Besties: Dining & Drinks
by Sean Timberlake
Our palates have taken another revolution around the sun, with a leap day of extra eating no less, and it's time once again to unveil your favorite places to nibble and sip in the area. There are a lot of familiar names on this list, so I'm going shake things up by adding a few suggestions for each category, in case you feel like venturing beyond the tried and true. It's a big delicious city out there, people. Take a bite.
What's old is new. The venerable Formica-and-pleather-clad diner Orphan Andy's (3991 17th Street), 42 years young, took the crown for serving up the most important meal of the day. Whether you're hunkering down for a three-egg omelette or a hearty stack of banana or chocolate chip pancakes, this place hits the spot. Speaking of stacks, Hayes Valley greasy spoon Stacks (501 Hayes Street) got a nod in the runner up position.
Should you be interested in breaking out beyond eggs and flapjacks, take a trek to the Outer Richmond to Cassava (3519 Balboa Street), serving up Semifreddi's croissants and an exquisite Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, soft egg in dashi, and seaweed-mushroom salad. You can add natto on special request. Go ahead, I dare you.
You heeded Squat & Gobble's (3600 16th Street and other locations) imperative name and perched for their top-notch crêpes that span a global palette, borrowing from Mexican, Italian, and Greek flavors. Heck, they even have an entire pan-Asian noodle menu if you want to wake up the taste buds on a hungover Sunday.
You're also willing to brave the lines at homey SoMa spot Dottie's True Blue Cafe (28 6th Street) for their comfort-driven menu.
For something completely different, head to Bernal Heights' ICHI Sushi/NI Bar (3282 Mission Street) for their Japanese-inflected brunch. Look for French toast with a savory hit of miso; hearty ramen with meatballs; and crispy potatoes with chicken fat hollandaise (what!).
photo: Steven Underhill
Maybe it's the famous burger at Café Flore (2298 Market Street) that keeps you coming back. Maybe it's the hearty salads. Maybe it's the eye candy strolling along Market Street. Whatever the case, Flore is your top spot for a midday meal. Sustainably-minded burger joint Super Duper (2304 Market Street and other locations) also whets your appetite, as surely do those delectable pickles.
Mainstay Harvey's (500 Castro Street) is another gayborhood draw, looking ten years younger after having a little work done over the holiday season.
Just a few steps to the east, though, Mekong Kitchen (4039 18th Street) has recently started serving lunch seven days a week. The noodle bowls are fresh and flavorful, and while I'm sick to death of the term bone broth, their pho is deeply comforting and delicious.
You're wowed by the chow at Chow Food Bar (215 Church Street and other locations), which focuses on sustainable, organic ingredients and turns out satisfying fare from its wood-fired oven. You also had the hots for Firewood Café (4248 18th Street), also a traveler's friend with outposts in both SFO and OAK.
And you like nearby Cal-Ital Delfina (3621 18th Street) for their handmade pastas and that famous ribollita. Or maybe it's the tripe. Molto buono.
One to watch: Hearth Coffee (3985 17th Street) is more than just a spot for a cuppa. Chef Giulia, hailing from Matera, Puglia, Italy, is serving up three-course pop-up dinners Wednesdays through Fridays with fresh, seasonal ingredients for under $30. The chef draws inspiration from the rustic cooking of her homeland.
Anticipation is the best sauce, so the lines at Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero Street) provide just enough seasoning to make it your top pick for sweet treats. Those lines exist for a reason, though, as their cakes and cookies are nearly without peer.
Tartine unseated multiple-year winners Sweet Inspiration (2239 Market Street), which still took home the silver.
However, I would be remiss if I did not tell you to go forthwith to 20th Century Cafe (198 Gough Street) and gorge on Chef Michelle Polzine's ethereal Russian honey cake. It will spoil you for all other cakes forever.
Best Outdoor Patio
Good old Café Flore takes the prize here yet again with their flatiron enclosed patio with unobstructed views of the parade of humanity on Market Street. Other notables you picked include the interior courtyard and ersatz movie theater at Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission Street), and the convivial biergarten at Zeitgeist (199 Valencia Street).
But why not go to someplace that's all patio? All Good Pizza (1605 Jerrold Avenue) dishes up thin-crust pies and hearty panini from a converted trailer in its spacious corner lot. The oft-misunderstood Bayview boasts some of the best weather in the city, and quietly has a visible LGBT presence.
Best Coffee Shop
Bay Area mini-empire Philz Coffee (549 Castro Street and other locations) grabbed you by the beans with their custom blends and lovingly poured cups. The classic Peet's (2257 Market Street and other locations), celebrating 50 years in business, dripped in for a second place nomination, and Third Wave innovators Blue Bottle Coffee (multiple locations) aptly came in third.
I admit, I'm Team Philz, and I love me a Blue Bottle NOLA, but when in the Castro I'm still a habitué of Spike's (4117 19th Street), and over the hill in Noe Valley, be sure to check out LGBT-owned Spin City Coffee (1299 Sanchez Street), shoehorned into a laundromat. Owner Maricar is working with micro-local Noe Valley Coffee for a real grassroots approach to small business.
Best Late Night Restaurant
Let's all put our hands on our hearts and have a moment of silence for all-night eatery Sparky's, which shuttered abruptly in February. Luckily, Orphan Andy's was able to assume the responsibilities of the previous winner, still dishing up the goods through the wee hours.
Nob Hill fixture Grubstake (1525 Pine Street) also made the grade, though rumors of their eventual demise due to redevelopment are hopefully exaggerated.
However, if you're looking to get swankily tanked on the late, head over to Café du Nord (2174 Market Street), serving up a solid menu until 1:15 am. Plus, after midnight, raw oysters and champers are half off! Get your bubble on.
Best Happy Hour Bites
Straight-gay sports bar Hi Tops (2247 Market Street) scored a home run with their pub grub and their sassy tagline ("Cold Pitchers, Hot Catchers"). You also rooted for the slightly more elevated bites at Nopa (560 Divisadero Street), as well as the antojitos and bocanas at Azúcar Lounge (299 9th Street).
Should you find yourself in Noe Valley in the afternoon, though, be sure to pop in to Hamlet (1199 Church Street) for their new happy hour, featuring drinks and snacks for $8 or under.
Best Bar Menu
Hi Tops topped this list as well, though Harvey's and balcony bar Lookout (3600 16th Street) also served some of your favorite absorption food.
But the ultimate bar menu in town is at Trick Dog (3010 20th Street), where the menu itself is part of the experience. The bar's innovative cocktails are presented on creatively designed menus themed as Pantone swatches, San Francisco tourist attractions, a Chinese restaurant menu, and, currently, a spy dossier.
Best Food Delivery App
When you just want food to show up at your door, you hit up GrubHub () to bring your favorite restaurants home. You also clicked with Eat24 () for more restaurant delivery, and for something different went with Munchery () for chef-designed meals that are ready to heat and eat.
If you're tired of the humdrum lunch options downtown, try Green Tiffin () for healthy, sustainably minded meals in reusable packaging by delivery crew on e-bikes. We sampled Green Tiffin's wares at the B.A.R. offices, and found the flavors bright and fresh, with a global flair.
Hey Stella! To quench your thirst, you hoist a Stella Artois the most, though Anchor Steam also fills the occasional pint. We live in one of the best cities in the world for beer, and picking just one is like picking your favorite child. You know you have one, but you're not allowed to say. Personally, my favorite beer is the one in my hand.
You found Absolut absolutely fabulous, though you also go for Stoli with or without bolli. Sebastopol-based Spirit Works is best known for their gins, which are excellent indeed, but their vodka is a real standout, distilled enough to be smooth, but retaining the character of the grain it's made from.
Bombay Sapphire is the bomb as far as you're concerned, though floral and cucumber notes in Hendrick's also appealed to the delicate flowers among you.
If you want to go a little more top-shelf, dabble in Alameda-based St. George Spirits' trio of craft gins. Terroir's botanicals are inspired by the California coast, with sage, bay and Douglas fir, excellent in a G&T. Botanivore is more floral and herbal, complex and sophisticated. Dry Rye has a hearty punch of juniper, and is rested briefly on oak for structure. Call that for the best martini ever.
When bourbon is your call, a shot of Bulleit hits the spot, while Scotch lovers in the house Johnny Walker opt for. Keep an eye peeled for Seven Stills, produced in their newly launched distillery in the increasingly hip Bayview district. Seven Stills distills beers from local craft breweries including Pacific Brewing Laboratory and Almanac Brewing Company to produce whiskeys that showcase the source brews.