As someone who rarely used to order takeout, I never thought I’d be turning my annual Top 10 list of the year’s best dishes into one centered solely on food picked up at restaurants to enjoy in my own home.
But 2020 has been like no year we’ve ever experienced.
It was more difficult than usual to cull my favorite eats down to only 10 mentions, because every restaurant or bakery that I visited has something wonderful to offer in these most challenging time. What’s more, each place I visited this year deserves an enormous thanks and pat on the back for persevering in this extremely difficult situation.
With 2021 around the corner, and the beginnings of a very slow return to normalcy just inching forward, I hope you’ll join me in continuing to support your local restaurants by getting takeout. Do pick up the food yourself if you can, rather than relying on delivery apps that eat into the already slim margins that restaurants reap from your order.
Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my Top 10 takeout picks of 2020.
When chef-owner Rob Lam closed his Butterfly restaurant on the Embarcadero in 2017 after 15 years, he thought it marked the end of his era in San Francisco.
In fact, his Perle Wine Bar opened to acclaim soon after in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. But when family friends, sisters Lucy and Lily Lieu, asked him to take a look at a building they had just purchased on Clement Street in San Francisco, he fell hard for the first-floor restaurant space.
The result is Lily, which opened in October — yes, smack in the middle of the pandemic. It is the first restaurant for the two sisters, as well as Lam’s first one centered solely on Vietnamese cuisine rather than pan-Asian or French-influenced fare as he’s done in the past. Both he and the Lieu sisters, all of whom hail from Vietnam, want to present the true, bold flavors of their native cuisine without watering them down like they find so many other area restaurants are apt to do.
They invited me to come by recently to try some menu items gratis. While Lam has visions of offering both a la carte and a special family-style dinner once life gets back to normal, right now Lily offers only takeout at lunch and dinner.
The French Dip Pho Bo Banh Mi ($17) is a mash-up of a French Dip sandwich and deconstructed pho — and it is most excellent. A crunchy yet yielding roll is packed with thinly sliced, melt-in-your-mouth, five-spice-scented roast beef, house-made pate, a smear of hoisin for sweetness, pickled daikon and carrots for crunch, and shallot mayo for creaminess. A bowl of pho au jus dipping sauce is definitely made for more than just dunking the sandwich in. You’ll want to take a spoon to this to get every last drop of the broth that’s cooked with beef and chicken bones for 12 hours.