There's been plenty of activity in the world of food in the last few years, especially in San Francisco. Street food madness reached an all-time high, spawning festivals and an array of carts, trucks, and stands from established and new chefs. Pop-up restaurants appeared in cafes, backrooms, and undisclosed locations. Overall, prices actually went down (while quality remained high) and deals proliferated. (See ... economic news isn't all bad.) There also have plenty of top-notch restaurant, café, and bar openings. Here are a few of our favorites.
From beginning to end, dinner at this new Outer Richmond District eatery is a thrill. With most small plates from the novel-length menu (grouped by fish, meat, and veggie) hovering under $10, it's easy to have a feast for as little or as much as you want to spend. Plus, the offerings aren't the usual bento-or-sushi fare Americans have come to expect from Japanese cuisine. You'll hardly recognize the tempura, covered here in various nuts and grains. Pork belly in aromatic broth is a revelation. And butter-grilled scallops are so good you'll want two orders. Don't bother asking too many questions unless you speak Japanese. Fortunately, you won't need to: everything is fantastic.
5524 Geary, SF.(415) 221-5353
TONY'S PIZZA NAPOLETANA
Even before opening this North Beach café, owner and nine-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani was famous for his world class pies. We can see why. We love the classic Margherita ($18), which won the 2007 World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy. But what's really stellar is the Cal Italia ($18), Gold Medal winner of Food Network's Pizza Champions Challenge. Made from imported Italian ingredients, like all Gemignani's pizzas, this one's covered in four cheeses (asiago, mozzarella, Gorgonzola, and fresh Parmesan), then salted with proscuitto di Parma and sweetened with an aged balsamic drizzle and fig preserve. Not feeling the pizza pie vibe? Tony's also offers pasta, a range of antipasti options, and a full bar all in a sophisticated setting.
1570 Stockton, SF. (415) 835-9888, tonyspizzanapoletana.com
A true taste of Spain isn't easy to come by in these parts. Sure, there are tons of "tapas" joints serving small plates of Mediterranean-inspired fare, but finding the delicately-prepared, authentic dishes that go so well with Spanish and Portuguese wines is more of a challenge. Thanks to Brett Emerson, though, the search has gotten easier. Contigo's chef and owner pays homage to his time in Catalonia with gorgeous sardine dishes (served a number of ways, including on toast with chickpea puree or alongside blood oranges and beet relish), crowd-pleasing croquetas de bacalao (salt cod fritters), and a range of imported jamons (aged anywhere from 12 to 36 months). Also delightful (and delightfully authentic) is the choice of coques or Catalan flatbreads available with rapini and carmelized onions, anchovies, Txistorra sausage, or a Marin Sun Farm egg. A cozy, heated back patio, vegetable garden, and modern but rustic space add to the culinary charm.
1320 Castro, SF. (415) 285-0250, www.contigosf.com
Spanking fresh minimalist interior meets urban BBQ and American food in this one-of-a-kind FiDi restaurant, which opened this June. Whether you're enjoying a Scotch egg to start ($11), chicken sandwich ($12) with creamy coleslaw at lunch, a satisfying dinner of slow-roasted smoked sturgeon with lobster, cornbread cakes and parsnip mash ($21) or a dessert of inside-out root beer float with house-made vanilla soda and Humphry Slocombe ice cream ($6), you're guaranteed a chic downtown meal that simultaneously manages to be feel down-home. Best of all? Wexler's serves a mean mint julep.
568 Sacramento, SF.