Best of East Bay 2016: Editor’s Picks
The Diablo editors weigh in on more restaurants, shops and places they love.
We love getting to share all the things we love in the East Bay. And there just wasn’t enough room in our July issue to include all of them. So here, are a few more of our personal East Bay favorites—Enjoy!
Rachelle Cihonski, managing editor
Best Pork Tacos: El Aguila Mexican Cuisine
This tiny, authentic joint off Contra Costa Boulevard is my go-to when I’m craving tacos. (The pork in adobo tacos are mouth-watering.) Order an almond-milk horchata, extra salsa to drench your trio of tacos, and a basket of the potato chips—El Aguila forgoes the traditional tortilla chips in favor of these crunchy starters. 1300 Contra Costa Blvd., Ste. 2, Pleasant Hill, (925) 682-4444, elaguilamexicancuisine.com.
Best Hot Yoga: CorePower Yoga
I wasn’t much of a yogi when I tried CorePower’s yoga studio in downtown Walnut Creek—I just figured I’d take advantage of the “first week of classes free” offer and maybe get in a good workout or two. What I wasn’t expecting was to completely fall in love with hot yoga. The studio is welcoming, the staff is friendly, and the classes make you sweat. I’ll namaste to that. Locations in Berkeley, Blackhawk, and Walnut Creek, corepoweryoga.com.
Best Accessories: Francesca’s
This small shop may be a chain, but it’s my favorite spot to shop for heeled booties, stackable rings, and kitschy nick knacks—such as hand-painted wall décor and kitchenwares. It’s difficult to spend less than an hour perusing. Locations in Berkeley, Danville, Lafayette, and Pleasanton, francescas.com.
Peter Crooks, senior editor
Best Record Store: Rasputin Music
It wasn’t that long ago that every town had a record store, a place for music lovers to take time sifting through racks of records. These days, music is just another way for most people to tap and swipe at their smartphone—but those mp3s offer about five percent of the sound that a vinyl record contains. Fortunately, we still have a gem of a record store in the suburban East Bay. Rasputin Music has racks and racks of vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Rays to browse through, and a staff of beautifully surly music lovers who are more than willing to tell you about the band or album that you would know about if you were cooler. 1035 Contra Costa Blvd., Pleasant Hill, (925) 827-2900, rasputinmusic.com.
Best Beach: Point Pinole
Point Pinole Regional Shoreline is a sprawling East Bay park that offers a dazzling diversity of natural wonders—eucalyptus forests, grassy meadows, and a perfect little sandy beach (which my dogs and I almost always have to ourselves) that looks straight across the San Pablo Bay at Mount Tamalpais. ebparks.org/parks/pt_pinole.
Best Place to Take Little Kids to the Movies: West Wind Solano Drive-In
Taking toddlers to the movies can be a gamble—if they cry, squirm, and scream, you’re likely to annoy other patrons and have to leave halfway through Finding Dory, after plunking down $50 on tickets and popcorn. But at the Concord Drive-In, you control the environment. So, load up the car with blankets, bring your own food, and let the kids wiggle and wail away until they fall asleep as you watch double features in your sound-proofed car. Here’s the best part: Kids under two get in free and ages 5–11 are just $1.25, so it's an easy and inexpensive night out at the movies. 1611 Solano Way, Concord, (925) 825-1951, westwinddi.com.
Katie Henry, associate editor
Best Spin Instructor: Nicole Habegger at Renaissance Club Sport
When I want to go to spin, I want to sweat—a lot! Cue Nicole’s classes at Renaissance Club Sport. Not only is she motivating and enthusiastic about getting you to work hard, she’s got a killer soundtrack to keep your strides on beat. 2805 Jones Rd., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-8700, renaissanceclubsport.com
Best Scoop of Homemade Ice Cream: Coffee Dough at San Francisco Creamery Co.
Ice cream is my kryptonite. Cookies make my knees weak. And I’m pregnant. Put that all together and there’s no way I’m making it by without shoving my mouth full of that delicious concoction. San Francisco Creamery must have something against my waistline because all too often I find myself with a scoop of their creamy, coffee cookie dough perfection in my hand. 1370 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 926-0228, sanfraciscocreameryco.com.
Best Women’s Hair Stylist: Alanna at Salon Cartier
For more than 10 years, Alanna has been my stylist. That’s because, no matter what I want done to my hair, Alanna makes it happen. I’ve been blonde and auburn and dark brown. I’ve been shades in between and had highlights of all three at the same time. Alanna is never afraid to tell me when something might not work, and I always trust her to make the decisions that will make me look fabulous. 2400 Olympic Blvd., Ste. 5, Walnut Creek, (925) 939-7425, saloncartier.com
Alejandra Saragoza, associate editor
Best Drunken Burger: Mona’s Burgers and Shakes
Whenever I’m craving a big, juicy burger, I go to this charming eatery off Geary Boulevard in Walnut Creek. Pair an old-fashioned milk shake—the Guinness float and Oreo shakes are my personal favorites—with the delicious drunken burger, sauced with a lager beer-honey mixture and topped with melted blue cheese, bacon, and crispy onions. 1574 Palos Verdes Mall, Walnut Creek, (925) 278-1415, monasburgers.com.
Best Mac and Cheese: Homeroom
When Kraft Macaroni and Cheese isn’t enough to satisfy my childhood craving, I head to this fun, funky restaurant in Oakland that serves up 12 different types of cheesy goodness. You can’t go wrong here, but my must-try’s include the Mexican Mac—a smoky dish featuring homemade chipotle adobo sauce, Niman Ranch chorizo, jack cheese, and cilantro—and the Hawaiian Mac, with the perfect sweet-salty combination of bacon, Havarti cheese, and pineapple. 400 40th St., Oakland, (510) 597-0400, homeroom510.com.
Best Hip-Hop Class: Funkmode
I’ll admit it: I was nervous the first time I went to an adult hip-hop class at Funkmode, thinking I would embarrass myself with my shameful dance moves. But my anxiety was put to rest as soon as the class started, and now I look forward to getting my groove on every week. The instructors are welcoming (and encourage us not to take ourselves too seriously), the music is hip and fun. The classes make me work up a sweat, but I don’t feel like I’m working out. 1948 Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill, (888) 386-5663, funkmode.com.
Samantha Schneider, art and web assistant
Best Race: Oakland Running Festival
Whether you’re looking to run your first 5k or your 20th marathon, Oakland Running Festival has a distance for everyone, even kids. I ran in the 5k and half marathon in 2015, aka the “We Run the Town Challenge.” The event had everything you need for a memorable race, with lots of spectator cheers and entertainment along the streets of Oakland. The post-race festivities and race medals aren’t too shabby either! oaklandmarathon.com.
Best Place for Diner Food and Drinks: Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café, Oakland
Located next to the Fox Theater, this restaurant is great for late-night comfort food (try their patty melt!) or a cocktail or boozy shake. My go-to cocktail is the “Tequila Mockingbird,” a fun spin on the traditional margarita. Barbie dolls on the walls, toys on the tables, and other playful décor make for great first-date conversation starters. 1805 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 251-9400, iamrudy.com.
Best Place to Overindulge in Ice Cream: San Francisco Creamery Co.
The scoops at this place are huge, but if you really want to indulge in ice cream goodness and like a challenge, take on the Kitchen Sink Challenge (as seen on Man vs. Food)? You can always bring a few friends to share the eight scoop, eight topping, and mounds of whip cream tower. It’s great for birthday parties. I prefer to stick with a "small” sundae, with Caramel Golden Oreo ice cream, marshmallow topping, or rainbow sprinkles. 1370 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 926-0228, sanfraciscocreameryco.com.
Lauren Bonney, assistant editor
Best Splurge-Worthy Dinner: Ottavio
It’s easy to walk right by this little osteria on Main Street in Walnut Creek, but what Ottavio lacks in size it makes up for in big, bold, delicious flavors. Executive chef and owner Valentino Luchin dishes out authentic northern Italian cuisine that highlights incredible plates dripping with rich sauces, creamy cheeses, and unbelievable cured meats. Be sure to indulge in a glass of Italian wine (or two) and finish your meal with a house made dessert, like the goat’s milk panna cotta drizzled in a balsamic reduction. Whatever you order, Ottavio is nothing less than a decadently delightful experience. 1606 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 930-8008, ottavio-osteria.com.
Best Gastropub: Jack’s Taps
This gastropub is one of my go-to spots. Jack’s Taps, attached to Jack’s Restaurant and Bar, is a great place to sit back and try some amazing craft brews. The taproom features 20 rotating tap handles, giving you the opportunity to try as many great beers as possible. Jack’s Taps also has a tasty bar menu to enjoy with your pint. But if nothing sparks your fancy, you can order from the main restaurant menu. While space is limited, the atmosphere is casual, the service is on point, and the brews hit the spot. 60 Crescent Dr., Ste. E, Pleasant Hill, (925) 849-6195, ilovejacks.com.
Best Open Space: Briones Regional Park
One of my favorite weekend activities is hiking. And with its rolling hills, shady oaks, and ridge top views, Briones Regional Park is my hiking happy place. This beautiful park is more than 6,200 acres, with miles and miles of hiking trails. There are multiple staging areas, including Bear Creek, Reliez Valley, Lafayette Ridge, and Alhambra Creek, with a multitude of trails to choose from. I love to explore the Alhambra Creek Trail with my pooch—where we see free roaming cows and lovely wildflowers—and soak up the sun. Staging areas in Lafayette and Martinez, ebparks.org/parks/briones.