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Best Eats of 2009

Sink Your Teeth Into Our List

Food trends for 2009? You know we had ‘em. Think fast and cheap, a nationwide trend that’s out of control.

Of course, we had street-food vendors whetting appetites in a Twitter frenzy. Popular moving targets included Bike Basket Pies, GobbaGobbaHey, the Crème Brûlée Cart, and dozens more, with many taking it above ground at the Thursday Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.

The year also saw the entire concept of “restaurant” questioned with a string of quick and stellar takeaway and off-the-cuff eateries, such as Little Skillet, tucked down a back alley, the perpetual queue for sandwiches at Pal’s, Kitchenette, The Sentinel, or Ike’s. Mission Burger roosted inside an Asian supermarket, the Broken Record chefs commanded Bruno’s upstairs bar (equipped with stripper poles), and The JetSet Chef dinners and Saison rented space at Potrero coffee shops.

Just to keep things interesting — and lucrative with a zapped economy in a town where people still love to eat — lunch became the new dinner, and numerous high-end eateries started serving a slimmed down lunch menu to stay afloat. Spencer on the Go’s truck rivaled your favorite taco on wheels, and boxed lunches were served by Bar Bambino and Fish + Farm.

When food historians look back to the end of the first decade of the oughts, these are the waves that will be remembered, and their reverberations will be washing over nationwide.

But if you want to talk restaurants that offer the traditional dining experience, there is still fuel to SF’s flames of culinary fame. Below are a few of our favorites to grace us with great eats in the last twelve months.

Il Cane Rosso: Three course dinner at the Ferry Building for just $25? Whoa. Boldface that when you realize that Daniel Patterson’s menu is from-scratch, small-farm-focused, and pork-centric. Star Route Farms greens meet pork belly, porchetta, and the bacon as garnish craze. You’ve got great reason to pig out.

Nopalito: Homemade everything! This bustling taqueria and Mexican eatery gets an A for effort, crafting consistently excellent dishes from homemade tortillas, crema, cheese, salsas, and unforgettable slow-roasted meats.

Flour and Water: Their cappelletti pasta in particular — served with corn, bitter honey, and crescenza — is a staff favorite, and worth the possible lengthy table wait. Seasonal ingredients, a small and focused menu, house-made pasta, thin0crust pizza, salumi, and vino. What’s not to love?

Coffee Bar: Coffee Bar is not only home to the weekly Radio Africa Kitchen, but also host to a slew of community events, making it as much of a neighborhood center as it is a place to caffeinate. A shapely interior, serious barista skills, and a sturdy café menu of above-average sandwiches and salads set the bar high.

Tony's Pizzeria Napoletana: Tony Gemignani's North Beach church of pizza is a legend of the pie. If you’re as persnickety as he is about flour selection, the perfect char on crust, and the well-known 900-degree oven, this is a must-try of the year.

Starbelly: Good food in the Castro? Hazzah! This Berretta outpost offers a similar menu of sharable pizzas, homespun charcuterie, and rotisserie items — all paired with well-crafted libations. The result is a social gathering place centered around a 30-person communal table, and a hit where other eateries have faltered.

Contigo: The rustic and modern décor is always a fabulous fusion of California sensibilities with a taste of the Iberian Peninsula. At a time when “tapas” and “small plates” are uttered as dirty words, here they are consistently sincere and creative culinary poetry.

Heaven's Dog: Celebrated chef Charles Phan goes to China, and here, the mix of well-executed sharable Asian plates and killer cocktails inside the Soma Grand often comes in handy. We take comfort in noodles fried, brothed, and in all permutations. And find further solace when the meats are sustainably sourced and the ingredients are the Bay Area’s best.