9 Chef-Recommended Bay Area Restaurants

San Francisco Bay Area has a well-deserved reputation as a culinary hotspot. The Michelin Guide has awarded more stars here than anywhere else in the country, recognizing everything from extravagant wagyu-and-caviar driven tasting menu restaurants to simple dumpling shops in outlying neighborhoods, all of which produce talented alums who open new concepts here in turn. 

About Chef Kuzia-Carmel

Chef Greg Kuzia-Carmel–who oversees Canteen Coffee Shop at CANOPY’s hotly anticipated Menlo Park workspace, opening today at Springline–ranks among the best and brightest. 

His impressive resume includes roles at Per Se in New York City and Quince in San Francisco, both of which have three Michelin stars. After opening his own rustic, Californian outpost Camper–also recommended by the Guide–in Menlo Park in 2018, Kuzia-Carmel will soon launch a new all-day wine bar concept Canteen at Springline, featuring a seasonal menu of creative small plates and grab-and-go options

When he’s not serving guests and CANOPY members, Chef Kuzia-Carmel loves to dine around the Bay with his family. Here, his top restaurant picks, exclusively for CANOPY.

Chef Kuzia-Carmel’s Top Bay Area Restuarant Top Picks

Rintaro, San Francisco 

Owned-and-operated by Kyoto-born Chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett, Rintaro is an SF mainstay for anyone looking to experience Japanese Izakaya cuisine and culture without boarding a flight. Menu standouts reflect Chef Mashima Brackett’s training at Soba Ro in Saitama and a ryotei in Tokyo, and his experience as former creative director at Alice Waters’s seminal California restaurant Chez Panisse.

Pasture-raised Sonoma Liberty duck breast is grilled over a binchotan-burning yakitori grill and plated with kumquat and Hikari Farm chrysanthemum greens. Maguro no yukke celebrates garlicky, shoyu-marinated San Diego bigeye tuna, chopped and served over rice with a raw egg yolk, ume sesame and Ariake nori.

Set within a restored 1906 earthquake cottage and 75-year old mechanics’ garage, interiors are also a transportive blend of time and space. Chef Mashima Brackett’s father, who apprenticed as a temple carpenter in Kyoto, oversaw Rintaro’s post and beam construction and hand-planed wood surfaces, reimaging 100-year-old Redwood wine casks as booths and applying iron-rich red dirt from his son’s childhood Nevada City home to create textured mud walls.

“Rintaro embodies an eclectic hybrid of solid Japanese styles–yakitori, sashimi, bento sets–imbued with the rich agricultural landscape of California’s Coast. Rintaro is my favorite celebration stop; we basically get one of everything, especially the fresh-made tofu.” – Chef Kuzia-Carmel

Protégé, Palo Alto

Photo Credit John Benson

This upscale-casual destination for New American cuisine offers many reasons to linger in the Valley after office hours. Chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly trained under Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry before opening this location as co-owners in 2018; here, they’ve leveraged their cultivated attention to detail to create an elevated dining experience that eschews stuffiness and pretension.

The Dining Room is dedicated to Protégé seven-course tasting menu: dishes like nine-layer porcini mushroom and Burgundy truffle lasagna and smoked sablefish with artichoke tapenade and aromatic saffron are served to guests sat at sumptuously upholstered leather banquettes. Protégé’s Lounge program, anchored by a sleek, 10-seat curved bar, offers an à la carte menu of tempting items, including Kusshi oysters, a Spanish octopus appetizer and substantial brick chicken and wagyu ribeye entrées.

Protégé is a temple of craftsmanship and excellent service.  The food is rich, the hospitality exceptionally warm and the room is luxurious but not conspicuous. A night in the company of Tony, Dennis and their team is always time well spent.”– Chef Kuzia-Carmel

Bar Zola, Palo Alto

Photo Credit Eden Kiryakos

Seven years after neighborhood gem Zola opened on Bryant Street, Proprietor Guillaume Bienaimé debuted BarZola within the same space in 2021, delivering  exceptional drinks completed by nostalgic French cooking from Zola’s kitchen. Dishes like poulet forestiere (forest chicken) and beef cheek bourguignon trace Bienaimé’s childhood summers spent in France, cooking and eating with his mother and grandmother. Cocktails, conversely, speak to global flavors. Garden Party, crafted with vodka, Pimm’s, Gentian amaro, watermelon, cucumber and lime, calls to mind memories of strolling in an English park; Rude Boy’s evocative rhum agricole and pineapple rum, stirred with gomme and tiki and orange bitters, inspires a spontaneous trip to Caribbean shores. Designer Charles DeLisle’s striking green interiors, taken from Moore’s Williamsburg collection, are as celebrated as BarZola’s culinary programming.

Bienaimé is a self-confessed design nerd and keen eyes might note GUBI bar stools and pendant lamps and wall sconces by Atelier de Troupe–a nod to the evolving aesthetic ambitions DeLisle is helping him to pursue.

“Strong cocktails? Bistro moderne vibes? Casual streetside people watching? They have everything here. BarZola’s wine list also has some classics and some funky selections… My family enjoys a visit here as a substitute for a trip to Paris.” – Chef Kuzia-Carmel

Vesta, Redwood City

Photo Credit Melissa Gayle

For wood-fired pizza, small plates and salads, and the feeling you’re dining with family, upscale-yet-unassuming Vesta is hard to beat. This historical 1920s building was the former location of the San Mateo County Savings and Loan bank, and later, Cafe Borrone, which opened here in 1979 and nourished devoted regulars for a decade before proprietors Rose and Roy Borrone relocated to Menlo Park.  Now, their son Peter and his partner Courtney Borrone continue that tradition of warm hospitality.

An updated space with a Venetian mosaic floor and Heath Ceramics tiled oven helps to create Vesta’s signature warm ambiance. Menus showcase the best seasonal products, meticulously sourced from select farms and purveyors which share the Borrones’ commitment to a sustainable future for our planet. Don’t miss Vesta’s Pepperoni, Sausage and Honey and divisive yet undeniably delicious Prosciutto and Pineapple pies.

“Vesta is all about solid wood-fired pizza.  The Younger Borrone offspring come from Silicon Valley restaurant royalty. This place is always bumping; one bite explains it all.” – Chef Kuzia-Carmel

Mentone, Aptos

Photo Credit Alyssa Papiernik

Mentone is the Italian name for French Riviera town Menton, which previously fell within Italy’s borders. In Aptos, a stone’s throw from Santa Cruz’s beaches, its namesake restaurant by Manresa’s Chef-Owner David Kinch is a culinary love letter to this storied European region and Central California coast.

Hot from the oven, Mentone’s Margarita is bedecked by fragrant basil grown at nearby Cabrillo College; the Stracciatella pie is drizzled in Taggiasca olive oil, a Ligurian varietal harvested and crushed by Wild Poppies in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Gnocchi alla Genovese and tocco with housemade corzetti, the kitchen team’s take on Bolognese, are a specialty of the house.

The wine list is largely underpinned by Italian, French, and California selections, complemented by a playful cocktail menu that incorporates Italian grape varieties. Must-tries include Mentone’s signature Frozen Bubbly Aperol Spritz, an effervescent confection of Aperol, Ketel One Botanical Peach and Orange Blossom Vodka, trebbiano and orange juice; and the Nebbiolo Old Fashion’, built with Bourbon, amaro and nebbiolo gomme.

“Sometimes we need an hour-long car ride to get out of the house.  Chef David Kinch’s wood-fired wonderment is always worth the journey.  Extra hot days mean Aperol Spritz Slushies.  A nod to a sliver of the coast of the French Riviera, this is one of my favorite little corners of the world, both locally and abroad.” – Chef Kuzia-Carmel

Wursthall, San Mateo

Photo Credit Arcsine

This German-inspired biergarten curated by Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of the James Beard Award-winning book The Food Lab, offers exactly what its name and location suggest: brats and beers with a California accent. All sausages, from the traditional Bier Bratwurst to its Chorizo Verde, as well as vegan sausages and burgers, are made in-house and served in a griddled split-top bun. Hungry diners should consider the sandwiches menu, which includes Kenji’s Korean, a hot Chicken Sandwich made with double fried chicken thigh, chili oil, Korean spice blend, yogurt ranch slaw, crowned with pickles in a brioche bun; or go all-in with a chicken schnitzel entrée and a side “snack” of spaetzle and cheese.

While Lopez-Alt recently relocated to Seattle, most of his dishes remain on the menu; any new additions will remain true to his philosophy of cooking simple dishes to the best standard possible. After sampling Wursthall’s diverse European and American craft beers and wines, pop below the lofty, Bavarian-blue-tiled dining room to the basement, where designers Arcsine and Shawn Scott Studio have taken design cues from Grimm’s Fairy Tales to create whimsical underground cocktail lounge Wunderbar.

“Don’t be afraid to over-order and bring home leftovers; Kenji’s technical wizardry leads to dishes being done with a modicum of precision you don’t often find in a beer hall.” Chef Kuzia-Carmel

The Ramen Shop, Oakland

Photo Credit Don Alderon

Chez Panisse alums Sam White, Rayneil de Guzman and Jerry Jaksich opened The Ramen Shop in 2013 after realizing there was a local need for local, market-produce-driven ramen inspired by Japan’s progressive approach. (They were also tired of driving to San José after work to satisfy their own cravings.)

All broths, noodles, and toppings are made in-house; the trio sources “the best pork in the industry” from Llano Seco, a 18,000 acre ranch incorporated in 1861, where cowboys still herd livestock on horseback. Bowls of Veggie Meyer Lemon Shoyu Ramen are a nod to the yuzu traditionally used to cut rich meat broth; the Shop’s Southeast Asia-inspired fried rice, served with house made shrimp chili-tamarind paste, is another standout distinctive to this kitchen. Unsurprisingly, this is a hospitality industry favorite. Seats below the lath-and-plaster soffit are often occupied by chefs and other staff bound for, or coming from, service; the reservation-only Karaoke Room is a hot ticket for private dining and open mics for up to six guests.

“Count me amongst the loyal followers.  The Tsukune (pickle) plate and all of the little starters and veggie dishes are to die for.  I swear by the vegetarian Meyer Lemon ramen, it has this unique brightness and zip that you usually don’t associate with the more traditional, rich broths.  Sit at the counter and enjoy a craft cocktail with your meal–it’s a must-not-miss.” Chef Kuzia-Carmel

The Blue Plate, San Francisco

As the throwback website explains, in 1999 two friends from college who knew absolutely nothing about opening a restaurant, did exactly that. More than 23 years later, the iconic Blue Plate continues to be an Outer Mission neighborhood go-to–especially among skate and hipster communities who come for American cooking with a Mediterranean twist. The Blue Plate’s tightly edited menu encompasses just 11 greatest hits, plus sides and desserts. Small plates include charred octopus with cauliflower, green olive salsa verde, harissa, and smoked trout deviled eggs with castelvetrano olive, lemon, and fried garlic. On the heartier side, herb and ricotta gnocchi, fried chicken and hanger steak are solid fortifications against a night on the ramps or bar hopping in the hood.

“This legendary spot in the southernmost part of SF is the undisputed meatloaf champion of the world and offers an eclectic menu that mixes diner classics with some creative, hand crafted pastas, salads, appetizers and mains. Save room for key lime pie and keep a look out for the entourages of famous skateboard crews who can be found here nightly.” Chef Kuzia-Carmel

Cotogna, San Francisco

Photo Credit Bonjwing Lee

A seat within Cotogna’s cozy brick-and-wood filled space is almost as hard to score as one at Quince, Chef Michael and Lindsay Tusk’s lauded Italian tasting menu restaurant next door–largely because meals at Cotogna are easily as good. Tusk’s house-made pastas, spit-roasted and grilled meats and wood-oven roasted seafood rank among the best in the world, and evolve with the seasons to showcase local produce, including that coming from the Tusks’ Fresh Run farm in Bolinas. Don’t miss the Raviolo di ricotta, a gleaming, side-plate-sized dish of brown-butter-enrobed pasta with a silky ricotta and a coop-fresh egg yolk core. For those who can’t wait for a table to open, Cotogna’s Pastificio, Wine and Cocktail Hour clubs offer changing monthly pasta and drinks options for delivery or pick up.

“There can be only one winner. A must for hyper authentic, regional Italian fare done by the maestro and one of my mentors, Michael Tusk.  Anything that kisses that Tuscan grill is on point and their wine list is shared with Quince, next door. Food lovers flock here, for good reason.” Chef Kuzia-Carmel