Cookbook Author and Food Writer
The James Beard Award–nominated author of the 2018 cookbook Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food and curator of the highly regarded blog A Brown Table, Nik Sharma is changing the culinary game one recipe at a time. While a recipe for chocolate-chip cookies might not seem wholly original, it’s the way Sharma utilizes ingredients that’s taking traditional cuisine to a new level. Rather than a ho-hum cookie that calls for all-purpose flour, sugar, and store-bought chocolate, Sharma takes the reader on a journey to his native Mumbai and challenges home cooks to include a fragrant hit of ginger or the tickle of fresh-ground black pepper for a not-so-average baked good.
"I want to contribute something new," the Oakland resident says. "I want to introduce flavors like tamarind, ghee, and jaggery—all flavors of my childhood—to the public that would otherwise be untouched."
By using ingredients not typically found in the average American kitchen, Sharma hopes to highlight cultural cuisines and parts of the Indian diaspora that are undiscussed and underrepresented within the culinary world.
"Indian food is not just about curry," he says. "I want to push the conversation to show that there’s a versatility to ingredients traditionally found in Indian cuisine."
Sharma’s greatest passion is flavor. The San Francisco Chronicle columnist and recent Julia Child Award nominee asserts that applying unexpected spices to everyday cooking is easy, once you take that first step.
"A lot of people are scared of the unknown, even when it comes to ingredients," Sharma says. "But it’s OK to fail, and not everyone is an expert. You just learn from your mistakes, and keep pushing forward."
Favorite restaurant: Dyafa in Jack London Square.
Favorite place to shop for spices: Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland ("They’re very knowledgeable and ethical about how they source their inventory," Sharma says), or Bombay Spice House in Berkeley "for spices commonly found in Indian cuisine."
Favorite place to get fresh produce: Lake Merritt farmers market.
45 Years Millie’s Kitchen has been dishing out delicious meals. Lafayette’s favorite breakfast spot has been a fixture in the East Bay for decades, and this homey diner isn’t going anywhere. A regular Best of the East Bay winner, Millie’s provides locals with a reminder to slow down and enjoy the good stuff—whether it’s classic eggs Benedict, a juicy burger, or Millie’s famous coffee cake. And the servers at this cute little space deliver each plate with a friendly smile. yelp.com/biz/millies-kitchen-lafayette.
A Sweet Affair Bakery, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Guilty Pleasures Bake Shop, Concord
Sauced BBQ and Spirits, Livermore and Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Back Forty Texas BBQ, Pleasant Hill
Roam Artisan Burgers, multiple locations
Runner-up: The Counter, Pleasanton and Walnut Creek
Uncle Yu’s, Lafayette
Runner-up: Ming’s, Pleasant Hill
Coffee Shop, multiple locations
Runners-up: Bondadoso Coffee and Tea Collective, Walnut Creek and States Coffee, Martinez
Genova Delicatessen, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Morucci’s, Walnut Creek
Lottie’s Creamery, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: San Francisco Creamery, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Naan N Curry, Concord
Montecatini Ristorante, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Prima, Walnut Creek
Los Panchos, Danville
Runner-up: El Charro, Lafayette
Runner-up: Vic’s, Martinez
Patxi’s Pizza, multiple locations
Runner-up: Rocco’s Ristorante Pizzeria, Walnut Creek
Kacha Thai Bistro, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Lemongrass Bistro, Martinez
Vanessa’s Bistro 2, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Vanessa’s Bistro, Berkeley
Walnut Creek Yacht Club, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Scott’s Seafood Restaurant, Walnut Creek
Parada, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Limón Rotisserie, Walnut Creek
Flemings, Walnut Creek and Forbes Mill Steakhouse, Danville
Sasa, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Mikuni, Concord
Looking for locally crafted food and drinks for your next gathering? Diablo has you covered with three surefire bite-and-beverage pairings for any occasion.
Party: After-Dinner Affair
Drink: Bean Me Up! smoked coffee porter from Original Pattern Brewing Company in Oakland.
Eat: 70 percent dark chocolate bar from Berkeley’s Tcho.
Taste: A rich dessert on its own, this beer has notes of coffee, chocolate, and tobacco, making it a perfect partner for the roasted-malt undertones of the single-origin Ghana-sourced cacao bar. originalpatternbeer.com, tcho.com.
Party: Swanky Soiree
Drink: 2014 blanc de blanc sparkling wine from Livermore’s Page Mill Winery.
Eat: American White Sturgeon Flagship artisanal caviar from Tsar Nicoulai Caviar in Concord.
Taste: The light, tiny bubbles in the crisp blanc de blanc—which is made with chardonnay grapes—perfectly complement the creamy finish of the sustainably raised caviar. pagemillwinery.com, tsarnicoulai.com.
Party: Backyard Bash
Drink: Orchard Blend No. 1 hard cider from Richmond’s Far West Cider Co.
Eat: Salame Gentile from Fra’mani Handcrafted Foods in Berkeley.
Taste: Apples and pork are a classic pairing, and the combination of the coarse-ground cured meat with the semisweet finish of the fruit-forward beverage is no exception. farwestcider.com, framani.com.
Eco-Friendly Café: Rooted Coffee Co., Pleasant Hill
Though small in size, this charming café and coffee roaster is on a mission to make a big environmental impact by offering only plant-based food and drinks. Unique "milks" made from peas, oats, almonds, and more are available to pour into the killer coffee. And the owners, a husband-and-wife team, serve all their menu items—including gluten-free cornmeal waffles and chia-seed pudding—in compostable containers. rootedcoffeeco.com.
Authentic Italian Ice Cream: Almare Gelato Italiano, Berkeley and Pleasanton
The owners of Almare, Alberto Malvestio and Simone Arpaio, hail from Italy, where Malvestio learned the secrets of traditional gelato-making from his great-uncle, a legend in the Italian frozen-dessert scene. Today, the duo employ those generations-old techniques to craft their own decadent gelato—and they source many of their ingredients from Italy too. The result is an incredibly rich treat that’s prepared fresh daily in a range of creative flavors. almaregelato.com.
Artisanal Dining Experience: Abstract Table, Oakland
Innovative in its menu conception, business model, and artful plating, the permanent after-hours pop-up inside The Gastropig is a whirl of creative energy, thanks to owners Andrew Greene and Duncan Kwitkor’s studio-arts backgrounds. The painters turned chefs curate menus with seasonal and geographic themes and prepare delicious and attractive dishes every weekend during two seatings. This summer, diners will get tastes of global street food on the chefs’ culinary canvas. abstracttable.com.
Best-Dressed Drinks: Telefèric Barcelona, Walnut Creek
The beautiful and elegant sprinklings of orchids, viola petals, fresh herbs, and whole cinnamon sticks heighten the appeal of the tasty, thirst-quenching elixirs at this
Spanish tapas–style restaurant. Then there’s the clear, hand-cut ice, which adds an artful touch to the house cocktails. They’re so pretty, you’ll want to order seconds (or thirds). Just be careful on that staircase! telefericbarcelona.com.
Experimental Eats: Classic Cars West Beer Garden, Oakland
Not only does this eclectic Oakland space frequently host DJ sets and weekend concerts, but the 100 percent vegan restaurant is also home to an art gallery and a classic car showroom. The gallery presents bimonthly exhibitions of works by local artists, and the vintage automobiles range from midcentury European sports cars and American muscle cars to the occasional prewar gem. classiccarswestbeergarden.com.
Diablo deconstructs the comfort-food classic. Illustrations by Roxanne Pasibe
When it comes to burgers, there’s nothing better than picking up a patty from this year’s Best Burger winner, Roam Artisan Burgers, which has locations in Lafayette, Oakland, and San Ramon. But if you are feeling a little epicurious, consider making your burgers at home using the freshest, uber-local produce and products money can buy.
Semifreddi’s Bakery, Kensington
Frog Hollow Farm, Brentwood
Lettuce and Tomatoes
Happy Acre Farm, Sunol
happyacrefarm.com (available at the Pleasanton farmers market)
Clove and Hoof, Oakland
The Local Butcher Shop, Berkeley
Mariposa Baking Co., Oakland