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The 38 Essential San Francisco Restaurants, January '13

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It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs. Every few months, we add pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months) or have stepped up their game. And keep in mind, this list is presented in no particular order.

This time around, after much reflecting and poring over reader emails and comments, we're dropping a few great restaurants that have had long runs on the Eater 38: Commonwealth, Dosa on Fillmore, and Contigo. Their spaces are filled by outstanding burger staple Super Duper, exciting Asian food innovator Namu Gaji, and the only restaurant filling a new niche in sit-down Mexican food, Tacolicious. Bouche is also off due to the loss of chef Nico Borzee, and Ichi Sushi is on, for serving some of the best sushi in town, in a very uniquely San Francisco way. Finally, we're saying goodbye to Park Tavern, because Bar Tartine has to be on here: Its recent slew of ground-breaking European guest chefs, and continually delicious Eastern European menus prove it is still ahead of the curve, even after almost seven years in business.


Rather than a stage-four meltdown over our having excluded your favorite restaurant from the list, wouldn't it be more productive to just nominate it for inclusion?

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Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process.

Both neighborhood standby and destination restaurant, Nopa continues to grow admirably under Chef Jossel. Honorable mention to its little Mexican sis, Nopalito.

Frances

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James Beard-beloved chef Melissa Perello has given us Frances, an easy-going, timeless neighborhood nook, serving hearty, yet nuanced seasonal dinners. Always begin with her bacon beignets, and finish with a slice of rich, apple-filled lumberjack cake.

Lers Ros Thai

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Sure Lers Ros is the only authentic Thai restaurant with rabbit, frog and venison on its regular menu, but even the pad Thai rivals the best you'll find anywhere in Thailand.

Bar Tartine

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Though it opened in 2006, the restaurant from the Tartine Bakery people continues to reinvent itself. Thanks to Nick Balla's ahead-of-the-curve Eastern European menus, this rustic neighborhood staple continues to be one of the hottest reservations in town. A shout is also in order for the new adjacent sandwich shop, touting irresistible smørrebrød during the lunch hour.

ICHI Sushi

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[Photo: SushiYo]

Chef Matt Accarrino continues to refine his craft, serving his own irresistible brand of Italian food, that remains hearty and homey despite the use of refined technique. Try to score seats at the chef's counter and don't miss the exceptional wine list, curated by award-winning sommelier Shelley Lindgren.

Mourad Lahlou continues to redefine Moroccan cuisine in the California vernacular: from the must-order bisteeya, to sous vide short rib with carrot jam, to Melissa Chou's not-to-be-missed, anything-but-rustic desserts.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

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World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani bakes every kind of pizza imaginable: New York, Roman, Sicilian, and on. His Neapolitan is an award-winner and his on-site pizza school attracts students from across the country. Bonus points for a bustling, friendly atmosphere, including a bar for date nights and booths for grandpa.

Namu Gaji

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The Lee Brothers hit a gold mine when they opened their sophomore effort on Dolores Park, serving the most nuanced, contemporary take on Korean food in town. Menu standouts include the KFC (chicken wings), stonepot rice, okonomiyaki, and dumplings. It's worth going in early for happy hour, the only time gamja fries and Korean tacos are served.

The Alembic

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If you can handle wordy paragraph-long cocktail descriptions and a sometimes-moody FOH, your reward is the Upper Haight’s best kept secret: a haunt for cocktail enthusiasts that serves savory bites warranting a trip on their own merit.

You’ll almost want to sink your teeth into Gitane’s luscious, richly textured interior, but do save yourself for the hyper-regional Andalusian menu. At five courses for $65, the tasting menu is a great deal. If you go a la carte, the off-menu bacon bon bons, scallop with sweetbread and Arroz Vegetariano are all worth ordering.

AQ Restaurant & Bar

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Chef-partner Mark Liberman's inspired flavor combinations—think 'bbq pork' with cornbread, mustard ash and licorice root—join a cocktail program and interior design that are best in their San Francisco class, bringing unprecedented energy and food quality to an unlikely stretch of Mission Street.

Wayfare Tavern

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It’s hard to have a bad time at this frisky FiDi hotspot where solid renditions of Southern and San Francisco classics meet impressive cocktails. Food Network main man Tyler Florence is often in the house, so prepare accordingly.

Bar Agricole

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When it opened, raves about Bar Agricole's gorgeous, cutting-edge design and its killer cocktail program rolled in endlessly. Though opening chef Brandon Jew recently departed, his former sous chef Reina Talanoa has kept standards high. The menu changes nightly, but spaghetti and housemade meat dishes are continual hits.

Tacolicious

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For nights when a casual taqueria won't do, Tacolicoius is the best fancier, sit-down Mexican restaurant option. Its fresh, local takes on traditional tacos, solid margaritas, and stylish atmosphere easily win out over other possibilities like Velvet Cantina and Tia Margarita.

Zaré at Fly Trap

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Chef/owner Hoss Zare defines hospitality. His restaurant is unlike any other in the city with its big, bold, unfamiliar flavors in the historic setting of the Fly Trap

From the training ground for greatness behind their bar, to the always delicious seasonal menu, and friendly service, Range is one of the most consistent restaurants in town.

Perbacco

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Mature and stylish, Perbacco has established itself as one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Owner Umberto Gibin is a presence in the front of house, and chef Staffan Terje continues to surprise with his seasonal and refined Northern Italian fare.

Foreign Cinema

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While the beloved brunch, flickering hearth and nightly movies continue, Gayle Pirie and John Clark are keeping things fresh with new North Africa and Mediterranean menu leanings and a deepened wine program.

Super Duper Burgers

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Although it's lovely that there is Straus milk in the shakes and 100% Niman Ranch beef in the patties, what really matters is taste, and Super Duper's burgers—with their perfect ratio of meat to bread and cheddar cheese—continually rank among the best in the Bay Area.

Flour + Water

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The opening media buzz has died down, but F+W continues to gather lines at 5 p.m. nightly, packing the house with its sophisticated pizzas and pastas served in a lively, casual atmosphere.

Mission Chinese Food

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Try crossing the studied, Sichuan-laced creations of a workhorse young chef with a kickback dive atmosphere, pumped up by ghetto rap and a 60-foot dragon. Now you’ve got the biggest Chinese restaurant adventure in San Francisco.

Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

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Adam Keough has revived this bustling Hayes Valley fixture. Its lively, yet comforting brasserie scene is still on, but now there’s an energized bar food program, and the menu has a new soul.

La Taqueria

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It wouldn’t be San Francisco without The Mission’s squadron of gut-busting taquerias. This one continues to lead the pack with unwavering rave reviews for its sublime, spot-on Mexico staples.

La Ciccia

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Not so much San Francisco Italian, as pure unadulterated regional Italian, this family-run sparkler is free of pretension and full of love. Don’t miss the sea urchin pasta.

Delfina/Pizzeria Delfina

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You can make the argument that no restaurant in the last decade has changed the dining landscape quite like Delfina and its pizzeria offshoot next door.

La Torta Gorda

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When a "hole-in-the-wall" turns out to be a bright family-run stop with outrageously good tortas and super authentic Puebla eats; that's 38 material.

Outerlands

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This surfer-chic Outer Sunset haunt looks like it belongs in the pages of Dwell. The bread, made in the Tartine style, is worth the trip alone, but don't overlook chef Brett Cooper's phenomenal soups or his inspired use of farm fresh produce in almost every entree on the menu.

Zuni Cafe

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Besides "the" chicken, Zuni's burger, Caesar salad and bloody Mary have all been called the best in the city.

Izakaya Sozai

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Izakaya Sozai did the izakaya thing before izakayas were a thing, and it continues to deliver one of San Francisco's most superb ramen, uni, (seasonal) shirako, and friendly service with prices that won't rock your bank account.

Bar Crudo

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In our age of open kitchens, there's something to be said for the aeriel view you can get here. More importantly, the creative crudo spins, addictive clam chowder and airy atmosphere are always enlivening.

Long-time Thomas Keller protege Corey Lee opened Benu, and it swiftly became the must-try San Francisco restaurant for food lovers across the world. Lee masterfully blends myriad influences into a cuisine that transcends cultural boundaries, and sommelier Yoon Ha's insane pairing suggestions take the entire experience to the next level.

State Bird Provisions

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San Franciscans endure three-hour long waits to eat State Bird Provisions whimsically Californian, dim-sum-minded menu. Whether it's savory pancakes stacked with local cheese, eggplant "fries," or a new take on tofu skin, the flavor profiles are always eye-opening, making State Bird one of the most exciting restaurants in town, if not the country.

Yank Sing

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It's expensive for dim sum, but you pay for what you get at Yank Sing. Here, flavors are cleaner than you'll find anywhere else, and the xiao long bao and custard tarts are exemplary.

Cotogna

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They had us at housemade ricotta. Then the warmth of the flickering hearth in the kitchen, great service, an innovative $40 fixed price wine program, and Michael Tusk's pasta throwbacks from the old Quince days (Saffron chittara with clams, anyone?) make Cotogna an easy E38 pick.

Swan Oyster Depot

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Open only for lunch, Polk Street’s old school joint still churns out the best crab, oysters and sourdough in town.

Leopold's

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At Leopold's, you can get a two-liter beer in a boot-shaped stein, but the restaurant also excels where other German restaurants don't. Owners Klaus and Albert Rainer offer service that's warm as the goulash, and potentially clunky menu items like weinerschnitzel and strudel are nuanced and delicious.

Tucked away in a random Financial District alley, Bix is a restaurant like no other in the city. Live jazz hums in the corner, classic cocktails flow at the bar, and the high-ceilinged, two-tiered dining room is alive and popping every night.

Nopa

Both neighborhood standby and destination restaurant, Nopa continues to grow admirably under Chef Jossel. Honorable mention to its little Mexican sis, Nopalito.

Frances

James Beard-beloved chef Melissa Perello has given us Frances, an easy-going, timeless neighborhood nook, serving hearty, yet nuanced seasonal dinners. Always begin with her bacon beignets, and finish with a slice of rich, apple-filled lumberjack cake.

Lers Ros Thai

Sure Lers Ros is the only authentic Thai restaurant with rabbit, frog and venison on its regular menu, but even the pad Thai rivals the best you'll find anywhere in Thailand.

Bar Tartine

Though it opened in 2006, the restaurant from the Tartine Bakery people continues to reinvent itself. Thanks to Nick Balla's ahead-of-the-curve Eastern European menus, this rustic neighborhood staple continues to be one of the hottest reservations in town. A shout is also in order for the new adjacent sandwich shop, touting irresistible smørrebrød during the lunch hour.