SFGuide

The Hit List: New San Francisco Restaurants To Try Right Now

The new spots we checked out—and loved.
rosemary fried chicken on top of french toast with syrup on side

photo credit: Citizen Film

When new restaurants open, we check them out. This means that we subject our stomachs and social lives to the good, the bad, and more often than not, the perfectly fine. And every once in a while, a new spot makes us feel like experiencing the first ray of sunshine after a month of straight fog. When that happens, we add it here, to the Hit List.

The Hit List is where you’ll find all of the best new restaurants in San Francisco. As long as it opened within the past several months and we’re still talking about it, it’s on this guide. The latest addition might be a buzzy omakase counter, a new taqueria, or a Thai spot with food we can't stop talking about. Or maybe it’s even a restaurant with caviar priced by the bump. Keep tabs on the Hit List and you'll always know just which new restaurants you should be eating at right now.

New to the Hit List (5/16): Khao Tiew

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez

Thai

West Portal

$$$$Perfect For:Walk-Ins
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Sleepy West Portal is having a moment thanks to some hot new openings, first with Elena's and now Khao Tiew. Like Elena's, this modern Thai spot is filled most days of the week, mainly with groups of friends packing into the dining room with ‘70s Thai ads and movie posters on the walls. The tom yum seafood hotpot at Khao Tiew is more than enough reason to keep coming back—it’s sour, tangy, just the right amount of creamy, and comes in a mobile hotpot that’s warmed via flame, so it’ll never get cold. And the duck breast panang curry should also get your attention—it’s got tender duck and a thin but still flavorful curry with a zing of kaffir lime. They only take reservations for groups larger than six, but you can add yourself to the waitlist on Yelp before you head over.

photo credit: Citizen FIlm

Minnie Bell’s is serving San Francisco’s best fried chicken. This Emeryville favorite recently made the jump across the Bay and opened a new Fillmore location with the same signature rosemary-spiced fried chicken, mac and cheese, and cornbread.  And everything stacks up to the original, especially the chicken, which somehow manages to have an extra crispy breading and super juicy meat at the same time. Once you dunk it in a side of their hot honey, you’ll realize the other fried chicken in the city never stood a chance.

There aren’t many dedicated Hawaiian spots in the city, so the arrival of Little Aloha is a Big Deal for anyone who has li hing mui running through their veins. The takeout-only spot in Parkside is masterfully filling the niche—garlic shrimp gets fried until crisp, and their pineapple sausage is a revelation smeared with a breath-ruining amount of thick garlic butter sauce. The only acceptable way to round out a trip here is with a well-packed mound of syrup-soaked shave ice, which is the ideal escapism treat when it’s 60 degrees and foggy here.

Bar Jabroni is the intimate, relaxed neighborhood spot that the Lower Haight has desperately needed for years. From the team behind Sunset favorite Palm City, this wine bar with communal seating feels like a dinner party where you can walk in uninvited. The short food menu is all over the place (in a good way), but the best way to enjoy your time is to grab a small bite like the decadent potato gnocchi, and split one bigger dish (like the tender braised wagyu beef cheeks) while you get to know the other couple seated at your table. They don’t take reservations, so make sure to get there before 6pm for the best shot at a short wait—although waiting inside with a glass of wine in your hand might be the best part.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

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Formerly a pop-up and now in a permanent space in Bernal Heights, Komaaj Mazze Wine Bar is your new favorite place to kick back for hours with a glass of chardonnay and marinated olives. Their Northern Iranian dishes nail the sour-sweet-salty trifecta, thanks to a heavy hand with pomegranates, walnuts, and fresh herbs on just about everything. Focus on the Rasht mazze platter, a plate the size of a car wheel loaded with beet yogurt dip, eggplant and walnut dip, pickles, and sticky smoked trout. Or for something a little more filling, go for the chicken stew that pulls right off the bone. 

Elena’s solves our need for a Big Night Out Mexican restaurant with excellent food that doesn’t cost half a month’s rent (sorry, Californios). This upscale West Portal spot is meant for sexy outfits and sipping on spicy margaritas under live trees and candlelight. Every night, big groups gather in large leather booths and belt out laughs that mingle with Latin rock classics—it’s a vibrant, rowdy dinner party you’ll want to stay at until they kick you out. Luckily, the food is just as good as the scene. The pozole is rich, the esquites are brightened up with kicks of lime, and the melty gobernador tacos arrive with a tangy green salsa that we’d love to pour on every dish.

Xiao long bao enthusiasts across SF are familiar with Dumpling Home and their sister spot with an identical menu, Dumpling Story. And while the actual food at this new Mission location of Dumpling Story is just as fantastic as its predecessors, the space is what sets it apart. You’ll bite into shengjianbao from plush green booths, or gnaw on crackly chicken wings under a monkey-shaped chandelier. Basically, this is the vibiest spot for dumplings in the city, and you should come for long group dinners or a second date before heading to a nearby bar in the Mission. They’ll also have a full bar coming soon.

Opened by Mister Jiu’s alums, Four Kings is that rare place that manages to soar above high expectations. ’90s Canto-Pop plays through the speakers and Cantonese film posters line the walls of this wooden oasis that already feels lived in despite only being open since mid-March. Cantonese classics are reimagined, like a dry-aged squab with crispy skin and XO escargot with fluffy milk bread that we now crave daily. Unfortunately, the secret is already out, but they’re open until 11pm, so either wait in the walk-in line for bar seating, incessantly check OpenTable, or simply stop by on the later side for one of the best meals you can get in this city past 9pm.

When the 55-degree forecast (again) has you down, you need comfort by the spoonful. And the newest place to get that is 14 Peaks, a casual spot in the Mission that serves Nepali dishes we’d take over a sputtering space heater any day. The plump momos are well-spiced and juicy. Rich curries will warm you up in no time. And the garlic naan is the fluffiest in town. It’s spacious inside with a bunch of tables, which means you won’t have a problem walking in here. So make any excuse to swing by and bury your weather-related sorrows in chicken korma. 

Early To Rise is a pop-up-turned-restaurant that effortlessly fills NoPa’s nice-casual breakfast niche—literally, because it’s in the old Automat space. Unlike many other brunchy spots in the city, almost everything on the menu at this naturally lit spot is made from scratch, from sugar-dusted donuts and hot sauce to the super-thick, house-smoked bacon. The extra care shows, especially in the standout bagel with lox and the pancakes dressed up with blueberry syrup and crunchy almonds. So next time you find yourself reaching for the dregs of an old Cheerios box on a Sunday morning, make the better choice and settle into one of the cushy booths here instead (but know that the secret’s out, so you should prepare to wait for a table).  

We weren’t expecting much from a taqueria in the Castro—after all, why not just head over a few blocks to the Mission? But we admit when we’re wrong, and we were definitely wrong about this place. Zona Rosa is a casual taqueria (named after the queer district in CDMX) that stands out for its smoky and slow-cooked meats, plus seriously spicy salsa. The interior is small but colorful, with two calavera murals adorning the walls and loud rancheras blaring on speakers. There are no wrong choices, but ordering tacos is the way to go. There are two different styles, but we prefer the El Jefe that’s topped with just cilantro, onion, salsa, and lime. No matter which version you go for, you’ll have a choice of seven meats, but pick the carne asada en chile de arbol for a spicy red salsa journey.

You’ve heard of Z&Y, the institution offering mouth-numbing Sichuan dishes in Chinatown. But their more modern-looking offshoot just across the street, dubbed Z&Y Peking Duck, is a Jackson Street newcomer worth rounding up a group and clearing your calendar for. The titular whole duck (which is $69 and, PSA, must be reserved ahead of time over the phone), is phenomenal. It’s carved to order when you arrive and touches down on your table with all the fixings: housemade hoisin, cucumber, and translucent flour pancakes for wrapping. And the skin, which crunches audibly, is ridiculously light and crackly. The rest of the menu is packed with Chinese dishes that help round out your meal, like plump xiao long bao and dan dan noodles. But you’re mainly here to pack around a table for a big old poultry party. 

The two-hour, $225 tasting menu experience at Kiln is sensory overload, like being front row at a Coachella performance so good you immediately start looking up the act’s next tour date. High tempo punk rock music blasts throughout the Hayes Valley warehouse as the 20 courses hit you in rapid succession. It's all very new-age, industrial-chic fine dining, and we love it because the seasonally changing menu is both surprising and firing on all cylinders. There are creatively constructed dishes like the puffed beef tendon crisp that looks like a cross between a chicharrón and a strand of DNA. Then, you'll get incredibly rich dishes like the broth of smoked trotters with koji oil that you’ll slurp down like a cup of warm jello. You never know what you’re going to get at Kiln, but you will leave knowing that you’ll want to do it all over again.

We were big fans of Marlena, the tasting menu spot that closed earlier this year—so when its former chefs opened 7 Adams, our hypothetical tails started wagging. The Fillmore restaurant feels like Marlena 2.0. There’s a similar five-course menu ($87, which feels like robbery), and it showcases seasonal, frequently changing dishes that are beautiful and mind-bendingly fantastic. The pasta course, perhaps a squash-filled caramelle paired with chanterelles bursting with savory, juicy flavor, will make any other pasta you eat taste sad. Other dishes, from the puffy milk bread starter to the buttery black cod and housemade orange and bay leaf ice cream, are executed to perfection. The dimly lit space, full of teal tones and shiny mushroom lamps, is a romantic setting for any date night when you want fancy without the credit card debt.

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