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Food & Drink

The woman who ate Bernal Heights: Our new food editor on SF’s unlikeliest culinary hub

A sleeper neighborhood with a bumper crop of eateries, bakeries and bars—and even a humble bodega filled with food treasures.

A woman is smiling, sitting at a bar with a bowl and chopsticks, shelves of liquor bottles behind her.
The Standard's new food editor Sara Deseran enjoying the sesame noodles at the Rabbit Hole at the base of Bernal Heights. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

You know how they say you can never go home again? In the case of Bernal Heights, this is fake news.

In the 2000s, I moved into my first real San Francisco home—a smidge of a flat that looked onto Sutro Tower from a tender Bernal precipice where the howling wind threatened to blow us down. I lived there for 10 years, enough time to wedge in a couple of kids and some cats. 

My young family relied on Cancun burritos and meatballs at Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack. We also ate at places that have shuttered: El Zocalo, where old-school waitresses served up fried plantains till 3 a.m., and Liberty Cafe, where families dipped into tongue-scorching potpie. It was all fine. It was even, sometimes, pretty good. But no one would have dared call Bernal a culinary destination.

A couple of years ago, after cheating on Bernal with Noe and the Castro, I sheepishly moved back to the hood. I felt like I should have dared to try somewhere new. But today’s Bernal Heights has gotten much tastier. I’d even say it’s worth traveling for.

There’s now Asian food of high quality, from Japanese to Cantonese, including cute little Nute’s, which nicely spans the continent. If you include the popular weekend Chicken Dog bagel pop-up, there’s a mini bakery renaissance happening, too (soon to have dueling pizza nights, no less). A proper romantic date night can be had at 3rd Cousin, followed by an amaro at the beloved Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge, where musicians groove on the old Hammond organ (Wednesdays through Sundays). One of my favorite plates of huevos rancheros is at El Buen Comer; Barebottle lures beer lovers from all over; PizzaHacker and Cellarmaker provide two solid choices for pies; Chisai Sushi Club serves forth an excellent omakase; and I get my favorite Japanese gin at Healthy Spirits. I don’t need to wax on about the new Komaaj, the delicious Iranian restaurant, because The Standard already covered it.

As Rebecca Solnit wrote about the places where one’s life is lived, “They become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you, and in some way you too become them.” At this point, my DNA is completely intertwined with Bernal, which is why my first piece as The Standard’s new food editor starts at the source. My list of neighborhood favorites includes updates on a few standbys as well as some spots that are only a few months old. 

Now that I’ve shown you mine, I hope you will show me yours: the places in San Francisco that feed you, both in body and spirit, whether they’re restaurants, markets, bars, pop-ups, bakeries, cooking classes or, maybe, your obsessive dinner-party-throwing neighbor. Help me make The Standard’s food coverage great—I cannot possibly eat my way through this crazy city all on my own! Send all your delicious secrets to and follow me on Instagram @saradeseran_food.

Sesame noodles, pork bao and a cocktail at the White Rabbit.
Sesame noodles, pork bao and cocktails are among the offerings at the Rabbit Hole. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

The Rabbit Hole

I love when a restaurateur takes a risk—does something personal, a little out of the ordinary. At the tail end of 2023, Joanie McCollom, whose mother is Taiwanese, did just that: On a less-than-sexy stretch of Mission Street at the base of Bernal, she debuted a hip restaurant and bar that leans into her Chinese heritage. For weekend brunch, she serves up her nostalgia for xi fan (similar to a congee) or fan tuan, an addictive sticky rice roll stuffed with the likes of egg and pork floss that I became addicted to on a trip to Taipei. At night, there are chewy, slurpy sesame noodles and bao with pork belly and crispy pickled lotus root. Bar manager Simone Mims (formerly of the Battery) has fun with the cocktails, including the Golden Child, a clarified milk punch served with a perfect cube of ice sprinkled with turmeric and edible gold. There is a cute patio, and yes, kids are welcome on it.

📍 3472 Mission St., San Francisco

A table with Cantonese duck, steamed buns, green veggies, and sauces on ornate Chinese plates.
A plate of Cantonese roast duck is served with steamed buns at Go Duck Yourself in Bernal Heights. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Go Duck Yourself

When brothers Eric and Simon Cheung, the owners of famous Chinatown roast house Hing Lung, opened a duck-centric Cantonese restaurant on Cortland just a few weeks ago, I was both thrilled and confused. Why did Bernal, hardly ground zero for SF’s Chinese population, get so lucky? It’s practical; the location functions as a perfect hub for their delivery business. Distinguishing itself from the city’s popular roast houses like Cheung Hing and Ming Kee, Go Duck Yourself painstakingly selects its fowl from a family farm in Pennsylvania. Soon, the menu will expand to include duck marinated in Meyer lemon and “Disco Duck” served with a side of pop rocks. Also, look for the oyster fritters, something the Cheungs’ mother, who hails from the Chaozhou region of China, used to make, as well as the crispy-crackling-skinned pork belly, which is as delicious as it is a great ASMR auditory trigger.

📍 439 Cortland Ave., San Francisco
🔗 Order to-go (website forthcoming)

The Lucky Horseshoe

While the cool(er) kids are down imbibing at Holy Water or maybe having a glass of wine on the pretty parklet at VinoRosso, the Boomers (those who are not at the Wild Side West) are hanging at this “dedicated dive,” as the Horseshoe’s own tagline puts it. The worn-down interior with a central U-shaped bar gives saloon vibes and emanates the epitome of old-school Bernal. Sunday afternoons are my favorite when they have a bluegrass jam session with some folks who know their way around a banjo. If you’re lucky, the gruff bartender will have proudly whipped up a batch of his soft, yeast-risen pretzels.

🔗 453 Cortland Ave., San Francisco


Butcher shops are almost as rare as bookstores these days. So I am forever grateful for the few unicorns, especially one owned by a woman. Despite her small-farm partners taking a hit during the pandemic, Bernal resident Angela Wilson has persevered, continuing to provide high-quality options like Klingeman beef. She also has monthly butchery classes (lamb up next) and a private BYOB event space where you can have dinners of charcuterie, salads and thick steaks. She just started opening on Sundays (9 to 11 a.m.) for breakfast sandwiches made from River Dog eggs and an option of housemade bacon or pastrami.

📍 235 Cortland Ave., San Francisco

Apple cider donuts next to peanut butter cookies with prices on small chalkboard signs.
The cultish apple cider donuts are found at the new Bernal Basket. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Bernal Basket

The new brick-and-mortar realization of the Bernal Bakery pop-up that thrived during the pandemic is like having a little slice of France in my backyard—barring their decidedly culty, East Coast apple cider donuts (“People revolt if we take them off the menu,” says co-owner Ryan Stagg). However, I’m more into the apple Danish croissant, made from a nicely laminated dough made with Plugra butter and a 24-hour fermentation, perfect with a cup of Liminal Coffee. The savory options are equally good, including a baguette with prosciutto, apple and smear of stracciatella (the creamy inside of burrata), as well as their popular pizza, which has its own special night. Save room for it, 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

🔗 521 Cortland Ave., San Francisco


On the east slope of the hill, this unpretentious, no-frills, no-website-barely-an-Instagram izakaya serves up the kind of food I could eat nightly. Their sushi is average, so I opt for bitter broccoli rabe tamed with sweet, creamy sesame dressing, kushi yaki including meaty king trumpet mushrooms, crispy chicken skin stacked neatly onto a skewer, chewy gizzards and delicious pork belly. Chicken karaage is deftly fried and perfect with a squeeze of lemon. It’s the kind of place you meet a friend, have a bite, down some beer or sake and call it a night.

📍 1000 Cortland Ave., San Francisco

Sara Deseran stands in a narrow grocery aisle surrounded by shelves stocked with various food items.
Not your average bodega: The packed aisles at Andi's Market have everything a home cook needs. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Andi's Market

Why include a corner store? I had to make the case to my editor that this is not just another bodega. While the exterior resembles every other spot hawking sour gummies, 49ers beanies and cheap liquor (which it does), I've discovered kamut, harissa, avocado oil and three kinds of Fly by Jing chili crisp in the crammed and chaotic aisles. I can also get Sightglass Coffee, obscure Iranian saffron-pistachio ice cream and chana dal. Owners Laila and Morris Manji, who commute from San Jose, claim they aren’t gourmet people, but it’s hard to believe. They simply “thank god” for their customers, and when it’s 10 p.m. and I’m out of the Bob’s Red Mill unsweetened coconut for a granola recipe, I feel similarly about them.

🔗 820 Cortland Ave., San Francisco

Black Jet Bakery

Having two good bakeries blocks from each other in a very small village seems like it could be one croissant too much. But I’ll take it. Playing the OG to Bernal Basket’s newbie, Black Jet is run by baker and owner Gillian Shaw Lundgren, who gives zero Fs in the best way. When she is not using a fine pastry tip to make a Supreme Court “fuck you” cake to protest Roe v. Wade being overturned, she excels in sprinkles and celebrations, including colorful layer birthday cakes, cookies and pop tarts (currently filled with rhubarb, my favorite). But what I return for weekly is the $9 Bernal Bread, a simple, not-too-sour sourdough sandwich loaf that’s sticky-tacky and toasts up to perfection, perfect with my favorite almond butter from Andi’s. Psst: Starting soon? Pizza night! Watch out Bernal Basket.

📍 833 Cortland Ave., San Francisco

Blue Plate

This classic neighborhood restaurant just celebrated its 25th anniversary last week—a true feat in a city where running a restaurant is like doing an ultra marathon on repeat. It was one of the first spots I covered as a baby food writer in my early 20s, and I still love it. Thankfully, it has stayed true to its funky, cozy self. Today, its eclectic menu is a rarified safe space where a smoked beef bruschetta with Cara Cara oranges can effortlessly be followed by pappardelle with lion’s mane sugo and fava beans. It serves the kind of comfort food that I’d classify as “California cuisine,” a term that used to define San Francisco restaurants (and truthfully that I used to bemoan for its ubiquity). But with today’s hottest spots hyperfocused on regionality, a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes at Blue Plate feels almost restorative, proving something old can indeed feel new again.

📍 3218 Mission St., San Francisco