Once drive-bys, these Bay Area towns have kicked their food scenes into another gear. Add them to your bucket list.
Featured Photo: Alley & Vine
Under the Radar Food Map
Alley & Vine
The pink panther cocktail is impossible to resist with its cheery hue and sly hints of reposado tequila, but the menu from chef Jason Ryczek (Waterbar, Farallon) thrills at every turn. Oysters sing of the sea yet hint of basil, a dusting of serrano chile on scallop enhances its briny character without overwhelming and duck ‘a l’orange hints of Julia Child until it hits a bergamot high note to take the dish to a new place. alleyandvine.com
A branch of the San Francisco original, this is the spot to find their famous fermented tea leaf salad (it, too, bedeviled by global supply chain issues), garlic noodles and ginger lime soju margaritas. burmasuperstar.com
Order a papito sandwich (steak, plantains, griddled onions) at the counter and wait for the buzzer to tell you your food is ready. While you are waiting, also order a tofu taco. All of the tacos are topped with a generous helping of addictive cabbage slaw and a customized lashing of crema for that hi-lo lunchtime savory idyll. cholitalinda.com
Lauded by Michelin in 2019 with a Bib Gourmand designation, a temple of barbecue and rotisserie leans into Asian spices and flavors. The St. Louis Ribs with yellow curry salt and pickled jalapeños are a hit, even better as the Double Dutch — they are paired with half a koji-inoculated chicken and served with chimichurri. spinningbones.com
Anticipation is high for this not-yet-open venture from chef Juan Jaquez (Boulevard) who launched a home-based catering business for his mole-braised short ribs and cod with minted pea puree and pea “granola” before landing a brick-and-mortar location to call home. ceronkitchen.com
Known for his work at San Francisco’s now-closed Pläj, Chef Roberth Sundell built a menu of foods he craved while in his native Sweden for his latest restaurant. Scandinavian comfort foods like meatballs and gravy thickened with veal stock, cream and allspice as well as the Mediterranean lamb kebab with saffron rice are top sellers on an eclectic menu that earned a Bib Gourmand from Michelin, but Sundell says his pickled herring is not to be missed. Imported Swedish herring is served with pickled vegetables, dill and rye crackers. “It’s a Swedish classic,” says Sundell who recommends the dish with a pilsner as the perfect holiday repast. stockhomerestaurant.com
A wide counter and a few tiny tables make the latest effort from chef Christian Caiazzo (Osteria Stellina) seem more like a bakery than a restaurant. Sure, you can have an impeccably sourced salad or a focaccia sandwich with marinated chicken and arugula, but the Italian-inflected pastries are, indeed, a highlight. There’s a classic torta della nonna with vanilla custard and pine nuts and fresh veggie frittatas atop a glass case stuffed with morning buns, chocolate croissants and muffins. Chef recently detoured to Milan with two takes on brioche Veneziano, a yeasty, not-too-sweet breakfast bun that hails from Lombardy: one traditional, dusted with sugar and stuffed with pastry cream; the other savory with anchovy-braised Niman pork inside. stellinapronto.com
Ridiculously fresh seafood is at the heart of a menu that features Peruvian flavors. Savor the catch of the day (it was recently halibut) in ceviche a la Huancaina with a “gravy” brightened with aji chile and yellow pepper or the pulpo anticuchero — that’s grilled octopus swiped until glistening with a bright chile sauce. The less adventurous can go for the seafood fried rice with fresh shellfish or the beef tenderloin with tomatoes and onions. ayawaskasf.com
Middle Eastern flavors take the stage at a daytime cafe in Petaluma’s wharf district. The menu changes frequently but a pan-fried chicken falafel plate and local sand dabs with saffron corn and black-eyed pea salad express the California by way of Marrakesh cuisine. Enjoy it all on the sun-splashed patio or inside the small dining room. pearlpetaluma.com
Brewsters Beer Garden
Yes, it’s a pub and you can call it grub but please do add an “elevated” for the distinct flair and seasonal inspirations that dot the menu. The must-order is the Sho-Burger, so named for the former chef, Todd Shoberg. Toppings change frequently (just roll with it) or try the rubbed baby carrots with buttermilk ranch and a rub flecked with paprika, cumin and cocoa powder. It all tastes even better on the huge patio — it’s wreathed in Edison bulbs for that just-so glow. brewstersbeergarden.com
The indoor dining room boasts a huge communal where a tasting menu is custom-designed for your group by chef de cuisine Ian McQueen. Outdoors, however, the Open Market experience welcomes smaller parties. Pizzas are a must — fired over almond wood, the sourdough crust is topped with foraged mushrooms and huitlacoche and three cheeses for an umami bomb that is utterly unexpected in this industrial setting. The gluten-free fried chicken is marinated in ginger and gochujang before a toss in pulverized koshikari rice and rice flour, then dunked in rice bran oil. The result is a crisp, orange exterior that gives way to juicy flesh. anaviv.com
A driveway pop-up in a residential neighborhood launched the quesabirria trend in the Bay Area a few years ago and shows no sign of stopping. The San Francisco Chronicle included them in their Top 25 Restaurants list earlier this year and here’s why: the quesabirria tacos from the Montanos family — crunchy outside, irresistibly soft with just the right amount of salt and melted cheese inside — are irresistible. They formalized the deal last year, moving into a brick and mortar building not far from the original pop-up. elgarage.online
Lara's Fine Dining
The bayfront location with views of the harbor and San Francisco attracts a crowd on a beautiful day. The Italian-American menu — Caprese salad, soft shell crab sandwich — is instantly familiar. The marina seafood soup and rack of lamb are worth the trip. larasfinedining.com
Set along the waterfront, adjacent to the Bay Trail and next to the Rosie the Riveter Museum, this daytime spot is perfectly situated for people watching. Do eat something, though, as the chilaquiles, tropical fish tacos and tri-tip sandwich are top-notch. assemblemarketplace.com
The Factory Bar
Tables shaded by red umbrellas mark the spot at Richmond’s hottest bar where the patio is flanked by a beautiful garden. Grab a seat amidst the flowers (or inside where the theme is suited to the neighborhood’s ship-building past) for cocktails like a Point Molate margarita or a Winks festooned with grapefruit that celebrates the art of whiskey. thefactorybar.net
The Caviar Co.
The small, shared bites all feel extra glamorous at this petite café in the heart of downtown Tiburon. Do try the truffle grilled cheese with caviar — it’s made with Pt. Reyes Creamery Toma that’s topped with shaved black truffles before the brioche is pan-seared. You’d think that is as decadent as it gets until you see it comes with sides of caviar and potato chips. Mic drop. thecaviarco.com
Astonishing bridge-to-bridge views from every seat are just part of the charm of this newly reopened restaurant. Abalone doré is a must-order and, while crab is in season, the crab omelet with white cheddar and spinach is the meal you did not know you needed in your life. thecaprice.com
The Bungalow Kitchen
A globe-trotting chef who lived in Marin for 20 years never managed to open a restaurant in the county until now and it’s a beaut — a two-story grande dame with a casual billiards lounge and bar upstairs and a seated restaurant and bar downstairs, both with wide decks and views of San Francisco. Look for chef Michael Mina’s signature tuna tartare as well as fresh takes on the California cuisine the chef is known for — lobster pot pie, spice-poached shrimp and miso-broiled sea bass. bungalowkitchen.com
Sam's Anchor Cafe
Sail up to the dock or queue up for a table on the bayfront patio for shared plates of blue cheese garlic bread and a towering seafood platter. The drinks are as popular here as the food, especially the prickly pear margarita bowl (it’s huge) and the original mai tai with lilikoi foam. samscafe.com
Though the influences here are global, a restaurant tucked into a lodge just off the main drag is better known for Italian flavors. They shine in dishes like an Italian frittata (with black truffle and Parma ham) and a chicken sandwich on ciabatta with provolone, zucchini and tomato. tiburontavern.com
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