What better way to experience the fuzzy warmth of good home cooking and avoid the stress that sometimes comes with family than to chow down on some authentic cuisine from the mother country. Likewise, any epicurean can appreciate the opportunity to partake in rich cuisines of different origin. Given the promise of indulging in a jumbo portion of paella or satisfying a noodle craving, the only obstacle between you and fulfillment is scrounging up directions.
Nothing brings out the joys of a French and Spanish union in quite the same way as Basque cuisine. You can taste the region's flavors in such traditional dishes served at the Basque Cultural Center (599 Railroad Avenue, South SF; 650-583-8091, www.basqueculturalcenter.com) as lentil soup, Paté de Campagne, and Veal Forestière. In this sit-down restaurant, a staff reminiscent of your own kindly ma regularly restocks your plate with portions that fill even the bellies of growing teenage boys.
Ernest Hemingway would be proud to hear you express an interest in Spanish cuisine, and there's no better way to dive in than at the Spanish Cultural Center's Patio Español (2850 Alemany Boulevard, SF; 415-587-5117, www.patioespanol.com). Score both hot and cold tapas like the Calamares Fritos or the Chorizo Manchego, and if you're craving a bigger zing in the seafood department, give its Paella Marinera a try. You can partake of this authentic experience in either its Spanish-style restaurant or bar, Wednesday through Sunday. If you're in need of culturally enjoyable hangover sustenance, stop by on Sunday mornings for its buffet brunch.
Visit the friendly Sunday food fair at the Thai Temple and Culture Center (1911 Russell, Berk.; www.tccsfbayarea.org) in Berkeley to get a sampling of Thai cuisine. From the traditional restaurant fare like Pad Thai, various curries, and papaya salad to beef noodle soup, fried chicken, and favorite desserts like mangos and sticky rice, the selection makes it difficult to not turn dining at the temple into a habit. It starts serving as early as 9 a.m. and lasts until 2 p.m., so take your time trying everything the center has to offer.
Who doesn't have a craving for a good Bolognese sauce from time to time? The Italian American Social Club (25 Russia Ave, SF; 415-585-8059) in the Excelsior district makes it easy to fill your tummy with a spread of antipasti and olive samplings, varying pastas, and, to top off your meal, ice cream. The low-key, quaint decor will have you longing for trips to Italy during the lazy summer months. Go for lunch or dinner but unfortunately, it's only open Wednesday through Friday.
Nestled in Oakland's Chinatown, this center satisfies a sweet tooth. Located on the lower floor of the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (388 Ninth St., Oakl.; 510-637-0455, www.oacc.cc), the "Sweet Booth" features Asian-style shaved ice topped with condensed milk, boba balls, and red beans. Their sesame, avocado, and coconut ice creams, made in-house, should be sampled and accompanied by the ever-enjoyable staple of pearl milk tea. If you're in the mood for a little something different, get a taste of its passion fruit, papaya, or mango pearl shakes.