Eat me, drink me, take me to-go: Besties dining for 2023

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday October 24, 2023
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Familiar faces at Orphan Andy's (photo: Devin Shand)
Familiar faces at Orphan Andy's (photo: Devin Shand)

In a city renowned for fetishizing its food, Besties dining voters once again reveal themselves to be surprisingly vanilla, and reluctant to stick their tongues out much further than the Castro. Can the Venn diagram of San Francisco's queer and gastronomic communities really have such a scant overlap? Call it "The Mystery of the Meat and Potato Gays" and hope next year's chapter contains a few more surprises.

Tasty seafood at Catch (photo: Catch)  

Best Castro Restaurant: Catch
Runners up: Blind Butcher, Lark
Even if you haven't caught on yet, Catch remains a straightforward neighborhood favorite year after year. It's the kind of consistent yet versatile spot where you can grab a quick lunch once a week or bring a group of friends for a birthday dinner. Regulars vouch for the seafood chowder, which features mussels in addition to clams; the amply portioned fish and chips; and the sizable salads (try the persimmon and pomegranate if it's on offer).

Close on the heels of our voters' Top 3, and on the tip of our editorial expert's tongue, were Beit Reima and Vico Cavone.

Orphan Andy's (photo: Orphan Andy's)  

Best Late Night Restaurant: Orphan Andy's
Runners up: Grubstake, Lers Ros
A witching hour restaurant's allure goes beyond the food itself. While their omelets, club sandwiches, burgers and other diner staples are unquestionably on par for nocturnal nibbling, it's Orphan Andy's seen-it-all staff, carnivalesque clientele and neon-trimmed ambience that make it the preferred wee hours shelter for the Castro's lost boys and girls. Ditto Grubstake for Polk folks. Lers Ros, on the other hand, serves up authentically tasty Thai, but its locations all close at 10pm. Wake up and smell the nightlife, voters!

Pizza and pals at Starbelly (photo: Starbelly)  

Best Brunch: Starbelly
Runners up: Café Mystique, Wooden Spoon
Fine choices all. Those Starbelly chilaquiles really hit the spot. But why is it that our voters only seem to brunch in the Castro? In the year ahead, hop on MUNI and explore what other areas have to offer: In North Beach, try Hilda & Jesse; in the Richmond, hit Breadbelly; in Cole Valley, there's Zazie; and in the Mission, Foreign Cinema is a great pick when you've got out of town guests. You could even get on BART to have brunch at F.O.B. Kitchen and spend a lovely afternoon exploring its Temescal neighborhood.

Pizza pie at Flour+Water (photo: Flour+Water)  

Best Upscale Restaurant: Flour & Water
Runners up: Tartine Manufactury, Frances
All three of these rock-solid choices serve up truly fine cuisine without the preciousness or condescension of the Bay Area's most expensive tech-money and tourist lures. Likewise, their fourth place follower, Rich Table. At Flour & Water, you can always split a pizza plus a pasta or two, but if you're feeling indulgent, splurge on the tasting menu, which includes wee portions of four or more inventive pasta dishes along with vegetables, crudo, dessert and more.

Showtime at Asia SF (photo: Asia SF)  

Best Asian Restaurant: AsiaSF
Runners up: Mama Ji's, Mister Jiu's
Ji's, Jiu's and geez! AsiaSF? The voters have spoken and what they seem to have said is "Entertainment is more important than food." There is nothing wrong with a sexy floor show every once in a while, but please, people! Are you voting for the kitsch or the kitchen? An outpost of the excellent Dumpling Kitchen opened right on Castro Street this year. Have you tried it? And what of sushi (Chisae Sushi Club on Mission is fantastic), Korean food (San Ho Wan), Burmese (Mandalay) and Thai (Nari)? These last four are not just Asian. They're also among the city's best restaurants, period.

Pasta perfection at Poesia  

Best Italian Restaurant: Poesia
Runners up: La Ciccia, Café Zoetrope
Call it a stairway to heaven. To take the flight of steps that leads from 18th Street to the cozy roost of Poesia's second story dining room is to reach paradiso for the palate. From homemade agnolotti al plin pasta filled with a mix of veal, pork and rabbit; to a carmelized fig-topped pork filet with maitake mushrooms; to a berry-topped lemon custard tart, restaurateur and community member Francesco D'Ippolito treats his guests to pure Italian flavors cooked with impeccable technique. And while the restaurant is open only for dinner, a recently opened downstairs café/bakery serves sandwiches and some of the city's best pastries all day.

Tostada de Trucha at Nopalito (photo: Nopalito)  

Best Mexican Restaurant: Nopalito
Runners up: Puerto Alegre, Papito
With a main location in the Panhandle and a limited menu take-out window on 18th Street, Nopalito has become the go-to Mexican restaurant for diners looking to take a step up from the simple satisfactions of Mission burritos and tacos.

On a cool foggy day, a steaming bowl of the Panhandle branch's pozole rojo is just the ticket. The chicken mole, cinnamon-scented carnitas and fresh vegetable quesadilla are also guaranteed palate pleasers. Wash your meal down with top-notch horchata, aguas frescas and, in the Panhandle only, tequila cocktails.

Chicken Shawerma Salad at La Mediteranée (photo: La Mediteranée)  

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: La Mediteranée
Runners up: Beit Reima, Old Jerusalem
The Noe Street location of La Mediteranée (There's another branch on Fillmore) has been serving Levantine staples to the Castro since 1981, becoming a community staple itself. Their $28 meza platter is a savory smorgasbord of dips, salads, filo wrapped turnovers and kebabs that makes a weekday lunch or dinner feel like a party.

Pasta Orleans at Brenda's (photo: Brenda's)  

Best Soul Food Restaurant: Brenda's Oakland
Runners up: Everett & Jones BBQ, Sol Food
Get outta town! If institutional memory doesn't fail us, this is the first time that the winner and runners up in any of our dining categories have all been located out of San Francisco city limits. Given our voters' apparent predilection to stay as close to the Castro as possible, that's a mighty serious endorsement for this trio of establishments. Brenda's Oakland — the newest, brightest most well-rounded member of the restaurant family that includes outposts on Polk and Divisadero — slays with New Orleans-style Po Boys (We love the fried oyster version), gumbo, shrimp and grits, and sweet fresh-fried beignets.

Everett & Jones does lip lickin' links, ribs and chicken at its Oakland and Antioch locations. And Sol Food shines with Puerto Rican cuisine so authentic it brought Bad Bunny and his whole tour crew to Mill Valley.

Classic burger and fries at Hi Tops (photo: Hi Tops)  

Best Bar Menu: Hi Tops
Runners up: Lookout, Jolene's
Not only can you see the action better than at Oracle Park or Levi's Stadium at Hi Tops, but the sports bar's concessions are much less expensive. Burgers, soft pretzels, corn dogs and the famous pork chop on a stick are hotter, fresher and served up faster than anything you'll find a game. Not to mention the beers, which are way less than $20 a pop! At Jolene's we stan the sliders, and an afternoon with the Lookout jocks just isn't complete without an order of Dirty Balls (known in polite circles as arancini).

Sweet cheese pound cake at Devil's Teeth Baking Company (photo: Devil's Teeth Baking Company)  

Best Bakery: Devil's Teeth Baking Company
Runners up: Thorough Bread, Boichik Bagels
The satanically toothsome breakfast sandwich at this year's top bakery will leave your face and fingers dripping with lemon-garlic aioli and bacon fat and fill your belly for the rest of the day. Its reason for being is the face-sized buttermilk biscuit that holds the eggs, bacon, avocado, pepper jack cheese, et. al. together. But don't let this local celebrity sando steal the spotlight from the bacon cheddar beer muffins, country loaves, peanut butter cookies and truly diabolical brownies.

Time to eat the donuts at Bob's Donuts (photo: Bob's Donuts)  

Best Desserts: Bob's Donuts
Runners up: Salt & Straw, B. Patisserie
You wouldn't be wrong to bet on this trifecta, but frankly these winners belong in three different races. In which case Bob's would be feeling the sugary breath of Potrero Hill's Magic Donuts on its neck; Salt & Straw would be neck and neck with the brand new Jack and Remi ice cream (; and B. Patisserie would still lead the kouign amman pastry derby by a country mile.

Sipping good at Philz (photo: Philz)  

Best Coffee Shop: Philz
Runners up: Wicked Grounds, Blue Bottle
The original 24th Street Philz left us this year, but its caffeinated kin remain with us. Their bean blends are deftly described with flavor notes that actually align with the way the resulting coffee tastes. And once you try their iced Gingersnap — spicy, sweet and creamy —you'll wish a certain mega chain's PSL R.I.P.

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