A gourmet guide to San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighbourhood

From award-winning brasseries and seasonal menus to ritzy drinking dens, local restaurateur Sarah Rich offers the lowdown on San Francisco’s newly revitalised dining district.

Published 13 Nov 2020, 09:20 GMT, Updated 16 Nov 2020, 16:10 GMT
Sarah Rich opened her first restaurant, the now Michelin-starred Rich Table, with husband and co-chef Evan Rich ...

Sarah Rich opened her first restaurant, the now Michelin-starred Rich Table, with husband and co-chef Evan Rich in Hayes Valley in 2012.

Photograph by Rich Table

Hayes Valley doesn’t yet have the name recognition of some of its more famous neighbours, such as the nearby districts of the Castro and Haight-Ashbury, but what it lacks in headline attractions or history, it more than makes up for in boutique shops and exciting culinary ventures. In the past decade, this formerly quiet (and once seedy) part of town has morphed into the restaurant and shopping quarter, its businesses espousing typical San Francisco values: small, individually owned, and selling locally sourced wares.

Meet Sarah Rich. The chef and restaurateur studied at the French Culinary Institute (now known as the International Culinary Center) in New York and worked under award-winning celebrity chef Michael Mina in San Francisco before opening her first restaurant, the now Michelin-starred Rich Table, with husband and co-chef Evan Rich in Hayes Valley in 2012. Sarah, who’s lived in the Bay Area since 2007, offers her favourite drinking and dining spots in the buzzy Hayes Valley ’hood.

You can find anything you want here, from sushi and wine bars to Michelin-starred restaurants. There are a few pockets like this in San Francisco, but each has a different vibe. Hayes Valley is definitely a bit more preppy.

There’s a huge difference to the food in San Francisco compared with New York. There’s so much available year-round, and it’s constantly changing. You get food straight from the farms, and the flavour, colour, texture — everything’s better. That’s what directs our menu. We change it all the time because there’s so much to work with. You see one ingredient and there are three things you want to do with it.

Some of my favourite places? Nightbird, on Gough Street, is a tasting menu restaurant run by Kim Alter, who’s worked at lots of great places in the Bay Area. I also like Monsieur Benjamin, which Corey Lee — who also runs the three-Michelin-starred Benu — opened in 2014. It’s very fancy, but everything is delicious. Little Gem is a really nice spot, too. It’s laidback and does gluten- and sugar-free food. The chef used to work at French Laundry [a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa Valley, California].

For drinks, I loved The Riddler — it had Champagne, caviar and a free popcorn bar — but sadly just closed down. So, now I usually head to 20th Century Café, where Michelle Polzine does this Hungarian honey cake: crepe-thin layers of cake with honey, butter and cream, layer after layer. I’m not a huge honey person, but even I could eat loads of that.

Sarah and Evan Rich co-authored the cookbook Rich Table. For more information on their San Francisco eateries, visit richtablesf.com

Read more Tales of San Francisco

Published in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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