Chef Alice Waters and her group of idealistic friends didn’t intend to spark a movement when they opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971; they just wanted to do things right—which meant using sustainably sourced, organic, seasonal ingredients. It’s hard to open a menu without seeing those buzzwords nowadays, but make no mistake: the iconic Berkeley restaurant—still going strong—was the first glimmer of today’s nation-sweeping celebration of ultra-fresh, hyper-local, farm-to-table dining. Also sample it at the communal tables at Gather, also in Berkeley, or in Marin County at Farmshop (Larkspur), in Sonoma County at Zazu (Sebastopol), Farm House Inn & Restaurant (Forestville), and Terrapin Creek (Bodega Bay). Also in the East Bay, Oakland has emerged as a hotbed of innovative chefs and restaurants, like Commis and Haven.
In San Francisco, it’s almost impossible not to eat well, with Michelin-starred options ranging from Atelier Crenn to Zuni Cafe. Find some of the hippest places to dine along Valencia Street in the Mission District, with a head-spinning number of chic bars and restaurants and almost every type of global cuisine—plus awesome ice cream at Bi-Rite, Mitchell’s, or Cream. Little Italy and the Jackson Square neighbourhood have more great finds, like Bix and Michelin-starred Quince.
Napa Valley offers not just great wines, but amazing food too. Thomas Keller’s multi-Michelin-starred The French Laundry, in Yountville, is the big get in reservations—you might have better luck if you’re willing to go for lunch, or opt for Keller’s bistro fare at Bouchon. Or try Keller’s family-style comfort food at Ad Hoc, also in Yountville. In Saint Helena, three-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood offers impeccable cuisine in elegant wine-country splendour, and Press showcases local meets and produce from its own farms.
But with all these new trends, there’s still something to be said for San Francisco classics: crusty Boudin sourdough bread (first baked here in 1849), the martini (debuted in 1850), Irish coffee (perfected in 1952 at the still-serving-them-today Buena Vista Café), and timeless steamed Dungeness crab dipped in melted butter.