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May 12, 2005 02:53 PM

My Top Ten Bay Area Bites of the Year - add your own!

  • k

After reading Jonathan Kauffman’s annual list of the top ten dishes he tried this year, I was inspired to make my own list. Mine, however, will admittedly be much less glamorous, with lots of cheap Peninsula restaurants. Anyway, I thought it would be fun if others wanted to submit their own lists.

Had to try this dish for the first time in the past year.
Only one dish per restaurant.
Bay Area restaurants only (otherwise I’d be listing a bunch in New York and Portland).

Katya’s Top 10 Bites:

1) The House - Chilean sea bass (yes, I know I’m going to hell) in a ginger-soy glaze ($21). This sea bass is the most tender, succulent fish I’ve ever had. It comes with great sides as well (like the garlic noodles on our second visit), and was so good I had it on my birthday and Valentine’s Day. If you’re ever in San Diego, Michael’s Grill in Santee serves a similar dish that’s not quite as good but still spectacular and only $11. (North Beach, San Francisco)

2) New Kapadokia – Sigara borek. My friends think the ezme is the best appetizer ever here, but my heart belongs to these phylo cigars stuffed with feta and herbs. (Redwood City

3) A La Turka – Piyaz. This is the year for Turkish appetizers for me. This white bean/olive oil spread was so delicious that I kept asking for more and more bread in order to wipe clean the small bowl of the stuff. The version here was superior to New Kapadokia, the otherwise superior Turkish restaurant. (Tenderloin, San Francisco

4) Speederia/Pizza on the Avenue – Cheese pizza. Sadly Pizza on the Avenue in Burlingame closed, but Speederia is a cheap food lover’s paradise with great cheese pizza available by the slice, and cooked upon arrival. It’s not Arinell, but it’s pretty damn close. You can find me here every Sunday for lunch. Seriously. (San Carlos

5) La Perla – Tortillas. These tortillas are nothing like what you find in your grocery store. They’re homemade, and arrive to your table chewy and hot. My boyfriend who previously said flour tortillas were his favorites, now claims La Perla’s corn tortillas are where is heart lies. (South San Francisco

6) Luka’s Taproom – Apricot braised pork sandwich. It’s only available on the lunch menu, and your $8 includes fries (ask for some garlic aioli dipping sauce). Despite any misgivings you may have, the marriage of flavors of the apricot pork and the chipotle aioli is amazing , and the ciabatta bread it’s served on divine. (Northern Downtown Oakland, Oakland

7) Straits – Grilled beef in grape leaf. At least I hope this is the dish I had. The day I moved to the Peninsula, I ate at the new Burlingame location with friends. This small plate ($9) wherein the marinated beef is wrapped in grape leaves and grilled with mint, basil, and toasted nuts was the table favorite, and was one of the reasons we all murmured how we couldn’t wait to return. Unfortunately on our next visit we ordered other dishes and nothing was nearly as good. (Burlingame

8) PF Chang’s – Shanghai street dumplings. I don’t care about the ramifications of mentioning PF Chang’s on Chowhound, these appetizers filled with chicken, green onion, ginger, and soy, are damn good or “fresh as the street” as my friends call them. (various locations

9) Mabel’s Just for You Café – Beignets. These suckers came to the table piping hot and huge. HUGE. My boyfriend and I ordered 2 plates of beignets (3 for $4.50) and home fries (avoid) and only made it through half the beignets. They are covered in powdered sugar, are much bigger than the New Orleans version – almost to the point that you wonder if there’s a filling, and you’ll feel kind of sick that you ate so many doughnuts, but west of Café du Monde, it’s the best you’ll find. (Dogpatch, San Francisco

10) La Petite Camille – Lemongrass string beans. These beans have a tremendous amount of flavor with their lemongrassy, garlicky, greasy goodness. (Millbrae


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  1. That's hard, because time runs together, and often something I think of as "recent" was in fact well over a year ago. Also, now that I look back, it seems I haven't eaten out much this year, and when I have, it's been old favorites rather than new discoveries.

    But here are a few:

    -- green garlic and asparagus soup at Meadowood Grill (Napa Valley). The first thing I thought of. Tasting neither particularly of garlic or asparagus, but rather the essence of spring.

    -- Rogue River blue cheese. I've been addicted since I discovered it last fall.

    -- Wholey Moley bread at the Feel Good Bakery in Alameda: moist, chewy, slightly sour. Delicious.

    -- I have to agree with Kauffman about the fries at Luka's, although they change the dipping sauces periodically and I like some better than others.

    -- speaking of dipping sauces, I can't believe I never dipped french fries in salsa until a few months ago. Yum!!!!! I first tried this at Araujo's in Alameda, which is my new "local" -- not destination food by any means, but darn good neighborhood chow. I also particularly like the chile rellenos there.

    -- pork chop at Cafe Rouge: juicy, sweet -- the Platonic ideal, one of those moments when you think "oh *this* is what XXX is supposed to taste like." And speaking of pork, you can come pretty darn close to replicating that experience with a Kurobata pork loin from Trader Joe's, either roasted or cut into loin chops.

    -- charentais melons. I just looked down at my desk at the little one sitting there waiting for lunch and remembered the "Wow" moment when I tasted if for the first time just last week. To me they combine the best elements of canteloupe and honeydew melons.

    -- I'm stretching, because it was slightly more than a year ago, but I'm still thinking about the butternut squash ravioli with ginger I had at Martini House last spring.

    -- nuez atole from the El Ojo de Agua taco truck

    -- double-boiled herb and organic chicken soup with green spinach dumplings filled with ground pork and crab -- alas, probably never to be tasted again, now that the head chef at China Village has returned to China.

    I just did a control-F search of all my postings for the last 12 months. I know I must seem ever-present on this board, but there weren't nearly as many as I expected. And hardly any new discoveries. I've obviously been a bad chowhound this year, and resolve to do better!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      That's the truth Ruth. Where can I find Rogue River Bleu cheese? Does Cowgirl Creamery carry it? TIA.

      1. re: Lamechop

        looks like you can buy direct from their website, they even have sampler packages...

        hope that helps! :-)

        1. re: artemis

          Actually, you can't buy it anywhere right now, unless someone still has some in stock. My cheesemonger is out, and (as confirmed on the website), this cheese is only available seasonally. No more til next fall.

        2. re: Lamechop

          I've been buying it at Farmstead Cheeses and Wines in Alameda (in the Alameda Marketplace, 1650 Park St.). I don't know who else carries it.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Most are Bay-Area but some of my favorite eating is done in the LA-environs! I'm mentioning just in case any of you ever happen to venture down south!

            1. Fresh oysters and cracked crab in November at SWAN'S OYSTER DEPOT! Washed down with Anchor Steam = heaven.

            2. Sunday brunch at Suppenkuche. Dutch baby pancake, meaty omelette and blood orange and pomegranate mimosa had me full all day!!!

            3. Meatball or roasted pork sandwiches from Saigon Sanwiches on Larkin Street in SF. My heart also has a special fondness for Cam Huong in Oakland, although the sandwiches at the Webster Street location have been slipping.

            4. Al Pastor taco from San Jose @ 25th and Mission topped with guacamole. Tamales smothered in sauce and topped with a fried egg in my own kitchen.

            5. Four cheese pizza at Viva in North Beach - my friends ask me to drive down with Viva pizzas when I go to LA.

            6. The veggie crunchy tacos from Herbivore on Divisidero. NOT the Mission location. Something is going wrong there. The german choc. cake is also damn good.

            7. 1/2 scoop dutch choc chip 1/2 scoop toasted almond = my usual at Fenton's creamery.

            8. Lunch at the counter at Tu Lan where you can watch all the action and fire hazards. Regular old pho or the bun with cha gio were my faves.

            9. Tandoori chicken sandwich from Shalimar in the Tenderloin 3 minutes before closing the night my friends forced me to go to "Tubesteak Connection" and I was starving. Naan and curry after seeing Nick Lowe at the Great American!

            10. Slurping the fresh noodles in the pho at Turtle Tower on Larkin Street.

            10b. Nicoise salad at Postino in Lafayette. Outrageous.

            10c. Pork and crab clear noodle soup, bahn hoi, soda chahn (sp???), and baked eggs at Golden Deli, my FAVORITE vietnamese place in LA (Alhambra technically I think)

            10d. Overeating at Wahib's in LA (Alhambra)

            10e. Al Pastor tacos from La Estrella taco truck in Highland Park (LA).

            10f. Shrimp tacos from Tacos Bajas Ensenadas on Whittier Blvd. in East LA. Woah.

            One more...the breaded eggplant, fresh basil and mozzarella appetizer at Trattoria Siciliana on College Ave. in Berkeley.

        3. re: Ruth Lafler

          Greetings, Ruth - Que es nuez atole, por favor?

          1. re: sydthekyd

            Atole is a hot beverage thickened with masa. "Nuez atole" is atole flavored with ground nuts (walnuts or pecans).

        4. Small Shed Flatbread in Mill Valley - The Mad River pizza with sausages and onions is divine.

          Budo in Napa -( this is really four) the tasting of maine lobster, the best lobster preparations I have ever had.

          Ananda Furara on Market and Larkin - The Neatloaf sandwich is to die for.

          Ciao Bella - Blood Orange gelato

          Miette - Parisian Macaroons (right next door to Ciao Bella)

          Bodega Bistro on Larkin - The best green papaya salad that I dream about (thanks Chowhounds)

          Absinthe - The fried chickpeas

          Citizen Cake - At lunch the Croque Truffe, sauteed mushrooms and truffle essence with gruyere cheese on sourdough. To die for.

          A16 - Laghane with porcini, dried favas and pecorino (thanks Chowhouhds) with a glass of Nicodemi Notari Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

          Cinnamon Almonds from the UN Plaza farmer's market on Wed.

          1. what a great idea for a post! but to limit it to 10..... hmmmm.... i think these are my top contenders in the last calendar year:

            1) carnitas super taco @ la pinata taqueria, san mateo -- this was presented more like a tostada than a taco, but it was SO good. the carnitas had a perfectly crispy exterior and juicy, flavorful shreds of not-too-fatty meat. this el salvadorean taqueria makes a respectable pupusa as well, but i crave their carnitas above all others. (120 n. B street, san mateo)

            2) zahra @ dishdash, sunnyvale -- i've been to this restaurant numerous times and have always enjoyed their vegetarian and seafood dishes. being in a "mmmm, meat" mood one night, i ordered the zahra, a braised lamb shank in a rich, slightly tangy yogurt sauce with roasted cauliflower. i haven't been able to order anything else since, and i've been back at least 3 times.
            3) wild mushroom pizza @ pizza antica, san jose -- i must say i haven't made it to A16 yet, but so far this is the pizza by which i compare all others. actually i don't really compare, i just go back and have that one when the pizza cravings hit.
            (334 santana row, san jose 408-557-8373)

            4) marrow bones @ bix -- to die for, nothing else needs to be said. the killer live jazz in the background certainly didn't hurt either....
            5) duck liver flan @ jack falstaff -- this was something that i almost reluctantly tried, being sort of a purist about foie gras type dishes. after one bite, i think i muttered something profane and then ate the rest like it was the last food on earth.
            6) braised pork shoulder @ incanto -- so rich, so smooth, so uncomplicated, so totally perfect on a chilly, damp evening. this is comfort food at it's ultimate best.
            7) steelhead trout AND chicken/foie gras ravioli @ oola -- ok i'm cheating, 2 different dishes, but it was during one meal at one place.... i'd throw the baby back ribs in there too but someone would most likely call a foul. all are outstanding and induce repeated cravings. (
            8) pumpkin-chicken curry @ koh samui and the monkey -- i'm sure there are better and more authentic thai places in the city, but i just love the flavors in this particular dish. the sweetness of the pumpkin is perfect with the red curry base, i can even take or leave the chicken. and they never overcook the squash, the texture has been perfect every time i've had it. which is a lot.
            9) fig-fennel sourdough @ arizmendi bakery -- i love starting the day with a slice of this dense, chewy bread toasted with a smear of cream cheese. they only make it on fridays, which is probably good because it forces me to go without it every now and then. absence makes the heart blah blah blah...
            10) soyrizo burrito @ papalote -- it looked interesting so i ordered it.... it's now my favorite burrito. completely vegan with small cubes of potato in the mixture, it's perfect wrapped with black beans, rice, salsa, and a dollop of guacamole. not exactly authentic mission-style, but then again you don't feel like you're gonna explode after eating it. btw, it's not on the website menu for some reason.

            1. Many of my best bites were outside the bay area this year, which was one of lots of travel, but yes, I can find a top ten. Putting them in tastiness order, however, I am not sure I can in no particular order, here goes:

              1. Lionshead Meatballs at Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland: I remember that some of the folks dining with me didn't like this version, but I still think of it fondly. Hey, it is a meatball, it was huge, it was tasty, what is not to love :-)....

              2. Grilled squid appetizer at Blue Plate. Wow! I had never had squid grilled before (shame on me), and thought this was the best I would ever find, until later in the year when I had some at Isakaya Kai on the Big Island that surpassed it...but that is a story for a different board...

              3.Venison sauteed in butter at Binh Minh Quan in Oakland. This was really a revelation both about how fresh and vibrant vietnamese cuisine can be, and how delicious venison can taste...

              4. A skate dish I had at Boulevard. Took a bite and thought, 'ok, I get it"....

              5. The anchovy appetizer at Bizou. I was hesitant to order it; I didn't think I liked anchovies, thought it might be too fishy...another revelation.

              6. The Garlic soup at Piperade. I could eat this everyday...

              7. The Mock Tofu chicken soup at China Village that we had as part of a special Chowhound banquet last fall...Like the best matzoh ball soup I ever ate, only more subtle...

              8. And (sigh, since it seems the chef has perhaps left...) another entry from the same dinner: Geoduck clams from China Village. How does something that homely and ugly taste that lovely and delicious? :-)

              9. Chicken stuffed with crispy rice, at Ming's Diner, at a Christmas eve lunch. Just plain yummy! Of course, I hadn't, and still haven't yet had, the chance to compare it to Yimster's version (Hey Yimster: It isn't fair! :-))...

              10. Last but certainly not least, the Vietnamese Crepe at Lotus Garden. It just kills me that I had dined there at least twenty times over the past five years or so, before finally trying this dish at a Chowdown..and then to have the place close a few weeks later! I still can't walk down that side of the block without feeling sad....

              1 Reply
              1. re: susancinsf

                I just read this over and realized that of my ten top bites, six (#'s 1, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10) were eaten at meals that were somehow Chowhound related...and of the rest, I probably decided to eat at three because of posts on the board....Wow! Thank you all for the adventures in eating!

              2. j
                janet of reno

                Well, I'm not sure I'll make ten, since after all I don't live in the SF area, but I'll try! (Bear with my disorganized typing style, an unfortunate accident with a cup of coffee took out my enter key....). So in no particular order: 1) The smoked tea duck at the Chowhound gathering at Louie's. 2) bhel puri at Vik's, Berkeley 3) mango ice cream at Mitchell's. I know, I know, everyone likes the baby coconut, but mango and ice cream just go together, ok? 4) Hog Island oysters for breakfast at the Ferry Building 5) the squash ravioli at Bacco. I'll stop at five and not hog the band width......because just thinking about it makes me hungry....

                10 Replies
                1. re: janet of reno

                  yes, the bhel puri is a top bite anywhere, but technically not allowable, since I know darn well you've tried it many, many times before this year! :-)

                  1. re: susancinsf
                    janet of reno

                    Oh, I didn't realize that I could only include things NEW to me this year....well, then, technically, the ice cream is off my list as well. But then again, the bhel puri is like a new revelation every time I eat it. Actually, the whole purpose of this post is to put in a gratuitous plug for Vik's. I am in my head writing my promised review of The Chowhound Guide, and I'm struggling with whether I should confess my one real gripe with the book: I feel that Vik's is woefully undermentioned. A discussion of East Bay Chaat doesn't even mention Vik's...what's up with that??? To me that would be like talking about East Bay hotdogs and not mentioning Top Dog.....The only reference to Vik's I could find was a brief mention of the store in reference to Indian groceries.....

                    1. re: janet of reno

                      If Vik's or any other spot is "undermentioned", it's because there were no fresh, reliable, passionate reports here to draw on during the slice of time the guide covers. Unless 'hounds were raving about it on this board, it's not in the book. Unlike other guides which only update ten or 20% of the entries with each edition and include many time-worn, long past prime recommendations, this one pulled from only the freshest topical threads. In the case of Vik's, a check of the index turns up two mentions, one on page 50 for the chole and then page 57 for the market.

                      Vik's does need an update on this board. Hopefully you'll report back the next time you're there.


                      1. re: Melanie Wong
                        janet of reno

                        You're right about the two Vik's mentions...I didn't have my guide at work and erred, sorry! As for the write-up, you're right, I'm overdue for a trip to Vik's. If anyone is up for a chowdown on a Sunday afternoon, now that it looks like there is a chance (and still only a chance!) I could drive over Donner Summit without having to chain up, I would gladly come!!! Vik's is best enjoyed with a group. IMO.

                      2. re: janet of reno

                        Yup, I understand. But, as the intro says, the book is missing a LOT. There are gaping holes (many more than just the one you mentioned). But I think you'll agree that it's a really really good size just as-is. We couldn't cover everything. Both guides are missing mention of particular favorites of mine.

                        We weren't trying to write the definitive guide to anything. Just a thousand eateries that are really intriguing, the majority of which have never appeared in media or Zagat. It's never been done before, and they ought to be judged on what they are, rather than on what they aren't.


                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          janet of reno

                          Fair enough. And I believe you ably accomplished what you set out to do. But may I respectfully suggest that if you haven't been to Vik's in awhile (or ever?), that you stop there before your Berkeley book signing for a little sustenance. I'm sure you could find a tour guide (I would volunteer myself, but I'll be in Vegas that weekend, ....). However, the talk about Vik's HAS made me hungry, and hubbie just about has me convinced to spend our Sunday off driving the 200 miles to Berkeley to treat our Australian friends (who are currently in SF) to Vik's.......

                          1. re: janet of reno

                            Quite frankly, it's looking like mostly Wendy's for this trip. Penguin's got me booked to neutron star density, and they want to assign me a "minder", whose job, I'm starting to fear, is to keep me from getting all off track chowhounding around when I'm supposed to be doing 30 gazillion other things. I'm picturing Nurse Ratchet with a clipboard.

                            Isn't Reno where the good frozen custard is?


                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              Jim,Jim, Jim: you are making me feel awful...I will see what I can do about bringing a Vik's care package to the Cody's signing... :-)

                              1. re: Susancinsf

                                Sorry, didn't mean to make you feel bad! I eat real well, on the whole!

                                I REALLY appreciate the idea, but I don't think it'd be wise for me to accept food as a general rule. .1% of any crowd is stone-cold crazy, and Chowhound gets a large crowd. I know you're cool, but the book events will be chaotic, and it'll be hard to sort out what's from who once the smoke clears. Better to just come and have a good time!

                                thanks again!


                              2. re: Jim Leff

                                Two suggestions:

                                1) As ChowNews mentioned: Free Frosty(tm) at Wendy's!

                                2) Avoid frozen custard with fingers in them. If one is found, give it to the finger's owner right away so it can be re-attached. Do not put it in your free Frosty(tm) as it can hurt more than help.

                                The More You Know(tm)