10 Mouth-Watering Local Dishes Most Coveted By Top S.F. Chefs

[UPDATE: This story was originally published on April 5.]
When our stomachs start to growl, we’re all for taking insider-food tips from friends, family — heck, even strangers on Yelp. But, then we had this crazy idea and thought, “Why not seek grub guidance from the city’s literal tastemakers?” With that in mind, we spoke to ten S.F. superstar chefs and grilled them on their favorite local dishes.
From Foreign Cinema’s Gayle Pirie and her favorite baked-oyster plate, to Craftsman and Wolves’ William Werner and his coveted onion rings, this roundup will drive you wild with must-have-now cravings. Find out what the ultimate insiders are chowing down on once those aprons are hung up, and put those tummy rumbles to rest!
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1 of 10
Name: Gayle Pirie
Gig: Chef and owner, Foreign Cinema

Top off-the-clock dish:
Baked Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company

Love at first bite:
"I believe one of the finest dishes I have eaten in San Francisco is the Baked Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company. The cooks riff on the Rockefeller idea with breadcrumbs, shallots, spinach or chard, and it will rotate around with Champagne, parsley, and a little grated cheese, as well."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"I love a bracingly cold oyster anytime, but the unsettling deliciousness of a gratinéed oyster, lovingly adorned with just a touch of butter and crumbs, pleases my senses all around. I would eat 20 of them at one seating if I could. Not only are the complex flavors satisfying on every level, the geography of the food and perfect harmony of grower, harvester, and chef are complete. It is a taste of this place we live, and treasures of this geography are represented in that tiny shell glistening with sweet butter, dotted with breadcrumbs, and pickled with tiny shallots. Purity of flavor and balance."

Photos: Courtesy of Melissa Barnes; Hog Island Oyster Company
2 of 10
Name: William Werner
Gig: Chef, Craftsman and Wolves

Top off-the-clock dish:
Onion Rings at Kronnerburger

Love at first bite:
"I recently headed to Kronnerburger and the onion rings were the best I've ever had — seriously."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"They were super crispy, light, flavorful — exactly what I wanted with my cold beer and burger."

Photos: Courtesy of William Werner; Angela Tafoya
3 of 10
Name: Nick Balla
Gig: Executive chef, Bar Tartine

Top off-the-clock dish:
Pho Broth #1 XL at Kevin's Noodle House

Love at first bite:
"Pho broth with tripe, beef meatballs, and sliced rib meat."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"Good pho is the best possible meal on a day off (well one of maybe 20). This is the perfect place to go for pho — everything is executed well, plenty of flavor, spice, etc."

Photos: Courtesy of Nick Balla; Jessica Velez
4 of 10
Name: Jesse Koide
Gig: Chef, Mission Chinese Food

Top off-the-clock dish:
Fall Tidal Pool at Manresa

Love at first bite:
"The best thing I can remember eating was at Manresa in Los Gatos. It was called a Fall Tidal Pool. Essentially it was a bowl with some baby spinach and chard hearts, Nantucket bay scallops, sea urchin, a small piece of foie, clams, abalone, and squid, composed to look like a tidal pool. There was enoki mushrooms also, with split stems to look like jellyfish."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"They brought it out table side, and poured a very flavorful dashi from a French press into the bowl. Then, it practically came to life. The fat from the foie started to float to the top, and everything started to move around like a little tidal pool. The aroma was amazing and each bite tasted better and better, as the various creatures cooked in the broth and released flavor into the dashi. It was so memorable that I've made it at home for my wife, and ran it as a special at the restaurant called, 'Tidal pool, a la Kinch.' It was truly an experience."

Photos: Courtesy of Jesse Koide; Manresa
5 of 10
Name: Maya Erickson
Gig: Pastry chef, AQ

Top off-the-clock dish:
Breaded Eggplant Sandwich at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe

Love at first bite:
"It's breaded eggplant, swiss cheese, marinara, and red bell peppers on Liguria's focaccia, which is the best focaccia in S.F.!"

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"It's not really unique, per se…but my mom has been taking me since I was a kid and I've only ever got one thing on their menu. Anytime I have to take a visitor somewhere to eat (besides AQ), it's the first place I think of."

Photos: Courtesy of Maya Erickson; Rachelle Derouin
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6 of 10
Name: Matt Cohen
Gig: Founder, Off The Grid

Top off-the-clock dish:
Seafood Chowder at Bar Crudo

Love at first bite:
"Definitely the Chowder at Bar Crudo. It's one of the best dishes in the city."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"It's a perfectly designed bowl of chowder with the seafood cooked to order, so it's always fresh and delicious."

Photos: Courtesy of Matt Cohen; Via Bar Crudo
7 of 10
Name: Ryan Ostler
Gig: Chef, Hi Lo BBQ

Top off-the-clock dish:
Ankimo Monkfish Liver at Eiji Sushi

Love at first bite:
"There are so many awesome dishes in S.F., it's nearly impossible to pinpoint just one, but if I were going for over-the-top indulgence I would have to choose the Ankimo Monkfish Liver at Eiji Sushi. Since it's forbidden to eat foie gras in California, this is an excellent approximation. It's a torchon of monkfish liver that's lightly steamed and served with ponzu and salmon roe."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"The textures are velvety smooth, rich, salty, and briny at the same time. This, paired with the house-made soft tofu could easily be my last meal on earth."

Photos: Courtesy of Nader Khouri Photography; Eiji
8 of 10
Name: Ryan McIlwraith
Gig: Chef de Cusine, Coqueta,

Top off-the-clock dish:
Combination seafood salad at Swan Oyster Depot

Love at first bite:
"It's crab, little shrimp, big shrimp, iceberg lettuce, and Louie dressing."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"I think what makes this dish so unique is how unaltered the dish and restaurant are. It's super old-school. Basically, a small seafood counter with a line out the door every day. It's run by seven brothers and they are tons of fun to chat with — or just to watch them do their thing. The salad, or any of the items, are super fresh and just cooked simply. I'm not sure if the Louie dressing is the same recipe they started with in 1912, but it's all you need with this impeccable local seafood. And who needs a sommelier when you have chilled Stella Artois on tap to go with your ice-cold seafood?"

Photos: Courtesy of Ryan McIlwraith; Swan Oyster Depot
9 of 10
Name: Justin Simoneaux
Gig: Chef, Boxing Room

Top off-the-clock dish:
Chicory Salad at Rich Table

Love at first bite:
"I know this might sound weird considering all of the dishes out there, but I had a Chicory Salad with apples, crispy chicken skin, and date vinaigrette at Rich Table a few months ago, and I can't stop thinking about it."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"I think the balance is what makes this dish stand out. Bitter chicories tossed with sweet apples and a slightly tart vinaigrette really makes for a very harmonious salad, and to top it off with crumbled crispy chicken skin — awesome!"

Photos: Courtesy of Justin Simoneaux; Carolyn Jung/FoodGal.com
10 of 10
Name: Shelley Lindgren
Gig: Owner and wine director, SPQR

Top off-the-clock dish:
Roasted Baby Kale at Bar Tartine

Love at first bite:
"It might be my slight addiction to order kale, but when a simple combination is balanced and hits high notes on your palette, I crave it. At Bar Tartine, they create everything from scratch — the yogurt, cheese, the paprika, etc."

What do you think makes this dish so unique?
"The fresh tang of the yogurt and pleasant bitterness of kale, along with the hearty, earthy rye flavor and seeds make it so delicious! It is kind of similar to the notion that you can't eat just one chip when you open a bag. You keep wanting more."

Photos: Courtesy of Shelley Lindgren; Bar Tartine
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