Superstar chefs Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, and Paul Bertolli have put the San Francisco Bay Area on the top shelf of international cuisine -- which means the locals have developed a keen set of taste buds. So we asked San Francisco–based contributing editor JACK BOULWARE to spill the beans (no pun intended) on some of his favorite eateries.
KNOW WHERE TO EAT
RUDY’S CAN’T FAIL CAFE
This little diner -- which once fed pancakes to Emeryville’s hard-hat workers -- still maintains its blue-collar roots, despite the fact that Pixar has since moved into the neighborhood. Breakfasts here are excellent, and they’re served all day long. 4081 Hollis Street, Emeryville
You’ll find the best coffee in the city here; it’s made one cup at a time. Sure, you could reverse engineer their two exotic cardamom blends and then try to make them yourself at home. Or, you could just drop by one of their locations and leave it to the masters.
3101 24th Street
RED’S JAVA HOUSE
This little shack on the pier has been open since 1923, and it mostly serves the cheeseburger-and-Budweiser lunch special. At least, that’s all I ever order -- well, that and the doughnuts. Regulars include seagulls and Anthony Bourdain, who reportedly drops by whenever he’s in town.
PAPALOTE MEXICAN GRILL
San Francisco is the city that reinvented the burrito, turning it into a massive meal-in-a-log, and this place offers the best one in town. The chicken mole is excellent, the seafood is sautéed in white wine and butter, and you can take home a jar of their homemade salsa.
3409 24th Street
Northern California boasts one of the largest populations of Hawaiians on the mainland. Three homesick natives founded this small chain, and it’s a perfect lunch stop. They have plate lunches, loco moco, Hukilau beef-teriyaki sandwiches, chicken katsu, and the best ahi poke outside the islands. On weekends, there’s live Hawaiian music.
5 Masonic Avenue,
It’s boom time for inexpensive Indian restaurants in the city. Avoid the chains, though. This one-off is by far the best, with family-style curries, naan, and tandoori cuisine that will make you sweat in a good way.
511 Jones Street
Getting a table at this Richmond District place can be hard to do, because it’s always busy -- but it’s worth trying for. Everything on the menu is great, including the vegetarian SuperStar Noodles, the stir-fried beef or chicken with mango, and the Tea Leaf Salad, made with imported Burmese tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, dried shrimp, fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and split yellow peas.
309 Clement Street
Going to the Glen Park neighborhood for pizza may mean making a long haul, but this isn’t your regular pie. Chef/owner Sharon Ardiana has dreamed up her own thin-crust, Neapolitan-style recipes, so the pizzas are topped with everything from portobellos and butternut squash to fresh cheeses, meatballs, house-made sausage, and wild nettle.
2842 Diamond Street
Welcome to a country-style, neo-soul-food restaurant that relies mainly on local African-American farmers for its organic foods and beverages. Sit at the bar and sip a classic mint julep, a pear brandy sidecar, or a blood-orange Bellini.
25 Mason Street