Besties dining: your food and beverage favorites

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Wednesday September 28, 2022
Share this Post:
Offerings from Bestie winners Il Casaro, Thorough Bread and Spruce
Offerings from Bestie winners Il Casaro, Thorough Bread and Spruce

Wait! A plate? After a prolonged period of eating from cardboard delivery containers, refilling our own water glasses, and not flirting with servers, dining in restaurants can feel quite special. But with noticeable price increases nearly everywhere, you'll want to choose carefully. Follow your fellow readers to their favorites.

Vico Cavone  

Best Overall Restaurant, Best Castro Restaurant: Vico Cavone
Runners up: Poesia, Canela
Runners up: Blind Butcher, Harvey's

OshKosh, let's nosh! What a pleasure it is to announce that the winner in this new category is a new restaurant. Going against the COVID tides, a native Neopolitan and former server at runner-up Poesia, Alessandro Raimondi opened his southern Italian sensation in the former Firewood space on 18th Street. Instead of roasting chickens —that Firewood handsomely displayed beneath a cleverly designed front counter— is used to fuel a tomato red pizza oven.

But don't overlook the shareable pizza fritta, Naples' original pie, which is folded and fried, for a calzone shape and a crisp-then-creamy donut-like crust. Other menu highlights include a frequent special of bechamel-enriched white lasagna and pasta e patate a distinctive potato ragu served from a hollowed wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. There's a full bar, too, along with a Raimondi's handpicked selection of Italian wines.

620 Jones  

Best Brunch: 620 Jones
Runners up: Starbelly, Cafe Mystique

The "rooftop" patio at this Sunday go-to is actually just one floor above the hustle of Geary Street, but it feels a world away. Its classy but casual atmosphere encourages lazy lounging over day-drinkers' delights, like their signature vodka-spiked iced Mint Mocha and St. Germain Rose Spritz. The brunch menu includes chicken and waffles, eggs Benedict and the inevitable avocado toast all served with a side of drag. A well-curated crew of queens entertains sporadically between 12:30 and 3:30.


Best Coffee Shop: Peet's
Runners up: Church Street Cafe, Wicked Grounds

Peet's may be a chain, but its 2257 Market Street outpost is without question a part of our community. Friendly, familiar baristas and an irresistibly aromatic atmosphere make it a stalwart spot for quick cups to go or lazy mornings with the newspaper. If you're looking for a first-rate nibble with your java, be sure to check out nearby 17th Street's Café de Casa for authentic sweet and savory Brazilian pastries.

Orphan Andy's  

Best Late Night Restaurant: Orphan Andy's
Runners up: Grubstake, La Frontera

After a brief pandemic closure, the close confines of Orphan Andy's are open once again, a welcome sign that the Castro is returning to its normal abnormality. With the shuttering of It's Tops down the road, Andy's is now the neighborhood's one and only all-night diner, its overflowing omelettes and piled-high pancakes among our most essential hangover prophylactics.

And what is La Frontera, you ask? Go east young man, to Oakland, where gay nightlife impresario Valentino Carrillo dishes up cheesy quesabirria tacos until 2am on weekends at 4481 International Boulevard and at his club, Que Rico, on 15th Street downtown.

Best Upscale Restaurant: Spruce
Runners up: State Bird Provisions, Frances
Michelin-starred Spruce, well known in fine-dining circles, is a first-time Besties winner, no doubt due to an outdoor dining area created during the pandemic that's as attractive and well-serviced as its indoor space. Of particular note is the $54 prix fixe lunch, which makes for a lovely special occasion splurge that won't break the bank.

Meanwhile, Castro favorite Frances has reopened with a new family style format featuring a set four-course dinner menu that changes each week, priced at $86.

Le Colonial  

Best Asian Restaurant: Le Colonial
Runners up: AsiaSF, La Toyose

Well, our readers have spoken, and we won't say much more about their choices than: "Geez, you picked one white-owned place that celebrates colonialism in its name, another known more for its entertainment than its cuisine, and a gotta-try-it-once (but only once) labyrinth in a converted garage? In San Francisco, where there's so much delicious, authentic Asian food at every imaginable price point?" And also, this: "Palette Tea House, Mandalay, Nari, Rooh, San Ho Wan, T.C. Pastry, PPQ Dungeness Island, the whole darn Richmond District." Last year's winner was Mister Jiu's.

Brenda's Oakland  

Best Soul Food Restaurant: Brenda's Oakland
Runners up: Everett & Jones BBQ, Sol Food

Beloved Bay Area restaurateur and Louisiana native Brenda Buenviaja, along with her wife Libby Truesdell, are serving up three meals a day at their Oakland outpost, from crawfish beignets at breakfast to overstuffed po' boy lunches to dinners of shrimp and grits or jambalaya.

Almost all of the lunch and dinner mains are under $20 and overwhelmingly delicious. Sol Food features Puerto Rican cuisine, a rare Marin County Bestie winner that recently served Bad Bunny and his touring entourage.

Il Casaro chefs  

Best Italian Restaurant: Il Casaro
Runners up: Vico Cavone, Poesia

With Vico Cavone taking best overall restaurant, Il Casaro slides into the number one spot for Italian. This second location of a North Beach favorite has a pizza oven that takes all of 90 seconds to cook a perfect pie and is one of the only places in town that offers the fantastic but unfamiliar-to-Americans topping combo of mortadella, mozzarella and pistachios (Subtle, creamy, crunchy). A wide selection of pastas and homemade antipasti (try the green beans with chile and lemon) rounds out the menu.


Best Mexican Restaurant: Papito
Runners up: Bonita, Don Pistos

With its upscale spin on traditional taqueria cuisine, signature spooky girl mural and a prime Hayes Valley location close to major arts venues and popular shopping areas, Papito wins the hearts and taste buds of our readers. Much appreciated special touches include hot homemade tortilla chips which are regularly refilled for free, a delightful mango salsa and unexpected little twists like chilaquiles with duck, and fried chicken tacos.

happy patrons at Beit Reima  

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: Beit Reima
Runners up: Old Jerusalem, La Mediteranee

Samir Mogannam has overseen one of the most inspiring restaurant rebirths in the Bay Area, transforming the Castro and Cole Valley locations of Burgermeister —which helped his father make one generation's American dream come true— into the purveyors of "Arabic comfort food" that reflect his family's heritage. From the smashed fava bean dip called ful, to homemade pita seasoned with zaa'tar and sumac, to familiar falafel and kabobs, and a delicious braised lamb shank that's a surprise in such casual quarters, everything on the menu is fresh and zesty.

Best Bakery: Thorough Bread
Runners up: Devil's Teeth Baking Company, Boichik Bagels
While the likes of Mr. Holmes' cruffins, B. Patisserie's kouign-amman and Breadbelly's kaya toast spark trendy surges in local carbohydrate consumption, it's good to know that our readers appreciate a quiet, reliable standby for both classic and creative pastry. French-born proprietor Michel Suas' perfect loaves, pains aux chocolat and butter croissants are as good as you'll find anywhere in town. His seasonal bread puddings are sensational, and his savory scones and cheesy cloud-like gougéres can transform a harried lunch on the run into a delicious moment of self-care.

AL's Place  

Best Desserts: AL's Place [closed]
Runners up: Stella Pastry, Milkbomb Ice Cream

R.I.P. to Aaron London's esoteric tapioca with blueberries, pineapple and sesame. Our Michelin-starred winner succumbed to the pandemic after votes were cast. More traditional, but nearly as appealing to sweet-toothed readers, was old-school Stella Pastry in North Beach, where the cannoli are filled to order, and the mixed Italian cookies are a throwback thrill. Berkeley-based Milkbomb has recently arrived in the Castro with its signature donut ice cream sandwiches.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.