2019’s Best New East Bay Restaurants
Diablo counts down our favorite new eateries of the past year.
Chicken liver mousse with fig-juniper jam, from Albatross.
Photo by Nader Khouri Photography
It’s a problem, really. You want to go back to your favorites, but you also want to expand your horizons.
We haven’t been to Rêve Bistro in awhile, and Lafayette is easy to get to, you’ll remind yourself—but what about Range Life in Livermore? “I love that place,” you’ll say, but then you remember that Pleasanton’s Sabio on Main is still on the must-try list.
How could we forget the Dead Fish? I feel a deep need to go to Crockett.
And now, a whole new crop of restaurants has opened up that you want to find time for, too.
While we can’t help with the fundamental problem—so many restaurants, so little time—we can make it a little easier when it comes to prioritizing. What follows is a list of our 10 favorite new East Bay restaurants that launched within the last year, ordered (roughly) from formal to casual.
There’s no time like the present to start making reservations, since it won’t be long until other worthy eateries open up.
Danville has hatched several new restaurants recently, but Albatross soars above the others thanks to its carefully crafted cuisine. There aren’t many eateries on this side of the Caldecott Tunnel that roll the dice—successfully—on seasonal dishes such as creamy Spanish octopus served with tasty baby potatoes, or a poached pear with sorbet, white chocolate, and aromatic syrup.
The airy space is bathed in light with an eye-catching design. But really, Albatross is all about the excellent food, and chef Brian Bowen has used his extensive experience (at St. Helena’s three-Michelin-star Restaurant at Meadowood, for one) to devise his locally sourced yet globally inspired menu.
As with most sophisticated spots—the prices certainly position Albatross as upscale—the presentation matches the preparation. Wine lovers will be pleased with the options, and there’s a full bar, so if you’re looking for a complete dining experience, Albatross fills the bill. albatrossdanville.com.
The Slanted Door
The jewel of San Ramon’s chic City Center Bishop Ranch, the Slanted Door is a wide-open space with the same stylish flair as the acclaimed San Francisco original.
But what has always made the Slanted Door special is the food. Back in 1995, Charles Phan was one of the first chefs to elevate Asian cuisine into fine dining, and for 25 years he’s kept that reputation intact with a constant push for excellence. If the fresh Brentwood corn is on the menu, for example, be sure to snap it up, and the classic shaking beef is always a winner. Two other dishes to seek out are the spring rolls, which rise above the oft-uninspired versions served elsewhere, and the delicate crab and sesame oil cellophane noodles.
The creative cocktails and primo wine list neatly complement the Vietnamese and Californian flavors. slanteddoor-sanramon.com.
The original Bounty Hunter is based in Napa, where it’s known for barbecue and wine, so it’s no surprise the wine list at this Walnut Creek offshoot is extensive—and as expensive as you’d want (with some bottles going for $1,000). In fact, there’s a fine-wine store at the side of the entrance.
The restaurant is also easy on the eyes, with a copper ceiling extending over part of the space, highlighting the angular interior and contrasting with the reclaimed wood lining the walls.
The barbecue-focused menu has enough options that everyone will find something to enjoy. The beer-can chicken—yes, it’s served on a can of Tecate—and barbecue sampler are great to order for the table. If you’d rather pair those strong flavors with bourbon, scotch, or whiskey, Bounty Hunter has excellent choices for those, as well. bountyhunterwalnutcreek.com.
Vineyard Table and Tasting Lounge
This casual reimagining of the former fine-dining spot at Wente Vineyards makes eating at the Livermore winery a more accessible, modern experience. Gone are the white tablecloths, and in comes a comfy lounge area for enjoying wine and bites. The menu has been revamped, too; the signature $39 pork chop, for instance, has been replaced with an $18 pork tenderloin. The focus is on shareable small plates, with an emphasis on ingredients plucked from the Wente garden and ranch. (Witness the peak produce in Diane’s Garden Bowl.) This hyperlocal sourcing makes for a freshness that’s hard to match.
After the meal, a stroll around the grounds of what remains one of the East Bay’s most beautiful settings is a wonderful way to cap off the evening. wentevineyards.com/dine.
Tozai Izakaya, tucked away next to Skipolini’s in Walnut Creek, is a casual yet polished experience patterned after a traditional Japanese community pub. (It comes from the same folks who operate the less-formal and highly regarded Ramen Hiroshi.) Though there isn’t a full bar here, sake cocktails abound—including those that allow you to squeeze your own orange or grapefruit into the drink—and of course, there’s plenty of beer.
The menu is wide-ranging, including skewers of meat and vegetables, sashimi, donburi, and soba noodles. But don’t pass on fried dishes; the kaki (oyster) tastes simply scrumptious. The service is attentive, and the bright setting inviting. There are even Japanese-style tables, and while they do not require diners to kneel or sit cross-legged—there’s a space underneath for legs to dangle—they still nod to the Japanese tradition of sitting on cushions on a wood “floor.” tozai-izakaya.com.
This Filipino-inspired pop-up turned neighborhood restaurant has taken over the Oakland space that Juhu Beach Club occupied a few years ago—not to mention the buzz it generated. And the food backs up the hype.
The flavors are definitely Filipino—yes, Spam and lumpia are on the menu—and the mix of spices, vegetables, fruits, and (mainly) pork sets up a neat contrast of sweet and savory. Make sure to check out the adobo (go for the coconut milk version), and take a chance on the eggplant salad.
One word of warning: FOB’s odd location in a tiny Temescal strip mall surrounded by traffic makes for tough parking. But the warm, family-friendly vibe—owners Brandi and Janice Dulce managed to open the restaurant while juggling twin toddlers—makes it worth the extra effort. fobkitchen.com.
SideTrack Bar and Grill
The name is apropos for a variety of reasons: First, it’s a bit off the beaten Pleasanton track, but it also refers to the city’s railroad history—wait, what?
Yes, Pleasanton was once part of the transcontinental railway, and there was a stop just down the street from SideTrack. And if you’re standing at the bar (lots of fun cocktails, by the way), you’re stepping on a footrail reclaimed from the old Niles Canyon Railroad.
The food isn’t fancy—the menu features hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads—but it’s carefully prepared, and all the burgers are made with Wagyu beef. There are plenty of adventurous small plates, too. SideTrack’s community bona fides are enhanced by the fact that it’s open for lunch and dinner daily, plus weekend brunches, making it an easy go-to any day of the week. sidetrackeats.com.
Yimm’s take on Thai standards—delicate pad Thai; garden-fresh, mint-loaded spring rolls—stands up against any in the East Bay. But what sets this bright, unfussy addition to Rockridge’s restaurant row apart is the “home cooking” section of its menu.
Owner Aya Amornpan describes these dishes as the kind that Thai folks might prepare for friends and family at home, utilizing odds and ends left in the fridge. Which might sound like leftovers, but Yimm puts a deliciously refined touch on unique creations like tom yum omelet rice—white rice topped with a velvety milk-fluffed egg omelet, sautéed butterflied shrimp and oyster mushrooms, and a sweet-sour-spicy tom yum sauce. The corn salad is another revelation: The spin on a Thai papaya salad subs in corn sliced straight from the cob to provide a naturally sweet balance to the complex dish’s myriad elements.
Yummy. Or rather, we should say Yimmy. yimmoakland.com.
4505 Burgers and BBQ
The Oakland outpost of the popular San Francisco joint is in the up-and-coming Laurel district, far from trendy Temescal and Uptown. But there’s enough funkiness and spunkiness to make the detour worthwhile—not to mention the reasonably priced and very tasty smoked meats and burgers. The fatty beef brisket melts in the mouth, and 4505’s “Best Damn Grass-Fed Cheeseburger” was a cult favorite at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
This place is known for its “whole-hog” approach, and every morning the chefs fire up the smoker on the back patio to prepare the day’s meats. Speaking of that patio, 4505 has mostly outdoor seating, so plan accordingly. On a sunny day, however, it’s an ideal spot to sip local brews and wines in a family-friendly setting; perks include stroller parking, a kids’ play area, and soft-serve (children get a free cone with a meal). 4505burgersandbbq.com.
Veggie tacos? Trust us on this one. Braised Romano beans, sautéed delicata squash, crisp sugar snap peas—at Tacos Oscar, market-fresh produce pairs with redolent house-made sauces and salsas to help flavors leap off the pressed- and grilled-to-order corn tortillas.
Not to worry, carnivores: Owners Oscar Michel and Jake Weiss make delicious meat tacos, too. But it’s their thoughtful balancing of flavors and meticulous execution that make the breakout pop-up’s permanent Oakland home so appealing. The cozy setting, amid repurposed shipping containers tucked into an alley off 40th Street, is as charming and creative as the food.
Tip: Don’t skip the signature fried egg taco if it’s on the menu. https://www.restaurantji.com/ca/oakland/tacos-oscar-/.