Fall in the Bay Area doesn't have to mean pumpkin beers and apple tarts with colorful foliage. Instead, you'll find creative fruit-filled croissants, bone marrow flan with uni, and emerging contenders for the Bay's premier ramen and fried chicken sandwich. Still need your pumpkin fix? You'll find that with an orecchiette Bolognese, plus an epic nine-part amuse-bouche and more in our autumnal look at the Bay Area's 15 must-try new dishes.
Pork bulgogi at FoxSister
From squid jerky to kimchi hellfire stew, the lively Mission restaurant specializes in salty, spicy Korean anju (drinking snacks) and hearty hangover-preventing stews. Don't ignore the less catchy-sounding Main Event section of the menu, led by a standout bulgogi. Thin-sliced pork is marinated in chili paste then stir-fried with scallions, sesame and garlic, accompanied by lettuce wraps for DIY bulgogi tacos.
3161 24th St.; 415-829-7814
Lamb belly at Parigo
Move over pork belly. Chef de cuisine Danny Murcia gives lamb belly the spotlight at The Barrel Room’s Marina sibling. He braises the meat for four hours, sears it for a perfect tender texture and finishes with a thick hoisin glaze that partners wonderfully with the lamb’s trademark gaminess — and, of course, the restaurant's playful Contrast and Complement wine listings.
3232 Scott St.; 415-580-7080
Nine flavors at Eight Tables
Chef-owner George Chen doesn’t start the lavish dining experience at Chinatown’s marquee tasting menu destination with just an amuse-bouche. Each diner gets nine of them — as in, the nine essential flavors of Chinese cooking. On one oversized plate, diners sample everything from Sweet (jujube-stuffed glutinous rice) and Salty (a roulade of drunken chicken with salted duck yolk) to Numbing (beef tendon with Sichuan green peppercorn marinade).
8 Kenneth Rexroth Pl.; 415-788-8788
Clams cooked in hay at Gibson
Hay is not just for the pumpkin patch this fall. Chef Robin Song uses them to cook a clever riff on that love-it-or-hate-it local dish: clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. Manila clams are cooked with lardo and seafood consommé then temporarily topped with hay while in the kitchen's hearth. The cooked clams are then taken out of their shells and paired with a potato-sourdough purée. This resulting "chowder bowl" feels like Fisherman's Wharf by way of Copenhagen.
111 Mason St.; 415-771-7709
Fruit-stuffed croissants at Vive La Tarte
Vive La Tarte, SoMa’s impossibly chic temple to everything pastry dough-related, may not get the attention of its bakery peers — but its croissants are as on-the-mark flaky and buttery as it gets in the city. This season, the croissants go next-level, with daily fillings like strawberry shortcake, mocha and lemon meringue. Sorry, cruffins, but you’ve met your Insta-famous match.
1160 Howard St.; 415-634-5444
Pumpkin orecchiette at El Paseo
Pumpkin-spiced lattes, pumpkin beer and…pumpkin Bolognese? Yes, that’s what the popular Mill Valley restaurant’s new chef, Todd Shoberg (ex-Molina), unveiled for the season: a hearty pasta dish with ground pork, veal and pancetta, plus spices reminiscent of pumpkin pie. It sounds questionable but the vibrant kick after each bite makes this a seasonal winner.
17 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley; 415-388-0741
Cesar at Barcino
One salad trend we’re seeing across Bay Area menus right now is grilled lettuce. (Trust us, it's way more compelling than it sounds.) SF’s leading version is at this Hayes Valley Spanish hot spot where gently charred romaine spears get brushed with a Caesar-style dressing fortified with garum (fermented fish sauce) and tamari. The secret weapon is the intensely sweet and smoky bread crumbs. They're toasted in a shallot butter and generously top the romaine along with boquerones and pickled watermelon radish.
399 Grove St.; 415-430-6590
Fresh pappardelle at Donato & Co.
Like at his restaurants DESCO and Donato Enoteca, chef and co-owner Donato Scotti is upping the Bay Area’s pasta game, yet again. The runaway must-order dish at this Berkeley concept with Gianluca Guglielmi (previously A.G. Ferrari's executive chef) is the fresh pappardelle: Thick ribbons of homemade pasta are tossed with plump gulf prawns, cannellini beans and brightened up by a garbanzo purée and lemon zest for a beautiful primi reminiscent of Venice.
2635 Ashby Ave., Berkeley; 510-838-1131
Pork tamal at Mina Test Kitchen
The fall edition of Michael Mina’s Marina pop-up space is a captivating collaboration with the celebrated Houston chef, Hugo Ortega, called “Mi Almita.” The prix fixe contemporary Mexican menu hits its stride in the middle masa-focused portion of the menu with a taco of grilled octopus and a juicy pork-filled tamal with a robust, slightly spicy huaxmole sauce. It'll make you wonder, as we did: Must this offering be temporary?
2120 Greenwich St.; 415-625-5470
Rabbit tortelloni at Madcap
Chef-owner Ron Siegel masterfully marries contemporary Californian cooking with classic Japanese ingredients and techniques at his Marin County solo debut. Case in point: tortelloni stuffed with rabbit, artistically arranged with Parmesan spuma and chanterelle miso purée. As you'd expect, the earthy-umami taste notes are off the charts.
198 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo; 415-453-9898
Sally Hurricane fried chicken sandwich at RT Rotisserie
Yes, the roast meats are the signature of Rich Table’s fast-casual spin-off in Hayes Valley. But, trust us, you don’t want to miss the new fried chicken sandwich, based off co-owner Sarah Rich’s wildly popular pop-up dish at Rich Table. (FYI, Sally Hurricane was Sarah's childhood nickname.) Her recipe uses the same Douglas Fir brine as the roast chicken at RTR so it's satisfyingly moist.
101 Oak St.; 415-829-7086
Tamarind hot wings at Navi Kitchen
Chef-owner Preeti Mistry added a few must-try items for the debut fall menu of her Emeryville all-day concept (which offers some noteworthy pizzas). An early favorite: the chicken wings, which pack substantial heat from the slick tamarind glaze, offered for $6 at the new happy hour.
5000 Adeline St., Emeryville; 510-285-6923
Tonkotsu ramen at Ippudo
The global chain made its West Coast debut over the summer with great fanfare. Believe the hype. Ippudo’s signature “shiromaru classic” (tonkotsu pork broth) is an ideal bowl of a creamy pork fat-forward broth, howling with umami, and supported by tender chashu slices and al dente thin noodles. The competition for the area's best ramen just heated up.
2015 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510-666-8807
Octopus and merguez at Villon
The lobby restaurant of Mid-Market's San Francisco Proper Hotel offers a unique take on the ubiquitous octopus appetizer by merging SF's never-ending cephalopod trend with two unlikely partners: smoky merguez sausage and a light layer of mole negro, all meant to be mixed together. It's earthy and spicy — and a downright steal at $8.
1100 Market St.; 628-895-2040
Nutella brioche at The Village Bakery
Nutella has been largely left out of the notorious $4 toast trend — until now. Woodside’s all-day restaurant newcomer is slathering a hefty layer of Nutella on thick, fluffy brioche (baked by its Palo Alto sibling Mayfield Bakery) with brûléed bananas and toasted hazelnuts.
By the way, this isn’t $4 toast. It’s $10 toast. In this case, it's worth it.
3052 Woodside Rd., Woodside; 650-851-5555