The Hot List

Bay Area Restaurants With Wines as Incredible as the Food

Leave it to the pros to pair.

20 min read
1/11/2023
WinePairingsInSF Piperade ducklegconfit feature

We’re stating the obvious: Diners in the Bay Area got it good. In the Northern California food paradise that encompasses San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, locals have easy access to every style of cuisine and some of the freshest produce, meat, and seafood in the U.S. Bay Area folks also have a leg up in the wine department since the area is home to many world-famous wine regions: Napa, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, the Livermore Valley, and Lodi. 

That means you can enjoy your hefty burgers with cabernets that can stand up to all that red meat, dim sum with crisp chardonnay, and much more. We’ll be the first to admit, though: With so many good choices, it can feel overwhelming to figure out what dinner you want to order, never mind the wine. That’s where this guide comes in. Below is a semi-exhaustive list of Bay Area favorites along with their most-loved dishes and wine suggestions. (You’re welcome.)

Che Fico Alimentari

This NoPa hotspot turns out transcendent Italian cuisine along with thoughtful wine offerings. Get the roast chicken with broccoli, the suppli (fried little risotto cakes stuffed with fontina), the spinach lasagna, or the rustic pizzas. Much of this fare is best paired with a full-bodied Italian red — though a zippy white or the creamy mousse of a good prosecco will work too. If you want to go red, Salvatore Molettieri’s “Cinque Querce” Aglianico Irpinia is full of dark fruit flavors and olive notes and the perfect complement to the sausage-and-fennel-topped Salsiccia pizza.

WinePairingsInSF CheFicoAlimentari suppli article

Piperade

This downtown restaurant bills itself as Basque cuisine with West Coast leanings, and the results include duck leg confit with soft lentils, braised pork cheeks sweetened with plums, and an irresistible potato-and-manchego gratin. Basque country is famous for its txakoli, white wines often bright with acidity and low in alcohol. Try the Ameztoi Txakoli di Getaria Hondarribi Zuri, an aromatic and crisp wine that’ll highlight the duck leg confit.

ROOH SF

Chef Sujan Sarkar’s Indian-inspired menu at his SoMa spot is anything but typical. Start with lightly fried Cauliflower Koliwada and grilled shrimp with chutney, then a peperoncino-stuffed paneer pinwheel or a rich butter chicken. Pair everything with a crisp, lively champagne, a juicy lambrusco, or even a lager.

WinePairingsInSF ROOH butterchicken article

Sasa

Chef Weida Chen is serious about sushi. That’s why you’ll want to let go and let the brains behind this Japantown gem lead you through the Chef Omakase (for one — you do you!) and Sasa Omakase (for two). While you could sip Hiedler’s citrusy grüner veltliner, sake is the move here, and the refreshing Kiku-Masamune Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo has a hint of umami to match the sushi. 

Spruce

This Michelin-starred restaurant in Presidio Heights is made for farmers’-market fiends: Chefs Mark Sullivan and John Madriaga source most of their produce from an organic farm in nearby Woodside. The Spruce Burger is the star of the menu, throwing delightful curveballs like an English muffin bun and pickled zucchini, but don’t miss the Caesar salad with an anchovy tuille, and a giant cookie — up to you whether that’s oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle, or chocolate chip. While the wine list is global and diverse, lean into local wines like Paradigm’s cabernet, a deep, complex red that can stand up to the burger.

WinePairingsInSF Spruce burger article

Blue Plate

Craggy fried chicken with smoked jalapeño buttermilk and pomegranate, gooey macaroni with drunken Spanish goat cheese, and Brussels sprouts sprinkled with mustard seeds and fried sage — these are just a few reasons why this longtime eatery in the Mission is code for pure comfort food. The wine list is padded with light, tart bottles to complement Blue Plate’s hearty dishes, like Domaine de Fontsainte’s earthy “Gris de Gris” rosé.

Uva Enoteca

While this Italian wine bar in the Lower Haight cranks out Italian classics, we suggest going slightly off the beaten path, with the béchamel-soaked, boar-layered lasagna and cheesy baked Japanese eggplant. To cut through the richness of these dishes — and any traditional ones, like pasta pomodoro or pork-and-beef meatballs — aim for a fruit-driven red (any chianti you see) or an earthy montepulciano, especially if you went with any of the pizzas.

Wayfare Tavern

Chef Tyler Florence is all about the details, and it shows at his Chinatown tavern. The bird is organic in the buttermilk-brined-then-fried chicken; the house burger comes crowned with a swipe of red onion marmalade and local Marin brie; and doughnuts are glazed and served with dipping sauces. To start, open up Faust’s rich cabernet sauvignon (it goes well with the burger), then finish with Ultraviolet sparkling rosé’s finely beaded bubbles for those doughnuts.

WinePairingsInSF WayfarerTavern doughnut article

Yank Sing

At this family-owned, James Beard Award–winning dim sum restaurant in Rincon Center, you can order blindfolded and still have an amazing lunch. Think succulent pork-and-shrimp Mandarin dumplings with chives and glutinous rice stuffed with barbecue pork and steamed in a lotus leaf. These umami-forward dishes demand a crisp chardonnay like the Mer Soleil Silver.

WinePairingsInSF YankSing madarindumplings article

Roam Artisan Burgers

The burgers from this Marina/Cow Hollow counter are constructed with a maybe-I-should-use-two-hands heft. Just look at the iconic Heritage Burger with bacon, aged cheddar, and thick tomato slices, or the Tejano Burger with pepper jack cheese, jalapeño relish, and crunchy tortilla strips. You’ll want a high-acid Maker pinot noir to cleanse your palate, and bonus: It comes in a can, because when you’re eating a great burger, who has time to uncork a bottle?

WinePairingsInSF RoamArtisanBurgers burgers article

RT Rotisserie

Whole birds aren’t the only ingredient getting the rotisserie treatment at this casual Hayes Valley spot from the Rich Table team. There’s the cauliflower served alongside a red-beet tahini and rice made with fat dripped from those very chickens. Don’t forget the fries tossed in porcini powder, seared broccoli with chimichurri, and Brussels sprouts drizzled with a garlicky aioli.  However you spin this chicken, stick with a bright, luscious white wine to match the salty-savory food — your best bet is the Dark Horse canned white.

Wise Sons Jewish Deli

If you’re hankering for a nosh, this Mission District deli churns out bagels so fresh they’ll make you plotz. Round out your spread with matzo ball soup (that humbly admits it’s not as good as your bubbe’s), burnished potato latkes, chopped liver, and a pastrami sandwich called The No. 19, lovingly modeled after the famed sandwich from Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles. Finish it with something bubbly: La Marca prosecco (which comes in a mimosa kit!).

WinePairingsInSF WiseSons latkes article

Gott’s Roadside

This retro burger spot inside the Ferry Building has got everything you need: burgers of all kinds (beef, turkey, chicken, veggie, Impossible), salads, fries, and an impressive array of homemade condiments, including turmeric-spiced mayo, a peanut-lime vinaigrette, and Gott’s secret sauce. A jammy zinfandel, like Turley or Ridge Three Valleys, has the dimension and power to stand up to any nicely salted, ultrarich Gott burger.

WinePairingsInSF GottsRoadside impossibleburger article

Dragon Well

There are plenty of vegetable-heavy options at this warm Chinese restaurant in the Marina District. Alongside tender Mongolian beef, kung pao chicken, and handmade pork-and-cabbage potstickers, you’ll find bean-studded mapo tofu, stir-fried pea shoots (the king of leafy greens), and curry-spiced mei fun. Pick out a medium-bodied white like the Rococo chenin blanc, with its tropical notes that complement the sweetness and spices of these dishes. 

WinePairingsInSF DragonWell mongolianbeef article

Fiorella

This Outer Richmond pizzeria is known for its wood-fired pies made with fresh ingredients and hearty pastas. Whether you order the Funghi Pie or the bucatini alla pomodoro, you’ll be singing “That’s Amore” to the chagrin — or delight — of your friends. Before you burst into another song, pop open a wine with herbal flourishes to match the herb-infused pizzas. Try the latest vintage of Prà’s “Otto” soave made with 100 percent garganega from Italy’s Veneto region.

FOB Kitchen

At this East Bay favorite, chef Janice Dulce delivers full-on Filipino flavor for both carnivores and vegetarians. Both adobos (pork and tofu and mushroom) arrive swimming in vinegary-sweet sauces you’ll want to slurp by the spoonful, and then there’s the vegetable-strewn, noodle-y pancit sotanghon. All this deeply flavored food pairs nicely with a peppery-driven red, like the Lieu Dit cabernet franc.

WinePairingsInSF FOBKitchen adobo article

Burma Superstar

The superstar of this outstanding Burmese restaurant in Alameda is the tea-leaf salad, a crunchy mix of fermented tea leaves, nuts, beans, garlic, and shredded lettuce that’s as tasty as it looks. Combine that with tangy-sweet sesame chicken, garlicky noodles, coconutty chicken soup, and a glass of something that won’t get in the way of the food: the versatile Yalumba sauvignon blanc from south Australia.

WinePairingsInSF BurmaSuperstar group article

Caribbean Spice

The focus of this San Rafael restaurant is Haitian cuisine — think fall-off-the-bone-tender oxtails, a chicken-and-pork-loaded sandwich, spaghetti threaded with onions and bell peppers and slathered in Caribbean Spice’s house sauce. Bonus: Most things here are gluten-free. As for wine, we’ve got our eye on one thing: the orange-scented, cabernet-based Caribbean Sangria.

Brotzeit Lokal

The natural beverage of choice at this Oakland biergarten is beer, but the wine selection is just as enticing. Go with the peppery blaufränkisch wine from K+K Kirnbauer — it’s made for sausages — and let it guide your ordering. Brotzeit Lokal has all the usual German fare: schnitzels, strudels, pretzels, wurst. One thing you should order: the pork cutlet Jagerschnitzel swimming in a spiced mushroom gravy.

WinePairingsInSF BrotzeitLokal sausageandpretzel article

Teleferic Barcelona

The best thing about Spanish tapas is that you can order a variety of small plates. So don’t hold back. Get the Iberian ham–filled croquetas, roast chicken empanadas, tacos brimming with marinated sashimi-grade tuna, and definitely the Dragonballs made of chorizo and Mahón cheese wrapped in a corn crust. Stay in Spain with your wine choice: red, white, or bubbly sangria (the virgin one is made with prickly pear juice, rosemary lemonade, and soda). The White Spicy Sangría is just begging for those croquetas.

Comal Next Door

Whenever we’re ordering from this Oakland taqueria, we go straight for the burritos. Al pastor, chicken, and carnitas are well-executed and expected, but you can’t go wrong with the vegetarian ones, like the tofu chile verde and sautéed mushroom with spinach. Choose your burrito, along with chips and guacamole, and wash it all down with a clean, fruity white like the Julia verdejo from Rueda, Spain.

WinePairingsInSF ComalNextDoor group article

Pacific Catch

The world is truly your oyster at this distinctly West Coast fish house in Dublin. You can find whatever you’re craving: poke, ceviche, sushi, fish tacos. There’s fried Alaskan cod fish and chips for the indulgent diner, and grilled salmon and vegetable bowls for the health-minded eater. These seafood options demand a laser-precise white with tropical dimensions, and the Honig sauvignon blanc fits the bill.

WinePairingsInSF PacificCatch fishandchips article

HopMonk Tavern

This boisterous tavern — with locations in Novato and Sonoma’s Sebastopol — is best known for its standard bar and grill fare, but regulars know to order the Nashville-style hot chicken and namesake burger topped with a tomato chutney and grilled shallots. Given HopMonk’s geography, go with a locally made Sonoma pinot noir like Groove Wines’ “The Raconteur,” with its lush, silken fruit flavor. It’s ideal for the two standout dishes.

Speisekammer

In Alameda, this 20-year-old German eatery specializes in lesser-known German favorites — short and skinny Nürnberger sausages and salmon croquettes with radish, red onion, and horseradish sauce. Don’t even think of drinking anything other than a dry, honeyed German riesling like the Von Buhl.

Grand Lake Kitchen

You’ll be so engrossed by the stacked sandwiches, burgers, and cinnamon-sugar–dusted doughnuts on the menu of this neighborhood restaurant in Oakland that it might take a minute to notice the traditional Jewish deli options (matzo ball soup! Reuben!). It's the kind of Bay Area food you want to enjoy in the park with Lioco Rosé of Carignan, a vivid, berry-driven rosé.

WinePairingsInSF GrandLakeKitchen matzoballsoup article

Great China

Come for the Peking duck, stay for the Double Skin. At this northern Chinese restaurant in Berkeley, the sleeper hit is a one-two punch of flavor and texture: jiggly mung bean noodles with calamari, shrimp, and pork. The James Beard Award–nominated wine list is stacked with delicious options from Napa, Italy, and France; we suggest starting with a hearty red (Leviathan cabernet sauvignon) and then moving into a zingy white (Moulin de Gassac’s picpoul-based bottle).

The Star on Grand

You’ve heard of Detroit-style pizza, but what about the Detroit California? Order it from this Oakland pizza shop to try the thick-rimmed pie layered with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, spicy arugula, and red onions, all drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Whatever pizza you order, a high-acid Italian red wine is the way to go, and Ruffino chianti is a classic Sangiovese-based wine that holds up to any (or no) tomato sauce.

Marica

If you’re craving something warming and comforting, look no further than this Oakland seafood spot. Make it a two-soup meal: Start with the creamy Boston-style clam chowder and then try their signature seafood stew, starring a 20-hour lobster-shrimp broth and studded with fat scallops. Try a minerally white, such as Jean-Jacques Auchère sancerre, or a deeply concentrated cabernet, like the Alexander Valley from Silver Oak.

WinePairingsInSF Marica seafoodstew article

Calavera

Few things can improve upon the chipotle-braised chicken tacos or cilantro-topped shrimp tacos from this Mexican restaurant in Oakland. The exception is wine, and Calvera’s selection is spot-on, with full-bodied, tannic reds that counter the food. We’re drinking the Baja-produced Vinsur “Reflejo” petit verdot.

Assemble Marketplace

Like Voltron, this multi-concept restaurant in Richmond is the combination of several dynamic forces at work. You can bite into a juicy brisket sandwich from Tommy’s BBQ Co., indulge in fresh crudo and shrimp cocktail courtesy of Rocky Island Oyster Co., and sneak in a rainbow-hued Sonoma Veggie Sandwich from Brezo. It’s nice to have options — wine included, but we highly recommend a minerally rosé.

La Mission

This Mexican spot is housed in an Oakland building that used to be a Taco Bell, and it is a step up from its predecessor (which is a high compliment!). Dive right into the nachos with housemade chips, guacamole, crema, and jalapeños. If you’re a fan of heat, the cheese-stuffed chile relleno hits the spot and requires a buttery white to offset the spice (cue the Silver Ridge chardonnay).

Spinning Bones

We can’t imagine many things more beautiful than a table filled with Rainbow Rice, curried St. Louis ribs, supple pork shoulder with garlic-jalapeño garum, and fried Brussels sprouts. With this seasonally driven restaurant in Alameda, you can make that dream a reality, topped off with a dry, versatile Spanish cava such as Codorníu.

WinePairingsInSF SpinningBones stlouisporkribs article

Belotti Bottega

You may wonder if chef Michele Belotti’s casoncelli bergamaschi is a dumpling or ravioli, but you’ll soon forget the question once you pop one of those pillowy pockets of beef, pork, and prosciutto into your mouth. Fill out the meal with a lemony butter lettuce salad, more handmade pasta (looking at you, pappardelle), and a complex red like amarone della valpolicella, with its array of inky fruits and palate-cleansing acidity.

Jonathan Cristaldi is a Bay Area–based wine writer whose work appears in Food & Wine, Departures, The SOMM Journal, Tasting Panel Magazine, and Marin Magazine. He is also the Napa correspondent for Decanter. 


PHOTO CREDITS:

Che Fico by Krescent Carasso

Roam Artisan Burgers by Alicia von der Lieth

Yank Sing by Allie Tong


Author

Jonathan Cristaldi

Use the code SPOTLIGHT10 for $10 off your first order of $30 or more.