The Embarcadero is San Francisco's eastern waterfront along the bay. Derived from the Spanish word embarcar (to embark), it dates from the early 1900s as the center of trade and transport, and served as a Pacific logistics center during World War II. The construction of the Bay Bridge rapidly reduced the use of the ferries and ports, leading to construction of the Embarcadero Freeway in the 1960s. For three decades the double-decker eyesore separated the waterfront from the rest of the City. It was permanently torn down in 1991 after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake deemed it unsafe.
The aesthetically pleasing waterfront redevelopment began with a wide palm-lined boulevard replacing the freeway, and the Ferry Building, pedestrian walkways and piers have since been restored to their former splendor. Starting at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, the Embarcadero carves a walkable path past the piers and ends at Fisherman’s Wharf. There are many eating options along the way, especially in the Ferry Building and nearby Piers 1-1/2 through 5, where several high profile chefs have opened premier restaurants. Below are our top five picks along one of the city's newest dining destinations.
Coqueta | Pier 5, The Embarcadero
Coqueta means “flirt” in Spanish, and the restaurant embodies celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s infatuation with, and exploration of, the cuisine of Spain. The menu is divided into sections for cured meats, cheeses, pintxos, bocadillos, tapas, and larger plates (including paella for two), all served family-style. With such a wide selection, it would be wise to come with a larger party, or stick with smaller plates, to sample more of the menu. As you peruse the menu, open with any of the bite-sized pintxos offered on a tray of skewers, accompanied by one of bar manager Joe Cleveland’s generous and aromatic cocktails.
Fog City | 1300 Battery Street
Dropping the ‘diner’ designation, Fog City’s recent renovation revealed an all new interior centered around a much more spacious V-shaped bar. The open kitchen is outfitted with a wood-fired oven and a BBQ grill that raises and lowers with a wheel. Partner/Executive Chef Bruce Hill, who also heads the kitchens at Bix and Zero Zero, has updated the menu with a focus around the grill and wood-burning techniques. Smoke comes in many forms but never dominates the flavor profile. Most of the items are meant to be shared, whether they are small plates like a salad, or the meatier large plates such as the Wood Oven Whole Chicken.
Slanted Door | 1 Ferry Bldg Marketplace #3
Owner/Executive Chef Charles Phan revolutionized upscale modern Vietnamese cooking when he opened the original Slanted Door in the Mission in 1995. Now located in the Ferry Plaza, it is an institution and one of the City’s most popular restaurants. You can’t go wrong with anything from the extensive menu, which includes items from the raw bar, papaya salad, fresh spring rolls, roasted Dungeness crab and the popular grass-fed Shaking Beef. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls provide beautiful bay views, making it worth a visit for lunch or dinner. Just don’t look for an actual slanted door: it remains in the Mission.
Hard Water | Pier 3, The Embarcadero
The Southern focus of Hard Water was a surprising departure for The Slanted Door’s Charles Phan. It was an instant success, offering excellent fried items such as alligator, pork belly cracklin’ and chicken with pepper jelly. A raw bar and items such as gumbo, grits, albacore salad, pork chops and braised rabbit complete the menu. Measuring a mere 1300 square feet, the cozy space includes a wall of whiskey with over 150 of the best bottles the American South has to offer, available in flights or as one- or two-ounce pours.
Waterbar (399 The Embarcadero South | http://www.waterbarsf.com)
Five years ago, restaurateur/designer Pat Kueleto and his partners opened the seafood-centric Waterbar together with its sister steakhouse Epic Roasthouse next door. An ambitious bay-front project, both restaurants were built from the ground up with specific design elements in mind. Waterbar has an excellent raw bar with over a dozen different oysters to choose from, along with great seafood-centric fare cooked by Partner/Chef Mark Franz and Executive Chef Parke Ulrich. Their daily $1 oyster specials ($2 after 6pm) make for a reasonable lunch or brunch, especially with the spectacular views. Dinners are more of a splurge, but well worth it, especially since it’s one of the best places to watch the Bay Lights Sculpture on the Bay Bridge.
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