At La Costanera, Peruvian-born Chef Carlos Altamirano adds contemporary twists to traditional South American dishes that earned the restaurant a 2012 Michelin Star. A variety of ceviches whet appetites amidst a dining room that the San Francisco Chronicle called "breathtaking by day and almost mystical at night," filled with the soft sound of the surf. Free-range chicken and slow-cooked pork shoulder thrive beneath what a reviewer for the Pacifica Tribune applauds as "dramatic presentation.” Imported Peruvian beers and pisco cocktails clink to toast potatoes reclaiming exoticness by arriving in shades of purple and green, and even simple favorites take on the gleeful elegance of a solid-teak waterslide with the aid of truffle oil or saffron. La Costanera’s 10,000-square-foot space opens onto an open-air patio and glass-enclosed rooms. Windowpanes soaring from floor to ceiling arch high overhead, admitting cascades of sunlight as diners gaze out and give each rolling wave a name and backstory.
There are certain accepted rules to constructing maki rolls: They must be round. They generally contain tuna and a handful of vegetables. Chefs at Go Sushi Japanese Restaurant try to throw those precepts out the window and let their imaginations run wild. They build the Arch roll—a deep-fried concoction of spicy tuna and cream cheese—into an actual arch, and they top the Firecracker roll with an explosion of crabmeat and tobiko the color of orange flames. The chefs even have fun naming their creations, such as the Lion King roll, the Black Widow roll, and the George roll, named for the president who famously chopped down his father's cherry tree to make souvenir chopsticks for the Marquis de Lafayette. Underneath the lighted orbs and Japanese lanterns that dangle from the dining-room ceiling, servers also deliver chicken or beef covered in teriyaki sauce or submerged in bowls of noodle soup.
The resident chefs at Mama Maria's Ristorante have rolled out their own pizza dough for 20 years, crafting pies alongside platters of authentic Italian cuisine. Chefs use softly risen, house-made pizza dough to hold aloft ingredients including tandoori chicken, barbecue chicken, bacon, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes. The skilled kitchen staff sautés calamari with onion, green peppers, tomatoes, and olives for calamari siciliana, and sends spaghetti pomodoro out the kitchen doors to anoint fork tines with its complex marinara. Pizza-delivery service ferries pies sheathed in heat-insulated delivery bags to keep pizzas fresh. Mama Maria's also takes its culinary show on the road with catering services designed to feed hungry party guests or whole pasta-aficionado clubs.
Just off Highway 1, the petite wooden building with the huge windows, classic neon sign, and flower boxes first resembles a classic beach-town café. But inside, the leafy ferns and potted plants that dominate Pacifica Thai Cuisine's entryway evoke thoughts of Thailand's lush jungles. At the same time, the scents of lemongrass, coconut milk, sweet basil, roasted chilies, and peanut sauce flood diners' senses, giving patrons an overview of the menu before they see a single page or accidentally barge into the kitchen. Curries, pan-fried noodles, seasonal seafood dishes, and barbecued meats fill the menu of faithful renditions of Thailand’s iconic dishes. The restaurant has served a wide customer base for nearly three decades, and Bay Area Vegetarians calls it “probably the most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurant in Pacifica.” Vegetarian dishes reach beyond meat-free preparations of the standards to encompass thoughtful combinations of vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, tofu, and rich sauces.
At Dinosaurs Vietnamese Sandwiches, cooks versed in the art of the banh mi sate patron’s cravings for the delicious Vietnamese sandwiches with one of their eight signature creations. Every sandwich begins with a crisp baguette and locally procured toppings—including jalapeno, cilantro, and pickled carrots and daikon—but can be customized with a choice of filling that range from roasted pork and sliced beef to crispy tofu and roasted portobello. The menu also houses a succinct selection of Vietnamese entrees, including a chicken-cabbage salad and shredded pork dusted with roasted rice powder. In addition to munching on a handful of vegan dishes, customers can wash them down with one of four vegan beverages, such as an avocado shake, watermelon litchi, or sustainably raised water.
Chef Xana Cook-Milligan peruses local famers’ markets in order to find the freshest seasonal ingredients to use for her menu at Salada Beach Cafe. Regular dishes include a housemade veggie burger, served with ketchup that’s also made in house. Diners also pass around tapas-style small plates, such as skewers loaded with honey-lime chicken or PEI mussels in garlicky white wine sauce. Cook-Milligan’s specials highlight the best market finds, often integrated into housemade pasta dishes or warm veggie salads.