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    What to Eat in 2024? The Gay Gourmet Comes to the Rescue!

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    Every year, the most common question I get asked is, “Where should I eat in the Bay Area?” There is a cornucopia of choices, depending on your mood, type of cuisine, and budget. In the interest of “news you can use,” here’s my annual list of places—both new and old—to try in 2024.

    Azalina’s: Here you will find Malaysian food at its very best, in the middle of the Tenderloin. You’ll sample dishes you never heard of (like Masak Kicap, a type of beef cheek with star anise and yellow beet relish) in a setting that is warm and welcoming. The fixed price menu is eminently affordable. But take an Uber there and back, because the neighborhood is sketchy.

    Foreign Cinema: After all these years, this San Francisco classic in the Mission is still at the top of the list. Foreign Cinema serves great California cuisine, offers impeccable service, and you get to watch a film in the outdoor courtyard as well. This year, they even hosted star chef Jeremiah Tower to recreate the magic of Stars restaurant at their location.

    Quince: This might be my favorite “special occasion” restaurant in the city. Restaurateur Lindsay Tusk and husband/chef Michael Tusk have thankfully reopened this one-of-a-kind dining experience. Even though I haven’t tried it yet since the reopening, the buzz surrounding this Italian-inspired Michelin-star gem in Jackson Square seems to indicate it’s still top drawer.

    The new Palm House: This is probably the most dog-friendly restaurant in town, with a covered patio, a special dog menu, and special events for your furry friends. They’ve revamped this popular Union Street spot and the results are admirable. The menu is more focused, with tasty tidbits like popcorn shrimp, a chopped chicken salad, and a yummy smashburger—plus a great cocktail menu and occasional drag shows.

    Trick Dog: This is a “World’s 50 Best Bars” drinking locale that is one of my chosen watering holes with crafty dog-centric concoctions like the “Puppy Pose” (Wilderton lustre, Seedlip Garden 108, wheatgrass, yogurt, lemon and grapefruit zest), or Down Dog (Mezcal Union Joven, Martini Fiero Aperitivo, papaya, vanilla, harissa, and more). The location can’t be beat: halfway between the Mission District and Potrero Hill. Don’t miss the dog-friendly parklet. You can also take home a fun, illustrated Trick Dog cocktail menu to boot.

    Poesia’s newish café: Baker Giovanni Liguoro hails from Naples and makes some of the most scrumptious pastries in town, like the Italian cornetti. This whimsically-designed Castro café also offers great sandwiches and salads, and the outdoor café is a great place to people watch. Plus, Giovanni is easy on the eyes.

    Fang Restaurant: Chinese restaurants in San Francisco are a dime a dozen, but this one leads the pack. Celebrity chef Kathy Fang, who had her own Food Network TV series, has elevated Chinese cuisine. It’s tasty and has all the authenticity of many of the Cantonese dishes we love, but the ingredients, the preparation, and the presentation are all first-rate. Plus, it’s conveniently located, right around the corner from SFMOMA.

    Bar Sprezzatura: One of the most opulent, design-forward restaurants in town, Bar Sprezzatura offers an Italian menu from talented chef Joseph Offner, and delightful cocktails from mixologist/partner Carlo Splendorini to match. Who knew there were such destination-worthy spots in the Financial District? On its own, the gorgeous turquoise and gold luxe look is worth the price of admission.

    Anomaly SF: This is my top choice for new, high-end fixed price dining, set in an old Presidio Heights Victorian that’s been updated to look like it’s straight out of New York’s upper East Side. The dishes are delish (and served by Chef Mike Lanham himself), and the starting price of $136/person won’t break the bank.

    Firenze by Night: One of my fave old-school Italian North Beach haunts, Firenze by Night excels at such bona fide offerings as capellini pomodoro e basilico, fettucini pesto, and tortellini in brodo. The Italian murals on the walls are a retro throwback, and the handsome Italian waiters even speak with the expected authentic accent.

    Perry’s on Union: It’s been around for 54 years, but this American bistro on Union Street owned by the unflagging Perry Butler is still as good as it gets. Perry’s serves up a great burger and offers a terrific Cobb salad, has a nice wine selection, and is a a perfect place to watch the game.

    Waterbar: This is a glamorous, sustainable seafood-centric bar and restaurant on the Embarcadero that has one of the best San Francisco Bay views in the city. You can dine on great oysters, delicious fresh seafood, and enjoy the atmosphere (with real-live fish swimming in 2-story aquariums) that makes it a place to show off to out-of-towners.

    AsiaSF: Perhaps the oldest continuously operating transgender restaurant in America, this restaurant cum nightclub cum cabaret is all-out fun for everyone. There is great Asian fusion food and you can sip terrific cocktails served by the transgender waitstaff, who then perform dynamic and entertaining nightly shows.

    Florio: San Francisco’s own “Cheers,” this neighborhood gem owned by Doug Biederbeck has the conviviality of a place to which you want to return again and again. It offers tasty Italian and French dishes, along with a full bar where “everybody knows your name.” Make this Fillmore Street eatery a must-dine (and drink) destination.

    The Academy SF: The Castro’s elegant LGBTQ+ social club, The Academy SF is where the staff are as welcoming as the folks who patronize this Market Street haven. It’s easy to meet people, the drinks are strong, and the club offers everything from wine tastings to cabaret performances, and art classes.

    Jeff Durham and Joey Wolosz

    Gentleman Farmer’s new Bungalow in Napa: This is a hot new gay-owned wine tasting/food pairing bungalow in downtown Napa. According to owners/husbands Jeff Durham and Joey Wolosz, “The Bungalow is a space to host private experiences, salon soirées, live music, burlesque, magic, and much more. We will share background notes, colorful stories, and detailed, down-to-earth answers to wine questions.”

    For those Castro nights: Head to Twin Peaks Tavern and Copper Bar Kitchen and Microbrewery—two of my go-to bars for après-dinner drinks and community. But my pal and author Mark Abramson swears by 440 Castro. With any of these three Castro haunts, you can’t lose. And you might just meet your next boyfriend, girlfriend, or theyfriend.

    Frances: It used to be impossible to get a reservation, but now you can sup at this fine dining place without reserving a month in advance. And what a bonus that is! It might just be the best restaurant in the Castro, what with divine California cuisine, friendly servers, and the best caviar and almond financiers in town.

    Hayes St. Grill: After 44 years, this mainstay still boasts the best seafood in town (along with Anchor Oyster Bar, Scoma’s, Tadich, and Waterbar). But the plus here is that you can eat the freshest catch from the ocean before heading to the San Francisco Symphony, SFJAZZ, or the San Francisco Opera. Since it’s in hip Hayes Valley, it’s walking distance to all three performance halls.

    Chez Panisse: The temple that started the California cuisine revolution under the guidance of goddess and chef Alice Waters still maintains its primo quality in Berkeley. There’s fine dining downstairs along with the more informal café upstairs, and both are still impeccable.

    Nari: Chef Pim Techamuanvivit’s modern take on Thai cuisine in Japantown is a marvel and boasts a Michelin star. But it’s unbelievably tasty, too. Just watch out for those spices—if you’re sensitive, let her know you want it “mild.”

    John’s Grill: A landmark destination, John’s Grill serves some of the best steaks and martinis in town. Additionally, this history-laden eatery near Union Square was the location for Sam Spade’s The Maltese Falcon. There’s even a replica of the falcon upstairs! Take a tip from my San Francisco Bay Times colleague Jan Wahl (who loves this place too) and order Sam’s favorite: lamb chops, sliced tomatoes, and potatoes.

    Empress by Boon: This Chinatown treasure is a beauty. It features luxe décor, beautiful views, and—even better—delicious Cantonese cuisine. It’s in the former Empress of China space, which reigned supreme for years. You can partake of Chef Ho Chee Boon’s inventive cuisine in the fancy dining room or opt for the more casual lounge/bar area.

    Bits and Bites

    Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Teneral Cellars released its “Love is Love – History of Pride” collection to “celebrate the LGBTQ+ communities and its allies.” The winery is donating $10 from every 3-pack to the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative. This release includes a beautiful chenin blanc, merlot, and barbera. Recipes have been created and paired with the wines from Season 18 Top Chef rockstar Maria Mazon, whose strength, resilience, and soulful cooking make her the perfect chef for Teneral Cellars to showcase, amplify, and celebrate.

    Since I’m a native Chicagoan, I was happy recently to read Last Call Chicago by Rick Karlin and St. Sukie de la Croix (published by Rattling Good Yarns press). It’s a treasure trove of more than 1,000 LGBTQ-friendly taverns from years past. Reading about The Bistro, Park West, Alfie’s, Le Pub, and Center Stage (where I first saw Broadway star Karen Mason) brought back many fond memories of dancing and drinking in that toddling town in the ’70s. It should be available in the Castro at Fabulosa Books or you can get it online.

    We’ve been eating a lot of turkey, ham, roast beef, and more for the holidays. So, it was nice to try out a new pasta sauce for a change. It’s from a company called The Curvy Italian and their delicious sauces are made with real San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. The company’s mastermind is April Field (dubbed “The Sauce Boss”) and she’s the real deal—a first generation Italian-American. The consistency is a bit lighter than some other brands, but their meat sauce with sweet Italian sausage—coupled with your favorite spaghetti—is top notch and makes for an easy at-home meal.

    Foreign Cinema:
    Palm House:
    Trick Dog:
    Fang Restaurant:
    Bar Sprezzatura:
    Anomaly SF:
    Firenze by Night:
    Perry’s on Union:
    The Academy SF:
    Gentleman Farmer’s Bungalow, Napa:
    Twin Peaks Tavern:
    Copper Bar Kitchen and Microbrewery:
    440 Castro:
    Hayes St. Grill:
    Chez Panisse:
    John’s Grill:
    Empress by Boon:
    Teneral Cellars:
    Last Call Chicago:
    The Curvy Italian:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at:

    Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on January 11, 2024