BEST CULINARY COLLABORATIONS
East Bay restaurants embrace communal operations.
As any 22-year-old looking for a first apartment can tell you: When money is tight, the more roommates the better. It’s been a similar idea for East Bay restaurateurs, many of whom responded to the pandemic-dampened economy by sharing kitchen space and rent.
In Alameda, for example, Gilbert Liang was going to launch a sushi restaurant when the pandemic hit. He switched plans and opened SAGA, a four-restaurants-in-one concept that sells Japanese, dim sum, Chinese, and sushi out of the same storefront. It’s a similar idea on a larger scale at Local Kitchens in Lafayette. The shared kitchen space serves as a delivery and pickup staging area for culinary heavyweights such as Senor Sisig, Curry Up Now, Proposition Chicken, and Wise Sons. sagakitchens com.wordpress.com. localkitchens.co.
Similarly, the pandemic has also fueled the rise of ghost kitchens, which are specifically geared toward delivery. One of the largest of these, Oakland Food Hall in Fruitvale, is home to some 35 food operators offering delivery access to Belgian fries, Detroit-style pizza, French brasserie fare, Japanese curry, and more. oaklandfoodhall.com.
In Lafayette, the former Back to the Table cooking school’s commercial space is also running as a ghost kitchen. In addition to other food operations, the space hosts Sparkles and Joy, a weekly meal service specializing in ethnic foods prepared by mostly female chefs of color. sparklesandjoy.com.
Not only has the resilient restaurant industry managed to creatively weather these challenging times, but locals now also have access to more diverse dining options than ever before. Let’s hear it for the chefs.
Butter and Batter, Livermore, butterandbatterlc.com.
Runner-up | A Sweet Affair Bakery, Walnut Creek, asweetaffairbakery .com.
Slow Hand BBQ, Martinez and Pleasant Hill, slowhandbbq .com.
Runner-up | Sauced BBQ and Spirits, Livermore and Walnut Creek, saucedbbqandspirits.com.
Sunrise Bistro and Catering, Walnut Creek, sunrisebistro catering.com.
Runner-up | Jack’s Restaurant and Bar, Pleasant Hill, ilovejacks.com.
Mona’s Burgers and Shakes, multiple locations, monas burgers.com.
Runner-up | Roam Artisan Burgers, multiple locations, roamburgers .com.
Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard, Livermore, uncleyusvineyard .com.
Runner-up | Sunflower Garden Restaurant and Bar, Martinez, sunflowergardenrestaurant.com.
Bondadoso Coffee and Tea Collective, Walnut Creek, bondadoso.com.
Runner-up | States Coffee and Bread, Berkeley and Martinez, statescoffee.com.
Genova Delicatessen, Walnut Creek, genovadeli.net.
Runner-up | Morucci’s Si Mangia Bene, Walnut Creek, places.singleplatform.com/ moruccis-si-mangia-bene/menu.
Martinez Farmers Market, Martinez, pcfma.org.
Runner-up | Danville Farmers Market, Danville, danville.ca.gov.
Postino Restaurant, Lafayette, postinorestaurant.com.
Even during COVID, the outdoor dining at Postino was a lovely experience in a lush garden/patio setting. The service has remained exceptional this past year in spite of the challenges of masks, gloves, and other hygiene requirements. Thank you, Postino, for giving us some normalcy of a lovely dinner during these trying times! –Lucy Talbot, Orinda
Runner-up | Esin Restaurant and Bar, Danville, esinrestaurant.com.
Troy, multiple locations, troygreek.com.
Runner-up | Opa!, Walnut Creek, opaauthenticgreek.com.
Vitality Bowls, multiple locations, vitalitybowls.com.
Runner-up | Sajj Mediterranean, San Ramon, sajjstreeteats.com.
Lottie’s Creamery, Danville and Walnut Creek, lottiescreamery .com.
Runner-up | Loard’s Ice Cream, multiple locations, loards.com.
Swad Indian Cuisine, Lafayette, swadindiancuisine.com.
Montecatini Ristorante, Walnut Creek, montecatinirestaurant .com.
Runner-up | WiseGirl Ristorante Italiano and Cocktails, Pleasant Hill, wisegirlph.com.
Los Panchos Restaurant, Danville and Pacheco, lospanchosrestaurant.com.
Runner-up | La Tapatia Mexican Cuisine and Catering, Martinez, latapatia.net.
WiseGirl Ristorante Italiano and Cocktails, Pleasant Hill, wisegirlph.com.
Runner-up | Jack’s Restaurant and Bar, Pleasant Hill, ilovejacks.com.
Melo’s Pizza and Pasta, multiple locations, melospizzapasta.com.
Runner-up | Rocco’s Ristorante and Pizzeria, Walnut Creek, roccospizzeria.com.
Walnut Creek Yacht Club, Walnut Creek, wcyc.net.
From gumbo to grilled lobster to the raw bar, Walnut Creek Yacht Club is always fresh, always fabulous, and has lots of fun special event nights—mussels Monday madness every week, a mardi gras dinner, and a rum-themed dinner, to name a few. They have a great wine list and creative mixed drinks too, along with an attentive and friendly staff. –Steven Owen, Walnut Creek
Runner-up | The Dead Fish, Crockett, thedeadfish.com.
SPECIALTY GROCERY STORE
Diablo Foods, Lafayette, diablofoods.com.
Runner-up | Lunardi’s, Danville and Walnut Creek, lunardis.com.
Sasa, Walnut Creek, sasawc.com.
Forbes Mill Steakhouse, Danville, forbesmillsteakhouse .com.
Runner-up | Moresi’s Chophouse, Clayton, moresischophouse.com.
Vanda Thai, Walnut Creek, vandathai.com.
Runner-up | Kacha Thai Bistro, Walnut Creek, kachathai.com.
Vanessa’s Bistro 2, Walnut Creek, vanessasbistro2.com.
Runner-up | Kevin’s Noodle House, multiple locations, kevinsnoodlehouse.com.
Bagel Street Café, multiple locations, bagelstreetcafe.net.
Runner-up: House of Bagels, Walnut Creek
Danville Chocolates, Danville, danvillechocolates.com.
Runner-up: Leonidas Love + Chocolate, Walnut Creek, loveandchocolateshop.com.
Charming Fig Catering, Livermore, charmingfig.com.
Runner-up: Sur La Table, Berkeley and Walnut Creek, surlatable.com.
Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery, Danville, smallcakesdanville.com.
Runner-up: SusieCakes, Brentwood and Lafayette, susiecakes.com.
Johnny’s Donuts, Lafayette
Runner-up: Allstar Donuts, Walnut Creek, all-star-donuts-ca-5.hub.biz.
Jack’s Restaurant and Bar, Pleasant Hill, ilovejacks.com.
Runner-up: Walnut Creek Yacht Club, Walnut Creek, wcyc.net.
Oke Poke, Walnut Creek, okepoke.com.
Runner-up: Poke Go, Lafayette, pokegolafayette.com.
Rooftop Restaurant and Bar, Walnut Creek, rooftopwc.com.
Runner-up: Telefèric Barcelona, Walnut Creek, telefericbarcelona.com.
Dan’s Irish Sports Bar, Walnut Creek, dansbar.com.
Runner-up: Stadium Pub, Walnut Creek, thestadiumpub.com.
MEALT KIT / FOOD DELIVERY
Genuine Goodness, Orinda, gengoodness.com.
Runner-up: Sajj Mediterranean, San Ramon, sajjstreeteats.com.
BEST RESTAURANT DINING SHUFFLE
Via del Corso, Berkeley; Table at 7, Walnut Creek
It was a double gut punch at Diablo when word came last year that reader favorites Corso in Berkeley and Prima Ristorante in Walnut Creek were shuttering for good. Fortunately, the dining gods have a way of making things right. Earlier this year, longtime Prima owner Peter Chastain announced he was replacing Corso with a similar Italian concept, Via del Corso. Shortly thereafter, up-and-coming young Oakland chef Nora Haron tipped that she would be consulting chef for Table at 7, a modern Singaporean concept taking over the former Prima space. All’s well that ends well. viadelcorso.net, noraharon.com.
BEST FOOD TRUCK SENSATION
Surya Darshini, San Ramon
Silicon Valley’s loss is our gain. Techie- turned-foodie Narendra Lakshminarasimha grew up in South India and found himself longing for the authentic dosas of his youth. After years of research and trial and error into making the perfect buckwheat batter, slow- fermented for up to 24 hours, he made the leap to open his own eatery—right as the pandemic hit. Like any good tech entrepreneur, Lakshminarasimha pivoted, outfitting a food truck for mass dosa production and setting up Surya Darshini with his family at the San Ramon farmers market every Saturday. It’s been nothing short of a sensation. Crowds have flocked for a taste of his flavorful savory crepes served crispy on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside. Be warned: Online ordering starts Thursday evening at 7 p.m. and typically sells out quickly. suryadarshinicom.wixsite.com/sdhome.
BEST PANDEMIC DINING DISTRICT
Jack London Square, Oakland
For decades Jack London Square has been trying to make it as a top East Bay food destination. Ironically, it took a pandemic to clue in locals to the charms of this historic neighborhood, which combines a terrific range of restaurants with a spacious, family- friendly outdoor promenade that overlooks the Oakland waterfront. The impressive food options include some of the East Bay’s best versions of burgers and fries (Belcampo), elevated Thai (Farmhouse Kitchen), wood-fired pizza (the Forge), and accessible seafood (Seabreeze on the Dock). Chow down on an outdoor patio, or get your food to go and enjoy it on one of the Bay-view benches or grassy parklets. jacklondonsquare.com.
BEST INCUBATOR OF HIPSTERISM IN THE TRI-VALLEY
Range Life, Livermore
With its modern takes on comfort food classics and high-brow mixology program, Range Life brought a welcome touch of San Francisco–style hipsterism to the Tri-Valley when it debuted three years ago. Don’t look now, but the trend is spreading, as two new projects courtesy of Range Life alums emerged earlier this year in downtown Livermore. Husband-and-wife duo Lauren Heanes-Longwell and Waine Longwell opened Bar Quiote, a craft cocktail bar specializing in mezcal, while Aimee and Bryan Wingen will be offering the likes of naturally fermented sesame semolina bread and sourdough everything bagels at their upcoming Wingen Bakery. Break out the black frame glasses and tight jeans. rangelifelivermore.com, barquiote .com, wingenbakery.com.
BEST HISTORIC BUILDING-TURNED-CAFÉ
Tellus, Walnut Creek
Walnut Creek’s first post office became the Schroder Insurance building in the 1930s, but now it’s been transformed into Tellus, a very 21st-century café that not only serves coffee, beer, wine, and charcuterie, but is also as green as green can get. It starts with a green wall of plants, and then there’s a lime green espresso machine right behind the counter, which sets the tone for the rest of the color scheme. And why Tellus? “She’s the Roman earth goddess,” says general manager Maddie Gaborko, and the green theme runs deep. “Everything is compostable, and our coffee roaster is zero emission. We wanted to go green on every front.” telluscoffee.com.
MOST CELEBRITY-STUDDED ONLINE COOKING CLASS
Truffle Shuffle, Oakland
Did you ever think you’d see “The French Laundry” and “Snoop Dogg” in the same sentence? How about in the same kitchen? If you signed up for Truffle Shuffle’s online cooking class in February, that’s exactly what you saw, as alums from the French Laundry snared Snoop Dogg to cohost one of their Sunday cooking classes. Other celebs have followed, and the business secured even more funding from a recent appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, but the main attraction is learning from top-shelf chefs. The concept: Order the ingredients from Oakland-based Truffle Shuffle, sip the (add-on) cocktail, and learn how to make everything from twice-baked potatoes to pasta primavera with truffle carpaccio. And don’t forget to ask Alexa to cue up “Doggy Dogg World.” truffleshufflesf.com.
BEST CHALLENGE TO NEW YORK’S BAGELS
Boichik Bagels, Berkeley
Even before Emily Winston opened Boichik Bagels on College Avenue, word got around that a home cook was doing extraordinary things with the humble bagel. But there are always local cheerleaders, so it’s understandable that folks took the hype with a grain of kosher salt—but when The New York Times called out the Big Apple’s bagels and said Winston’s were better, well, that was hard to ignore. Yes, the lines are long, but bagels at Boichik are carefully crafted, perfectly formed, and worth the wait. boichikbagels.com.