MICHELIN Guide Inspectors spend all year on the road uncovering the best restaurants to recommend—and their discoveries are too good to keep secret. Whet your appetite with a sneak peek of the 2023 MICHELIN Guide California selection featuring nineteen new additions spread across South Bay to Oakland in the Golden State.
Known for its incredibly fresh produce and some of the country’s finest wines, California is much more than just Hollywood and surfing. That’s why this month, our Inspectors took it upon themselves to explore the gastronomic landscape in California. From emoji-inspired egg bites to mouthwatering Shanghai dumplings, here are restaurants spread all across California that have found gold.
Soak up the bucolic splendor of Napa’s northern reaches in the Four Seasons resort, the ideal setting for this au courant embodiment of classic Wine Country fine dining. Chef Rogelio Garcia displays a distinctly Californian perspective, using precise technique in order to highlight exceptional ingredients. Whether it’s a lively crudo of dry-aged kampachi with golden kiwi aguachile, or an earthy, ultra-silky sunchoke velouté with jamon de Bellota and Périgord truffle, each dish is finely tuned and harmonious.
Chef Mike Lanham impresses with beautifully presented dishes that display both creativity and a keen sense of texture, drawing upon a modernist toolkit without going overboard with foams and gels. The frequently changing tasting showcases a wealth of seasonal produce alongside a playful sensibility, as in an emoji-inspired egg bite, or a sophisticated trio of fennel preparations, a winking response to a previous complaint that the ingredient was over-used.
Chef Peter Hemsley takes full advantage of California’s coastal bounty, sourcing exceptional seafood from small sustainable purveyors and utilizing techniques like dry aging and fermentation to maximum effect. The kitchen’s creativity is displayed in dishes like thinly shaved Monterey abalone with swordfish “bacon” and citrusy dashi broth, as well as a warm bread course paired with a curry-scented hollandaise loaded with sweet Dungeness crab.
Chef Srijith Gopinathan’s return to San Francisco’s dining scene is a love letter to the cuisine of his home state of Kerala, on the southwestern coast of India. The sizable menu is geared towards sharing, though the modest portions encourage enthusiastic ordering, from a “palette” of assorted brightly flavored chutneys with pappadom, to a seriously aromatic fried chicken dish inspired by a favorite street food.
HK Lounge Bistro
Families and business types alike find pleasure in artfully pleated Shanghai dumplings filled with rich broth and fresh crab meat, or baked pork buns with a crackling topping; sweet bites like fried sesame balls, egg tarts and mango pudding are also much admired. At dinner, the menu is fleshed out with more substantial, large-format dishes, including crisp-skinned roast duck and fragrant steamed seabass.
Rosemary & Pine
Thoughtful cooking features top-notch ingredients, blending Chef Dustin Falcon’s fine dining training with Italian-American favorites from his childhood in New Jersey. Fried burrata with fra diavolo sauce and pistachio pesto is a lofty take on mozzarella sticks, and house-made pastas like paccheri alla vodka and pillowy honeynut squash agnolotti attest to the kitchen’s skill.
This singular endeavor aims to translate the historical cuisine of Korea’s Joseon dynasty into a modern context. The journey begins with Sanga Yorok, a collection of royal court recipes that dates back more than 500 years, a timeframe that will progress chronologically as seasons pass. Chef Choi interprets the ancient text into a contemporary tasting menu, spanning dishes like fermented fish with orange, tomato and fennel.
Sip on delightfully unique cocktails with the likes of black truffle amaro or sesame orgeat, and enjoy a parade of bites highlighting seafood of impeccable quality, much of it painstakingly dry-aged in house. Traditional nigiri and sashimi are served alongside cooked dishes, as in cherrywood-smoked unagi brightened with the prickle of sansho pepper, or binchotan-grilled spot prawn with ramp butter.
Noodle in a Haystack
This humble counter, located in a nondescript corner building in the Inner Richmond, is one of the city’s hardest-to-snag reservations, with a singular ramen-centered tasting menu that is hotly in-demand. The particular bowl on offer at any given time is subject to the season and the creative impulses of the kitchen, unbound by strict tradition.
The name translates to fragrant chili, and aroma is part and parcel of the cooking, from complex hand-pounded curry pastes, to a bright, herbaceous salad of crunchy lotus stem. Even a signature dessert of coconut ice cream topped with candied palm seeds and pandan-flavored rice crisps is finished with a plume of fragrant smoke from a traditional Thai incense candle.
Fire provides the central motif for this boisterous community staple, from the venue itself (a former fire station) to the name (Spanish for fire woman), all the way to a crackling wood-fired oven that not only animates the kitchen, but also provides ash used to nixtamalize corn for house-made masa. All of this seems perfectly fitting for Chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros, whose passion has helped to shape Oakland’s current Mexican restaurant scene, combining a locavore pedigree and fine dining chops with a respect for the generational knowledge of heritage cooking.
Lion Dance Cafe
Billing itself as “authentic, not traditional,” the plant-based cooking deploys bold flavors rooted in Chef Chia’s Teochow Chinese-Singaporean heritage in a small menu of unique dishes boasting seasonal ingredients. One of the marquee dishes is the laksa, featuring slippery rice noodles in a riotously aromatic, complex coconut broth with rotating garnishes that might include smoky sambal made from urfa peppers and a chili crunch made with nutty pepitas; the crusty sesame-studded sourdough shaobing is also a signature.
Alongside an assortment of ceviches and empanadas, the menu proudly announces its Colombian bona fides with dishes like patacones (smashed fried plantains) and arepas, but isn’t shy about departing from tradition. The cooking embraces the country’s multicultural influences, including African and Lebanese, spotted in items like a labneh dipping sauce served with cheese-filled yuca buñuelos, or a leche de tigre with tahini.
Proprietor Aomboon Deasy is also a farmer, best known as the owner of K&J Orchards. She tapped Chef Alan Hsu to lead the kitchen, and his menu is unsurprisingly ingredient-driven, proudly proclaiming the myriad local farms that supply it (in addition to Deasy’s own). Whether it’s oysters with Niitaka pear and cider mignonette, or pasta filled with a puree of “ugly mushrooms” and sauced with a celery root miso butter, simplicity is a virtue when ingredients are this good.
Although it would be easy to dismiss this perpetually buzzy spot as just another cooler-than-thou hipster haunt for natural wine, here you’ll find some of Oakland’s most exciting and well-crafted cooking. Chef Andres Giraldo Florez has worked in some of the world’s loftiest kitchens, and although the vibe here is unfussy, his fine dining chops are evident in every precise, flavorful dish.
This is the kind of place where you’ll want to grab a beer immediately upon entering before tucking into the likes of chili made with house-ground brisket, smoked short rib and house-made sausage. Braised in smoked pork stock with roasted poblano, smoked tomato and garlic, it’s packed with smoky, spicy flavors and best sided with a slice of corn bread. But wait, there’s more, specifically the Texas Trinity. It’s an impressive heap of brisket, ribs and links, plus two sides.
Kajiken has landed on the West Coast from Japan with the promise of shaking up your noodle routine with abura soba. This noodle dish is similar to ramen but eschews the broth, instead punching up the flavor courtesy of a special blend of oils and sauces. The springy noodles are made in house (score a seat facing the windowed noodle-making area) and are satisfying enough to eat plain, but with nine varieties, why?
Dynamic chef/co-owner Aida Taye offers a lighter, unique approach to Ethiopian cuisine, as in a kifto that substitutes lean tuna for beef. Kick off the meal with kategna, an injera toasted to a crisp, doused with chili powder and served with a sour-cream/yogurt dip. A vegetable platter includes gomen, or chopped collard greens; atakilt, a tender stew of cabbage, potatoes and carrots; fossolia, or green beans stewed with carrots, turmeric, tomato and onions; and azifa selat’a, refreshing green lentils tossed in lemon juice and hot mustard vinaigrette.
Authentically prepared dishes highlight the flavors of Portugal and feature imported ingredients. The rustic, home-style cooking includes favorites such as broa, a traditional cornbread, and lupini beans, codfish croquettes and a tender octopus salad that is a meal unto itself. Braised pig ears tossed with citrus and herb dressing are a pleasure to dig into, as are the meaty, golden-brown grilled sardines.