Breakfast and dinner are great times for a change
Forget that gourmet mac 'n' cheese, leave behind another night of Neapolitan pizza — it's time to consider a meal that has yet to be repeated all over town. Here are a few that have really turned my head of late.
Hop a flight to the Caribbean via this downtown Oakland eatery, where chef Sarah Kirnon pulls together stimulating new interpretations of classic island flavors. A stand-out on this menu of tastes native to Barbados and Jamaica is Kinon's Dungeness crab cornmeal porridge, a comforting blue cornmeal mash laced with chunks of crab, butternut squash, carrots, leeks, and spiced up with bird's eye chili. It may be one of the best dishes she's served yet.
1745 San Pablo, Oakl. (510) 444-2626, www.hibiscusoakland.com 
As long as it stays in its current form — a pop-up eatery that takes over Jackie's Vinoteca and Cafe on Saturdays — lines at Wise Sons are sure to stay painfully long. That's because nowhere else in the city can you get the authentic Jewish eats these young guys serve up. It's no surprise that after only a few weeks of operation, they're already in hot demand. Corned beef and pastrami are sliced before your eyes in all their meaty glory, excellent chocolate babka is earthy with dark chocolate or laced with Clairessquares caramel in a sweeter incarnation. Don't miss house-smoked salmon with red onions and capers on a bialy, a traditional roll that's similar to a bagel but baked instead of boiled.
Saturdays 9 a.m .–2 p.m. 105 Valencia, SF. (415) 787-DELI, www.wisesonsdeli.com 
It was with delight I heard that one of the city's first Italian charcuteries was shifting to a Germanic-Italian cuisine that would focus on the Tyrol and Friuli regions. I've been craving Tyrolean food ever since I traveled the area in Italy — its melting pot of cultures equals pleasure on a plate. Bambino's executive chef Lizzie Binder plays with unique dishes like chewy, subtle pumpkin seed spaetzle, but my favorite is the Alpine bruschetta, simple hunks of rustic bread layered with Alpine ham, melted Montasio cheese, and horseradish kraut. It transported me straight back to dining on ham and cheese on sunny patios in the Alps.
2931 16th St., SF. (415) 701-VINO, www.barbambino.com 
Do not fear raw lamb. Do not expect gaminess. Order this dish — and prepare for fresh, succulent meat to rival the best beef tartares you've ever had. Chef Batson's lamb tartare is unexpectedly silky meat, loaded with flavor. The added bonus is three dollops of worthy spreads, from an eggplant compote to a mix of pomegranate, walnut, and red pepper. There's just no dish like it in town.
6 Claude, SF. (415) 788-6686, www.gitanerestaurant.com 
Since executive chef David Bazirgan recently climbed aboard, there are a number of noteworthy dishes here — particularly the Mendocino uni flan. It arrives unceremoniously, resembling a little bowl of foam. Dig into this "saffron air" and underneath you'll find Dungeness crab fondue and a silky uni flan. Heightened by aged kaffir lime and Sichuan pepper, you'll be dreaming about it all week.
12 Fourth St., SF. (415) 348-1555, www.fifthfloorrestaurant.com 
A highly underrated SF gem. Decor is not the latest or hippest — but even better, it's mellow and unassuming. It's easy to get a reservation, you can fill up for $15, and even after 20 years, Helmand Palace remains our city's best Afghani restaurant. Although kaddo (pumpkin that is pan-fried, then baked) in yogurt-garlic sauce remains a favorite dish of mine, I'm just as crazy about aushak, Afghan raviolis filled with leeks and scallions and served in a sauce of yogurt, mint, garlic, tomato, and ground beef: Middle Eastern cuisine meets red sauce Italian.
2424 Van Ness, SF. (415) 345-0072, www.helmandpalace.com 
Industry insiders sidle up to Ichi's sushi bar for impeccable fish from chef Tim Archuleta and crew. Archuleta keeps it seasonal and affordable — you'll find far less interesting slices of fish elsewhere at higher prices. There are also high quality hot plates, and a particular stand-out is the artistic beef tataki. All-natural beef is seared sous vide, then accented with radish, kimchee, white ponzu, and crispy burdock root. The meat oozes tenderness while the accompanying ingredients add dimension to the dish.
3369 Mission, SF. (415) 525-4750, www.ichisushi.com 
Though everyone loves SPQR's rustic pastas and exquisite antipasti, you'll be equally satisfied at its bar with spuntini small bites and a glass of Italian wine from Shelley Lindgren's impeccable list. Executive chef Matthew Accarrino infuses Roman sensibilities throughout the menu, achieving near-perfection in snacks like milky burrata cheese, which runs over accompanying toast and is sweetened with honey, hazelnuts, and a hint of chili — savory, sweet, silky. Spiced ricotta fritters are equally unforgettable: warm, with a whisper of smoked maple syrup.
1911 Fillmore, SF. (415) 771-7779, www.spqrsf.com