Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bay Area Restaurant List

friend of mine just moved back to the US after about 10 years in Asia....  to my own hometown area (the Bay).  He primarily choose this location as the major tech center in the world, but I am going to try to get him to experience the equally unparalleled food scene there.

America has the worst (fast food) and best food in the world.  Unfortunately the good stuff often costs more than the nearly *free* food you can get off of the dollar menu, but don't let that disuade you from trying out these things.

Here is the results of my 10 years of experimentation:

Burma Superstar
4721 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA
(510) 652-2900

This restaurant used to be only in San Francisco (where parking and the crazy wait for a table made the trip sort of unbearable).  Now it has two newer location in the East Bay.  Definitely get the following two items,

  • Tea Leaf Salad
  • Vegetarian Samusa Soup

and if you are at the Oakland location, you can finish off dinner with a trip to Scream Sorbet, described below.


Dona Thomas
5004 Telegraph Ave
Oakland Ca

Mexican with a Californian twist.


Smitten Ice Cream
432 Octavia St.
Ste 1a
(Between Fell and Linden St.)
San Francisco 94102
415 863-1518

The booth-like building is kind of hard to find, but way worth the trip.

Smitten makes each portion of ice cream on the spot by pouring a stream of liquid nitrogen into the ingredients and mixing.  Also, the ingredients are top notch.


Modern Coffee
411 13th Street
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 835-8000

The Bay are is filled with great coffee roasters (Site glass, Barefoot, Four Barrel), and Modern Coffee is where you go to try the best of the best.  The owners (Rob and Kristen) are really knowledgable about their coffee, and encourage experimentation and testing.

Show up on Friday at 12:30 for tastings (you can head over to the Oakland Farmers Market afterward).


2424 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: (415) 345-0072

There are a few good Afghani Restaurants in the Bay Area, and this is one of them.  What is notable about Helmand is that it is owned by the brother of Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan.

The restaurant moved a few years back (the place was crushed by a mud slide!?!?), and I haven't been to their new location, but I expect the food is the same.


2948 College Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705

Owned by former Chez Panisse Chefs, and as picky about ingredients.  You will have to wait about 1/2 an hour in a line before you are served, so be greedy and get samples of multiple flavors when you do finally get in.

You can pair this outing with a trip to Holy Land, described below.

The quality has slipped a bit since opening, but it is still good enough to warent a visit.

There is also free regular or sparkling water!


Golden Lotus
1301 Franklin Street,
Oakland, CA 94612

This is one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in the Bay Area, although only if you order correctly.  Go with a group and order from the following items:

  • Sautéed Garlic Beef
  • Spicy Chicken
  • Tamarind Beef
  • Carmelized Chicken
  • Spicy Shrimp
  • Sautéed Jalapeno Tofu
  • Vietnamese Crêpe
  • Beef Steak
  • Gourmet Spicy Curry Chicken

If you stray from this list, you will be disappointed.

Modern Coffee is right across the street, so finish off with an espresso.


1410 Solano Ave
(between San Carlos Ave & Santa Fe Ave)
Albany, CA 94706
(510) 526-3222

Good Nepali food, worth a visit.


6121 Hollis Street
Emeryville, California 94608
(510) 547-4725

Good Italian, worth a visit.  The olive oil for dipping is the best I've ever had.


Cafe Gratitude
1730 Shattuck Ave (@ Virginia)
Berkeley, CA 94709
Phone: 510.725.4418

If you are looking for the California experience, you have to go to Cafe Gratitude.  In particular, I really like the Berkeley location.

Waitresses will shower you with words of love and feed you raw vegan food.

According to the Internet, Cafe Gratitude seems to be having some legal problems, and some of the locations have closed.  Go there while you can.


Gracias Madre
2211 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: 415.683.1346

This restaurant is owned by the same people who own Cafe Gratitude.  The food is also good, and also vegan, but the experience is very different.


Sol Food Restaurant
903 Lincoln  San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 451-4765

Sol is way up north in San Rafael, so make a day trip of it and check out the area.

Everything is great here.  You will probably have to wait for a seat.


Bissap Baobab
3372 19th St
(between Capp St & Mission St)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-9287

West African food, sometimes with live music.


381 S Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 551-7181

This place is a remnant of the cold war, featuring East German culture and food (I don't actually think there is such a thing as *East* German food, it seems the same as German food to me, but the relics on the wall are all East German).

The food is reasonable, but you definitely go for the experience.


5427 College Avenue  Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 654-7159

This place has the best chocolates in the world, all of them, on a wall.  It also has some really rich chocolate drinks.  Of all the things they offer though, my favorite is the homemade chocolate bars....  They don't just melt and shape someone else's chocolate, the owners have jury-rigged a conche machine, and threw in a bunch of beans that they have found worldwide.  I liked it more than anything on their wall.


Souley Vegan
301 Broadway  Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 922-1615

The name says it all, soul food that is vegan.

Go with a couple of friends, and pay the (approx) $20 for the everything-plate.  Don't miss the homemade drinks.

Check out Jack London Square after dinner.


Vik's Chaathouse
2390 4th St
(between Bancroft Way & Channing Way)
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 644-4432

This is a great place for a casual lunch (I don't even think that they are open for dinner).  They serve Indian fast food, all made to order.  The old location was just a warehouse, but they have moved on to a slightly better place down the road.

This isn't an easy place to find, but it is worth it.

The menu tends to be vegetarian during the weekdays, but offers meat on the weekend.


Yank Sing
101 Spear St # A1
San Francisco, CA 94105
(Only opened for lunch)

Expensive but fresh and tasty dim sum is Yank Sing's only offering.  If cheap Oakland Chinatown food is your thing, this may not be for you, but I really love the place.


Scream Sorbet
5030 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 394-5030

This isn't what you think it is.  It is rich and creamy, like ice cream, and more full of flavor than any ice cream you have ever had.  The always-available nut-based flavors are the creamiest.


1853 Solano Ave.
Berkeley CA 94707.
(510) 525-5950

Chicago style pizza.


Nazca Peruvian Cuisine
167 W. San Fernando St.
San Jose, CA 95113
(Looks like they just Closed)

Really good Peruvian food.

San Jose suffers the curse of the awesome Peruvian restaurant that closes down.  We used to be regulars at another great Peruvian place, The Inca Gardens, after that closed we found the Nazca.  There seems to be a third Peruvian restaurant in San Jose (use Google to find it), but we haven't been to it, so go there and let us know how it is.


510 Embarcadero West
Jack London Square
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 510.238.9200

This place serves jazz music and Japanese food.  The old location is in Jack London Square, a new location has opened in San Francisco.


1686 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 981-1213

This place has decent vegan Japanese food.


2200 Oxford Street
Berkeley, CA 94704

This place is the new face of Californian cooking.  Gather only opened up a few years back, and is a place that I am sure Michael Pollen is proud of (in fact he must go there, given that it is at the corner of Berkeley University).

Get the vegan charcuterie.


Holy Land
2965 College Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 665-1672

This place has some of the best Israeli food I have ever had.

Head over to the Ici after you are done with your dinner.


Pasta Pomodoro
Everywhere (Here is the store locator

This is one of the only chain restaurants I've added to my list, and one that not everyone I know even likes.  But if you order correctly, the food is amongst the best.

The trick is to go with a group of friends and order from the sides menu, and absolutely make sure to order the brussel sprouts.  Go light on the pasta (a couple of orders of ravioli should suffice), get all the farro and vegetable based sides they offer.  The meal will be cooked right there, and it will be great.


Off the Grid
Fort Mason Center

This is a gathering of food trucks offering gourmet items from a variety of local chefs.

This is a new phenomenon in the Bay Area, and you should definitely experience at least one Off The Grid event.  I liked the Fort Mason gathering, but they were really spreading last year so you can probably find them anywhere.


Ole's Waffle Shop
1507 Park St
(between Santa Clara Ave & Times Way)
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 522-8108
(No web site!  Strange....  Here is the Yelp page

This place offers slightly upscale diner food.  If you go on a weekend morning, you can get pretty good waffles, although you will have to wait for a booth.


Habanas Cuban Cuisine
1518 Park St
(between Santa Clara Ave & Times Way)
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 521-0130

Great Cuban food in Alameda.


Regional Specialties- Ethiopian, Thai, Indian

In general, any Ethiopian, Thai or Indian restaurant will be pretty good in the Bay Area....  Bad ones won't last long.

Thai is good in Berkeley, Ethiopian is great in Oakland near Telegraph, Indian is good in Berkeley or San Jose.


Le Moose Crepe Cafe
5014 Mowry Ave
(between Blacow Rd & Farwell Dr)
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 745-7288

Crepes and Thai food!  There are also lots of wacky items on the wall.


Bangkok Thai
1459 University Ave
Berkeley, CA

Pretty good Thai in Berkeley.  Make sure to order the Miang Kam.


Udupi Palace
976 E El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(There are 3 locations in the Bay Area, unfortunately the Berkeley location always seemed worse than the others)

Udupi serves South Indian food, which, if you have never had it, is very different than northern.

Like most South Indian food, Udupi is completely vegetarian.


Chez Panisse, Manresa, and The French Laundry are three famous restaurants in the area, although honestly, we didn't go that often (never to the French Laundry).

You should probably visit these places to say you did it, but be aware, they can be very expensive.

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 548-5525

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane
 Los Gatos, CA 95030
(408) 354-4330

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380


Ferry Building Farmer's Market
Tuesday: 10am–2pm
Thursday: 10 am - 2pm
Saturday: 8am-2pm
(415) 291-3276

It is hard to get into San Francisco and find parking for the farmers market.  I still do it occasionally, because it is the most impressive of the farmer's markets.  It is also held in the Ferry Building, where many fancy specialty California food stores can be found.

Once you have been to the San Francisco farmers market, find one local to where you live and go to that regularly instead.


Berkeley Bowl
2020 Oregon Street
(510) 843-6929
920 Heinz Avenue
(510) 898-9555

By far the best supermarket....  In the world.  Places like Safeway don't even deserve to be considered in the same category as The Berkeley Bowl.


Emeryville Public Market
5857 Christie Avenue  Emeryville, CA 94608
(510) 652-9300

A fun food court with cuisines from around the world.  The building used to be anchored by a Border's, however, so I don't know how depressing it would be to visit the place now.


Brentwood, artichoke festival, garlic festival
(There are more festivals, but these are my favorite)

When you drive around America, you pretty much see a lot of.... corn.  This isn't true in California, where you see everything.

Take advantage of this by visiting some of the local food festivals, or go to the u-pick fields in Brentwood.  My favorite are the cherries.


Here are a couple of food blogs that I read:

Foodhoe's Foraging


you can find more here.