Top Female Chefs in the San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco and the Bay Area are communities proud of their diversity and welcoming spirit. They're also proud to be known as a culinary mecca. Nowhere is this double dynamic as evident as in the region's strong legacy of female chefs and women-owned restaurants. From Alice Waters, who helped found the local and organic food movement back in 1971 when she opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, to Joyce Goldstein fusing Mediterranean flavors with California's bounty for the first time in 1984 at San Francisco's Square One, women have been on the front lines of the Bay Area food scene for decades.
Check out our top 10 list of female chefs currently driving the Bay Area culinary scene to new heights.
Few culinary superstars have risen as fast as San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn. After bringing her five-course tasting menu and intimate small dining room experience to the Marina District with Atelier Crenn in 2011, she opened up Petit Crenn in Hayes Valley in 2015. The first female chef in the U.S. to earn two Michelin stars and author of the cookbook, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, French-born Crenn is famous for her attention to detail on both the dinner and brunch menus, the latter featuring stand-out items like the Brittany Coast style buckwheat crepes filled with lobster mushrooms, aged goat cheese and eggs.
After running the kitchen at San Francisco culinary institutions such as Zuni and Bar Agricole, as well as Camino in Oakland and Bantam in Santa Cruz, veteran chef Melissa Reitz now runs the show at Locanda on Valencia Street (sister restaurant of Delfina). Her three-star menu here focuses on modern Italian Osteria-style classics such as veal saltimbocca with prosciutto, cheese and sage, all melted gloriously together on top. Locanda also does an extremely popular brunch menu, which features items like French toast with strawberries and pistachio butter.
Born and raised in Bangkok, Pim Techamuanvivit has single-handedly upped the game on Thai food in San Francisco at critically acclaimed Kin Khao (which means “let’s eat”). Items like Khao Mun Gai (chicken fat rice, ginger-poached chicken and Pim’s own secret sauce) created from produce and meats sourced from local farms, have helped to win Kin Khao a Michelin star. The coconut and black rice pudding dessert is also a crowd pleaser.
Traci de Jardin
When Jardiniere first opened its doors back in 1997, it helped transform Hayes Valley from a neglected neighborhood to the trendsetting city center oasis that it is today. Besides masterminding the French-influenced menu at Jardiniere (think duck confit with peaches and chrysanthemum), Traci de Jardin is also the chef/owner of both Mijita in the Ferry Building and The Commissary in the Presidio, as well as a partner in the Public House, where she creates sustainable pub food.
Michelin-star winning chef/owner of both Frances in the Castro and Octavia in Pacific Heights, Melissa Perello is a star of San Francisco’s competitive fine dining scene. Her seasonally changing menus are creative and expressly influenced by the Pacific Rim, with items like tagliatelle with sea urchin butter, jolly tomatoes, and shishito appearing on the menu. In 2016, Perello was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for “Best Chef West.”
The genius behind the Indian street food-inspired menu (including curry topped pizzas) at both Juhu Beach Club (now closed, much to our chagrin) in Oakland and Navi Kitchen in Emeryville, Preeti Misti went from working at the Google cafeteria to appearing on Top Chef to becoming one of the hottest young chefs in the Bay Area. The author of the Juhu Beach Club Cookbook, which promises Indian Spice with an Oakland Soul, Mistry’s menu items – like tamarind coconut curry with cremini mushrooms and summer eggplant – have a devoted and die-hard following.
Chef/owner of both Contramar in Mexico City and Cala in San Francisco, Gabriella Camara has the honor of running what many consider the most authentic upscale Mexican restaurant in the Bay Area. Plates like her signature dish, trout tostadas with chipotle and avocado, gets rave reviews and have helped define “modern” Mexican cuisine across the country.
Born near Shanghai in 1920 and raised in Beijing, Cecilia Chiang is a living legend in the San Francisco restaurant scene, as she is credited with bringing Mandarin style Chinese food to the Bay Area. Although her restaurant closed in 2006, her influence is still strong, and she has been the subject of several recent documentaries including one by director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club). Mandarin classics like Peking Duck and Beggar’s Chicken have now become a staple of San Francisco cuisine largely because of her.
Wassana Korkhieola and Lalita Souksamlane
With six locations of their San Francisco institution Osha Thai, as well as Lao Table in SoMa (which specializes in Laotian fare), sisters and co-owners Lalita Souksamlane and Wassana Korkhieola have been pleasing taste buds across the city for decades. From Dungeness Crab Rangoon to beef wasabi rolls, the menu at Osha is as open-ended as San Francisco itself, though it is grounded in Southeast Asian specialties.