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NOTNew bars and restaurants in San Francisco are opening at a blistering pace lately; it’s a welcome sign of activity after what seemed like months at a standstill. But many of our neighborhood restaurants, some of which have been around for decades, while others are still fresh in the game, remain the unsung heroes of the last eighteen months or so.
To pay tribute to these institutions, here are five favorites to discover, spend (and give) generously this weekend… and the many Saturdays and Sundays that follow.
Eight tables at China Live
Since opening in 2017, Eight Tables – literally eight tables spaced out in a bright, apartment-like space above China Live – has been a one-of-a-kind fine-dining Chinese restaurant, unparalleled in the country, really. Start (or end) the evening with a cocktail or a drink at the blade runner– encounter – the Shanghai atmosphere of the Cold Drinks bar on the same floor.
The cuisine remains deeply Chinese; the new menu contains a number of highlights, including an aromatic Liu Jipu chicken in a jade and pearl bowl, fermented rice or spring lamb omakase with lamb in several forms, including including a delicious sausage. The wine pairings shine, as do Cindy Liu’s elegant cocktails.
// 644 Broadway (Chinatown), More information.
Book ahead because Shizen, a vegan favorite since 2015, is perpetually full, even on weeknights. Offering a range of vegan Japanese dishes, from ramen to tempura, it’s their vegan sushi, multi-layered and perfected in flavor and texture, that makes even a Japan, seafood and sushi enthusiast like me appreciate its nuance. (Am I going to stop eating fish? No way. But when I dine in Shizen, I don’t miss it. Same goes for the meat, especially when they nail specialties like tantanmen noodles mixed with Hong Kong’s impressive Omnipork , the best pork substitute yet.)
Omnipork also shines in the stellar Singing Telegram maki (sushi roll), filled with asparagus and avocado, topped with strips of Omnipork, marinated pineapple and fried kale in a teriyaki miso drizzle. House favorite rolls like Colonel’s Pipe surprise with a delicate layer of smoked beets, cashews, creamy tofu, asparagus and avocado, spiced up with sweet mustard and orange zest. The texture of this tomato nigiri is a draw in itself, mimicking tuna with the acidic shine of tomato.
// 370 14th Street (Mission Dolores), More information.
Thanks to founder and sommelier Paul Einbund, The Morris has long been a destination not only for wine, but also for rare and vintage spirits as well as fortified wines, particularly Chartreuse, Genepi, Madeira and Amari. Add to that chef Gavin Schmidt’s house charcuterie (like a perfect rabbit terrine) and their cozy outdoor terrace (indoor dining is making a comeback) and you’ve got a neighborhood destination since 2016. All the while sipping rare genepi from France and Italy, you can dine on Schmidt’s signature duck or changing seasonal dishes, like butter-seared lingcod with grilled peaches, zucchini and kimchi.
Don’t forget the Chartreuse (historic French herbal liqueur made by monks) offerings like Green Chartreuse on tap, in a hot or cold cappuccino, or in their now-iconic towering Chartreuse.
// 2501 Mariposa Street (Mission District), More information.
Quickly converting the old Dobb’s Ferry into an Afterwork Bar and opening July 8, how could Adriano Paganini’s/Back of the House, Inc. (BoH) not be a hit? And it’s right on the doorstep. Every table is full and people are waiting for a seat even on weekday evenings, as is their restaurant A Mano down the street. It’s starting to look like a Hayes Valley takeover. But when you’re essentially providing a second location of BoH’s favorite fried chicken The Bird and local burger chain Super Duper Burgers, housed in one space with crushable cocktails, beer, Boilermakers and wine, what do you were you expecting?
You can also grab takeout food from a separate takeout display case. But if you can snag a table, it’s fun to get the whole spread — plus decadent “fully loaded” tater tots — side-by-side with drinks like a balanced Blackberry Smash (bourbon, blackberry, lemon, lavender) or lush-but -Rum Coco not too sweet, coconut, cinnamon, banana, falernum, lime.
// 409 Gough Street (Hayes Valley), More information.
Flour + Water
Flour + Water has been an SF favorite since 2009, though from day one Thomas McNaughton’s pasta (calling on his trained days in Bologna, which is the pasta mecca of Emilia-Romagna in Italy) has always had me drawn to their pizza. With executive chef/partner Ryan Pollnow also on board for years now, the pastas and entrees remain highlights – and have been a godsend on some pandemic nights when I’ve been missing more upscale dishes. New additions include saffron pasta creste di gallo in a chicken sausage ragout topped with roasted rutabaga, capers and black pepper, or kanpachi crudo sprinkled with avocado, fennel, star ruby grapefruit, white guava and tarragon oil.
Even an ubiquitous roasted beet “salad” is interesting with marinated mandarinquat, yuzu ricotta, roasted pistachios and mint.
// 2401 Harrison Street (Mission District), More information.
Bonus Pick: Amber India
As a local, it can be easy to take Amber India for granted — and not just because it’s in the still-struggling neighborhood of Union Square. Having been around for so long and as a local chain (with only 4 locations), it can be easy to forget that each Amber India has a different chef and menu items – and that Amber has a heritage of over 25 years in the Bay, credited with popularizing butter chicken, first at its Mountain View location in 1994 (moved to Los Altos), then SF, San Jose, and now also a cafe in Milpitas.
Chef Hitesh Gautam has been around for just under three years, leading kitchens around the world with his passion for the ancient holistic science of Ayurvedic cooking. Its menu features gems like vegetarian palak chaat, a snack of organic fried baby spinach sprinkled with yogurt, tamarind relish and pomegranate, or Dal Amber: organic black lentils, slowly simmered for 32 hours with creamed tomatoes. and butter. Australian Rose Chutney Glazed Lamb Chops are tasty candies sprinkled with crumbled pistachios. The Indian bread shines, and whatever you do, don’t miss one of their biryani rice dishes cooked inside a pastry shell.
// 25 Yerba Buena route (Yerba Buena), More information.