Summer is almost here, and with it comes all of the season's signature traits in the Bay Area — coastal fog, inland heat, baseball fever, and, most importantly, lots of top-notch food and drink. From cool poke and ramen bowls, to hot barbecue and porcini mushroom donuts at the ballpark, there's a new summer dish for all types of San Francisco tastes.
Nobody mistakes the Bay for the Maine coast — indeed San Francisco is Dungeness crab territory — but we still love our lobster rolls, especially on a waterfront patio.
Waterbar’s iconic Bay Bridge view from the Embarcadero is the ideal backdrop for the Friday lunch-only lobster roll, simply dressed with butter and served in a toasted homemade brioche bun (come early because Waterbar serves only 30 of these a day). Directly on the other side of the bridge in Oakland's Jack London Square, the appropriately named Jack’s serves an excellent seaweed-topped version via an atypical method: a pretzel roll.
Chartreuse and Tonic at Cadence
Hot weather calls for gin and tonics. Or, at the Mid-Market’s best new happy hour, make that a Chartreuse and tonic. Gin and Chartreuse are somewhat similar, full of various spices and botanicals that really open up with the carbonation of tonic water. This version of the summer classic cocktail isn't only a more colorful rendition — it's bold and snappy. The homemade chicken liver pâté is a mandatory pairing.
1446 Market St.; 415-851-8561
Poke at Limu & Shoyu
2016 is shaping up to be "the year of poke" in the Bay Area. Of the dozens of new poke and rice bowl cafes, none compete with the pristine marinades and excellent quality raw fish at this NoPa newcomer, which transports you to the islands, complete with ukulele music. Better yet: all of the fish is sustainably caught. With their light but hearty character, poke bowls are ideal for summer. Tip: Ask for half rice, half salad as the base.
2815 California St.; 415-757-0889
Forget about pop-ups. Brunch in the Mission is all about seasonal fruit Pop-Tarts. Foreign Cinema has thrived at everything brunch for years, and still the meal isn't complete without the famous rotating fruit Pop-Tarts.
Meanwhile at nearby Hog & Rocks' brunch, start with a platter of ham and oysters, and finish with the homemade strawberry-everything Pop-Tart (flavors will rotate by the season) filled with strawberry jam, coated in strawberry icing, and garnished with strawberries and puffed cardamom. Not exactly the Pop-Tarts of your childhood, eh?
Tako Salad at Chaya Brasserie
No, this isn’t a taco salad in a crispy tortilla bowl. It’s a refreshing summer salad with braised octopus as the star, complemented by the fragrant, bold Asian flavors Chaya is known for, along with its prime Embarcadero address. Cabbage provides crunch, green papaya adds a sweet note, and mint and serrano chiles give everything a riveting kick.
132 The Embarcadero; 415-777-8688
The Bay Area is having a barbecue moment, just in time for prime summer barbecue season. In wine country, fuel up for a day of tasting at Sonoma's new runaway hit smokehouse, Cochon Volant. Diners here have tough decisions. Brisket or pork shoulder? Get a combo with both. Vinegar-based Carolina sauce or tomato-based Sonoma sauce? When in Sonoma...
In the city's Fillmore district, 1300 on Fillmore's chef-owner David Lawrence pays homage to his home state of Texas. That means tender, smoky brisket is the driving force, and do save room for a helping of sweet potato pecan casserole.
Attention ramen fans: Two new additions to the always-growing ramen scene offer summer-appropriate cold bowls of ramen, plus no 45-minute wait. In Uptown Oakland, Kyle Itani's (Hopscotch) Nanban Zuke ramen manages to be light thanks to jicama, scallions, and peppers instead of pork fat; yet it's got substance from homemade noodles and pickled Monterey sardines.
The Lower Haight's new ramen shop swaps soup for a shiso, tahini and sesame dressing in the Hiyashi Chuka. Each ingredient in the cold summer ramen is served individually atop the noodles (barbecue pork, marinated egg, micro greens, red ginger, cucumbers), and the diner mixes it together to enjoy a perfect warm-weather lunch.
Tortilla at Bellota
One of the spring's hottest openings from the Absinthe Group tackles the already crowded genre of Spanish cooking in San Francisco — and it is blowing away SoMa diners with its blend of new-style and classic tapas and festive paellas. The elevated yet faithful version of an egg, potato, and rainbow chard tortilla, surrounded by drops of a robust aïoli, is exactly the light, hearty tapa you want with a summer apéritif of sangria.
888 Brannan St. #110; 415-430-6580
Perfect Stranger at Loló
Each season, this Latin hot spot unveils a dozen new cocktails that Mission drinkers anticipate like the opening of a blockbuster film. Bring lots of friends and plan several rounds of tacos and drinks to make your way through the menu. Be sure to start with this gin, dry vermouth, and Oloroso sherry creation, given a few drops of celery bitters and jalapeño brine, and clarified with goat milk. It's crisp, smooth, and eyebrow-raising, a spicy martini gone crazy.
974 Valencia St.; 415-643-5656
La Niña Fresa at Ale Industries
Pineapple beer? Trust us, it can be special. This fermented pineapple wheat beer is a tart-sweet standout that's daring without being too bizarre. Get it at the brewery and taproom in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood (a perfect stop prior to an A's game). A pint of La Niña Fresa beats a mai tai any day.
3096 E. 10th St., Oakland; 510-479-3185
Rich Table Porcini Donuts at AT&T Park
For important Bay Area summer experiences, nothing beats a Giants game with some peanuts and a hot dog. Given how food-crazy San Francisco is, it's not surprising to find destination restaurant-worthy cuisine at AT&T Park that goes way beyond ballpark fare. The warm, savory donuts dusted with porcini mushroom powder are a signature at the perpetually packed Hayes Valley stalwart Rich Table, and they're now available for games on the promenade level. Not only do you not have to book a month in advance for a table, the warm donuts and melted Raclette sauce are very welcome on our (always chilly) summer evenings.
Bonne Vie No. 2 at The Ice Cream Bar
Leave it to the ice cream-mixologist-soda jerks at Cole Valley's throwback soda fountain/cocktail bar to devise the ultimate, unique summer produce-themed shake (without booze). Savory homemade basil ice cream is the base; to that, a tart addition of grapefruit juice and grapefruit extract is added, which is then offset by a turbinado sugar syrup. Dessert or salad? Consider it a fresh, feel-good dessert. If it's around, also opt for a scoop of the fresh strawberry ice cream.
815 Cole St.; 415-742-4932