My Favourite Restaurants of 2023

My Favourite Restaurants of 2023
My favourite dish of the year was this Koshihikari Rice, Uni & Ikura bowl from Angler. Simple, clean but done to perfection!

January - Empress By Boon

‌ Nestled within Empress Boon lies a culinary treasure: Uni & Sardine Fried Rice, a standout amidst a prix fixe menu that oscillates between hits and misses. The rice was skillfully infused with the briny essence of the sardines, creaminess of the uni an impressive sense of 鑊氣 that evokes the essence of authentic Cantonese cuisine.

Moreover, the ambiance at Empress Boon is nothing short of captivating. The restaurant boasts breathtaking views of Chinatown that served as a picturesque backdrop to our Chinese New Year meal. One also can't help but be enchanted by the warm welcome and attentive service.

February - 金蓬萊 Golden Formosa

金蓬萊 (Golden Formosa), is a 1-Michelin star restaraunt tucked away in a quite neighourhood in the Shilin District. The restaurant effortlessly marries tradition with innovation, showcasing dishes that are a symphony of flavors and textures.

The 蓬萊排骨酥 (Crispy Pork Ribs) set the tone for our extravagant lunch, presenting a harmonious blend of crispy exterior and tender, succulent meat. Each bite was a burst of savory delight, perfectly balanced with aromatic spices that lingered on the palate.

The 乾拌古早味蚵仔麵線 (Oyster Noodles), a lesser-known delight on the menu, surprised and delighted with its simplicity yet depth of flavor. The noodles, perfectly cooked, were bathed in a savory sauce that carried the essence of fresh, plump oysters. Each slurp was a celebration of the sea, as the delicate yet distinct flavor of the oysters intertwined flawlessly with the umami-rich sauce.

The 烏魚子炒飯 (Prime Mullet Roe Fried Rice) was a revelation—a testament to the chef's artistry. The rice, delicately infused with the essence of prime mullet roe, offered a medley of umami flavors that danced on the taste buds. The subtle yet distinct seafood notes elevated the dish to a level of unparalleled indulgence.

However, the pièce de résistance was the 佛跳牆 (Buddha Jumps Over the Wall)—a culinary masterpiece that surpassed all expectations. This traditional Taiwanese delicacy was a complex symphony of premium ingredients, each contributing its unique essence. I'm not usually a fan of taro and traditional Chinese dried seafood, but the rich, flavorful broth enveloped a luxurious assortment of seafood and meats, creating a range of flavors and textures that was nothing short of extraordinary. I've never had soup and taro that was so luxurious and velvety!

The attentive service and inviting ambiance further enhanced the overall dining experience, creating a memorable afternoon that celebrated the diverse and exquisite flavors of Taiwanese gastronomy.

March - House of Prime Rib

House of Prime Rib sets the standard for quality dining in San Francisco. The moment you walk in, you're greeted by an festive energy that exudes warmth and tradition.

The portions are massive, and the prime rib, is always cooked to a perfect medium rare. Juicy, tender, and precisely prepared, it's the kind of dish that beckons for seconds, even if you're struggling not to overeat. The quality is consistent, making each visit just as exceptional as the last.

Don't underestimate the sides here—they're as remarkable as the main attraction. And here's a tip: don't sleep on the creamed spinach! These seemingly humble sides are always a delightful surprise, adding layers of flavor that complement the star dish beautifully.

House of Prime Rib isn't just a meal; it's an experience. It's the kind of place where you'll find yourself eagerly planning your next visit while still savoring the remnants of your current feast. If you're in San Francisco, this spot is an absolute must-try for a classic, indulgent dining experience.

April - Rintaro

Rintaro is probably one of my favourite restaraunts in SF. We came by on a random weekday night and opted for their set menu, but I'd higly recommend going a la carte and ordering to your heart's desire.

We started with the Kani Dashimaki Tamago, a fluffy, light folded omlette blend with local San Francisco Dungeness Crab was a perfect started and really highlighted Rintaro's vision of Northern Californian and Japanese cuisine.

Next we had San Ten Mori, which was several pieces of sashimi showcased high-quality ingredients. The San Diego Bluefin tuna was a highlight, but we didn't  think it was anything particularily mindblowing or adventurous.

The Tsukene (minced chicken skewers) at Rintaro emerges as a true highlight, capturing the essence of perfectly grilled skewers. Each bite was a testament to the chef's mastery, offering a symphony of flavors that tantalize the taste buds.

The Chizu Tori Katsu, a fried delight, impressed with its impeccable preparation. Notably light and devoid of excess oil, it retains a crispy texture while allowing the chicken to shine. The accompanying katsu sauce added an extra layer of savory magic.

Ending on a unique note, the Hojicha Panna Cotta might not have been a personal favorite, but its distinctiveness cannot be overlooked. It's unique toasted tea notes in the syrup added a touch of adventure to the whole dining experience and was a great end to a wonderful meal.

May - 景成 - City View Restaurant

Regarded by many as the pinnacle of dim sum in San Francisco, City View's classics set the standard for what good Cantonese food should taste like. From the impeccably crafted 蝦餃 (Shrimp Dumplings) to the flavorful 糯米雞 (Stuffed Sticky Rice in Bamboo Leaves), each dish carries the hallmark of expert craftsmanship and attention to detail.

However, what truly steals the show is their XO醬炒腸粉 (Fried rice rolls with XO sauce). A rarity to find executed at such a high standard, this dish is a testament to City View's dedication to authenticity and innovation. The 腸粉 was expertly wok-fried, achieving a textural marvel—bouncy and QQ, with a delightful crunch on the exterior. The marriage of flavors between the XO sauce and the delicate rice rolls was a symphony of tastes that's hard to forget.

June - Noodle in a Haystack

Noodle in a Haystack has the hardest to get reservation in the city for good reason. You can feel Clint and Yoko's dedication to their craft through the attention to smallets of details in each on of their dishes. Seating is very intimate, with an L-shaped bar surrounding the prep area. We opted for the sake pairing which came with 8 different dishes.

1) Our soirée began with a Financier adorned with Caviar. The gentle sweetness of smoked shoyu harmonized with an exquisite touch reminiscent of a sophisticated lox bagel, a whimsical yet refined appetizer.

2) Next was the Chawanmushi unveiled itself with an audacious twist.  Chicken intertwined with the nuanced depths of dashi-infused egg and seaweed. The XO sauce played mischievously, adding textures and layers that challenged the norms of this classic dish.

3) Enter the Cold Tomato and Uni Ramen—a delicate dance of flavors. The sundried tomatoes lent a surprising depth to the broth, while the velvety richness of uni bestowed an opulence that resonated with each spoonful, crafting a symphony of sensation.

4) Bluefin Tuna and Arugula Salad - meticulously selected, was a testament to the restaurant's uncompromising commitment to quality

5) The A5 Wagyu Beef and Curry arrived, accompanied by ethereal fried milk bread—each bite a sublime exploration. The beef melted like poetry, while the curry caressed the senses, culminating in a crescendo of flavor and tenderness. The dish was exteremley playful and hit a nostalgiac note for me, reminding me of the best parts of Japanese comfort food.

6) The Yuzu Daikon Pickles offered a palate-cleansing interlude—a clean, citrusy burst that revitalized the senses, leaving a trail of zesty elegance. However, it was the humble cucumbers that stole the spotlight—a seemingly unassuming creation transformed into a mesmerizing delicacy. The balance of salt, sugar, and shio konbu created a harmonious dance on the palate, leaving an enduring impression.

7) Lastly, the Shio Butter, Corn, Whelk and Clam Ramen—an opus of depth and complexity that rewrote the boundaries of noodle artistry. As the konbu butter melts into the clam broth, the ramen transforms into the most deeply flavourful seafood broth. The whelk and corn provide a great textural contrast to the amazingly toothsome noodles and chashu. This was quit possibly the best single bowl of ramen I've ever had the priveledge to try.

8) Dessert was a combination of shaved yuzu ice and burnt basque cheescake. I'm not much of a dessert person, but both were a satisfying way to end an exquisite meal.

Noodle in a Haystack transcends a mere dining experience—it's an immersive tapestry of flavors, textures, and narratives. Each dish is a chapter in a story, orchestrated by a chef's genius and enriched by hosts who transform a meal into an unforgettable saga. A reservation here isn't just access; it's an entrée into the extraordinary.

July - Llama San

Llama San isn't just a restaurant; it's a collision of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine that beckons the palate on an exhilarating journey. I was able to snag a seat in July at the bar for a quick dinner. They offer a prix fixe menu but I opted to order a la carte.

1) Marasheen Oysters, corn cream, grilled baby corn and papa sec. The grilled corn added a textural complexity to the dish and complimented the brininess of the oysters perfectly.

2) The Mackerel Ceviche is like a canvas painted with Peruvian zest—a vibrant melody of freshness and tanginess that sparks an instant connection with your taste buds.

3) Iberico Pork Tonkatsu, Udon Verde & Tsukemono Cucumber - This dish was the undisputed star of the night. This Katsu, an epitome of culinary brilliance, seduces with tenderness and an explosion of flavors. The Udon Verde was a creamy, flavor-packed symphony with a nuanced peppery kick. It's like a fusion of the familiar and the unexpected, an intriguing dance of taste and texture that marries beautifully with the standout amazingly fried iberico pork.

Llama San isn't just about food; it's a celebration of innovative fusion that bridges continents. It's where Peruvian vibrancy meets Japanese finesse, inviting your palate on an uncharted voyage through a world of extraordinary flavors.

August - The Anchovy Bar

If you're going to the The Anchovy Bar, you definitely have to try their most popular dish - Anchovy toast. The anchovies, carefully arranged atop the bread, unveil a tapestry of briny richness that dances across the palate. Each bite, a delicate interplay of umami, harmonizes with a subtle olive oil drizzle, adding depth without overwhelming the senses.

The Anchovy Bar proves that with a focus on sourcing the highest quality local ingredients, and orchestrating their preparation with precision and heart can create a culinary composition that delights the senses and elevates a common dish to extraordinary heights.

September - Sparrow and Wolf

A hidden gem of Vegas, skip the fancy casino buffet and celebrity chef spots and come here instead! Their prix fixe menu is typically 8 different dishes that changes regularily based on seasonality. Some highlights form what we tried:

1) Oxtail hummus—a revelation that redefines traditional hummus. The richness of stewed oxtail harmonized with the creamy chickpea base, elevating it to an indulgent, savory delight that leaves an unforgettable impression.

2) Foie Gras Chashu Bahn Mi—a playful twist on a classic. The opulence of foie gras meets the succulent chashu in a fusion of textures and flavors that dance gracefully on the taste buds, delivering an indulgent and innovative experience.

3) Octopus Confit—an epitome of culinary finesse. Tender and succulent, it embodies meticulous preparation and artistry, offering a delicate balance of flavors and kick of spice that delightfully surprised with each bite.

October - Angler‌

I first heard of this place from David Chang's podcast a couple years ago. Angler is a sea-life focused Michelin-starred restaurant from Saison group. The embered oysters and parker house rolls were a deadly delicious combo that will knock your socks off. The uni and trout roe rice was so buttery and briny in the best possible way and was the surprise highlight of our night. The grilled sea bream was a bit dry for our taste but was made up for by an amazing vermouth butter sauce. I wouldn't recommend the grilled hen of woods mushroom personally. It was cooked well but the sauce was too reminiscent of a franks red hot sauce.‌‌‌‌Overall an amazing experience with impeccable service. Seeing the chefs cook in the open concept kitchen was also a total delight!

November - Kokkari Estiatorio

A SF institution that lives up to the hype. This classic Greek restaurant is named after a small fishing village on the island of Samos and is the sister restaurant of the acclaimed Evvia Estiatorio in Palo Alto. You'll be greeted by a cozy cabin-like interior adorned with a welcoming fireplace and extensive woodwork making you feel right at home.

‌‌‌‌Lamb and fresh seafood were a definite must order when you're here. Their lamb shanks were cooked to perfection. Simple, light but packed with flavor. The sea bass was also delightful, offered grilled or steamed. We found the grilled skin was a bit too charred making it slightly overwhelming, given the fishes more delicate flavor.‌‌‌‌The surprise of the night was the home made grilled pita with Melitzanosalata, Favasalata and Tirokafteri. The pita had an amazingly crispy exterior but was still fluffy and light. This was the first time I've tried favasalata which was amazingly light but still packed a punch in terms of flavor.‌‌‌‌This meal exceeded all expectations and I'm already looking forward to coming again.

December - ILCHA

The soy-marinated shrimp at ILCHA, a rare culinary gem in SF. Imagine succulent shrimp, delicately marinated in a luscious soy marindate that creates a perfect balance of salty and savory notes. Each bite encapsulates a harmonious blend of umami-rich soy, gently infusing the shrimp with layers of depth and a hint of sweetness. What sets ILCHA's soy-marinated shrimp apart is the meticulousness of the marinade, which not only enhances the natural sweetness of the shrimp but also imparts a tantalizing complexity that elevates the dish to an unforgettable dining experience. And don't forget the rice! The perfectly cooked Koshihikari rice and egg provides a perfect backdrop for all the fatty goodness of the shrimp heads.