The Bay Area’s love of brunch knows no bounds. We embrace the ritualistic daytime dive into eggy delights, finding ever new ways to pair cocktails with foods in often epic proportions. With the season of extended eating and the end of a decade upon us, the time is right to look anew at America’s favorite meal. It’s inspiration for the brink of the Twenties (will they roar?), the start of something new, a new favorite, discovered. We looked around the Bay Area for the best brunch ideas, and found global flavors in all corners of the region, with chefs taking dinner’s clever tricks and unique spices to spin brunch into a new American meal, one with the world’s breadth and depth of flavor baked right in.
If you have already eaten all the burrata at Beretta SF (next time, get the meatballs) and are searching for some fresh brunch ideas, this list is for you.
Chef Manish Tyagi hails from India’s northernmost reaches and creates dishes at this modern San Francisco Indian spot that utilize the region’s agricultural bounty. The Tandoor chicken and waffle is one example, with the eye-popping waffle bright green from its infusion of spinach and cilantro, a duo creating a heady aroma yet surprisingly subtle flavor. More baked than fried in a tandoor (the oven ubiquitous to the region) the chicken perched on top crackles at first bite, its juicy flesh a tender complement to the waffle’s bright character.
Japanese breakfast, as executed by Executive Chef Kristoffer Toliao, is an international star at San Francisco’s Cassava. From a panoply of tiny bowls emerge a welter of treats that would be right at home anywhere on the Pacific Rim. Lift the lid to a steaming bowl of miso soup before tucking in to basil and garlic marinated salmon, bean sprout kimchee, simmered yamaimo (Japan’s mountain yam), and a soft, shell-poached egg, with its golden yolk beaming out from its dashi bath. Add the natto topper for a hit of umami from the long-fermented, somewhat stringy soy beans. It is a gut-enhancing taste experience you will never forget.
Chef-owner Dominica Rice-Cisneros at Oakland’s freshest Mexican place embraces the idea of perfecting Chicana Heritage cooking. At brunch, that means a dish of Chilaquiles (roja or verde), topped with soft scrambled eggs, avocado, cotija cheese, and crema (she recommends it paired with a mezcal and grapefruit Paloma cocktail). The green chile in the aptly named Pozole Verde is pureed to thicken the soup and give it an intense green hue, the chicken shredded to better infuse each fleshy strand with flavor, the hominy a textural contrast, somehow standing alone amidst the crowd. Pair it with a Michelada for the essence of Mexican brunch.
Larkspur’s liveliest bar is buzzy with people stopping day or night by just to ogle the crowd. The seasonally-changing avocado hummus sets hearts afire at every meal but the shakshouka, a dish of North African origin baked in the wood-fired oven, emerges cherry red, the Riverdog Farm tomatoes and Full Belly Farm peppers melted to release their purest selves, the shirred eggs bright yellow and perfectly coddled amidst the goodness of abundant greenery. Paired with a deeply red After Ferry sparkling cocktail (from the muddled strawberries), this brunch idea is the definition of California Cuisine–globally inspired, locally sourced, insanely flavorful.
Transitioning from pop-up to a brick-and-mortar Oakland restaurant meant a steady opportunity to share in the Filipino delights from chef Janice Dulce at FOB Kitchen. Shanghai Lumpia is deceptively simple, the exterior disguising thrice-cooked pork layered with the crunch of carrot and water chestnut. Swipe one through the accompanying sweet chili sauce to experience the chef’s way of updating Filipino flavors. Or give the Tocino a try. The sweet cured pork shoulder arrives with garlic rice, mixed greens and a pair of sunny eggs, the ultimate cure for whatever ails ya.
Chef Michael Mina paired up with Hawaiian chefs Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka to bring Pacific Rim flavors to San Francisco’s Salesforce Building Number Three. Ride up the escalator, pass the d.j. spinning discs to enter a landscaped wonderland reminiscent of a fairy tale creation (or of Dreamforce). The brunch idea here is an escape to Hawaii with unagi and butterfish arancini getting equal billing with loco moco. But the umami thunder roars loudest on the SPAM musubi, the islands’ favorite canned meat swaddled with Japanese sausage between crisp mochi and topped with a sunnyside up egg. It is not to be missed.
Chef Ola Fendert seamlessly builds Italian flavors for San Francisco’s Union Square crowd. Located inside The Marker Hotel, the cuisine is familiar–omelets, breakfast sandwiches–but the cannelloni stands alone. More typically served at dinner, its presence in the morning hours feels fresh. In chef Fendert’s hands, the wide tube of pasta is updated for brunch, stuffed with sausage, spinach, and ricotta, before its bath in a brilliant tomato sauce. The final touch is an egg perched on top, the requisite finishing touch, a signal that brunch is now served.
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.