San Francisco chef shares his favorites in California and Mexico

I decided to take a break from my usual habit of listing favorite places around the world to interview Gabriel Amaya, a good friend of mine who is the chef-owner of Olea, a restaurant in San Francisco that serves fresh, locally sourced organic food cooked Mediterranean-style. I met Gabo several years ago after stumbling upon his amazing photos on Flickr (yes, in addition to being a busy chef, he’s an awesome photographer).

Q: Where are you from and why do cook so well?

A: I was born in a small town in Nayarit, Mexico, in a farmer family, so, we always used fresh ingredients in our cooking. My mom loves to cook and she used to cook for all of us all the time, simple food, always good. I moved to Guadalajara (a bigger city) for high school and discovered the world of food. By that time I was attending hotel management school and had to go and cook in some restaurants in high-end hotels, as an intern. Later on I attended food and beverages school, and then had the opportunity to open my first restaurant: Veneto Cafe,  traditional Italian food, with home-made bread and desserts. Life brought me to SF and I began cooking at a French bistro, Le Zinc for about one year, but always wanted to own my restaurant. So I quit Le Zinc and went to work at Sur La Table for about two years. Then I moved to Boulette’s Larder (in the Ferry Building. Finally, I opened Olea at the base of Nob Hill in San Francisco.

Q: What inspired you to open Olea?

A: Well, my love for cooking and the availability of all these beautiful ingredients in California, plus the opportunity to support local agriculture and organic farms, and the pleasure that I get from cooking for somebody else  🙂

Q: So what are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco?

A: Slanted Door, Poc Chuc, Kim Thanh, Piccino, The Front Porch and Ritual Coffee.

Q: What about cities? We’re want to know what places you recommend, especially in Mexico.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, I like El Italiano La Tequila, and Los Equipales. In Oaxaca City, I would go to La Casa de la Abuela; in Las Vegas it’s Bouchon for breakfast and in Kona, Hawaii, I like Kenichi Pacific.

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Olea on Urbanspoon

About Esme Vos

Esme Vos is the founder of Mapplr, a travel site featuring boutique hotels, luxury resorts, travel guides and restaurant reviews. You can find her on and Twitter.