Duboce Triangle pop-up Easy Creole is now a quirky 22-seat, counter service, Louisiana–inspired restaurant with a no-fry policy and plentiful vegetarian options. Yes, the cooks know their audience, but self-respecting meat eaters line up for the likes of spicy gumbo loaded with shrimp, chicken, and sausage. With its cheap prices and portrait filled decor, the joint fulfills its name’s promise: a painless place for dinner any night of the week.
1761 Alcatraz Ave. (at Adeline St.), 510-858-5063 C.A.
Not your usual farm-to-fork Napa endeavor, Empire is complete with a pipe organ bar and a backlit jellyfish tank. The menu, from former Charlie Trotter’s chef Jennifer Petrusky, trolls the globe from Thailand (prawns in coconut Thai basil broth) to Japan (shabu-shabu) to the Middle East (cauliflower fritters with hummus), and the lounge-bar vibe continues until the wee hours. It’s a fitting hangout for wine industry types and tourists seeking something hotter than reclaimed wood and seasonal vegetables.
1400 1st St. (at Franklin St.), 707-254-8888 C.A.
From the tapas to the communal tables, there’s plenty to share at this cozy but stylish Spanish restaurant from celeb chef Michael Chiarello. Say yes to pintxos—delightful one-bite skewers that feature chorizo and roasted artichokes—and a glass of sherry. Move on to creamy-crisp chicken croquetas, wood-grilled octopus, and paella. Though Coqueta is on the waterfront, the best place for a view is the justifiably crowded bar, located in the glassed-in annex.
Pier 5 (near the Embarcadero), 415-704-8866 S.D.
Marin Country Mart now has a place to see and be seen, a local spin-off of Los Angeles’ Farmshop. Bejeweled in rope-slung Edison bulbs, the dining room is wrapped in a blown-up black-and-white image of farmers in a field. Still, one-time Thomas Keller protégé Jeff Cerciello steals the show in the open kitchen. The menu is stacked with fresh produce, fire-cooked meats, and pizzas, but desserts (Valrhona budino) and farm-fresh cocktails (whiskey, kumquat, Chinese bitters) are also worth the indulgence. The joint has been jammed since day one.
2233 Larkspur Landing Cir. (at Lincoln Village Cir.), 415-755-6700 C.A.
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of San Francisco