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From Our Survey: Top SF Bay Restaurants by Cuisine

By Meesha Halm
October 31, 2013

We’ve already told you about the top-rated 2014 San Francisco Bay Area restaurants specializing in the most popular cuisines: Californian, New American, Italian, Mediterranean, Chinese, etc. But part of what makes the Northern California dining scene so special is the diversity of offerings beyond the usual suspects. If you look hard enough, you'll find dynamic chefs cooking up faithful (and often innovative) renditions of their childhood favorites, reimagining vegetarian, BBQ and other cuisines and otherwise cooking out of the box. In the slideshow below, we tip our hats to the top-rated restaurants throughout the Bay Area that represent the best of their kind. Be sure to check out all of the 2014 San Francisco Bay Area restaurant coverage.

  • Top Vegetarian Restaurants in the Bay Area

    Forget about sprout sandwiches and Birkenstocks. Bay Area chefs are continuing to elevate meatless and vegetable-centric meals to new heights. For straight-up vegetarian or vegan cuisine, the top honor goes to the thoroughly modern Millennium, where long-time chef Eric Tucker earns raves for his culinary takes on seasonal bounty. To boot, the eclectic, visually arresting seasonal vegan dishes are served in a smart-looking Downtown dining room accompanied by a bar program that specializes in organic, artisanal wine, beer and spirits. The other top-rated vegetarian or vegan restaurants in the Bay Area include Greens, Gracias Madre,Udupi Palace and Cha-Ya Vegetarian.

  • Top Spanish/Basque Restaurants in the Bay Area

    San Francisco used to be home to many family-style Basque restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s only recently that Iberian food has become the It cuisine (to wit, just this year, we saw Food Network personality Michael Chiarello open the Spanish-inspired Coqueta on the San Francisco waterfront.)  For the cream of the crop, surveyors praise Gerald Hiriyogen’s Downtown restaurant Piperade, where the gregarious chef/owner regales guests with the rustic food (such as the namesake piperade stew), local wines and signature hospitality of his Basque homeland. The four other top-rated Iberian-inspired restaurants include Contigo, Fringale, Zarzuela and Zuzu.

  • Top BBQ Restaurants in the Bay Area

    San Francisco ain’t Memphis or Kansas City, but the city by the Bay has made inroads in the world of barbecue. For the best of the lot, surveyors tip their hats to the historic Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley, where the pit master’s ribs, chicken wings and other smoked meats (coaxed from a smoker out back) share the menu with oyster Bingo and swankier Americana fare. Others notables in the ‘cue queue are Thomas Keller’s wine-country pop-up Addendum, Tanya Holland’s West Oakland B-Side BBQ, the nouveau FiDi spot Wexler’s and the down-and-dirty Bo’s BBQ in Lafayette.

  • Top Middle Eastern Restaurants in the Bay Area

    Aside from a few corner falafel joints, Arabic cuisine is largely underrepresented in the Bay Area. For the best taste of the Fertile Crescent, surveyors save their highest praises for Saha, which showcases fusion Arabic cuisine that marries traditional Yemenese dishes with a Californian larder. You’ll also find killer kebabs, kofta and other wide-ranging Arabic flavors down in the South Bay at Sunnyvale’s Dishdash and Kabul Afghan (at San Carlos and Burlingame locals) and in San Francisco proper, at the Persian-inspired Maykadeh and the Afghan-focused Helmand Palace.

  • Top Cajun-Creole Restaurants in the Bay Area

    In recent years, a small but mighty coterie of chefs has been bringing hometown Southern comforts to local tables. When it comes to chicken 'n waffles, buttermilk biscuits and gumbo (made from local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients, natch), surveyors prefer to get their fix at Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland, where chef/owner Tanya Holland turns out her signature soul food for the adoring breakfast and lunchtime crowds. San Francisco’s Brenda’s French Soul Food and The Broken Record also get the nod for their Cajun-Creole efforts as do the East Bay contenders Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen and Pican.

  • Top Peruvian Restaurants in the Bay Area 

    Ten years ago there wouldn’t have been enough Peruvian restaurants to generate a top-five list, but thanks to a handful of prolific restaurateurs, pisco and ceviche are the new champagne and caviar. Gracing the top of the list is Piqueo’s, a tiny Peruvian tapas bar in Bernal Heights run by Carlos Altamirano, who also runs the oceanfront restaurant La Costanera in Montara Beach, which came in second (and Mochica in SoMa). Pasión, the Nuevo Latina offshoot of the traditional chain Fresca, clocks in at #3, followed the sprawling waterfronter La Mar Cebichera Peruana from renowned Lima restaurateur Gastón Acurio, and the more humble Limon Rotisserie, which serves its signature pollo a la brasa (roast chicken) and zesty ceviche at three San Francisco locations.

  • Top Thai Restaurants in the Bay Area

    They may not be as trendy as their Vietnamese counterparts, but the Bay Area is home to many high-scoring, traditional Thai restaurants. The title of pad Thai exemplar goes to Sea Thai Bistro, a trio of restaurants in the North Bay whose name is short for Southeast Asian and is known for its affordable, modernized fare served in three sleek contemporary settings (Mill Valley, Corte Madera and Petaluma.) Other stellar Siamese restaurants rounding out the list include the city’s duo of Marnee Thai (Inner and Outer Sunset), Thep Phenom (Lower Haight), Basil Thai (two SoMa outposts) and the twin branches of Lers Ros Thai (Hayes Valley and the Tenderloin).

  • Top Traditional American Restaurants in the Bay Area

    Adventurous foodies adore the creativity of the Bay Area's most inventive New American eateries, but that doesn't stop them from craving the occasional pot roast and creamed spinach. For food like mom used to make (only far, far better), surveyors beat a path to Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s casual wine country joint that serves misleadingly simple-sounding family-style set suppers. For more unapologetically old fashioned food, head to the city’s venerable House of Prime Rib, Yountville’s straightforward Rutherford Grill, Monterey’s Tarpy’s Roadhouse or Wayfare Tavern, Taylor Florence’s updated paean to the old Barbary Coast days.

  • Top Seafood Restaurants in the Bay Area

    Leave the clam chowder bread bowls to the tourists. True NorCal locals prefer responsibly-sourced catches over gimmicky presentations. So it's no surprise that the top-rated fish restaurant in the 2014 SF Bay Area Guide is Passionfish, a low-key haunt in Pacific Grove whose owners are credited for helping launch the sustainable seafood movement in Monterey Country. Rounding out the top five list are the vintage seafood counter Swan Oyster Depot, the farm-direct Hog Island Oyster Co, raw-centric Bar Crudo and the Italianate Sotto Mare.

  • Top Steak Restaurants in the Bay Area

    Meat-and-potato types can also find their share of East Coast style chophouses to sink their teeth into throughout the Bay Area. The beefiest rating goes to Cole’s Chop House in Napa Valley, where diners can chose from 12-, 16- and 32-ounce portions of dry-aged, prime meats, along with the usual fixings and cult Cabernets. Press, another high-end, wine-country chophouse that caters to high rollers with fine premier cuts and an enviable Napa Valley wine list, clocks in the #2 spot. Also making the list are the traditional Harris’ and House of Prime Rib, and the ultra pricey, Japanese-influenced Alexander’s Steakhouse, which boasts branches in Cupertino and San Francisco.

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Places Mentioned

Millennium

Nob Hill

Food26 Decor24 Service24 Cost$53
 
 
 
Greens

Vegetarian • Marina District

Food27 Decor26 Service24 Cost$42
 
 
 
Gracias Madre

Organic • The Mission

Food23 Decor22 Service22 Cost$27
 
 
 
Udupi Palace

Indian • The Mission

Food22 Decor13 Service18 Cost$19
 
 
 
Udupi Palace

Indian • Berkeley

Food22 Decor13 Service18 Cost$19
 
 
 
Cha-Ya

Japanese • Berkeley

Food22 Decor13 Service19 Cost$23
 
 
 
Passionfish

Seafood

Food27 Decor22 Service25 Cost$49
 
 
 
Swan Oyster Depot

Seafood • Polk Gulch

Food27 Decor12 Service24 Cost$39
 
 
 
Sotto Mare

Seafood • North Beach

Food26 Decor18 Service22 Cost$39
 
 
 
BAR CRUDO

Oyster Bar • NoPa

Food25 Decor18 Service20 Cost$50
 
 
 
Hog Island Oyster Co

Oyster Bar • Embarcadero

Food26 Decor21 Service22 Cost$39
 
 
 
Hog Island Oyster Co Inc

Oyster Bar • Napa

Food26 Decor21 Service22 Cost$39
 
 
 
Piperade

Spanish • North Beach

Food25 Decor23 Service24 Cost$58
 
 
 
Contigo

Spanish • Noe Valley

Food24 Decor21 Service23 Cost$47
 
 
 
Zarzuela

Spanish • Russian Hill

Food26 Decor19 Service25 Cost$47
 
 
 
Zuzu

Spanish • Napa

Food26 Decor20 Service22 Cost$58
 
 
 
Fringale Restaurant

French • Mission Bay

Food24 Decor21 Service24 Cost$59
 
 
 
Buckeye Roadhouse

American • Tamalpais-Homestead Valley

Food25 Decor24 Service24 Cost$48
 
 
 
Addendum

American • Yountville

Food24 Decor15 Service19 Cost$23
 
 
 
B-Side BBQ

Barbecue • Oakland

Food24 Decor19 Service21 Cost$24
 
 
 
Wexler's

Barbecue • Downtown

Food25 Decor21 Service23 Cost$35
 
 
 
Brown Sugar Kitchen

Soul Food • Oakland

Food24 Decor17 Service19 Cost$21
 
 
 
Brenda's French Soul Food

Creole • Tenderloin

Food26 Decor19 Service21 Cost$26
 
 
 
The Broken Record

Crocker-Amazon

Food24 Decor14 Service17 Cost$18
 
 
 
Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen

Southern American • Berkeley

Food24 Decor21 Service22 Cost$28
 
 
 
Pican Restaurant

Southern American • Oakland

Food23 Decor23 Service23 Cost$44
 
 
 
Saha Restaurant

Middle Eastern • Nob Hill

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Dishdash

Middle Eastern • Sunnyvale

Food24 Decor20 Service20 Cost$26
 
 
 
Kabul Afghan Cuisine

Afghani • Burlingame

Food25 Decor20 Service23 Cost$30
 
 
 
Kabul Afghan Cuisine

Afghani • San Carlos

Food25 Decor20 Service23 Cost$30
 
 
 
Maykadeh Persian Cuisine

Persian • North Beach

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Helmand Palace

Afghani • Russian Hill

Food25 Decor18 Service20 Cost$36
 
 
 
Sea Thai Bistro

Thai • Santa Rosa

Food25 Decor21 Service22 Cost$35
 
 
 
Marnee Thai Restaurant

Thai • Outer Sunset

Food24 Decor18 Service20 Cost$25
 
 
 
Marnee Thai Restaurant

Thai • Inner Sunset

Food24 Decor18 Service20 Cost$25
 
 
 
Thep Phanom Thai Restaurant

Thai • Lower Haight

Food- Decor- Service- Cost 
 
 
 
Food23 Decor20 Service20 Cost$27
 
 
 
Basil Canteen

Thai • SoMa

Food23 Decor20 Service20 Cost$27
 
 
 
Lers Ros Thai

Thai • Tenderloin

Food22 Decor16 Service17 Cost$27
 
 
 
Lers Ros Thai

Thai • Hayes Valley

Food22 Decor16 Service17 Cost$27
 
 
 
Ad Hoc

American • Yountville

Food25 Decor22 Service23 Cost$67
 
 
 
House of Prime Rib

American • Polk Gulch

Food27 Decor23 Service26 Cost$57
 
 
 
Food23 Decor23 Service22 Cost$40
 
 
 
Wayfare Tavern

American • Downtown

Food24 Decor24 Service23 Cost$54
 
 
 
Rutherford Grill

American • Rutherford

Food25 Decor23 Service24 Cost$41
 
 
 
Harris' The San Francisco Steakhouse

Steakhouse • Polk Gulch

Food27 Decor25 Service26 Cost$81
 
 
 
Cole's Chop House

Steakhouse • Napa

Food27 Decor23 Service25 Cost$62
 
 
 
Alexander's Steakhouse

Steakhouse • Cupertino

Food26 Decor24 Service26 Cost$97
 
 
 
Alexander's Steakhouse

Steakhouse • China Basin

Food26 Decor24 Service26 Cost$97
 
 
 
 
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