As we approach the conclusion of another year of dining and drinking in and around the Bay Area, we’re looking back to celebrate the places and people that made the region’s food scene in 2022 unforgettable. With the annual Eater Awards, we join Eater cities from New York to Los Angeles in recognizing some of the country’s most exciting new restaurants, most inspiring culinary leaders, and best places to let down your hair and grab a stiff drink.
Even more than two years after the onset of the pandemic, it’s still yet to be determined exactly what shape the San Francisco and Bay Area restaurant industry will take in the future — but if this year’s Eater Awards winners are any indication, there’s plenty of reason to be enthusiastic. Longstanding restaurants that faltered during the deepest days of COVID restrictions continue to reopen and rejuvenate the dining scene, while many of the city’s chefs used food and restaurants as platforms for encouraging social change. The region is home to groundbreaking Indigenous dining experiences, coffee shops built with community in mind, and at least one bar where you can order pretty much any cocktail you crave — yes, even an appletini — without a hint of regret.
Without further ado, here are the San Francisco Bay Area’s 2022 Eater Award winners.
Restaurant of the Year
For 14 years, Matt Ho’s family restaurant Bodega Bistro served Northern Vietnamese food in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood before shuttering in 2017. Now, Ho’s continuing the legacy with a modern iteration of the family business: Bodega SF. In some ways, it’s a feel-good comeback story and a continuation of the Bodega Bistro tradition with steaming bowls of beef pho and turmeric-scented Hoi An chicken rice anchoring the lunch menu by day. At night, however, the restaurant adopts a modern dinner menu that feels approachable and unexpected even in the city’s crowded Vietnamese restaurant scene. Chewy banh khot turmeric cakes come crowned with caviar, while oysters get a burst of acidity from yuzu and coconut foam. Alongside classics like fresh banh cuon rice rolls and bo tai chanh, a rare beef salad punched up with housemade citrus fish sauce, there are also less traditional — but no less showstopping — plates including a filet of Chilean sea bass rested atop a hill of roasted tomatoes with jalapeno dressing. For the full experience, opt for the Ask Billy tasting menu and order a cocktail from a tight list infused with Southeast Asian flavors including pandan, mukrut lime, and chrysanthemum. — Lauren Saria, Eater SF editor
Chef of the Year
Anya El-Wattar, Birch & Rye
Against the backdrop of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War, chef Anya El-Wattar is on a mission to introduce San Francisco diners to a softer side of Russian culture. The idea for what would eventually become her Noe Valley restaurant Birch & Rye started back in 2016 when news of Russian interference in the presidential election spurred the Moscow-born chef to seek a way to reclaim pride in her heritage. Now diners step into the warm, wood-wrapped space for a taste of the Russia she knew as a child. El-Wattar deftly bridges modernity and tradition with California-ized riffs on familiar dishes; delicate pelmeni stuffed with local Liberty duck float in a luscious duck bone broth, and a stunning vegetarian rendition of stroganoff stars einkorn noodles and wild mushrooms. Birch & Rye is also perhaps one of the most inclusive fine dining restaurants in the city, with a five-course vegan tasting menu and many dishes able to be made gluten-free. Outside of the kitchen, El-Wattar has helped raise more than $100,000 for Ukrainian relief through the World Central Kitchen, all part of her efforts to make Birch & Rye a bright spot in the city’s dining scene. — Lauren Saria, Eater SF editor
Bar of the Year
Thee Stork Club
Call it 2022’s design modus operandi: Campy maximalism led the way for the Bay Area’s newest bars and restaurants this year, ushering in a much-needed era of over-the-top fun. Even among the colorful cohort, Oakland music venue and bar Thee Stork Club stands out for both its mission to bring the local music scene back to its pre-pandemic tenor, its Madonna Inn-inspired decor, and kitschy throwback drinks poured without a hint of regret. It’s a bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously: Where else can you order drinks like the Harvey Ball Wanger, the club’s take on the Harvey Wallbanger; a Crappletini; or a Garfield, a peach schnapps and vodka-laced drink that’s “an ode to America’s favorite slob,” without catching flak? Plus, with plans for fishbowl drinks in the works and acerbic asides on the menu — like the C-Word, which notes the drink is “a bitchy take on the Sea Breeze” — Thee Stork Club can make even the most jaded bargoer smile. It’s the antidote to the overly polished bar scene of 2022 and a place to have an unabashedly good time. — Dianne de Guzman, Eater SF deputy editor
Best Community-Focused Coffee Shop
Grand Coffee Too
In a spacious room with a dark wood bar, a Chemex sits in front of two guests debating San Francisco’s district attorney. By the time the Guatemalan single-origin coffee filters into the glass basin, the conversation has evolved into a rousing discussion about social and political life in the city. A space designed to facilitate meaningful conversation over craft coffee is no accident: it’s the culmination of more than a decade of work from Nabeel Silmi, Kimberly Kim, and Adrian Lopez. With their newest venture Grand Coffee Too, the owners incorporate their cultures and histories into both the space and menu. The misugaru, a fermented drink of ginger, jujube, and cinnamon pays homage to Kim’s Korean heritage, while the “mexigaru,” full of pepitas and chocolate, incorporates Lopez’s Mexican roots into the same drink. Silmi, Kim, and Lopez also support other coffee entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations; they supplied free beans to Deathless Coffee in the pop-up’s early days, host latte art throwdowns, and donate $1 from every bag of La Llave coffee to the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a nod to Silmi’s Palestinian ancestry. And the quality of the coffee is never compromised. Roasts tend to run medium and light, with a lovely note of milk chocolate in each cup. — Paolo Bicchieri, Eater SF reporter
Best Pop-Up to Permanent Transformation
Tacos El Ultimo Baile
The Bay Area has seen a number of pandemic-era pop-ups make the leap to permanent status this year, but Tacos El Último Baile holds a special place in the community. Chef-owner Dominic Prado leads the long-running pop-up that fed patrons of Oakland’s Legionnaire Saloon late into the night since 2017 before later graduating into a trailer. Prado gained a loyal following serving Northern Mexico-style tacos grilled over mesquite charcoal, but with a new space in Fruitvale, diners are finally getting a taste of what he can do with a full kitchen setup. The tacos, filled with small mountains of carne asada, al pastor, pollo, or chorizo, are on the menu, of course, as well as cheesy vampiros tacos and lorenzas. Now, the menu also features specials like warming pozole, tender brisket, ribeye, and battered and fried crispy fish tacos. Meanwhile, Prado is in his element in the new digs, greeting patrons and getting friendly with neighboring businesses at the marketplace — making himself an unofficial mayor of this corner of Fruitvale. It’s clear Tacos El Último Baile is only going to get better from here. — Dianne de Guzman, Eater SF deputy editor
Best Gathering Space for Dining and Learning
At ‘oṭṭoy, the new iteration of Cafe Ohlone at Berkeley’s Hearst Museum of Anthropology, your meal comes with a purpose: learning about the food and culture of the Ohlone people, the Indigenous residents of what’s now known as the Bay Area who were erroneously declared to be culturally extinct in 1925. The education starts with the space. Filled with native plants and furniture made from rescued local wood, the restaurant itself is a tribute to the history and culture of the Ohlone community and its elders. Partners Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino then weave in storytelling between each dish, teaching diners about the provenance of each component of the experience, from the “singing trees” that intone songs in the Chochenyo language through hidden speakers to the food on the plate. Seasonal dishes of greens or watercress soup are embued with lesser-known local ingredients, like salt harvested from East Bay marshes, intensely sweet native strawberries, or California quail eggs that once were abundant on the island of Alameda. The lessons on culture and food will stick with you long after you leave the space. — Dianne de Guzman, Eater SF deputy editor