Hot action! A mug of these hot chocolates will set you down the right sleigh path
A funny thing happened on the way to adulthood: hot chocolate became interesting. Remembered by most Americans as the insipid, lukewarm, desiccated powder-based drink of ice rinks (often dispensed from a machine that simultaneously squirts water and dark matter into your cup), 21st century big-kid hot chocolate has heat, depth, spice, richness, variety. It is, in short, both hot and chocolate. And let's not forget innovations in topping technology. Today's hot chocolatiers don't open a bag of petroleum-based white things or spray on the ReddiWip — they make their own marshmallows and whipped cream.
Hot chocolate is also one drink you never find yourself saying, "If only I hadn't had that last (fill in cocktail) ... " Indeed, researchers at Cornell found that hot chocolate has more antioxidants per cup than red wine or tea. So as we enter hot chocolate season — our summer, which they call "autumn" on the rest of the continent — raise a cup to your health.
In the third season of Dexter, top cop Maria has a pair of bonding experiences with women that are consummated with two words "ganache frosting." Ganache — that rich, delicious, thick, delicious, dense, delicious mix of chocolate and cream — is the base element of Boulette's singular cup of Eastern European-style hot chocolate. All day long, Boulette's chefs keep a pan of molten ganache simmering in anticipation of its HC fans. The result is hot chocolate so thick you almost need a spoon, and so satisfying you can omit that dollop of cream.
One Ferry Building # 48, SF (415) 399-1155. www.boulette'slarder.com
This pretty-in-pink Haight Street anomaly makes eight kinds of hot chocolate (including a green tea version for serious antioxidant-counters) plus a milk-free drink for all those people who can't, won't, or don't swing bovine. Billed as warm chocolate pudding, the molten concoction blends dark chocolate and hot water until it's only navigable by spoon. Like our beloved Earth, it also retains its molten core, so it can be toyed with for some time without losing any of its hot, thick mojo. Coco Luxe also has solid chocolates, gorgeous ones that look like mini wall art. And let's face it, we all need a little solid food occasionally to add weight and depth to our c-cups.
1673 Haight SF. (415) 367-4012. www.coco-luxe.com 
When the abundant novelty of SF's innovative hot chocolate scene has worn off, head to this sleek corner store for even more innovation. The boutique chocolatier, which originated in Kansas City, Mo., has all the customary spicy, dark, and milky brews you'll find at many of our other HC providers — along with some never-before-seen variations spiked with ginger, curry, and coconut milk. Christopher Elbow also makes powdered versions of some of its best-selling drinking chocolates, which make a lovely nyah-nyah-nyah gift for friends still living in Hershey's just-add-water-powdered-packet land.
401 Hayes, SF. (415) 355-1105. www.elbowchocolates.com 
You gotta love this under appreciated one-man operation, where the one man makes your cup by shaving generous helpings of his superlative block chocolate into every liquid cup. The price is right — $2.75 for 16 ounces — and the one man always offers one of his handmade truffles on the house. The one man also exhibits a sincere liberalism about how much milkfat is really necessary for hot chocolate. If you want nonfat hot chocolate (no judgments!), so be it. With base chocolate this good, you won't miss the milkfat.
411 Divisadero, SF. (415) 552-5128, www.fivestartruffles.com 
Although most people waiting in line at Bi-Rite see only the ice cream and soft-serve, hot chocolate heads can't help but notice, tucked as it is on the counter behind the cookies, la machine. A combination hot plate-whirligig, Bi-Rite's single-purpose hot chocolate machine (rumored to have been developed by SF's own Recchiuti) keeps its brew in a perpetual state of warmth and agitation. What does this mean, besides one terrific cup? No waiting! Traditionalists all the way, Bi-Rite uses only ground chocolate, cocoa, sugar, and milk. A word of warning, though: Bi-Rite only makes HC during the winter (other people's winter) and on unusually cold or rainy days. Pray for rain.
3692 18th St., SF. (415) 626-5600. www.biritecreamery.com 
Most people come to this Mexican restaurant — and rightly so — for the food. But if you're here and have postpriandial room, you'll notice hot chocolate on Chilango's dessert menu, right up there with flan and churros. But like any good dessert, Chilango's hot chocolate takes time — the chefs stir each cup over the stove. Let's face facts, all the delicious Mexican and spicy hot chocolate around town originated from ... Mexican hot chocolate. Get the real deal here. And never forget that nothing brings out the flavor of churros like dipping them in hot chocolate.
5 Church, SF. (415) 552-5700. www.chilangococina.com