Whenever I think of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, and whenever visitors ask me where they need to eat when they come to the city, one of the places I will always point people towards, 100% of the time, is Rich Table.
It carries that special San Francisco duality of being both a destination and a neighborhood restaurant; it literally occupies the bottom floor of an old Victorian residential home in Hayes Valley.
I love it so much for so many different reasons. But really, it all boils down to the food and the people.
Let’s start with the food. You could call it New American. Market-driven Californian with globally-inspired flavors? Elevated comfort food? It’s different. It’s unique. It’s a lot of things, so labels don’t do it justice. But what’s most important, to me at least, is that it’s simultaneously reliable and exciting every single time.
Whether I come for a quick bite at the bar, or stay for a longer meal, I have to get the menu mainstays — the craveable classics that hit every time. The crispy potato chips carefully skewered with sardines with horseradish crème fraîche. The fluffy umami porcini doughnuts with creamy raclette cheese dipping sauce. Aged beef dumplings with spicy chili crunch.
You could pop in for a couple quick drinks at the bar, order these bites, and be completely happy; and if you’re lucky, you’ll snag the seats closest to the kitchen, where you can see all the cooks in action — pasta being plated, meats being grilled, items handed out from the mini window from the back kitchen.
But better yet, I like to make a big experience out of a meal at a table and go with the Chef Picks menu. It starts with a memorable opening barrage of bites, where you receive the aforementioned dishes, plus so many more. It’s arguably the best and most unique part of the Rich Table experience: You’re in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden, a server just drops plate after plate of delicious small bites — it just doesn’t stop. It’s like they’re attacking you with food. Fun has never been so delicious.
Then there’s the housemade pasta, of course: ever-changing, and always inventive. Bucatini with tomato gravy and bone marrow one day. Pappardelle with clams, duck fat, and bay leaf powder the next. Uni cacio e pepe tonnarelli forever.
The ribeye is also always on the menu, too, and they’re always changing up the set. They source 21-day dry-aged beef from Olivier’s in The Dogpatch, grill it to order over charcoal, and then top it with an array of complementary items. My most recent visit saw fresh, bright green herbs, a drizzle of tartar sauce, and a couple of crispy little crab latkes. Crab. Latkes. Who does that?
The team at Rich Table, that’s who. Which brings us to the second main reason why I dig Rich Table so much: Evan and Sarah Rich, the Riches behind the restaurant. The two met cooking in New York, fell in love, moved to San Francisco, cooked some more — Evan at Quince, Sarah at Michael Mina, then together at Coi, before they eventually opened up this, their dream restaurant on the corner of Gough and Oak. They had a couple kids in between, too. It’s all very romantic, and you can feel that throughout the restaurant.
And it’s not just Evan and Sarah, but it’s the talented people they choose to bring on, too. There’s Jonny Gilbert, who they met in New York at Bouley and brought over to be the restaurant’s GM-partner. He’s the epitome of hospitality — a front-of-house master whose warmth and generosity radiate throughout the place.
It’s all very romantic, and you can feel that throughout the restaurant.
Evan once told me that Rich Table is always a stepping stone, a place for people to come work hard, learn, grow, and eventually go off and do their own thing. There’s Gizela Ho, the current chef de cuisine quietly powering Rich Table. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do after her time at the restaurant. Before her was Brandon Rice, who of course went on to open Ernest, one of the other best restaurants in San Francisco.
Behind the bar you’ll find Kevin Born, the restaurant’s wine director, a certified somm who will pour you something delicious, and educate you while he’s at it.
Now in its 11th year, Rich Table is slowly building its legacy and family tree, and I can’t wait to see how it’ll evolve into the next 11 years, however it chooses to do so. One thing is for sure, though: I will always have those doughnuts and sardine chips to come back to.