Welcome to the Top 100
The Bay Area loves to eat. Our lust — and respect — for food are centuries old.
Maybe it’s a legacy of the Gold Rush, when “free lunch” was offered at the brothels that dotted just about every street corner of San Francisco. Because of this link, there’s always been a strong connection between food and carnal pleasure. Dining is more than sustenance — it’s pure, unadulterated joy.
San Francisco has been a gold mine of originality for more than 160 years: the creation of Boudin sourdough bread in 1849; the first air-dried salami in 1896 from Molinari; the establishment of Ghirardelli chocolate in 1852 and Guittard in 1868. All these built a foundation of innovation that is clearly evident in the food scene today.
I’ve been producing the Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants guide for 20 years, but with each edition I marvel anew at the quality of what we have. Chefs continue to start trends that then sweep the country — small plates, open kitchens, communal tables and organic produce.
We have such a powerful restaurant scene that the list could swell to 150 or 200 and still exclude many excellent places. That’s what makes the task of creating this guide so wonderful, yet so challenging.
Each year I return to the restaurants on the previous year’s list and then fold in the reviews and Updates I write weekly in The Chronicle. Keeping up with this dynamic scene means I dine out every night — sometimes consuming several meals in an evening. I’ve visited each restaurant at least three times, and in most cases many more.
This year, 17 new restaurants earned a place in the Top 100. The newcomers are a mix of recently opened places, such as the Hawaiian-themed Liholiho Yacht Club, and reinvigorated establishments like Kokkari, which was on the list several years ago but fell off because of kitchen ennui. In such a competitive region, chefs must — and do — rejuvenate.
Four restaurants on the 2014 list closed. It’s more than usual, even though a 4 percent attrition rate would be considered great in most business circles. We said goodbye to Abbot’s Cellar, Local’s Corner, Etoile in the Domaine Chandon winery in Yountville, and Coco500 (which became the home of the Top 100 Marlowe).
With the thousands of restaurants that have opened since my first guide two decades ago, it’s amazing that 10 restaurants have bested the competition and still make the list: Acquerello, Boulevard, Chez Panisse, French Laundry, La Folie, Swan Oyster Depot, Terra, Yank Sing, Zarzuela and Zuni Cafe.
The determining factor for what makes it and what doesn’t is when I can answer the following question in the affirmative: Is this restaurant a destination, a place I would travel to just for the pleasure of dining there?
The 2015 list is designed to be a living document. You’ll find a new, improved and easily searchable version online at www.sfchronicle.com. I’ll also update the list periodically, adding new places that will probably have a spot on next year’s list.
In the meantime, check out this year’s Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants. I hope it will lead you to the best dining experiences in the best food region in America.