It’s already been a tough year for restaurants and bars - and then San Francisco recently announced they were shutting down outdoor dining. But if 2020 has 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, well, we’ve got that, too.
“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, SF 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.” - Julia Chen, SF Editorial Assistant
“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
Bun Nha Trang
“My first time picking up takeout from a cloud kitchen was when I ordered from Bun Nha Trang, a Vietnamese restaurant by three brothers inspired by their mom’s recipes. When I pulled up to the unmarked warehouse in SoMa, a line of cars and red tail lights greeted me. I began to mildly panic. “What the f*ck do I do?” My head scratching ended when a friendly man directed me to the side and handed me a paper bag through my driver’s seat window. At home, I unboxed all the tapioca dumplings, pork patty spring rolls, fried onion sticks, and the star of this weeknight dinner - the spicy beef noodle soup with slow-simmered lemongrass broth, meatballs, and pork blood cube. Since then, I’ve thought about the soup a lot, and every time I feel like a slow-burning chili pepper candle (a real thing, I may add) - warm and spicy. I will gladly brave the cars outside the ghost kitchen for dinner here any day.” - LC
“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
“Kin Khao, the popular Thai restaurant, closed in March after the shelter-in-place order took effect. So, in the early days of the pandemic, if you wanted a bowl of their khao soi - the Beyoncé of San Francisco dishes - you were sh*t out of luck. Things changed in September with the arrival of Kin Khao Dogpatch, a casual version of the Union Square original, with a pared-down menu. When I finally reunited with the khao soi, salty, sweet, and spicy flavors sent a laser beam-quick flash of euphoria to my brain. Kin Khao Dogpatch has new offerings, too, like pandan, melon, and mango coconut cream popsicles, pantry items like coconut milk and fish sauce, and, before the recent lockdown, outdoor seating in an airy courtyard.” - LC
“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. 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 even though it made me wish I could enjoy it in their airy dining room with the plush blue velvet seats, eating the takeout at home 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