San Francisco's Iconic Zuni CafeIf one is going to throw around the word "iconic," let's make sure it's used appropriately. As with Zuni. The awkwardly shaped restaurant—it's in a narrow storefront with wider spaces on the mezzanine—was opened in 1979 by Billy West. West's best move was hiring chef Judy Rodgers in 1987. She put in a brick oven—and thus the Zuni roast chicken was born. This dish, more than any other (except perhaps the Caesar salad), defines Zuni. The chicken is roasted in the brick oven and served over a bread salad: greens with chewy bread croutons. Simple, perfectly cooked, and seasonal. Rodgers died in 2013, but the restaurant soldiers on without her. The menu changes with the season and with what the local farms are growing, and will doubtless explain the provenance of your meat. Rdgers, along with her peer across the bay, Alice Waters, pioneered California cooking, and the cooks who have passed through here have gone on to define today's vibrant restaurant scene.
Any list of San Francisco's best, and most innovative, restaurants is sure to include Zuni Café. It first opened in 1979, but it was when chef Judy Rodgers took the helm in 1987 that critics and diners realized something unique was going on here. Rodgers had a wood oven installed long before they were ubiquitous, and began creating dishes in her signature style of simple Mediterranean techniques paired with California's freshest ingredients. Rodgers died in 2013, but the new chef, Rebecca Boice, is carrying on her legacy with remarkable skill. The restaurant's calling card is its roast chicken with bread salad, but you won't be disappointed by any of the pastas or the wood-fired pizzas if you order them instead.