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The Best of the East Bay

Maple leaf duck sugo, calvados cocktails, water slides, dog parks, and hikes on the golden hills: The East Bay has it all.

SLIDESHOW

CDP Photo: Vanessa Yap-Einbund/CDP

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Briones Regional Park

Photo: Jonathan Galazka

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Bay Grape

Photo: Becca Wyant/Bay Grape

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Read more Best of San Francisco 2018 here.


EAT

Chinese: Tastee Steam Kitchen
329 11th St., Oakland, 510-628-0888
The best dishes at this splashy new Guangdong restaurant on the edge of Oakland’s Chinatown emerge not from the kitchen but from under your table. At your fingertips sits a steam-pot bowl of porridge studded with additions like pumpkin and pork, which soaks up the juices from the steaming items above it, like whole fish, spot prawns, or chicken with black mushrooms. Just when you’re about to holler “Enough!,” up comes the flavor-injected porridge to remind you that sometimes the simplest things are the most elegant. Plus: You can take it to go.
Runner-up: China Village, Albany

Soul Food: Brown Sugar Kitchen
2534 Mandela Pkwy., Oakland, 510-839-7685
Chef Tanya Holland has big ambitions: She’s opening an offshoot of her West Oakland space in San Francisco’s Ferry Building as well as moving her flagship restaurant to a new location in Uptown Oakland (both are opening in late summer). To prepare, she temporarily closed the original restaurant, which reemerged in June as a test kitchen for ticketed pop-up dinners on Wednesdays and grab-and-go and fast-casual fare on the weekends. Hopefully, the exceptional pineapple-glazed barbecued ribs and the oyster po’ boy make a return appearance.
Runner-up: Mississippi Catfish, Richmond

Italian: Belotti Bottega
4001B Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-350-7619
When the casual offshoot of the also-casual Belotti Ristorante opened last summer, chef-owner Michele Belotti solved an all-too-common problem: what to eat on those too-tired-to-cook Wednesdays. Well, how about a delivery of the rich pappardelle, with hen of the woods mushrooms, beef reduction, and grana padano? Or the bigoli al sugo d’anatra, sprinkled with orange zest and studded with maple leaf duck sugo? Not that this is an only-on-Wednesday extravagance: Pasta this good you could eat any night of the week.
Runner-up: Dopo, Oakland

Vegetarian: Kingston 11
2270 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-465-2558
Not merely among the Bay Area’s best Jamaican restaurants, Kingston 11 in Uptown Oakland also slings the best meatless food in the East Bay, like plantains served with vegan black beans; black pepper tofu caramelized in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic; and an ever-changing cast of vegetables bathed in a deeply flavorful yet not spicy curry. As if that weren’t enough, there’s live music on Wednesdays and Thursdays and a DJ spinning reggae on Fridays. Chef-owner Nigel Jones made his start with a pop-up at Berkeley’s Guerilla Cafe before opening his own place in 2013, and this year, he and chef Daniel Patterson opened Kaya across the bay in San Francisco, serving the very same black pepper tofu but charging $4 more a plate for it.
Runner-up: Souley Vegan, Oakland

Tacos: Taqueria El Paisa@.com
4610 International Blvd., Oakland, 510-610-6398
Let’s talk about suadero. It’s a thin cut of beef by the cow’s udders, smooth rather than grainy, and popular in Mexico City. You don’t see it on every menu, but when you do—order it. There may be no finer example of a suadero taco than the one at El Paisa@.com (not a typo), a narrowly configured restaurant that slings the Bay’s best beef breast, along with off cuts like tripa, sesos, and lengua.
Runner-up: Contreras Market, Livermore

American: Bull Valley Roadhouse
14 Canyon Lake Dr., Port Costa, 510-787-1135
Surrounded by cattle on three sides and the Carquinez Strait on the fourth, tiny Port Costa might seem an unlikely place to find lightly tempura-­battered asparagus, smoked Llano Seco pork chops, and expertly concocted cocktails like the pre-­Prohibition-style martini with orange bitters, Tom gin, Italian vermouth, lemon peel, and a maraschino cherry. But the Bull Valley Roadhouse, nestled in a downtown no bigger than a San Francisco intersection, marries all the sophistication of big-city dining with the homeyness of the deep East Bay. Inside tip: Thursday is tiki night, when Singapore slings are slung in throwback mugs and paired with tiki-friendly food like ginger-laden chicken wings or halibut ceviche.
Runner-up: Range Life, Livermore

Cocktails: CDP
3861 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-653-3902
At CDP, chef James Syhabout finds a happy middle ground between Commis, his two-Michelin-star temple next door, and Hawking Bird, his fast-casual chicken joint in Temescal. The slow-poached egg yolk, served in a creamy broth studded with alliums and smoked dates and accompanied by house-baked malt levain bread and chicken skin butter, is both a show-off chef trick and the best substitute for a baked potato loaded with sour cream and bacon bits ever invented. But here the real star is the drink menu, which bears spectacular brandy like the Le­morton calvados Domfrontais, bottled in 1972, and the Campo de Encanto pisco. Once you hit your first IPO, get your banker to spring for an $687 bottle of the Armand de Brignac. If you’re still planning for it, go for the blood orange sidecar, made with Camus cognac and blood orange curaçao, at just $13.
Runner-up: East Bay Spice Company, Berkeley

Beer: Woods Bar & Brewery
1701 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-747-8171
Bitter beer may still be the king of the mountain, but at this experimental outpost, Jim Woods—the proprietor of cognoscenti-beloved San Francisco beer bars under the same name in the Mission and Russian Hill—is plotting a coup. The real action is in the herbal ales, yerba-maté-infused IPAs, and wild lagers. The Local Honey beer tastes like the East Bay’s golden hills smell: of eucalyptus, fennel, and lavender. And the Morpho is loaded with botanicals like yerba maté, hibiscus, and bay leaves. These beers don’t taste like anything else—and that’s a very good thing.
Runner-up: Fourth Bore Tap Room and Grill, Orinda

Indian: Aappakadai
4555 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, 925-750-7709
The new outpost of the Milpitas standby specializes in the seafood- and starch-friendly cuisine of India’s Chettinad region, at the very southern tip of the country, which explains the presence of aappam, a thin, lightly sweet pancake made from fermented rice and coconut milk. Topped with paneer, it alone is worth a trip to the unassuming strip mall that houses this casual restaurant. Equally delicious are the Cauliflower 65, fried and drop-kicked with a spicy, tangy sauce, and the aachi meen kolumbu, catfish cooked in tamarind gravy.
Runner-up: Vik’s Chaat and Market, Berkeley

Southeast Asian: Nyum Bai
3340 E. 12th St., Oakland, 510-500-3338
In February, Nyum Bai chef and owner Nite Yun—born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her parents fled the Khmer Rouge—opened what might be the most exciting restaurant in the whole East Bay, bursting with fish sauce, lemongrass, and coconut milk and enveloped in custom wallpaper mixing Oakland cranes and Cambodian pop stars. Yun was brought to Stockton at age two and visited Cambodia for the first time at 19. That makes Nyum Bai—which translates as “Let’s eat”—as much a vehicle of self-creation as it is one of cultural self-discovery. But forget the linguistics. Chow down on the grilled-beef skewers marinated in fragrant lemongrass paste, honey, fish sauce, and oyster sauce, as well as kuri saramann, laden with braised short ribs, cardamom, ginger, chili paste, and coconut cream.
Runner-up: Hawking Bird, Oakland

PLAY

Dog Park: Point Isabel Regional Shoreline
2701 Isabel St., Richmond, 888-327-2757
Off the freeway and behind the Costco parking lot is a patch of landfill once called Battery Point, thanks, apparently, to all the batteries once buried there. It doesn’t sound that promising, but in reality, Point Isabel is doggy paradise: Dogs can frolic off leash all over the 43 acres that straddle the Hoffman Channel waterway, making this one of the Bay Area’s largest dog parks. The stunning views of the San Francisco skyline across the bay aren’t so bad for their human companions, either.
Runner-up: Dougherty Hills, Dublin

Museum: Lawrence Hall of Science
1 Centennial Dr., Berkeley, 510-642-5132
Exactly 50 years ago in May, UC Berkeley’s children’s science museum opened its doors. A lot has been added since then—exhibitions that challenge children to design earthquake-resistant buildings or launch rockets into space; an animal discovery room with Colombian red-tailed boas, marbled salamanders, and Chilean rose hair tarantulas; and the massive, climbable DNA sculpture in the entry plaza. What hasn’t changed? The sense of wonder the museum imparts to aspiring scientists young and old.
Runner-up: BAMPFA, Berkeley

Family Outing: Heather Farm Park
301 N. San Carlos Dr., Walnut Creek, 925-256-3575
Keep your eyes peeled at the lake at Heather Farm: A group of inquisitive river otters suddenly showed up not too long ago, splashing around and eating the fish. They aren’t the only ones having fun. Spread out over 102 acres, the site is home to baseball and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds, a skate park, an equestrian center, and an off-leash dog park.
Runner-up: Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley

Hiking Trail: Briones Peak
2537 Reliez Valley Rd., Lafayette, 888-327-2757
Bordering Walnut Creek, Martinez, and Lafayette, the 6,255-acre Briones Regional Park might be the underdog East Bay open space compared with the Oakland and Berkeley Hills or Mount Diablo. But the many trails that cut through its rolling landscape boast views from Mount Diablo to the delta, as well as abundant wildflowers and turkey vultures, coyotes, and red-tailed hawks. And cows. So many cows. Take Blue Oak to Spengler to Table Top Trail to ascend 1,483 feet to the top of Briones Peak, but leave early—it heats up during the day, especially in summer.
Runner-up: Sibley Volcanic National Preserve, Oakland

Water Park: Six Flags Hurricane Harbor
1950 Waterworld Pkwy., Concord, 925-609-1364
When it reopened for the 2018 season, the former Waterworld sported more than just a new name and branding. The park now offers its largest addition in a decade: Splashwater Island, a multilevel play structure with more than 100 water jets that visitors can use to cool themselves, splash one another, and pummel unsuspecting adults. Many of the other slides have received fresh coats of paint, but the 30-acre park’s main draw remains the same as the day it opened: What else would you want to do when the thermometer pushes past 100 degrees Fahrenheit?
Runner-up: Antioch Water Park, Antioch

SHOP

Weed Shop: Harborside
1840 Embarcadero, Oakland, 888-994-2726
At 6 a.m. on January 1, Steve DeAngelo had tears in his eyes as he made the first sale of recreational marijuana at the dispensary he founded more than a decade ago. It’s the result of a lifetime of work for DeAngelo, who began his career as a legalization activist: Today, thanks to a $6.5 million injection of capital and just two years after avoiding federal prosecution, Harborside is the flagship of legal weed. Its Harborside Index, which grades aroma, flavor, and anticipated effect, is the Parker rating of cannabis. Flowers range from the face-melting Disco Balls (23.1 percent THC) to the mellow Jack Sabbath (12.3 percent THC).
Runner-up: Blum, Oakland

Wineshop: Bay Grape
376 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-686-3615
With contagious enthusiasm and knowledge to spare, owners Josiah Baldivino and Stevie Stacioni make this whole wine-selling business look easy. It’s not. Their bedside manner in guiding customers to Suisun Valley whites, McLaren Vale pét-nats, or aglianicos from Campania makes you realize that this Lake Merritt establishment is more than just a wineshop. It’s a virtual community hub, playing host to wine appreciation classes, beer tastings, neighborhood mixers, CSA box pickups, and private parties, all set to a soundtrack of vintage vinyl.
Runner-up: Ordinaire, Oakland

Bookstore: Moe’s Books
2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-849-2087
What more could we possibly say about the famed new- and used-book store founded in 1959 and towering four stories above Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue? Here’s a random smattering. Acclaimed novelist Jonathan Lethem used to work there. James Patterson gave it a $7,000 grant in 2014—even though his books don’t sell very well there. One of Blade Runner’s screenwriters once made a short documentary film of a party there. The last time we were in, we bought a first-edition copy of the vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook filled with notes penciled in by the previous owner over decades of use. The true function of Moe’s may not even be that of a store. Like a medieval monastery, it shepherds ideas from the past into the present.
Runner-up: University Press Books, Berkeley

 

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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