SFGuide

The SF Hit List: The Best New Restaurants In San Francisco

The new spots we checked out—and loved.

The Hit List is our guide to the best new food and drink experiences in San Francisco. We track new openings, 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 sanfrancisco@theinfatuation.com.

New to the Hit List (5/11): Shuggie's.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Erin Ng

Shuggie's review image

Shuggie’s

$$$$
Hours:THURSDAY05:00PM to 10:00PM

The natural wine bar and pizzeria in the Mission makes grandma-style pies using blemished or surplus vegetables, off cuts of meat, byproducts, and basically any ingredient that would usually end up in the trash. The results are rectangular pies with surprising topping combinations that keep things interesting. The somewhat sweet crust (made from whey and oat flour) with blackened edges might be piled with wilted greens, salmon belly conserva and relish, and pepperoni and ricotta fluff that tastes like whipped cream. These pies can turn into a gooey mess (the crust is super thin), but for pizza this good, we’ll gladly wear a bib any day—especially if it means eating in a dining room that looks like a glam ‘70s fever dream. Think highlighter yellow and green walls, a cheetah mural, a glitter-topped bar, and tassel animal print lamps. This place also has skewered goddess salads, pickles (featuring their Ugly Pickle Co. brand), buffalo chicken wings with a side of crispy livers and hearts, and wine by the bottle and glass. 

You can now get your hands on Mensho Tokyo’s top-notch ramen without waiting in the infamous lines at the Tenderloin location. The new counter-service outpost in the Twitter building is designed for takeout. Everything arrives in separate to-go containers unless you eat at one the few seats at the bar, or you can find a table inside The Market. What makes this casual ramen place a destination worth seeking out is the miso and chicken based broth and housemade noodles. The square noodles are thick and cooked to perfection, and one sip of the rich soup is all it will take to feel soul-curing effects. You have four options: Toripaitan (in original broth or spicy), the G.K.O. that gets its dark color from black garlic oil and charcoal, and a vegan version with local seasonal vegetables. We gravitate toward the spicy Toripaitan, a well-balanced, start-to-finish parade of spices and umami.

We always leave Donaji in a better mood than when we came in. The counter-service Oaxacan restaurant in the Mission has bright turquoise and pink walls, hanging papel picado, and leafy plants lining the space. Add mole-topped totopos and tender tamales to the equation and you might actually physically feel your serotonin levels rise. The sweet and richly spiced pollo con mole decorated with a zigzag of crema should absolutely be on your table. Two thick homemade tortillas come on the side, and the only downside is there aren’t more of them. If you’re not already feeling warm and fuzzy just by being in the colorful dining room and eating their fantastic food, the warm churro donut dipped in melty chocolate sauce will take care of that.

There are seemingly endless options for omakase in SF. Sushi Aoba, a new omakase-only spot on the edge of Japantown, stands out for its calm energy. Over two unhurried hours, you get 21 courses ($195) of precisely-prepared nigiri, silky chawanmushi and lobster tamago, and shrimp cake with a hint of sweetness from the cherry blossom topping. There isn’t a lot of conversation between the chef and the other five or six diners at the bar. Instead, you’ll all watch in comfortable silence as he fires up the perimeter of a plate holding a shell filled with conch, and tops wagyu with delicate gold flakes. The extra-mile presentation isn’t just for show, though. Everything also tastes incredible, from the refreshing kelp-cured sea bream to matcha panna cotta with a just-sweet-enough finish from the brown sugar syrup drizzle. 

Good news for bagel lovers: the former pop-up has finally opened the doors to their brick-and-mortar in NoPa. And the New York-style bagels coming out of it are always chewy, evenly coated on all sides with seasoning, consistently golden-brown, and massive. A simple bagel with schmear and house-cured lox is our go-to, but the menu also includes delicious bagel sandwiches stuffed with caper schmear, eggs and sweet pepper butter, and veggies. Grab a hot coffee to go with it and know that there’s no better way to start your morning.

Sushi Sato looks like the inside of a hotel lobby, with big paintings on the walls and a shiny, fully-stocked bar. But once you sit down and the first nigiri lands on the table, you’ll realize it deserves a permanent spot on your sushi rotation. The Japanese spot in Polk Gulch stands out for its impeccable rice, which practically melts in your mouth with a sweet, vinegar-y finish. It’s the base for their excellent sushi and things like the fatty tuna-uni-truffle bowl, which is as decadent (and delicious) as it sounds. Get here for midweek date nights or group catch-ups, or any time you want to treat yourself to a spread of really wonderful fish.

When the team behind Liholiho Yacht Club opened Good Good Culture Club in the Mission, we fired off about 95 excited Slack messages and immediately started setting our Resy notifications. GGCC is located in the old Dear Inga space, where Liholiho popped up for most of last year. And when we finally sat down to a meal here, the lively dining room, friendly staff, and twists on dishes influenced by the cuisines of Laos, Thailand, and the Philippines (to name a few), only made our initial excitement grow. Inside, you’ll find people sipping on bright blue cocktails and natural wine at the bar and long communal tables, and digging into family-style spreads of things like crying tiger shrimp, and adobo-glazed chicken wings stuffed with garlic sticky rice up on the colorful new rooftop. One thing we’re especially excited to come back for is the “Halo Ha-Lao,” a shisho shaved ice, tapioca, and ube ice cream dessert (and a play on words that’s a nod to the chef’s background). Be sure to get it on your table, then make a mental note to come back here for your next celebratory meal. 

Like Meryl Streep’s range of facial expressions, Automat is extremely versatile. Need to grab a box of pastries or a fresh baguette before a picnic? Check. How about a place to work on your computer for a few hours? It gets the job done. A spot for a casual dinner catch-up with friends? You know the answer. And while you can come here for nearly any occasion, we prefer to get cozy in one of the cushy yellow booths, sip on a cappuccino from an adorable glass cup, and cut into a fluffy horchata donut. But everything that comes out of the bakery/restaurant’s kitchen is incredible, from the fresh loaves of bread and miso blondies to the hot fried chicken sandwich loaded with tangy pickled onions and seaweed aioli we now have a standing lunch date with.

This city loves great Cal-Ital, so we welcome Norcina. The Marina restaurant turns out creative handmade pastas and pillowy Neapolitan pies that are perfectly charred. But the salads, snacks, and large plates aren’t afterthoughts, which is exactly why this spot rises to another level. The toasted little gem with poached egg, boccarrones, and bread crispies is warm and creamy. Impressive-looking pork shanks, chicken milanese, and sausage-stuffed pork snouts come over well-seasoned grains. For dessert, roast your own marshmallows at the table for s’mores. The experience might seem hokey, but it perfectly matches Norcina’s “just hanging out on the beach” aesthetic we’ve also fallen for. 

The galbi at San Ho Won is less of a piece of meat and more of a gateway to epiphany-inducing euphoria. It’s thick, grilled over lychee charcoal, and so tender you could cut each piece with just a spoon. One bite of the double-cut beef short rib will make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about galbi. But getting some transformative BBQ isn’t the only reason to come to this contemporary Korean spot in the Mission. Every dish that hits the table, from the grilled corn with fat squiggles of honey butter to the griddled mandu with a galbi filling that will melt in your mouth, is exceptional. And it’ll also take every ounce of self-control to avoid filling up on banchan alone, like chilled chili tofu and housemade kimchi that leaves a satisfying tingle in your mouth. Before long, you’ll be plotting your next visit with friends so you can all dig into another spread of bubbling kimchi-jjigae, banchan, and, of course, life-changing meat.

The Lower Haight omakase spot run by a Kusakabe alum only has six seats and is $175 per person. But experiencing an incredible meal at the intimate counter that feels like the inside of a friend’s living room is definitely something you should save up for. The eponymous chef Ken will hand you perfect otoro nigiri over the bar while describing exactly where it came from, place a peeled, quartered tomato in dashi broth with meticulous care, and present a bowl of soy-cured ikura swimming in a mixture of ume, sugar, and water to you like it’s a gift. Watching it all across the bar is a treat in itself. If you’re looking for a new sushi spot to try for a birthday or celebration, Ken should be at the top of your list.

Californios imageoverride image
8.9

Californios

$$$$415-757-0994
Hours:THURSDAY5:30PM to 10:00PM

In spring 2021, Californios relocated from the Mission to SoMa, revamped the space (and also added a covered patio), and crafted a whole new menu. Even with all of these changes, this Mexican fine dining restaurant is still something special. The high ceilings and all-black interior make the 16-course meal ($267) feel like you’re at a theater about to watch a performance unfold. It will start with a small booklet outlining the program for the night, which includes a list of local farms that produced each ingredient, down to the honey and mozzarella. The night then moves on to the phenomenal food, from a tlacoyo served with smoked crema to a grilled banana with savory dulce de leche and a scoop of caviar. Given the price point, Californios is definitely a Big Deal Meal, but a night here is unforgettable.

Penny Roma is the fourth Italian spot by the Flour + Water people, so don't be surprised when we tell you that their pasta is fantastic. Unlike Flour + Water, Penny Roma hones in on classic Italian dishes, like tagliatelle bolognese, cacio e pepe, and roasted squash-filled tortellini, plus heartier entrées like chicken al mattone. This spot is also more casual than its sister restaurant, which is why the covered courtyard with plants and string lights always makes us feel like we're on a breezy balcony overlooking the Italian countryside. If you’re looking for a place to unwind on a weeknight over some agnolotti dal plin and a glass of wine, this is it. When you do, make sure at least one of their excellent crudos is on your table, along with the cake-like focaccia, which is perfect for soaking up all of the leftover sauce.

Abacá was one of the most anticipated restaurants of summer 2021. And it lives up to the hype. The fine dining Filipino restaurant is from the minds behind the Pinoy Heritage pop-up, and focuses on flavors from across the Philippines—but with a contemporary, California twist. The results are dishes made with ingredient combinations rarely seen in this town—and every one that hits the table is more surprising than the last. We’re talking delicate yuba that’s folded up like an accordion on a skewer and drizzled with adobo glaze; squash fritters with black garlic, herbs, and a fiery pinakurat vinegar; and a seafood chowder with ginataan as the base (a nod to the restaurant’s Fisherman's Wharf location). And that’s not even half of it. But instead of reading about all the beautiful dishes you can get here, make a reservation and see for yourself.

Chao Pescao is a casual new Cuban-Colombian restaurant, and a literal bright spot in Civic Center—we were drawn in by the punchy teal and yellow signage and greeted inside by even more pops of color. Lively music and laughter echo through the huge space with high walls, all of which sets the stage for when your server returns to say, “Your cocktails are coming; it’s almost time to get the party started”—and you fully believe them. Here the cocktails and food tie all the good energy together, like the perfect tostones and fried Colombian-style empanadas that are brought out on large wooden boards to the sound of oohs and ahhs from everyone at your table. Make sure to follow those up with some large plates of lechon cubano and a Tajín-spiced fried chicken finished with heaps of traditional white rice, black beans, and maduros. Many things on the menu are made for sharing, from the salads and soups to the house specials, and you should. Chao Pescao knows how to ensure you and your friends eat well and have a great time, and that’s exactly why we love it here.

There’s a new Big Night Out restaurant in town: Nisei, a fine dining Japanese American restaurant from a Californios alum. The 12-course dinner is $174 per person, so you might not be dropping in on a whim. But you’ll want to eventually get to this Russian Hill spot to experience their excellent tasting menu, which is based on washoku cuisine, a Japanese approach to cooking that focuses on seasonality and balanced flavors. The lineup of delicately plated dishes includes things like binchotan-grilled unagi with shishito peppers, mochi dumplings floating in a fragrant bone broth, and a tiny banana-filled dorayaki topped with caviar. Every dish that lands on the table is unlike what we typically see at other upscale Japanese restaurants in the city—for one, you won’t find sushi or ramen here. Ultimately, Nisei is all about high-quality ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and pushing the boundary of what Japanese fine dining can be.

Detroit-style pizza is having a big SF moment. Joining in on the square pie trend is Joyride Pizza, which opened two locations (in the Mission and Yerba Buena Gardens) last fall. The main attraction here is naturally the pizza, which is baked in 8- by 10-inch sheet pans and comes out with crusts that are dark brown and crispy. Each pizza is loaded with gooey Wisconsin brick cheese or mozzarella, thick stripes of tomato sauce, and toppings like pepperoni, pineapple, and jalapeño. The slices look hefty, but the dough remarkably stays light and airy underneath it all. Though the pizzas are what to get, Joyride also makes solid house-made pastas and salads, like a Caesar covered in an avalanche of freshly-shaved parmesan. Swing by for a quick lunch, or hang out on their parklet or patio with a group of friends and some cocktails, beer, or wine.

Itria first opened in May 2021 as a takeout-only spot serving pizzas and salads. It's since opened for dine-in and launched an entirely new menu devoted to house-made pastas and crudos. Each pasta is one you’ll crave for weeks after a meal here, from the squiggly gramigna tossed with tender pork and beef ragu to the thick orecchiette with grilled rabe pesto and sausage. Focus on the raw bar section of the menu too. You’ll do a little happy dance in your seat after eating a lemon-y scallop or an oyster topped with a single tarragon leaf. The Mission spot is perfect for date nights, catch-ups with friends on one of the long communal tables, or dining solo at the bar with some pasta and a glass of wine.

This upscale Cantonese restaurant opened in the old Empress of China space with a prix fixe menu ($88) of occasionally-changing dishes like xiao long bao with jamón Ibérico, zucchini prawn dumplings with black truffle, and a standout grilled black cod. To get inside the Chinatown spot, you’ll take the elevator up to the sixth floor and step into the stunning dining room with intricately carved panels, the original Empress of China wooden pergola, and floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of Coit Tower—if you time things right, you might just catch the sunset. Empress by Boon also has a curved marble bar that's ideal for walkups and ordering from an a la carte menu. This gorgeous space, in combination with the excellent food, makes Empress by Boon a meal you won’t forget.

The upscale Bernal Heights restaurant is perfect for celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions. It has the feel of a relaxed neighborhood restaurant, which also makes it ideal for chill weeknight dinners. The name of the game here (and your only option) is the four-course prix fixe menu ($65) that changes pretty often—but the fresh, seasonal ingredients always shine. You might end up with a rich Brentwood corn bisque poured tableside, a Hokkaido scallop topped with pickled strawberries and a lacy squid ink tuile, or a crispy-skinned bass with smoked roe beurre blanc. Whatever you get, each dish, including the fantastic desserts, will be so beautifully presented it could appear in a MoMA art exhibit.

Unless you possess dexterous fingers and an uncanny ability to sniff out freshly-released tables on Resy, eating at Ernest will probably mean sucking it up and booking dinner at 9:15pm. The Mission restaurant is a tough reservation to snag, and for good reason—everything on the menu is phenomenal. Ernest, ​​a restaurant best described as “whatever’s in season right now,” has some clear Asian influences on the menu, like in the aged beef and bone marrow dumplings, or duck with stone fruit vindaloo. You’ll also see a great raw bar section with a fantastic beef tartare made of neat layers of sushi rice and salty ikura, and uni “carbonara” that would easily be in the top three of a Best SF Pastas list. Whether you order the chef’s pick menu ($95) or a la carte, there will be a lot of food—this is a meal you might have to be rolled home from (likely, straight into bed).

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