SF Chronicle’s 2019 Top 100

This year’s list is curated by critic Soleil Ho and other Chronicle staff, and expands beyond the high-end focused picks of the Bauer era.

What do you think of their selections? Are any of the smaller places going to be impossible to get into? I wonder whether Yank Sing and La Taqueria were even visited given their history of wage theft.

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It’ll be impossible to get a reservation at Yamo, LOL.

Seriously, a list that embraces Atelier Crenn and Benu with the same arms as Yamo and Balompie, not to mention a half dozen(?) La Cocina alumnae, is pure genius! It’s great to finally have a mainstream newsaper food critic who knows who we are.

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Glad you’re enjoying it, y’all!

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Welcome Soleil!

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I’ll just say that whether or not I agree with the individual entries on the list, but just the makeup of the list alone is going to introduce seismic changes to the dining scene, just like how we predicted when Chronicle replaced Bauer with Soleil.

The fact that now a Balompie can rub shoulders in the Top 100 list with The French Laundry. Wow. One is enjoyed by the folks with the means and is world famous. The other serves modest dishes like pupusas enjoyed by Central American immigrants, and is the kind of restaurants mostly ignored by mainstream media.

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Well, Balompie has been doing pupusas longer and stronger than just about any other Salvadoran place in SF. The real (pleasant) surprise is Yamo, with its 12 counter seats, three cranky ladies and two $6.50 washbasin size bowls of Burmese classics (Mohinga and Ohn No Khao Swe) hiding behind innocuous-sounding names on the menu.

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I think it covers a better cross section of Bay Area cuisine that prior Top 100’s, although it seems to me more like the Eater 38 list than a top 100 and works well as a guide for someone coming into town. I wouldn’t worry about Balompie or any other smaller places having lines out the door as I’m not convinced the Chronicle (or any one publication) bears that much weight anymore.
Glad to see Miss Ollie’s in there. Would like to have seen Belloti make the list, their pasta’s are incredible.

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Indeed, welcome!

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I too, am excited to see this. It seems like an improvement, and much more in line with the way the Bay Area dines. And I see it as a great discussion-opening opportunity. I could never come up with a Top XX list, so nothing I say should be seen as a criticism of the list or its authors, but rather a jumping off point for finding more great places. So here are some arbitrary reactions to the list:

Like brisket44, I think Belloti is much better than many of the Italian places on the list, particularly A16 (and Westalke Joe’s, if that’s Italian) though the wine list at A16 is emphasized. I haven’t noticed spectacularly better wine selection at A16 but I can’t say I’ve been looking for it, and I can say I’ve only been to the Oakland location in the last 10 years.

The dearth of Indian places is notable–I’ve never been to August 1 Five or Rooh, mostly due to many previous disappointments with “upscale” Indian skewing towards toning down spice and funkiness, though the descriptions of these lead me to believe they might be adding in additional flavor profiles (foie, lemongrass) rather than muting their own. Has anyone been? Vik’s has long been a punching bag for these discussion boards, but rare is the discussion that says anything more specific than “there are better places in the South Bay” without naming a specific place, or a specific criticism of Vik’s execution. I’ll say I don’t like the thick, heavy, papdi they use in the dahi papdi chaat, but find them to be pretty good, and stopping by random, unheralded places between San Jose and Mountain View for chaat to be worse to equal (I would love specific suggestions and criticisms). I do think this category suffered from leaving out “Santa Clara County”, but more likely refers to a more general South Bay, including Chinese places Union City-Milpitas.

And to be clear, I think this geographical focus is justified for a Chronicle Top 100 List. San Jose has always been considered a separate Metro Area and it seems overwhelming to cover it all (and if you do expand the area, maybe expand the number of slots to make inclusion seem less arbitrary). Though to be sure, much of the readership is coming from Silicon Valley and, from my point of view, the horrible decline of the San Jose Mercury News/Oakland Tribune/Whatever else got folded in to the Bay Area News Group creates a need for this wider coverage by the Chronicle.

Chinese seems San Francisco centric, and perhaps has more hold-overs than new territory (which would likely skew towards the South Bay) like Din Ding or Bing’s. I haven’t been to Terra Cotta Warrior since the ownership change (and I’ve heard from one friend it is blander), or Old Mandarin Islamic since I lived in SF (~11 years ago). I’ve never been a huge fan of Z&Y, within the Sichuan field, but that is likely because I typically end up there with people who want a Chinatown experience but have a lot of kids or for other reasons are terrified of spicy or “strange” things. They have always seemed like a Cantonese version of Sichuan to me, and if you serve a sticky-sweet version of kung pao tofu or chicken, a legitimate Sichuan dish, I’ll feel like my opinion is justified and not just dominated by my table ordering mostly the wrong things. Chef Zhao, Royal Feast, Yi Yuan, China Village off the top of my head are all better (though I must admit I haven’t been to all within the past year, so perhaps I am off).

I’m happy to hear of places that had truly escaped my radar, such as HoDaLa, Chibog, August 1 Five (which I missed despite being on previous years’ list), Okkon, and Pinoy Heritage (though including pop-ups seems a bit ephemeral).

The taquerias seem a bit over-numerous (especially considering the amount of non-taqueria Mexican in the list) and arbitrary, but not bad, per se.

Cellarmaker HOP is an interesting choice. I haven’t been, but I have been to the original Cellarmaker. If it is a beer-based choice, I prefer Fieldwork and Faction, though Cellarmaker is my SF-proper favorite, and these things are subjective to a great degree. I know nothing of the limited food menu, though I do like what peeps these days are calling Detroit-style pizza, particularly if it’s enhanced by Toma.

I enjoyed FOB Kitchen on my one visit, but for my personal preference, even within the very limited field of Filipino available on my way home from work Berkeley -> Oalkand I find myself gravitating towards Likha. Their dishes just seem more flavor-packed, substantial, and comforting. I’m also a big fan of the time I stopped by Parekoy Lutong Pinoy, but it is a bit too out of the way to get anyone to go with me, and the sisig is too delicious for me to stop eating it, and my fatpants are already in danger of not fitting.

As far as omissions go, Vietnamese is the most glaring category, given the number of places in the Bay Area. Again, this may be suffering from not having infinite time to explore the South Bay, and Soleil’s own heritage–I imagine, if you come from the right family, most places pale in relation to your family’s own cooking, it’s hard to imagine there isn’t a Vietnamese equivalent to El Farolito, Red’s Java House, Standard Fare, El Castillito, or Tommy’s Joynt. Just in my neighborhood, I’ll enjoy the workman’s lunch at Pho Vy, Pho King, Da Nang Quan, or the addictive bánh bột chiên at Mien Tay.

Any other general or specific thoughts at the list? Categories you would like to see better represented, or secret gems that may have been overlooked? One of my favorite things about @soleil is that she is very engaged is truly interested in peoples’ suggestions. And more selfishly, so am I!

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I have only tried about a third of the places currently on the list, so take my criticism with a grain of salt.

  • I am a bit surprised to see zero Turkish restaurants on here, although their omission is somewhat understandable considering that there are still not a huge number in the Bay. Perhaps it’s mainly because the restaurant is so new, but I would easily place Noosh in a top 100.
  • Isla Vida is a suprising inclusion in the list, and not in a good way. But we only went once, for a weekend brunch or lunch, so maybe it was an especially weak showing by the kitchen that day.
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Q: What about the many restaurants of Santa Clara County?

A: Historically, we haven’t considered that area, due to the logistical and financial difficulty of getting a San Francisco-based critic enough time to do justice to its incredibly rich food scene. But that’s not to say it’s off the table forever: Someone should put me up in their house in San Jose for a month and I’ll get right on it.

There you go.

We went to August 1 Five based on the recommendations of someone my wife knows who’s Indian and whose family traveled extensively and internationally for food. We thought it was nice. But I thought it would be better given why we went in the first place. But, we aren’t Indians and didn’t grow up eating the cuisine, so we aren’t comparing traditional Indian restaurants around here against the wedding feasts in India, and relatives’ kitchens. So inevitably we give bigger preference to traditional Indian restaurants than any elevated version of Indian.

Our reaction to August 1 Five was similar to our reaction when we went to Rasa. Quite nice. Now many Indian expats around here have said that the best Indian food in Santa Clara are at best a 7 in India, and a lot of spices, flavors just taste different here. Now, I have not been to Rooh or Vik’s, the other 2 Indian restaurants on the list. With that said, its hard for me to fathom that there isn’t a single traditional Indian eatery in Santa Clara county that can’t crack the list, given Santa Clara county is home to the most concentrated Indian population in the US outside of certain areas in the tristate area. Probably just a function of the fact that its too far for Soleil to make regular treks down here. And who really wants to deal with 101 traffic.

I have not been to Maum. But same argument for Korean. I asked a Korean coworker about great Korean food and he thought Maum was ok, but should be better given the price. In the expensive Korean space, he thought Benu was better.

A similar argument can be made for Vietnamese restaurants if e.g. Slanted Door or Khai is on the list, except that there aren’t any Vietnamese restaurants on the list.

The Chinese/ Taiwanese list needs some revisiting. I am not saying those on the list are bad. But there are many that are just as fine around the Bay Area. They are just not those that have gotten on Chronicle’s radar traditionally.

That’s quite a lot of ramen places on the list. If high end is pitted against each other, shouldn’t ramen also?

Some other random thoughts:

Should In Situ be on the list? Its borrowing others dishes, after all.

Didn’t really like Montesacro nearly as well as the Tara Duggan or Paoli Lucchesi.

I like Reem’s, and Reem’s can be considered significant for various reasons. And I am happy to eat there often. Though I find it hard to consider it top 100. If Reem’s there for its the significance of La Cocina, then its neighbor and fellow top 100 Nyum Bai is a better choice. Foodwise, if Dyafa is Assil’s and there isn’t a break between her and Patterson and the recent controversies around the parent restaurant group, then I think Dyafa is a better candidate.

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I have a theory that many of those credited to Paolo are holdovers from previous lists, but I could be overthinking it just because the first few I noticed from him hit me as meh.

There are only 2 ramen places on the list, which seems commensurate with the proliferation of ramen-specific places in the area. Ramen Shop isn’t even ramen specific. And I did enjoy my tonkotsu ramen at Mensho Tokyo the one time I walked by and the line was reasonable, but it reminds me the list, with 2 pop-ups, Swan Oyster Depot, Mensho, Soba Ichi, and Yamo suggest that the authors are more willing to wait in line or jump through hoops than I am.

Again, I’m happy to have this list out because I don’t think I could put together a Top 100 list to save my life. But I think it would be fun to brainstorm a bit, especially within the Chinese category, as hyperbowler’s list has been a resource for the Chronicle itself. Can we come up with a better list than Z&Y, Yuanbao Jiaozi, Wojia Hunan Cuisine, Terra Cotta Warrior, Old Mandarin Islamic, Mister Jiu’s, Koi Palace, HoDaLa, Great China, and Benu? Are there no Cantonese places because none of them are special enough?

There also seems to have been an intentional move to omit restaurants from local mini empires for whatever reason: none of Adriano Paganini’s places, none from the Marlowe-Park Tavern group, nothing from the Delfina group, nothing from the Flour and Water group.

There is a Cantonese place- Koi Palace.

I’ve apparently reached my “SF Chronicle limit” and can’t see the map version with the East Bay places, but feeling a viicarious thrill!

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Soleil Ho interviewed today on KCBS Radio about the selections in the Top 100 Restaurant List, about 4 minutes for the audio replay.

The list was compiled by the Chronicle’s current Restaurant Critic…Soleil Ho…KCBS Radio news anchors Jeff Bell and Patti Reising spoke with her earlier today.

Also on KQED Radio Forum, about 19 minutes

https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101871918/soleil-ho-shakes-up-the-chronicles-top-100-restaurants-list

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I went to Kyain Kyain a few weeks ago during weekday lunch, and it was really quiet. For such delicious food, I was surprised that it was empty because of Soleil’s review (which is proudly taped to their window) and because other Asian restaurants (think Bings and iShanghi) are packed for weekday lunch. Closer to 1 PM, more people started to fill up tables, but I’m guessing that a lot of them were regulars based on their banter with the restaurant staff.

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I don’t know how much readership Chronicle has in Fremont. And the people in the city, unless its this group here, aren’t really likely to trek all the way out to Fremont to eat. How unsexy is that.

The Chronicle is now soliciting tips for the next iteration of the top 100 list here:

Well I’m going to need a dining budget paid by the Chronicle if they want me to contribute

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