San Francisco’s chic Mason Pacific features seasonal bistro-style dishes —not to mention a stellar wine list. (Photo courtesy of Mason Pacific.)

Back in the 1970s, Alice Waters redefined the Bay Area dining scene with the seasonal, French-inspired nouvelle cuisine offered at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. By emphasizing fresh, local ingredients, great wine and casual elegance, Waters helped to set a new standard for Northern California dining. Today, classics like Chez Panisse remain essential, but buoyed by the tech booms of recent decades, San Francisco in particular has seen the rise of a new generation of talented and forward-thinking chefs and beverage directors. While many of these places have a playful, informal vibe, there is no shortage of serious prowess and ambition at these  restaurants in the City by the Bay. Below is a survey of some of the city’s recently opened, noteworthy establishments, which are setting a new high bar in terms of food, cocktails, wine and design.


Local halibut, mussels, garlic and lemongrass braissage at Lord Stanley. (Photo: Antoinette Bruno.)
Local halibut, mussels, garlic and lemongrass braissage at Lord Stanley. (Photo: Antoinette Bruno.)

Lord Stanley

Something about Lord Stanley, a hip gem of a restaurant with a Scandinavian vibe (and decidedly not a sports bar, despite the name — sorry, hockey fans!), makes you feel at ease right away. It could be the relaxed but professional service or the impeccable interior design: wooden tables laden with canvas bread bags, minimalist furniture, lush plants. Chefs Carrie and Rupert Blease, a married couple, mix European and Japanese flair in their ambitious cooking, which delights in color, flavor and plating. Thirsty? You will be taken care of by the friendly wine director, Louisa Smith, who offers a small list of natural wines, which she’s very knowledgeable about. There is an $83 tasting menu as well as à la carte options. 2065 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-872-5512;

Rich Table

Located in the fashionable Hayes Valley district, Rich Table is the first restaurant from husband-and-wife team Evan and Sarah Rich, who take turns cooking in the open kitchen of this cozy, welcoming restaurant. Food here is quite ambitious, but no-frills and somewhat rustic. There is a $93 tasting menu option, as well as an à la carte menu featuring bites, shareable plates, and a collection of pasta dishes that play on traditional recipes, as well as larger protein options. One highlight: the rich and savory tagliatelle with aged beef, tomato, and mozzarella curd. Wine director Dominique Henderson is all about the New California and natural-wine movements and also knows how to incorporate craft cider and beer into her pairings. 199 Gough St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-355-9085;

Acorn, abalone mushroom, ginko nut, amaranth seed, onion and bone marrow at Mosu. (Photo: Patricia Chang.)
Acorn, abalone mushroom, ginkgo nut, amaranth seed, onion and bone marrow at Mosu. (Photo: Patricia Chang.)


Chef Sung Anh, who grew up in South Korea and worked at Benu and the French Laundry, opened this singular and high-minded kaiseki­-style (multicourse, seasonally focused) restaurant, which seats only 18, in the Fillmore district early in 2016. The overall influence is Japanese, with some Korean sidekicks to jazz things up. Dining here is a special experience, to be shared with someone who appreciates artful food and lengthy conversations. A standout dish for me was the matcha dumpling, stuffed with bonito and apple and topped with a healthy portion of caviar. There is plenty of good sake and wine to be drunk. The tasting menu is the only option, comprised of 12 to 14 courses for $195. 1552 Fillmore St., San Francisco, CA 94115; 415-735-7303;

Whole grilled octopus at Mason Pacific. (Photo courtesy of Mason Pacific.)
Whole grilled octopus at Mason Pacific. (Photo courtesy of Mason Pacific.)

Mason Pacific

The reopening of Mason Pacific, which closed in March after a fire, sees 30-year-old chef Max Mackinnon at the helm. Mackinnon not only received a James Beard nomination for his Vermont restaurant, Pistou, but also worked at notable, trendy restaurants Relae in Copenhagen, Denmark; Fish and Game in Hudson, New York; and Rose’s Luxury in Washington, D.C. What’s more, the restaurant has two wine-industry celebrities — Eric Railsback of boutique California wine label Lieu Dit and master sommelier Dustin Wilson (yep, from the movie Somm) — managing the drinks situation. With its chic atmosphere and seasonal bistro-style dishes, not to mention the stellar wine list, Mason Pacific is on the forefront of the city’s dining scene. 1358 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-374-7185;

Trou Normand

It’s all about the housemade charcuterie at Thad Vogler’s relaxed, spacious and brightly lit casual restaurant, located conveniently near the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and other downtown attractions. “Trou normand” is a French concept that translates to “Normandy hole,” and it refers to the northern French practice of sipping on a Calvados (apple brandy) as a digestif between courses. Très chic, non? The entire experience at Trou Normand is one of French- and Italian-inspired elegance: You feel like you could while away the afternoon or evening here, sipping low-alcohol cocktails, rosé or a crisp Chenin Blanc, nibbling on tasty and fresh salads and sandwiches at lunch, or sharing plates of seasonal vegetables and meat dishes like pork meatballs in pomodoro sauce. 140 New Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94105; 415-975-0876;


Prominent bartenders mix swanky drinks at Wildhawk. (Photo: Matthew Millman.)
Prominent bartenders mix swanky drinks at Wildhawk. (Photo: Matthew Millman.)


The Mission’s newest watering hole opened this past spring with a swank, fun vibe that somehow manages to deliver extremely proper drinks, served in fashionable Schott Zweisel glassware, while maintaining a sense of playfulness and humor. Case in point: the “Breakfast Negroni,” a lightly sweet concoction served in a bowl, with floating orange peels carved into the shapes of alphabets (it’s surprisingly good). Martinis are really the house specialty, though; Wildhawk invites prominent bartenders from around the country to create their own personal version of a martini, which is featured for one month. And the bar also makes four different kinds of batched house martinis, to which guests can add their preferred garnish. If it all sounds too confusing, don’t worry: You can just tell the super-friendly staff what you’re in the mood for. It will be delicious. Don’t forget to try the snacks, like the house-made charcuterie. 3464 19th St., San Francisco, CA 94110; 415-420-1516;


A trio of locally known spirits ambassadors and talented mixologists opened ABV in the Mission in 2014, and it’s packed all the time with people who love the fun drinks, like the neon green Tarragon Collins, the mezcal selection, the cheap and tasty Korean- and Mexican-fusion snacks, and the colorful punk-themed coasters. The concise and affordable drink menu is organized by spirit, and nothing is intimidating despite the bar’s popularity in industry circles. The great natural light and friendly staff make this spot a winner for afternoon drinking, while the fact that the kitchen is open until 1 a.m. is a draw for the evening crowd. 3174 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-400-4748;

Bar Ordinaire

If you’re a fan of natural wine, then you absolutely must venture over to Oakland to check out one of the best selections of organic, biodynamic, low-intervention, small-production and totally delicious bottles. If you aren’t sure what any of these monikers mean but are curious, don’t worry — the super-friendly staff at Ordinaire is happy to pour you tastes, explain the bottles, and otherwise make sure you’re happy as you tuck into some local, sustainable sardines and a crisp Chenin Blanc. Ordinaire is modeled after the caves-a-mangers of Paris, where one can grab a bottle to go, or stay and drink, so you’ll be able to grab a fun wine to take with you in addition to enjoying the atmosphere. Check the website or Instagram for updates about tastings, visiting winemakers, and other fun events for the thirsty and curious. 3354 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA 94610; 510-629-3944;


This side bar at Mission Street institution Foreign Cinema reopened this spring with a new design and cocktail-bar menu, and the good news is you can still order off the restaurant’s full food menu. Foreign Cinema was one of the original chef-driven, producer-focused restaurants in that neighborhood, and today it is as popular as ever, with the patio filling up on weekends with brunch-goers and those who know about wine director Shannon Tucker’s killer list of some 900 bottles. Lazslo features San Francisco’s hippest DJs on a regular basis and is an overall great vibe for afternoon cocktails or an evening date. 2526 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110; 415-401-0801;