The Eater Awards are back, which means it’s once again time to celebrate the people and places that make San Francisco one of the country’s most enthralling places to eat and drink. And this year, there’s even more to applaud as we join Eater cities in honoring the restaurants, bars, and bakeries that pivoted and preserved through the past 18 months with an impressive blend of grit, creativity, and innovation.
San Francisco’s 2021 winners demonstrate the breadth of the Bay Area’s dining and drinking scenes, capturing everything from the stunning elegance of Michelin Guide-worthy restaurant design to the chaos of a rowdy natural wine dance party. There’s a Filipino American chef carving out a new home for modern Southeast Asian cuisine in Fisherman’s Wharf, a German bakery that’s breaking out of the box, and a West Oakland pitmaster who put Bay Area barbecue on the national map. Without further ado, here are Eater SF’s 2021 Eater Awards winners.
Best New Restaurant
We all craved something to celebrate in 2020, and pitmaster Matt Horn was more than happy to oblige. Despite the odds, Horn finally gave his meticulously prepared meats a permanent home in September of last year, and since then, the plumes of oak-scented smoke have drawn diners from near and far to an industrial corner of West Oakland like ships to a lighthouse. The self-taught pitmaster began pulling glistening slabs of slow-cooked Central Texas-style brisket from his massive smoker back in 2018, when his pop-ups drew long lines of diners seeking paper-wrapped packages of snappy house-made sausage and tubs of eggy potato salad. Now it’s all available by the pound, served on metal trays, along with the requisite side of pillowy white bread, though you’ll probably still have to stand in line. — Lauren Saria
Most Innovative Menu
There’s never been a Filipino restaurant in the Bay Area quite like Abacá. Find the sun-drenched dining room in a Fisherman’s Wharf hotel lobby, where chef Francis Ang puts a modern touch on Filipino classics in part by drawing inspiration from California’s expansive agricultural bounty. The menu moves beyond clumsy mashups to offer intricately layered plates like vibrant end-of-season peaches and tomatoes tumbled through savory mung bean puree and a clam chowder riff that’s lifted with coconut milk and cilantro — each at once distinctly Californian and recognizably Filipino, too. Unsurprisingly, considering Ang’s pastry chef pedigree, desserts are particularly thrilling; he packs a dazzling array of textures onto the plate and skillfully harnesses a kaleidoscope of flavors, from the soft sweetness of summer corn to the tart bite of passionfruit. — Lauren Saria
Most Over-the-Top Design
When Ettan opened one month before lockdown, it embedded an acclaimed chef in Silicon Valley and brought a different regional flavor to the Peninsula’s heavily North and South Indian restaurant scene. Restaurateur Ayesha Thapar partnered with chef Srijith Gopinathan of Taj Campton Place, then the only South Asian restaurant in the country to hold two Michelin stars, to build out a menu that uplifts Gopinathan’s signature Cal-Indian cuisine, thanks to the lighter and brighter flavors of the chef’s native Kerala.
But while diners were prepared to be wowed by the menu, they weren’t expecting to gasp when stepping into the space. Tucked away on one of Palo Alto’s quiet alleys, Ettan opens upward to reveal two stories illuminated by a central skylight. Designer Thomas Schoos strung chandeliers and plants from the domed windows; layered patterned wallpaper, textiles, and woodwork; and made it pop with modern art and black-and-white portraits. In an era when every restaurant seems to have a neon sign and an overabundance of ferns, Ettan showcases a completely distinctive look and feel. — Becky Duffett
Most Out-of-the-Box Pastries
The Bay loves pastries at the best of times and took solace in them at the worst — many bakeries showed endless ingenuity throughout the pandemic, sizing down cakes and pies, making mixed boxes, and repackaging their goods to go. But the greatest underdog story of all is Hahdough, which opened on March 1, 2020, and though it’s only a small shop, it has the distinction of being the only dedicated German bakery in San Francisco. Owner Ha Do, who is originally from Vietnam but grew up in Germany, introduced the city to her favorite traditional tortes and fueled a toddler fan following with her jammy Berliner doughnuts.
As the city locked down, reopened, and changed the dining rules relentlessly, Do never turned off the ovens, baking mini stollen through the night. She’s an incredibly hardworking baker putting out a style of cake rarely seen in this city, and many Europeans who weren’t able to go home (not to mention San Franciscans simply stuck at home) found joy in the candied-almond crush of a bee-sting cake or the delicate layers of a gentleman’s torte. — Becky Duffett
Most Electric Cocktail Scene
Nelson German of Alamar seafood restaurant opened Sobre Mesa, a hotly anticipated Afro-Latino cocktail lounge, in March 2020, and while that was tough timing, the bar came back strong almost exactly a year later with tropical rum drinks, lush hotel lobby looks, and big Oakland energy. It led the pack in one of the most competitive categories this year, as San Francisco and Oakland saw a resurgence of cool cocktail bars when vaccinated drinkers were finally ready to pour one out.
Alex Maynard (Starline Social Club) and Susan Eggett (Last Rites) consulted on the opening cocktail menu, which features Caribbean rums, fresh fruit juices, and tropical ingredients while dodging tiki stereotypes. And though a lot of bars are filled with a lot of plants these days, Sobre Mesa does it the most immersively, with jungle-green walls, a black marble bar, and tan leather banquets under the glow of low lights. Brush aside a frond and slide into a leather booth, sip on a Zombie Reviver and snack on tostones, and soak in everything you missed about going out. — Becky Duffett
Best Bacchanal Wine Party
After a year spent apart, a certain number of San Franciscans found themselves vaccinated and ready to resume some pre-pandemic fun this fall. Fortunately, Bar Part Time met the moment with a healthy dose of swagger — case in point, the tagline “probably the best wine bar in the world” — and a flood of natural wine. What started as a pop-up evolved into a permanent wine-soaked dance party, where you can lose yourself on the black-and-white plaid dance floor under spinning disco lights while the room thunders to the lyrics of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” Natural wine devotees will be drawn by a menu that’s limited to bottles with no chemical additions, about a dozen of which can be sipped by the glass and enjoyed with a menu of Korean-influenced small plates from Inner Sunset suprette Queens. — Lauren Saria