The Not So Pretentious Local Ingredient Champion

Bay Area foodie reviews Tinderbox


Since I started spending time in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco several years ago, the area has changed considerably.

The vibe remains the same: community-oriented, progressive, and dog-friendly. But the restaurants change frequently, and now the new kid on the block is Tinderbox.

Billing itself as “freestyle American” cuisine, it sounds like the kind of place that I’d shy away from for fear of pretension, but don’t be fooled by it’s self-styled description. The place is a champion of seasonal, local ingredients – a growing trend in the Bay Area that I couldn’t be happier about.

My friends, Dominic, David, Judy and I stopped by after a quick glass of wine next door at Vino Rosso. Tinderbox brings you complimentary Thai-flavored popcorn once you’re seated, and between mouth fulls we ordered appetizers.

We started with the rabbit hot pocket. I love the name, and the rabbit wasn’t nearly as gamey as the last time I had rabbit. (Which was about fifteen years ago, so perhaps I’ve exaggerated the memory in my mind.) The crust was flaky and buttery, and the filling was warm and comforting.

We also sampled their t-box tasting, which included berbere-spiced lamb and minted couscous, figs and beets, and crude kampachi. The kampachi was fantastic.

For my entree, I had the olive-oil steeped black cod with corn, caviar, stuffed zucchini blossom, black olive oil and saw leaf. I don’t usually order fish, but I was drawn by the mention of caviar.

I was disappointed when my dish arrived and the caviar was minimal. The serving size overall was pretty small, and I found myself eyeing Dom’s candied tri-tip with marrow butter instead.

For dessert, we shared the dark chocolate cake with molten blue cheese center, which surprisingly worked really well and had the perfect amount of saltiness to counter the chocolate’s richness.

I’m happy to see creative restaurants like Tinderbox popping up around Bernal Heights. And since their menu changes so often, I’ll be drawn to go back again.

MARIAM HOSSEINI is a Bay Area native who has been writing about food and travel for six years. She blogs regularly at

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