Heaps of vibrant produce have long inspired San Francisco’s innovative farmers’ market-driven cuisine, making it one of America’s best food towns. We feel triumphant every time we snag tickets to the tasting menu at Daniel Patterson’s Coi, or settle in for bowls of chile-spiked bucatini at April Bloomfield’s resuscitated Tosca Café. But on more low-key evenings, when we want to avoid the glitz but still find a killer meal, we’re grateful for the other chefs who are quietly leading the charge. In a city that isn’t constantly under a hype-obsessed media microscope like New York, there is a rich cast of underrated talent worthy of attention. Here are eight chefs that should be on your radar, if they aren’t already.
David Barzelay, Lazy Bear
3416 19th St, The Mission (415-874-9921, lazybearsf.com)
Soon, we suspect, most inquisitive diners will be familiar with the name David Barzelay. He never worked for a celebrity chef, and his résumé isn’t strewn with the names of European kitchens, yet when he first unveiled his underground supper club Lazy Bear back in 2009, in-the-know diners started clamoring for Barzelay’s thrice-weekly 15-course dinners. While his pop-up was a bonafide hit, the self-taught chef, a former law school student who staged at Nopa, has not gone out of his way to be its “face.” Now that Lazy Bear has morphed into a brick-and-mortar operation in the Mission—with pre-paid ticketed reservations for an 11-course tasting menu that might feature the likes of crawfish and grits, or guinea hen with butter beans and lobster mushrooms—Barzelay is poised for the well-deserved national spotlight.
David Bazirgan, Dirty Habit
12 4th St, SOMA (415-348-1555, dirtyhabitsf.com)
Fifth Floor never earned a Michelin star for its Mediterranean-tinged modern American cooking. But with David Bazirgan, Barbara Lynch’s one-time chef de cuisine at No. 9 Park in Boston, at the helm, it certainly should have. Now that the space, atop the Hotel Palomar, has transformed into the less fussy, bar-like Dirty Habit, Bazirgan’s technique remains just as formidable. Dishes such as halibut tiradito with passion fruit, ginger, and plantain, as well as sisig fried rice with pork belly, calamansi, and soy, reflect his unwavering penchant for bold flavors.
Massimiliano Conti, La Ciccia
291 30th St, Noe Valley (415-550-8114, laciccia.com)
San Francisco teems with Italian restaurants—from cookie-cutter North Beach trattorias to the always-packed A16. But La Ciccia, in Noe Valley, stands out among the cluttered genre for its devotion to the cuisine of oft-overlooked Sardinia, the Mediterranean’s second largest island, off Italy’s west coast. At this true neighborhood spot, Massimiliano Conti, a native of the region, turns guests onto the cuisine of his balmy homeland with food reflective of the region’s diverse cultural influences, from Arabic to Spanish. Pork sugo semolina gnochetti and seared lamb loin drizzled with cooked grape must acquaint diners with a rarely seen side of the country.
Adam Dulye, Abbot’s Cellar and Monk’s Kettle
Wine—and increasingly cocktail—pairings are old hat at restaurants, but sadly, uniting beer and food remains on the peripheries. Like Daniel Burns at Brooklyn’s Tørst, Adam Dulye deserves more credit for taking on the challenge, and getting it so right. The hearty food he makes at Mission restaurant Abbot’s Cellar and sister tavern Monk’s Kettle—day-boat scallops with parsnip puree and curry apple butter; duck leg confit with panzanella and roasted apples—is certainly appealing. What makes it especially ambitious is that Dulye creates it all with beer in mind (those scallops, for example, make ideal companions for a Javier Javier strong ale from San Diego’s Monkey Paw).
Greg Dunmore, Nojo
231 Franklin St, Hayes Valley (415-896-4587, nojosf.com)
San Franciscans love their sushi joints—ICHI and Koo among them—but the Japanese dishes turned out at homey izakayas don’t often get as much buzz. Just because it makes for good bar grub doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting, though, especially in the hands of Nojo’s super-talented Greg Dunmore. A veteran of Ame, in the St. Regis Hotel, Dunmore merges his love for the izakaya with yakitori, whipping up such specialties as panko-crusted green tomatoes with tonkatsu sauce alongside skewers of chicken slicked in garlic-barley miso butter.
Brett Emerson, Contigo
1320 Castro St, Noe Valley (415-285-0250, contigosf.com)
While you can feast on salt-cured anchovies and meatballs in tomato-sherry sauce at Noe Valley favorite Contigo, chef Brett Emerson’s approach to tapas is decidedly Californian. His seared goat-cheese salad with pear, persimmon, and hazelnuts, and wild-nettle flatbread with smoked bacon and pickled chilies, showcase a fresh, local spin on Catalan cuisine.
Brooke Mosley, Outerlands
4001 Judah St, Outer Sunset (415-661-6140, outerlandssf.com)
Cloying desserts often get passed over for a cheese plate, but dishes that embrace both sweet and savory territory fast becoming far more alluring to diners than ramekins of chocolate mousse. Technically, Brooke Mosley is the pastry chef of rustic-organic Outerlands, located in Outer Sunset. However, she’s so adept at melding these two spectrums through her hybrid creations—like brown sugar panna cotta with roasted Delicata squash, and chocolate and honey with forbidden rice—that you’d be forgiven for eating dessert first.
Sean Thomas, Blue Plate
3218 Mission St, Bernal Heights (415-282-6777, blueplatesf.com)
Outer Mission mainstay Blue Plate is known for comfort food like meatloaf and macaroni, but it would behoove patrons to treat it as more than a comfortable diner. Sean Thomas has a reverence for farm-fresh ingredients that translate to more sophisticated dishes, including roasted pumpkin and vanilla soup with pumpernickel and clove oil, or pork shoulder confit with black barley and dried apricots. A former executive chef at Google who used to work at wd~50 in New York, Thomas makes wading beyond deviled eggs and mashed potatoes worthwhile.