The last year marked a turning point for the Bay Area restaurant industry. With the threat of Covid gradually receding, the region saw a surge in newly opened eateries.
Several Bay Area chefs also earned bragging rights in 2022. The New York Times included Filipino-Californian favorite Abacá and upscale Korean barbecue joint San Ho Won in its 2022 list of favorite restaurants. Six local places gained Michelin stars earlier this month. Marlena and Kin Khao, two SF gems that reopened in 2022, retained their stars.
Opening a restaurant in the Bay is a tall order, and each new restaurateur has their own story of trial and triumph. Chef Tracy Goh’s Damansara began as a dinner party pop-up out of her apartment, and now she owns a brick-and-mortar spot in Noe Valley. After a lengthy immigration struggle, Marco Senghor secured a larger location for his Senegalese eatery and Afrobeats dance floor, Bissap Baobab. Four years into the food truck hustle, Miguel Escobedo pulled Al Pastor Papi into a permanent parking spot at Spark Social.
And that’s just to name a few. Here’s The Standard’s top 10 favorite new restaurants of 2022.
📍 1781 Church St., SF
Damansara is the name of chef Tracy Goh’s childhood home, a suburb on the outskirts of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. Home, in the literal and figurative ways it nourishes us, is at the center of Goh’s new restaurant of the same name. She first experimented with Damansara as a pop-up, serving thousands of bowls of laksa noodle soup—a Southeast Asian specialty made with potato, rice or tapioca—from her one-bedroom apartment. In 2019, she joined La Cocina’s culinary incubator program. Now, she’s found a new home in Noe Valley, debuting a menu of laksa and other Malaysian staples.
2. Chika & Sake
This diminutive Japantown spot specializes in buta no kakuni, a stewed pork belly with soy-cured tamago. The restaurant’s chef cooks the pork for hours to conjure deep umami flavors, which makes for a fitting pairing to the selection of craft sake on tap. The Hokkaido Hotate scallops and uni are also solid choices.
3. Bissap Baobab
Marco Senghor provided a Mission District hub for Senegalese cuisine and Afrobeats events for two decades before a legal battle over his immigration status forced the closure of his restaurant. Then, the pandemic interrupted business at his smaller outpost, Little Baobab. At long last, Senghor has reopened Bissap Baobab on Mission and 18th streets, beginning with a breakfast menu aided by Margarita’s Coffee. As of Sept. 15, Bissap Baobab restarted dinner service in its sprawling, colorful dining room, which extends onto a front patio. The fufu, a cassava plate served with a choice of protein and yassa onion sauce, makes the new menu shine.
4. Gao Viet Kitchen
📍 1900 Irving St., SF
After three years of scheming and dreaming, restaurateur Viet Nguyen finally introduced the SF outpost of his eponymous eatery, Gao Viet Kitchen. The charismatic chef has become Instagram famous for his stylized kitchen reels, which show off Frankenstein-esque delicacies like the “phozilla” and the “messiest banh mi ever.” Gao Viet Kitchen’s soft opening lasts through the end of the year, meaning it’ll be serving dinner only but staying open late—until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. No reservations, so try your luck on the waitlist.
There are many family-run restaurants in SF and several Michelin-starred gems, but there aren’t a lot of local spots that check both of those boxes. Husband-and-wife chef team David Fisher and Serena Chow refresh their hyper-local tasting menu daily, putting an ever-evolving stamp on California cuisine. In September, Marlena reopened and showed off an interior redesign from SF-based architecture studio AMLGM. The earthy color scheme and soft lighting in the new space temper the balance between upscale and neighborhood-friendly feels. Marlena’s comeback also signaled the last day of camp, so to speak. Fisher and Chow were hosting a temporary pop-up, which they called “Summer Camp at Hotel Zeppelin.” The partner chefs have also added small bites inspired by picnics they’ve enjoyed at nearby Precita Park. The “fig newton” gets a Michelin-starred treatment with duck liver mousse and caviar. Damn, that’s a next-level picnic …
6. Kin Khao
📍 55 Cyril Magnin St., SF
☎️ (415) 362-7456
As the Parc 55 Hilton delayed its post-Covid reopening until May, Kin Khao chef-owner Pim Techamuanvivit had a two-and-a-half year hiatus, broken up by a year-long pop-up in Dogpatch, to chart her restaurant’s long-term plan. And now the Michelin-starred Thai eatery reopened for dinner at last on Sept. 21. The Bangkok-born chef was able to reunite her former chef de cuisine, executive sous chef and even her line cook, while reviving many of Kin Khao’s original menu staples. (The pride of Techamuanvivit’s repertoire, her tangy chicken wings marinated with Nam Pla fish sauce and tossed with tamarind and Sriracha, remain a standout.)
At the beginning of the pandemic, after two decades of operation, Annie and Craig Stoll decided to temporarily shut their doors and regroup. Now Delfina is back in an expanded new location on 18th and Guerrero. Their reimagining includes a to-go pizzeria, a retail space, a parklet and a private room with high, vaulted ceilings. Delfina’s all-new cocktail list emphasizes amari and other Italian spirits. The dinner menu rotates regularly, but the Roman pizza bianca-inspired sourdough focaccia is a staple. Look for elevated dishes like the paccheri and petrale sole with fresh San Marzano tomatoes. The spaghetti pomodoro is also back by popular demand.
8. Al Pastor Papi
Miguel Escobedo has logged thousands of miles in his taco truck, boomeranging around the Bay between beer gardens and high school football tailgates, and catering everything from weddings to the Giants. Four years later, he’s landed a permanent parking spot at Spark Social, a food truck park in Mission Bay. Though slow-roasted pork remains central to Al Pastor Papi, vegetarians can try the plant-based pork, nopales tacos and chile relleno torta.
9. For the Culture
📍 701 Clay St., Oakland
☎️ (510) 269-7108
A year ago, the Bay Area Mural Program and Kiss My Black Arts collaborated on a striking pink mural on the side of the long-defunct Mexicali Rose, a 91-year-old family-owned eatery, as reported by The Oaklandside. The painted stucco facade showed off the Oakland skyline, the Bay Bridge and a kid popping a wheelie on their bike along Lake Merritt. Now open as For the Culture, the new restaurant hopes to honor Mexicali Rose and celebrate the Town’s collective identity. The owners will host Taco Tuesdays and regular DJ nights.
10. Harlan Records
What’s “big in Japan” might just become big in SF. An emerging trend of Japanese-style listening bars—drinking dens that play classic vinyl through pristine sound systems—is moving the nightlife needle at Harlan Records. Spinning LPs until midnight, Harlan Records is an audiophile’s ideal third place, and you can expect throwbacks like J.J. Fad alongside up-and-coming artists like Khruangbin. SF designer Marissa Jade Marsh created acoustically treated “walls of sound” so that patrons can enjoy the house picks free from distortion. The cocktail menu pays special attention to alcohol-free drinks, melding surprising ingredients like papaya leaf tea and bubble gum.
Sarah Holtz can be reached at [email protected]