Grub Guide

Eleven Cozy Bay Area Spots for a Warm, Wintry Meal

The season definitely took a shift this week, and the next few days you should expect to be a little damp. Given that, we have a few suggestions of where to dine by a fire, or at least ensconced in a cozy dining room with some rib-sticking, soul-warming food this winter. We’re not talking tried-and-true comfort food necessarily, but from our list it does seem the Europeans have a hold on hearty cuisine that will get you through the coldest, bleakest days, though ramen is a fine bet too. And by the way, booze also does the trick, and the fireplace lounge at Big Four or the Hideout at Dalva are also good bets for hiding out with a cocktail in the cold and rain.

This 23-year-old spot between Polk Street and Pacific Heights has a warmly lit, windowless dining room that feels a little like you’ve descended into the depths of a Venetian palazzo (it was formerly a chapel). It helps that the food from chef Suzanne Greshem-Tognetti remains top-notch. 1722 Sacramento Street. See the listing.
With a swing toward Eastern Europe, and a touch of Scandinavia and Japan thrown in, Bar Tartine has become one of the most talked about and ambitious neighborhood restaurants in town under chef Nick Balla. As soon as the winds start blowing, what more do you want but some fried bread, smoked potatoes with sour cream, spicy fish stew, and a well curated selection of international beer and wine. 561 Valencia Street at 17th. See the listing.
We never hesitate to cross the Bay for Russell Moore’s food, and the totally European-feeling dining room, with its long tables, central fireplace, and big chandeliers, is a great place to be on a cold night. Mondays, all winter, there’s a Dungeness crab prix fixe, and look out for Moore’s other specialties, like fire-roasted lamb, and the best boudin blanc you’ll ever eat. 3917 Grand Avenue, Oakland. See the website.
Dennis Leary’s now classic San Francisco bistro, a few blocks from Union Square, remains a cold-weather favorite for us. He’s a master of legumes, rich soups, and well crafted, seasonal salads. And that signature vanilla soufflé makes for a perfect holiday-season indulgence with a nice glass of Tokai. 817 Sutter Street. See the listing.
Tony Gemignani’s latest venture is in an especially warm and inviting space in North Beach. The menu is all Chicago-style pizza and old-timey Italian-American food, like sausages and peppers and lasagna. It’s a perfect time of year for this stuff, when you can wear extra layers and pad your stomach a little before hibernating. 641 Vallejo Street. See the listing.
Tyler Florence’s ode to the steakhouse is much more than that. It’s housed in a historic-for-Mill Valley set of brick buildings, and serves some excellent, dressed-up chop house fare. But one of the main draws here is just the atmosphere itself, the scale of the dining rooms, and the feeling that you’ve stepped back into a simpler time. 17 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley. See the website.
Pat Kuleto’s waterfront, tourist-friendly steakhouse remains one of the nicest dining rooms in town, with a view of the Bay Bridge that’s stunning in rain or sun. Chef Jan Birnbaum’s food is a draw as well, from his wine-braised short ribs to his excellent burger. And let’s not forget that this is one of the only places in town that meat-lovers can order a steak beyond bloody, or bleu, but “Pittsburgh” style, which is basically charred on the outside and totally raw inside. 369 Embarcadero. See the listing.
We were never prime rib fans until we had what they serve here, carved tableside from an enormous, rolling zeppelin, and served with potatoes, creamed spinach, and MSG-laden salad. We actually love the stuff, along with a well made Manhattan or glass of Cabernet, and the holidays feel like the perfect time to go places like this, where it’s perpetually 1948 and no one’s asking where the beef came from. 1906 Van Ness Avenue at Washington. See the listing.
This tried-and-true favorite of the city’s power brokers (not to mention Nancy Pelosi) has one of the best dining rooms with a fireplace in town. And there’s no winter blues that a nice plate of saghanaki can’t cure. 200 Jackson Street. See the listing.
This new Scandinavian-inspired restaurant (the name is actually supposed to be pronounced phonetically as “play”) from chef-owner Roberth Sundell boasts a fireplace, too, and a cozy dining room inside the Inn at the Opera. And the twists on traditional Scandinavian winter fare are not to be missed. You can taste a sample of the specialties on a special Scandinavian Christmas Menu that they’re offering on Sundays only, December 2, 9, 16, and 23, for $65 per person. 333 Fulton Street. See the listing.
And let’s not forget about everyone’s favorite beer hall, Suppenkuche, which remains ever-popular in Hayes Valley. The crowds, in fact, help the spare space feel warm on the coldest of nights, and a little bratwurst and beer is just what the doctor ordered if you’re shivering in your boots and starving. 525 Laguna at Hayes. See the listing.
Eleven Cozy Bay Area Spots for a Warm, Wintry Meal