The coolest food trends in San Francisco in 2021

The year 2021, also known as the pandemic, has truly been a wild race for restaurants, and the food trends that flow from it reflect that. We’ve gone from full lockdown to full reopening, gathering first for the coolest parklets before finally taking our places in plant-filled dining rooms. But San Francisco diners have eaten their hearts out through it all, and the food-obsessed city has always found plenty of dishes, drinks, and other dining details to be appropriate. From the freshest, thinnest crudos to pineapple buns pumped with custard, from surprisingly affordable tasting menus to meals with dogs, these are the food trends that defined San Francisco in 2021.

Fancy Frozen Pizza

While it may seem like a distant memory, just 12 months ago San Francisco was still completely locked down, and one of the coolest trends was fancy freezer pizza. So much so that your hardworking editors at Eater SF have put together a definitive guide with spicy tasting notes. Pizzeria Delfina, Tony’s, Piccino and Casey’s always seem to offer frozen pies, if you want to stock up for the winter. What is a return to the shelter-in-place, right?

Crudo in Itria


Real raw fish

Moving on to the full reopening over the summer, it suddenly seemed like the Bay Area collectively craved raw fish. Itria opened coldly in the Mission with half a dozen different crudos on the menu, while Le Fantastique dazzled in Hayes Valley with small plates of raw and salted fish that defy omakase or crudo categorization. Even hot new openings like Ernest and Penny Roma no longer have a hamachi on the menu, but several different crudos, carpaccios and tartars.

Canned fish in La Bande

The band

Teeming canned fish

The canned fish trend has been around for a while, but while it arguably started on the home cooking side, it’s now spilling over onto city menus. Anchovy Bar has been one of the biggest openings in this pandemic, where the State Bird team are not only curing the local anchovies, but you can also sample different boxes side by side. As fun new bars like Chezchez and La Bande open cans of sardines and mussels and proudly put them on plates.

The inauguration pastries

Patricia chang

All Asian-American pastries

A cohort of talented bakers immersed themselves in Asian-American flavors and nostalgia last year: Bake Sum rained purple pineapple buns across the bay, stuffed cruffins from Sunday Bakeshop with Strawberry Pocky, Jina Bakes folded spicy braised baby back ribs into croissants, while the grand opening was stunned by her star-scorched honey pie.

Patricia chang

Attractive and affordable tastings

The Michelin star craze took hold in the fall, when these fanciful French inspectors released an update to the California guide. But Bay Area diners seem interested in more affordable tasting menus these days: the town has fallen in love with Marlena, the dizzying mum and Michelin pop in Bernal Heights, where four courses cost $ 65. In an affordable omakase, Chisai Sushi Club launched a Full Experience for $ 80, while Sushi Sato offers snack tastings for $ 40 to $ 55. The new Hilda and Jesse even cooks a tasting menu for breakfast – serving three courses for $ 45.

Espresso martinis at Balboa Cafe

Balboa Cafe

Espresso Martini Mania

Let’s not call it a trend, because we’ve always had strong coffee cocktails in San Francisco. But in particular, the espresso martinis have gone on a super caffeinated overdrive this year. Soft and smooth with double the buzz, Velvet Hammer is on the nitro tap at Balboa Cafe and shakes at 15 Romolo and Macondray, to name a few great versions, and drinkers just can’t seem to get enough of it.

The pristine white wooden parklets in Wildseed

Patricia chang

Cool and creative parklets

Between late approval and unfair fines, it has been a difficult road to make parklets permanent in San Francisco. Either way, restaurants have shed endless sweat, tears and creativity in the outdoor spaces, from bold modern designs to paper lanterns and serene succulents, from library-inspired lounges to tugs and streetcars.

A red shiba inu sits on a chair and eats a treat at Angler's.

Patricia chang

Dinner with dogs

The pandemic puppy boom has also infiltrated restaurants. First, several locals have named their restaurants after dogs: meet Lady pitbull Lucy of Lucinda’s Deli, resident Kona bar dog of Kona’s Street Market, and of course the esteemed Mr. Digby of Mr. Digby’s. But it’s not just chefs and bartenders who are obsessed with their dogs. Diners love to bring them to the parklets, so much so that restaurants are obliging with “yappy hour” menus all over town, from canine “caviar” at Angler to “churro chews” at Tacolicious.

Plants inside the propagation

Patricia chang

Lots of lush plants

And the plant-mom trend is also thriving in restaurants. Once the dining rooms reopen, everywhere you look restaurants and bars are dripping with plants. The Spread Plant Bar, Nightingale Fern Bar, Macondray and more are teeming with plants, it’s like you can’t even sip a cocktail without brushing your leaves – in a good way.

A glass of wine catches the afternoon sunlight on a yellow table.

David matesanz

Endless natural wine

And finally, the trend for natural wines has continued to flow this year. Trendy new wine bars like Daytrip, Snail Bar and Bar Part Time have unearthed natural and quirky bottles, opening them under glittering disco balls and turning future regular evenings into bacchanal parties. And even during hot new restaurant openings, it feels like you can’t open a menu without natties featured prominently on the wine list.

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