My first and only visit to Benu was just after it opened, ten years ago. Much has changed in those years as the restaurant has received recognition from all over the world, holding three Michelin stars since 2015. It is generally regarded as one of the city’s top fine dining establishments with a price that expects as much. At a current price of $350 ($456 with service charge + tax), paid upfront, it’s one of the most expensive restaurants in the country.
I first came across Birdsong in 2020 while going to one its neighbors in Square Pie Guys and now-closed Saint Frank Coffee. The restaurant is striking even from the outside; peeking through the bars on its windows offers a glimpse of the Pacific Northwest-inspired oasis behind. The restaurant is in stark contrast to its neighborhood, adjacent to Civic Center in an area generally not recommended for lingering.
Chris Bleidorn, formerly chef de cuisine of Atelier Crenn, staked out on his own to open this place in 2018. The restaurant’s received rave reviews ever since, earning its first Michelin star in 2019 and second in 2021. I first tried the restaurant for its pandemic-special fried chicken takeout offering. The chicken was so popular it spawned its own offshoot called Birdbox just a mile away.
Nisei opened in August of 2021, an exciting addition to the San Francisco dining scene. The restaurant first started out as a pop-up before the pandemic and settled into its own physical location on Russian Hill, replacing the long-tenured fine dining restaurant La Folie.
David Yoshimura is the chef here, most recently the Chef de Cuisine at Michelin-starred Californios. Yoshimura is half Japanese, and Nisei (the Japanese word for second generation) is an ode to his heritage and blend of Japanese-Californian cooking here. He is serving an elevated version of washoku cuisine, traditional ‘homestyle’ Japanese cooking but with plenty of Californian influence. The restaurant has Michelin star aspirations with a price to match – the tasting menu currently runs $192 before any supplements and a 20% service charge.
I’ve been to SPQR once way back, just over ten years ago. That first meal was a bit unmemorable, which is a large reason why it’s been so long since I’ve returned. Since then, the restaurant has consistently received a Michelin star (since 2012) and has converted to a tasting menu-only setup. While a la carte is no longer available, there are multiple options for almost each course and the $92 price tag (5ish courses) is pretty reasonable for a Michelin-starred spot in San Francisco.
Penny Roma has been one of the more popular new restaurants in San Francisco. Opened in October of 2021, the restaurant is a more casual offshoot of the ever-popular Flour & Water. The restaurant replaces Central Kitchen in the Inner Mission complex that also houses Flour & Water Pasta Shop, Trick Dog, and Sightglass Coffee.
As expected, the menu is pasta-centric but is rounded out by a selection of antipasti and protein-dense main courses. A tasting menu at a reasonable $70 price point is also available but we went a la carte.
State Bird Provisions has been one of the most popular restaurants in the city since opening over eleven years ago. Accolades came quickly to the restaurant, including being named one of America’s best new restaurants by Bon Appetit and a Michelin star in 2014 (held ever since).
I haven’t been in over 9 years, but was able to snag a spontaneous prime reservation so off we went. The famous “dim sum carts” finally returned in May after a pandemic hiatus, so it was an opportune time to revisit.
To this day, my memory of Flour + Water is that it was one of the most memorable pasta meals in my life. That last meal was almost a dozen years ago and I finally got a chance to return. The restaurant had just undergone an extension renovation and reopened earlier this year, making this a perfect time to go.
Ernest was one of the most anticipated SF restaurant openings last year and has been one of the toughest reservations in town ever since. The chef here is Brandon Rice, who decided to open his own restaurant after his tenure as the chef de cuisine of Rich Table. It’s tough to categorize what type of cuisine is served at Ernest as Rice’s menu appears to be inspired by flavors all across the world.