Many restaurants have closed since March 2020, when the Bay Area went into lockdown, and many more will shutter during these pandemic times. In order to lend a helping hand, we’ve been getting more takeout than we ever did before 2020. Perhaps some of you out there had the same idea. We had also planned to use our platform to help small restaurants in the Bay Area in 2020, but the lockdown made that rather difficult. Well, starting in September 2021, we put our 2020 plan into action by offering free promotion on our site’s prime real estate.
Every two weeks or so we add a couple of places of interest to this page and in the banner window above. Feel free to send us your nominations. If you are the owner of a restaurant and wish to nominate your own business, that’s fine. And if you are hiring, we’ll help you get the word out (click on the Deals tab below). Use our Contact form and rest assured we read every email and check the junk folder diligently. Pizza joints are a low priority because we heard they’ve been doing great since 2020. National and international chains probably don't need our help.
Women do more cooking at home than men. Yet the professional kitchen is still very much male-dominated. So we’d like to highlight places where the executive or head chef (or baker) is a woman. Look for the ♀ symbol.
Restaurants are like the radio stations of the hospitality industry. Before the corporate takeover of the radio market, most listeners had strong feelings toward certain local stations. In a similar fashion, most diners are devoted to their favorite restaurants. If we removed all the restaurant reviews on social media, what are we left with? Reviews of contractors and products. Not everyone feels the need to talk about music and film. But we all have an opinion about restaurants.
Every crisis has a silver lining. Just as the pandemic has changed the way people work and the way students learn, it has also forced the restaurant industry to adapt. Places that didn’t offer takeout before had to rethink that policy. More restaurants started working with food-delivery services. And after 2020, most businesses have the takeout packaging down to a science—from cardboard-lined bag to double bagging and extra care when dealing with leak-prone items. We even saw a restaurant keeping takeout food in a warming cabinet. Al fresco dining became a means to survival; parklets became more commonplace. As the number of takeout orders surges, some restaurants need to be mindful of an old problem. Click on the Detour tab below for details (and join our #MochiDonutsForICU campaign).
The pandemic has also given rise to ghost kitchens—some are legitimate business model and others are secretive operations associated with unscrupulous food-delivery services.
We’ve always said you can easily eat your way around the world in the Bay Area. So let’s begin.
A Timely Dish
As current events unfolded, we started to think about a dish that was popular here and in Europe through the 1980s. Of course, we’re referring to chicken Kiev. Whether you decide to make this dish yourself (old and new Sunset recipe), be sure to use the preferred romanization and pronunciation. Just as Bombay became Mumbai and Ayers Rock is now Uluru, Kiev really should be Kyiv. Journalists and others are finally coming around. U.K. consumers called on food companies to rename their products. Kudos to Refuge for its Kyiv chicken liver.
Ever since we saw this Georgian restaurant on local TV, we wanted to check it out. After 2014, Ukraine and Georgia sadly have another thing in common. And with everything that’s happened in 2022, you can show your solidarity by visiting Ukrainian and Georgian restaurants in your area.
The boat-shaped cheese bread (Adjaruli khachapuri) is probably what Georgian cuisine is known for outside of the Caucasus. After all, it is the one Georgian dish featured in an episode of Cook’s Country in 2020. It’s also part of Bevri’s logo. This bread is kind of like a cross between pizza and focaccia. The combination of egg yolk, butter, and cheese may sound heavy, but it is actually quite light. Imeruli khachapuri is another popular cheese bread. It looks like a giant pita bread with shredded cheese inside. That cheese layer is reminiscent of thin frico.
The soup dumplings (khinkali) are interesting because they are similar to the Chinese version (Shanghai dumplings aka xiaolongbao or XLB). They are bigger and meatier than your average XLB. Note that you don’t eat the thick, doughy top of the dumpling, and you’re supposed to use your hand and not utensils.
If you see trout on the menu, splurge a little and go for it. Most home cooks’ repertoire does not include trout, especially since it’s not as widely available as salmon and tilapia. Bevri doesn’t do too much to the grilled trout, allowing the fish to shine. Anyone who likes Georgian food should also check out Tamari in San Carlos.
Nearby options: Oren’s Hummus, Evvia Estiatorio, Taverna, Osteria, Bird Dog, Zola, Tamarine, Steam, Tai Pan, Jing Jing, Thaiphoon, Lemonade, Garden Fresh, Rami Nagi, Peninsula Fountain & Grill, Curry Pizza House, Coupa Cafe, Crepevine, Mademoiselle Colette, Tea Time
Tamari, San Carlos | What...no video?! :-(
Since there’s only one Ukrainian restaurant in the Bay Area, the next best thing is to visit a Georgian place that’s perhaps a little closer to you. It says something about the Bay Area that we have not one but two Georgian restaurants—not bad for a country about half the size of the state of Georgia. The owner is from the Caucasus. Yes, everyone ends up in California eventually.
What’s the biggest difference between Tamari and Palo Alto’s Bevri? Let’s use a music analogy. If Bevri is a song’s radio-friendly edit, then Tamari is the extended mix. Tamari’s menu is more comprehensive. It covers pretty much everything Bevri has to offer and then some.
The chicken with garlic cream sauce (chkmeruli) is totally approachable because the garlic flavor is not overpowering and the creamy bit comes from milk and not heavy cream. The lamb stew (chakapuli) with tarragon and cherry plums may look like a green dish from a Persian or Indian kitchen but has a different flavor profile, a great choice for lamb-averse people because it tastes almost like pork shoulder. Speaking of our porky friend...most kebab places around here don’t offer pork since they usually serve Middle Eastern food. At Tamari you can have pork kebab in addition to lamb and chicken.
Instead of the more traditional trout, Tamari serves grilled branzino or European bass. If you’re an eggplant lover, try eggplant rolls (badrijani), a cold appetizer with an unusual walnut pesto. There’s also Georgian cheese plate and Georgian-style cornbread. The wine-poached pear would be a wonderful way to end your meal.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions, so it makes sense that Tamari offers about 10 Georgian reds and whites by the glass. You can also sample a Georgian dessert wine. For something non-alcoholic, try a tarragon-flavored lemonade soda, which should go well with Georgian food as tarragon is used in many recipes. You can pretend you’re drinking absinthe.
By now it should be abundantly clear the name of this restaurant has nothing to do with Japanese soy sauce. It’s a reference to the owner’s daughter and grandmother as well as Tamar the Great, the queen who ruled Georgia in the Middle Ages.
Nearby options: Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Pazzo, CreoLa, Cuisinett Bistro & Market, Saffron Indian Bistro, Delizie, Mayan, King Chuan, Emelinas Peruvian, Jood, Pylos, Number5Kitchen, Pranzi, New Canton, The Crepe Shop, My Breakfast House, Gelataio
Past Featured Restaurants
♦♦♦ San Francisco (1)
Our collective sweet tooth has never been the same since a Swiss chocolatier created milk chocolate in 1875. We’ve always thought how fortuitous that we have See’s Candies right here in California instead of those other national brands that you find at CVS and Walgreens. We’ll take a box of See’s over those boxes anytime. The Bay Area’s chocolate roots predate See’s when Ghirardelli Chocolate and Guittard Chocolate opened for business in the 19th century. And we lucked out again in the 1980s when Joseph Schmidt Confections did for chocolates what Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse did for restaurants and Peet’s Coffee did for coffee. By the late 1990s, three more local chocolate companies came on-line: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Recchiuti Confections, and XOX Truffles. Check out what we had to say about Recchiuti and other Bay Area treats earlier.
You can watch below Burt Wolf’s take on the history of chocolate. In 2016, Globe Trekker also produced “The Story of Chocolate” as part of its “Planet Food” specials. Check your local PBS station schedule for the next rerun.
Nearby options: The Slanted Door (closed for renovation), El Porteno Empanadas, Hog Island Oyster Co., Donut Farm, CheeseQuakes, Acme Bread Co., Golden Gate Meat Co., Humphry Slocombe, Dandelion Chocolate, Miette Patisserie & Confiserie
Past Featured Restaurants
♦♦♦ East Bay (13)
For years all we had around the country were Americanized Italian restaurants, Americanized Chinese restaurants, and Americanized Mexican restaurants. Well, times have changed as chefs introduced American diners to more authentic fare. There’s nothing wrong with Italian American restaurants, but if you want to move away from food that was made to appeal to “mainstream” palette a long time ago, come on down to Piedmont Avenue. Chef Michele Belotti and his wife operate a sit-down restaurant and a takeout-only bottega (shop). We prefer the latter for its location, another one of those two-lane restaurant rows. The menu showcases food from various regions of northern Italy: Piedmont (agnolotti, vitello tonnato, battuta), Lombardy (casoncelli, scarpinocc), Veneto (bigoli), and Emilia-Romagna (tortellini, tagliatelle). Pour yourself a glass of Lambrusco or Prosecco.
How fitting that a place that serves Piedmontese food is on a street named Piedmont. Yes, Herb Caen would’ve loved this twist on his namephreaks.
Nearby options: Pomella, Monkey King, Malibu’s Burgers, Mistura, The Saap Avenue, Lo Coco’s, The Wolf, La Farine Bakery, Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery, Fentons Creamery, Piedmont Grocery
From gumbo to etouffee and po’ boy, Brenda’s menu reads like the greatest hits of New Orleans cuisine. The only thing we’d request is barbecue shrimp. You’ll have to settle for shrimp and grits, a Lowcountry dish for people who think they won’t like corn porridge.
After eating Korean-style fried chicken, you might want to have some Southern-fried chicken again. Brenda’s version is perfectly fried with no troubling red spots anywhere in the meat. The batter is slightly spicy, and the meat is moist and flavorful. You can specify whether you want dark or white pieces. The biscuit that comes with the fried chicken is as light as it should be. The hot pepper jelly may be meant for the chicken, but try it on the biscuit.
The beignet flight is a great way to sample Brenda’s selection of beignets, three of which are filled with savory crawfish, chocolate, or apple. Our favorite is the plain (no filling). It’s unlike the beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans because it has no air pockets inside and therefore more bread-like. Anyway, Brenda’s beignets are more filling than your typical beignets. Besides mimosa and Hurricane, you should try coup de cafe, a wonderful combination of espresso, chocolate, and Underberg bitters (an herbal digestive from Germany).
The menu at the Oakland location is slightly different from the original San Francisco spot. Note that Brenda’s briefly partnered with 949 Ruff Food in 2021 to provide takeout in San Jose. If the owner of Brenda’s wants to give this type of venture another try, Local Kitchens might be the way to go.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Nearby options in Oakland: Teni East Kitchen, Mama’s Royal Cafe, Piedmont Avenue
Chilango refers to someone who lives in Mexico City. Los Carnalitos (“the brothers”) specializes in Chilanga cuisine or food popular in the capital and largest city of Mexico. Cheese isn’t the only moldy food people enjoy. (Check out our popular cheese guide.) We first heard about huitlacoche from an episode of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, the highly entertaining and educational series in 2007 (it’s a shame PBS no longer reruns this enlightening show). Thanks to this unassuming restaurant in Hayward and others, we can all get a taste of what the TV series calls noble rot. Huitlacoche is one of the options for quesadillas and huaraches at Los Carnalitos. If you’re not ready for the full Azteca experience, go for alternatives such as chicken or beef tinga.
You’d expect to find Mexican sandwiches (tortas) on the menu at a casual place like this, but you must try pambazo, a torta-like item with different fillings between slices of pan-fried bread. The traditional option is potatoes and chorizo. The whole thing is comforting and surprisingly light. The filling tastes like potato cake, and the bread remains soft and pillowy. We couldn’t really taste the chorizo, which begs the question—why not add a potatoes-only option for vegetarians? This may seem like a small detail, but having diced potato makes pambazo different from hash browns, Swiss rosti, and English floddies. The mouthfeel is closer to the inside of a potato samosa.
Alambre is a dish for meat lovers. The grilled beef is seared to jerky-like texture, and you also get chorizo and bacon. Portion size is quite generous; you can easily make two servings out of the higher-priced dishes. Panucho is another great value because it’s a lot of food at appetizer price. The tortilla is stuffed with refried beans like Salvadoran pupusa and topped with zesty cochinita pibil (roasted pork). Note that some of the dishes have a little more kick than the typical Mexican restaurant food.
They say when you cook with love, the food tastes better—so that’s why we love mom’s cooking. There must be a love fest in this kitchen. Even the horchata and mango agua fresca taste better. The owners—yes, they are two brothers—started with a food truck in 2015. They opened their first restaurant two years later. They opened a second restaurant, La Fonda de los Carnalitos, in Redwood City in 2021.
Noble Rot episode snippet [►]
Nearby options: Country Waffles
Considering people enjoyed some kind of chocolate drink in Mesoamerica 4,000 years ago, we think it’s only right that we have a place like Casa de Chocolates in the Elmwood area of Berkeley. The Maya referred to chocolate as the food of the gods. Using such intriguing flavors as mole, chipotle, tequila, and Inca peanut butter, Casa de Chocolates does its best to tempt us mortals with these heavenly offerings. Chocolate truffles are fairly easy to make at home. You’ll find lots of truffle recipes on the Internet. Milk Street gives brownies a twist by using tahini. You can take truffles and brownies to another level by adding a bit of chili powder. Of course, chocolate is also good for cooking. Chicken mole comes to mind.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Nearby options: La Mediterranee, Gai Barn, Donato & Co., Summer Kitchen, Organic Greens, Shen Hua, King Yen, Nabolom Bakery, Dream Fluff Donuts
De Afghanan Cuisine, Fremont | ABC Localish [►]
We figure Afghanistan will remain in the news for a while, so now is as good a time as any to talk about Afghan restaurants. If you like kebabs, lamb, pilaf, or Persian food in general, then Afghan cuisine will give you a sense of deja vu. Dari, one of Afghanistan’s languages, is basically farsi. Try kabuli palaw (lamb shank pilaf) and bolani (stuffed flatbread). De Afghanan, located in Fremont’s Little Kabul, has been around since 1993 and still maintains a small takeout-only place (limited menu and cash only) a few doors down from the main restaurant. Note that there’s a ghost site put up by some company (cybersquatting?). If you go to De Afghanan, tell them Baylindo sent you.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Nearby options: Momo & Kebab, A Sack of Potatoes (int’l chain), Pav Bhaji Hut (int’l chain), Bun Appetit, MW Chinese Gourmet, El Halal Amigos, Madhuram, LiZhou
East Ocean, Alameda | What...no video?! :-(
The word of the day is transformation. The typical restaurant trajectory goes like this: it starts out strong and over time becomes a shadow of its former self. Two examples. There’s a little place in Fremont that served very good food, but after the original chef/owner retired, it’s gone downhill (it still bears his name). And we all know what happened to the once-popular Cooking Papa. East Ocean bucks that trend by improving with age. This neighborhood place opened in 1984; the current owner took over in 1995. We managed to unearth a menu from the late 1990s. The interesting thing is the menu hasn’t changed all that much, but we don’t recall local media talking about this restaurant. So clearly the owner has transformed not just the dining room space but also the kitchen.
East Ocean is now almost as good as the best Hong Kong-style Cantonese restaurants in the Bay Area in their heyday. The chef does two things really well: beef and vegetables. Try large pea sprouts, water spinach (ong choy), mustard greens, and bitter melon. Note that black pepper beef short ribs are actually Korean-style or flanken-cut ribs—not the meaty short ribs that require a longer cooking time. The service is personable and professional. Like the best general-purpose Cantonese restaurants, East Ocean’s dim sum is above average. The best bets are the steamed dumplings; the dough has the right thickness and chew. For something mildly sweet and refreshing, go for the black sesame rolls. A sushi menu is also available. More than other places, this restaurant needs to rethink its billing procedure for takeout orders. Click on the Detour tab above for details.
Located just a few blocks from the short Webster Street tunnel that connects to Oakland Chinatown, East Ocean shares a free parking lot in the back with Kelly-Moore Paints (enter from Pacific Avenue). We like to think of this part of Alameda as OC extension.
Nearby options: Kitchen of Alameda, Oakland Chinatown
Imperial Soup, Oakland | What...no video?! :-(
Here’s another unique restaurant in the Bay Area, a place that specializes in herbal soups. While we can’t vouch for their medicinal properties, what Imperial Soup offers tastes as comforting as, well, chicken soup. The English menu simply describes the 18 herbal soup options as “herbs.” Try the soup with American ginseng (#5) or the one with blaze mushroom (#7) or the one with sparerib (#9). It’s a nice change from the ubiquitous hot and sour soup. A couple soups also feature the distinctive Silkie chicken.
The desserts are on the “healthy” side as well. If they run out of double-layer steamed milk, steamed red bean milk with sago would be a good plan B. The rest are barely sweet—though where else can you find peach gum and tragacanth on the dessert menu? The main entrees are mostly steamed or braised (nothing deep-fried here). Hainan chicken rice is one of the better versions in the Bay Area. If you like food bundles, try steamed rice with pork belly in lotus leaf. Imperial Soup also serves noodles and noodle soups. There may be a $25 minimum for credit cards.
When the English menu fails to tell the whole story, we wish there’s a mobile app that allows one to point the camera at a foreign-language name or sign and get an English translation. Apple’s own Translate app doesn’t do that. If you find double-boiled herbal soup at other restaurants, it’s higher priced and usually requires a reservation. To learn more about food as medicine and food philosophy in general, check out episode #102 of Confucius Was a Foodie. KPJK is currently airing this Canadian series on Saturdays at 7 pm (starting in October 2021); KQED and KRCB will probably rerun it in the future.
Nearby options: Peony Seafood, Cafe Gabriela, Battambang, Tay Ho, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, Shooting Star Cafe, C&M Bistro, Shandong, Eden Silk Road, Golden Peacock, New Gold Medal, UC Dessert
For some reason, Ethiopian restaurants are well represented in the Bay Area. Whether or not you’ve had your fill of injera, check out other African eats such as this Liberian restaurant in downtown San Leandro. Liberia is one of 17 nations in West Africa, where most American slaves originated. Sampling West African food is like tasting the American South’s mother cuisine. Jollof rice is likely the inspiration for jambalaya and other Southern rice dishes. We don’t consume enough collard greens outside of the South; Kendejah offers sweet potato greens and cassava leaves in addition to that Southern staple. Also try torborgee or bean stew. For marketing purpose, the owner of this restaurant chose to spell Kendeja, an artists’ village outside Liberia’s capital, his way.
Liberia has another special connection to this country—if you know your U.S. history. Follow chef Marcus Samuelsson as he visits the Nigerian and West African community in Houston in episode #203 of No Passport Required. Chef Vivian Howard explores the ways greens are prepared in the South and observes someone in Georgia pounding cassava leaves and making fufu in episode #105 of Somewhere South. KQED will rerun these series in the future. In the meantime, you can watch below Michelle Kavachi make fufu (also seen in the Samuelsson series). Also check out her book on fufu.
Nearby options: Slice House, Xiang Yuen Xiao Long Bao, Maejoo Wings, Indian Grill, Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, Cafe Sorriso
When it comes to Southeast Asia, there are plenty of Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino restaurants in the Bay Area. You can count all the local Malaysian eateries on one hand. Two things set Mingala’s menu apart from other Malaysian places: the inclusion of a few Burmese dishes and more vegetarian options. Instead of ground catfish, Mingala uses split pea fritter in mohinga, Myanmar’s national dish. Surprisingly, Mingala’s version has a little more heat than Myanmar Tea Garden’s.
Malaysia’s population is 23 percent Chinese and 7 percent Indian, and Malaysian cuisine reflects this diversity. Most of the fried noodle dishes at Mingala look and taste close to what you find at Cantonese restaurants since Malaysian Chinese originated from southern China. Roti and samosa are examples of Indian influence.
Rendang is as much a Malaysian dish as it is Indonesian. Mingala uses beef shank for its beef rendang. Gado-gado is another dish adapted from Indonesia. Basil fried rice has a flavor profile you don’t taste at Chinese restaurants. Malaysian food is one of the first fusion cuisines. And you also get friendly service to go with your order. You can catch reruns of Taste of Malaysia With Martin Yan on KQED. Yan meets royalty in the 12th episode.
Nearby options: Gourmet House, Happy Lemon, Hong Kong Chef, A Plus HK Style Cafe, Chaat House
Myanmar Tea Garden, Fremont | What...no video?! :-(
This family-owned restaurant is located in a strip mall anchored by Apna Bazar. Chef U Win Aye has a resume that includes Burma Superstar and Rangoon Ruby. While those two restaurants have multiple locations, there’s only one Myanmar Tea Garden. When the trailblazing Nan Yang opened in Oakland in 1983, Burmese restaurants served mostly Chinese-style dishes. That’s no longer the case in the Bay Area. Burmese cuisine includes salads—that alone makes it very different from other Asian countries.
Mohinga is Myanmar’s national dish, a rice noodle soup that’s traditionally made with catfish. MTG and other local Burmese restaurants use ground catfish. Think of mohinga as the Burmese answer to Vietnam’s pho. Chef Aye has created unique dishes such as wasabi shrimp and tea leaf shrimp. The former is served on a bed of chopped cabbage. Mix the mildly spicy-sweet wasabi cream sauce with the cabbage and you have yourself some coleslaw.
It’s a little unexpected to find biryani on a Burmese menu (danbauk in Burmese). MTG offers four options: chicken drumsticks, lamb, shrimp, and lamb shank. Unlike the Indian version, the Burmese take is not spicy at all. Pumpkin (kabocha?) is another item that makes multiple appearances, accompanying chicken, shrimp, or tofu. These stews have a slightly sweet flavor. The prosaic description doesn’t do Myanmar fried rice justice; this dish with yellow beans will grow on you. For a sweet ending, try dessert palata (Burmese paratha) with banana and ice cream.
Rockstar Eater [►]
Nearby options: Bombay Street Food, Gonutz, New Yong Kang Seafood, Halal Wings Plus, Biryani Bowl, Line Thai, Vasy’s Donut Shop
Simply put, this baker knows scones. The cheddar garlic scone is one of the best scones we’ve ever had; it’s certainly the best savory scone we’ve ever had. The use of wheat flour probably gives it more structure than the typical American-style scones. Yet it’s as soft as biscuits if you eat it fresh. Less unusual but almost as good is the currant scone. If you’ve never had bostock before, you’ll enjoy how they make French toast in France. Seven Hills’ kouign-amann is not as good as Manresa Bread’s version. But give this bakery credit for trying something different—sea salt doesn’t go with this type of pastry. The morning bun is for anyone who loves sugar donuts. They also make a couple of pizzas and the usual suspects such as baguette and ciabatta. Some items are only available on certain days, so check the bakery site.
Aside from the scones, the other reason to visit Seven Hills is the Castro Valley Marketplace, a food hall that manages to squeeze in a mix of tenants on multiple levels at the site of a former department store. Every city in the Bay Area should be so lucky to have a place like this. Well, you can start with Alameda since Alameda Marketplace is a sister food hall. Emeryville's The Public Market has been around since the 1980s. Oakland has Rockridge Market Hall and the reborn Swan's Market. There's the larger Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. Check out Los Altos' own State Street Market and two in downtown San Jose: San Pedro Square Market and SoFA Market. While you're in Wine Country, don't forget Napa's Oxbow Public Market. Support the women-led La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in San Francisco's Tenderloin. Then there's the humble International Food Court in San Francisco's Financial District.
Nearby options: Akemi Sushi, Cannery Kitchen & Tap, Oculto, Baron’s Quality Meats & Seafood, Castro Valley Natural Grocery, Oaktown Spice Shop
Starter Bakery, Berkeley | What...no video?! :-(
Starter Bakery’s main focus is wholesale business. One customer mentioned it does a little bit of retail at the Berkeley address once a month. Thanks to an article in The Mercury News, we found a more convenient way to sample SB’s baked goods. You see, some of them are sold at Philz Coffee, which has 40 locations throughout the Bay Area. (SB’s own site does not provide the list of coffee shops that carry its products. You can also look for them at Mollie Stone’s and a few other supermarkets and some East Bay farmers markets.)
The twice-baked almond croissant is the best thing we tried; we also enjoyed the chocolate croissant and wild blueberry muffin. Like Castro Valley’s Seven Hills Baking Co., SB adds sea salt to its kouign-amann, which we feel is a bit off-putting. Manresa Bread’s version is better. SB does make a chocolate variation, which should work better with sea salt. You can order these and other items via the bakery site. Enter your ZIP code and see if they deliver to your area (it seems the coverage is limited to a portion of the East Bay).
Nearby options: Lulu, Italy on Gilman, Lama Beans, East Bay Pie Co., Happy Donuts, Philz Coffee
Veggie Lee, Hayward | What...no video?! :-(
As the name suggests, this is indeed a vegetarian restaurant near Chabot College. What distinguishes Veggie Lee from other vegetarian places is the fact that owner/chef Che Heng “Veggie” Lee used to work in non-vegetarian kitchens in the Bay Area. Salt and pepper pumpkin is not the heavy and greasy rendition you often find elsewhere. Everything under Chef’s Specials is a safe bet, including pine nuts with Chinese toon fried rice. Veggie Lee uses konjac as a substitute for shark fin in a couple of soups. As far as we know, the only other place that serves konjac is Earl Spicy in Millbrae. Note that all the dishes are allium-free (no garlic, onion, shallot, leek, or chive), which is important to some Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains. San Jose’s White Lotus was a beloved vegetarian spot until it closed in 2007; Veggie Lee has the potential to become an institution.
Nearby options: Bamboo Steamer, Hawaiian Drive Inn, Eon Coffee
Past Featured Restaurants
♦♦♦ Silicon Valley/South Bay (14)
Attention, Inspector Montalbano fans (are they called Salvos?). If you want some cannoli to snack on while watching your favorite Sicilian detective, you’ll find a very good version at Dolce Sicilia in Willow Glen. This cafe probably doesn’t use a wooden mold, but il commissario would still approve (Dr. Pasquano may be a different story). What’s even better is the pistachio and ricotta cake. Among the savory items, gorgonzola and fig coppa panino is the best of the six panini on the menu. The one uncommon pasta dish is garganelli, which is shaped like penne. While you’re here, pick up a jar of pistachio butter. Chris Kimball (Milk Street, America’s Test Kitchen) swears by this alternative to peanut butter. Located inside the former Garden Theatre that now houses a post office and the defunct Top Nosh Cafe, Dolce Sicilia’s layout is a little cramped. More than other neighborhoods in San Jose, Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue feels like a small town within a big city. Note that Dolce Sicilia closes early in the afternoon.
Nearby options: Braise, Bertucelli’s La Villa Delicatessen, Los Dubon, Aqui, 20twenty Cheese Bar, Bill’s Cafe, Willow Glen Creamery, Willow Glen Sweet Shoppe, Icicles, Mariette Chocolates
Los Dubon, Campbell + San Jose | What...no video?! :-(
Los Dubon is a small town in El Salvador, one of seven small countries in Central America. Salvadorans make up the fourth-largest Latino group in the U.S., which may explain why we have Salvadoran restaurants in the Bay Area but not other Central American places. Of course, Mexican Americans account for over 60 percent of total Latino population in this country. All other Latino groups are under 10 percent each.
The modern sandwich must be one of the best food creations in history. The pulled chicken sandwich (pan con gallina) is loaded with roasted chicken in a light mayo salsa—a must-try for sandwich lovers. Sandwiches are called panes rellenos in El Salvador or tortas in Mexico. The chicken stew with potatoes (pollo guisado con papas) is as satisfying as any good stew should be. If you’ve never had pupusa, El Salvador’s national dish, by all means give this stuffed flatbread a try. You’ll discover soon enough Salvadoran cuisine is more than just pupusas.
We won’t get into a debate of who makes the best tamales in Latin America. Let’s just say if you love Mexican-style tamales, you should have room in your heart to love Salvadoran tamales as well. The first clue that they are different is the wrapping: banana leaf instead of corn husk. The texture of the dough and fillings are also different. The chicken tamal is stuffed with chicken, potato, and string bean.
Empanadas de leche (aka empanadas de platano) are mashed plantain filled with a slightly sweet vanilla custard. The still-tangy plantain makes this croquette unusual among desserts. If you see them by the cash register, make sure to order some quesadillas salvadorena, El Salvador’s idea of a cheesecake. Made with salty cheese instead of cream cheese and baked in pleated paper liners (like cupcakes and muffins), these small quesadillas are more savory than sweet.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Rockstar Eater [►]
Nearby options in Campbell: La Burrita, Falafel ShaQ
Happiness Cafe, San Jose | What...no video?! :-(
There are two types of vegetarian restaurants: the kind that likes to mimic meat and seafood and the kind that doesn’t try to “fake you out.” Among the latter is the famed Greens in San Francisco. For non-vegetarians, the novelty of sampling mock meat dishes wears off pretty fast. Happiness Cafe, a hole-in-the-wall place near San Jose’s main post office and a Costco, has a few surprises up its sleeve. While most fast casual restaurants use iceberg lettuce in their salads, this cafe gives you frisee. The desserts are uniformly good (we doubt they’re made in-house). Try opera cake, cheesecake, guava cake, or all three. Ocean melt tastes like real tuna; crispy patty with brown rice tastes like tonkatsu. The phish balls are the star of the rice noodle soup.
Nearby options: Vons Chicken (int’l chain), Ma’s, Ono Hawaiian BBQ
Hardy’s Bavaria, Sunnyvale | What...no video?! :-(
Like San Jose’s Jubba, Hardy’s Bavaria is also near a train station. Established in the early 1990s, this German restaurant is now run by a couple of women: the owner who works the front of the house and the original chef in the kitchen (they may be the only employees left). If you fancy smoked meats and shank of any kind, try smoked ham shank. Note that this shank still has some chew to it and the meat inside looks and tastes a little like corned beef. Sauerbraten (sour pot roast) is Germany’s national dish. Most of the entrees come with plain but comforting potato salad; only one comes with what Americans call German potato salad. And you get a wonderful soup and bread with all the dinner entrees. For vegetarians there’s a meatless goulash.
Located in Murphy Square near what was once Sunnyvale’s Town & Country Village, this is the sort of place that you want to be around for another 20 years. Well, it survived one major redevelopment. When we visited Hardy’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2021—the things we do for this page—we had a nice chat with a gentleman whose wife is Bavarian (thanks for the tip regarding Esther’s German Bakery). Then 30 minutes later, we had an opportunity to tell two young ladies about Campbell’s Naschmarkt. Food is the thing that unites all Bay Area foodies.
Gerhard “Hardy” Steiner (1944-2020) and his wife opened their Bavarian restaurant after he lost his job at Palo Alto’s Dinah’s Shack when it closed in 1989. Dinah’s Shack was where William Shockley’s employees gathered to celebrate his winning the Nobel Prize in 1956 (more Silicon Valley history). When they retired in 2002, they sold Hardy’s to a waitress who’d worked here. Steiner was born in Bavaria; the new owner in Lower Saxony. Who knew Bavaria and Texas have so much in common? Watch the video below and you will be convinced. By the same token, other countries have their own Texas/Bavaria. Think of separatist regions such as Quebec and Catalonia, among others.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Kelly Does Her Thing [►]
Nearby options: House of Kabobs, Dishdash, Meyhouse, King Wah, Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Sajj Mediterranean, Sweet Sicily, Rokko, Tao Tao, PhoEver, Vino Vino, Daily Donuts, Chocolatier Desiree, Gelateria Bella Roma, ATM Tea Bar, Philz Coffee
House of Kabobs, Sunnyvale | What...no video?! :-(
We suspect most Americans’ answer to “What do you want for your last meal?” is burger and fries or the more upscale steak frites. As far as ground beef goes, we’d rather have meatballs and meatloaf. No, our answer may well be fesenjan (pronounced fez’sen-joon), a Persian stew we didn’t know we needed until we sampled an exceptional version at Saffron in San Jose. The owner also operated a grocery store next-door, ensuring the best ingredients for this braised poultry dish. Sadly, Saffron closed in 2008 (we’d like to know what happened to the chef). Since then, we cross our fingers and hope to get lucky again every time we visit a Persian restaurant.
Well, we can report House of Kabobs serves one of the better versions of fesenjan. The walnut and pomegranate sauce is thinner than and not as pleasantly grainy as Saffron’s rendition, but HOK definitely nailed the balance between sweet and tangy. You should go to this downtown Sunnyvale restaurant if that’s all it has to offer. But as they say in those TV infomercials, there’s more. One of the chicken kebab dishes comes with rice that has barberries added, an interesting twist that’s reminiscent of a steamed chicken dish with similar accompaniment. Gheimeh bademjan, a tomato-based beef stew, has a flavor profile we don’t taste often at Persian establishments. Grilled salmon is also first-rate.
With all due respect to chefs around the world, we’ll just say it: Persian restaurants make the best pilaf. But sometimes it can be a little dry if the kitchen doesn’t get it just right—or reheat it properly. No such problem here. HOK’s version is textbook pilaf. We’re so glad we decided to check out HOK; we just had to eat for ourselves after Rob E. from Palo Alto raved about its fesenjan in 2015.
Baking is hard. That’s why we’ll never attempt to make croissant or any laminated dough with embedded butter. We still struggle with making pie crust. Cooking is easier by comparison. We never thought a restaurant could mess up a braised dish like fesenjan until we came across a version with an unpleasant, off flavor (iodine?) from a counter-service place in Mountain View. Where did they go wrong? Burned walnuts? It just makes us appreciate great fesenjan even more.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Nearby options: Dishdash, Meyhouse, King Wah, Hardy’s Bavaria, Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Sajj Mediterranean, Sweet Sicily, Rokko, Tao Tao, PhoEver, Vino Vino, Daily Donuts, Chocolatier Desiree, Gelateria Bella Roma, ATM Tea Bar, Philz Coffee
Jubba, San Jose | CPBA [►]
Named after a river in Somalia, Jubba is the only Somali restaurant in the South Bay—if not the entire Bay Area. Somali cuisine includes some recognizable items. Canjeero is lighter and less sour than neighboring Ethiopia’s injera. You’ll also find spaghetti on Jubba’s menu (Italy briefly occupied both East African countries). Sambusa and sabaayad are similar to Indian samosa and chapati, respectively. Order beef or chicken suqaar as your main and finish with mandazi or fried bread. This modest restaurant with a cafeteria atmosphere is located near Westfield Oakridge, sandwiched between a light rail station and a sprawling apartment complex. The secluded area has a laid-back vibe that belies its location; the clock tower adds to its old-timey feel. As much as we love paper maps, you’re better off following driving directions on the Internet.
Nearby options: Westfield Oakridge, Mandarin Gourmet, Chaat Cafe
Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Sunnyvale | What...no video?! :-(
We’re tempted to say “See San Carlos restaurant with the same name.” That’s because the owners of both restaurants are brothers, their menus are identical, and the food tastes about the same. But they maintain separate Web sites. Established in 1988 on El Camino Real before moving to what was once Sunnyvale’s Town & Country Village, this KAC looks a little different from the one in San Carlos.
There’s nothing “exotic” about Afghan food. In addition to kebabs, lamb stew with peas, and pumpkin (kabocha?) topped with yogurt, you must try kabuli palaw, Afghanistan’s national dish. KAC’s version uses boneless lamb and the carrots taste like they’re cooked in simple syrup. Just like its San Carlos cousin, the service here is friendly.
Healthy Lifestyle [►]
Nearby options: House of Kabobs, Dishdash, Meyhouse, King Wah, Hardy’s Bavaria, Sajj Mediterranean, Sweet Sicily, Rokko, Tao Tao, PhoEver, Vino Vino, Daily Donuts, Chocolatier Desiree, Gelateria Bella Roma, ATM Tea Bar, Philz Coffee
Local Kitchens, San Jose + Cupertino + Mountain View + Palo Alto + Lafayette
Technically speaking, we are not talking about Senor Sisig and Oren’s Hummus. We are talking about these restaurants’ food as prepared by Local Kitchens. But when you walk into a McDonald’s, does it matter which location? Unlike other similar operations, Local Kitchens makes it clear—at least when you inquire in person—that it is a ghost kitchen. We like to think of LK as an all-in-one franchisee of its partner restaurants. What’s in it for Senor Sisig and others? Well, they get to reach a bigger customer base and increase revenue without major investment—the same benefits of franchising. LK also keeps much longer hours.
Taking advantage of the fact that LK offers food from a handful of restaurants, we ordered two items from Senor Sisig and one from Oren’s Hummus. We’ve never been to either restaurant before, so we can’t say for certain if LK is the perfect “franchisee.” To the extent that certain things can be made ahead—sauces and bread, for example—we suspect LK doesn’t have to make everything from scratch. Take the pita bread that comes with Oren’s hummus eggplant. LK probably gets the same bread from Oren’s directly. We imagine for some dishes, LK's kitchen works like an assembly line. Of course, when it comes to Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, there’s nothing for LK to make.
When hummus is in the name of a restaurant, it’s a clue the place knows hummus. Oren’s Israeli version is one of the best in the Bay Area. The eggplant in hummus eggplant is not exactly baba ghanoush because it has a different flavor profile. This dish is so addictive we could dip pita in it for days. We can’t wait to try other items from Oren’s. It’s good to know we can always go to a nearby LK instead.
Certain dishes lend themselves to fusion. Ever since a Canadian created Hawaiian pizza in the 1960s, people in North America have been trying different toppings that they would frown on in Italy. Burritos and tacos are like pizzas in that respect. So why not mix Mexican and Pinoy together? After all, Spain colonized both Mexico and the Philippines. We would order tosilog burrito and sisig tacos again from Senor Sisig/LK. You can’t go wrong with tocino and fried egg.
Note that LK charges a little more than its partners because both parties have to make a profit. Beware the lineup of restaurants changes over time. And keep in mind LK usually offers a subset of each partner’s menu, which makes sense as LK’s kitchen is not a huge operation. When we visited the San Jose location (this one is takeout only), there was someone who was dead set on a particular item from one of the partners that’s not available via LK. If she had listened to our suggestions and ordered from Senor Sisig or Oren’s, she would’ve been quite happy. Always keep an open mind when it comes to food...and life. Even though this is a ghost kitchen, LK’s service is great.
Nearby options in San Jose: Proposition Chicken, Curry Up Now, Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream (last three courtesy of Local Kitchens), Tacos Los Tres Reyes, Chikin Drip, Rojas Mexican Food
Manresa Bread is the bakery spin-off from Manresa, David Kinch’s celebrated restaurant. Since Kinch has a reputation to uphold, the prepared food items are a cut above typical cafe/deli fare. We’ve tried all three sandwiches, and the best is clearly the Cuban sandwich. MB’s twist is the addition of a thin frico draped on top. The Cuban and the turkey club are each substantial enough to serve two people. The foundation of all the sandwiches and toasts is MB’s collection of excellent bread. The pastry menu includes the trendy kouign-amann. The cranberry ginger scone has an unexpected hint of bitterness you don’t find in versions that use crystallized ginger. Note that MB closes early in the afternoon. And you should get here by 11 am as some pastry items will sell out.
More on kouign-amann (pronounced kwen ah-mahn). Unlike croissant, another flaky pastry made from laminated dough, kouign-amann looks a little different from bakery to bakery. Sometimes it is spiral-shaped like American sticky bun; sometimes it’s not. MB’s rendition (as of January 2022) falls in the latter category and is not too sweet. We like it but don’t love it (yet). We’ll have to sample other versions.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Nearby options in Campbell: Naschmarkt, Trattoria 360, Aqui, Opa!, Desi, A Bellagio, La Pizzeria, Spread, Water Tower Kitchen, Orchard Valley Coffee, Psycho Donuts, Snake & Butterfly, Campbell Creamery, AFKxp Tech & Game Center
Mexitamalli, Santa Clara | What...no video?! :-(
This food truck is usually parked on McCormick Drive near Walgreens in Santa Clara Town Centre (other tenants include Target and Sprouts). Besides more traditional tamale fillings, Mexitamalli also offers a few unusual choices. Our favorite is the Veracruz-style ranchero tamale. The mole version is chicken mole in a tamale format. The chocolate tamale gets an assist from Nutella. The tamales here are larger than average. Note that Mexitamalli closes early in the afternoon on weekdays. We’d like to see more food trucks on McCormick Drive next to Walgreens. Since the Santa Clara city council has for years refused to recognize a stretch of El Camino Real for what it is—don’t tell the BTS ARMY—we doubt they will do right by food trucks.
If you like tamales, you must try Salvadoran-style versions elsewhere in the Bay Area. They have a different texture and different fillings. Supermarket tamales are fine, but nothing beats the freshly made kind.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Nearby options: China Stix, MOD Pizza, Modo Hawaii, Burma Bistro, Copenhagen Crown Bakery
Mochi is a dough made from cooked sticky rice. Some of you might have tried mochi ice cream before or non-refrigerated mochi with a mildly sweet filling. The latest mochi creation is a series of small donuts stuck together in a ring like two pairs of brass knuckles. The mochi donuts themselves are not really sweet; all the flavor comes from the glaze in which they are dipped. Modo Hawaii’s site gives you a pretty good idea what each one tastes like. Our favorites are black sesame and matcha. Pandan is a little muted; lilikoi (passion fruit) is the sweetest of all the flavors we sampled. They also serve hojicha and matcha soy latte.
Because they are not as sweet as regular donuts, they make a nice treat for yourself or a wonderful gift for others. After visiting someone in the ICU of a San Jose hospital, we brought the staff a dozen mochi donuts from Modo Hawaii. ICU and other healthcare workers have been to hell and back the last two years. Let them know you care. #MochiDonutsForICU
Nearby options: China Stix, MOD Pizza, Mexitamalli, Burma Bistro, Copenhagen Crown Bakery
Most large cities and metropolitan areas have at least one or two German restaurants—not surprising since there are at least 60 million German Americans (compare with more than 40 million Irish Americans). Named after Vienna’s most popular market, Naschmarkt is something less common, an Austrian restaurant. Austrian cuisine is similar to the food traditions in neighboring Bavaria. The food at Naschmarkt is hearty but not heavy. The flavor of the pork in jager schnitzel comes through loud the clear even though it’s topped with mushroom sauce. If you like stuffed vegetables, try kraut rouladen or stuffed cabbage. Seasonal crepe is light and not too sweet. Downtown Campbell is one of the best restaurant spots in the South Bay. Downtown Mountain View, Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue, downtown Los Gatos, and downtown Sunnyvale are also good choices.
Watch below as Leslie Sbrocco visits Vienna, Linz, and Durnstein. Coffee culture, Sacher torte, Linzer torte, schnapps, and kasekrainer are all fine. But the one item that really piqued our interest is bauern leberkase (farmer meatloaf), which tastes like “high-quality SPAM.” Since it’s not out of a can, it should be better than SPAM. No wonder Kommissar Rex loves leberkasesemmel/wurstsemmel so much. Mahlzeit.
Nearby options: Trattoria 360, Aqui, Opa!, Desi, A Bellagio, La Pizzeria, Spread, Water Tower Kitchen, Manresa Bread, Orchard Valley Coffee, Psycho Donuts, Snake & Butterfly, Campbell Creamery, AFKxp Tech & Game Center
Paper Plane is a whiskey cocktail created for a Chicago bar in the late 2000s; the name is a reference to the Grammy-nominated song co-produced by Diplo. The owners of this downtown San Jose bar decided to name it after that drink. Bar food used to be an oxymoron of sorts. This being the Bay Area, serving a few salty items just to get patrons to order more drinks just won’t cut it. We’re all familiar with gastropub. Well, you can think of Paper Plane as a gastrobar. If they’ve given this much thought to the food menu, the drinks here must be phenomenal. Some people might say the food is all over the map—there’s a little bit of Mexican, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. We prefer to say the menu reflects the Bay Area’s culinary scene.
One bite of the crispy koji fried chicken wings and you’ll understand why they call it their signature dish. They mean it when they say they are “aggressively seasoned.” The coating is bursting with flavor, more than enough to compensate for the somewhat bland meat (perhaps it needs to be marinated/brined longer?). They are as crunchy as the fried chicken at Vons Chicken. Like kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, octopus leg is getting a lot of love from U.S. restaurants these days. Paper Plane’s version may not be as good as Teleferic Barcelona, but it’ll do for now.
The biggest surprise are the roasted baby carrots. Instead of baby-cut carrots you find at any supermarket, they serve real baby carrots with the tops still attached. This is bar food gone upscale, people. We must also give them credit for serving only vegetarian tacos. They could’ve easily added a meat-based option. It just goes to show this establishment likes to do things its way. And that’s a very good thing. The chef may be guilty of trying too hard (click on the FAQ tab above and look for “kitchen-sink”), but that’s better than having a kitchen that doesn’t give a damn.
We liked the fried chicken here so much we immediately went to a place in Oakland that marinades its chicken in koji. This chicken karaage turned out to be pretty average. So if you want fried chicken that’s way better than chicken karaage, go downtown as Petula Clark would say. This is a bar, so you must show ID even if you only want to sample the food (dinner only).
Nearby options: La Penita, 5 Spot Chivas Grill, Picasso’s Tapas, Petiscos, Mezcal, Back A Yard, Com Ga Nam An, Good Karma, La Victoria, Original Joe’s, Whispers Cafe, Pastelaria Adega, La Lune Sucree, Holy Cannoli
Formerly Lucy’s Tamale Factory, The Tamale Factory in Alum Rock is still family-run. The current owner took over the business after her sister started it in 1995. This hole-in-the-wall place makes chicken, pork, and cheese tamales as well as a couple of sweet varieties. The cheese version includes half a jalapeno (with seeds) that gives it just enough heat and an herbaceous note. The pineapple tamale has a subtle, clean sweet flavor; using a few discernible chunks of pineapple is a good call. In Mexico, tamales are a big part of Dia de los Muertos and Christmas.
Of the four Mexican restaurant staples in the U.S.—burrito, enchilada, taco, and tamale—the one that’s remained close to its roots is the tamale. Even if the burrito has some tenuous Mexican connection, it’s been Americanized and supersized. It’s also been used in fusion creations such as kimchi burrito, for example. And the first Thursday of April is National Burrito Day. The taco is part of the American food lexicon (think of Taco Bell and Taco Tuesdays). The hard-shell and puffy variations are American inventions. A popular food truck is known for its sisig tacos and sisig burrito. There’s a North Bay restaurant that makes enchiladas with an Indian twist. The tamale has stayed true to its Mesoamerican origin.
Or maybe we just like anything cooked in a wrapper—be it corn husk, banana leaf, bamboo leaf, lotus leaf, grape leaf, parchment paper, or even salt. These packages are steamed—or effectively steamed—which means whatever’s inside should be moist and tender. And the leaves impart a hint of fragrance.
♀ WRK: This is a woman-run kitchen.
Nearby options: Rica Panaderia, Carnitas El Rincon, Meli’s, Las Delicias, Tortas Ahogadas Jalisco, TeaZer Boba, Peters Bakery, Mary’s Paleteria
Past Featured Restaurants
♦♦♦ Peninsula (6)
Diner Japonica, Redwood City | What...no video?! :-(
When we launched this page over Labor Day weekend in 2021, we were hoping to support restaurants like Diner Japonica. The Satos are the couple running this mom-and-pop place in a small strip mall (enter the parking lot from Central Avenue). He cooks and she works the front of the house. They’ve been in business for about 10 years, taking over what was once a Peruvian restaurant. After the pandemic, this little diner started accepting credit cards and remains takeout only (as of March 2022). They advertise that they serve American and Japanese comfort food. We don’t get the American part, but Japanese comfort food here refers to things like bento, omurice, chahan, curry rice, and donburi.
Omurice is an omelet with fried rice inside. The chicken option is served with demi-glace on top. Note that Malaysia has a similar dish called nasi goreng pattaya. Chahan is Japanese-style fried rice. The protein that comes with curry rice is either deep-fried or not. House-made curry is much better than the packaged Japanese curry you see in stores. Unagi lovers must try unadon because you get two large fillets of grilled eel with your donburi. Click on Detour tab above for more on Japanese fusion food.
Before Nobu Matsuhisa became a household name in America—if you live with foodies, that is—there was Masataka Kobayashi, who was the chef of New York’s Le Plaisir until he opened Masa’s in San Francisco in 1983. Though Masa’s was a French restaurant, Kobayashi was the most famous Japanese chef in America at the time. Sushi restaurants really started to take off by the 1980s. Since then, most Americans have grown up eating raw fish—assuming they live in metropolitan areas.
Japanology (yoshoku) [►]
Nearby options: Karakade, Redwood City Barbeque
La Fonda de los Carnalitos, Redwood City | What...no video?! :-(
A fonda or fondita in Mexico is a small, mom-and-pop restaurant. La Fonda is a nice complement to its sister restaurant in Hayward. While Los Carnalitos is all about Chilanga eats, La Fonda is a little more “mainstream” for Nortenos, by which we mean people who live north of Mexico. Both restaurants serve tacos, gorditas, choriqueso, and panuchos—but there the similarity ends. You won’t find huitlacoche on the menu here.
La Fonda seems to specialize in mole dishes: mole poblano, mole verde, mole encacahuatado, and enmoladas (enchiladas with mole). The first three feature bone-in dark meat chicken as expected. The poblano option has more than a hint of chocolate, which is how we like it. If mole is not your thing—we don’t want to know you—they also offer empanadas, flautas, meatballs (albondigas), skirt steak (arrachera), and pozole. La Fonda has a full bar as well.
Chocoflan is another item not found at Los Carnalitos. We’ve made this hybrid dessert before using Cook’s Country’s recipe. The chocolate cake batter is on top when the whole thing goes into the oven. But when it comes out, the flan portion ends up on top like magic. La Fonda’s chocolate flan is a little different in that the chocolate part tastes like chocolate-flavored flan. Flan on flan is still as good as flan on cake.
Since food is always the most important thing in our opinion, let’s talk about something we rarely address. For a small restaurant in a strip mall, La Fonda’s decor is tastefully done. Taking advantage of the unusually high ceiling, they installed a dramatic light fixture in the middle of the main dining room, the kind of thing you’d see at the defunct Farallon in San Francisco. There’s also a surprising mezzanine with a few more tables. Pat Kuleto would approve of the design of this place.
Rick Bayless (mole) [►]
Nearby options: Homeskillet, Supreme Crab
The kid is alright. That would be 14-year-old Itai from Season 14 (2019) of Check, Please! Bay Area. On a whim, we decided to order exactly what Itai recommended. Has this show ever been wrong before? Oh, yes. Two duds that come to mind are located in Oakland, coincidentally (one from Season 11 and one from Season 14). Then there’s one in Hayward from Season 15 that was a disappointment considering the chef/baker’s background.
But we digress. As we stated earlier, Afghan cuisine is similar to Persian food. You can’t go wrong with kebabs here. The lamb stew with peas in a tomato-based sauce (mater challow) is easy to love. The pumpkin (kabocha?) dish (challow kaddo) is almost sweet enough to move to the desserts section. If you like eggplant, challow badenjan has your name on it. For real dessert, try fernea, a custard that tastes like rice pudding.
KAC operated a second location in Burlingame from 2009 to 2016. Sadly, the owner of KAC, who was present when KQED visited around 2019, passed not long after that. Fans of this restaurant should read what we have to say about its doppelganger in Sunnyvale.
Nearby options: Pazzo, CreoLa, Cuisinett Bistro & Market, Tamari, Emelinas Peruvian, Pranzi, New Canton, The Crepe Shop, My Breakfast House
As soon as we read that Mazra was ranked No. 2 according to some national top 100 list that came out in February 2021, we had to go check it out. Only two Bay Area restaurants made the cut, so the implication is clear. Is it the best restaurant in the Bay Area? Of course not. Some people might even wonder if it’s the best Middle Eastern restaurant in lil’ San Bruno. The owner of Mazra (“the farm”) used to operate a neighborhood grocery store at the same location, which might explain a bit of a Trader Joe’s vibe inside. So what is Mazra then? Well, this Jordanian/Palestinian place serves good food and the employees are friendly and helpful.
For people who don’t own a grill at home, you’ll appreciate the expert way Mazra handles salmon and lamb chops on the grill. The garlic rotisserie chicken is better than the kind you find at supermarkets—though the butterflied and grilled chicken at Cardenas Markets is pretty darn good ($6 every Friday). You do pay at least two to three times more for a whole roasted chicken here than those loss-leader specials at Smart & Final, Walmart, Safeway, and others. Choosing a plate is probably a better deal than ordering a la carte. A plate comes with a good amount of basmati rice, two small sides of your choice, and pita bread. There are more parking spaces in the rear.
Junior’s Farm [►]
Nearby options: downtown San Bruno, Rolling Pin Donuts
When San Francisco Chronicle and Michelin Guide reviewed this Sichuan restaurant, they somehow overlooked the fact that it also serves Tanjia food. Tanjia (or Tan Family) is essentially Beijing’s take on Cantonese cuisine, which for the longest time was synonymous with Chinese food in North America. So while you can order spicy dishes like fish fillet in chili oil and sauteed chili pepper with preserved egg, you can also enjoy Cantonese-tasting dishes such as sauteed shrimp with egg and cabbage, winter melon with shrimp, and braised Napa cabbage with chestnut. This is a joint venture between award-winning chef Zongyi Liu and a childhood friend. It would be a shame if we lost a unique restaurant like Royal Feast in the Bay Area.
Nearby options: Tasty Place, Yummy Szechuan, Hong Kong Flower Lounge, New Asian Pearl, Ben Tre, Millbrae Pancake House, Broadway (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to El Camino Real)
There aren’t too many Hunan restaurants around here, so get it while you can. The site presents a well-written, legible, and printer-friendly two-page menu—it’s the little things that mean so much. Ants climbing a tree (gotta love these poetic names) is not too spicy and has good flavor. Sweet potato noodles and cabbage (under Steamed Specials) is enough to feed a small family. Located in what is ostensibly Millbrae’s two-lane restaurant row on Broadway, Wonderful does live up to its name. There’s plenty of free parking everywhere.
Nearby options: Sugandh, Porridge & Things, Gourmet Village, Noodles & Things, Dean’s Produce, El Camino Real (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to Broadway)
Gone to the Big Food Court in the Sky
You don’t want to end up here....
Side Trips and Sidebars
Let them know you care....
ICU and other healthcare workers have been to hell and back since 2020. Let them know you care by giving them a dozen mochi donuts from Modo Hawaii and other places. Food safety experts may disagree, but they seem less perishable than, say, pizzas and chicken wings—though whatever you bring them will be garbled up fast. How about a refreshing pitcher of horchata or other aqua fresca when it’s hot outside? A dozen cannoli...kouign-amann...whatever you prefer.
Timing is everything...when to charge the customer makes all the difference.
Take out the Takeout Problem
When you order food to-go, the potential is always there that you may get charged for item(s) not delivered. That’s because restaurants tend to charge the customer before the kitchen even gets the order. This is more of an issue for things like dim sum because some items are sold out as time passes during lunch. The best solution is to charge the customer after the food comes out of the kitchen (same as dine-in). Otherwise, an employee needs to reconcile what was charged with what the kitchen actually made. So here’s our pro tip for customers: Before you leave the restaurant, take a quick scan of the kitchen’s copy of the order and look for anything specially marked or left unchecked. If not, you could be in for a surprise later. If you order via a food-delivery service, check your order before the delivery person leaves (not sure if this will do much good).
Everyone loves a ranked list, but when it’s kind of meaningless....
Dubious Top 100 List
A certain social media site has been publishing a top 100 list of “best places to eat” since 2014. We first heard about it when USA Today covered the 2021 survey. It turns out the 2021 list is nothing more than a popularity contest and perhaps an outlier. You see, visitors to this site were asked to vote for their favorite restaurants. For what it’s worth, two Bay Area places made the top 100—San Bruno’s Mazra (No. 2) and Berkeley’s Creekwood (No. 36)—neither one we’d heard of before.
Sensing this site probably had to change its methodology because of the 2020 pandemic, we looked up its 2020 survey, which was published in January 2020. The 2020 list was based on diner reviews on the site in the previous year. As you can imagine, this tends to favor new or relatively new restaurants. The Bay Area places that made the 2020 list were Fairfield’s Pikul Thai Bistro (No. 10), San Francisco’s Shish Ke Baba (No. 12), Santa Clara’s Achilles (No. 37). Albany’s 310 Eatery (No. 55), Burlingame’s Tuna Kahuna (No. 67), Campbell’s Trattoria 360 (No. 70), and Oakland’s Porque No? Tacos (No. 71).
This site uses a five-star rating system, and we’ve often wondered how you rank one business over another. For instance, should a restaurant that receives a five-star average from 100 reviews be ranked higher than one that receives a four-star average from 1,000 reviews? We’re not surprised this site doesn’t bother to go into such pesky details. Transparency is not its strong suit. After all, this company has been the target of numerous lawsuits regarding its business practice. So instead of calling it the top 100 “best places to eat,” this site should call it the top 100 “mostly new restaurants based on a methodology whose details we prefer to keep to ourselves.” Title too long? Well, it’d be honest for a change. For the 2022 survey, visitors were once again asked to send in nominations. We suspect this company will revert to the old methodology after that.
While this national survey is a good marketing move, we’ll stick with more meaningful lists from Michelin Guide and San Francisco Chronicle. What this site should do is publish regional lists for major restaurant markets like New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and, of course, the Bay Area. We find it amusing when its co-founder/CEO appeared on 60 Minutes in 2018 complaining about Google using its search engine to push its own reviews. Talk about one shady business trolling another shady business. Pot, meet kettle.
Where have all the great food palaces gone?
Bygone Golden Age?
When Hong Kong-inspired restaurants such as Hong Kong Flower Lounge and Koi Palace opened/expanded in the 1990s, Bay Area foodies rejoiced because these high-end Cantonese places didn’t cater to the proverbial Peoria. Sure, the Bay Area has seen some Hong Kong-style places since the 1970s, but nothing like these cavernous and opulent—some might say gaudy—restaurants. We had a whole steamed fish once at Mayflower that showcased the simplicity and finesse of Cantonese cuisine. And then lower-priced Daimo and Cooking Papa followed. Daimo expanded and then had to scale back. Cooking Papa changed ownership and quality suffered. Koi Palace, Flower Lounge, and Mayflower are still around, but most diners would agree their best days are behind them.
East meets West in Japan....
Japan has a knack for taking something from the West and giving it an interesting spin. The electronics and auto industries know this all too well. On the culinary front, yoshoku is food inspired by Western cooking. Examples include tonkatsu (schnitzel), tempura (fritter), korokke (croquette), hamburg (Hamburg steak/Salisbury steak), omurice (omelet and fried rice), sando (sandwich), potesara (potato salad), Kewpie mayonnaise, and castella (sponge cake). Neighboring China’s influence is reflected in ramen, gyoza (dumplings), chahan (fried rice), hatoshi (shrimp toast), and mochi. And from India (via Britain) we get Japanese curry.
While you visit Belotti Bottega, Pomella, Fentons Creamery, and other businesses on Piedmont Avenue, take a little side trip.
The Quiet Side of Oakland
At the end of Piedmont Avenue is Mountain View Cemetery designed in 1863 by Frederick Law Olmsted, arguably America’s most celebrated landscape architect. He is best known as the designer (together with Calvert Vaux) of New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park. Cemeteries are the precursor to public parks, so it makes perfect sense that Olmsted designed Mountain View Cemetery while he lived in California. Some of the noted graves include Stephen Bechtel, Warren Bechtel, Charles Crocker, March Fong Eu, James A. Folger, Domingo Ghirardelli, Thomas Hill, Henry J. Kaiser, Fred Korematsu, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and T.A. Soong. Guided tours are no longer available, but the grounds are open to recreational visits Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Originally designed in 1909 and redesigned in 1928 by the aforementioned Morgan, Chapel of the Chimes is a designated Oakland landmark located in front of Mountain View Cemetery. Notable residents include Dick Bartell, Al Davis, Bones Ely, and John Lee Hooker. Guided tours are available by appointment.
Events and Teamwork
Check this space for special promotions from restaurants regarding Mother’s Day and other occasions. And look for career opportunities as well. Want to learn how to make fresh pasta that would make a nonna proud? Or create delectable desserts that would make anyone swoon? If you are a people person, we need you in the front of the house. They call it the hospitality industry for a reason.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why no ratings for these restaurants?
If we set out to publish the usual Bay Area restaurant reviews, we would definitely include a letter grade for each (we prefer this to the star or point system) and provide more details. But our mission is to help small businesses in these pandemic times, so anything lower than an A might dissuade some potential customers, not to mention there are—or will be—nominations that we don’t have an opportunity to visit ourselves. Just know that we will not feature any establishment that we find disappointing. Other than third-party suggestions, everything we select is either A or B.
Is a YouTube video a requirement?
The short answer is no. But we love to embed a video made available by professionals such as Check, Please! Bay Area and ABC Localish in the banner window above. YouTube has made this a three-click process. Some homemade videos by customers are quite polished, and we don’t have a problem embedding or linking to them. If no one has uploaded a video about your restaurant, you might consider making one yourself. YouTube offers some basic tools to put it together. Or just take out your smartphone and shoot. We don’t expect an Oscar-winning short, but please think about what you want to show and what you want to say, if anything. Your video could be as simple as a series of photos that are probably already on your own site.
What’s the idea behind nearby options?
As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. As long as we highlight a specific restaurant, we feel we should mention others in the vicinity in order to give more places a boost. Note that the list of nearby options is curated as well. We try to include restaurants that have a decent reputation or an interesting menu at least. In short, we’ve done the homework for you.
How do we assess a kitchen’s level of competence?
Cooking is all about balance. Nothing should be too sweet, too tart, too salty, too bitter, or too spicy—some restaurants purposely ignore the last point. Nothing should be too greasy, too dry, too heavy, or too bland. And nothing should be overcooked or undercooked. If we’re talking about professional kitchens, the same dish should taste the same every time. Balance and consistency. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If good cooking was that easy, there wouldn’t be so many bad reviews out there.
Sometimes new chefs go through what we call a kitchen-sink phase where they add so many ingredients that a dish ends up looking and tasting muddled. The way to give flavor complexity is not by piling on more ingredients; the key is to add the right ingredients. Eventually they will embrace the idea that less is more.
How long do we intend to keep this page active?
Two things need to happen for this country to return to business as usual: we need to reach herd immunity and we need to vaccinate the rest of the world to keep mutations at bay. California may be the fifth-largest economy in the world, but it is not a country. We can’t close our borders and allow only vaccinated visitors in. Even within the state, some counties have a much lower vaccination rate than the Bay Area. The Bay Area’s vaccination rate may be relatively high on paper, but keep in mind the real rate on any given day is actually lower due to an influx of unvaccinated people from other parts of California, other states, and other countries. If recent trends are a good predictor of the future, well, hang on to your masks for years to come. The restaurant industry is notorious for its high failure rate to begin with, so we’ll keep this page going indefinitely—with tweaks along the way, of course.
What do we think of food writing?
As far as restaurant reviews are concerned, we have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, we enjoy reading the likes of Patricia Unterman, Michael Bauer, and Ruth Reichl. Now professional food critics are paid to do what they do—and having their employers pick up the tab when they dine out is icing on the cake. We concede citizen reviewers do have a role to play here since the few professional critics could only cover a limited portion of eateries in the sprawling Bay Area. After we posted a small number of reviews some years ago, we realized most of the restaurants closed months later. It seemed like a waste of time and energy, a futile endeavor. For this and other reasons, we stopped posting on a certain social media site.
If cooking is an art—and no doubt some celebrity chefs think of themselves as artists—then this art form is as ephemeral as one of Christo’s projects—here today, gone tomorrow. You can read a book as long as it’s published or digitized. You can listen to any song as long as the rights holders have made it available on the Internet. You can watch any film/TV show if it’s available for streaming. You can appreciate a painting even if you’re just studying a photo of it. But you can’t taste a dish by looking at a photo or video. Once a restaurant is gone, no one will ever have the opportunity to savor anything from that kitchen again. Without the pandemic, we never would’ve started this page. So our new focus is on the greater truth and interesting bits of information. And as the song says, accentuate the positive.
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