Get your appetite and cameras ready. From burgers topped with ravioli to ice cream crêpes shaped like panda bears, here's a peek at San Francisco's 10 most visually insane dishes to look at and, of course, to eat.
Crêpes at Belly Good Cafe and Crêpes
This Japantown dessert favorite will leave your sweet tooth and your creative side satisfied. The shop fashions animals, monsters and other fantastical creatures out of crêpe cones, ice cream flavors, sauces and toppings. Here, a scoop of green tea ice cream turns into a walrus, and vanilla ice cream transforms into a panda, thanks to pretzel sticks, coconut and condensed milk. Just know that you don’t order by animal type, but by flavor: the face is up to the staff. Still, you’re unlikely to be disappointed — there is no shortage of imagination.
1737 Post St.; 415-346-8383
Abalone, Black Truffle, Bone Marrow at Coi
Truffles, bone marrow and abalone travel in very different circles, appearing at high-end restaurants in San Francisco frequently, but usually not together. That's not the case in North Beach where Matthew Kirkley (L2O in Chicago) is running the kitchen at Daniel Patterson's flagship restaurant, one of the city's premier dining destinations. The final savory offering of Kirkley's mostly seafood-focused, 12-course menu layers a knockout visual ensemble of bone, bone-marrow custard, tender abalone and a flurry of shaved black truffles. It's an insane-looking and insanely delightful taste of land, sea and earth.
373 Broadway; 415-393-9000
Fallen Pear at Atelier Crenn
Dinner at Dominique Crenn’s tasting-menu stalwart in Cow Hollow has never been short on dazzling, nature-evoking presentations, all of which reflect what the chef calls “poetic culinaria” cuisine. On the menu for winter is this whimsical pear dessert, inspired by a fallen pear in a Yountville orchard where the Seckel pear used in the sorbet for the dish is grown. The pear itself is made from sorbet and accompanied by sage cake, quince-flavored tea that’s transformed into an ice, and, for the orchard’s ground, a brown butter crumble that is a stunning mimic of a cold-weather Northern California landscape.
3127 Fillmore St.; 415-440-0460
Fried Chicken 'n' Waffle Monte Cristo at Straw
The Hayes Valley carnival-themed restaurant loves to clown around with conventional dishes — there’s a hamburger with a donut bun on the menu, for example. One of its craziest creations combines fried chicken and waffles with a Monte Cristo sandwich. The result is a sweet-and-savory roll call of fried chicken, raspberry jam and Swiss cheese, sandwiched between cornmeal waffles, which are coated with powdered sugar. Diners can then dip the sandwich into maple syrup for a brunch treat that flirts with dinner territory.
203 Octavia Blvd.; 415-431-3663
Giant Donut at Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop
The Bob’s Donuts Challenge is one of the most daunting food quests in all of San Francisco. Within two minutes, competitors must finish the gigantic raised glazed (or maple or chocolate) donut to receive a refund on the $8 pastry, a free drink, a T-shirt and their name on the Hall of Fame. If it takes three minutes, you get everything except the refund. Worth it? That’s for you to decide. But even if you don’t go big, the longtime Polk Gulch favorite also makes terrific apple fritters and cake donuts that are normal size. Best of all, it’s open 24 hours a day, and all of the donuts are made right behind the counter.
1621 Polk St.; 415-776-3141
Old "Foie"shioned at Pabu Izakaya
Photo: Kevin McCullough
Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga’s Japanese small-plates restaurant and bar in the Financial District found a new way to incorporate foie gras shortly after California's ban was repealed in 2015: as the featured ingredient in a cocktail. Pabu infuses Nikka Coffee Grain whiskey with the rendered fat of foie gras, and uses it as the base for an old fashioned rounded out with both orange and chocolate bitters and kumquat simple syrup. A foie gras torchon and kumquat add a final flourish. Of course, diners can always order the seared Sonoma foie gras starter for a real pairing thrill.
101 California St.; 415-668-7228
Nostra Cheeseburger at Nostra Spaghetteria
For the entirety of Alexander Alioto’s career, from Seven Hills on Russian Hill to his first personal venture, Plin in the Mission, crowds have flocked for one specific dish: the raviolo uovo. The single oversized ravioli is filled with spinach and ricotta and bursts with egg yolk when pierced. Ailoto’s latest venture, Nostra Spaghetteria in the old Plin space, is still a pasta-centric concept, but here the dish making headlines is a tall, messy hamburger that incorporates raviolo uovo, American cheese, fried onion rings and truffle oil. Napkins are a must.
280 Valencia St.; 415-655-9510
Poulet Noir at Park Tavern
If roasted chicken seems banal, then you haven’t had the whole Cornish game hen from chef Jennifer Puccio. The bird is served on a special vertical roaster, which makes it appear like it’s standing up and ready to walk off the table (it may remind diners of the famous Friends Thanksgiving episode). A truffle and porcini mushroom brine lends flavor to the roasted bird.
1652 Stockton St.; 415-989-7300
Tatchos at Bullitt
Russian Hill’s Polk Street has no shortage of bars serving casual bites like nachos and tater tots, but only one watering hole combines the two. All of the normal nachos toppings — olives, jalapeños, tomato salsa, sour cream, guacamole and plenty of melted cheese sauce — are there in the tatchos, but it’s what’s under the toppings that grabs attention. That would be tater tots, not tortilla chips, creating a nachos version of poutine with tater tots standing in for fries.
2209 Polk St.; 415-268-0140
Wood-Oven-Roasted Pig’s Head at Cockscomb
Chris Cosentino celebrated offal meats before they became mainstream at Incanto, and those cuts still make frequent appearances at his new SoMa restaurant, but they don’t command the attention that his pig’s head does. For the dish, half a head gets roasted whole in the wood-fired oven and is served, intact, with endive, capers, parsley and lemon. Diners may have to overcome inhibitions as they start tearing into the ears, cheeks and even the gold-leaf-adorned snout.
564 Fourth St.; 415-974-0700