Best of the East Bay 2016: Food
A Michelin-starred restaurant; a Barcelona import in Walnut Creek.
Chef: Rodney Worth
Perennial Winner Like his menus, Rodney Worth is honest, uncomplicated, and generous. And Worth Ranch in San Ramon—the latest of his seven restaurants—has a Southern twang that best captures his gregarious bourbon-loving personality. Order the brisket with a side of brisket (you heard me correctly). If at The Little Pear, The Peasant and the Pear, or The Peasant’s Courtyard, get the smoked chicken sandwich (prepared with pear): It’s this No. 1 chef’s No. 1 seller. rodneyworth.com.
New Restaurant: Telefèric Barcelona
The New Kid This swanky sister—the original is in Barcelona—showcases roving carts of paella and pintxos (small plates). But don’t let the seductive main courses pass you by. Shimmering goblets of sangria—made with brandy and Tempranillo—are a must. Order the pulpo trufado—Galician grilled octopus with truffle mashed potatoes. 1500 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 300-3826, telefericbarcelona.com.
Coffeehouse: Coffee Shop
This sleek Walnut Creek café pours Irish coffees all day laced with a nuanced coffee liqueur made by Alameda’s St. George Spirits. Coffee Shop offers many more cocktails, plus a virgin float of frothy on-tap nitro coffee and craft root beer. Look for artisanal sandwiches and flatbreads (pear and goat cheese is a favorite), locally baked pastries (plus house-made Pop-Tarts!), and specialty teas (yummy turmeric). Wednesdays are board game night; Thursdays showcase work by local artists. A Lafayette location is slated to open in mid-July. 1321 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-3855, coffeeshop411.com.
Italian: Montecatini Ristorante and Bar
In an ever-shifting culinary landscape (Montecatini debuted minutes before the Loma Prieta earthquake), Italian-born chef Ermes Paulin continues to serve classics such as pollo alla parmigiana, veal piccata, and fettuccini Alfredo. Rich with history, this cozy and bustling Walnut Creek restaurant has served more than one martini garnished with an engagement ring. (If you plan on doing the same, be sure to ask Paulin’s wife and partner, Teresa Cheung, for table three.) 1528 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-6608, montecatinirestaurant.com.
Bakery: 54 Mint Forno Italiano
Morning pastries such as the custardy bomboloni at this Walnut Creek bakery are a must. But 54 Mint also offers an intriguing savory menu, featuring rustic focaccia sandwiches, calzones, and pizza. (Try the pancetta-strewn “carbonara” pizza.) 54 Mint has a direct line to imported small-production wines and a special flour that creates extralight dough and pastries. 1686 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 476-5844, 54mintforno.com.
Food Truck: Grab and Go Kabob
Outfitted with a fire pit that can sear 25 “swords” (skewers) of tri-tip, chicken, and ground beef at a time, Grab and Go is the hottest food truck around. Walnut Creek’s Javid Ebrahimi got his chops, so to speak, in his father’s home country of Iran. Insiders know Ebrahimi’s favorite: yogurt-marinated lamb chops with his Persian fries seasoned with Feta, tomato, and basil. (925) 788-8967, grabandgokabob.com.
The most upscale of Philip Yang’s four East Bay restaurants, Walnut Creek’s Sasa specializes in Japanese bluefin tuna, best as sashimi or tartare. Another delicacy, despite its low yield (i.e., no profit), is hirame, a flounder. For rolls, keep it simple: negihama (yellowtail and scallions) or the Sasa roll (tempura shrimp, avocado, and seasoned tuna). Skip the nasal burn, and ask for fresh wasabi. 1432 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 210-0188, sasawc.com.
BBQ: Sauced BBQ and Spirits
Weekend live bands and a midnight menu. Trivia Tuesdays and Bingo Wednesdays. A flashy bar with nine beers authored by Sauced Brewing Co. And the BBQ at this Livermore hot spot? It’s all hormone-free, so green light on the three-meat platter—especially if you start with brussels sprouts (spiked with pork belly) and finish with Oreos (deep-fried). A Walnut Creek location opens this fall. 2300 First St., Livermore, (925) 961-1300, saucedbbqandspirits.com.
Sandwich Shop: Morucci’s Deli
Lines out the door at this venerable Walnut Creek deli are standard fare. (Tip: Phone orders must be placed before 11 a.m.) The 20-plus well-crafted specialties—the Reuben and the hot pastrami with Swiss cheese are pure indulgence—are at their best without the veggie fixins. So skip the chips, and get a side of broccoli salad to assuage your guilt. 1218 Boulevard Way, Walnut Creek, (925) 939-2426.
Middle Eastern: Alborz Restaurant
A stately dining room with courtly servers and well-heeled diners lends Walnut Creek’s Alborz an air of Persian royalty. And the cuisine is elegant. The kitchen does magic even with hamburger (koobideh) and chicken (joogeh kebabs). To reach sultan status, start with Alborz’s platter of juicy dolmas, roasted eggplant, and creamy Feta, and finish with a saffron-infused lamb filet. 1829 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-9009, orderalborz.com.
Small Plates: Va de Vi
Here’s the recipe for success at this Walnut Creek landmark. Step one: Order six glasses of wine. (Don’t panic: that’s two flights of three, three-ounce pours, one red, one white—and yes, you can share.) Step two: Choose the ahi tartare, grilled shrimp, and roasted Alaskan black cod (to complement the white wines). Step three: Find a vegetable you like (pommes frites count), and some red wine–friendly protein. Serves one or two. 1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 979-0100, vadevi.com.
The “Vanilla Celebration” cake’s tasty confetti sprinkles aside, it’s the quality ingredients that set SusieCakes in Lafayette apart. We recommend the red velvet cupcake—a customer favorite. This small bakery chain is said to have been inspired by the turquoise blue mixer belonging to the founder’s grandma. 3598 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-0210, susiecakes.com.
Pizza: Zachary’s Chicago Pizza
Order the stuffed spinach and mushroom deep dish at Zachary’s, and you’ll feel the glow that comes from supporting an employee-owned company. Double that good feeling with a craft beer; we recommend the Bear Republic Brewing Company’s Racer 5 IPA. Locations in Berkeley, Oakland, Pleasant Hill, and San Ramon, zacharys.com.
Seafood: Walnut Creek Yacht Club
With an elite fishmonger in the family, the Walnut Creek Yacht Club has a special line to pristine seafood. Members of the Yacht Club’s loyalty program—anyone can join—receive a newsletter about specials and special event nights like the August Oyster Fest. Regulars come for the global seafood menu, raw bar, and value-packed happy hour (with truly fresh fish tacos and fish and chips). They also know that the Yacht Club’s killer Black Angus burger can be ordered at dinner. 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, wcyc.net.
Chinese: Uncle Yu’s
With baby lobster and Chilean sea bass, a sleek bar and sophisticated wine list, refined table-side service and polished presentations, Uncle Yu’s is anything but ordinary. Signature dishes include the flaming pupu platter and goat cheese wontons. But the classics—try the crispy-spicy orange chicken—are what set Uncle Yu’s apart. 999 Oak Hill Rd., Ste. 3, Lafayette, (925) 283-1688; 2005 Crow Canyon Pl., Ste. 160, San Ramon, (925) 275-1818, uncleyus.com.
Mexican: Los Panchos Mexican Restaurant
“Good quality made from scratch” is the Fernandez family motto. Fernando, part of the hard-working second generation—a third’s coming on strong—says crispy beef is the go-to taco, and tender carnitas to go run just $12 a pound. Finally, Panchos’ signature spicy mango margarita is zestier than its five-variety salsa bar. For a sit-down experience, visit the Danville location; for take-out only, head over to Pacheco. 480 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Ste. H, Danville, (925) 820-0181; 5872 Pacheco Blvd., Pacheco, (925) 689-4430, lospanchosrestaurant.com.
Salads: Lettuce Restaurant
After opening 40—yes, 40—restaurants, owner Bahman Tehrani knows salads. Of the 16 on the menu, the “Big Cobb Salad” with grilled chicken and his nut-and-berry-strewn “Napa Salad” are favorites. But what’s made Walnut Creek’s Lettuce so popular—Tehrani plans to expand into the space next door—is its half-and-half deal: Mix and match two of the following: soup, salad, sandwich, or pasta. 1632 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 933-5600, lettucerestaurant.com.
Fine Dining: Artisan Bistro
With a menu as impressive as his résumé (Coi, The French Laundry), chef-owner John Marquez has a tip when fine dining: “Trust the chef. Try the food as it has been designed; you just might love it.” We agree. Indulge in the Lafayette spot’s three-course lunch menu, six-course dinner menu, and Sunday suppers. They can’t be beat—except by adding a side of fries with roasted garlic aioli. 1005 Brown Ave., Lafayette, (925) 962-0882, artisanlafayette.com.
Thai: Kacha Thai Bistro
Walnut Creek’s Kacha is filled with artful images of the sacred elephant in the attractive dining room. But its tropical fruits really set the restaurant apart. Look for the menu’s rotating chef specials, and don’t miss Kacha’s mango salad with shrimp. Another winning—and distinctive—dish is the ahi tuna larb seasoned with lime, mint, and chile. 1665 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 988-9877, kachathai.com.
Indian: Sargam Indian Cuisine
The well-loved Sargam in Walnut Creek appears as welcoming as its Indian goddess statuettes. Royal red chairs and glass-topped tablecloths set a scene for curries served in copper ware—and kept warm by candlelight. The vivid green spinach (saag) dishes are particularly delicious with naan fresh from the blazing tandoor. But it’s the colorful, abundant, and affordable lunch buffet that’s most eye-catching. 140 N. Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-2700, sargamindiancuisine.com.
Vietnamese: Vanessa’s Bistro 2
A panoply of whites, Rieslings, and Sauvignon Blancs—plus Asian-spiked cocktails—plays brilliantly off the dozens of modern Vietnamese dishes, including shrimp papaya salad and a dual-poke dish with mango. It’s best to graze on Margarita Mondays, Tapas Tuesdays, and Wine Wednesdays for exceptional deals. (Its sister restaurant is in Berkeley.) 1512 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 891-4790, vanessasbistro2.com.
Patio: The Cooperage American Grille
Whether it’s blistering hot or sweater-cool, this modern American restaurant in Lafayette has you covered—with umbrellas, heat lamps, and fans. Want action? The lounge patio feeds off the bar, offering sight lines of bustling La Fiesta Square. Hoping for tranquility? The far tables on the dining patio are within earshot of a babbling brook. 32 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 298-5915, thecooperagelafayette.com.
Sunday Brunch: Scott’s Seafood
Pick a warm weekend, request a seat on the waterfall patio (Walnut Creek) or with views of the water (Oakland), and ease in with a plate of house-made beignets. Ask for shucked oysters (included) and a bacon-laced Bloody Mary (worth it), before indulging in the stunning seafood buffet accompanied by live jazz music. Desserts are prepared by Scott’s first pastry chef, hired this year. 2 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-3456, scottsjls.com; 1333 N. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 934-1300, scottswc.com.
Steak House: Vic Stewart’s
Opened near Walnut Creek’s Broadway Plaza in 1993 and housed in a 19th century Southern Pacific Railroad depot, Vic Stewart’s offers several dining venues but pulls out all the (train) stops with its party-perfect, velvet-curtained, authentic Pullman car. The bone-in New York strip with a side of blue cheese–roasted mushrooms is a grand indulgence. Also in Brentwood. 2270 Balfour Rd., Brentwood, (925) 240-2828; 850 S. Broadway, Walnut Creek, (925) 943-5666, vicstewarts.com.
Long Story Short: Award-Winning Plates
Most Acclaimed Restaurant: Commis
Editor Pick Mention star ratings, and James Syhabout shrugs. The Thailand-born chef has never put much stock in the shiny symbols of food-world approval. Seven years ago, when he opened his first restaurant on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, he wasn’t out to wow critics.
It happened anyway.
Flanked by two assistants in a tiny open kitchen, Syhabout turned out a four-course prix fixe, constantly rotating menu of understated sophistication.
Bay Area foodies caught onto Commis quickly. National magazines soon followed. Less than a year after its first dinner service, Commis became the first Oakland restaurant to earn a Michelin star.
As the accolades accrued, Commis evolved. Syhabout’s kitchen crew has expanded to six, and the chef’s tasting menu has swelled to eight courses, which, at $125, is a relative steal. But the cooking still brims with innovation.
This year, Michelin tacked on a second star, making Commis the guide’s most decorated East Bay restaurant. It’s a fact worth noting when you make your dinner plans, whether Syhabout puts stock in it or not. 3859 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 653-3902, commisrestaurant.com. —Josh Sens
Deli: Genova Delicatessen
Big Number: 500 Average number of sandwiches the deli sells at both locations during a weekday lunch. 1105 S. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-3838; 2064 Treat Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-2888, genovadeli.net.
Breakfast: Millie’s Kitchen
Reader’s Quote “My husband and I love to support local businesses, and Millie’s is our go-to place for breakfast: It feels like you’re going to Grandma’s house,” says Amanda Kurzadkowski of Lafayette. “They have the best pancakes and French toast.” Lafayette, (925) 283-2397.