The Embarrassment of Culinary Riches: San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov

For any traveler to Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area is a well-known culinary wonderland with abundance of fresh seasonal produce, farm-to-table and locavore restaurant concepts, and a robust corps of experienced restaurateurs and chefs to wine and dine you.

There’s not a problem to find a wonderful bar, an amazing restaurant, or a cozy café. The problem is to choose just one for your particular tastes and inclinations.

Some of our acclaimed eateries, most interesting and highly appreciated by the locals, distinctly stand out everywhere, from San Francisco to Palo Alto to San Jose.

Welcome to our embarrassment of culinary riches!

Berber, San Francisco

Come to this beautifully appointed and candlelit restaurant-club for an unforgettable night of entertainment. Friday and Saturday dinner shows will charm you with a prix-fixe menu of Moroccan specialties and a variety of cirque acts.   

Upon entering, you’ll be escorted through a spacious Atlas Room dining hall and bar area, decorated with North African artifacts from the Berber culture to the hidden at the back of the restaurant Le Souk room with a cabaret-style seating around a small stage, where live performances will immerse you in the very special atmosphere of centuries-old hospitality traditions.

Rest assured, the proprietors, Tony Garnicki and Borhen Hammami as well as Chef Hicham Senhaji and the talent team will do everything possible to make you feel happy, indulged, and thoroughly entertained.

For a good reason, San-Franciscans like to come here for birthdays, date nights, and special occasions. Everything that surrounds you is designed to please, dazzle, and entice. First, you hear the sounds of violin. They are brisk, energetic, and full of joy, and then you see the performer, Kippy Marks, dressed in rhinestones and sparkles, nodding to you as if you were an old friend, smiling and shining in all directions.

You feel the aromas of African spices and smoked saffron and rosemary—those emanate from the whimsical original cocktails, like Sarab (serrano infused mezcal, grapefruit, lime) or Bedouin Blend (bourbon, walnut and orange bitters, saffron smoke). The latter comes covered with a festive lid tile to keep that precious smoke in the glass until you’re ready to inhale it.

Then comes the first course—Kesra semolina bread with three dips, like muhammara, bissara, and labneh; Carrot Ginger soup with Berber spices; and fresh Salad of mixed greens, grapefruit, and almonds dressed with tahini vinaigrette.

Now it’s time to feast your eyes on the mind-boggling performance of the belly dancer, Nicole Maria, so graceful, so delicate, and moving every tiny muscle of her gorgeous body with a great speed and skill.

In-between the cirque acts, Emcee Heather Thiel in a sparkly dress sings and jokes with the public, and then the servers start carrying around a fork-tender Lamb Tagine and silky Berber Couscous with spiced prunes, sesame seeds, almonds, and saffron.  

The main course break is followed by more cirque acts, like aerialist Arya with “hair-hanging” routine and aerial straps performer, Joey The Tiger, suspended on ties and knots above the tiny stage. 

By the time a dessert of Baklava and Pistachio Gelato comes around, it’s time for the fiery violin again, and then all the artists come to the stage for a final bow.

The entertainment program changes often, and the upcoming special evening shows will present Gipsy Kings on Wednesday, March 2 and Thursday, March 3.

Berber is located at 1516 Broadway, San Francisco, and is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Call 415.800.7767 or visit

BAIA, San Francisco

Don’t be surprised that people line up by the massive solid wood double doors to this new and exciting eatery before it opens for dinner.

Founded by Chef Matthew Kenney and led by the Executive Chef Joshua Yap, the posh plant-based Italian-inspired restaurant satisfies cravings and meets gourmet desires with masterfully prepared and vegetarian-modernized traditional comfort food.

Just to be here, inside BAIA, is a treat. The two-level open-plane space is large, airy, with a round bar in the center, under an artful hanging glass chandelier, and balcony-style seating above. Exposed brick, steel columns, arched windows, marble surfaces paired with soft booths and chairs make it urban, contemporary, and elegant at the same time.         

The cocktail list boasts some classics, like Rye Manhattan, and craft creations, like Bella Donna (mezcal, aperol, lime, grapefruit) and Paloma Farfalla with a fashionable butterfly flower tea. On a non-alcoholic list there’s also Butterfly Lemonade made with agave syrup and lemon. 

On Appetizers menu a definite standout is a simply named dish, Market Vegetables al Forno—a medley of fresh seasonal veggies, grilled in olive oil and mild spices. There’s also Arancini on a bed of delightful bright-green parsley aioli.

A salad of Chicories is unexpectedly dressed with black truffle vinaigrette, which elevates it to a new level of sophistication.

Wood-fired oven Funghi pizza is made with a generous amount of various wild mushrooms in Alfredo sauce, while another mushroom dish, Risotto al Funghi benefits from an abundance of taste enhancers, like roasted squash, pickled persimmon, rainbow chard, and red wine sauce. 

The recently added to the menu TiNDLE—a plant-based chicken makes appearance in delicious Parmigiana (a TiNDLE chicken parmesan served with conchiglie pasta and Pomodoro sauce).

Next Gen Foods of Singapore created TiNDLE as a versatile, easy-to-work-with plant-based substitute, very similar in taste and texture to real chicken meat. TiNDLE is made with simple ingredients—water, texturized protein (soy, wheat gluten, wheat starch), Lipi (sunflower oil, natural flavoring), coconut oil, methylcellulose, and oats, and is rich in protein and fiber. Healthily, it’s devoid of unwanted additives, sometime found in real chicken, like the hormones, antibiotics, and cholesterol.

BAIA desserts deserve a special mention, as both Torta (chocolate ganache, hazelnut cream) and Panna Cotta (persimmon compote, apple, pickled persimmon) are simply heavenly, and so well deserved after a satisfying plant-based meal!

BAIA is located at 300 Grove St, San Francisco, and is open Monday through Friday 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Call 415.861.0625 or visit Find out more about TiNDLE:

Wild Onion Bistro & Bar, Palo Alto

It’s a hotel restaurant, but it’s so much more than that. Located inside the lobby of a recently opened Citrine Hotel, Wild Onion might be called a typical Silicon Valley eatery, meaning that it follows the farm-to-table movement, serves simple satisfying dishes from plant-based to steaks and chops, uses fresh, organic, and locally sourced ingredients, has a full bar in addition to coffee, tea, freshly pressed juices, homemade sweets, and baked goods from the local producers, and entertains with live music, like a skilled guitarist on the night this reporter has dined.

Wild Onion ambiance is casual, but elegant. Separated from the hotel lobby by a row of potted tropical plants, the dining area with spherical chandeliers, striped walls and green tiles behind the bar features a communal table with high green chairs, cozy faux leather banquettes, and earthy colors with a refreshing modern vibe.

The dining room is filled with natural light, and right outside the door there’s a fire pit and the hotel swimming pool.

Besides California wines and artisanal beers, handcrafted cocktails include Avec Grand-Mere (Bombay Sapphire gin, Lillet blanc, Grand Marnier) and The Innovator (Argonaut Spectator brandy, rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe).

Trendy mocktails are also readily available, like an energizing Ginger Punch, made with ginger beer, apple and citrus juices, and lime.

When it comes to food, the Wild Onion Executive Chef, Ray Garrow, with more than 30 years experience, makes an emphasis on California’s season produce in his eclectic menu. Not only you get a decidedly fresh, high quality fare, you also enjoy an artful plating—a signature touch of our Bay Area chefs.

A plate of Crudo looks like a piece of art, with tender ruby red slices of ahi tuna, green serrano peppers topped with cilantro leaves, and finished with yuzu, black sesame, and sea salt.

A classic Steak Frites features prime hangar steak with herb garlic butter and Kennebec fries, while Grilled Lamb Chop is garnished with rosemary lemon potato, confit garlic, and olive tapenade.

Try not to miss a scrumptious Tiramisu, sided by fresh berries, for dessert.

Wild Onion Bistro & Bar is located at 750 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, and is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Call 650.424.8991 or visit

Dumpling Time Santana Row, San Jose

Riding the wave of its enormous popularity, the beloved Dumpling Time—a brainchild of proprietors Kash Feng and Jackson Yu, opened its fourth Bay Area location in San Jose’s chic residential, retail and restaurant district, Santana Row. 

Omakase Restaurant Group’s three Dumpling Time locations in San Francisco, a city known for its abundance of Asian cuisine and excellent dim sum venues, still managed to create a cult following among the devoted dumpling lovers.

With the expansion to San Jose, the restaurant makes it possible for South Bay dwellers and business and leisure visitors to the bustling Silicon Valley to skip a road trip to San Francisco just to indulge in Dumpling Time’s highly craveable bao, siu mai, har gow, xiao long bao, and xi’an boiled dumplings made after Mr.Feng’s family recipe.

As in all its well-established locations, the Santana Row outpost has a glass-walled dumpling kitchen where you can see the intricate process of dumpling making by hand. Among the signature creations (Executive Dumpling Chef Leo Leong) are Maine Lobster Siu Mai made with chives, butter, and white truffle oil; red Tom Yum xiao long bao (soup dumplings) stuffed with pork belly and coconut milk, and wrapped in beet skin; and everyone’s favorite Sweet Bao—a trio of multicolored buns with different fillings.

Of course, the restaurant offers not just dumplings, but a variety of dim sum, including Sauteed Veggies, Sweet & Sour Wings, and Beijing Noodles to name a few.

A full bar features California wines, the traditional Tsing Tao and a variety of local artisanal beers, sake, vodka, and gin, plus creative cocktails, like Type A (Gimlet) with Haku vodka, elderflower liqueur, Thai basil and lime, and Far East Side (Roku gin, cucumber, shiso, lemon, ginger beer).

A stylish dining hall was designed by Aya Yanagisawa’s team with the abundance of glass elements and hanging plants under the vaulted ceiling lit by custom chandeliers. Enter a spacious patio through the French doors to be seated outside, yet still within the venue, away from the road and sidewalks. 

Besides the three San Francisco locations of Dumpling Time—the original at 11 Division Street, Dumpling Time Express at 55 Division Street, and Dumpling Time Thrive City at 191 Warriors Way, the Omakase Restaurant Group also owns and operates Omakase, a Michelin one star sushi bar under the artful direction of Chef Jackson Yu; Okane, which offers refined Japanese comfort food; Niku Steakhouse, a Michelin star American steakhouse with Japanese influence; The Butcher Shop, a certified purveyor of Kobe and Wagyu beef; Live Sushi, a family-friendly, neighborhood sushi bar; and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a cozy diner in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood.

Dumpling Time is located at 378 Santana Row, Suite 1035, San Jose, and is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Call 408.882.3469 or visit