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San Francisco's 12 Most Anticipated Restaurants for Spring

An upmarket Ghirardelli Square spot, new burger joints, a fresh izakaya — don't miss a thing
March 15, 2016
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by Trevor Felch

Spring 2016 is shaping up to be a strong season for new restaurant openings in San Francisco. Already established dining neighborhoods like Hayes Valley and the Dogpatch are poised to received new signature restaurants. Burgers joints and izakayas show no signs of stopping their popularity. And a nationally renowned chef is returning home after nearly three decades. Here are the dozen spring openings in San Francisco and the Bay Area we can’t wait to visit.

Nightbird

Hayes Valley was the neighborhood in which to open a restaurant in 2015, and it’s shaping up to be big for 2016 openings as well. The charge is led by this intimate 38-seat solo debut by Kim Alter (Coi, Plum). Diners can expect a four- to five-course tasting menu focusing on a light, organic cooking style that's constantly evolving. At first, menus will change weekly, but as Alter gets into the groove and spring produce proliferates, expect the menu to change up more often. Preview pop-ups for Nightbird featured dishes such as spot prawns with squash and duck paired with smoky greens. Nightbird will also have a seven-seat bar called The Linden Room, inspired by grand, art deco 1930s New York City hotels. Where: 330 Gough St. When: Mid to late spring.

 

‘aina

The trade winds are picking up in the Dogpatch, where Hawaii native chef-owner Jordan Keao will soon make the transition from his Bernal Heights bi-weekly weekend brunch pop-up to a brick-and-mortar modern Hawaiian restaurant. Brunch will still initially be the only meal served, followed by an afternoon pau hana (happy hour) centered on low-ABV beverages from former La Folie bar manager Jason Alonzo. Once the restaurant gets settled, dinner will follow. Rice bowls and previous pop-up staples like guava-filled malasadas, Spam musubi and loco moco will be served, along with new additions. The restaurant, on the Dogpatch’s main thoroughfare and the MUNI tram line, is a serene, minimal, wood-filled room with many design pieces imported directly from the islands. Where: 900 22nd St. When: Late March to early April.

 

WesBurger n' More

Mention hamburgers to San Francisco diners, and you’ll catch everyone’s attention. Say pop-up burger maestro Wes Rowe's name, and your audience might begin to salivate. That's thanks to the runaway success of his weekly burger series at NoPa’s Mojo Cafe. Rowe started as a writer and photographer, but after defeating several Bay Area professional chefs in a burger competition in 2013, his life became burger focused. His new brick-and-mortar spot in the Mission will be a blend of a diner and a roadhouse, complete with vintage jukebox and an old-school soda-fountain-style counter. Rowe will offer a constantly changing array of burgers, many made with all-brisket patties like the Hot Wes with queso, jalapeños and beer-battered onion rings, and other varieties like lamb and veggie. Non-burger favorites from his pop-ups will also show up, like Nashville hot chicken sandwiches and sides of tater tots with accompaniments like queso cheese. Where: 2240 Mission St. When: Late March.

 

Waxman's

Ghirardelli Square is on its way to being known for more than just chocolate-topped ice cream sundaes. First Bluxome Street Winery unveiled a tasting room to its SoMa home base, and then we got word that Le Marais is opening a second cafe there. Add Waxman’s to that list, as Berkeley native and Chez Panisse alum Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto and Jams in NYC, Brezza Cucina in Atlanta) is returning to the city with this self-titled restaurant. Waxman's will bring the California-Italian menu concepts he's perfected in his New York restaurants — rustic dishes, pizzas and pastas — and add in the Bay Area’s abundance of produce. There will be a fast-casual and a full-service side to the project, and both will have room for more than 100 diners, plus outdoor patio areas, which will take advantage of its Ghirardelli Square location. We're especially excited to get a taste of Waxman’s roast chicken with salsa verde, imported from Barbuto in NYC, a dish that's the "Zuni roast chicken" of Manhattan. If this Bay Area premier from a chef at the top of his game doesn't make Ghirardelli Square a destination for locals, we don't know what will. Where: 900 North Point St. When: Late March.

Mister Jiu's

Brandon Jew (Bar Agricole's opening chef in 2010) is in the final stages of unveiling his 125-seat restaurant set in the heart of Chinatown, primed to be a key dining room for a neighborhood with many restaurants but few that stick out from the crowd. Jew, who grew up in the Sunset District, is combining classic Chinese recipes and techniques with a present-day Bay Area seasonal produce mindset at this restaurant. His soy sauce is brewed in-house, and he's making his own tofu. Jew also has a strong supporting cast in the kitchen with a pair of two current James Beard Foundation award nominees: Sara Hauman (Huxley) and pastry chef Melissa Chou (Mourad). It’s an all-star team with an exciting concept in a prime address. Yes, this will no doubt be one of the year’s most noteworthy openings. Where: 731 Grant Ave. When: Early April.


Photo: Michael David Rose

Popsons

The burger at Causwells in the Marina is hot-hot-hot and those responsible — chef-partner Adam Rosenblum and restaurateur Alvin Garcia — are almost set to go in the historic Warfield Theater along Market Street near Union Square with this second burger-devoted establishment. The menu will likely resemble items teased at a recent Popsons pop-up in SoMa. Look for the signature menu item, Rosenblum’s classic cheeseburger with Napa’s Five Dot Ranch beef, ground daily, joined by the Savory burger with mushrooms and truffle cheese, and non-burger diner fare like a bacon, peppers and onion-laden Mission Dog, and fries plain or coated in chili and cheese. Will there be shakes and malts? Of course. The spacious location has an outdoor patio and a light-filled room that can hold 87 diners. Concrete walls, an open kitchen, and a gorgeous mural by local painter Ian Johnson up the hip factor. Where: 998 Market St. When: Early April.

Itani Ramen

After gaining Bay Area–wide attention for his First Base burger at Hopscotch (it's topped with griddled beef tongue), Kyle Itani turns his attention to one of the Bay Area’s favorite dining topics: ramen. His casual spot will feature four bowls: a light, Northern-style ramen; a rich, Southern-style ramen; a vegetarian ramen; and a seldom-seen cold noodle salad, all with noodles made by the restaurant. Diners can customize bowls with various add-ons like soy-marinated Jidori eggs, spicy duck fat or chashu pork slices. The menu has grazing items to share, including donburi bowls and gyoza. Itani Ramen will also feature a regional ramen every few weeks for a constant ramen education and have a Jaeger tap pouring ice-cold shots of shochu (and sake and Japanese beers if that isn’t your thing). Lastly, take note night owls: get your ramen until 1 AM on Friday and Saturday nights, or midnight every other evening. Where: 1736 Telegraph Ave., OaklandWhen: Late April.

Two Birds One Stone

Yes, the name is a common saying for wisely cutting corners, but this is no cliché restaurant concept coming to wine country. Birds, however, will be a central theme at the Japanese yakitori restaurant and izakaya from a duo of high-profile chefs. Douglas Keane (Cyrus in Healdsburg) and Sang Yoon (Father's Office and Lukshon in LA), two heralded California chefs, are coming together at the renovated Freemark Abbey Winery. Grilled meats and vegetable compositions will get shared table space, with produce grown by longtime culinary gardener at The French Laundry, Tucker Taylor. Non-grilled small plates will join those creations, with items like silken tofu with salmon eggs in shiitake mushroom broth and chile-fish sauce–glazed chicken wings. A full bar, wines from former Cyrus sommelier Kevin Reilly, service advised by former Cyrus co-owner and maitre d’ Nick Peyton, and that pivotal wine country feature — an outdoor patio with an outdoor grill — will keep the 90-seat space as a prime destination for locals and visitors. Where: 3022 St. Helena Highway N., St. Helena. When: Early June. 

Corridor

Mid-Market–Hayes Valley area diners are counting down the days until Corridor Cafe's next-door full-service restaurant concept, Corridor, is unveiled. The new Cafe is already beloved for its fast-casual set-up, and savory sandwiches like bay shrimp po' boys and cruffins (these are a gougèrelike savory version with Gruyère and prosciutto). The new spot will be the street-level anchor restaurant for the new, soaring 100 Van Ness apartment tower that is already one of the key figures in the rising San Francisco skyline. Corridor is the fourth full-scale project after a trio of initial hits for Ryan Cole, Jason Halverson and the Hi Neighbor Restaurant Group (Trestle, Stones Throw, Fat Angel). Seasonal-influenced lunch and dinner will be served in a multilevel dining room with an open kitchen, full bar and outdoor seating. Where: 100 Van Ness Ave. When: Late March to mid-April.

 

Photo: Smeeta Mahanti

Tawla

Former Delfina chef Joseph Magidow and first-time restaurateur and a native of Jordan, Azhar​ Hashem, will explore the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean at their upcoming Mission District restaurant. Magidow will focus on vegetable, fish and seafood dishes representative of the region’s home cooking (not street food like kebabs and falafel), split between smaller mezes and larger-format dishes, such as a leg of lamb. A substantial bread program is also planned, with a range of styles, including a pita-baguette hybrid (a pitaguette?). On the drinks front, expect unique low-ABV cocktails designed by the Bon Vivants firm that will feature regional appropriate ingredients like za'atar and orange blossom water. Tawla’s space includes a back patio, and inside plans call for a living greenery wall and an Arabesque design with Moorish motifs and some design nods to the Mission’s Mexican heritage. Where: 206 Valencia St. When: Mid-spring.

 

Single Thread

One of the most anticipated openings not just for the Bay Area, but the entire country, is finally set to be unveiled at the end of spring. Husband-and-wife team Kyle and Katina Connaughton (he runs the kitchen, she is the farmer) are set to elevate the already superlative Sonoma Wine Country fine-dining scene even higher. Their original concept delves deeply into the California terroir and blends the Japanese spirit of hospitality and omotenashi with challenging Japanese cooking techniques like donabe (cooking in a clay pot). Most recently, the chef ran the research and development wing for the game-changing restaurant The Fat Duck, outside of London. The Japanese influences come from chef Connaughton's prior tenure running Michel Bras’ gastronomic restaurant in Hokkaido, Japan. Dinners will commence at the venue's rooftop garden with snacks and drinks, before enjoying an 11-course kaiseki tasting menu that will constantly change based on ingredients from the restaurant's farm and gardens by the Russian River, along with local sources like Sonoma Coast sea urchin and locally raised pigeon. Bi-coastal architecture firm AvroKo, which drew rave reviews last year in the Bay Area with Napa’s Ninebark, is in charge of design for the 55-seat restaurant. Where: 131 North St., Healdsburg. When: Early June.

Tartine Manufactory

Tartine is expanding east, opening a bakery in the Heath Ceramics factory that can bake a higher volume of its breads and pastries. Unlike at the intimate 18th and Guerrero location, here there will be lots of space both for the all-day cafe and baking operation. Besides the growth of the award-winning bread program, there will be a wood-burning pizza oven, a larder section with housemade pickles and preserves, and for dessert, Tartine Cookies and Cream. Yes, that last part is a soft-serve ice cream shop, something to further excite Tartine fans. Where: 2900 18th St. When: Late spring.

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