“No, you choose.”
“Dude, I don’t care, I just want some food, you pick.”
When it comes to deciding on a solid spot for a meal, almost everyone can relate to the deceptively simple act of selecting the perfect place. In a gastronomically diverse region like the San Francisco Bay Area, this familiar dilemma is often cited as the reason for ruined friendships and hangry outbursts.
Fear indecision no more. In response to this predicament, here is a thorough list of a Bay Area native’s favorite spots. May you never be held responsible for picking where to eat ever again.
Brunch: La Note Restaurant Provençal, Berkeley
Pretty sure the wonderful humans at SpoonU Cal will agree with me when I say that it’s pretty damn difficult to top La Note when it comes to brunch. Serving up a number of French-inspired dishes, a personal top pick would be their Pain Perdu (fancy French term for “French Toast”).
#SpoonTip: If you really want your socks knocked off, go for the brioche instead of the run-of-the-mill French bread when ordering the Pain Perdu. You won’t regret it.
Eastern European: Mama Papa Lithuania, Alameda
Eastern European food is totally underrated and underrepresented on the West Coast in my opinion. If you’re looking to expand your global perspective (as well as your stomach), give Mama Papa Lithuania a try. Their cepelinai are an absolutely delicious, essential part of a savory lunch.
For those 21 and up, there’s a nice lil beer garden in the back if you’re looking to get boozy.
North Indian: Shalimar, SF – Tenderloin
This place is the definition of hole-in-the-wall. Located in the Tenderloin, Shalimar and the surrounding neighborhood may look a lil sketch from the outside. But, if you venture into this hidden gem, you’ll immediately be hit with the aroma of smoked tandoori chicken, fresh naan, and spiced curries. Also, if you’re leading that veg life, this place’s options will not disappoint.
Mexican: Taqueria Cancun, SF – Mission
No list of eateries is complete without a reliable location for the best of food in log form. At this particular spot, the Burrito Al Pastor is an essential must-try. Hot and flavorful, marinated pork has never taken a purer form than in the kitchen at Taqueria Cancun.
Ice Cream: Bi-Rite, SF – Mission
Probably the most innovative creamery this side of the Bay. With nifty, fresh ice creams made with locally-sourced ingredients, Bi-Rite does small batch ice cream all the justice it deserves. Their most popular flavor would be their Salted Caramel, but the Honey Lavender is a must-try.
Comfort Food: Homeroom, Oakland – Temescal
Mac and cheese galore. Armed with new-age twists on a traditional American comfort food, your cravings for the holiest pairing of dairy and starch will surely be met. From the savory Mac the Goat, highlighting scallions and breadcrumbs, to the bold Mexican Mac, headlined by chorizo and jack cheese, the combinations are endless.
Burmese: Grocery Cafe, East Oakland
Don’t let the name fool you. Grocery Cafe may put up an unassuming facade but it is the closest you can get to legit Burmese outside of Southeast Asia. For those with a fancy for heavy, rich flavors, dig into their Tea Leaf Salad which hosts imported Burmese tea leaves and fresh vegetables seasoned with a healthy douse of fish sauce.
Breakfast: Bette’s Oceanview Diner, Berkeley
Opening its doors at the crack of dawn, Bette’s attracts hungry denizens from every corner of the Bay with some of the best breakfast options under the sun. If you decide to brave the long wait, your taste buds will be rewarded with the fluffiest of Soufflé Pancakes served with your choice of toppings.
Dim Sum: Koi Palace, Daly City
Shuffled around on metal food carts in varied form and flavor, dim sum is one of the most difficult genres of cuisine to do right. But the cooks at Koi Palace have it down to a science. Be it 蛋塔 (egg custard tarts) or 蝦餃 (shrimp dumplings), prepare your mouth for one of the best East Asian dining experiences you’ll ever have.
Sausages: Rosamunde Sausage Grill, SF – Mission
The mecca of cased meat. Served on grilled French rolls, Rosamunde has sausages of every style imaginable: from Andouille to Wild Boar, their bratwurst is world-class. Paired with a number of imported European beers at the bar, your tummy will find itself thoroughly satisfied.
Asian-American Fusion: Koja Kitchen, Berkeley/SF
Koja Kitchen is originally cooked and plated straight out of a food truck. Thank goodness for us, they secured permanent locations in Berkeley and SF to dish out Korean-Japanese inspired American fusion on a daily basis. Aside from their popular kojas (a.k.a Korean BBQ beef between garlic-infused rice patties), their Kamikaze fries (crosscut waffle fries topped with minced bulgogi, kimchi, Japanese mayo and scallions) are to die for.
Donuts: Rolling Pin Donuts, San Bruno
Deep-fried goodness. Donut shops are a staple in any large metropolitan area, but no one does it quite like Rolling Pin. Never stale, Rolling Pin keeps a constant rotation of their fried delicacies, thereby establishing a reputation as the best around. For those who want a bit of fruity nutrition to go with their artery-clogging desserts, go for the Apple Fritter. You can thank me later.
Pizza: Zachary’s Chicago Pizza, Oakland – Rockridge
Hands down the best Chicago pie outside the Windy City. With two layers of pizza dough separated by copious amounts of cheese and your choice of fillings, Zachary’s slices are baked fresh and served with finesse.
Sichuan (四川): Yi Yuan, Milbrae
For those unfamiliar with Sichuan grub, it’s basically Central Chinese fare packed with enough heat to make the biggest fan of spicy eats beg for a glass of water. Bold flavors, meticulous preparation, and generally kick-ass dishes make Yi Yuan a go-to spot.
Tapas: Zarzuela, SF – Russian Hill
If you’re feeling a hip, classy vibe for your next get-together with friends, hit up Zarzuela for the best in Spanish tapas. Featuring a menu with various small bites perfect for sharing, your craving for European fancy-shmancy appetizers will be comfortably satiated. Oh, and don’t forget the Sangria.
Japanese: Akiko’s, SF – FiDi
Some of the freshest cuts of seafood in the Bay. Manned by knowledgeable chefs, the sushi bar is by far the best spot to be at Akiko’s where you can have a nice lil convo with the chef about which fish you want in your mouth. A great spot for a date or pure self-indulgence.
Phở: Phở Ao Sen, East Oakland
There are few alternatives that come close to phở when you’re in the mood for noodle soup. Rocking one of the cleanest set-ups in the Bay, Phở Ao Sen can’t be beat when it comes to price point and flavor. If you’re looking to try something different than your regular Phở đặc biệt, hit up their Bún bò Huế for a spicier twist on your Vietnamese broth bowl.
Sandwiches: Little Lucca Sandwich Shop and Deli, South San Francisco
For some odd reason, the Bay Area has a certain inexplicable habit of producing some of the finest sandwich joints in the nation. Little Lucca is no exception. Presenting a no-frills, traditional take on meat and bread combos, Little Lucca turns a typical business lunch into something to look forward to.
Bakery: Ambrosia Bakery, SF – Lakeside
No list of eateries is complete without a bomb bakery. Local and unique, Ambrosia is most definitely a personal favorite when it comes to baked goods, mainly due to the fact that they have the absolute best fruit tarts. Buttery crust, creamy custard, and fresh fruit. What more can you ask for?
European: Belden Place, SF – FiDi
For those who are about that bougie life. Hosting restaurants serving food from all parts of Europe in the most random of alleways, Belden Place offers an experience rather than a meal. Dine under string upon string of light bulbs and neon signs for a modest sample of European dining.
#SpoonTip: The mussels at Plouf. Do it.
Ramen: Izakaya Sozai, SF – Sunset
Izakaya Sozai is a strong go-to in the Bay to satisfy your craving for Japanese noodle soup. This spot only has one type of ramen, the Ritsu Tonkotsu, and it is out of this world in every aspect from broth, to noodle texture, to toppings.
Hot Dogs: Doggy-Style Hot Dogs, Alameda
Kudos for the most creative moniker ever. These guys have turned the classic conception of a hot dog into something unique and gourmet by blending traditional American fare with an Asian flair. A perfect culmination of this combination of flavors is demonstrated in the Doggyzilla, a bratwurst topped with teriyaki sauce, seaweed strips, wasabi mayo and Asian slaw in between a sesame baguette. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Burger: TrueBurger, Oakland – Lake Merritt
Garlic mayo is key. Running a local operation out of Oakland, TrueBurger takes the meat-patty combo to new heights with a certain skillful simplicity that makes people come back for more. Complement your meal with one of their legendary shakes to appease the strongest of appetites. Can’t go wrong with their garlic fries either.