Group Dynamics: San Francisco's Restaurant Empires

Meet the locally beloved restaurant groups shaping the Bay Area dining scene.

In a city that’s rich with new restaurants, several San Francisco dining groups have built a reputation for standout cuisine and one-of-a-kind experiences. Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group partner Ryan Cole, whose team operates four neighborhood dining destinations, believes that success starts with solid relationships. “This is a very interesting time in San Francisco because customers have so many new restaurant choices,” he explained. “It reminds people that the places they recognize as favorites—those ‘I always like to go there’ spots—they visit those favorites for a reason.”

Whether welcoming patrons at Hi Neighbor’s established mainstays or newer additions, Cole believes that genuine hospitality, great food and unique experiences turn first-time customers into repeat guests. To see how his restaurant group and other local dining dynasties are putting an innovative spin on dishes and drinks, grab a table at one of these area favorites.

Corridor

Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group

You know them for: Cole and his partners draw on fine-dining backgrounds to bring quality food and friendly service to intimate neighborhood eateries. “We’re called Hi Neighbor because that’s what we do—we want to know our neighbors,” he said. A robust beer list and shareable small plates define Fat Angel, the group’s date-friendly Western Addition gathering spot, while Stones Throw serves California-American dishes in a charming Russian Hill locale on the Powell-Hyde cable car line. Bordering North Beach, Chinatown and Jackson Square, the two-time Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient Trestle offers a three-course prix fixe menu for just $35.

Now try: The group’s most recent addition, Corridor, launched weekday breakfast hours, Saturday brunch and a refreshed dinner menu this spring. Overlooking a busy stretch of Van Ness Avenue, the high-end comfort food eatery offers a relaxed option for a quick coffee meeting or a full meal. Corridor is equally convenient for employees in Mid-Market and Civic Center, travelers exploring central San Francisco and ticket holders looking for a bite before the opera or symphony.

a Mano

Back of the House

You know them for: In under 10 years, Adriano Paganini’s Back of the House group has crafted a collection of approachable dining concepts spanning an array of cuisines—from two locations of Delarosa, a Roman-style pizza place, to the cozy California comfort food stop, Starbelly, to Flores, serving Mexican small plates and cocktails to the classic burger and shake chain, Super Duper Burgers.

Now try: Back of the House Group’s latest additions include The Bird, a casual, budget-friendly cafe for free-range fried chicken sandwiches and fresh apple slaw, and a Mano, a Cal-Italian destination in Hayes Valley. Here, housemade pastas, seasonal pizzas and on-tap Italian wines headline the menu that Paganini described as “uncomplicated but always delicious.” This winter, the group will open its 22nd restaurant, the Spanish tapas bar BarVale, over on Divisadero Street. 

Leo's Oyster Bar

Big Night Restaurant Group

You know them for: The introduction of market-driven Marlowe—and its lauded burger, loaded with caramelized onions, horseradish aioli, cheddar and bacon—put restaurateurs Anna Weinberg and James Nicholas on the Bay Area dining map. Working with chef partner Jennifer Puccio and pastry chef Emily Luchetti, their Big Night Restaurant Group has since debuted Park Tavern, an upscale American dining spot in North Beach; The Cavalier, serving British brasserie-inspired eats and drinks just off Market Street; and Marianne’s, a swanky saloon tucked inside The Cavalier, plus other stylish San Francisco concepts.

Now try: The Big Night family opened Petit Marlowe in June 2017, creating a sophisticated, Paris-inspired wine and oyster bar on Townsend Street in SoMa. Raw oysters, deviled eggs and cote de boeuf top the list of popular bistro bites, while the thoughtful wine list features reds and whites available by the bottle or the glass. The group’s Financial District seafood and cocktail den, Leo’s Oyster Bar, was named Bon Appétit’s Best Designed Restaurant of the Year in 2016 and earned a James Beard Foundation nomination for design in 2017. 

Alta

Alta Group

You know them for: James Beard Award-winner Daniel Patterson’s project menu includes the two Michelin-starred Coi and the San Francisco steakhouse Alfred’s; his team revamped the 1928 classic in 2016. He’s also behind the health-minded fast food brand LocoL, created in partnership with Roy Choi and Plum Bar, a sleek Oakland kitchen and cocktail lounge. Patterson’s San Francisco Alta locations spotlight market-driven California cuisine.

Now try: This spring, Patterson expanded his Alta empire by opening an all-day spinoff of the Market Street original at the Minnesota Street Project in the Dogpatch district. This fall, he’ll open Alta at The Grant, bringing signature bites like brown rice puffs with avocado dip and the Alta Burger to the YOTEL San Francisco. The ground-floor restaurant and rooftop bar in this new Mid-Market hotel will replace the current downtown Alta location. In spring 2018, Alta also goes east with a new outpost in Oakland’s Jack London Square. 

Barcino

The Absinthe Group

You know them for: Absinthe Brasserie & Bar landed in Hayes Valley about 20 years ago, introducing French brasserie fare to a neighborhood overshadowed by a double-decker freeway. Today, that freeway is gone and Hayes Valley is one of San Francisco’s hottest culinary districts. Restaurateur Bill Russell-Shapiro stayed local with the addition of charming Arlequin Cafe and Food-to-Go and the adjacent Arlequin Wine Merchant, and the Absinthe Group later restored what Russell-Shapiro called “the last of the old Barbary Coast saloons” to create Comstock Saloon in North Beach.

Now try: The Absinthe Group launched Barcino in the former Boxing Room space in summer 2017, bringing Catalan small bites and Spanish drinks to a bright Hayes Valley corner spot. It follows the much buzzed-about opening of Bellota, which offers Spanish paellas, croquetas and wood-fired hearth dishes in SoMa. The restaurant’s chic “Casablanca”-inspired interior is tucked in a former warehouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places.