Week after week, Eater editors dine out constantly, visiting restaurants and bars both old and new, culling a list of favorites. The Best Dishes column features standout dishes the Eaater SF team discovers on a weekly basis. Now, at the end of the year, here’s a list of favorite dishes from the many, many restaurants the team visited during 2023.
Here’s the best of everything the Eater SF team has eaten this year.
Lauren Saria, Eater SF editor
Brown butter custard with grilled prawns from Gozu
When you eat around San Francisco’s high-end restaurants the way I do — a workplace hazard, you might say — you come across no small amount of premium ingredients including, of course, beautifully marbled strips of wagyu beef. But no matter how many heritage cows you’ve consumed, I can almost assure you that you’ve never truly known beef the way you will after you’ve gathered around the hearth at FiDi’s Gozu. The dramatically austere restaurant defies easy categorization, being not-quite a steakhouse and not-quite a Japanese restaurant, but also, entirely both. Chef Marc Zimmerman and his friendly and efficient team work around a smoky robata grill at the center of a U-shaped counter, feeding guests a parade of plates that may or may not look like they utilize the prized Japanese beef, but nevertheless always do in some form or another. A perfect example: brown butter custard served with grilled prawns. A seafood dish, you would rightfully assume. But one bite of this rich custard, grounded by earthy browned butter and infused with the flavor of savory meat, is enough to reassure you that there is, in fact, wagyu in this dish — though not so much as to overpower the creamy, delicate flavor of the prawns. And that’s the real magic of the Gozu menu. It manages to be a carnivorous celebration of wagyu that’s also beguilingly subtle and technically razor-sharp. Gozu, 201 Spear Street, Ste 120, San Francisco
Lobster butter spaghetti at Pasta Supply Co.
It’s an excellent time to be a pasta-lover in the Bay Area. On top of standard bearers like Flour + Water and Cotogna, the region has welcomed a crop of new and more affordable options including Sfizio in the East Bay and chef Anthony Strong’s Pasta Supply Co. in the Richmond District. The latter only opened for dinner service on June 21 and already you can expect a queue on the sidewalk as soon as the clock hits 5 p.m. Of course, Strong, who spent time in the kitchens at Prairie, Locanda, and Delfina, delivered bowl after bowl of perfectly al dente delicacies. I have to shout out the mafaldine, which we upgraded to include fragrant black truffle butter. It’s a simple preparation but the frilly, long, and highly slurpable noodles had me chair-dancing like a happy kid. The lobster butter spaghetti makes a more grown-up option and yes, you should have them toss a whole tail on top. Each noodle shined under a light coating of sauce made from butter that’s been bolstered by lobster shells and smoky-sharp fermented chiles, while hunks of bouncy meat broke up the dish’s texture nicely. Mostly, the depth of the flavors at play — acidic, funky, and a little bit spicy — made this the evening’s all-around star. The shop offers fresh noodles and sauce to take home, too. But if you have the time to let Strong and his team do the work, why would you ever want to get in the way? Pasta Supply Co., 236 Clement Street, San Francisco
Abalone Skewers at Chez Noir
I’ve been looking for a good excuse — and, to be fair, a free weekend — to escape down the coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea since last fall, and this weekend finally managed to make it happen. Part of the draw was the area itself, with those stoic cypress trees and capriciously misty beaches, and the new Caramel Beach Hotel made a lovely home base thanks to its location just a block off the water. The pinnacle of the trip, however, was dinner at Chez Noir, the upscale mom-and-pop restaurant from chef Jonny Black and wife Monique Black, who runs front of house. They packed up and moved to the seaside town to transform the bottom floor of their new family home into an upscale restaurant, decorated a la a chic modern bistro complete with brass accents and playful round chandeliers. The menu doubles down on that French accent, applying French techniques to a bounty of local ingredients. Of them all, my favorite dish (and I’m not alone in this assessment) was the abalone skewer, which saw a cutting of local bay laurel skewered through tender mollusks pulled from the Monterey Bay and dressed in decadent liver butter with thin wedges of sweet meyer lemon. The buttery salty bite provided a perfect sense of place, grounding me immediately on the coast I’d been itching to visit for so long. Chez Noir, 5th Avenue between Dolores and San Carlos streets, Carmel-by-the-Sea
Dry-aged “Peking-style” duck from Happy Crane
If you’re searching for a reason to get excited about what’s to come, look no further than the menu chef James Parry served at his most recent Happy Crane pop-up at Rich Table. Parry hopes to find a permanent home for Happy Crane in the coming year, and wise diners should wish him luck because when it opens, the restaurant looks to be one of the most exciting destinations for Cantonese food in San Francisco. Parry, who was raised in Hong Kong and moved to San Francisco to cook at three-Michelin-starred Benu, started the meal with a constellation of small bites: crab har gow crowned with caviar, a demure cup of buttermilk panna cotta made up with shiso and candied ginger, and airy dried porcini doughnuts meant to be dragged through a bowl of warm raclette cheese. But the apex of the meal arrived in all its umber glory as a plate of dry-aged duck, the rose-hued flesh shrouded in shatteringly crisp skin that wept with luscious fat. Each precious slice, swaddled inside tissue-thin crepes, nestled against a rainbow of vegetables, dusted with five-spice, stood as a testament to the tradition of the dish, as well as its bright future in the hands of a talented modern chef. It may be some time until there’s a next opportunity to enjoy Parry’s cooking — the chef has slowed the Happy Crane pop-up cadence as he focuses on securing a space — but I’m confident it’ll be worth the wait. Follow the Happy Crane Instagram for future pop-up dates.
Dianne de Guzman, Eater SF deputy editor
Dungeness Crab in Purgatory from the Anchovy Bar
I’m apparently on my annual quest to eat as much crab as I can during Dungeness season, and while I’ve yet to hit up any of the required local spots for the crustacean, I do find myself gravitating toward any and all crab dishes I happen upon during my routine of visiting restaurants each week. That was how I found my latest crab dish, tempting me from the Anchovy Bar menu on a (somehow) dry, almost-spring night this week. There were plenty of reasons why this dish remains on my mind: there were the lumps of sweet Dungeness crab, of course, but when combined with Hodo yuba noodles, fermented chile turnips, and crunchy garlic breadcrumbs, the ingredients sang together making for a lovely, harmonious dish. The use of yuba noodles felt like a smart move and gave the dish a soft texture and taste that paired well with the crab, much more so than a traditional pasta might otherwise impart. As ever, the additional crunch of the breadcrumbs pushed the dish into a delightful territory, giving the noodles and crab a one-two punch of both texture and garlicky goodness. For a secondary treat, as my very smart dining partner told me, always order the chip and dip at Anchovy Bar — this week’s version was a smoked trout roe dip with Kennebec potato chips dosed with Mendocino nori. Both were excellent, all around. The Anchovy Bar, 1740 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco
Grilled squid at Sfizio
Okay, yes, Sfizio is mostly about pasta, and also yes, said pastas are very, very good. But on a recent visit to the restaurant, I found myself continually thinking about the grilled squid starter that kicked off my dinner. The reason why I was so taken with the dish is that — much like everything at Sfizio — it’s a well-prepared item that takes a few ingredients and really makes them sing. Grilled squid shines against the dark salsa negra, while tender, blackened green onions play next to crisp bites of green purslane. The dish combined elements that reminded me of different cuisines; the squid gives elements of the Mediterranean Sea, while the green onions reminded me of Asian stir-fries, and the salsa negra conjured thoughts of Mexico. Yet, somehow despite those varied backgrounds, it all came together in a way that had me pushing the last bits of purslane through the sauce pondering the combination. And the fact that it’s a very budget-friendly $10 dish is just the cherry on top. Of course, order all the pasta you can at Sfizio, but if the grilled squid is also on the menu, I highly suggest you make room for that as well. Sfizio, 6099 Claremont Avenue, Oakland
Imperial kaluga caviar at Kiln
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with chef John Wesley of Kiln, dissecting the techniques and flavors behind some of the dishes at the new Fell Street restaurant. So by the time I dropped in this week, I was excited to sample everything. Plenty of masterful bites filled the meal — among them the blue lobster, Carabineros prawn, fermented potato bread, and squab — but allow me to mention one of the simpler but no less intriguing items, one I think speaks to the team’s impeccable taste. Caviar is almost a requirement at a fine dining establishment but it can sometimes seem … standard. Caviar along with a starchy vessel (blini or chips, sometimes tater tots) makes the usual pairing, but at Kiln the luxurious item takes a different format. Nestled in a gorgeous glass bowl, the orbs of roe sat in a pool of made-in-house onion vinegar with a light slick of chicken fat atop, ready to be scooped up and eaten by the spoonful. It’s a presentation I’ve never considered and maybe sounds odd, but it worked: the sweet tang of vinegar against the saline burst of caviar, rounded off by the subtlety and richness of chicken fat made for extremely well-balanced bites. To me, the dish shows careful consideration of flavor and texture, and enough trust in the composition to eschew distractions. It’s a dish that belies the thoughtfulness of the chef and staff, much like the keepsake Polaroid and candle given at the end of the night. Kiln, 149 Fell Street, San Francisco
Chicken and sausage gumbo at Gumbo Social
Ever since my first trip to New Orleans, I’ve been chasing the dishes I had there with visits to Bay Area restaurants, hopeful that I can find a version here that can tide me over until my next visit to the Big Easy. So it only follows that I’ve been tracking the opening of Gumbo Social in the Bayview with excitement, and I was finally able to head out for a bowl of gumbo on a recent evening. I ordered a bowl of the classic chicken and sausage gumbo, and what greeted me was a comforting bowl of soup, wonderfully spiced to perfection, exactly what I was looking for. Each element of the gumbo was cooked well, the holy trinity — bell pepper, onions, and celery — still standing up to the broth and not decimated under hours of cooking and softening, while the chicken and sausage added bites of protein and flavor. If you can, talk a friend into splitting the shrimp po’boy, which came doused in the restaurant’s delicious “Social Sauce.” I’m already planning my next trip back to Gumbo Social, as I’ve been told by two others that their go-to dish is the smoked turkey gumbo. A good reason for more gumbo, I say. Gumbo Social, 5176 Third Street, San Francisco
Paolo Bicchieri, Eater SF reporter
Mexican Yoloxochitlan washed-process black coffee at the Crown
You might avoid hot black coffee in the summer. But the Crown in Uptown Oakland is here to show you why that’s a bad idea every day of the week. This $4 light roast coffee is nutty, full of lovely toasty high notes, and well worth every dollar. It’s not overpowering in any way, not too dark, nor so tinny and minute the righteous coffee taste is lost. This is the kind of black coffee that can convert a nonbeliever, the heady but accessible cup that brings your chocolate-loving, tea-drinking friend over to the dark side. The shop is the tasting room for legendary green coffee importer Royal Coffee, running strong since 1978 and serving 16-ounce coffees to the bold. As Sam Stone wrote in Bon Appetit, hot coffee really can be a summer drink; I nabbed this batch-brewed elixir on a sweat-inducing afternoon running errands around Lake Merritt. So, grab a pineapple cake from the case of Bake Sum pastries, dive into this ideal cup of smooth coffee, and vibe through your morning caffeine take-off like Binky when the Nights beat switch hits. The Crown, 2523 Broadway, Oakland
Chocolate muhallebi at Dalida
On a rare muggy evening in San Francisco, the lights in the Presidio adding to the park’s historic stoicism, Dalida served me maybe the finest Meditteranean fare in the Bay Area. Chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz provide a laid-back but upscale ambiance, with warm tones on the walls and a playful design aesthetic. Prices are reasonable for a city as financially bloated as San Francisco — and the chocolate muhallebi is a creamy, crunchy, lordly way to end any meal. The hazelnut sauce, lathered around whole hazelnuts, combines with a Turkish coffee cream to make this generous sundae a main attraction more than a post-dinner afterthought. (The dinner itself, by the way, is worth visiting the wooded former military base for, too. Sesame horchata and pistachio coffee make for innovative and luxurious nonalcoholic drinks, and the 12-hour lamb shoulder tandoor is, as our server put it, soft enough to eat with a spoon.) Muhallebi isn’t technically ice cream, rather it’s a milk pudding composed of rice, sugar, and milk. But what I’m trying to say is Dalida allows for the comfort of both roast meat and nostalgic desserts, while kicking the familiar favorites up a notch — or ten. There’s probably no better outdoor patio for watching those enormous boats cruise on the Bay, either, with a spoon deep in hazelnut cream — or lamb shoulder for that matter. Dalida, 101 Montgomery Street, San Francisco
Coconut cake at Jo’s Modern Thai
There was a magic transcendent song soaring through my body as I ate my first coconut cake since the saviors at Oakland’s Jo’s Modern Thai bless you with four per order. Coconut cakes are, for me, both tiny packages of inspired flavors — even at their least elevated — and deeply comforting. Mochi plays the same role: There are the high-brow riffs at Third Cousin that stop my heart in delight, but I’m just as giddy to rip open a $2 package of sesame-studded mini mochi at 2 a.m. At this Michelin Guide-recommended restaurant, the coconut cakes are a mystical intersection of elegance and joy. I credit the divinity to the tom kha scallop and shrimp crudo and trout roe. After the first bite of indulgent, ultra-coconut-y texture and flavor, the second act of seafood flavors and textures brace the dish with brininess from the crudo and satisfying pops from the roe. The medley of cilantro, makrut lime, and Thai chili ensures a bright zing of spice is the final note in the mini performance. There’s much more to say about this contemporary restaurant and its beachy back patio — for example, the blue sticky rice dessert is a symphonic triumph — but please do yourself the great pleasure of ordering the coconut cakes. All four in a single order deserve a standing ovation. Jo’s Modern Thai, 3725 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland
Slutty jook from Virgo Supperclub
There’s a simple, paper bowl of jook in the Bay Area that contains — in just one cafeteria-style scoop — a mosaic of textures and rich, heart-warming flavors. Lara Ortiz-Luis and Garrett Schlichte run the perky Virgo Supperclub, in all its backyard dinner party splendor, and their $14 slutty jook matches the brash name with outrageously addictive flavor. Koshikari rice, with a ginger chili broth and scallion ginger jam, works as the base for a parade of fried shallots, kimchi, cilantro, and a breeze of yellow and orange flowers. Those crunchy bits on top complement the soupy foundation, making sure the dish isn’t overwhelmingly gruel-y. The ginger does a lot of work but doesn’t beat you over the head, either. I took my jook vegan, leaving a litany of optional $2 add-ons on the side, but I still made sure to include the toasted black sesame and curry miso. Each unctuous bite was better than the last. The accompanying cocktail, a $12 lady grey ginger, is available booze-free and tastes like a fancy toddy in a tuxedo, a wedge of lemon serving as its top hat. I must recommend this porridge as a tonic for the current windy and cold weather. I couldn’t get enough, and if I were a millionaire I would’ve bought the whole pot. Virgo Supperclub, rotating pop-ups through the Bay Area