Tasting menus are a wonderful way to discover the breadth and depth of a chef, an indulgent overview that’s a noticeable level up from a typical fine-dining experience. They don’t have to break the bank, either. Here are five restaurants whose tasting menus provide extreme value for money while offering something unique in the always-competitive San Francisco dining scene.
From $75 | 3115 22nd St. | (415) 757-0994
Californios is Val M. Cantu’s unmatchably elegant Mexican restaurant, with dark colors, expensive art books, and an overall noirish cinema feel. You won’t know exactly what’s ahead of you, since the ingredients highlighted on the abstract, ever-changing menu you’re presented with read in only the vaguest of terms, like arroz (rice) and frijoles (beans). This poetic approach makes for an evening of surprises. The number of courses varies but is typically around seven to nine.
2. Coco Frio
Coco Frio, the latest venture from chef Manny Torres Gimenez, who operates The Palace steakhouse down the street, brings the beachfront street food of Isla Margarita to the former Savanna Jazz Club. Gimenez’s dishes adopt many of the saucy names used on Isla Margarita (an island in the Caribbean that belongs to his native Venezuela), including mussels siete potencias, A.K.A. “love soup,” and rompe colchon, a seafood cocktail that translates as “mattress breaker.” Pair his surf and turf–focused three-course tasting with a deconstructed Coco Frio, a potent rum-and-mint cocktail for two served in a coconut.
3. Michael Mina
From $105 | 252 California St. | (415) 397-9222
A playful alternative to the restaurant’s more straightforward 10-course option is called Trios, a customizable tasting designed by eponymous chef Michael Mina and his trusted star chef Ron Siegel. Diners select three different courses to make their ideal meal, but what makes Trios different is that several of the options are actually mini-tastings within themselves. For example, your first course might be a tasting of Tolena Farms quail prepared three ways, with your second course offering three different tastes of Liberty Farms duck and foie gras. Take it up a notch by adding the optional caviar service for a supplemental fee.
From $100 | 665 Townsend St. | (415) 865-0633
Omakase, a young restaurant whose name is the Japanese term for a meal selected by the chef, offers three tiers of tasting menu, at $100, $150, and $200. Each contains a combination of appetizers, sashimi, nigiri, and cooked dishes—including exotic offerings like conch. All are served within intimate proximity of the humorous and witty chefs, headed by Japanese-trained Chinese chef Jackson Yu. The close interaction with the chefs as they tell you about the rare selections of fish they are serving is part of the charm. Their frequent use of blowtorches helps
5. The Progress
From $65 | 1525 Fillmore St. | (415) 673-1294
Husband and wife cooking team Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, who also operate the popular State Bird Provisions next door, preside over a changing list of options for what they describe as a “choose your own adventure tasting menu” at The Progress.
Diners select a minimum of six courses to design their personal tasting menu, but can add as many extra ones as they want. International flavors are frequently combined in a way that could only happen in Northern California. Italian corno di toro pepper stuffed with sea urchin and anchovy, for example, or Spanish lamb merguez sausage with yellow-eye beans, octopus, and crispy squid. Reservations can be tough to get, but it’s worth the effort. Alternatively, if you don’t mind the possibility of eating while standing, you can walk in without a reservation and dine at the bar, space permitting