It’s already been a tough year for restaurants and bars. But if recent days have taught us anything, it’s that SF establishments are resilient and resourceful - they’ve been pivoting, popping up, collaborating, and banding together to support their communities since the shutdown first hit back in March.
Supporting these spots is more important than ever, which is why we’ve brought back The Hit List - our guide to the best new food and drink experiences in SF. We track new openings across the city, and then visit as many as we can. While the Hit List is by no means an exhaustive list of every good new spot, one thing you can always rely on is that we’ll only include places that we have genuinely checked out.
Our goal is for this list to be as diverse as the city itself - inclusive of a wide range of cuisines, price points, neighborhoods, chefs and owners of all backgrounds, and the multifaceted communities within the industry. If you think we missed a great new place, we want to hear about it. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you’re interested in The Best Things We Ate This Week, we’ve got that, too.
New to the Hit List (4/1): Santeria, Sunset Squares.
“Much like melatonin pills and my roommate’s portable space heater, the pizzas from this SoMa spot have really been there for me over the past year. Their thick, chewy sourdough crust and pepperoni cups are just what I crave whenever I’m in need of a serious comfort meal. I’m a big fan of their square pepperoni pizza, which comes topped with excellent tomato sauce, mozzarella, and globs of creamy ricotta. But they also have really great Chicago tavern-style pizzas with thin crusts, like one with honey butter, garlic confit, potato, and leeks. The range of unconventional pizza toppings here are also possibly-controversial conversation starters - you can get an entire beef rib, pork belly and kimchi, and even mapo tofu. Choose your own adventure - just know that whatever you order will probably convert you into a Sunset Squares regular.” - JC
“Santería calls themselves a margarita bar, but their extensive cocktail menu also includes everything from sangria and frosé to mezcal on the rocks. On my first visit to their outdoor parklet, I was so impressed by their never-ending cocktail list - choosing one was hard, but I settled on the Girl de Polanco and never looked back. Drinks aside, though, I’d go back to this Castro spot just for the perfectly-charred octopus al pastor with caramelized pineapple and beet-dyed tortillas. Next time I want to grab a drink with someone at a place that also has good food, you’ll find me here.” - JC
“Billingsgate is a fantastic new seafood market and cafe from the team behind Four Star Seafood, a wholesale seafood company in SF. Along with a raw bar, their menu has a ton of prepared dishes that highlight their excellent seafood, like clam chowder and octopus carpaccio, as well as seafood salads that you can get on top of brioche or butter lettuce. The dish I still daydream about daily, though, is the kampachi crudo - thin slices of yellowtail that are bathed in olive oil and topped with serrano peppers, bits of pomelo, and tarragon. Another must-order: the smoked salmon with creme fraiche, pickled onions, and capers on top of a thick, buttery slab of griddled brioche. Note that Billingsgate is currently only taking walk-up orders to go.” - Julia Chen, SF Staff Writer
“On my never-ending, Very Important Quest to try every single xiao long bao in San Francisco, I recently checked out Dumpling Home - and they did not disappoint. The juicy, soft pork filling and delicate, chewy skin on the soup dumplings were absolutely fantastic. And if the promise of perfect soup dumplings isn’t enough for you to clear your schedule for the night and immediately head toward Hayes Valley, the rest of the menu is incredible, as well. Exhibit A: the shengjianbao - soup-filled, pan-fried dumplings with satisfyingly crunchy bottoms. Every dish I tried, from the green veggie dumplings to the sticky, sweet dry-fried chicken wings, raised the bar for the next. Refraining from ordering the entire menu was a massive exercise in self-control - but all the more reason I’ll probably come back next week.” - JC
“Pizza, in all its carby, portable glory, is nicely suited for the takeout-heavy era we’re in right now. So the amount of new pizza spots popping up all over the city doesn’t surprise me. And Damnfine, which specializes in wood-fired pies with crispy, chewy crusts, has risen right to the top of my weekly takeout rotation. The Outer Sunset restaurant has a bunch of different pizzas to choose from, like one topped with an earthy mix of five different mushrooms, and another with purple potatoes, pesto, and pancetta. Plus, they make a mean margherita - which is even better with a drizzle of their hot honey and ranch.” - JC
“Before the Year That Must Not Be Named, Early to Rise was a pop-up that served family-style, 50-person brunches around a massive communal table. Now, because of, well, everything, they’ve pivoted to a weekend-only takeout operation out of their brick-and-mortar spot in Nob Hill - for which I am very grateful. I’ve had a lot of bagels recently, but Early to Rise makes one of the best I’ve had in SF. It’s well-seasoned and chewy, with a really solid crunch on the outside. You can pre-order a bagel kit with their wonderful house-made lox, or walk up to order a bagel sandwich. Either way, be sure to also snag a couple of made-to-order donuts with weekly-changing flavors, like earl grey and maple bacon with spiced apple filling.” - JC
“One of the many reasons I love this city: you could spin around 15 times, blindfolded, then point a finger at a map of San Francisco and it’d land near a great dumpling spot. And joining the roster of excellent ones is United Dumplings in Bernal Heights. Their hand-folded dumplings - from plump little xiao long bao and pork and Napa cabbage to chicken, sweet corn, and mozzarella - are delicious. Don’t leave without also ordering their garlicky string beans and sautéed pea shoots, which are worth a return trip on their own.” - JC
“Hetchy’s Hots, the takeout-only restaurant from the Square Pie Guys, was one of the first pivots of the quarantine era - and is still one of my favorite new takeout spots. At Hetchy’s, the Detroit-style pizza purveyors are also making Nashville fried chicken sandwiches - which are also some of my favorite things to eat. The first time I ordered and opened the box, my jaw essentially dislocated from its socket. Inside, the golden-brown chicken thigh touched all four corners of the box, and was stacked with red peppers and a thick lemon aioli. Since my initial rendezvous with this massive chicken sandwich, Hetchy’s has made them even hotter and expanded their offerings - you can now build your own sandwich and choose from a variety of spices, sauces, and toppings.” - Lani Conway, Senior Editor
“In a year dominated by pop-ups, there have been a near-overwhelming amount to keep track of in SF. But Intu-on, an Isaan Thai pop-up operating out of Birba in Hayes Valley, was at the top of my Must-Try List for a while, mainly because it’s run by Intu-on Kornnawong, who used to work at Kin Khao and Night + Market (one of my favorite spots when I lived in LA). I finally got to stop by right before SF shut down outdoor dining, and it did not disappoint. Every bite was like a funky, spicy firework of a flavor bomb going off in my mouth, bursting with texture and heat. The dish I fell in love with the most, though, was the shrimp toast: a thick slice of milk bread topped with pork and shrimp mousse and tangy pickled chiles that disappeared from the table quicker than I can say “tangy pickled chiles” 10 times fast. I haven’t stopped thinking about this meal, so I’ll most likely be back next week - or as soon as my nose stops running.” - JC
“I could tell you in a heartbeat which sandwich I was obsessing over around my birthday (it was the katsu sandwich from Cafe Okawari), or when I moved into my current apartment in August (Italian American hoagie, Palm City). But my fondest sandwich-associated memory revolves around Lucinda’s Deli & More. I tried it back in mid-October, the peak of SF’s late summer weather. Two of my best friends and I stopped by for lunch on our way home from a beautiful hike at Mount Tam, and grabbed a Baja turkey, a spicy tuna melt, and a hot ham with aged cheddar pimento and garlic confit mayo. We ate them in the sun in Alamo Square, enjoying each other’s company while biting into the crunchy, ridiculously soft rolls, and momentarily forgetting about the horrid state of the world. All this to say, Lucinda’s has a special place in my heart - not only because they’re making absolutely fantastic sandwiches, but because they remind me of one of the sweeter days from the year.” - JC
“If there’s one thing I’m hesitant to order to-go, it’s pasta. The prospect of my tagliatelle bolognese gelling together or getting mushy and cold in a takeout container on the way home is enough to make me avoid the risk altogether. Which is why I’m thankful for places like Flour + Water Pasta Shop. The takeout-focused outpost of Flour + Water sells sandwiches, salads, and dried pasta and sauces - and DIY meal kits for whenever the need for a steaming plate of pasta, fresh out of the pot, hits. They have the same incredible handmade pasta that makes Flour + Water one of the most special restaurants in the city, prepped and ready for you to finish at home (and eat right away). The pasta kits changes seasonally, but expect to see things like corn cappelletti, agnolotti dal plin, or autumn squash tortelloni.” - JC
“Out of sheer curiosity, I recently Ctrl-F-ed ‘hot dog’ in my Slack DMs with SF Editor Lani Conway, and came up with 23 results from the last six months. I guess we were really craving hot dogs - maybe because this summer was long and involved considerably fewer baseball games and barbecues than usual. So it felt like some higher power had hacked our Slack conversations when Quik Dog opened up in the Mission. The new casual, takeout-friendly concept from the Trick Dog team nails every element that makes a hot dog great: slightly-toasted bun, juicy, perfectly cooked meat (chuck and brisket, in the case of the titular Quik Dog), and excellent toppings. I especially loved the Mission Dog, topped with bacon, sauteed onion, and jalapeño spread. And while you should definitely order a hot dog when you’re there (if you’ve made it this far, you must be craving one by now), don’t pass on the chicken nuggets: crispy little pieces of thigh meat, which are even better doused in a side of Quik Dog’s sweet, house-made honey mustard.” - JC
“My family had a trip to Hawaii planned this summer, which was canceled for obvious reasons. And ever since, my body has tried to tell me I’m long overdue for a plate lunch by waking me up in the middle of the night with an inexplicable craving for macaroni salad. The options for Hawaiian food in SF are slim - or at least they were, until Unco Frank’s started popping up at The Devil’s Acre. The pop-up has come to my mac-salad-deprived rescue, a saving grace in a year full of disappointments. If it’s on the menu, get Da Plate: a massive serving of juicy, smoky kalua pork, perfectly-fried salt and pepper chicken karaage, furikake rice, and, yes, the mac salad that my subconscious had been wishing for all along. And since I won’t be hopping on a plane any time soon, I’m forever grateful that Unco Frank’s is in town to fulfill all of my plate lunch needs.” - JC
“The pandemic has forced many restaurants to focus on takeout-friendly items, so it’s only natural that sandwiches - in all their bread-y, portable glory - would have a real moment. And in the Year Of The Sandwich, Palm City, a new wine shop in the Sunset, is making one of the biggest (and best) in the city. It’s the Italian American hoagie, overflowing with mortadella, salami, mozzarella, onion, arugula, parmesan, and a layer of ’nduja mayo. The hoagie is the approximate length of an extra long chopstick or a small newborn baby, and biting into one just so happens to taste like what watching a baby using chopsticks feels like: pure joy. Palm City also has an extensive selection of snacks, salads, wine, and beer, which makes it the perfect pre-picnic stop. Don’t be surprised if you find me at Golden Gate Park, finishing off the hoagie and their spicy garlic cheese spread in ten minutes flat.” - JC
“I missed my chance to try Hotbird, the Nashville hot chicken sandwich spot, when they were a staple at Oakland First Fridays and Off the Grid at the Presidio. So when I heard they opened a temporary space in the Twitter building food hall while their brick-and-mortar restaurant (also located in the same building) is under construction, I hurried over. After devouring their titular Hotbird, I’m happy to report that this sandwich is a master class in the art of doing one thing great. Like, Jordan Peele great. I chose medium out of five heat levels, which had a fiery kick but not in a, “Help, please send milk” sort of way, as well as dill pickles, a tangy aioli, and a light, buttery bun. It’s a perfect sandwich.” - LC
“My first time ordering from Lily, a new Vietnamese spot in the Richmond, I was stressed out - in a good way. Everything on the menu sounded incredible, so I spent the better part of an hour rereading it, unsure of how exactly to narrow down my choices. A few coin flips later, I was on my way, and issuing a mental apology to the dishes I’d passed on. (Don’t worry, op la breakfast banh mi, I’ll be back for you soon.) But once I took my first bite of the duck chao, I knew I’d made the right decision. The warm bowl of rice porridge was topped with pomegranate seeds, cilantro, scallions, and its crown jewel: a beautiful, slow-cooked leg of duck I could pull apart with a spoon. I also tried the French dip pho bo banh mi, a behemoth of a sandwich with five-spice roast beef, pate, hoisin, and shallot mayo, and a side of pho au jus I drank every last bit of. Both dishes were delicious and jam-packed with flavor - and I’ll be back very, very soon to methodically work my way through the rest of the menu.” - JC
“Komaaj opened in 2015 as a pop-up, and this year they launched a new takeout spot out of The Laundry, an art gallery and events space in the Mission - and I’m glad they did. They specialize in dishes from Gilan, a province along the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran. And each one is packed with so many kinds of nuts, herbs, and spices that take my taste buds on a roller coaster ride that only goes up. Case in point: the kuku sabzi, a spongy, herb-y green frittata leveled up with a dollop of rich sumac labneh, or the Persian cucumber salad with barberries, radishes, and dalar, a fermented herb paste loaded with mint, cilantro, and savory. But the dish that really showcased an unbelievable balance of flavor was the sumac-roasted chickpeas dunked in a sweet walnut, herb, and pomegranate molasses stew (there’s a slightly sour version of the stew with a savory chicken thigh and drumstick, which you should also get). If you want to know more about the ingredients used at Komaaj and in Northern Iranian cooking, I highly recommend following their Instagram.” - LC
“This year, I learned I have specific takeout moods. The place I order from when I need something to eat while I binge The Queen’s Gambit for the fifth time (hi, Zachary’s) is different from the one I call on date night (love you, Nopa). And when it’s been a long day and all I want is to bury myself under a weighted blanket, Herbal, a Burmese restaurant in the Tenderloin, is my go-to spot. Their massive lamb shank - which barely fits in the takeout container - is tender, saucy, and the edible equivalent of cozy little toast-shaped hand-warmers. Every bite of sweet mango and pork stew feels like sinking into a warm bubble bath. And nothing gets me relaxed like the smell of the curry from their excellent chicken potato masala wafting through my apartment.” - JC
“One thing you need to know about Astranda Bakery - they sell out of their coffee cinnamon rolls quickly. So it was by some stroke of luck that I was able to score the very last one at Oakland’s Magnolia Mini Mart. When I opened the box, my jaw dropped at the sight of it: a fluffy, soft roll layered with brown sugar cinnamon paste and a sticky coffee-caramel sauce, and bathed in a smooth, drippy, coffee-flavored frosting that I would like to take shots of before I work out. Simply put, it’s a cinnamon roll done perfectly. Since you should absolutely do your best to get your hands on one, you’ll want to stand at the ready when pre-orders open on Saturdays at 8am (check Instagram for updates). Owner Eric Chow will deliver the cinnamon rolls in SF on Fridays. But if you’d rather take your chances, walk up to Excelsior Coffee or Magnolia Mini Mart on Thursdays and Saturdays to order (get there early).” - JC
“I’m a sucker for wasting away my Sundays on a sunny patch of grass, so I was pretty excited that Nopalito’s new to-go window opened just steps from Dolores Park. But location aside, what also makes the window so great is they have exclusive menu items you can’t get at their Broderick location (sadly, their spot in the Sunset closed in June). There’s a colorful chicken and rice bowl and Bi-Rite soft serve topped with things like polvorones and palanquetas. But what keeps me coming back are the totopos con carnitas. The dish easily ranks in the top three of my favorite power combos of 2020 - totopos topped with a generous heap of Nopalito’s excellent tender, crispy carnitas, and crema, onions, cilantro, and shaved cotija. Everything is decadent, delicious, and perfect for an afternoon of people-watching and [REDACTED] at Dolores.” - JC
“Anyone I know will tell you that I have terrible reflexes. I’m bad at every sport imaginable, and if you throw something at me, be prepared for it to hit the floor. But when I tried to order a cheesecake from Basuku, I learned that I’m pretty damn good at furiously hitting the refresh button on a Tock page… which counts for something, right? They usually sell out in under a minute - so I’m glad my reflexes came through for once, because the thick, creamy, Basque cheesecake was something else. It’s super rich, with a sweet, caramel-y exterior and a jiggly inside that melted in my mouth. I’m also sure each bite released unprecedented levels of serotonin in my brain, something I want every person who’s reading this to experience, too. You’ll need to be quick to get one, but if I can do it, anything’s possible.” - JC
“Routier is a new casual French restaurant in Pacific Heights co-owned by b. Patisserie’s Belinda Leong. So, based solely on her incredible kouign-amann and financiers, I had high expectations when I ordered the Formule Routier - a $39, three-course prix fixe dinner that comes with an appetizer, main, and dessert. The edition I got included a rillettes de volaille, a petrale sole with mustard sauce and a rich potato puree, and an amazing buttermilk panna cotta topped with persimmon strips and pomegranate seeds. The dinner was incredible, and made me feel like I was celebrating a special occasion. Other things that make Routier special are the a la carte options, like a game-changing chicken liver mousse with a chunky sweet red currant compote, and one of the most tender beef cheeks I’ve had.” - LC
“I fully credit Pie Society with my recent transformation into a “pie person.” The pop-up, run by Angela Pinkerton (a previous pastry chef at Che Fico), is churning out incredible pies in SF and the East Bay every week. And ever since I tasted my first Pinkerton pie, I’ve been on somewhat of a pie bender, trying as many as I can from spots around the Bay. But hers are my favorites, with fresh, seasonal fillings that catapult my happy little taste buds to another dimension. I’ve had two pies so far: pluot raspberry with a brown butter shortbread crumble, and a tiny key lime pie that fit in the palm of my hand, both of which made my days 200% better. So trust me when I say that anything you order is bound to be fantastic. Just plan ahead since it’s pre-orders only.” - JC