On Feb. 7, the Super Bowl will be played in a region that values Michelin stars as highly as football championship rings.
Because the people who eat at the world’s fanciest restaurants are the same people who can afford Super Bowl tickets, most seats at three-Michelin-star (the highest honor bestowed on fine-dining spots) Bay Area restaurants during Super Bowl weekend have been scooped up.
But football fans of varied income and culinary curiosity will descend on the Bay Area to celebrate the 50th Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Most will lack game tickets but possess desires to hang out at San Francisco’s free “Super Bowl City” fan village near the Ferry Building, breathe the same general air as the great Peyton Manning and, eventually, eat.
For them, we offer a helpful list of restaurants, at various price levels, where one can enjoy a quality meal and, most important, likely secure a seat. The restaurants listed below, as of early this week, either still had Super Bowl weekend (Feb. 5-7) reservations available or allow walk-ins.
Four are personal favorites, the other a brand-new restaurant chosen for its proximity to three-Michelin-star status. Three lie far from the Madden crowd (Super Bowl City and Moscone Center’s “NFL Experience” interactive theme park ), but others are in the thick of it.
Blue Plate: This Outer Mission restaurant – the dinerlike front room of which gives way to two more charming, slightly careworn dining rooms that look as if they were once part of a house – reminds me of midtown Sacramento’s Tres Hermanas. Because of the restaurant-in-a-house factor, and because I love them both.
Blue Plate has combined American standards and zingy seasonal freshness since it opened in 1999 when I started going there. Though I came for the fried chicken and meatloaf – back when upscale comfort food seemed novel – I stayed for the string beans.
Blue Plate’s beans, whether Blue Lake, wax or haricot vert, or served as sides or in salads, share a consistent, wonderful al-dente texture. Largely because of Blue Plate, string beans now top my vegetable list alongside Brussels sprouts – another thing this restaurant does well.
$$-$$$. 3218 Mission St., San Francisco. 415-282-6777. www.blueplatesf.com. Public transit: 14-Mission Muni bus.
Boulevard: It’s the biggest dice roll of the five places listed, because it sits just outside the cluster-fun of Super Bowl City; the streets around it will be closed for the celebration. Plus, reservations already are scarce for Super Bowl weekend. But there’s always a shot at grabbing a seat at the bar.
Boulevard, open since 1993 and the 2012 James Beard Award winner as U.S. restaurant of the year, just lost its Michelin star. But it remains the ultimate San Francisco tourist restaurant by delivering on what other tourist-heavy places only promise.
Boulevard’s decor combines welcoming elements one might find, singly or in pairs, at Fisherman’s Wharf or North Beach restaurants – bay view, warm lighting, patterned floors, abundant wood – in one evocative restaurant. Boulevard’s large, Belle Epoque dining room contains sconces and other fixtures that look 100 years old (the building was constructed in 1889) yet sparkly and new.
Whereas most tourist spots’ dishes rarely live up to their atmospheres, the beauty of chef/co-owner Nancy Oakes’ French and New American food exceeds that of her restaurant. Seafood is a sure thing at Boulevard, where the scallops are supple, the Petrale sole flaky, and creativity and a keen sense of balance always work in tandem.
$$$. 1 Mission St., San Francisco. 415-543-6084. www.boulevardrestaurant.com. Transit: BART or Muni underground (Embarcadero station)
The Bywater: Chef David Kinch’s Manresa, in Los Gatos, is a farm-to-table forerunner famous for its close relationship with small Love Apple Farms, the near-exclusive source of its produce. It became even better known this past October, when the Michelin Guide elevated it to three stars.
Manresa is booked for Super Bowl weekend, but those who want to try Kinch’s food are in luck. A few weeks ago, Kinch opened the Bywater, a casual, no-reservations-accepted Creole and Cajun restaurant. It’s also in Los Gatos, or about 30 minutes closer to Levi’s Stadium than any San Francisco restaurant.
The Bywater offers a raw bar, Oysters “Rock-a-fella,” fried green tomatoes with anchovy and boiled egg, and – for the luxury-suite crowd – a dish called “rich man’s red beans and rice.”
$$-$$$. 532 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos. 408-560-9639. www.thebywaterca.com.
La Corneta Taqueria: Nestled in San Francisco’s charming Glen Park neighborhood, this traditional, serving-line taqueria nails the taco and burrito basics while placing a strong emphasis on juicy prawns.
La Corneta puts prawns beside steak in quesadillas, next to tender carne asada on combination plates and amid the guacamole and sour cream in its oxymoronic but delicious “super baby burritos.”
The taqueria also offers plentiful vegetarian options, from a mushroom quesadilla so buttery and rich it deems meat beside the point to a chili relleno burrito that challenges the link between “vegetarian” and “healthy.”
$-$$. 2834 Diamond St., San Francisco (part of a four-site Bay Area chain). 415-469-8757. www.lacorneta.com. Transit: BART (Glen Park station).
M.Y. China: Celebrity chef Martin Yan’s restaurant in the San Francisco Shopping Centre disabuses one of the notions of the mall as a source of culinary mediocrity where everything – even the Chinese food – smells of Sbarro.
Though it opens on to a mall courtyard, M.Y. China offers a distinctive atmosphere, with dark wood working to bridge tech-age modern and traditional-Chinese design elements.
From the dim-sum menu, order the spicy seafood dumplings, which hold scallops and shrimp in a spinach wrapper. But the must-have dish is scissor-cut noodles with wild boar.
Though the meat is tender and scallions add a welcome snap of flavor, noodle texture is everything here. Plump at the middle, thinning out toward the ends, the noodles enter the mouth with a satisfying slither and offer the perfect amount of resistance when one takes a bite.
$$-$$$. 845 Market St. (fourth floor), San Francisco. 415-580-3001. www.tastemychina.com. Transit: BART or Muni underground (Powell Street station).