Many of us have missed dining out over the past year—but restaurants have missed us more.

As San Francisco reopens, the city’s finest dining establishments are ready to welcome guests with the surprises they’ve developed during their closure. Some are household names, while others prepare to open their doors for the first time. Some have reinvented their menus, while others are ready to serve up the classics for which they’re known (and loved). The one thing they all have in common: they need our support now, more than ever. Go forth and indulge.

Something Old

After 13 years at San Francisco’s Pier 1½, La Mar Cebichería Peruana has proven its staying power with authentic Peruvian cebiches and refreshing signature cocktails. Conveniently located next to the Ferry Building, the back patio offers beautiful waterfront views of Treasure Island. Inside, sunlight streams into the open space through floor-to-roof windows complemented by exotic greenery and sapphire blue banquettes.

Chef Victoriano Lopez’s sea-to-table approach is demonstrated by a menu of upscale Peruvian dishes, including mouthwatering lomo saltado and churrasco de pescado entrées, plus fresh and colorful dishes catering to both gluten-free and vegan diners. Of course, the star is the cebiche—for which La Mar provides a variety of appetizing choices. The Clásico, always a favorite, features the catch of the day in a leche de tigre with red onion, habanero, Peruvian corn, and sweet potatoes. Adventurous diners will want to try the sampler which allows them to taste the Clásico in addition to the Nikkei—with ahi tuna, red onion, Japanese cucumber, daikon, avocado, and nori in a tamarind leche de tigre—and the Mixto, featuring the catch of the day, shrimp, calamari, and octopus in a rocoto leche de tigre.

If you’re in the Marin District, the acclaimed team behind La Mar has also opened a hip offshoot called Jaranita, featuring similarly delectable cebiches and cocktails with a focus on Peruvian wood-fired rotisserie and slow-roasted meats cooked over a custom-built charcoal grill. The menu will also offer a variety of organic vegan and vegetarian dishes.

La Mar
Pier 1 1/2 The Embarcadero, San Francisco
lamarsf.com

Something New

“It’s extremely anti-social and against all standards of decency,” declared Anthony Bourdain of the bone marrow luge, during a taping of “The Layover” at Toronto’s Black Hoof restaurant. “So, I think we should do it.” The late gourmand has never led me astray, so every time I’ve the opportunity to indulge in this practice, I have.

Debuting with internationally-inspired Californian cuisine this past April, Wilder is one of the few places I have encountered offering the luge—and this new Marina eatery’s version is topped with roasted Roma and cherry tomatoes, horseradish cream, microgreens, and balsamic reduction. Other delectable plates on the menu are a baked Napa chevre served with seasonal fruit compote, French-style mussels (or Spanish, if you’re feeling fingerling potatoes and chorizo over garlic butter and white wine), and steak topped with patatas bravas, cippolini onions, and a house-made chimichurri relish. Cocktail highlights include the Pink Panther—a strawberry and elderflower gin concoction—and the Smoky George, a Sazerac rye with sweet vermouth, gin, and Campari that comes to the table in a covered glass, before unveiling a billow of oaky smoke inside.

These modern takes on classic cocktails and Wilder’s chef-driven, fresh, and organic food, influenced by fresh California ingredients and globally inspired flavors, mesh flawlessly in the “Tahoe chic” space reminiscent of a cozy log cabin.

Wilder
3154 Fillmore Street, San Francisco
wildersf.com

Something Borrowed

When I hear a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs,” the last thing I expect to see when I swivel around on my barstool at Dirty Habit is a Flemish Giant. Under the violet lighting of Dirty Habit’s dining room, Josh Row cradles Alex, the 17-pound therapy rabbit made famous at a Giants game the previous week. After a series of fan photos, Alex and his owners—loyal patrons to the establishment—settle into a booth near us, where we’re whetting our appetite ahead of Dirty Habit’s new “Private Habits” experience with a bowl of irresistible, salted egg-dusted potato chips. Behind the bar, bar manager Raul Ayala shakes up a variety of inventive seasonal cocktails including the Best Dressed, a visually striking elixir made with vodka, gin, dry vermouth, pickled onion brine, sturgeon caviar, and spring onion dust.

Taking place adjacent to Dirty Habit on the fifth floor of Hotel Zelos, Private Habits is a fully private tasting experience for groups up to six inside guestrooms that have been transformed into intimate dining spaces. Guests can play their own music on the Bluetooth speaker and have access to the suite’s private bathroom. The menu for Private Habits borrows from a variety of global cuisines, yet executive chef Thomas Weibull is able to parlay these contrasting flavors into a collection of balanced dishes showcasing unique ingredients such as sansho, nduja, and ssamjang. Perfectly golden bao buns envelop crème fraîche and cucumber, topped with Tsar Nicoulai caviar. Smoky caponata garnished with dollops of creamy crescenza, capers, and fried basil—giving it a crisp, nori-like texture—on a bed of sourdough toast. A bright and peppery endive salad with blood orange and avocado enhanced by a furikake ranch follows. Dusted with powdered sugar, a Nordic-inspired semla bun filled with silky whipped matcha cream and pistachio offers incredible complexity without overpowering each ingredient—the perfect finishing touch to a feast that seamlessly fuses international influences.

By embracing elements of different cuisines, Weibull has curated an unexpected menu that delights and surprises. And who knows? You might have a run-in with a local celebrity—hare or otherwise.

Dirty Habit
12 4th St, San Francisco
dirtyhabitsf.com

Something Blue

Elegant booths swathed in azure leather and surrounded by sleek, cut-out panels of the same bright shade provide fantastic city views at the former location of Chinatown’s iconic Empress of China. Serving the San Francisco community for nearly half a century before closing in 2014, the 7,500-square-foot venue has now been reconceptualized—and elevated—by Michelin-starred executive chef Ho Chee Boon.

A modern epicurean destination reimagining Cantonese dishes, Empress by Boon embraces contemporary design while paying homage to its celebrated predecessor, including the careful preservation and restoration of original features such as the intricate latticework and iconic wooden pergola. Gone are the signature colors of the Empress’ green, gold, and mahogany; in its place is a cool yet inviting palette of cerulean, gray, and crimson. As the former international executive chef of Hakkasan with nearly 30 years of experience in some of the world’s most renowned Asian restaurants under his belt, Chef Ho is primed to revitalize this legendary space in the heart of North America’s oldest Chinatown.

Boon will debut his highly anticipated namesake restaurant with a prix-fixe menu of Cantonese-inspired dishes in partnership with pastry chef Rory MacDonald, followed by a seasonal à la carte menu of modern Cantonese cuisine. Using fresh and local ingredients from the restaurant’s own organic farm in Gilroy, Empress by Boon’s inventive dishes will combine contemporary techniques and traditional ingredients, all while honoring the essence of traditional Cantonese cuisine. Expect to see perfectly roasted Peking duck with its signature crisp skin, Regiis Ova Russian Ossetra caviar, and much, much more.

Empress by Boon
838 Grant Ave, San Francisco
theempresssf.com

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