AGU 2016 restaurant recommendations

Due to a flood of requests (ok, one, from Amy Clement) I’m providing an update of my restaurant recommendations for AGU. Last time I mentioned that prices are up. The big update for this year is that prices are up, again, in a big way. Options are terrific, but bring your piggy bank. It can also be extremely hard to get into the more interesting restaurants. So for me, the restaurant scene really epitomizes the Bay Area: yes, you can find great, cheap stuff … but a lot of the really excellent options are far too expensive and crowded.

New stuff in bold; personal favorites in ALL CAPS. Note: I’ve been to a *lot* of these places, but not all. In particular, I’ve not been to any of the ridiculously expensive places, so these recs are from reading other reviews and guides, and wishful thinking.

In general, the idea is to suggest places that are within walking distance of Moscone, or that could be reached fairly easily via public transport (i.e. the Mission). There are a couple of exceptions, and I added an East Bay section, but I haven’t covered much in the Marina, Richmond, Sunset, etc. If you’re headed to those areas, let me know (places like A16, Aziza, Outerlands, Spruce, Nopalito, Hong Kong Lounge II, Pizzetta 211, Marla Bakery, Le Marais Bakery come to mind).

First, some interesting new joints:

In Situ. A unique concept, by Cory Lee, in the vastly expanded, super-sweet, Snøhetta-designed SFMOMA: recreate the greatest dishes from some of the greatest restaurants. If you want to try something new, weird, delicious and a five-minute walk from Moscone, this is for you!

Liholiho Yacht Club. Sort of Hawaiian, sort of California.

The Morris. Replacement for beloved Slow Club. Not close to Moscone, but worth a trek. Attracts food industry and wine geeks.

Trestle. As close as you will come to a reasonably-priced fine dining experience in SF.

Mister Jiu’s. High end Chinese, in Chinatown.

Flatiron Wines. Sort of an odd pick, I know, but in a land of many great wine shops, Flatiron Wines is stunning. They have excellent, and cheap, wine tastings many nights during the week.


  • AKIKO’S. Sushi. A mere block from the Nature office! Tiny, super high quality.
  • City View. Dim sum; cheaper than Yank Sing; not as good; fine for groups.
  • M.Y. China. Ok, it’s in a mall, but it’s delicious and close to Moscone.
  • Yank Sing. Dim sum; expensive and worth it.
  • Z&Y. Szechuan; now with a Bib Gourmand.


  • B Patisserie. Bit of a trek; best kouign amann I’ve ever had.
  • Craftsman and Wolves. A modernist bakery.
  • Mr Holmes Bakeshop. Not too bad a walk if you’re in a Union Square/Tenderloin hotel. Hot with the Instagram crowd, but darn tasty.
  • NEIGHBOR BAKEHOUSE. My favorite bakery in SF. Oh how I love this bakery. I recommend you blow off an entire morning and gorge yourself as needed. Note that the fibers in the ginger pull-aparts are grated ginger, not human hairs. Should your fortitude wane prior to exhausting the available delights, meander to the nearby Museum of Craft and Design to digest for a while; then return. Maybe wash things down with a pint at Smokestack, or get a jolt at Piccino Coffee Bar. Should you pass out and wake up ravenous, top things off with some excellent ice cream at Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous. Yeah, if I lived in the city, it’d be here, in Dogpatch.
  • Tartine. Certainly the most famous bakery in SF, and for good reason. Almond croissants the size of small hedgehogs.
  • Tout Sweet. I’m not a huge fan, as I find their stuff too pretty and too sweet. But if you’d like a view of Union Square, this is a good option. Located inside Macy’s, upstairs.

Burgers, meaty stuff

  • Cockscomb. Recommendation from Kevin Anchukaitis; run by Chris Cosentino of the late, great Incanto.
  • MARLOWE. Spendy burgers; old-timey atmosphere. If you like this, check out Park Tavern in North Beach or The Cavalier close to Moscone, from the same group.
  • Super Duper. Chain; like a West Coast Shake Shack.

Burritos (cheap eats)


  • Delfina. Calital/pizza. Strong pastas.
  • Foreign Cinema. Suggestion from Amelia Shevenell; try for brunch.
  • Range. Calital. Closing at the end of December, so this is your last chance to try.
  • ZUNI. Chef Judy Rogers passed away, but it’s the same quality. For a party of four, I recommend you order a chicken as soon as you sit down, then order a few apps to fill the 45-minute wait.


We have a ridiculous wealth of great coffee. Look for Blue bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel, Coffee Cultures. A short walk from Moscone, though, is my favorite: SIGHTGLASS on 7th St. Interesting architecture, and they usually carry some stuff from the awesome Neighbor Bakehouse. They also have a shop in SFMOMA, and a new location in the Mission.


  • Darwin Cafe. You can call in your order. Good for salads.
  • DELI BOARD. Epic tastiness. Follow @deliboard on Twitter for horror stories on the neighborhood.
  • Sentinel. I’ve eaten here or at Dennis Leary’s other joints dozens of times. Not a bad sandwich yet. Too bad he closed Canteen!
  • Wise Sons. A Jewish Deli in the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Chocolate Babka. Wonderful entry hall even if, like me, you can’t stand Libeskind’s architecture.


  • City Beer Store. Mostly a bottle shop, but you can drink there.
  • Garaje. If you’re lucky they’ll have something from Fieldwork brewing, my local. Good for tacos and sandwiches too.
  • Hop Water Distribution. Wide tap selection.
  • Hops & Hominy. I like the beer, but have yet to like the food.
  • Mikkeller Bar Good food – loud and crowded.
  • Monk’s Kettle. High prices, great selection of Belgians.
  • Shotwell’s. Over in the Mission but worth a trip.
  • TROU NORMAND. Finest charcuterie in SF, maybe anywhere; excellent cocktails; ouch, the prices.

East Bay (where I live)

In general, the dining scene in the East Bay is less expensive and maybe not as adventurous as in SF. Some of my favorites, should you come over:

  • Ale Industries. What a fine brewery, and nice people. Excellent mix of sours, session beers, and weird stuff. Stock up at the El Novillo taco truck around the corner (carnitas esp).
  • Cheeseboard Pizza. Awesome worker-run cooperative. Also see the cheese shop next door.
  • Chez Panisse. Kind of like Zuni … seasonal, local, simple, etc. I like the upstairs cafe better.
  • Commis. Exotic and not-insultingly-expensive tasting menu.
  • FIELDWORK BREWING. What a great brewery.
  • Great China. Chinese, obviously. World-class Peking Duck.
  • Ippuku. Stellar Japanese izakaya; convenient to UC Berkeley.
  • La Mission. Nothing innovative in this Mexican eatery, but it’s a step above the usual, and the family running it is super-nice. I like the Chile Colorado and Posole.
  • LUSH GELATO. Surely the finest gelato the world has ever seen. Also a branch in SF, but far from from Moscone.
  • RAMEN SHOP. From Chez Panisse alums. Not traditional ramen. Currently my favorite restaurant in the area. Moorish cocktails.
  • Rare Barrel. Sour beer specialists.

French. Or quasi-French, also see the heavily French-y High End section. Almost Italian, in many cases. Or Californian. Whatever.

  • FRANCES. Stellar French-California, house wine is great. Also see sister restaurant Octavia.
  • Michael Minna. The flagship restaurant of Minna’s sprawling empire. The set lunch is *only* $55. I had a great time there, and so did Alicia Newton from Nature Geoscience.
  • Monsieur Benjamin. From the guy who runs Benu; spendy classics.
  • Petit Crenn. The spinoff from Atelier Crenn. Not as ruinously expensive.


High End (preposterously so)

Truly, ridiculously expensive. Dinner for two with wine at Benu or Saison could approach $1000. But it will also be, probably, the experience of a lifetime.

  • Acquerello. Not breaking any amazing new ground, but great.
  • Atelier Crenn. One of the few really high-end restaurants with a female head chef.
  • Benu. Ex-French Laundry chef; Asian influences; minimalist.
  • Coi. Hyper-naturalistic platings; new chef.
  • Lazy Bear. Supper-club style; communal dining; many courses.
  • Saison. Best ingredients anywhere.
  • Quince. Best pasta; probably the best value of the group, but that’s not saying much.

Indian/Pakistani (dives)

  • SHALIMAR. Rude service, smokey, confusing, seriously dodgy neighborhood. Awesome.
  • Pakwan. Biryani Jedis.

Italian (or quasi-Italian), but not ridiculous $$

  • Alta CA. One of several Daniel Patterson-backed joints.
  • Cotogna. From the folks who run wallet-emptying Quince next door.
  • PERBACCO. I really, really like Perbacco. Solid, consistent food. Reasonable wine markups. Barbacco, next door, is also good, from the same owners.
  • Rich Table. Italian, kind of.
  • Salt House. From the Town Hall people; somewhat less $$. Unusual orange wine selection.
  • Tosca. From April Bloomfield. Try it if you like Spotted Pig in NYC or St John in London.

Most challenging flavors

Bar Tartine. New chef; for once, pre-fixe prices went DOWN. Peter Thornton and I loved it; my wife could barely stomach it. Ex-chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns are now running Motze, an interesting sounding pop-up, leaning more Asian than Eastern European.

Only in San Francisco

  • State Bird Provisions. Show up at 5 pm, wait in line, get on list, hopefully get a table for later that night.
  • SWAN OYSTER DEPOT. Get there 20 minutes before opening or prepare to wait. The food is the opposite of fancy, but you will be hard pressed to have a better time at a restaurant in SF.
  • The Progress. From the SBP folks, slightly less impossible to get into.


  • GOLDEN BOY. Focaccia-style; punk rock; excellent even if not drunk.
  • Little Star. Deep dish. We go to their branch in the East Bay all the time.
  • Pizzeria Delfina. Neapolitan; various locations.
  • Tony’s Pizza Napoletano. Top tip: get a slice at Tony’s Slice House across the street and compare to Golden Boy, just a short walk away.
  • Zero Zero. Not amazing, but convenient to Moscone.


  • Farallon. Good for happy hour.
  • Hog Island. The best oysters, from their farm on Tomales Bay (also worth a visit).
  • Waterbar. $1 oysters for happy hour.


Thai (modern)

KIN KHAO. I ate at Kin Khao three times during AAG. Prices are higher after a Michelin star; still amazing (tangy! fermented! blazing hot!); great Riesling selection.


  1. Thank you Michael. The most useful information I have gotten this AGU. I am glad to see Shalimar on your list. I wonder why it is so much better than the other very similar places. I think of the service as brusk rather than rude.

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