2365 Chestnut Street (at Scott), 415-345-8263, www.asasushisf.com
Monday–Friday 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; Monday–Thursday 5:30–10 p.m.; Friday–Saturday 5:30–11 p.m.; Saturday 12:30–3 p.m.
This hole-in-the-wall casual neighborhood spot serves reasonably priced fresh sushi and great bento boxes. It’s especially good for lunch with bento boxes under $10 and a wide array of “special rolls” perfect for sharing as well as a nice selection of donburi and udon in the $7–$15 range. They also offer a kid’s menu with tempura and a choice of chicken, steak or salmon teriyaki for $5.95.
If you’re looking for something fancy or a hipster scene, head down a few blocks around the corner to Ace Wasabi’s (Steiner at Lombard).
Tip: Asa delivers after 5:30 p.m.
Not to Miss: OMG roll — crab meat and avocado deep fried with shrimp, tuna, spicy scallop, and special sauce.
The Brazen Head
3166 Buchanan Street (at Greenwich), 415-921-7600, www.brazenheadsf.com
Daily 5 p.m.–1 a.m. (bar opens at 4 p.m.)
Brazen Head owner Eddie Savino painted and put up a shiny new awning, but there’s still no sign — and the legions of regulars like it that way. The menu offers an eclectic mix of Italian specialties, flavorful steaks, and a few French classics (try the perfectly prepared escargots redolent with garlic butter and parsley).
Other favorites include the French onion soup, the Brazen Burger, and the signature New York strip pepper steak. This cozy hidden gem walks the line between neighborhood favorite; romantic date spot; and thriving, lively bar scene, and they do it with class.
Tip: Leave your AmEx at home — the Brazen Head only takes cash and debit cards.
Not to Miss: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday prime rib night — a 20-ounce slab of juicy prime rib with all the fixin’s for $21.
490 Pacific Avenue (at Mont-gomery), 415-775-8508, www.cotognasf.com
Monday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Friday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–midnight; “Sunday Supper” 5–9 p.m. (bar open continuously)
With Cotogna, chef Michael Tusk (who received the coveted 2011 James Beard award for Best Chef, Pacific) uses a daily-changing menu including spit-roasted or grilled meats, poultry and fish; wood-oven fired pizzas; and house-made pastas to lift rustic Italian cuisine to another level without compromising the simplicity that makes it so special. The pastas, accented with seasonal produce, are especially good, ranging from light and airy fettuccine with peas, farmers’ cheese, and tarragon and gnocchi with zucchini, burrata and squash blossoms to heartier options like pappardelle with Watson Farm lamb ragu. For pizza, try the black trumpet mushroom and nettle.
Tip: The “Sunday Supper” menu is posted on the website every Wednesday afternoon.
Not to Miss: ravioli di ricotta with farm egg and wild mushroom — large ravioli filled with creamy fresh ricotta and an oozing egg yolk set off by the earthiness of wild mushrooms and a rich brown butter sauce. This is the best pasta dish I ate in 2011, and I haven’t found one yet in 2012 that can knock it out of the top spot.
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Parallel 37 at the Ritz Carlton
600 Stockton Street (at Pine), 415-296-7465, www.parallel37sf.com
Daily 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; Monday–Thursday 5:30–9:30 p.m.; Friday–Saturday 5:30–10 p.m.; Sunday 5:30–9:30 p.m.
Like many, I lamented the closing of The Dining Room, the perfect culinary laboratory for brilliant and innovative chef Ron Siegel to create magical dishes, which successfully married whimsy with weird science. It was best suited for special occasions and three-hour tasting menus, so Siegel and the Ritz closed it, and created a more casual restaurant and lounge with a lively bar scene. Named for the geographic latitude that passes through Northern California, Parallel 37’s interior has been completely retooled, the stodgy drapes and heavy-handed design replaced with a modern, urban, open feel. The menu has been overhauled as well, with Siegel demonstrating he is just as adept at dressing down as dressing up.
Tip: Pair one of the signature cocktails in the lounge with some tasty bar bites.
Not to Miss: Slow-cooked pork — melt-in-your mouth unctuous, served with braised greens, flageolet beans and Madeira sauce.
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1944 Union Street (at Laguna), 415-922-9022, www.perryssf.com
Sunday–Thursday 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday–Saturday 9 a.m.–midnight
A favorite of politicos, old-guard elite, and a new generation discovering the beauty of real cocktails and homey, satisfying meals made with quality ingredients, Perry’s has been the dining anchor in Cow Hollow for over 40 years. Favorites include the grilled local artichoke with Meyer lemon aioli; crab cakes; Perry’s chopped salad; and Blue Plate Specials like the prime rib sandwich and corned beef and cabbage.
Tip: All bottles of wine (except sparkling) are half off on Mondays and Thursdays.
Not to Miss: Lobster Wednesdays — starting at 5 p.m., a 1¼ pound Maine lobster steamed with corn on the cob and boiled potatoes for $24.95.
3115 Fillmore Street (at Filbert), 415-796-3534, www.tacko.co
Daily 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
Owner Nick Fasanella started the gourmet taco craze over a decade ago at Nick’s Crispy Tacos on Polk Street. He’s no longer with Nick’s (they kept the name, but not the chef); but at his latest venture, Tacko, you’ll find the man and his cult-inspiring burritos and tacos. Fasanella uses only the finest ingredients, from all-natural Kurobuta pork to fresh-caught mahi-mahi as well as a few surprises, like a lobster roll that pays homage to his New England roots.
Tip: On Tuesdays, street tacos and Tecate beers are $2.
Not to Miss: Baja-style fish taco: beer-battered fish wrapped in soft corn tortillas with cilantro, cabbage and red onions topped with lime and roasted tomato salsas. Order it “Nick’s Way,” a grilled crispy corn tortilla wrapped in a soft tortilla with Monterey jack, pinto beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole.