Keeping up with San Francisco’s restaurant scene is often scrumptious, sometimes sumptuous and usually satiating—but it is always sisyphean. There is just no way to sink one’s teeth into every culinary creation this city turns out.
This month, I’ll dig in to five relatively new restaurants in the city: Automat, Joyride Pizza, Flour & Branch, Grande Creperie and Beach’n SF. I hope you’ll join me.
1801 McAllister St. | 415-296-6680
Most pop-ups never morph into brick and mortar locations with full-fledged identities. Automat is one of the rare exceptions. Chef Matt Kirk has Bay Area roots and it shows. His restaurant provides NOPA with the kind of neighborhood diner that Nob Hill bistros, if they’re paying attention, should envy.
Cheerful and bustling, Automat has absorbed the old school vibes of some of Kirk’s favorite San Francisco haunts—Art’s Cafe, Swan Oyster Depot, Red’s Java House. The chef doesn’t mention the diner in Seinfeld, but if I lived nearby, sitting in one of Automat’s comfy booths would become a daily habit. Kirk, who used to work at David Barzelay’s Lazy Bear, did say that food should be fun.
“That’s the throughline from Lazy Bear to Automat,” he said.
Barzelay and Colleen Booth are the managing partners behind Automat. After several years of pop-up events, the team decided to look for a space that would be big enough to accommodate bakery production and a full-scale restaurant. “We were looking for something to fill a void in the neighborhood,” Kirk explained. “And as a dad, a place where I can bring my family to but that also makes interesting food.”
The daytime menu includes bagels, breads, and pastries that lead into lunch. The “Cheezy Buddy” smashburger is a memorable home run, with excellent pickles to boot. And you’ll barely be able to pick up the fried chicken sandwich. If you do make it to Automat for a family outing, absolutely no one will go home hungry. And, if you’d like to amp up your sugar intake beyond Automat’s cookies, blondies and banana bread, Bob’s sweet, sweet donuts are merely a few steps away.
411 Valencia St.| 415-553-6887
730 Howard St.| 628-867-3909
When Samovar Tea House Cafe opened in Hayes Valley, boba milk tea was still years away from establishing itself as the dominant recreational beverage it is today. Back then, when the world moved in slow motion, Samovar was an ideal place to catch up with a friend over a pot of Oolong or Pu-Erh.
The founders of Samovar, brothers Joshua Jacobs and Jesse Jacobs, pivoted to pizza last year—moving their tea sales online and transforming their brick and mortar locations into Detroit style pizza parlors.
“It was more of an evolutionary step, going from a caterpillar to a butterfly,” Jesse said of the shift to producing the large, thick rectangles of bread, sauce, meat and cheese.
He described the new menu as, “small and focused, with just ten pizzas and a variety of locally-sourced beers and wines and salads.” He also mentioned the locally-made cheesecakes from J.M. Rosen’s, “from Petaluma in our backyard.”
The Jacobs worked closely with Alastair Hannmann and brought him on board as director of operations and chief pizzaiolo. Jesse explained that their Detroit style is made with an artisanal approach. The dough’s fermentation process takes two days. And they use organic non-GMO wheat and local produce. My particular pie was significantly less cheesy than North Beach’s Golden Boy Pizza but that didn’t prevent me from eating three of the four big, fat slices all on my own.
I had the “Zoe ‘Roni”—with pepperoni, mozzarella and a marinara, delivered to my front door. The dough, which rises into a towering focaccia crust and is extremely filling. So long to the subdued days of Samovar. Joyride Pizza is sending out a renewed, boisterous hello on a large barge made of toppings and crust.
493 3rd St. | 415-658-7217
Not every business owner answers the phone for customers and press inquiries. But Lauren Arnsdorff picked up right away.
Prior to opening Flour and Branch’s first retail store around the corner from South Park, Arnsdorff delivered cookies throughout the Bay Area. Their popularity, and ensuing Google searches, sometimes led to their production site—a shared commercial kitchen in the Bayview—being confused for a customer-facing sweets shop.
Arnsdorff opened her brick and mortar location on December 2021, and now all operations, from baking to selling, take place on 3rd Street.
The color scheme inside is primarily white, with cabinetry painted a rich Dutch blue. The wall opposite of the baked goods contains shelves of, as Edina Monsoon would say, “gorgeous little things” like stationery, calendars and blankets. Arnsdorff initially established the Flour and Branch brand with her signature cookies. She describes them as, “almost underdone, super soft on the inside but then crunchy on the outside.” They look like tiny cakes. “They’re very fluffy and really dense. I’ve always liked a cakey cookie,” she explained.
After getting laid off from eBay, Arnsdorff said she was “strangely determined” to make the perfect cookie—if only to please herself. But people she knew seemed to like them, so she started to sell them on the side. The Brookie, a brownie-cookie blend, was the very first to make it on the menu. It has a chocolate base with a soupçon of espresso to bring out the chocolate flavor. “Then we have chunks of Guittard milk chocolate chips and peanut butter chips inside.” It’s insanely delicious when it’s fresh out of the oven.
Arnsdorff also hired Walter Carrera to run the pastry program. He’d worked previously at Jane the Baker and Le Marais. His croissants and Danishes are also worth the calories if you’re strolling around downtown in the morning or on your way to SFMOMA or the Metreon.
Ferry Building, Suite 46
Frog Hollow Farms at the Ferry Building used to serve an exceptional avocado toast. They had three rickety tables set up outside that were usually filled by lunch goers playing an ongoing game of musical chairs. Though I miss their fruit-filled hand pies dearly, my mourning period for Frog Hollow came to an abrupt halt when I tried the new tenant’s creations.
Grande Crêperie has moved into Frog Hollow’s suite (the FH Farm itself is still in business). Onward and upward with the beaux arts of crêpe making. Unlike Paris, San Francisco does not encourage crêpe vendors to hang out willy nilly on our city streets. And Crepevine does little to mitigate their absence. But, oh là là mes amis, three cheers for the arrival of Grande Crêperie.
Described on the website as Le Marais Bakery’s “newest concept,” these crêpes have transcended the concept stage. They’re more comforting than pancakes, which is really saying something for a pancake-ophile comme moi. Best when they’re warm and fresh off the griddle, it’s still pleasantly surprising that the combination of flour, milk, eggs and butter yield such tender results. Carefully tended to by loving hands, the crêpe maker gently swirled the batter around her griddle. At the edge of summer fruit season, I asked for strawberries galore and landed in a country that was far away from tristesse. But the menu has as many savory options as there are sweet.
Outside, the table situation is much improved and the number of places to sit has multiplied. Grande Crêperie was attempting a Downton Abbey movie tie-in when I visited. They weren’t wrong to associate that self-indulgent show with their refulgent, self-indulgent crêpes.
4300 Judah St. | 415-682-4961
At the end of the N-Judah Metro line, the Beachside Coffee Bar and Kitchen has handed over the keys to Beach’n SF. While the location is exactly the same, often swaddled in the same fog, Beach’n’s owners have reimagined the menu as “plant-based.” They’re also attempting to make everything in house.
Breakfast is served all day with options like a tofu scramble or vegan French toast. The smothered hash cakes I tried were remarkably elegant. My plate arrived with three golden domes of, essentially, perfectly formed hash browns. I chose to cover mine with mushrooms and onions. Other toppings include a cashew “cheese sauce” or a version with guacamole, tomatoes and a crema.
I wouldn’t say that my hash cakes were entirely smothered. Rather, everything was delicately arranged. Did I long for poached eggs to nestle in amongst the crisp potatoes, tangy onions, and fresh herbs? 100%. But vegans and vegetarians alike won’t miss their absence.
Beach’n has a complete espresso menu, serves salads and other lunch options that sound too messy to take to the beach. However, their selection of Vegan Bronx Bagels seems ideal for a morning picnic on the sand or to order for seagull-watching at one of the tables outside.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Alastair Hannmann’s official title at Joyride Pizza.