewhat eccentric service — the husband Chaiwatt Siriyarn preparing all of the sauces himself, and the wife Marnee Siriyarn reading customers’ faces and palms and telling them what to order. Son Kasidit told me he was worried his parents wouldn’t want to streamline the menu for takeout, and that “our best dishes get lost in translation.” Swinging back half a pandemic later to pick up takeout on a Friday night, I was relieved to see that the restaurant has streamlined the online menu, and I did admittedly order the basics, and wished that Marnee could have set me straight and told me what to try. But even so, the pad Thai was elastic and saucy, the yellow curry was aromatic and comforting, and the spring rolls were studded with good hunks of pork and shrimp. — Becky Duffett, reporter

Shrimp and Broccoli Stir-Fry at Bart Grocery

Eve Batey

“Daly City’s hottest club is Bart Grocery,” I texted Luke the other evening, as I waited for my food outside the Daly City restaurant/corner store. Long known as a Korean barbecue destination, the spot’s new owners took over just weeks before the pandemic began. But the crowds are still flocking, from neighborhood walk-ups to double-parked commuters to folks like me, who made the trip to pick up a meal. And what a meal it was, a bounty of affordable food that put to rest fears that 29-year-old tech workers turned restauranteurs William and Karina Lee would mess with the restaurant’s success. The kimchi fried rice is a given (order extra, friends, and mix it into your breakfast eggs the next morning), but the real surprise to me was the shrimp and broccoli stir fry. After all, it’s a barbecue, what am I thinking ordering seafood? But, wow, the shrimp was fresh and springy, and the broccoli was firm and fantastically charred. Those two elements, mixed with perfectly cooked glass noodles (mushy japchae is a tough one for me) made for the most soul-satisfying dinner I’ve had in a long time. It’s hard to find comfort food that’s more comforting than this. — Eve Batey, editor

February 5

Seasonal Pizza and Pasta at Piccino

I was in the mood for pizza and pasta last week, but not necessarily a gut-busting square pie, more like something with a beautiful salad starring seasonal produce. I swung by Piccino, the tucked-away neighborhood favorite in the Dogpatch. The margherita was simple and sweet, a pliable thin crust topped with quality tomatoes and milky fresh mozz. The chiocciole starred fresh extruded pasta in that big snail shell shape, still nice and chewy, and cloaked with sausage, greens, and buttery sauce. And the salad was tender butter lettuces tossed with thinly sliced pear. It did make me miss putting on real jeans, meeting my most salad-obsessed friend, and actually sitting in the dining room, to linger over a good bottle of wine, and invariably order a second round of pasta. But still, it was a breath of fresh takeout. — Becky Duffett, reporter

Pozole at El Garage

A bowl of red pozole topped with shredded cabbage with a tub of red salsa macha on the side Luke Tsai

By now, if you’re a frequent visitor of this little corner of the internet, you’ve almost certainly heard about El Garage’s quesabirria. More than a year into what is now a full-blown phenomenon, the former driveway pop-up is still the reigning champ, in this cheesy taco enthusiast’s opinion. But did you know that El Garage now slings more than just quesabirria? Not much more, but the Richmond restaurant has recently added a few additional dishes to its repertoire, including a torta and, more to the point, one of the most enjoyable bowls of pozole rojo that I’ve had in recent memory. It’s somehow the “lighter” soup option at a restaurant known for its fatty beef consommé, though the pozole is still plenty rich, with tender nubs of fatty pork and a broth that offered a surprising tingle of heat — a spice factor you can dial up to full-on explosive if you aren’t careful with the little tub of salsa macha that comes on the side. On a cold night this week, it was just the thing I needed to warm me up from the inside. — Luke Tsai, food editor

Assorted Salads at Pomella

I would argue there are very few salads worth leaving the house for in the middle of a pandemic. Putting on a mask, sanitizing hands, changing out of the cozy pajamas, getting in the car, navigating the socially distanced pickup lines all for some lettuce? No, thank you. And yet, for reasons unclear to this writer, a bulk of the takeout orders I’ve made recently have been for salads. Mostly, they’re as uninspired as I knew they would be, and I kick myself for spending $20 on this, out of so many other great options a restaurant offers. But at Pomella, a Middle Eastern takeout counter tucked into a parking lot in Oakland, the salads are really, truly, worth the outing. My favorite — the one I eat at least once a week, sometimes more — is a combination of crisp lettuce, roasted beets, and sweet potatoes, plus creamy feta and a zippy dressing. I add chicken, but one could opt for the restaurant’s crisp and fluffy falafel, a flaky filet of salmon, or just eat the salad as-is. Ordering dinner from Pomella is gratifying, because the menu is full of cold mezzes that I’ll have a bite of, then store away for the rest of the week. A chilled combination of roasted celeriac and lentils is one of the most interesting and satisfying dishes I ate in 2020 (order the largest portion possible). The roasted carrot salad is intensely seasoned with warm spices, and the rest of the seasonally rotating side dishes are almost always equal parts excellent and surprising. If you have the urge to eat a seriously good salad, or to stock up your fridge with hummus, pita, and other mezzes to get you through a week, Pomella comes through on all fronts. — Elazar Sontag, staff writer

January 29

Nigiri Bento at Mujiri

A wooden bento box with various nigiri and a six-piece maki roll Luke Tsai

Let me count all the ways I love the nijiri bentos at Mujiri, the buzziest sushi spot to open in the East Bay during the pandemic. First, the price: $25 for seven nigiri and a chef’s choice daily maki roll — the equivalent of a short, high-quality omakase meal for less than I’d spend on a plate of pasta. Second, the selection: Mujiri’s point of distinction is that instead of offering a preset lineup of nigiri for its boxes, it allows customers to choose what they want — and there’s no upcharge for premium picks like uni and toro. On weekends, in particular, the range of options is vast — my most recent bento included kurodai (blackhead sea bream), chikame kintoki dai (red big eye snapper), and hobo (sea robin). No need to stick to boring old salmon and hamachi unless you want to! Finally, there’s something to be said for cute packaging, and Mujiri’s wood bento boxes add a sense of celebration to the meal, making it that much easier to pretend you’re sitting down to eat at your favorite sushi counter instead of at your own kitchen table or, just as likely, the inside of your car. — Luke Tsai, food editor

Grilled Pork Banh Mi from Dinosaurs

After watching Your Korean Dad eat a pretty good looking crispy duck banh mi from Mr. Banh Mi, I started asking myself some deep questions, like why I don’t eat more banh mi. When I used to work downtown (remember working downtown?), in my young and hungry twenties, I would often grab a banh mi from a cash-only doughnut shop, which also had a sandwich menu handwritten out on computer paper. Those were the days! But back to the present, I decided to try Dinosaurs, an affordable sandwich shop with a few locations across the city, including one on Ocean Ave. It emerges that it’s a tiny shop, tagged onto the corner of a building, with a window swinging open to the street. I got the lemongrass grilled pork, and for all of $8.40, it was a good sandwich. A nice baguette, crusty on the outside, tender on the inside, stuffed with caramelized pork, pickled veggies, bright herbs, and a swipe of mayo. Wash it down with a Vietnamese iced coffee, and it’s a fresh and caffeinating lunch. — Becky Duffett, reporter

Crispy Tofu Sandwich at Gott’s

Eve Batey

Gott’s Roadside, the Bay Area chain of fast casual burgers-and-fries spots, has always been a bit ahead of the meatless curve: back when Impossible “meat” was so scarce that sites like this one tracked where you could order the plant-based burger, Gott’s had the start-up’s patties on the menu. And this week, they launched another item for folks who find Impossible impossible to bear: a crispy tofu sandwich that’s their answer to the spicy fried chicken sandwiches that are ubiquitous, these days. Oakland-based Hodo supplies the firm tofu, which Gott’s brines for 24 hours, then double-dips and dredges in buttermilk (which, vegans should note, takes it off the fully plant-based menu). It’s served on a Gott’s bun with pickles, onions, cabbage-and-cilantro slaw, and jalapeno mayo, which means there is a noticeable spice punch, but one that’s quelled by the thick layer of breading. And it tastes really terrific — neither rubbery and soyish, nor overly fried. It’s a way better-tasing (and more digestible) version of the “chick’n” patties vegetarians know all too well. I’m already thinking about when I can get another one. — Eve Batey, editor

January 22

Mushroom Dream at Damnfine

Eve Batey

If I’d known how much I’d like Damnfine’s mushroom dream pizza, I would have taken a better picture. The Outer Sunset restaurant just opened last week, staffed solely by its duo of owners, and I suspect they’ve been surprised by the demand for their wood-fired pizzas: On their first night in business, they were out of food by 7:30, and their online ordering system is on and off as they hustle to serve every customer. So we walked up, placed our order and took off — and about an hour later, the phone rang. Our pizza, topped with garlic butter, mozzarella, parmesan, fontina, and mushrooms (baby bellas, enokis, king oysters, beeches, and bunapi) was ready. The toppings were plentiful and delicious, but it’s Damnfine’s crust that really stood out to me: its dough (a three-day cold rise that owner Laura Seymour refined after months of trial and error) is almost distractingly flavorful for what’s typically a mere platform for melted cheese. It tasted more like a really great soft pretzel than anything, with none of the bitterness one can sometimes get with a wood-fired pie. When I went to clear up our plates, not a crust remained. — Eve Batey, editor

Thick Pepperoni Pizza at Carbona Pizza

Thick Detroit-style pepperoni pizza from Carbona Pizza inside its box Luke Tsai

Compared to the rest of the Bay Area, the East Bay has been a little bit slow on the uptake when it comes to the Detroit-style pizza fad — a niche happily filled by Carbona Pizza, a newish pop-up from the folks behind Grand Lake Kitchen, embedded inside their Dimond District location. If you’ve had any of the better examples of the style, you know the drill: Carbona’s notably thick version is super-garlicky and super-rich, with the tell-tale charred crunchy edges that provide such a nice contrast to the springy, focaccia-like interior. Somehow the pizza tastes best with no toppings any more complex than a basic pepperoni. I tried Carbona’s pizzas last week, when it was running an Oakland Restaurant Week meal deal (Dole Whip with my pizza? Yes, please!), and the whole family like it so much that we ordered them again this week. Two thick pies, even knowing it’d be way too much to finish, so that we had a couple of days’ worth of delicious leftovers. — Luke Tsai, food editor

Chicken Katsu Sandwich at Bread N’ Chu

Katsu at Bread N’ Chu Becky Duffett

A good friend recently treated me to lunch at Bread N’ Chu, a small sandwich shop in the Richmond with an oversized reputation. Because they make a serious katsu sandwich, those crispy cutlets on soft milk bread, which seem to have a dedicated Instagram following. It was a bit of a wait, with only one sandwich artist behind the counter, but the results were good. This was no small lunch — the chicken katsu sandwich is thick, with like maybe a whole chicken breast jammed up in there, and slices of milk bread at least an inch high, which is kind of a mouthful, but also really enhances that tooth-sinking, pillowy-to-crispy effect. This is all decked with shredded cabbage and double sauced with kewpie mayo and katsu sauce. Because if there’s one thing I love better than Japanese mayo, it’s the beautiful friendship between mayo and barbecue sauce. — Becky Duffett, reporter

January 15

Borsch from Cinderella

Eve Batey

After a day spent writing a guide to San Francisco soups, I was ready for some soup of my own. Of course, I had this thought at 6:30 p.m., which might as well be 2 a.m. in these curfew-ed, takeout-only times. I was able to make it to Richmond District Russian bakery and cafe Cinderella before closing, though, and scored a couple containers of their comforting, vegetable-filled borsch. Slurping it up with a couple slices of their dark rye, I remembered why bread and soup is such a go-to in troubling times. Not only is it affordable (a full order is only $6), but the warming effects of an excellently made soup go far beyond the literal. — Eve Batey, editor

Sushi Box from Robin

I finally splurged on the pretty bento box from Robin. The same one that Hunter Pence’s wife set out with a flight of sake glasses and folded napkins for date night, although I myself ate it straight out of the box on the couch, but to each her own. Either way, it was a delight: Four rectangles of sashimi, featuring toro with morel soy and local wasabi, yellow tail with hunks of citrus and yuzu gel, albacore with crispy shallots and black lime, and tuna with furikake and pear on a bed of sushi rice. Two long rows of rolls, dusting trout with candied kumquat powder, and dotting crab and avocado with Meyer lemon aioli. Plus a square filled with cold and creamy sesame noodles, with grated black truffles over the top. True to this creative Cali restaurant, every little compartment had an interesting twist. And while it would be much nicer to be sitting at the omakase counter, peppering the sushi pros with questions, it was still a refreshing takeout experience. — Becky Duffett, reporter

Chanko Nabe at Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya

Chanko nabe (Japanese hot pot) in a blue Le Creuset pot Luke Tsai

Cold nights like the ones we’ve been having call for hot pot — which isn’t a category of food that I’d normally think about getting as takeout. But Fish & Bird, the stylish Berkeley izakaya, has put together a great heat-at-home version of its chanko nabe, a hearty Japanese hot pot dish. Like any reputable hot pot meal, the kit comes with a load of vegetables, including at least three different kinds of mushrooms, and a bunch of touches that are a step above what I’d normally throw together when making hot pot at home: raw chicken meatball mix for you to scoop into the hot broth, a generous tray of thin-sliced pork belly (nicer than the stuff you get from the freezer at 99 Ranch), and a little tub of chef Asuka Uchida’s delicious yuzu pepper paste. Best of all was the deeply savory miso-based broth itself, which, on a chilly evening this week, warmed me right up from the inside — and tasted just as good as leftovers the next day. — Luke Tsai, food editor

January 8

Kampachi Crudo at Billingsgate

Eve Batey

After delay upon delay, Billingsgate, the restaurant and fish market from the seafood purveyors at Four Star, has opened on a busy block of 24th Street in Noe Valley. When I stopped in for takeout the other night (walk-in orders are one’s only option), the menu included a couple seafood salads like you see on the left — shrimp, or Dungeness crab (from Washington) on a concise square of brioche. Both were delicious, but what I keep thinking about is the kampachi crudo. Kampachi’s a fatty yellowtail, and thin-cut like this, with slivers of pomelo and peppers, it was so buttery and citrus-y I wished I could eat this dish for breakfast, maybe with a crusty bit of rye. At $18, I can only justify an order as a special treat, so here’s hoping I have something to celebrate again soon. — Eve Batey, editor

New Year’s Osechi Bento at Rintaro

2020 New Year’s osechi box from Rintaro Luke Tsai

Given how much of a trash fire year 2020 was, it felt appropriate to end it by treating my family to my biggest takeout splurge since the start of the pandemic: Rintaro’s gorgeous New Year’s bento box, a treasure trove of exquisitely gorgeous and auspicious little dishes that made me feel like I was expunging several months’ worth of pent-up bad energy with every bite. I won’t get into the blow by blow, but highlights included the whole spiny lobster, served chilled with a knob of fresh Half Moon Bay wasabi for grating; the tangle of smoky wild mushrooms and seared duck breast; the yuzu-scented steelhead roe; and, my kids’ favorite, the crunchy little candied anchovies. Even breathing in the scent of the handmade Japanese cedar box made me feel just a tiny bit more optimistic about the year to come. — Luke Tsai, food editor

The Panettone from Roy

Thanks to pandemic shipping delays, I have been receiving a slow trickle of belated Christmas presents, which actually proved to be one small distraction from the national news this week. The most breathtaking of all: the panettone. You know, the panettone from Roy. I had never experienced this pastry legend, which is naturally leavened, fermented and proofed over four days, and finally hung upside down, resulting in a lofty $68 loaf of bread. I happen to have a sourdough baker friend who is currently living in Italy, and she kindly sent me one, which arrived a few days after the new year. It was an experience: That dramatic white cube of a box. The overwhelming aroma of wild yeast and dark chocolate. And a crumb that’s magically both airy and cutardy. Food editor Luke Tsai splurged on one too, and was a little more circumspect. “This is good, but I don’t know about the hype,” he said, before admitting to not being able to stop eating it. But I’m personally here for over-the-top chocolate for breakfast. — Becky Duffett, reporter

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