At the end of every year, the Eater Awards recognize some of the most exciting and talented people and places in food and beverage from San Diego to New York. Eater SF joins the entire Eater Cities network in celebrating the restaurants we returned to again and again, the pop-ups we couldn’t stop thinking about, and the chefs who inspired us over the past 12 months.
This year in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re recognizing a restaurant that transports diners from the California coast to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and a chef who opened a one-of-a-kind Malaysian restaurant in the heart of San Francisco’s struggling Tenderloin neighborhood. We’re shining a light on a pop-up that breaks expectations about what Jewish food can be, an East Bay newcomer where we aspire to be regulars, and a restaurant worth driving for. Here now, the Eater SF team presents the 2023 Eater Award winners.
Restaurant of the Year: Dalida
After vaulting Noosh firmly onto Bay Area diners’ radars, then undergoing a messy split from the restaurant in 2019, San Francisco diners waited patiently to see where chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz would land next. The answer finally came this summer with the opening of Dalida, the husband-and-wife team’s full-service restaurant nestled within the Presidio of San Francisco, just a short stroll from the water’s edge. Diners can take a seat inside the brick temple to modern Eastern Mediterranean cuisine and culture, and sample dishes such as a simple but impressive platter of chubby pita with hummus and muhammara or Anatolian erishte, a type of Turkish macaroni tangled with mushrooms and squash. Laura’s Mexican heritage combined with Sayat’s Turkish background breathe life into the city’s upscale restaurant scene: a lamb shoulder tandoor, for instance, is a spicy, slow-cooked testament to all things savory and comforting. The bar menu goes even further incorporating spices, yogurt, and preserved fruits from the chefs’ home regions. Desserts such as a creamy and malty chocolate muhallebi serve as just another example of high-caliber cooking that nods towards Sayat’s Turkish home. For the full experience opt for the $75 chef’s menu, an outrageous steal. Everyone loves a good comeback story, and if Dalida is any example, they might just be best served alongside a crispy plate of saffron-infused tahdig. — Paolo Bicchieri
Chef of the Year: Azalina Eusope (Azalina’s)
In some ways, it’s harder than ever to run a restaurant in San Francisco. Chef Azalina Eusope would know. She’s been cooking and selling Malaysian food in the city for more than a decade, starting with a stall at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, later growing into a restaurant inside the Twitter building on Market Street, which closed during the pandemic. But despite the challenges of post-pandemic San Francisco, the fifth-generation street food vendor isn’t ready to give up on the business — or the city.
In July, Eusope opened the doors to her long-awaited restaurant Azalina’s. She settled in the heart of the Tenderloin, leaning on help from the community to fill the dining room with a colorful mural depicting a Southeast Asian night market and historical photos of the neighborhood. She serves a four-course menu that changes about every three weeks, allowing her and a small team to showcase the diversity of Malaysian cuisine — specifically, the food of the Indian Muslim Mamak community on Penang Island. One month, diners might discover the delights of fragrant saffron-infused nesi kanduri, or “wedding rice,” while the next may bring a massive fried chicken sandwich to the table. At $100 per person, Eusope knows the restaurant might be out of reach from some Tenderloin residents, so she partnered with a local nonprofit to make discounted dinners available to neighborhood families. No matter how you feel about the current state of San Francisco, Azalina’s feels like a bright a ray of sunshine in the middle of the city. — Lauren Saria
Restaurant Where We Want to Be Regulars: Burdell
Chef Geoff Davis toured the concept for Burdell as a pop-up to build anticipation for its Oakland debut — and it worked: Davis’s thoughtful soul food with California and fine dining inflections earned him an eager following long before he threw open the doors in Temescal. The dishes reflect Davis’s meditations on the Great Migration and his family history, as seen through the lens of his experience working at lauded restaurants such as Cyrus, Aqua, True Laurel, and Penny Roma. Yet the representations of familiar classics feel all his own: Chicken and waffles transform into a cornmeal waffle with a side of chicken liver mousse sprinkled with shards of crisp skin; a plate of “BBQ” whole shrimp features brined crustaceans in an umami-laced tomato sauce peppered with heat from Burdell’s own fermented hot sauce; and a Klingeman pork neck highlights beautiful Duroc pork married with seasonal fruit and a French’s Classic Yellow Mustard jus. It’s delicious, technically precise food that’s thoughtful and modern rather than stuffy or pretentious — and well worth repeat visits.
Davis’s vision similarly suffuses the restaurant decor and feel. Diners step into a space that exudes the warmth of a relative’s home at the holidays. Amber-colored windows bathe the restaurant in sepia-toned nostalgia, especially when paired with thoughtful details like family photos hung in the waiting area, vintage Corelle plates Davis lovingly collected for the restaurant, and church pews now repurposed as seats. Entering Burdell feels like a hug; it’ll have diners wanting to return again and again. — Dianne de Guzman
Pop-Up of the Year: Hadeem
This year has been stellar for pop-ups in San Francisco, and chef Spencer Horovitz’s Hadeem stands out amongst a crowded scene. Horovitz most recently led the kitchen at Oakland’s Slug and previously worked at Itria, the Progress, and the Restaurant at Meadowood. But now the experienced chef is making things personal and exploring the food stories he wants to tell — on his own terms.
The result is a uniquely Californian Jewish menu with flavors that break expectations one might have about either individual cuisine to surprising results. For instance, Horovitz infuses babka with traditionally un-babka-like flavors: char siu, five-spice chocolate hazelnut, and roasted pumpkin. So-called “strange flavor” dolmas wrapped in grape leaves and laced with chile crisp and sweet herbs regularly rotate onto the menu, placed alongside delicate dishes such as an Ikijime halibut crudo cured in kombu. Although Hadeem tends to skew into fine dining territory, Horovitz’s cooking remains remarkably nimble, seamlessly moving between multi-course menus offered at restaurants including Octavia and Bar Agricole to bombastic pastrami sandwiches — dubbed “the chutzpapi” — served with za’atar tots at Wesburger. That range is emblematic of Horovitz’s chops, which keep Hadeem’s pop-ups feeling fresh and vibrant regardless of venue. — Dianne de Guzman
Best New Dining Destination: Chez Noir
Plenty of people harbored dreams of uprooting their urban lives to relocate somewhere more peaceful and pastoral during the pandemic. But unlike most people, husband and wife couple Jonny and Monique Black actually made it happen. The couple, both industry vets, packed up and moved down the coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea, where they opened their first restaurant on the ground floor of a Craftsman-style building that doubles as their family home. In doing so — whether on purpose or not — they’ve managed to electrify the dining scene in the quiet coastal town.
Put aside any ideas you might have about a quaint mom-and-pop restaurant. With Chez Noir, the couple built a French bistro-style restaurant that could easily pass muster in a larger city. The rarefied cuisine starts with a foundation of coastal Californian ingredients including buttery abalone skewered and roasted on a fragrant sprig of bay laurel, or tentacles of local Monterey Bay squid, which sub in for traditional anchovies in the restaurant’s West Coast take on classic Spanish gildas. For diners who want to avoid tough decisions, the set menu leaves your meal in the hands of your capable hosts, hitting plenty of high notes with both food and beverage — just be sure to make space for dessert: often a magnificent pink-and-white mille-feuille or a simple but decadent canelé. If you’ve traveled down from the San Francisco Bay Area, the dinner promises to provide plenty to reminisce over on the drive back home. — Lauren Saria
Update: December 6th, 2023, 10:09 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that Burdell opened in early September.