What a year. On the downside, normal is still far more of a concept than a reality. But on a bright note, my favorite eats this year are not comprised solely of takeout foods. I actually was able to dine outside at restaurants, and a couple times even indoors when the situation felt especially safe. So, there is that.
Whether you are comfortable dining indoors, only outdoors or just through delivery or takeout orders, please continue to support your local restaurants, which still need you more than ever.
To stoke your appetite to do so, here are my Top 10 eats of this year, in no particular order:
I’m sure I’m not alone in mourning the 2019 closure of Michelin-starred Commonwealth in San Francisco due to a rent dispute. With its laid-back vibe, skillful ingredient-driven cooking, and a tasting menu with a price that didn’t leave you shell-shocked, Commonwealth was the kind of place every city would be glad to have.
Its chef-owner Jason Fox moved on — in a big way. He went from overseeing one restaurant to three when he was scooped up by The Proper Hotel in downtown San Francisco. As its executive chef, he now oversees Villon restaurant, the trendy Charmaine’s rooftop bar, and La Bande, formerly a coffee shop that he’s since turned into a tapas place.
Fox’s arrival was to have been heralded with a big splash. But because it occurred in January 2020 — two months before all restaurants would be forced to shut down due to a worldwide pandemic — that never really came to fruition. Instead, he was left to deal with navigating an ever-changing roster of health mandates.
With the Bay Area in a much better place than it was last year, Fox has now been able to roll out the plans he had all along.
A couple weeks ago, I was invited in as a guest to enjoy an overnight stay at the hotel, as well as dinner at the newly revamped La Bande, a compact yet cozy space resembling a Spanish mercado with a few indoor seats, as well as tables outside, which is where my husband and I dined.
San Francisco’s Mint Plaza has been a revolving door of restaurants over the years.
So many have come and gone that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Here’s hoping Oro, which opened last year, has sticking power.
I think the downtown location, while an easy hop across the street from the Fifth & Mission garage, can be a hurdle. It’s hard for people to remember that behind the imposing ornate edifice of the historic Mint Building is indeed a plaza ringed by restaurants.
The three-story Oro presents a sleek veneer with floor-to-ceiling windows and a steel-cable glassed staircase that dominates the first floor.
The sleek staircase that bisects the main dining room.
The artsy dining nook.
The restaurant also has a lot going for it, most notably Executive Jason Fox of San Francisco’s marvelous Commonwealth restaurant.
When I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant recently, I started with a Scarlet & Gold ($13) cocktail served in a pretty retro glass. This is the perfect sip for those who want something delicate and not-so-boozy. With gin, fennel, lemon, soda and a froth of egg white, it was light and refreshing.
What makes the menu so fun is that you can make a meal out of a traditional appetizer and entree or several snacks and single bites if you’re more in a grazing mood.