And Why They Love Their Neighborhoods
Swing through the door of The Laundromat on a Wednesday night, and the joint is off the hook. The crispy pan pizzas, saucy smashburgers and natural wine are flowing. Vinyl records and old movies play behind the bar. Families with kids stagger home to bed, while dates slide into their tables. Recently, I walked in with a friend from the neighborhood. She surveyed the wild scene and exclaimed, “Oh, great! The wait shouldn’t be too crazy.”
I thought to myself, “The wait?! On a weeknight?! In the Outer Richmond?!”
Listen, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the death of dining in San Francisco. The James Beard Awards supposedly “snubbed” the Bay Area with only three nominees and zero winners this spring, prompting controversial takes. The Michelin stars have fallen from 57 pre-pandemic to 45 this summer, although we still lead the country in triple stars. The doom loop continues to spiral downtown, most recently with the sad closure of La Cocina’s food hall.
But here’s the thing — how much do local diners care about these awards? Our best restaurants were never exclusively upscale or downtown, and the most exciting dining right now might be embedded in the farthest flung neighborhoods. Here are just a few of the real gems of San Francisco, and why they still dearly love their neighborhoods.
The Laundromat in the Outer Richmond
There’s so much good eating in the Richmond, at the far north and west corner of the city. Even between the takeout dumpling shops at the foggy end of Balboa Street, where The Laundromat built out a former laundromat and brought the pizza party in fall 2022. It’s an unexpected dream team; Jaimi Holker and Adam Bergeron also own the Balboa Theater across the street and previously The Crêpe Place in Santa Cruz. Kevin Rodgers and Jenna O’Connell ran the wildly popular Holey Roller Bagels pop-up out of Santa Cruz.
Rodgers slings New York-style bagels by day and Detroit slash Sicilian-inspired pizza by night; O’Connell pours out cool natural wine. Holker styled the interiors and dishes while Bergeron picks out the weird old movies. Both couples live nearby, and they’re all old friends. “I love how it’s its own separate part of the city,” Rodgers says. “It’s beautiful being close to the ocean. It’s a different pace. It seems a little slower. It’s more neighborhoody.”
3725 Balboa St., (415) 379-4340 thelaundromatsf.com
Ungrafted in Dogpatch
The Dogpatch was once a sunny and industrial side of the bay, but the number of residents has doubled in the last decade, per the San Francisco Chronicle. The developing neighborhood still doesn’t have a grocery store, so “you can’t get diapers anywhere!” complains Ungrafted’s Rebecca Fineman. But it has seen an influx of cool new restaurants, including Ungrafted, a favorite since 2018. There you can get a memorable glass of vintage Champagne and fried chicken topped with caviar, but in a totally relaxed setting. On Thursday nights, oenophiles belly up for blind tastings while on the weekends, families plop kids at the coloring table.
Ungrafted may be the only restaurant owned by two master sommeliers in the world. Wife Fineman was the 25th woman to earn the title in 2017, and husband Chris Gaither was the fourth Black sommelier in 2022. But diners may not realize the big deal because it’s such a chill hangout. The couple specifically wanted to leave fine dining, and they’re grateful to be part of this neighborhood. “We send our daughter to school down the street,” Fineman says. “It’s just been wonderful getting to grow with the Dogpatch. We feel lucky to be here.”
They’re even doubling down on the area, having recently opened a new wine bar GluGlu at Chase Center, only one neighborhood over in Mission Bay.
2419 Third St. (415) 814-2129 ungraftedsf.com
Popi’s Oysterette in the Marina
The Marina has always loved to go out to eat, pandemic be damned. Popi’s Oysterette is a cute new oyster bar that opened only a few months ago this spring. Chef Melissa Perfit, who has deep seafood experience from Bar Crudo, now serves fresh twists on Dungeness crab rolls, Louie salads and a green cioppino, punching lots of acid and herbs. Especially since the weather warmed up, people do a double take when strolling by on Chestnut Street. “Once you see a bunch of people outside eating oysters and drinking Champagne, it’s like, ‘What is this place?! I want to be here!’” Perfit says with a laugh.
A fresh oyster bar might not sound like groundbreaking news in San Francisco, but clearly it was a savvy move for this corner. Previously, the Marina had a few sushi spots, otherwise, diners had to head to the chowder houses of Fisherman’s Wharf. Perfit expected a younger crowd but also loves to see older couples rolling down from Pac Heights. For such a new restaurant, they’ve already won regulars. “I’m used to having regulars at spots that have been open over four years. But in four months, I can walk down the street, and be like, ‘Hey!’ and know all these people’s names who live just around the corner.”
2095 Chestnut St., popisoysterette.com
Hamano in Noe Valley
Above L-R: Jimmy See, Jiro Lin, Frank Takao
The cutest neighborhood in San Francisco tends to be packed with toddlers and puppies — not the most discerning of diners. Yet it’s also home to Hamano, an under-rated sushi gem. Over the years, star chefs like Joshua Skenes of Saison, Val Cantu of Californios and Corey Lee of Benu have quietly slid in at the front omakase counter on their nights off. While lots of families walk back to the cozy dining room for seasonal veggie tempura, grilled salmon with housemade teriyaki, and handmade gyoza with that crispy dumpling skirt.
Sushi master Jiro Lin trained in Japan for 15 years, started slicing at Hamano in 2002 and left for stints at Saison and Hashiri. But by popular demand, he came back to take ownership of Hamano in 2016. He’s personally been behind the counter for about 20 years, and in that time in the neighborhood has seen old-timers pack out and tech workers move in. Maybe he wishes he didn’t have to make so many takeout rolls these days, but he’s so grateful to his longtime friends and regulars. “I just want to be low key,” Lin insists. “I want it to be more enjoyable and humble, so we can crack jokes and drink together.”
Lin’s also hopping neighborhoods with a new noodle spot. He just opened Katsuo & Kombu in NoPa, and hopes that the younger neighborhood will be just as into his udon noodles and curry sauce.
1332 Castro St., 415-826-0825 hamano-sushi.com
Lucho’s in Lakeside
Plenty of San Franciscans haven’t even heard of Lakeside, that sweet slice of village shops on Ocean Ave., which now boasts the best Yucatan breakfast counter the neighborhood never knew it was desperately craving. Lucho’s opened as a tiny café in 2018, serving epic plates of triple-sauced cochinita chilaquiles, pineapple upside-down pancakes and café de olla scented with cinnamon. It’s easy to snag a window seat on a weekday, but look out for the Sunday rush after church, when families crowd the sidewalk.
The man himself, Luciano “Lucho” Romero has worked in restaurants for 23 years all across the Bay Area. When Romero felt ready to start his own small business, his wife Kelly Barbieri happened to spot the cute space near their home in the Sunset. The landlord pressed the keys into their hands, offering to help with anything they needed to get up and running. “I thought I was going to start with a food truck or pop-up,” Romero says. “I never thought that someone was just going to hand me a restaurant.”
As the first Mexican restaurant on the block, early customers weren’t familiar with Yucatan cuisine, and he did cave in to breakfast burrito demands. (Romero personally never grew up eating flour tortillas.) But now he’s banging out 400 covers out of 550 square feet in one morning, and feels so grateful to have landed in this small corner of San Francisco. “I would like to thank the Lakeside District for being really good to us,” Romero says. With so many empty storefronts, people tend to worry, but “we’re not going anywhere.”
Above: Lucho with his son Mario.
2675 Ocean Avenue, (415) 347-7416 luchos.net