Eaters in San Francisco are holding their breath waiting for Brett Cooper's new project, Aster, opening later this fall in the Mission. In the meantime, the former Outerlands chef is consulting at Huxley in the Tenderloin—and eating his way around town. Cooper loves how today's Bay Area chefs push themselves to get creative with local ingredients: "We've been really pushing to go outside of the box and create a modern cuisine with the abundance of products we have available," he says.
I asked Cooper for his San Francisco favorites: the bites he returns to again and again. Here are his picks, from breakfast to burgers to late night kimchi fried rice.
What old-school Bay Area spots do you love? I've recently rekindled my love for Zuni Cafe. It's a place I know I'll always leave with a smile. Chez Panisse (the downstairs restaurant) is part of the soul of Cali cuisine and the simple, clear vision is evident in every dish.
What new restaurants have impressed you lately?
Monsieur Benjamin really delivers on the concept, there's really nothing like it around and everything is executed at such a high level of cooking. Ravi Kapur's Liholiho Yacht Club pop ups are fantastic, I can't wait for the brick and mortar. His sticky rice in lotus leaf is always tasty, served with a crusted deep fried egg and other delicious savory elements. And the poke bowl!
Where do you go for a burger?
Nopa has been my staple burger for some time. It's straightforward, grilled over wood, and just damn tasty. Alta CA has an amazing burger as well. Yoni grinds brisket fat into the mix. I mean, that's kind of brilliant.
Best pizza: Different pies for different occasions. Pizzetta 211 is one of the tops, beautiful crust and fresh, thoughtful ingredients. I love the simplicity and dedication to tradition at Una Pizza Napoletana, it's my favorite wood oven pizza and Anthony is a master. The Amatriciana at Pizzeria Delfina is one of my all time favorite pies. The deep dish cornmeal crust at Little Star. The list goes on. I seriously love pizza. Like, I have a pizza tattoo.
What's your date night restaurant pick? It changes a lot, my wife and I try to hit different spots when we go out. We cook at home a lot too, or at least try to. Why does every apartment we move to have a half size fridge and oven?
Best sandwich: Liza at Merigan is killing the sub game. Just close your eyes, pick one, and spend some time with it. Liza uses Llano Seco pork to create some of the best porchetta and terrina. The Italian combo is one of my favorites.
Akiko's Restaurant is killer. The best fish available, really diverse and exciting. Ray ages his house made soy sauce, and has a really unique style to the fish preparations.
Best Korean: I love what the Namu crew is doing, reinterpreting Korean food and adding CA ingredients and soul. Chicken wings and kimchi fried rice at Toyose late night after work. It's fun 'cause it's in a damn garage. I like Um Ma Son on Geary too, everything is delicious, good BBQ.
Late night eats:
Nopa. Have I mentioned Nopa yet? The French dip at Monsieur Benjamin has my attention and could be the new after-midnight obsession. It's classic, but using super high quality ingredients and perfect seasoning. Where else? Plum Bar in Oakland. Alta CA, Alembic, Arinell for a slice, Lers Ros, Ryoko, Wing Wings.