As I began to compile my “Best of 2010” list a few weeks ago, I quickly realized my personal highlights were predominantly Asian-influenced. I just can’t wrap my head around this. I very rarely proactively seek out Asian fare; I find myself sitting down for Asian fare when someone else is choosing the spot. I don’t even know how to use chopsticks! I’m a burger and French fry girl! I’ll probably spend weeks reflecting on this, but my guess is that because I am drawn so often to Western-food that it’s hard for a single dish to come out atop the rest, especially in a city whose food is as top notch as it is here. Competition is thick and crowded at the top.
I could spend all day getting pshyo-analytic on this issue but let’s cut to the chase (the list, that is). I’ve delineated my top 5 and thrown in a few extra categories for spots that deserve recognition but may not have made the all-around cut.
Bottom line: There were many happy dances in my stomach this year. More to come in 2011!
5. Unicorn – (Pan Asian Cuisine): I know, you’ve never heard of it. If you work downtown, I guarantee you’ve walked by it a thousand times – and kept walking. While on my two-month vegan stint, I was desperate for any place with just one vegan option. This place has a whole SECTION on the Pan-Asian Fusion menu. Feeling adventurous, I ordered the bean curd (sounds gross, I know). Upon my first bite, I hailed the waitress as I was convinced she mistakenly gave me chicken. What was on my plate looked a lot like white chicken strips and tasted like it too. The waitress politely told me she did not err and that bean curd is just that “meaty.” The sheer shock of this was enough to ingrain Unicorn to memory; but the spicy mango sauce and eggplant accompaniment made it downright GOOD in its own right. I’ll order it again, vegan or not.
4. Sens (Mediterranean-ish): I dined here several times this year, probably because it’s so close to my office (when the office is looking for somewhere to go, I always suggest here because the food is sens-sational – the pun itself equals automatic veto – but I just can’t help it!!). Each of my visits this year were just so…pleasing. I distinctly remember having an amazing soup, pizza, and tartare on different visits. Coupled with million-dollar views, Sens has a little something for everyone. Great for groups.
3. Tadich Grill (Seafood): An SF institution that is not all hype! It remains one of the oldest restaurants in the city, and for whatever reason, it took me nearly three years to get there. Several months later, I am still salivating about the seafood curry casserole. So warm, so hearty. The service, history, portion-size, and bread pudding dessert all make this a must.
2. Bix (American): Oh Bix. Sweet, sweet Bix. The restaurant itself is my very favorite in the city (dark and elegant, cozy booths, long bar, classic 1930s jazz feel – all tucked away on a hidden alley-way). I walk in and have to stop to take a deep breath to take it all in. Bix, to me, epitomizes all that San Francisco is and should be. Oh yeah, and they have a burger that is HELLA good. I had it twice this year and it remains my favorite. A single bite and you know you’re getting high quality beef with all the perfect accoutrements: bacon cured in-house, fresh cheese, and a perfect bun. This is my go-to “special occasion” place.
1. The House (Asian Fusion): I recently reviewed this. It’s a tight race between Bix and House for the number one spot, but the sheer unexpectedness of this visit gives it the edge. I was blown away by it all. I had heard it was good, but I didn’t realize the food would be unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. They take a normal dish (crab cake, for example) and make it heart-stoppingly good.
And now for Corinne Categories:
“You’re going to get made fun of for admitting that” winner: Osha (Thai): That was my mom’s response when I told her Osha Thai is one of my very favorite. Yes, there are several locations around the city (I refuse to use the term “chain”). The ingredients probably aren’t local, or orgranic, or grass-fed but I don’t care. Their curry dishes are big, relatively inexpensive, and darn tasty!
Best Tourist Trap: Scomas (Seafood): An out of town co-worker claims this is the cioppino he’s ever had in his whole entire life – and he’s approaching 60. Yes, it’s in the heart of Fisherman Wharf’s and I nearly had a hernia getting past all the tourists to meet him here. But I had to hand it to him, the cioppino was excellent. Warm, flavorful, and jam-packed with fresh seafood. I had to pack up half – which turned out to be quite nice when lunchtime the following day rolled around. It’s worth braving the tourist mayhem.
When you want an Experience, not just a meal: Acquerello: (Italian): This is an engagement, 1/5/10 year anniversary, or major birthday place. I remember the food as much as I remember the attention to detail – each member of my party having a personal waiter, the step stool provided to me so my purse won’t touch the ground, the complimentary hand-made chocolate truffles at the end. The box of biscotti given to the ladies (but not the men). It’s a show as much as it is a meal.
Best non-restaurant meal: Thanksgiving Dinner: My Aunt Suzanne KILLED IT this year with the yam casserole. Actually, I think it was sticks of butter with pieces of yams in between. Either way, every aspect of this meal – turkey, casserole, rolls, mashed potatoes, red wine – was top notch. Surrounded by family made it an evening to remember.
Best Bargain: Green Chile Kitchen: If you want big, sloppy Mexican food – don’t go here. If you want fresh ingredients, good value, and to walk out like you did your body a service – please do go here. GCK has all the Mexican-food staples and delivers them in a healthy way. The counter ordering + sit-down dining room makes it a great spur-of-the-moment choice. Open for every meal of the day!
Now I’m really hungry.