2017 Best of the East Bay: Food
A venerable neighborhood pizza joint; an eatery with views of Mount Diablo.
Forbes Mill Steakhouse
Forbes’ stellar selection of prime beef and premium Cabs alone qualify it as Diablo’s premier American steak house. But with 20 French Champagnes and Asian-accented starters like sweet chili prawns and furikake ahi tuna, it rises above the baked-potato stereotype. Be it a wagyu filet mignon at dinner or Kobe beef sliders for lunch, you’ll find solid value here. (Whether the $750 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon is worth the price is between your palate and your wallet.) Bottom line: Forbes stays family friendly while showcasing fine dining’s indulgences. —N.B.
Danville and Walnut Creek, mariamariarestaurants.com
Experience the flavors of Mexico at this lively restaurant founded by guitar legend Carlos Santana. The menu features creative twists on traditional Mexican dishes, offering spicy crab-stuffed chile rellenos, succulent duck tacos with tomato-habanero cream sauce, and vibrant guacamole dotted with seafood. And since no Mexican meal is complete without a margarita, there are eight to choose from. Our favorite is the eponymous Maria Maria margarita with fresh lime juice and house-made agave cordial—agave nectar, brandy, and triple sec—and a float of orange liqueur. Order an extra on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, when live music is performed. —A.S.
Sauced BBQ and Spirits
Livermore and Walnut Creek, saucedbbqandspirits.com
This lively barbecue restaurant brings Southern hospitality to the East Bay, with its down-home vibe and finger-lickin’-good grub. Meaty appetizers like pulled pork–stuffed jalapeño poppers and plates of slow-cooked meats—such as tender brisket and juicy “burnt ends”—are just a handful of the BBQ favorites. Sauced’s double-entendre name is also reflected in the bar program, which boasts over 20 original cocktails, nine Sauced Brewing Company beers, 40 rotating taps, and 250 brands of whiskeys. But some of the more fun offerings are the daily changing shot-and-beer combos. Whether you’re looking to cheer up or dial down, each duo packs a strong one-two punch that’ll do the trick. On Mondays, try the Dirty Little Dickel (George Dickel No. 8 whiskey and Sauced’s Dirty Little Pig IPA) with the Carolina pulled pork; and on Sundays, get Pig Girls Don’t Rye (Bulleit rye whiskey and Sauced’s Pig Ol’ Bitties blonde ale) with chicken wings. —A.S.
Having pared his empire from seven to five restaurants this past year, a jovial Rodney Worth says he’ll be strolling his patios “all summer long.” Worth is a chef whose affability is matched only by his culinary versatility. So whether you join him for BBQ and whiskey at Worth Ranch in San Ramon; a Rodzilla burger and a Trumer Pils at The Peasant’s Courtyard in Alamo; the Blackhawk hash and a glass of OJ at The Little Pear; fajitas and a margarita at The Prickly Pear Cantina; or lamb shank and Pinot Noir at The Peasant and the Pear— the last three all in Danville—you’ll find a sunny disposition, inside or out. —N.B.
Walnut Creek, montecatinirestaurant.com
“Montecatini is a gem of a restaurant. The staff treats the customers with loving care, and chef Ermes Paulin serves wonderful Italian food. My wife and I love the calamari and veal scaloppine.” —Roger Gregory, Moraga
Rooftop Restaurant and Bar
Walnut Creek, rooftopwc.com
As if noshing on executive chef Justine Kelly’s international small plates at an open-air restaurant atop a three-story building with views of Mount Diablo wasn’t sexy enough, Rooftop boasts what might be Walnut Creek’s swankiest bar and smartest wine list. Rooftop just opened for brunch on Sundays—with a big investment in ceiling fans, cooling units, and umbrellas—so there’s no better time than now to take a first peek, or to throw a party, at Rooftop. In the week leading up to the restaurant’s one-year anniversary bash, co-owner Jim Telford said, “We’re emphasizing more fun food and cocktails.” —N.B.
Special Occasion restaurant
Esin Restaurant and Bar
Husband-and-wife-team Curtis and Esin deCarion
have been providing stellar service and cuisine to Diablo diners for some 20 years with remarkable consistency—making their comfortably formal restaurant a sure bet for your next important date. Whether it’s a meze platter on the patio, scallops and prawns in the formal dining room, or steak frites in the more casual Wine Room, Esin has professional pampering down pat. And the phenomenal desserts can make every visit here a special occasion. —N.B.
Zachary’s Chicago Pizza
Berkeley, Oakland, Pleasant Hill, and San Ramon; zacharys.com
Whether you go for a signature stuffed pie with bready crust, ample fillings, and a chopped tomato topping; or a tender and buttery cornmeal-dusted thin crust (we love it with pesto), Zachary’s serves each with a smile. The employee-owned company has an upbeat, family-friendly vibe and an atmosphere that’s decidedly more sophisticated than your average pizza parlor—particularly at the newer Pleasant Hill and San Ramon locations. Craft beers and sunny patios add up to a kick-backed summery good time, while lunch slices and half-baked stuffed pies are designed for those on the go. The original Rockridge (opened in 1989) and Berkeley restaurants have become East Bay institutions. —N.B.
Alamo, Lafayette, and Walnut Creek; coffeeshop411.com
This hip café was such a hit when it opened in Walnut Creek in April 2015 that it expanded to both Lafayette and Alamo within the last year. The coffeehouse features an impressive roster of hipster-quality roasters, including Sightglass, Stumptown, and Zolo. (Tip: You can even spike your cup of joe with Bulleit bourbon or Hangar 1 vodka.) But there are also fancier beverages such as the refreshing minted iced cold brew and the coconut-orange iced latte, which pair deliciously with a treat. (Nutella Pop-Tart or farm-fresh breakfast sandwich, anyone?) Coffee Shop also recently started serving açai bowls topped with bananas, berries, and sliced almonds. —A.S.
Lafayette and San Ramon, uncleyus.com
Uncle Yu’s has long been a popular dining destination for fine Chinese cuisine—and a Best of the East Bay winner for the last five years in a row—but the man behind the restaurant has remained something of a mystery.
“It’s funny that nobody really knows who I am,” says chef-owner Andy Tsang. “But I’m always in the kitchen, so I guess it’s not too surprising.”
After working at Uncle Yu’s for more than 25 years, the Danville resident took over ownership of the flagship San Ramon restaurant in 2005 and the Lafayette location in 2008. Last month, he realized his dream of creating a Chinese restaurant of his own, with the debut of Andy and Yu’s in downtown Pleasanton. Tsang now reigns over a mini empire—but he has humble roots.
Tsang grew up in the rural outskirts of Hong Kong and, as the oldest of six children, got a job in a restaurant at age 12. “I started working so young because I was poor,” explains Tsang.
While learning how to prepare Cantonese-style food, Tsang developed a passion for cooking. When he was
16 years old, he immigrated with his family to Danville, but he eventually found his way back into the kitchen, and spent 10 years traveling around the country cooking in different restaurants.
When Tsang returned to the East Bay, he started working as a waiter at Uncle Yu’s in Lafayette, but he later took charge of the kitchen at the San Ramon spot. Once the original owner, Jennifer Yu, was ready to sell, she knew she wanted Tsang to take over. Tsang created a more modern menu that now features fresh, high-quality, local ingredients—as well as gluten-free options and healthy entrées. He never uses MSG or artificial preservatives in his food.
“Many people think Chinese food is greasy and unhealthy, but I don’t want to have that stereotype,” says Tsang. “I want to help people understand that Chinese food can be refined and more gourmet.”
Andy and Yu’s follows a similar concept, offering organic menu items and creative twists on traditional Chinese dishes. Tsang spent nearly two years developing the restaurant, and it is his pride and joy. “It was my dream to have my own business,” says Tsang. “I wanted to be the man in charge.”
It certainly isn’t easy running his growing empire, but Tsang has no complaints. “I love being at my restaurant,” he says. “It is my kingdom. I feel fulfilled when my customers are happy and greeting me, or giving me a compliment. It’s the best feeling in the world.” —A.S.
Walnut Creek Yacht Club
Walnut Creek, wcyc.net.
This venerable Walnut Creek eatery has been famous for its fresh seafood since it opened 20 years ago, and it’s easy to see why. The Yacht Club receives pristine catches each morning from sustainable fisheries and never uses frozen products. Executive chef and co-owner Kevin Weinberg makes nearly everything in-house—from the soups to the dressings to the sauces for the fish—and is famous for his clam chowder, cioppino, and fish tacos. “Members” (you become one when you walk in the door) can also attend monthly themed family-style seafood dinners and annual celebrations, such as the Oysterfest extravaganza in August and the Oktoberfest party in September. —A.S.
Walnut Creek, babalous.com
Babalou’s celebrates the cuisines of Greece, Turkey, and several other Mediterranean countries. The standouts here are the falafel, lamb kebab, and lamb shawarma—available as platters but best enjoyed with toasted lavash, crisp veggies, and a creamy tahini dressing. (Get it spicy, and add Feta cheese.) Particularly bright are the mostly vegan salads—piquant classics such as char-roasted baba ghanoush and mujaddara, a simple mix of lentils, rice, cucumber, and fried onions. In a word, Babalou’s cuisine is vibrant—just like the restaurant’s playful mural of colorful iconic characters. Be sure to finish your dining journey with house-made baklava. —N.B.
The Peasant and the Pear
Chef Rodney Worth serves up hearty, rustic American fare at his flagship restaurant in downtown Danville, where the brunch menu shines especially bright. Nab a table on the cozy patio to enjoy the fragrant flowers and the relaxing sound of the fountain, as you sip a PearMosa (a mimosa made with roasted pear nectar). Savor your libation with the Cowboy Hash, a decadent medley of prime rib and potatoes smothered in cheddar cheese and finished with sunny-side up eggs and crispy onion strings. But if you really want to treat yourself, order the French toast. This classic version features three thick slices of sourdough topped with house-made whipped cream, seasonal berries, and organic Vermont maple syrup. —A.S.
True Food Kitchen
Walnut Creek, truefoodkitchen.com
With global cuisine as adventurous as it is invigorating, this one-of-a-kind chain restaurant provides a truly energizing dining experience. Yet the eating—whether you’re enjoying charred cauliflower with harissa or a juicy grass-fed burger on a flaxseed bun—offers such healthy, harmonious flavors and contrasting textures, it practically becomes a meditative experience. But you won’t be entranced for long: The expansive dining room and huge exhibition kitchen create a buzz as electrifying as the bar’s craft cocktails (and jazzy juice drinks). —N.B.
Walnut Creek, moruccisdeliwalnutcreek.com
This popular Walnut Creek deli draws crowds during lunch, with its array of delectable sandwiches, salads, and sides. But try to save room for dessert: Morucci’s also makes mouthwatering whoopie pies and pastries.
By The Numbers
$7: Average price of a sandwich.
9: Types of cheese offered, ranging from cheddar to Brie to Danish Fontina.
14: Kinds of meat available, including salami, peppered turkey, tri-tip, and corned beef.
20: Number of specialty sandwiches on the menu. Top choices include the hot pastrami with Swiss cheese and the prosciutto sandwich with fresh mozzarella and tomato. You can also build your own.
20: Minutes spent in line on weekdays, on average. Tip: The line often snakes out the door during the lunch crunch, so arrive at 11 a.m. or after 2:30 p.m. to avoid a long wait.
500: Approximate number of customers served on a typical day. —A.S.