2016 San Francisco Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2016 San Francisco Rising Stars: Why They Shine

San Francisco can leave you breathless—from bay vistas on a rare clear day to trekking up nearly perpendicular hills that mimic the boom and bust cycles of recent history. Oh, and the smells! From salt air and lush, head-clearing scents of the Presidio to clouds of reefer and the ripe, fetid aroma of the Tenderloin, the city is an in-your-face sensory experience. And so is dining in San Francisco in 2016.

Forerunners like Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, Evan and Sarah Rich, William Werner, Thomas McNaughton, Mourad Lahlou, as well as Dominique Crenn, have pushed the city past ingredient preciousness. They doubled down on technique and technology, while at the same time harnessing the influx of new capital to create some of the country’s most exciting concepts. Their modern approaches to human resources, format, and design, have paved the way for innovative newcomers like Lazy Bear, Californios, and Trestle. 

Since January, we’ve visited 120 industry professionals from Berkeley to Oakland and throughout San Francisco proper. We were in search of leaders with the most compelling philosophies, from chefs and pastry chefs to sommeliers, bartenders, and artisans of all stripes—and of course, the most delicious food and drink. San Francisco in 2016 is a city of successes and struggles. Here we’re celebrating the triumphs. Introducing the new wave, the avant-garde, the best and brightest: The 2016 San Francisco Rising Stars. 

Artisan: John Blevins, Clove & Hoof

Southern staples like Cheerwine, cocktail wieners, Duke’s mayonnaise, and pimento cheese dot the menu at whole animal butcher shop and restaurant Clove & Hoof. It’s the supremely unpretentious mark of chef, butcher, and Georgia-native John Blevins, who’s bringing the blue collar back to butchery. Blevins keeps his offerings familiar, friendly, and affordable, while maintaining the highest regard for animal husbandry, ranchers and farmers, and the business of butchery. Honoring his European training and fine-dining experiences at Gather and 4505 Meats, Blevins has expanded from butcher shop to sandwich shop and now full-fledged dinner destination, expanding the notion of what a neighborhood butcher shop can and should be.

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • Berbere-spiced Beef Cheek Terrine, Deviled Egg Yolk Purée, Asparagus Gribiche, Trout Roe, and Smoked Dates
  • Cheese Steak: Button Mushrooms, Onion Confit, Turnips, Mushroom Oil, and Velveeta


Artisan: Josey Baker, Josey Baker Bread

Josey Baker is a forerunner of the burgeoning milling and baking movement in America. At The Mill, a cafe-bakery he launched with Four Barrel Coffee, Baker has installed a stone mill (a custom upgrade is in the works) to grind California wheat and rye, and he leads a production staff of 11. From the space, he has helped to popularize the simple joys of toast, and he supplies San Francisco’s top restaurants—Petit Crenn, Nopa, and State Bird Provisions, among them—with fresh loaves. Like a true artisan, Baker is obsessed with process over growth, making San Francisco a better place to break bread with the 400 whole, wild, wet, slow, bold loaves he makes each day.

Breads that Clinched It:

  • Dark Mountain Rye, Toasted Sunflower Seeds, Toasted Sesame Seeds, Stone-ground Cornmeal, Flax, Cheese, Salt, and Pepper
  • Sprouted Quinoa, Malted Barley, Butter, and Honey

Roaster: Kinani Ahmed, Sextant Coffee Roasters

Picture a map of the coffee growing regions of the world. If your geography is right, Ethiopia figures prominently. Now, picture the face of a craft coffee roaster, from whichever wave. More than likely it’s a dude in cap with a beard, who is clearly not from the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian Kinani Ahmed changed that with the opening of Sextant Coffee Roasters, where he blends his cultural coffee heritage with modern tastes and techniques. Working “crop to cup” and roasting singular blends, Ahmed leverages his relationships with coffee-growing friends and family in Ethiopia. With plans to expand globally, he’s set to marry new wave coffee to a to culture where coffee has been a way life for more than a millennium.  

Drinks that Clinched It: 

  • Maiden Voyage: Oromia, Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, Mixed Heirloom Varieites, Washed and Natural Blend
  • Konga: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, Indigenous Heirloom Cultivars Natural Process
Brewer: Jay Goodwin, The Rare Barrel

When Brewer Jay Goodwin submitted Shadows of Their Eyes (a Belgian-style Flanders oud bruin) to the 2014 World Beer Cup, he won bronze. He also created a stir. A Belgian judge wanted to know if he added cherries to the beer (he didn’t), and a brewer from renowned Brasserie de la Senne wanted to know how an American brewed such an impeccable beer (he can go to San Francisco to find out). At Rare Barrel, Goodwin and his team are obsessively mapping and chronicling the effect that bacteria, microorganisms, and yeast have on beer. With their thoughtful, slow, controlled production projected to reach 2,000 barrels in 2016, The Rare Barrel is poised to become the center for sour beer in the United States.  

Beers that Clinched It:

  • Another World: Red Sour
  • Shadows of Their Eyes: Oak-aged Dark Sour
Artisan: Salvatore Cracco, Trou Normand

Crespone, ciccioli, rabbit salami ... Salvatore Cracco’s charcuterie repertoire spans 250 recipes at tongue-to-oxtail Trou Normand. Cracco has a state-licensed meat processing facility on-site, where his authority supersedes that of the local health inspector. The certification allows Cracco to offer the city an unending catalog of charcuterie sourced from six organic farms within three hours of the restaurant. Interested in more than optimizing flavor, Cracco dives into the science of charcuterie and product utilization, and he has developed his own system for breaking down whole animals and ushering them to their place on the menu. With plans for expansion that include nationwide retail, Cracco will shape charcuterie in the Bay Area and beyond, from breed to board. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Charcuterie Board featuring Crespone
  • Pork Meatballs: Ground Pancetta, Pecorino, and Fresh Herbs
Bartenders: Brian Felley and Mo Hodges, Benjamin Cooper

Never get “the usual” at Benjamin Cooper. That’s not the point. Bartenders and owners Brian Felley and Mo Hodges mix colorful, imaginative, educational, and fun drinks, making imbibing at Benjamin Cooper a bit like going to church, school, and Carnival all at once. With inspiration drawn from the farmers market and an emphasis on experimentation, anything from mango sorbet and togarashi to oregano and salted pear liqueur may turn up in a cocktail. Hospitality forward in style, Felley and Hodges also strive for balance. With more bar concepts in the shaker, as they work to create opportunities for their community of bartenders, the Benjamin Cooper philosophy will spread: if you like every drink on the menu, we’re not pushing ourselves.

Drinks that Clinched It: 

  • Franklin Comes Alive: Tequila, Grapefruit, Fennel, Aperol, Mango Sorbet, and Togarashi
  • Eloise: Scotch, Rum, Amaro Nocino, Kina Lillet, and Bittercube Trinity Bitters
Bartender: Alicia Walton, The Sea Star

Concise and precise, Alicia Walton is a poet who uses bottles and coups instead of pens and paper. Her skill and spirit of hospitality are drawing people to the Dogpatch and her bar, The Sea Star, where Walton will crack open a can of Bud Light just as quickly as she stirs a Sazerac. In a city known for culinary cocktails, Walton stands out for her classic, unadorned drinks that are built on instinct and virtuosity. The three-ingredient Tequila Hustle (tequila-vermouth-Sherry) is the kind of drink most bartenders dream of dreaming up. Walton has an arsenal of them—no garnish necessary—and she’s just beginning to shake things up in San Francisco and the cocktail world at large.


Drinks that Clinched it: 

  • Tequila Hustle: Cimarron Blanco Tequila 100% Agave, La Quitinye Vermouth Royal Rouge, and Emilio Lustau “Solera Reserva” Rare Cream Superior Sherry
  • Whose Cider You On: Lustau Brandy de Jerez, Carpano Bianco, Lemon, Honey, and Fanjul Spanish Cidra
Chef: Ryan Pollnow, flour + water

In Ryan Pollnow’s world, Northern California is a region of Spain. Sophisticated and nourishing, Pollnow’s food at Basque-inspired Aatxe shows it Spanish roots, but it’s never didactic. Take his incarnation of paella: bomba rice, Bay-area garnishes, cooked in the style of Chinese-American fried rice (not with out the socarrat), and finished okinomiyaki-style with sauce and bonito. Pollnow is an open, creative, and collaborative leader, and as partner in Thomas McNaughton’s Ne Timeas restaurant group he’s leading a demi-generation of San Francisco cooks—and it’s just the beginning for Pollnow. Looking forward, there’s a vision for multiple Spanish outlets across the Bay, and for future casual concepts for expansion nationwide, including a retail side. It’s Pollnow’s world and we’re all just living (and eating) in it.

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • Spanish Fried Rice: Chorizo, Tortilla Española, Sepia, and Bonito
  • Tortilla de Patata: Dungeness Crab, Spring Peas, Pea Shoots, Minors Lettuce, and Pepper Cress
Chef: David Barzelay, Lazy Bear

As chef trajectories go, David Barzelay’s has been rapid and unconventional, taking him from gatherings in his apartment to a furtive warehouse pop-up and finally to Lazy Bear. There, Barzelay and his hospitality army host two dinner parties for 40 guests each night, with tickets sold in advance—and they’re turning the traditional fine-dining format on its head. Festivities start in a loft with snacks and cocktails and continue at two long tables for a flurry of imaginative courses. Chefs at Lazy Bear are at once hosts, cooks, servers, bussers, and emcees as they announce and describe each course and encourage diners to approach the kitchen and engage. Barzelay’s cuisine is a jigsaw puzzle of technique that comes together to create a beautiful mosaic of Bay flavors. He’s having fun and his progressive style will no doubt have its copycats across the country as he becomes the influential force behind the modern day feast.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Butterball Potatoes, Hedgehog Mushrooms, Potato Fondue, Fines Herbes Powder, Brassicas, and Mustard Flowers
  • Cured Carrots, Carrot Ham, Roasted Carrots, Carrot Petha, Bordelaise, Red Verjus Vinaigrette, Lettuce, Chicories, and Chicory Root Crumble
Chef: Val Cantu, Californios

Californios is the past, present, and future of Mexican cuisine in America. And it all started with a question: Why are so few chefs doing anything fun and playful with Mexican food? Chef Val Cantu answered with what’s likely the only Mexican tasting menu in the country, one that mines history and Bay Area ingredients to push limits and change people’s perception of Mexican cuisine. He’s serving foie tamales and beans garnished with caviar as part of a dining experience that’s as exciting as it is transporting. Cantu and his team are defining a new paradigm for Mexican food north of the border, and everyone in San Francisco is invited to take part.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Beans: Poached Cranberry Beans, Moro Bean Broth, Royal Corona Bean-Jalapeño Mousse, and Pickled Shallot Relish
  • Sourdough Tortillas, Green Tomato Salsa, Garlic, and Chive
Chefs: Carrie Blease and Rupert Blease, Lord Stanley

At Lord Stanley, ostentation is saved for flavor. Chefs Carrie and Rupert Blease compose vibrant and intriguing dishes that are unfussy and inviting. With a classic French backbone, they’re free to play with texture, temperature, and ingredients, and each dish is a statement—whether it’s about the season, a place, or a personal inspiration. Every taste has a technique behind it, and every dish is packed with it. As a guest, this builds anticipation from course to course as you discover what surprises and delights are in store. Neo-classicists for the culinary world, the Bleases honor tradition but are not weighed down by it, cooking with maturity, restraint, confidence, and with a resourcefulness that helps a little decadence go a long way. And with a Michelin star and young chefs streaming in from across the  country to stage, the Bleases’ influence will reach far beyond their corner of Polk Street.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Beef Tartare, Grilled Ramps, Summer Truffle, and Hazelnut
  • Poached Rhubarb, Lillet, and Green Almond
Chef: Ian Palazzola , Mourad

In 2014, Ian Palazzola arrived at Mourad as one of four opening sous chefs. Ten months in, the restaurant received a Michelin star and Palazzola was promoted to chef de cuisine. Now, he leads a kitchen of nearly 20 cooks and commands the spice pantry of Morocco with flashes of his Virginia roots shining through. Palazzola’s adaptability, drive, dedication, and encyclopedic knowledge of cuisine have come together to form an unlikely hero of Moroccan fine dining. Palazzola revels in finding the intersection of Southern American and North African cooking, and then transforming it with finesse and artistry. From a center of fine dining in San Francisco, Palazzola is poised to put his stamp on the city.

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • New York Strip: Marrow, Hazelnut, Vadouvan, Ramp, Fermented Broccoli Stem and Green Garlic, Golden Raisins, Green Chermoula, Cilantro, and Parsley 
  • Lamb Tagine: Date, Lentil, and Green Garlic 


Chef: Yoni Levy, Outerlands

Yoni Levy has figured it out. From shrimp to broccoli and herring to lamb stew, Levy takes ordinary ingredients and preparations, and then he elegantly, cleverly transforms them into dishes you can’t live without. He’s cooking cool Californian comfort food with an international edge at the edge of San Francisco: Outer Sunset. Not only is Outerlands worth the Uber, it’s worth a plane ride. Levy’s cuisine is the kind of humble, heartfelt food that only comes with years of cooking and clarity of vision. And then there’s the pace: the 63-seat restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner, welcoming, nourishing, and delighting up to 540 guests a day. Levy represents the future of, and possibilities for, casual dining in America. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Brassicas, Bagna Càuda, Meyer Lemon, Almond, and Nori
  • Gulf Shrimp, Satsuma Mandarin, Chile, and Soft Herbs
Chef: Brandon Rice, Rich Table

Brandon Rice lives in the moment. He knows how to translate experience into flavor. Case in point: when foie returned to the Marin farmers market, Rice was sipping on his favorite market treat, a mango lassi. Boom, his torchon with mango lassi accoutrement was born. Rice has traveled (whether to eat or to work or both) to Africa, Europe including Spain and Denmark, Queens (as a proxy for Korea), and to Japan. These travels translate into his cuisine. When Rice arrived at Rich Table, he came with a binchotan grill. And yes, he loves foie, but Rice also loves dishes you can dig into with just your hands. Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich made their restaurant one of the city’s most beloved. It’s no small feat that Rice has now made it his own and is just beginning to make his mark on San Francisco.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Foie Gras Torchon: Mango, Tarragon Meringue, Yogurt Powder, Cardamom, Hazelnut, and Brioche
  • Beef Tartare, Daikon Radish, Gochujang, Grilled Onion, Miso, and Nori
Community: Evan Allumbaugh, Che Fico

At the helm of one of San Francisco’s most famed restaurants, Chef Evan Allumbaugh’s food is simple and bold with decadent pastas and a cure box overflowing with superlative salty meats. But it’s not just the menu and staff that have flourished under Allumbaugh’s tenure—the chef community has, as well. It all started with Sang Tung wings and a river of rosé, and it ended at Trick Dog, according to those who can remember. Allumbaugh started a once-a-month chef potluck in the event space above flour + water, and the dinners have become a cherished gathering for 40 Bay Area chefs who rarely see each other outside the farmers market. Allumbaugh, as young as he is, is helping San Francisco’s next generation of chefs come into their own, and he’s building a network to support them.

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • Asparagus & Buffalo: Asparagus-Pistachio Pesto, Whipped Ricotta, Whey, Cultured Butter, Fortified Asparagus Jus, Toasted Pistachios, Shaved Purple Asparagus, and Lemon Olive Oil
  • Charcuterie Board: Pork Liver Pâté, N'duja, Culatello, Suckling Pig Porchetta di Testa, Sopresatte di Calabria, Calabrian-style Cured Capicola, Lardo, Duck Prosciutto, Calabrian Salami, and Ciabatta Toast
Concept: Charles Billilies , Souvla

The future is now, and Souvla is proof. A Greek diner for the new millennium, Souvla proves that new technology can translate into comfort, speed, efficiency, and seamless service. To make the restaurant hum, Square Registers receives orders, Square Dashboard records revenue, Plate IQ tracks purchases, Gusto manages payroll, and Nest Cams handles security. Pulling strings and tapping screens is Owner-in-Greek Charles Bililies, who has thought out every detail to the fullest (including the iconic art that lines the dining room). It’s no surprise from this Cornell alum, whose first gig after graduating was as TK’s assistant. And with a second location by Alamo Square, more San Franciscans will be eating Greek style—that’s Souvla speak for “topped with delicious fries.” 

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • Avgolemono: Chicken Stock, Rice, Eggs, and Lemon Juice
  • Chicken Salad: Chicken, Kale, Romaine, “Granch” Dressing, Navel Orange, Shaved Fennel, Pickled Red Onion, Pea Shoots, and Mizithra Cheese
Pastry Chef: Lisa Vega, Dandelion Chocolate

Paving her way in pastry from Bouchon to Craft to Providence to Bourbon Steak and finally Gary Danko, Lisa Vega left the world of fine dining when she was pretty much at the top. Now she’s just at the top of the world, expanding her reach globally with bean-to-bar pioneer Dandelion Chocolate. A force to be reckoned with, Vega oversees all of Dandelion pastry operations, including a commissary kitchen, hot chocolate stands, and the company’s recent expansion to Japan—where it’s a sensation. Vega has become a cultural ambassador of sorts, and her diplomacy includes cocao nib horchata, cacao pulp smoothies, and chocolate pastries galore. She’ll be influencing tastes and trends in chocolate and pastry on at least two continents for years to come. 

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • Dulce de Leche Bar: Camino Verde Ecuadorian Chocolate, Almond-Hazelnut Crust, Feuilletine, and Chocolate-Caramel Ganache
  • Tart: Chocolate-Shortbread Crust, Coconut-Rum Caramel, Passion Fruit Ganache, Toasted Coconut, and Toasted Meringue
Hotel Chef: Luke Knox, Burritt Room + Tavern at the Mystic Hotel

When you grow up in a small town, you either stay there forever or you need more. Nebraska native Luke Know falls into the latter category. Now, as executive chef of Burritt Room + Tavern at the Mystic Hotel, Knox heads up all dining for the Charlie Palmer property, including events, room service, guest amenities, Berlinetta Lounge, BR + Table, and focal point Burritt Room + Tavern. He taps into the American regional classics we all cherish and dares to re-imagine and refine them. He’s not above a little French’s mustard to brighten aïoli, and he’s confident enough to steep uni in country gravy. Knox’s food is progressive, and so is his attitude toward young cooks. He started a dinner series where line cooks and sous chefs cook Sunday supper at Burritt Room to gain more experience and recognition—because Knox knows what it’s like to want more.

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • Kobe Ribeye Cap, Salt Cod Brandade, Leeks, Asparagus, Cara Cara Orange, and Jalapeno Cream
  • Fried Chicken, Chicken Liver Mousse, Uni Country Gravy, Radish, Black Garlic, and Candied Biscuit
Restaurateur: Ryan Cole, Jason Halverson, Cyrick Hia, Jason Kirmse, and Tai Ricci, Hi Neighbor

The Fab Five partners that make up Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group have got you covered—and everybody else you know, because these San Francisco restaurant vets have thought of everything. Neighborhood joint Stones Throw showcases Modern American comfort cuisine. Trestle with its exquisitely affordable prix fixe menu, and grab-and-go Corridor Cafe with Corridor proper coming soon, are just 3 of their dynamic concepts (so far). And in the face of San Francisco’s talent drought, the team keeps staff motivated and committed through competitive salaries and a personalized benefits program like none other ($100 a month toward Netflix subscriptions, movie tickets, commuter checks). Hi Neighbor takes care of guests and their employees, embracing the spirit of hospitality, smashing formats, and setting a model for the rest of the country. 

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Puffed Potato: Egg Yolk, Cauliflower, Fried Chicken Skins, and Chive
  • Squid Ink Pasta: Mussels, Clams, Calamari, Shrimp, Spicy Caper Sauce, and Piri Piri
Sommelier: Tara Patrick, Mourad

Many guests at Michelin-star Mourad may be unfamiliar with Moroccan flavors, a cuisine that doesn’t naturally lend itself to wine. Tara Patrick takes advantage of these challenges and opens the juice flood gates—taking her customers along for the ride. Patrick has taken Mourad’s wine list from 120 selections to more than 300, with bottles spanning the globe from Switzerland and Slovenia to  Lebanon, South America, and her Napa backyard. She’s not afraid to dip into the world of spirits, either, and offers cocktails as accompaniment when the mood and dish are right. Orchestrating a wine experience like no other, Patrick is a force in the San Francisco wine community.

Pairings that Clinched It: 

  • New York Strip: Marrow, Hazelnut, Vadouvan, Ramp, Fermented Broccoli Stem and Green Garlic, Golden Raisins, Green Chermoula, Cilantro, and Parsley paired with Bourdeaux Blend, Quartet, Arietta, Napa Valley, California, 2013
  • Lamb Tagine: Date, Lentil, and Green Garlic paired with Savagnin, Vin Jaune, Domaine Rolet, Jura, France, 2006
Sommelier: David Castleberry, RN74

Like your best friend from childhood, David Castleberry wants you to come over and play—especially if you like juice. At RN74, Castleberry curates a wine list with 1,900 labels from a cellar that holds a cool 20,000 bottle, and he shares the wealth. For a guest somm program, Castleberry invites his peers to step into his cellar, select wines, build a menu with Chef Michael Rafidi, and host a dinner at RN74—at cost. To Castleberry, wine is supposed to be shared and fun, and he feels a responsibility to be a steward of the industry. Although he’s an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, certifications aren’t central to Castleberry. Egalitarian in style, passion and a guest’s trust are paramount in his program, as he leads and supports the next generation of somms.  

Dishes that Clinched It: 

  • Foie Gras Parfait: Rhubarb Brûlée, Crispy Chicken Skins, Mustard Seed Jam, Lemon, Thyme, Ver Jus Gelée, and Foie Gras Biegnets paired with Alios Kracher, Rosenmuscateller, Austria, 2006
  • Octopus Mille Feuille: Saffron Aioli, Crispy Potato, Fennel, and Picholine Olive-Calamansi Vinaigrette paired with Chenin Blanc, Clef de Sol Blanc, Domaine La Grange Tiphaine Montlouis, Loire France, 2013
Pastry Chefs: Maya Erickson and Edward Martinez, Lazy Bear

A rare and true prodigy, Maya Erickson has been cooking in professional kitchens since she was 13. At Lazy Bear, her pastry tells a personal story through a seamless, exciting blend of American and Japanese technique. Her pantry of inspiration includes Whoppers, Honey Smacks, and root beer as well as shio koji, mochi, and persimmon. Erickson also speaks—shouts even. While many pastry chefs are banished to their corner of the kitchen (if they’re lucky to have a corner at all), Erickson takes center stage five nights a week, expounding on her creations from Lazy Bear’s modern kitchen/banquet hall. An amalgam of modern and traditional styles, Erickson’s desserts have a singular voice that speaks to the child and explorer in all of us and that will push pastry, in both the United States and Japan, forward.  

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Salt-roasted Persimmon, Malt, Chocolate, Root Beer Pudding, Butterscotch, and Malted Milk Wafer
  • Black Sesame Ice Cream, Black Sesame Pudding, Cassis Jam, Cassis Pate Fruit, Fresh and Dehydrated Devil’s Food Cake, Sweet Rice-infused Milk Fluid Gel, and Purple Shiso