In a food-frenzied city like San Francisco, it’s remarkable that the gay-centric Castro neighborhood has been something of a culinary wasteland. But the Stro’s reputation as a vortex of grinding and black hole of dining has begun to evolve over the past couple years. Alternatives to Jell-O shots, pizza slices, burritos, steam table dumplings, and penis-shaped Hot Cookies have been arriving at a nice clip.
Worthy newcomers include tapas emporium Canela, dependable Starbelly with its lovely tented porch, and the nationally acclaimed Frances. The latest addition to that list is Jake’s on Market, a versatile new watering hole in the space that housed longtime favorite 2223. Jake’s owners Tim Travelstead and Brad Becker (the restaurant is named for the couple’s son) have collaborated on a menu that ranges widely in both its dishes and its price points, with a clear intent to build a clientele of neighborhood regulars as well as diners from further afield.
Chef Erik Hopfinger—a season four Top Chef alum—has cooked at Butterfly and Circa, but it feels like he’s hitting his sweet spot with the slightly upscaled comfort food he’s presenting at Jake’s (Dude’s straight, but I wouldnt be surprised if they form a fan club headquarters a few blocks away at the 440). His smarts show up in an appetizer that our server deemed “The Tupac and Biggie of Crabcakes,” a pairing of two tablespoon sized morsels, one—on the West Coast of the plate—made from fresh Dungeness crab and accompanied by Meyer lemon aioli; and a second—on the East Coast—composed of Chesapeake blue crab with Old Bay aioli. Its a clever presentation, and there’s no doubt you can taste the difference between the Pacific crab’s sweetness and the Atlantic’s salinity.