Diablo Dining Guide
Alamo Creek restaurant
3206 Danville Blvd.
Small is the operative word for this engaging newcomer. Alamo Creek Grill has only five tables inside and a few more outside. Prices are just as diminutive. The most expensive entrée, a sautéed beef, chicken, and shrimp combo, rings up at $11.95. Bottles of wine sell for what some restaurants charge for a single glass. But even at such modest prices, the food is big on taste and portion size. The restaurant serves Middle East–leaning Mediterranean dishes like dolmas and grilled ground beef kebabs, both of which are excellent, as are the sautéed scallops. Also good are the Caesar salad, prawn pasta, and veal scaloppine. All entrées are served with a choice of homemade soup or a green salad. Friendly service and a casual neighborhood atmosphere add to our conclusion that good things can, indeed, come in small packages. Dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $.
Alamo Palace Chinese Restaurant
120-C Alamo Plaza
This narrow slip of a restaurant serves both Mandarin and Szechuan cuisines, with an emphasis on traditional dishes such as honey-walnut prawns and hot, spicy stir-fried eggplant or Chinese long beans. For lovers of mu shu dishes, there are versions made with beef, chicken, shrimp, or vegetables. A thriving takeout business hums both days and evenings. Lunch Tues.–Sat., dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ $.
Cherubini Coffee House
37 Alamo Square
Tucked into the back of Alamo Square, this is a charming café and antique furniture shop. Decorated in the style of a 19th-century apothecary, Cherubini is a gathering spot for regulars to relax with a latte, read the daily paper, or check out the antiques for sale displayed around the room. Specialty coffees, breakfast rolls and pastries, sandwiches, soups, and salads are the comforts of the simple menu. Breakfast daily, lunch Mon.–Sat. ð‘ ð· $.
3195 Danville Blvd.
Set among redwoods off the busy main drag, this place feels at times like the center of the action in Alamo. Regulars gather to visit and eat breakfast or lunch, poring over a menu that seems large
for such a cozy place. Breakfast selections range from waffles to a Mexican omelette; lunchtime offerings include a wide array of fresh salads, sandwiches, and hamburgers. Breakfast daily, lunch Mon.–Sat. ð‘ ð· $.
3168 Danville Blvd.
(Stone Valley Shopping Center)
Don Jose’s has carved out a pleasant patio in the Stone Valley Shopping Center, with a vista of trees along the creek behind it. Menu selections are mostly traditional—enchiladas, flautas, fajitas, and tamales—with daily lunch and dinner specials. One interesting crossover is what the staff calls a “Mexican pizza,” on the menu as “malinchi.” It’s a hybrid tostada-pizza with a choice of meats, plus tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, and cheese on a crisp flour tortilla. Lunch Mon.–Sat., dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $–$$.
115-C Alamo Plaza Shopping Center
The East Bay abounds with Thai restaurants that offer good but predictable food. Alamo’s Jitr Thai is different. Sparkling fresh ingredients and fresh preparations set this local favorite apart. Chef Penny Vetsri, who cooked at San Francisco’s venerable Thep Phanom, prepares food with a restrained elegance. The eggplant and shrimp salad is emblematic of what can make Thai food so appealing. The tender bits of rock shrimp and non-greasy eggplant flavors are electric, delicate, and exotic all at once. The special Peking-style duck wrapped in thick rice-flour "tortillas" is another satisfying, inventive starter. For entrées, look for the Indian-influenced masamam curry with plump sea scallops, shrimp, and rice pancakes. Desserts stand out, too. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ $.
3160-B Danville Blvd.
(Stone Valley Shopping Center)
Hearty Italian fare is the formula for success at this long-standing Alamo restaurant (known for many years as Loretto’s), with a menu anchored on fresh fish, steak, and pasta. A good destination for the extended family dinner, Forli has a few large tables and booths big enough to squeeze in several generations. If you’re looking for a quiet dinner for two, fret not; they can accommodate. Budget-minded fine diners should take note that several signature dishes are offered as early-bird specials each evening before 6 p.m. And on Friday and Saturday evenings, East Bay groove-setters can dance a few hours of the night away to live music in the cocktail lounge. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
Beauregard’s California Bistro
1373 Solano Ave.
Solano Avenue’s stable of hearty reliables has a new addition: Beauregard’s. Warm and comfortable, the 80-seat bistro, with its wood-burning oven and earnest waitstaff, replaces the very old and cold Persian-flavored Khayyams. A large menu hits all the bistro bases, from pizzas to pork chops, and thrives on the love of fresh ingredients. To run hand-in-hand with the chef, start with the elegant smoked salmon pizzetta and follow it with one of the day’s three to five specials. If there’s a weakness here, it’s that some of Beauregard’s bold flavor combinations—like an appetizer mixing fried goat cheese with olive tapenade, sweet peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes—can feel a bit overworked. But in the land of safe-play establishments, it’s nice to see someone cooking with gusto. Lunch Tues.–Sat., dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ $$.
1501A Solano Ave.
A fun addition to the East Bay’s hopping
“small plates” scene is Fonda, where chef August Churchill serves tasting portions of seductive Mexican antojitos, or “little whims.” Churchill creates temptations such as fresh corn tamales served with queso fresco and Early Girl tomato salsa, squash flowers filled with goat cheese, and vuelve a la vida, a Veracruz-style seafood cocktail brimming with sparkling fresh chunks of Dungeness crab, shrimp, and bass. The vibrant décor and open kitchen behind the handsome
bar make for a warm, relaxing environment in which to enjoy the outstanding house cocktails. Dinner daily. ð‘ $$ www.
Nizza La Bella
825 San Pablo Ave.
The food is the star at Nizza La Bella, a cozy, sophisticated French-Italian bistro that’s been a magnet for locals since it opened in 2000. The menu is rich with Provençal renditions of Italian dishes, like the pasta papillon smothered in a light tomato sauce; innovative seafood plates, like fire-roasted mussels with a thick dollop of aioli; and heavier entrées, like the traditional bouillabaisse of shrimp, mussels, clams, and rockfish. A busy zinc bar, mirror-lined walls, and an extensive drink list all contribute to the restaurant’s clever Mediterranean ambience. Prices are set surprisingly low, perhaps to coax customers out to the somewhat remote location on hushed San Pablo Avenue. Dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
1580 Solano Ave.
Wine shop by day, restaurant by night. In the back of Solano Cellars are an L-shaped bar, walls of dark blue and red, and handfuls of locals enjoying French-inspired small plates and wines by the glass. Seated at one of the tables, you feel as though you’re in a friend’s home, especially when chef Jennifer Dobrowolski delivers your food. While ingredients are top-notch, preparation is too light-handed—a beet, walnut, and goat cheese salad gets neither salt nor vinaigrette. A beef stew, though finished with lovely, fresh horseradish, needed more time on the stove. The seasonal menu changes weekly, however, and local legend says the cassoulet is fantastic. Wines are poured in tastes, glasses, and flights, and you can buy what you taste from the shop after dinner. Dinner Wed.–Sat. ð‘ $$.
123 First St.
Steinbeck fans and seafood lovers should check out Captain Blythers, a surf-and-turf restaurant with an East Coast feel. If you’re feeling fishy, the abundance of options include blackened snapper, grilled halibut, filet of sole, and various combinations of shrimp, prawns, and scallops. Carnivorous sorts tend to choose the prime rib, filet mignon, or rib eye steak. The upstairs bar is a good place to lift a frothy mug with your mates, and snack on crab cakes, clam strips, or fried zucchini. The restaurant’s location at the end of First Street gives you a chance to stretch your peg leg and walk along the under-trafficked Benicia waterfront. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $$–$$$.
PETALS BAR AND RESTAURANT
639 First St.
When Kay Loyola’s devoted customers at Sala Thai asked her for more restaurant space just for her fabulous appetizers, she went one better. She found a spot down the street from her popular Thai restaurant and opened Petals. Specializing in Pan-Pacific fusion cuisine, Petals offers a relaxed, sophisticated dining experience. Entrées such as stir-fried California halibut with dirty rice, grilled rack of lamb with a salsa made from Asian fruits, and Cantonese roasted duck are outstanding. Loyola likes to keep things fresh and seasonal, incorporating edible flower petals into each dish and changing the menu every other week. Jazz trios and a pianist add to the atmosphere on Saturday evenings. Lunch and dinner, Tues.–Sat. ð‘ ð· $$ www.
807 First St.
Located on Benicia’s charming, small-town main drag, Sala Thai fits in well with the town’s homey, comfortable ambience. Sala’s food, on the other hand, is far from ordinary—the restaurant offers some of the best, and freshest, Thai food around. Both the Thai barbecued chicken and the emerald curry prawns should satisfy even the most desperate Thai cravings. For a starter, give the beef salad or the satay (grilled skewers of chicken, beef, or pork) a whirl. Don’t forget to wear your best socks—most dining at Sala is sans shoes. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ $–$$.
Venticello’s Ristorante Italiano
911 First St.
Part of the appeal of a stroll down First Street in Benicia is the diversity of its dining options. Adding to this appeal is Venticello’s. This stylish restaurant serves classic Italian fare. While the menu doesn’t hold many surprises, many dishes are prepared with a refreshing lightness that lets the individual ingredients shine. Stuffed eggplant, salads, homemade soups, and pastas are all good. It’s only when the kitchen strays into non-Italian territory that some dishes
suffer. There’s a small but inviting outdoor
seating section, perfect for watching life go
by on a warm night. And for lingering with
dessert, the classic tiramisu is creamy, rich, and big enough to share. Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., Sunday brunch. ð‘ ð· $$$.
1888 Solano Ave.
Not only does owner and chef Lachu Moorjani make sure Ajanta’s beverage selection is up-to-date and interesting, with offerings like Indian Chenin Blanc and Ayinger double bock beer, his food is a scrumptious collision of authentic Indian cuisine and local, seasonal produce. Vegetarian samosas are cakey, clean, and rich, with evenly spiced potato and pea. Palak Kofta brings expertly molded balls of spinach and bread crumbs swimming in a cream-tinged curry. During spring, asparagus spears are cooked in the tandoor oven; drizzled with a chili-flecked yogurt sauce, they arrive at the table in a steam of cardamom and clove. If Indian food in the East Bay gets better than this, we haven’t found it. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
1647 Solano Ave.
Don’t be surprised to find eight-year-old Ben, son of chef-owner Lance Dean Velasquez, busing your table or playing when you visit this neighborhood restaurant named for him and Dad. Do roll up your sleeves and enjoy Dean’s way with simple dishes, from cauliflower soup touched with truffle oil to braised short ribs with potato purée and oyster mushrooms. Look for California cuisine and occasional Mediterranean and Latin dishes. Not to be missed: Ben’s Supper, a three-course meal available from 5 to 6 p.m. for $12. Such a deal! Dinner daily ð‘ $$–$$$.
Bette’s Oceanview Diner
1807-A Fourth St.
This ever-packed and cozy diner is like home to its regulars, and a slice of motley Berkeley life for out-of-towners. The wait can be long, and the service crisp, but you won’t leave hungry or unsatisfied, especially after tearing into huevos rancheros, soufflé pancakes, or a wedge of pie à la mode. Breakfast and lunch daily. ð‘ $.
1849 Shattuck Ave.
This Shattuck Avenue bistro, just down the street from the heavy hitters in Berkeley’s famed “gourmet ghetto,” offers unpretentious French fare in a friendly atmosphere. Executive chef and proprietor Kenneth Kniess formerly starred as chef de cuisine at the popular Left Bank restaurants in Larkspur and Menlo Park.
Liaison has a similar French-but-not-fussy
feel, and the menu features hearty favorites
like beef Burgundy stew, niçoise salad, and French onion soup, as well as several vegetarian choices. A wine list with numerous Northern California and French selections complements the fresh cuisine. Lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
914 Heinz Ave.
Executive chef Arnon Oren, formerly of Chez Panisse, has brought a clean California sensibility to a small menu of seasonal dishes of wild local salmon, delicate verdant salads, and seared duck breast. You can guess the main theme for dessert at this restaurant at the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory, but chocolate works its way into the savory dishes as well. At lunch, pressed sandwiches are delightful, especially when paired with a crisp Caesar salad and an iced chocolate drink. Service can be rough. Still, this restaurant is eager to please, and the food is truly special. Coffee, pastries, and lunch daily, dinner Tues.–Sat. ð‘ ð· $$$.
Café de la Paz
1600 Shattuck Ave.
The whole idea of a Nuevo Latino café and cantina was unheard-of back in 1991, when Russell Bass opened this bright, second-floor restaurant in the heart of North Berkeley’s food zone. But the changing menu of classic and contemporary dishes from Latin America is still turned out here with authenticity and without pretense. The kitchen produces at least 20 sauces and salsas every day, savory complements to the seafood specialties, tapas, and entrées. The dining room features beautiful handmade yarn paintings from the Huichol people of north-central Mexico. Brunch Sat.–Sun., lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
1603 San Pablo Ave.
Another branch of the Chez Panisse family tree, the diminutive Café Fanny, named for Alice Waters’s daughter, does a more buttoned-down take on Waters’s fresh, innovative cuisine. There’s hardly room to fling a spoonful of organic granola in this tiny space, but that doesn’t stop locals from squeezing in for buckwheat crepes and café au lait. Come on a sunny day and enjoy a patio table; otherwise it’s standing room only. Breakfast and lunch daily. ð‘ ð· $$.
1782 Fourth St.
This casual, contemporary Berkeley restaurant offers a changing menu of light, flavorful
food made with many seasonal and specialty ingredients, such as, on one visit, a soft-shelled crab served with broadleaf cress and lemon
mayonnaise and fettuccine with green garlic, kale, and bacon. Service can be uneven,
particularly on busy evenings. Lunch daily,
dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$ www.
1515 Shattuck Ave.
César has more in common with its neighbor, Chez Panisse, than location. This Berkeley tapas bar also shares a pioneering standard of excellence. Serving small plates of vibrant Spanish-style food, César looks like a restaurant, but is really more of a bar-café hybrid. The concept definitely fills a need for a grown-up gathering spot in Berkeley. Tapas such as fresh shrimp in paprika and garlic oil, a crock of spicy salt cod, and sandwiches with spare but flavorful fillings are designed to go with cocktails. A 20-page bar book offers flights—three small pours—of top-shelf brandies or vodkas. Mix and match food and drink all night long or use César as a jumping-off point for a night in Berkeley’s revved-up arts district. Lunch and
dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$ www.
1517 Shattuck Ave.
More than 30 years after she served her first prix fixe dinner (back then, the price was $3.95), Alice Waters and her 100-plus staff are still doing simple magic with the season’s best ingredients. Meals in the Craftsman-style dining room are about showcasing these ingredients. Reservations are essential, and you can book up to one calendar month ahead. The menu changes daily. A wide-ranging wine list offers interesting bottles from California and Europe. Dinner Mon.–Sat. ð‘ $$$$.
Chez Panisse Café
1517 Shattuck Ave.
This younger sibling of the restaurant downstairs continues to offer a brief but intriguing menu of à la carte dishes that reflect the season. Some say that the “California pizza” was born in the rustic brick oven here, as was the crusty baked goat cheese served with garden salad. Those classics share menu space with pastas, grilled fish, and meats, as well as desserts devised by Alice Waters’s pastry chefs, Alan Tangren and Mary Canales. Take some time with the excellent wine list. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat. ð‘$$.
2102 Shattuck Ave.
A hip, sophisticated addition to the bustling Berkeley Arts District, Downtown’s fresh,
interesting fare perfectly suits its urban clientele. The ambience is light and jazzy, a natural setting for a bistro aimed at an arts-loving crowd. Jazz and blues musicians play live Tuesdays through Saturdays. Interesting salads and seafood
highlight a changing menu. Lunch Tues.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ $$$.
1820 Fourth St.
Christopher Lee and Janet Hankinson’s Tuscan-themed Eccolo is the latest trip abroad on Berkeley’s Fourth Street. With Lee running the kitchen and Hankinson the front of the house, the former Ginger Island has been made sleek and stylish with warm, earthy colors, elegant floral arrangements, an open kitchen, and an attractive zinc bar. Eccolo—Italian for “here it is!”—has a daily changing menu that pays tribute to family-farm producers. The arancini—deep-fried risotto balls oozing mozzarella and garnished with a smear of marinara and a drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil—are outstanding, as is a salad of arugula with a garlicky clam and parsley toast. For an entrée, the tangle of perfectly al dente strands of the Linguine alla Diavola wear a tastefully restrained veil of tomato and pepperoncini, garnished with
tangy shards of ricotta salata. Eccolo is wellon its way to joining a Bay Area restaurant lineup that places quality, seasonal ingredients and honest cooking over attitude. Lunch daily, dinner Wed.–Mon. ð‘ $$$–$$$$.
1329 Gilman St.
Lalime’s is more than just a welcoming neighborhood spot. Its delicious, inventive food belies the restaurant’s modest location. The menu is Mediterranean-influenced, although it changes according to what best-quality fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish are available. Bold New World flavors and Asian-inspired dishes also make the occasional appearance. The wine list is innovative and often surprising. Choose from the à la carte selections, order the prix fixe menu when offered, or attend one of the special theme dinners, such as one featuring the cuisine of Piemonte, Italy. Dinner daily. ð‘ $$$ www.
3201 College Ave.
It was a bit of a shock when the venerable Buttercup Café closed, but we have to admit we like its replacement. Mitama has impressive food—especially the sushi. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as the sushi chef came from the well-regarded Hamano in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. Classic nigiri selections of strikingly fresh yellowtail and halibut melt in the mouth. Rolls—including the overwrought-sounding “Mitama,” made with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, snow crab, cucumber wrapped in avocado, yellowtail, flying fish roe, and scallion—are succulent gems of balanced flavor and texture. If you’re not into sushi, the tempura is a delight, the light batter allowing subtle flavors of fresh shrimp or vegetable to sing. Of course, nothing is perfect, and the tastefully designed room is marred by service that moves with the speed of a glacier. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $$$.
1830 Fourth St.
On a foggy day—no, any day—duck into this intimate retreat on busy Fourth Street for the best noodles around, whether buckwheat soba or the fat white udon. Don’t miss the fish specials, either. Chef-owner David Vardy brings a high aesthetic and considerable prowess to everything he prepares. The waitstaff will bring you beer or wine, but ask them about the selection of fragrant Japanese and Chinese teas. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat. ð‘ ð· $–$$.
Rick and Ann’s Restaurant
2922 Domingo Ave.
Since its 1989 opening, this cozy restaurant
near the western base of the Claremont Resort & Spa has been a favorite Berkeley breakfast spot. Morning offerings include cornmeal pancakes, Ann’s tofu scramble, and Rick’s signature cereal, Morning Crunch. Since the weekend wait for these famous breakfasts can easily stretch to an hour, Rick and Ann’s is also a nice place to pop in for supper. The dinner menu changes weekly. A catering menu has grown out of the restaurant business. Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
1539 Solano Ave.
Rivoli is one of the bright lights of Solano Avenue dining, with two small rooms awash
in color and a window wall that brings the
luxuriant garden inside. Service is every bit
as warm as the décor. Chef Wendy Brucker seamlessly blends dishes and techniques
from around the world, with large dollops
of Mediterranean influence evident on the
ever-changing, grill-intensive menu. There may be a lot happening on Rivoli’s plates, but Brucker’s complex compositions get the job done. Dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto
1919 Fourth St.
This landmark restaurant near the Berkeley Marina has been serving delicacies of the sea for over a century. After a $5 million renovation in the late ’90s, the grotto is again offering fresh morsels from such faraway fishdoms as Japan (tobiko caviar), Hawaii (ahi tuna), Alaska (coho salmon), Prince Edward Island (mussels), and New Zealand (blue nose). A refreshing selection of salads and sandwiches provides for the lunch crowd, and the dinner menu boasts prime steaks alongside the ubiquitous fish. With cozy booths for family dining (as well as a steal of an early-bird menu), the restaurant creates a consistently charming ambience for a satisfying seafood feast. Lunch and dinner daily. Validated parking. ð‘ $$–$$$.
1788 Fourth St.,
Tacubaya is sister restaurant to the popular Doña Tomas in Oakland, where chef/owners Thomas Schnetz and Donna Savitsky made a name for themselves with soulful renditions of Mexican classics. At Tacubaya, the couple have stuck to using fresh, locally grown produce, Niman Ranch meats, and organic Hoffman Farm chickens. Chef Michael Rivera, an alumnus of Oliveto, and his crew make everything from scratch every day, including heartbreakingly wonderful corn tortillas, icy and refreshing horchata, and some memorable salsas. Earthy, regionally authentic breakfast and lunch dishes include chilaquiles, ceviche, and tamales of sweet corn or pork with red mole—with nary a burrito in sight. Breakfast and lunch daily. $.
2826 Telegraph Ave.
It may be located on a somnolent stretch of Telegraph Avenue, but Zax Tavern is alive and hopping. Chefs Mark Drazek and Barbara Mulas, of the previous Zax in San Francisco, join co-owners and house managers Michael Modos (formerly of Lalime’s) and Adam Shoehalter (Italian Colors) in creating this inviting neighborhood bistro. Patrons can savor the seasonal California menu while enjoying the dining room’s soft music, Berkeley Mills woodwork, and floral arrangements. Highlights include a twice-baked goat cheese soufflé appetizer, a smattering of Niman Ranch meat entrées (pork ribs, steaks, pork chops, and a burger are all on offer), and a Mediterranean-influenced lamb stew. Dinner Tues.–Sat.. ð‘ $$–$$$.
Cap’s Oak Street Bar & Grill
144 Oak St.
Don’t be alarmed by the stark exterior of this continental cuisine-serving restaurant in downtown Brentwood. The converted Masonic lodge houses a warm, elegant dining room resplendent with antique chandeliers and an open kitchen. Cap’s serves pastas, seafood, and steaks with flair. Try the filet mignon and lobster tail served with freshly steamed Brentwood vegetables or the sole almandine with rice pilaf. Servers are borderline mind readers—they anticipate your needs before you do. (Good luck getting to the bottom of that ice water.) Eat out on the patio under a tent of sparkling lights. Lunch and dinner Mon.-Fri., dinner only Sat. and Sun. ð‘ ð· $$$.
ED’S MUDVILLE GRILL
6200 Center St.
Pop into Ed Moresi’s sports bar and grill in Clayton, and you’ll feel as if everybody knows your name. This family-friendly watering hole boasts stadium favorites like hot wings, onion rings, and the Mighty Casey burger, and includes daily specials like cioppino. Chill out on the deck with the Fuji apple salad while the kids hit the arcade, or grab a stool and a pint of suds (choose from more than 20 beers on tap) in the boisterous dining room. With 11 televisions and tons of sports memorabilia lining the walls, Ed’s is a sports fan’s nirvana. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $.
6115 Main St.
A new owner has brought the food up a notch
at this cozy old-Clayton Victorian. Focaccia arrives hot and flecked with caramelized onion. A butternut squash puree was silky and sweet, not overwhelmingly creamy, with a true butternut flavor and balanced seasoning. The mizuna and green apple salad, with red onion, blue cheese, and rice-wine vinaigrette was a lively mixture of fresh flavors, and even the simple green salad sported a perfect classic vinaigrette with shallots. The rack of lamb is served with
a petit herb salad, which includes mint; it takes a little getting used to but actually makes a nice accompaniment. The flavors of the salmon with a fennel broth didn’t come together well, and
the broth seemed watery. A flourless chocolate cake had a satisfying flavor. The wine list has some odd bargain-bin choices; if you bring your own wine, corkage is $10. Dinner Wed.–Sun., brunch Sun. ð‘ $$$.
5400 Ygnacio Valley Rd.
On a busy Saturday night, you’re likely to hear owner Saul Avelar yelling “Hot plates!” in his thick accent as he rushes by. It’s that kind of color—and the authentic Mexican food—that draws the crowds on weekends. So be prepared to wait a few minutes—you can sip on a margarita while you pass the time. The Grill offers every type of Mexican dish, its bestseller being the chicken fajitas. The green-chili enchiladas are excellent, too. And don’t forget to grab a signature lollipop on the way out. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $–$$.
6201 Center St.
Nicolas Maamari opened La Veranda in Clayton’s infamous “haunted” building in May 2002, but Maamari and partner Johnny Khalilieh aren’t worried about apparitions spoiling appetites at this eatery. Their menu offers cuisine from northern Italy with a family-style dining environment. Starter plates are especially good—the grilled prawns wrapped in a thin shell of pancetta are outstanding—while the entrée selections of pizzas and pasta dishes provide ample options. Daily specials feature fresh fish and veal variations and a fine selection of local wines. Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sun. ð‘ ð· $$.
A & Noi
2118 Willow Pass Rd., #400
Husband-and-wife team A and Noi Boonsang threw fusion to the wind when creating this friendly American/Thai/Mediterranean joint. Their menu, which is part Asian exotic (think pad Thai and papaya salad), part Yankee classic (think porterhouse steak and Maine lobster), can only be described as “quirky.” Crispy Dungeness crab cakes, inventively enveloped in shredded and fried phyllo, make a great starter for a traditional grilled chicken fettuccine or shrimp scampi. Or for an Eastern experience, try the near-perfect chicken satay before moving on to beef mausamun curry and jasmine rice. The chef’s aesthetic knack is apparent in every dish, but sadly absent in the bland dining room. Desserts handmade by pastry specialist Noi provide for a fantastic finale. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
1970 Diamond Blvd.
(at the Concord Hilton)
Though Grissini is set inside the Concord Hilton, there’s a separate entrance to make this Italian restaurant feel more intimate than a standard hotel bistro. Executive chef Wolfgang Weber, formerly of Walnut Creek’s Le Virage, took over the kitchen in 2002, and has made the switch from classic French to traditional Sicilian cuisine with ease. To perk up the menu’s traditional Caesar salads, pizzas, and pastas, Weber has added some interesting appetizers and entrées. Try the bruschetta as a starter, and the thin, pan-seared Halibut as a main course. One item Weber hasn’t changed is the signature tiramisu, covered in luscious chocolate shavings—quite a decadent way to
finish the meal. Lunch Mon.–Fri., breakfast and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$$–$$$$.
Hot Basil Café
790D Oak Grove Rd.
Split personalities are not usually great for relationships. But Hot Basil’s side-by-side servings of Indian and Thai dishes are worthy of a long-term commitment. And when we say side-by-side, we mean it. This is not a fusion restaurant, but a place where Indian and Thai specialties are independently realized—a place where you can try samosas, then Thai fried rice. Both cuisines are spice-intensive, so although it may seem strange to follow the refreshingly complex vegetarian spring rolls with the rich yet light alu ghobi (cauliflower and potato in a tomato-and-onion sauce), it works out fine. There are missteps, such as a bland pad thai, but you have to expect that on a large menu that ranges from tom kha gai to tandoori chicken. While not the best Thai or Indian you’ll ever eat, Hot Basil comes through on the little things, like a properly baked naan, that ensure this is one first date you’ll want to meet again. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
2118 Willow Pass Rd., 100 B
Tucked into a row of buildings on Todos Santos Plaza, this urban trattoria transforms fresh
vegetables, fish, and meats into a virtual trip to Italy. The menu selections are wide ranging and classic—caprese salad, bruschetta, carpaccio, veal Marsala, and penne arrabbiata are a few stellar standbys—with an emphasis on quality ingredients and distinct flavors. Diners are easily seduced into long, leisurely meals, ending with luscious desserts, including tiramisu and chocolate-
topped profiteroles with custard. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
Memo’s Cocina Mexicana
2118 Mt. Diablo St.
In the world of Bay Area Mexican food, most restaurants are either fast and cheap taquerias or the sit-down joints that serve hefty combo platters covered in melted cheese. But Memo’s Cocina Mexicana in Concord is a step above. Yes, there are standards like tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, but you'll also find uncommon dishes like a refreshing cactus salad; thick, carnitas-topped masa cakes called sopes; and the fantastic chicken pipian, a sultry, pumpkin seed–based mole that is one of Mexico’s noblest—and hardest to find—dishes. Add to all that a trio of excellent salsas, attentive service, and good nightly specials. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $$.
T. R.’s bar & grill
2001 Salvio St.
T. R.’s Bar & Grill occupies a spacious downtown building that exudes lived-in comfort. The dark, wood-paneled dining room, taxidermy display, and tinkling of cocktails make the place feel like an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club gone co-ed. The ornate wooden bar is a real eye-catcher, and a great place to have a drink and watch a game on one of several TVs. While reasonably priced, the American and Italian fare don’t rise above the ordinary. Best to stick to the basics, such as the chicken wings, burgers, and sandwiches. The shoestring fries are good, as are the light and fresh salads. Lunch and dinner daily. ð· ð‘ $$.
500 Hartz Ave.
Like its predecessor Bridges Zensai, vibrant Amber serves small and big plates showcasing high-quality ingredients, striking presentations, and a strong Asian influence. The bar serves cool specialty cocktails, and on weekends there's live jazz to complement the good-looking food and people. Executive chef Mark Dantanavatanawong's tidy menu ranges from the “vegetables purse” to a pan-seared, rosemary-tinted New Zealand rack of lamb. The fried calamari has a barely-there crust, and the squid is wonderfully tender, while the pan-seared, almond-crusted halibut tastes light and fresh in spite of its hearty mantle of nuts. For dessert, don't miss the silken crème brûlée. Amber has all the right moves, even if some of them feel familiar. Lunch Wed.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ $$$.
Basil Leaf Café
501 Hartz Ave.
Basil Leaf Café is as much about the outside world as it is the inside, with two levels of attractive patio seating along Hartz Avenue. The owners have given this vintage building an airy, open feeling, and no matter where you sit, you’ll have a wide choice of pasta dishes—many with basil—as well as grilled fish or rosemary chicken. Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sun. ð‘ ð· $$.
3540 Blackhawk Plaza Circle
Executive chef Scott Sasaki’s menu features Mediterranean and Asian flavors such as a ginger-poached halibut, Japanese pork chops, and filet mignon with foie gras mousse. The rich Manila clam chowder, studded with pancetta and Yukon gold potatoes, is superb, as is the Caesar salad. The ingredients in Sasaki’s food are top-notch, but the final product falls short on some dishes, such as the heavily lemon-flavored pea ravioli and the uninspired lamb with potato gnocchi. And service isn’t quite in line with the steep prices. But with good looks and a fine wine list, the Blackhawk Grille remains a Danville standout. Outdoor seating on warm nights adds to the appeal. Dinner daily, lunch Mon.–Sat., brunch Sun. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$ www.
44 Church St.
No one can quibble with the elegant, airy beauty of Bridges’s dining room, but the kitchen, while showing significant promise, comes off as a work in progress. House pizzetta, for example, was basically a flattened biscuit with prepared, overcooked sausage and out-of-season tomatoes when we visited. Salads, arranged artfully on rectangular ceramic plates, bring verdant lettuces and crisp vinaigrettes, but a butter-poached lobster salad, described as dressed in a pancetta vinaigrette, arrived scattered with bacon bits. Tender grilled escolar and braised short ribs was a fantastic, thoughtful dish, but seared tuna was mismatched with a rustic, heavy truffle-oil–infused polenta. Oolong crème brûlée is a revelation: The custard, lightly scented with orange and tea, is as smooth and creamy as they come. Lunch Mon.–Fri.,
dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$$$.
9000-J Crow Canyon Rd.
Don’t let the modest location fool you. Chutneys is an elegant, sophisticated Indian restaurant where the complex food is accompanied by friendly, nearly doting service. Curries are a must, and you can specify the heat level when you order. Tandoori chicken is red and moist, and don’t pass up the naan, classic Indian flat bread. Use the warm rounds to soak up the last bit of savory sauce. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
Danville Prime Rib and Steak Restaurant
301 Hartz Ave., #103
Nearing its first anniversary, the Danville Prime Rib and Steak Restaurant is a clubby spot where groups and couples indulge in the steakhouse fare of yesteryear. The simple menu starts with a salad of tangy, crunchy romaine and iceberg, beets, chopped egg, and vinaigrette tossed tableside. Low-carb devotees can revel in generous cuts of juicy prime rib, steak, and fish. But they’ll be tempted by the accompanying baskets of pillowy popovers and skillet-baked cornbread sweet with fresh corn kernels. Then there are the desserts—towering slices of silky home-baked pecan pie and cheesecake. In contemporary steakhouse fashion, the entrées are pricey—even the vegetarian stuffed portobello mushroom—but the salad’s included, so it’s an OK deal. Dinner nightly. ð‘ ð· $$$$.
105 C and D Town and Country Dr.
De Ming’s menu skips across Asia with dishes from China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand without tripping up. While not every single thing shines, it’s fun to mix and match dishes such as Thai spring rolls, Vietnamese salt-and-pepper garlic prawns, and Szechuan spicy braised beef. Walk inside this popular restaurant and you’re in the bar, standing beneath a bumper crop of fake grapevines. Once you leave this hanging garden of faux fruit and step into the dining room, the ceiling becomes a kaleidoscope of colorful, inverted parasols. A novel decorating idea for a novel restaurant. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
682 Hartz Ave.
For 11 years, Domenico’s has made sandwiches and salads that are quite possibly the most innovative in the Bay Area. The Domenico’s sandwich is like a Rubik’s cube of ingredients—more than 20 rolls and breads, 60 cheeses, and 80 meats can be mixed, matched, and manipulated into the hoagie of your dreams. Owner Joseph Giacomini (Domenico is his middle name) puts an emphasis on “California first,” which means everything’s fresh, all salads (and even some of the condiments) are made in-house, and there are as many low-fat dishes as there are joggers on the Iron Horse Trail. Look for select wines from Napa and Sonoma too—and expect a line out the door during the lunch crush. Lunch daily. ð‘ ð· $.
178 E. Prospect Ave.
What is it that makes this place feel so wholesome? The woodsy setting? The simple but savory soups, salads, and sandwiches? The eternally gracious welcome? Maybe it’s all those in combination with the distinctly paternal suggestion in the down-home name. The folks here will indulge you with half a sandwich paired with soup or salad. Armenian pinwheel sandwiches on lavash are a perennial favorite. Breakfast and lunch Mon.–Sat. ð‘ $.
Faz Restaurant and BAR
600 Hartz Ave.
The brown wood interior, the greenery of the surrounding redwoods, and a twinkle of tiny white lights welcome you to the dining experience at Faz. The true splendor of this restaurant, however, lies not in what is seen but in what is tasted. The menu features a Mediterranean medley of homemade pastas, smoked and spit-roasted meats, fresh seafood, and scrumptious desserts. The baked brie with toasted walnuts makes a perfect starter, while the grilled rack of lamb with mint chutney and the tiramisu in raspberry sauce follow it up nicely. The daily specials and suggested wines are always exciting, as is the homemade flat bread with balsamic vinegar, garlic, and olive oil, which thankfully makes its way to your table almost immediately upon your arrival. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$.
The Great Impasta La Trattoria and Pasta Market
318 Sycamore Valley Rd. W.
If it’s true that noodles have become one of the basic food groups, this is the place where half of us seem to be getting our supplies. What makes it unique is that these folks will cook up just about anything for you if they have the ingredients in stock—and they usually do. They whip up all kinds of pastas, more than a dozen sauces, plus bread, salads, and desserts for the end of the workday crowd. Half of Danville, it seems, is loading up on food-to-go for an instant dinner at home. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $.
125 Hartz Ave.
You’ve got to love a sushi restaurant that names its most expensive item the Bling Bling Roll. Kane Sushi’s celebrated $22 maki plate is piled with enough soft-shell crab, tuna, hamachi, and salmon to fill up a whole crew of hip-hoppers. Or a throng of San Ramon Valley high schoolers, who’ve been known to flood across the street at lunchtime for a low-cal feast. The atmosphere at Kane is casual and fun, with happy Danvillians gorging themselves on playfully named rolls and “sake bombs” (sake shots dropped into a glass of Japanese beer) on weekend nights. Inquisitive chefs will talk your ear off if you sit at the sushi bar, and those who talk back are occasionally rewarded with a free piece of nigiri. Arigato, pal. Also in Lafayette. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $.
La Ultima New Mexico Food
455 Hartz Ave.
The streetside patio at La Ultima is perpetually at capacity, with diners seated under umbrellas sampling Mexican classics. Specialties include layered flat enchiladas topped with fried eggs and red chili, as well as sopapillas, the New Mexican fried bread stuffed with chili verde or chili Colorado. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $.
Lisa B’s Bistro
411 Hartz Ave.
Since her bistro’s 2000 debut, Lisa Burton has become the queen of Hartz. Lisa B’s radiates the warmth and comfort of a best friend’s kitchen. Breakfast treats include various egg dishes, oatmeal–raspberry pancakes, and a French toast casserole served with blueberries, streusel, and real maple syrup. After dark, the café provides just enough candlelight to make you look fabulous while scarfing down spoonfuls of angel hair pasta. Regulars swear by the fresh fish of the day—in summer, look for fish tacos. Reservations are advised if you want dibs on the equally flawless desserts. Breakfast Sat.–Sun., lunch Tues.–Sat., dinner Tues.–Sat, brunch Sat.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $–$$.
515 San Ramon Valley Blvd.
Marcello’s remains a cozy haven where you can ease through a lunch or dinner in the true Italian-Continental vein. Prosciutto and melon, scampi Livornese, and sweetbreads sauté all evoke a style of Italian cooking that has nearly disappeared elsewhere, but is honored and carefully constructed here. Veal is a specialty. We hesitated to ask what, exactly, is in the Mafia salad. Lunch Tues.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
499 San Ramon Valley Blvd.
This stylish, comfortable establishment
serves “Indian fusion,” which is a heady
excursion into South Asian flavors with a
strong California sensibility. The result is a
new cuisine that, while still a little bumpy,
will give diners plenty of new tastes: a crispy,
succulent roasted quail marinated in yogurt
and garam masala; a rich, smooth tomato-
coconut soup; plump seared scallops with a
tangy spinach sauce; roasted cauliflower with
a cashew-chili sauce; and ginger-chili crème brûlée; as well as kebabs and biryani. Indian
flat breads like rosemary naan, onion kulcha, and paneer cheese-stuffed naan are cooked to a luscious tenderness in Masala’s tandoori ovens. Lunch buffet Tues.–Fri. $8.98, Lunch Sat.,
dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
356 Hartz Ave.
Another bar and grill addition to Hartz Avenue’s busy dining district, this auto-themed eatery offers a casual atmosphere and food that goes well with beer. Danville native Justin “Norm” Walsh, whose resemblance to actor George Wendt (who played the amiable barfly Norm on Cheers), left Pete’s Brass Rail after seven years to open his own restaurant. Chef Jourdan Chauss’s simple menu offers a balance of fried appetizers (popcorn shrimp, wings, rings) and low-carb options (seared marinated ahi and a grilled marinated chicken breast). The half dozen salads and sandwiches are fresh and reasonably priced, and the menu claims to serve the biggest burger in town. Of the seven burgers on the bill, only four are beef—there’s also crab and shrimp, turkey, and portobello mushroom. The heartiest plates—dry-aged New York steak, boneless pork chops, and lamb rack Shiraz—are only available after 5 p.m. Lunch and dinner daily. ð· $$.
Pascal French Oven
155 Railroad Ave.
The early-morning crowd at Pascal sits outside, sipping their first cups of caffè with house-baked pastries, Belgian waffles, or omelettes. At lunch the shift is to soup, salads, and sandwiches. Order at the counter, and the friendly staff will bring your meal to the table you’ve scored on the patio. Live accordion music on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Breakfast and lunch daily. ð· $$.
416 Sycamore Valley Rd.
Having garnered two prestigious Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for its world-class wine list, Patrick David’s continues to reap the rewards of 2002’s much-publicized remodel. The restaurant pulls in local admirers as fast as it does national acclaim. Loyal customers swear by chef-owner Patrick Schoolcraft’s Dungeness crab cake, halibut, a jumbo prawns with rice and red Thai curry, and his panko-crusted free-range chicken breast and Dijon mustard served with soft polenta. Now that the restaurant has a bar and a liquor license, Schoolcraft has added a delicious small plates menu to the works.
Diners will be hard-pressed not to overdo it
on the seafood-heavy appetizer plate before
the main course commences. But try they
must. Lunch Mon.–Sat., dinner daily, brunch Sun. ð‘ ð· $$$-$$$$ www.
Pete’s Brass Rail and Car Wash
201 Hartz Ave.
It’s all mythology and microbrews at Pete’s, where there’s nobody named Pete and certainly no place to get your wheels washed. No, the headliners here are the burgers and the locals who fill the place with stunning regularity. Check out the long wall covered with framed drawings of the illusory Pete. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $.
100 Sycamore Valley Rd. W.
Things are busy, busy, busy these days at Piatti. The peak-hour acoustics inside the trattoria’s barn-shaped dining room indicate a restaurant in full throttle. Fortunately, the quality of the food has not been lost in the rush. An excellent selection of flat bread sandwiches, savory salads, and fresh vegetable-enriched pasta and meat dishes greets a roomful of executives at lunch, while couples and families dig into generous pasta portions during the evening. We recommend the stuffed, pancetta-wrapped chicken breast or the basil gnocchi with caramelized shallots and pine nuts. A team of attentive, scurrying servers do their best to keep tables stocked with complimentary warm Italian sourdough and bowls of rapidly disappearing dipping oil. Lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch. ð‘ $$.
340 Hartz Ave.
For more than 20 years, folks have been rising early to enjoy fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, breads, scones, and muffins at this Danville landmark. The outside tables fill up first, and you’d swear that everybody leaning over breakfast knows everybody else. Lunch brings sandwiches, salads, and wonderful homemade soups. No dinner. (Also in Lafayette and Pleasanton.) ð· $.
Sen Dai Teriyaki
101-C Town and Country Dr.
The teriyaki sauce at cozy Sen Dai is pungent—tangy and sweet—and is just as good with salmon or beef as it is in the classic chicken preparation. Tempura arrives crisp and light. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ $–$$.
Sushi Bar Hana
411 Hartz Ave.
Small can be small or really small, and sometimes even really, really small. Hana is indeed a bite-size place for sushi, with 10 or so seats at the counter and four tables. But the sushi is worth elbowing in for. The raw-fish-fearful can select the tasty beef or chicken teriyaki instead. Lunch Tues.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sun. ð‘ ð· $$–$$$.
254 Rose Ave.
Brightly decorated and cozy Thai House is the place to venture if you’re in the mood for inventive, flavorful Thai dishes—and well worth the short walk from Danville’s main drag. The menu draws from both northern and southern Thailand, as well as including a few Western-inspired innovations such as the pumpkin curry and lobster. Green papaya salad is pleasantly spicy and tangy, accentuated with the crunchiness and chewiness of ground peanuts and dried shrimp. Duck curry is cooked in a rich, flickering hot sauce enlivened with the sweet flavors of pineapple, grapes, and peas. Desserts include the sweet snow roti—a barely browned rice-flour pancake topped with rich, sugary condensed milk. Lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$.
327 Hartz Ave.
Everything about this café is crisp, simple, smart. The look is clean ’50s, and the menu items are listed without paragraph-long
descriptions of every ingredient. Pastas,
pizzas, seafood, soup specials, and meat
dishes share equal billing. Brunch Sun.,
lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $–$$.
330 Hartz Ave.
This coffee shop on Hartz Avenue opened in Danville in 1950, after 15 years in Oakland. Still as popular as when the doors opened are the “kistwich” sandwiches, built of grilled hot dogs—sliced longways—plus lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, and relish on grilled bread. There’s also a deluxe version made like a club sandwich. Chase your lunch with a real milk shake. Breakfasts are great, too. Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Fri.–Sat. ð· $.
Yotaka Sushi BAR AND Grill
3496 Blackhawk Plaza Circle
The whole lineup of Japanese standards is available at Blackhawk Plaza’s Yotaka Sushi Grill. A meal begins with a small, complimentary bowl of edamame, or salted soybeans. Then it’s on to an iceberg lettuce salad, miso soup, teriyaki, and tempura, as well as raw fish from the restaurant’s centrally located sushi bar. Lunch offers the rice-and-meat combinations known as donburi, and udon, or noodles in soup. The décor feels lavish—the space used to be a piano store—with its Japanese accents and gold and midnight-blue draperies, complete with valances and tassels. But don’t let the luxurious setting fool you: The menu and the preparation are straightforward. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $$–$$$.
Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria
4640 Tassajara Rd.
If thin-crust pizza calls out to you, Amici’s will have you hearing voices. Lots of ‘em, telling you not only about the crispness and deliciousness of the crust, but also about the thick, nicely seasoned tomato sauce. With toppings ranging from baby spinach to jalapeños, there’s something for everyone (we found the sausage a little sweet for our own taste). Pasta dishes are wholesome and plentiful, and also come in many versions: marinara, meat sauce, Alfredo, pesto, clam sauce, or primavera. All can be topped with a choice of meats, including flavorful homemade meatballs. Salads are ho-hum. Located in the Waterford shopping center, Amici’s is a great place to go in a group; large pizzas and family-size pastas are about $20. Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $.
7995 Amador Valley Blvd.
Choose from all the standard Mexican favorites on the extensive menu, or opt for one of the more complex dishes like the barbacoa (long-simmered beef in a spicy ranchera sauce) or the camarones Cancún (shrimp sautéed in tequila). Both the Dublin and Livermore restaurants are sparkling clean and always crowded, though riotously noisy when filled with big groups celebrating over pitchers of Sauza Extra Gold margaritas. The staff—savvy and accessible—could not be better in these family-owned and -operated restaurants. Lunch and dinner daily. (Also in Livermore.) ð‘ $$–$$$ www.
FRANKIE, JOHNNIE, & LUIGI TOO
11891 Dublin Blvd.
No, they aren’t the Pep Boys (that’s Manny, Moe, and Jack). Frankie, Johnnie, and Luigi are three Italian friends who started a popular Santa Clara eatery back in the 1950s, which was replicated several times on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. Their first East Bay location, on Dublin Boulevard, is a family-friendly restaurant, offering standard Italian fare. There’s a multitude of pasta courses (with reduced prices at lunchtime) and specialized pizzas. (Carnivores should sample Tina’s Too Too Much, with salami, pepperoni, sausage, and linguica.) For groups of four to six, try Frankie’s Friendly Dinner, which includes a large salad, a cheese pizza, a platter of spaghetti or rigatoni, and a whole roasted chicken, all for $60 (or $40 on Wednesday). Lunch and dinner daily. ð‘ $$.
Hana Japan Steak House
7298 San Ramon Rd.
Perfect for parties or large groups, Hana Japan is the Medieval Times of teppan-style cooking: It’s all about the show. The small dining room is always crowded and dim as chefs prepare hibachi steak, chicken, and seafood at each table, showcasing their knife skills, juggling, and humor. Dinner comes with salad, soup, rice and vegetables, and a couple of appetizer shrimp, the latter often tossed by the chef into the mouth of one brave volunteer. You’ll hear the Birthday Song at least five times while you eat—the free meal and pineapple boat dessert are a local birthday tradition, and after your party you can add a photo to the imposing lobby collage. Reservations are recommended, and small parties may be seated with others to fill up a table. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ $$–$$$.
McNamara’s Steak and Chop House
7400 San Ramon Rd.
You won’t find any sawdust on the floor at this Dublin steak house. At McNamara’s, elegance is the order of the day. With the indoor and outdoor fireplaces, a mahogany bar, fine fabric-covered booths, soft lighting, and live piano music, you might think that the atmosphere is the main attraction—until your meal arrives. The shrimp- and crab-stuffed portobello mushroom and the lobster bisque make for sumptuous starters. Words like “seared,” “caramelized,” and “herb-crusted” pepper the menu of steak, prime rib, and fresh seafood entrées. The tastes, sights, and sounds make this a gem of a dining experience. Dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$$-$$$$.
7222 Regional St.
You’ll have to put Pasta Primavera’s bread dip, made of eggplant, sundried tomatoes, and virgin olive oil, out of arm’s reach in order to save room for the main course. The menu at this spacious Italian restaurant offers a variety of salads and pastas cooked to order. Particularly yummy is the pasta Roma: linguine with chicken andouille sausage, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and bell peppers in a marinara sauce. On our visit, an asparagus appetizer special was refreshing and the flavors—fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, pimentos, and basil topped with balsamic vinaigrette—were perfectly balanced. The house salad, however, was drowning in vinaigrette. The
wine list offers several California bottles, and desserts include a to-die-for chocolate mousse and six flavors of gelato. Lunch and dinner
daily. Also in Concord, San Ramon, and
Walnut Creek. ð‘ ð· $$-$$$.
Regional St. Bistro
6680 Regional St.
You’ll find more atmosphere on the moon,
but this Radisson Hotel restaurant offers
reliable, straightforward food. Try the pan-smoked baby back ribs with American barbecue sauce, fries, and coleslaw or the New York strip steak with seasonal vegetables. Service is
professional and gracious. Breakfast daily,
lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat. ð‘ ð· $$.
Stacey’s at Waterford
4500 Tassajara Rd., Ste. C
Waterford? It’s the shopping center/apartment complex where Dilbert creator Scott Adams
has opened his second restaurant. Unlike the original Stacey’s Café in Pleasanton, you won’t find Dilbert gear for sale here—just upscale
supper club trappings: plush banquettes and a display kitchen, all decked out in a harlequin print of burgundy, gold, and purple. An
antidote to the nearby Safeway deli counter
and fast-casual chains, the menu of pastas,
pizzas, seafood, and beef is smaller, but similar to the Café’s—and without Adams’s cartoon-cutesy recommendations. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. ð‘ ð· $$$.
Arizmendi Bakery and Pizzeria
4301 San Pablo Ave.
Worker-owned Arizmendi, sister to the Cheese Board in Berkeley , is just about the best food-related thing to happen to Emeryville in a long time. Located on a high-traffic, slightly seedy block of San Pablo Avenue (at 43rd), the small bakery is chock-full of glorious smells and local characters, just like the original Arizmendi in Oakland. Morning regulars feast on freshly baked scones, pastries, cookies, and breads, while the lunch crowd comes for the pizza. The thin sourdough crust holds daily-special cheese and organic vegetables. Eccentric toppings like
sweet potato, kalamata olive tapenade, smoked mozzarella, and cilantro pesto might deter lovers
of classic pizza, but these delicious pies are worth the risk. Eat a slice at the bakery, or
take a half or a whole pie home, either fully
or half baked. Open daily. ð· $$.
6121 Hollis St.
It’s about time this urban Italian restaurant, open since 1988, got its props. The restaurant is lively a