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Go-To Restaurants of 2021 in the San Francisco-Bay Area

Let’s raise a glass to the people and places that sustained us

Welcome to Year in Eater 2021, Eater’s annual tradition of celebrating the past 12 months with help from some of the Bay Area’s top food writers. Between now and end of the year, Eater SF will post daily questions about the Bay Area restaurant scene with answers from those who know it best.


I’m usually running around to try new places, but when I want real comfort food I crave a crispy-edged WesBurger or a cozy meal at Mama Ji’s just over the hill from my house. Breadbelly is my favorite morning splurge; I love to parade out-of-town visitors up and down Valencia and then to Chezchez for a late-night bloody mary or perfectly-executed martini; and whenever I drive home to Sacramento without a box of custard-filled puffs from Pineapple King, my family threatens to send me right back. — Lauren Saria, editor, Eater SF

My schedule these days makes it difficult to be a true regular, but some spots that I’ve found myself returning to a few times this year: Ernest (always need to roll home afterwards, it’s so good). Snail Bar (what a vibe). Shawarmaji (insanely delicious). Tacos Ultimo Baile (maybe my fav spot for carne asada), and the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace (so special). — Omar Mamoon, writer, Esquire

Fried chicken in a to-go box
Fried chicken from Nopa
Nopa

I live dangerously close to Nopa, so they start worrying if they haven’t seen me picking up their fried chicken recently. Also dangerous: I’ve been good friends with chef Rob Lam at Lily for years, so I’m constantly eating far too much over there — he keeps on coming up with so many sick dishes. San Jalisco is a favorite comfort food standby for their pozole verde on Thursdays and goat birria en caldo on Fridays/weekends. — Marcia Gagliardi, founder/editor of tablehopper.com

South, N’Gina Saran’s terrific soul food restaurant in Sacramento’s Southside Park neighborhood. Roxie Deli & Barbeque in east Sacramento is great for on-the-go sandwich or pastrami-stuffed pierozhki, and their 7 a.m. opening is clutch for day trips or early flights. Quán Nem Ninh Hòa is locally famous for its build-your-own spring rolls, but I often get their bánh canh chả cá, an umami-rich soup with yellowtail and peppery fishcake. — Benjy Egel, food and drink reporter, The Sacramento Bee

Black Jet Baking Co

Yet again this year, I have to say hi to Bernie of Bernie’s at least once a week, where my puppy now walks in like she owns the place, and I also ate a shocking number of egg sandwiches and cupcakes at Black Jet Baking Co. But in personal news, I do have a new go-to taqueria: I now live only a few blocks from Taqueria Guadalajara, where the chicken tacos are good and spicy with charred crispy bits round the edges, and I scavenge tiny tubs of tangy green salsa to put on my scrambled eggs on Saturday mornings. — Becky Duffett, deputy editor, Eater SF

I found myself craving and eating a lot of global comfort food, especially Burmese food (Burma 2, Walnut Creek) and vegan Singaporean cuisine (Lion Dance Cafe, Oakland). In the latter half of the year I also consumed many Impossible nuggets at Gott’s Roadside as well as pizza Slice House (various locations) and Tony’s (SF). — Jessica Yadegaran, food and dining writer, The Mercury News and East Bay Times

This year I rediscovered Kitchen Istanbul, a Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood that I’d enjoyed pre-pandemic but which I enjoy so much more now. The owner revamped the wine list and is now offering one of the most thrilling wine selections in the city, and it’s very fairly priced. It’s where I want to take out-of-town guests these days. — Esther Mobley, senior wine critic, San Francisco Chronicle

Two versions of very dark Japanese black curry, served in a takeout container with rice, and a side of sliced tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) Luke Tsai

Mostly the same places that were my takeout go-tos in 2020: soondubu and Korean fried chicken from Gangnam Tofu; omucurry from Dela Curo; and always, in a pinch, a raft of tacos from El Mexicano, my neighborhood taqueria. When I needed a little splurge (i.e., a couple of times a month, LOL), Mujiri’s immaculate sushi bentos. — Luke Tsai, food editor, KQED

Sultana in Menlo Park was one of the restaurants that I kept coming back to throughout this year. The Turkish restaurant has a lot of amazing dishes on the menu but my favorite entrée, without a doubt, was the adana kebab with a glass of yakut. It’s a simple grilled dish of ground beef and lamb served with bulgur, a grain akin to rice, and a mixed green salad. There’s no bells and whistles to it but it’s just a good old-fashioned meal that hits the spot every single time. — Susana Guerrero, reporter, SFGATE

Matcha and black sesame mochi donuts from Mochill Becky Duffett

I did mostly outdoor restaurant dining and takeout in 2021. For outdoor dining, I really enjoy Spinning Bones in Alameda. My kids and I also really love Rang Dong’s bun rieu; they moved to Alameda after a fire destroyed their space in Oakland Chinatown and we get takeout there quite often. Other than that, I’ve eaten a lot of donuts in 2021 (Donut Savant, Third Culture Bakery, Colonial Donuts, Mochill; we like all kinds). — Momo Chang, freelance food writer and Oakland Voices co-director

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