It was time again for the Chronicle to update their bizarrely unhelpful Top 25 Restaurants list for Fall 2023, and it remains like a less informative version of the Eater 38, but with 13 fewer restaurants, representing a region which deserves far better coverage.
Say what you will about Michael Bauer's Top 100 — it wasn't especially diverse, he did not go to the South Bay or East Bay very much if he didn't have to — it at least gave a broad and somewhat comprehensive picture of the Bay Area's top spots for fine dining and high-end casual dining. That picture doesn't really exist anymore from any local critic, and the Chronicle has instead opted for publishing dozens of individual lists of pizza places, Indian places, sandwich places, you name it, with regular updates being made to a Top 25 Restaurants list that makes little sense as a Top 25.
The list is still credited in part to former critic Soleil Ho, and to current associate restaurant critic Cesar Hernandez, and it attempts to be broadly diverse in both cuisine and geography without giving a newcomer any sense of the depth and breadth of the great food available to them around the Bay.
The latest update includes a number of spots from the last iteration, including favories of Ho's like Animo and Noodle In a Haystack. Among stalwarts, Delfina keeps its spot. After recently reviewing them both, Hernandez adds Azalina's in the Tenderloin and Dalida in the Presidio to the mix, but great spots like Saison and Anchovy Bar got sacrificed to keep the list to 25. Why?
Also, there's no room here for longtime favorites like Zuni, Rich Table, Anchor Oyster Bar, or Frances. And the list of snubs among the Michelin-starred elite is long. Goodbye to Benu, SingleThread, Californios, and all the rest. Terrific restaurants that have debuted in the last couple of years that could use some Chronicle attention, like Ernest and Routier, also don't get any love here.
In their place we get a sandwich truck in Napa (Joella's Deli), a humble slice shop in Oakland (Mama's Boy), and a well-loved Middle Eastern restaurant in San Bruno. I'm sure all of these places are worth trying, but if the point were to create a list, like the Top 100, that reflected the best of the region, I'm not sure all of these would make the cut.
The paper would say that this list isn't meant to be comprehensive, just like the Eater 38 isn't — it's a "where to eat now" overview. But how does it make sense when our city's paper of record produces a "Top 25 Restaurants" that isn't meant to reflect the paper's opinion of what the top 25 restaurant in the region are?
Sure, I get it, that list was a bear to produce and update each year. Bauer used to complain that 100 was an arbitrary cutoff and even he hated knocking off great restaurants to make room for newer ones.
But there is still a desire for lists that tell people, comprehensively, where they should go and where they should be spending their hard-earned dining dollars. And San Francisco's restaurant scene especially could use the boost that such a list would provide — not a list like this one that's meant to cover the whole Bay Area but only gives SF a measly 9 slots.
Perhaps under incoming critic MacKenzie Chung Fegan, a Bay Area native, things will improve. We can hope.
Photo: Matt Jones