Sure, great restaurants can be found in any world-class destination, but the San Francisco Bay Area truly has it all. Whether you are hungry (or thirsty) for Italian, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Peruvian or any other flavor that tempts your palate, the San Francisco Bay Area has always been known for its international cuisines, thanks to the many immigrants that have made their home here as well as chefs who pine to share their flavors with the sophisticated gourmands that make their home in this culinary treasure chest.
I take for granted that I can walk out my front door any day of the week and have my choice of some of the best cuisine, whether it’s Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Peruvian, Greek or Indian … all within only three walkable blocks. The myriad of neighborhood choices are not lost on me.
However, in order to expand my palate, I ventured out a little farther to find the very best of the bay within a 20 mile radius of my homestead. Here are my favorites. (*those noted with an asterisk will be featured on my NPR review with a link coming soon…)
1888 Solano Avenue, Berkeley CA 94707
Award-winning Indian cuisine from chef/owner Lachu Moorjani with dishes from throughout the India and a focus on food prepared with seasonally fresh and mostly organic vegetables, organic chicken, hormone and antibiotic-free meats, and natural seafood, all mostly locally sourced from a network of suppliers who utilize sustainable practices. Signature dishes include those prepared using the restaurant’s tandoor oven, plus Ajanta’s house made breads including naan, chapati, paratha and poori.
710 Montgomery Street, San Francisco CA 94111
The restaurant’s focus is on Spanish and Basque inspired tapas with classics that have included Monterey Squid with fingerling potato, olives, celery and charmoula; House Cured Bacon and Bavette Albondigas with kale and smoked idiazabal; Pigs Ear with lime and Fresno chile; and Pork Belly with cucumber, spring salsa verde and Marcona almonds.
Bourbon & Beef
5634 College Avenue, Oakland CA 94618
Chef/owner Munther Massarweh’s passion is rooted in his Central American upbringing (born in El Salvador) that has cultivated in him a rich farm-to-table mentality resulting in the sourcing from local farmers and the use of as many sustainable and certified organic products as possible. Classic dishes include a deconstructed Grilled Dorado Salad and a Rib Eye Steak with Roasted Shishito Peppers.
Bowl’d BBQ Korean Stone Grill
4869 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland CA 94609
Bowl’d BBQ serves Korean grill-centric meat, fish and vegetable dishes and has at-the-table individual stone grills that allow guests to prepare some of their own food, adding an interactive element to a menu that is accessible, diverse and affordably priced, with many choices including upwards of a dozen small sides, plus dipping sauces and soup, all at no extra charge. Among the signature items are kimpbop (Korean sushi), savory pancakes made with house made kimchi, Korean Fried Chicken, Pork Belly Barbeque (5 different types), and customizable rice bowls called Bibimbop “The Works”.
101 Broadway, Oakland CA 94607
A premier new source for Italian comfort food in a small plate and family style format, attractively priced and inspired by the proprietor’s family trattoria located outside of Parma, Italy. The menu is simple and approachable with fresh pasta and meat options plus torta fritta (aka gnocchi fritto); tigelle served with cured meats or cheeses; housemade potato gnocchi with a traditional Pesto Genovese; fresh taglietelle with Luigina’s Ragu al Bolognese; and Bistecca alla Fiorentina (a T-bone steak, cooked to order, large enough for two).
Chez Papa Bistrot
1401 18th Street, San Francisco CA 94107
Authentic French Provençal cuisine is a Chez Papa Bistrot hallmark. Over the years, popular dishes have included Grilled Local Sardines with fresh chick pea salad, parsnip chips and pistou coulis; Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops with a fricassee of white corn and black truffle and a mache salad; Duck Rillette with cornichons, house mustard and crostini; Pan Roasted Sockeye Salmon with heirloom tomato, purslane, sorrel and black olive tapenade; Pan Roasted Branzino with roasted salsify, poached artichokes and lobster nage; and Lamb Daube with rosemary-red wine sauce and seasonal vegetables.
Curry Up Now
659 Valencia Street, San Francisco CA 94110
This casual locale offers up great tasting, convenient, affordable and neo-authentic food. Menu highlights include quintessential street food items with a Curry Up Now twist such as Guacamole Sev Puri, Vada Pav, Pani Puri with quinoa filling, the restaurant’s iconic deconstructed Samosa and the Tikka Masala Burrito, The Naughty Naan, and Sexy Fries plus many vegan and gluten-free choices.
499 9th Street, Oakland CA 94607
Chef/owner Donato Scotti prepares seasonally fresh, ingredient-driven regional Italian cuisine with antipasti and pasta dishes such as Piatto della Casa, a housemade assortment of smoked duck, lamb prosciutto and rabbit terrine as well as Casonsei, a rustic ravioli from Bergamo filled with pork and house-made sauce with a brown butter and guanciale sauce. All the fresh pasta is made in-house.
Fleur de Lys
777 Sutter Street, San Francisco CA 94109
Known as one of the Bay Area’s premier French chefs, Hubert Keller has for decades enjoyed the loyalty of legions of fans thanks to dishes that include Chilled Dungeness Crab Salad with shavings of young vegetables, lobster infused vinaigrette and lobster fondant with caviar; Local Petrale Sole with Dungeness crab, sea urchin and caviar olive oil potato purée; Wild Jumbo Prawns With Brioche Crust with sweet and sour radicchio, cannellini bean emulsion, and crispy pork belly; Duo Of Colorado Lamb Loin & Braised Lamb Shank with eggplant confit, golden raisins, pine nuts, pearl couscous, Tunisian spices, and harissa; Kobe Beef Cheeks, topped with mustard and cornichons smoked veal jus, with sweetbread fricassee with truffle and spinach; and Muscovy Duck Breast, Grenadine Pickled Oion with sweet corn fondue, spatzle, juniper berry and orange essence…just to name a few ~
2316 Polk Street, San Francisco CA 94109
Roland Passot is San Francisco’s most critically acclaimed French chefs, earning accolades for menu items such as Quail Lollipops with leek and wild mushroom cannelloni, Frog Legs Soup with a purée of garlic and parsley coulis, Monkfish Foie Gras and Truffle White Fish Caviar with potato and celery root salad, Smoked Glazed Liberty Farms Duck Breast with caramelized winter vegetables, Certified Angus Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin with Béarnaise croquette, bone marrow custard and Bordelaise sauce and Roasted Sonoma Squab Risotto with chestnuts and celery.
La Mar Cebichería Peruana*
Pier 1½, San Francisco CA 94111
The restaurant’s signature authentic Peruvian menu was originally designed by internationally renowned chef/owner Gastón Acurio to serve as an introduction to Peruvian flavors and dishes with a focus on fresh seafood with influences from China and Japan. Signature offerings have included Cebiches (Peru’s national dish, made with 100% sustainably caught fish and shellfish marinated in “leche de tigre”), Causas (whipped potatoes topped with seafood or vegetarian ingredients), Ensaladas(Peruvian inspired salads), Empanadas Peruanas y Frituras (house made with a variety of fillings, fried and served with dipping sauce) and Anticuchos (traditional grilled skewers). Not to be missed are La Mar’s Pisco Sour cocktails and their intriguing desserts.
20 Cosmo Place, San Francisco CA 94109
With a showcase of French colonial Southeast Asian-influenced Vietnamese cuisine served in seductive, engaging surroundings, this culinary historic location was once home to Trader Vic’s and has subsequently become known for treats such as of Banh Tet Chien (pan-fried slice of Banh Tet served with daikon and pickled shallots), Goi Cuon (soft salad rolls with poached shrimp, bean sprouts and rice vermicelli served with a hoisin dipping sauce), Cha Gio (crispy spring rolls with shrimp, pork and mushrooms, served with a chili fish sauce), Ga Nuong Xa (roasted chicken marinated in lemon grass), Ca Hap (steamed filet of sea bass in banana leaves, with lemon grass, tomato, scallions and ginger), Toan Bo Ca (whole fried New Zealand Thai Snapper with lemongrass, sliced garlic, young ginger and chilies) and Ga Kho (Vietnamese chicken thighs simmered in caramel sauce with ginger).
Le P’tit Laurent
699 Chenery Street, San Francisco CA 94131
The restaurant’s signature country-style French menu is prepared using fresh, often locally sourced ingredients. Classic menu options include Sautéed Sweetbreads with walnut crust and mushroom coulis, Steamed Mussels with white wine and garlic, Lapin Façon Normande (rabbit Normandy served with fingerling potatoes); Le Cassoulet Toulousain Maison (homemade cassoulet of duck leg confit, pork and Toulouse sausage with beans); and Lamb Shank braised for six hours and served with French green beans and lamb jus.
Left Bank Brasserie
507 Magnolia Avenue, Larkspur CA 94939, 415.927.3331
635 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park CA 94025, 650.473.6543
377 Santana Row, San Jose CA 95128, 408.984.3500
Left Bank’s three locations are all distinguished by a simple, seasonally-changing French brasserie menu featuring a diverse selection of fresh vegetables, fish, seafood, meats, hearty salads and sumptuous desserts. In addition to year-round signature dishes, there are daily specials inspired by the chefs’ weekly forays to the local farmer’s markets. Examples of this seasonal approach have included warm Day Boat scallops with crispy pancetta, exotic mushrooms marinade, Treviso and mandarin emulsion; roasted Duck Breast with Camargue rice, market greens, roasted lychee and sweet and sour sauce; extra virgin olive oil poached Alaskan Cod with Manila clams, new potatoes, lollipop kale, oven dried tomatoes and lemon tarragon fish fumet; and pan roasted Filet Mignon with lobster, potato and Boursin cheese croquette and fried carrots with a merlot reduction.
640 Sacramento Street, San Francisco CA 94111
Palio’s menu is a veritable culinary tour of Italy emphasizing the cooking of Piemonte, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany in the fall and winter, Rome and Umbria in the spring, and Sicily and Naples in the summer. From hearty winter soups and braised and grilled wild game to house cured crudo and seasonal salads, the menu offers exceptional value and an artisan touch. Daily risotto and wood baked gnocchi is joined by up to 10 different pastas. Traditional favorites have included Roman Fried Baby Artichokes with Meyer Lemon Aioli, Mezzelune alla Monferrina (truffled almond and fontina filled half moon ravioli floating in broth with fresh spinach), Grilled Scallops with Sicilian Sea Urchin Caviar and Insalata di Pollo Arrosto (roast chicken, crispy pancetta, gorgonzola dolce and radicchio). The pizza is a best-seller all year long.
737 Irving Street, San Francisco CA 94122
The restaurant’s hallmark Latino Caribbean cuisine with South and Central America influences is prepared with traditional ingredients and modern techniques. Past signature items have included a variety of unique freshly prepared ceviches, Albondigas (lamb meatballs in a cream sherry garlic sauce), Empanadas of Duck Ropa Vieja (Cuban Style), a Latin Steak Salad and Arroz Con Mariscos (Peruvian style paella).
1015 Battery Street, San Francisco CA 94111
Piperade’s chef/owner Gerald Hirigoyen literally wrote the book on Basque cooking (the award winning The Basque Kitchen, plus two others) and his acclaimed restaurant has been on the SF Chronicle newspaper’s annual “Top 100” list for more than a decade. The namesake Piperade menu item is always a winner and recent offerings have included of sautéed California Swordfish with Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and brown butter froth, braised seafood and shellfish stew with a red pepper sauce, roasted Cornish Hen with chickpeas, leeks and chorizo almond salpicon; braised Liberty Duck with tempranillo and root vegetables; and New York Steak with romesco, broccolini, garlic and Ossau-Iraty.
525 Crespi Drive, Pacifica CA 94044
Puerto 27’s chef/owner Jose Calvo-Perez presents an authentic Peruvian small plates menu prepared with premium quality ingredients and techniques that have garnered him great acclaim. Past favorites include Peruvian style fried rice with sea urchin sauce, Pork Belly with Andean style potato stew, Causa Potato Makis and Anticuchos (Peruvian skewers) and a full-service ceviche raw bar, which have been complemented by the likes of sautéed Halibut with creamy botija olive mushroom risotto, tomato olive tapenade, tempura asparagus and taro root purée, pistachio pesto crusted rack of lamb with Peruvian purple mashed potatoes, quinoa tabbouleh andmint chimichurri and grilled Creekstone Farms filet mignon with rocoto pesto, roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus and huacatay Béarnaise sauce.
229 Brush Street, Oakland CA
Chef/owner Eduardo Balaguer’s decade-long success as the proprietor of a catering company propelled him to open Venga Paella with a menu of paella and Spanish tapas prepared with seasonal, often organic and locally sourced ingredients. Choices include tapas such as stuffed piquillo peppers with goat cheese; Tortilla Española; and gambas al ajillo, with paellas such as traditional seafood paella with prawns, calamari, mussels, clams and Prather Ranch pork chorizo; and black squid paella with calamari, mussels and red bell peppers. The house made sangria is always a winner.