Best of the Bay 2012 Editors Picks: Food and Drink

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Best Tofu Sorcerers: Hodo Soy Beanery
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY ARIEL SOTO-SUVER

BEST OF THE BAY 2012: EDITORS PICKS

Food and Drink

 

BEST COOKBOOK CHEFTIVIST

In this era of Paula Deen-Anthony Bourdain warfare and endless glossy spreads of chefs-cum-rockstars-without-the-rock, you are to be excused for not caring about yet-another celebrity chef writeup. But stay your cleaver. Oakland's own Bryant Terry considers himself an activist who uses comestibles as a medium for social change, not TV dinner promotion. Terry's beautiful, seasonally sensitive vegan cookbooks — his latest is The Inspired Vegan (Da Capo Lifelong Books, $19, 240pp) — contextualize recipes so that the connection between eating healthy and having healthy communities is clear. He also tours the country educating audiences about vegan lifestyle and cooking, with a focus on minority communities, and makes no bones about the fact that he thinks families could stand to spend more time in the kitchen together.

www.bryant-terry.com

 

BEST LOCAL UNION, PINT DIVISION

Visitors to the SF Beer Week opening gala might have been surprised to find that a sizable portion of the Concourse Exhibition Center was dedicated to beer brewed right here in the Bay Area. Our beloved Anchor Steam and 21st Amendment breweries are no longer the only sudsers in town — no, not by a long shot. This expansion in local brew is part of a national trend, but local leaps may be due, in part, to the efforts of the SF Brewers Guild — an association, born in 2004, of 10 of the city's best-loved new breweries, including Magnolia Pub and Brewery and Thirsty Bear Brewing Company. In addition to Beer Week, the group organizes a "meet the brewers" event every month, an easy entry point for those who want to take their local beer boosting past six-pack status.

www.sfbrewersguild.org

 

BEST LAING IN THE 'LOIN

Foodies know: if you want sit-down Filipino cuisine, head to Daly City for the densest concentration of deliciousness. Yet there's an outlier — a humble little Tenderloin hole-in-the-wall steadily serving the real deal. Family-run Kusina Ni Tess dishes out kare-kare, a peanut sauce-based Filipino stew; picadillo, a savory mélange of ground pork, carrot, potato, and green peas; and fish in tangy, sweet-sour broth. For breakfast, savor garlic fried rice with egg and your choice of meat: try Filipino corned beef or daing na bangus (butterflied, skin-on milkfish). The staff will offer tastes to help you choose from the hearty, ultra-cheap menu — all dishes under $9 — but don't miss the laing: taro leaves cooked in coconut milk and shrimp paste, tinged with subtle chile heat. Finish it all off with egg pie or young coconut pie.

237 Ellis, SF. (415) 351-1169

 

BEST BABKA, BUBBELEH

Guardian photo by Brittany M. Powell 

Have you ever fantasized about eating a chocolate bar for breakfast and totally getting away with it? (Be honest now.) No need to slip a Snickers in your Corn Flakes — or even worry about dessert for a couple weeks — when you've got a huge, heavy, delicious babka from Wise Sons in your breadbox. Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman's canny tribute to traditional Jewish food made the transition from popular pop-up brunch and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market stand to perhaps too-popular brick-and-mortar deli this year. The charming old-school atmosphere and menu filled with dishes like the mouth-watering chopped liver, the addictive pastrami cheese fries, and the vibrant pickle plate are certainly worth the often considerable wait. But it's the formidable chocolate babka, made of scrumptious dark chocolate ribboned through dense, cinnamon-flavored, brioche-like dough, that really has us missing Grandma (although perhaps she wouldn't approve of such indulgence).

3150 24th St., SF. (415) 787-3354, www.wisesonsdeli.com

 

BEST RIBS IN THE ROUGH

One need only scope the location of Double D BBQ next to the decidedly unlovely International Avenue to grok that the storefront incarnation of this former food truck is as unpretentious as it is under-hyped. Credit this food-first attitude to owner Duane Orr's blunt (but friendly) personality. Screw décor — his art is barbeque. Our favorite is his brisket sandwich: greasy, fatty, saucy chunks of meat falling out of a soft roll. Double D's Texas-style red sauce, sold by the bottle, is sweet and tangy with a mild spice. Other menu highlights? Ribs and chicken grilled with a perfect hint of char, and creamy, peppery macaroni and cheese. Fair warning: we've begun to have severe Double D brisket cravings. A similar yen might lead you to cavalier disregard for aesthetic niceties.

1240 First Ave., Oakl. (510) 228-7000, www.doubledbbq.net

 

BEST BREW-NOS AIRES

If you're looking for the perfect brew to pop into your Dolores Park-prepped picnic basket, look no further than the new-ish Ceveceria de Mateveza, where Mateveza's signature ales, lagers, and IPAs brewed with that stimulating Argentinean beverage yerba mate await in a park-side brewpub location. There are ready-to-go bottles for the sunshine-inclined, but also perfect blends of stimulating mate and smooth-tasting hops on tap if you prefer to snag a pint — plus one of the joint's sweet or savory emapanadas — and hang indoors. Just don't let the décor fool you; the picturesque shelves of Buenos Aires paraphernalia belie the fact that real porteños would never befoul their beloved tea with beer. Thanks goodness we're in San Francisco, where alternative couplings are a point of pride.

3801 18th St., SF. (415) 273-9295, www.ceveceriasf.com

 

BEST VALUE-ADDED WAFFLE

Despite regulations handed down by the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force, which have eschewed food that can't be stored at room temperature and have made mandatory stringent labeling guidelines to prevent kiddos from getting caught up in too-cute pot food, Bay Area medicated food producers continue to innovate. See: various trail mixes, hard ginger and cinnamon-flavored candies, and high-class chocolate. But our favorite non-traditional cannabis food item isn't all that non-traditional ... in Amsterdam. Canna Organics' Stroop Waffle packs a punch at four doses per pair of flat waffle cones, stuck together by a chewy, sticky layer of caramel. It's like carnival food, but meant to take you on a journey to alleviate your aches and pains, neuroses, and various other maladies.

Available at various Bay Area dispensaries

 

BEST SPICY CRACKER

Noe Valley's new destination sushi bar Saru does an excellent job of revamping its closet-sized space, making it feel roomier, sleeker, and, thanks to large front windows and an elegant brown color scheme, altogether different from the previous two sushi spots occupying the same space. Any sushi bar serving "the lobster of prawns" — pristine, raw spot amaebi — is already savvy. In addition to the usual salmon and tuna offerings, adventurous eaters can try plenty of playful, unique bites prepared with care, including the wonderful "spicy cracker" — a crispy sheet of seaweed fried in tempura and topped with spicy tuna and avocado. Sushi nachos? Yes, please! Also neat: tasting spoons filled with vivid, raw fish, drizzled in elegant dressings like truffle oil. Snappy rolls satisfy while cheery service welcomes you back.

3856 24th St., SF. (415) 400-4510, www.akaisarusf.com

 

BEST SEASONAL SUDS

Don't scoff at fruit beer — at least not until you've tried a bottle from Almanac Beer Co. Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan make but one kind of small-batch beer a season, testing and re-tasting until they've hit upon the perfect produce with which to pair their bottlings. But we're not talking coupling suggestions here. Almanac chooses an agricultural partner for each of its releases, adding to that beer's standard mash bright harvest flavors from places like Kingsburg's Hamada Farms, source of enviable citrus fruits, and Heirloom Organic Gardens, whose springtime fennel graces this year's earthy Bière de Mars. Each release is limited, stamped with an eye-catching label, and let to ferment a third time in the bottle itself, lending each sip a sprightly, effervescent fizz.

www.almanacbeer.com

 

BEST ALL-AMERICAN CONFECTIONARY OVERLOAD

What's more American than apple pie? We're of the informal opinion that it's milkshakes, and no, we're not being paid by the American Dairy Association to say that. Imagine our glee, then, when the quietly unassuming Chile Pies opened up and — in addition to tasty treats such as empanada-like tamale hand pies and green chile pot pies with cheddar cheese crusts — an extravagant decadence known as Chile Pies' pie milkshake also made it onto the menu. That's right. It's pie. And milkshake. Any pie you want and any flavor of Three Twin's truly superior ice cream, served in a generous glass mug and topped with a billowing drift of whipped cream. Share it with a loved one to prevent instant coronary arrest, or live dangerously and gobble down a whole one yourself. You'll never look at pie à la mode with quite the same dotage, guaranteed.

601 Baker, SF. (415) 614-9411; 314 Church, SF. (415) 431-9411, www.chilepies.com

 

BEST GEMÜTLICHKEIT

Mention Speisekammer Restaurant to islanders who know, and you'll get an instant flash of that gemütlichkeit, or cheery coziness, the spot is renown for. They'll bend your earbone raving about the dishes served up under the ownership of former Cafe du Nord honcho Cindy Johnson-Kohl: the succulent sauerbraten served with a side of red cabbage and spätzle, the cabbage rolls, the potato pancakes with house-made apple compote — or for the unrepentant carnivores in the fam, the Gegrillte Fleischplatte, a family-style grilled meat platter spilling over with sausages. It's the lip-smacking stuff of liebling's dreams — and it's all begging to be washed down with a selection from the expansive drink list, and accompanied by live music from locals like the Frisky Frolics jazz cats, and Cali country outfit Kit and the Branded Men.

2424 Lincoln, Alameda. (510) 522-1300, www.speisekammer.com

 

BEST IT'S WHAT'S INSIDE THAT COUNTS

Christine Doerr, the chocoholic force behind Neo Cocoa, makes truffles sans the outer hard chocolate shell. Why bother with an extra layer when you can go straight to the gooey ganache inside, capable of melting perfectly in your mouth? After all, isn't their filling the reason why we eat truffles in the first place? That was Doerr's thought, anyway, when she enrolled in La Cocina's food vendor incubator program. Now she has her own personal chocolate kitchen and her amazing, ridiculously decadent chocolates can be found all over the Bay Area. Warning to all Neo newbies: these truffles are dangerously addictive!

www.neococoa.com

 

BEST CURD CRUSADER

Cheesemaking: the process sounds intimidating, but no matter how you slice it, it's all about caring for curds. You, the non-dairy-farming urban-dweller, can learn the mores involved in this delicate relationship via the Milk Maid, a.k.a. Louella Hill. Hill will let you taste some of the mind-blowing blue cheese she concocts in her home kitchen. But she doesn't really want to make cheese for you, though she could. Instead, she wants to empower you to make your own wedges and wheels. She imparts lessons in classrooms, at farmers markets, even at alt-hip bachelorette party tutorials. Having studied cheese-making from the Hudson Valley to Northern Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, the woman oozes sharp, smelly, and semi-soft expertise — you could do a lot worse than let her teach you to baby a blue.

www.sfmilkmaid.com

 

BEST OLD SCHOOL PANINI

There are places in North Beach that are parodies of themselves: fake replicas of what someone from North Dakota might think a San Francisco Italian restaurant would look like. Too often, the meals these pretenders serve are a tepid farce. Not so with the grilled mozzarella and tomato panini from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe. The sandwich's authenticity mirrors that of the small, sometimes crowded restaurant and local hangout itself, which hasn't changed much in the three decades we've been going there. The menu is limited, but the food is excellent, featuring fresh ingredients simply prepared. Take the panini in question: eaten alongside a glass of red or Campari on the rocks, it makes a perfect SF lunch. A nice reminder that everything old and cool hasn't been priced out of town.

566 Columbus, SF. (415) 362-0536

 

BEST TOFU SORCERERS

Guardian photo by Ariel Soto-Suver

It's rare to taste a sliver of tofu fresh from the package that melts in your mouth. Blocks of the standard grocery-store variety are best used in sizzling cooked-up meals, sopping up sauce or marinade to provide any substantial taste. But not so the bricks from Hodo Soy Beanery, crafted in a cheery Oakland factory that offers weekly tours. No, this tofu is good enough to eat raw. Hodo, which opened its doors in 2004, even goes above and beyond its gleaming white cubes of organic, non-GMO protein. The company sells the whole soy cow: soymilk, snack-friendly yuba strips, five-spice tofu nuggets, and lemongrass curry nuggets. Varieties are sold throughout Bay Area specialty food shops and farmers markets, but we highly recommend coming out to Hodo's factory, where you can couple your shopping with a tour of the factory floor.

2923 Adeline, Oakl. (510) 464-2977, www.hodosoy.com

 

BEST SATISFYING READ

Directions for preparing seaweed burger, mouth-watering ramen that doesn't come from a Styrofoam cup, and monkfish tripe have all found their way into the pages of local publisher McSweeney's sizzling new food quarterly Lucky Peach. Each volume, available in paper only, is comprised of more than 150 pages and contains recipes and writings that stimulate the intellect and taste buds simultaneously. Yummy examples of contributing foodies and writers: David Chang, Peter Meehan, Anthony Bourdain, Ruth Reichl, John T. Edge, Todd Kliman. The magazine's issues (there have been four so far) are brimming with personal essays, short stories, taste tests, interviews, and heaps of recipes. In a time when most magazines are scaling back, Lucky Peach offers a conspicuously fulfilling read.

www.mcsweeneys.net

 

BEST A LA CART

State Bird Provisions opened in late 2011, honoring Lower Fillmore's jazz spirit with inventive plates (a bargain at $5-18 a dish) flowing from the kitchen like high-flying jazz riffs — with one major innovative twist. Most are presented dim sum-style, rolled through the pegboard-walled dining room on carts or offered on trays for your pick-and-choose pleasure. Dynamic husband-wife chef duo Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, formerly of Rubicon, change the menu constantly, transcending now-typical seasonality restraints to take flight with visionary flavor combinations and presentations. A helpful map of the nation's state birds adorns the restroom, but there's only one on the menu: the California quail, of course. Fried and crusted with pumpkin seeds; sided with a couple cart picks like eggplant "fries" with pimenton and charred wax beans with pickled-egg salad; and chased down with dreamy shots of peanut muscovado milk; it's a real plate-licker.

1529 Fillmore, SF. (415) 795-1273, www.statebirdsf.com

 

BEST GENERATIONS OF DISTILLATION

It's a true family affair at Charbay Family Vineyard and Distillery, located in the wilds of Napa's Spring Mountain district, where father and son Miles and Marko Karakasevic distill together, while wives Susan and Jenni run the business with them. Descended from 13 distilling generations, Grand Master Distiller Miles has a heroic history, having left former Communist Yugoslavia for North America in 1962 and eventually founding Charbay with his family in 1983. Marko has been involved with the business since the ripe-old age of 10, growing up among St. Helena's vines. Charbray covers distilling, brewing, and winemaking: Miles' Old World aesthetic and precision partnered with Marko's forward-thinking vision is apparent in everything from tequila and vodka to rum and port. Cases in point: Miles' elegant 27-year brandy and Marko's just-released, one-of-a-kind Bear Republic IPA and stout beer whiskies.

4001 Spring Mountain, St. Helena. (707) 963-9327, www.charbay.com

 

BEST FRESH-SQUEEZED FLIGHTS

If founders Derek Castro and Luisa Alberto have anything to say about it, the juice bar is the wine bar of the future — and, given Castro and Alberto's Blue Bottle past, it's not surprising that they feel a fresh-squeezed swig can have all the body and depth of a finely prepared coffee. Pronounced "so," SÔW is their regular pop-up juice bar inside Pause Wine Bar, at which they hope to prove that juices deserve all the attention to nuance and provenance as their more fussed-over beverage cousins. Tastings are served at room temperature so as to not numb flavors, and in garnished glasses much like artful cocktails. Yes, flights are sometimes available, offering the chance to taste (and see) an entire rainbow of fascinating flavors; a recent one even featured Early Girl tomatoes. Currently only open weekends, the SoWers hope to add weekdays with more tastings, an expanded menu, and an even bigger following of nectar connoisseurs.

Every Sat and Sun in Pause Wine Bar, 1666 Market, SF. (415) 637-7343, www.sowsf.com


BEST BACKROOM CHICKEN

Win ultimate cool points on a night in North Beach by taking your friends to Chubby Noodle, a wee Asian hideaway in the back of the shabby-classy Amante bar. Order at the back kitchen window — illuminated by a neon sign asking, "Hungry?" — then slide into roomy booths for Korean tacos, house kimchi, spicy garlic noodles, and Hawaiian poke. (Cheeky chef Peter Mrabe, also of hip taqueria Don Pisto's, tosses steaming bowls of buttery grits into the menu mix, too.) The standouts, however, are heartwarming red miso ramen and — especially — organic buttermilk-brined fried chicken in generous five-piece wings or strips. It's American fried chicken with Asian attitude, dipped in habit-forming, creamy sambal dipping sauce. And everything is under $13. Skip Italian next time you're in North Beach and opt for something a bit more adventurous and a bit more, er, chubby.

570 Green St., SF. (415) 361-8850, www.thechubbynoodle.com

 

BEST SIX-WAY STIMULANT

We said it when this hot spot opened in 2010, and we'll say it again: the coffee preparation at Ma'velous ranks among the best you'll find anywhere. Coffee geeks are stoked that here you can have your coffee prepared six different ways, via Chemex extraction, Kyoto slow-drip, Siphon machine, French press, Hario V60 drip, or Ma'velous's own unique espresso machine. Owner Phillip Ma rotates bean selections from around the world: roasters include Verve, Intelligentsia, and Norway's Tim Wendelboe. Another uniquely Ma'velous feature is the cafe's artistic eco-design by Adeeni Design Group: retro-modern reclaimed furniture, sophisticated graffiti from street artist Eddie Colla, and pressed tin ceilings. Bonus points for remaining a WiFi-free respite where the menu of supreme espressos — paired with a good book — makes the coffee ritual a luxurious experience rather than a utilitarian necessity.

1408 Market, SF. (415) 626-8884 www.maveloussf.com

 

BEST BOWLING IN THE GUTTER, BUT EATING WITH THE STARS

Guardian photo by Brittany M. Powell

The new Mission Bowling Club is one badass bowling alley. There's no funky smell or dated dinginess (charming for some, we know) in this open and industrial space, which boasts a large front patio, a bar area, and two dining areas — both downstairs near its six lanes and upstairs overseeing all the striking action. With its retro-fetish crowd and quirky flourishes, you could dismiss the whole thing as Mission hipster — but never has bowling food been taken to such gourmet heights. The menu was designed by none other than that Mission Chinese Food and Mission Street Food wunderkind, Anthony Myint. Cheer on bowlers from comfy couches while sipping a dreamy cocktail, or pick up that spare accompanied by a plate of ratatouille, some crisp pork belly, a beloved Mission burger — or its worthy vegan kale-and-chickpea alternative.

3176 17th St., SF. (415) 863-2695, www.missionbowlingclub.com

 

BEST PEANUT BUTTER CLOUDS

Despite our American love for all things soft, saccharine, and somehow edible, vegans and equinophiles alike are saddened by the innocuous-seeming marshmallow, which often includes gelatin derived from horse hooves and other slaughterhouse scraps. But worry not, sweet things, Benkyodo Company has treats that top the standby campfire comfort. Namely, mochi, a Japanese delight made of glutinous rice that is pounded and molded into sweet submission. Soft clouds of heaven — and they come in a variety of flavors like strawberry, green tea, mugwort, adzuki, and, wow, peanut butter. Benkyodo's mochi has the texture of your favorite childhood sweet, with the flavors — and food justice acumen — of a grown-up gourmand.

1747 Buchanan, SF. (415) 922-1244, www.benkyodocompany.com

 

BEST VEGAN ROLL CALL

The 100 percent vegan cinnamon rolls at Cinnaholic, the Berkeley sweet tooth haven, are naturally sweetened with beet sugar, endowed with far-out flavors like blueberry pie and Oreo explosion, and custom-ready. Just let the sugary staff know what kind of frosting and toppings — strawberry shortcake roll? Maybe a drizzle of mocha and almonds? — light your oven. And just like that irritatingly talented, socially conscious friend whose Facebook page makes your own video links and witty one-liners look frivolous, owner Shannon Michelle has made Cinnaholic's blog a community resource. The website is great for updates on local animal rescue events, and its pretty photos of waiting rolls serve as a delicious testament to the fact that eating vegan doesn't have to mean going home with sub-par pastry.

2132 Oxford, Berk. (510) 647-8684, www.cinnaholic.com

 

BEST KIND OF STRICT

If things have been rough on your soul lately, forget the prose of that insipid, chicken-related book series and turn your page to Israel's Strictly Kosher's matzo ball soup. While other deli's versions are salty, one-dimensional facsimiles of a real pick-me-up, the version at Israel's, which also does strictly Kosher catering, is home made by co-owner Faina Avrutina with savory broth to comfort you on windy days and massive matzo balls that'll fill you up just enough to not get blown sideways by gusts of outrageous fortune (throw in one of the excellent sufganiyots and you'll be even more ground-bound). And it's not just the eating that'll do you good — a genuinely kind staff soothes city-weary troubled minds and will make you feel like you just dipped into your parents' cozy kitchen.

5621 Geary, SF. (415) 752-3064, www.israelskosher.com

 

BEST FULL-SCOPE ROAST

Guardian photo by Brittany M. Powell 

The smoky dark brew served up by the folks at Sightglass Coffee certainly isn't indicative of the sibling-owned roastery and cafe's mission of transparency. Brothers Jerad and Justin Morrison started their SoMa enterprise aiming to treat the cup of coffee less as a product than a democratic sensory experience — an intuition, a smell, a sound, a sight. Thus, the name of their cavernous new shop, which roasts and brews in a single warehouse space that has proven popular among the hip-pretty techies (almost as hip-pretty as the Sightglass staff that serves them) who roost in the area. Using small-production methods to ensure freshness and authenticity, Sightglass provides a unique place that's simultaneously homey (baristas are quick to introduce themselves) and airily trendy.

270 Seventh St., SF. (415) 861-1313, www.sightglasscoffee.com

 

BEST REASON TO SCREAM IN DOLORES PARK

Photo by Gene X. Hwang/Orange Photography

Have you ever been reclining in Dolores Park, wiping off the burgundy mustache left by your third bottle of wine, when the thought hits: someone chipper, dressed in a vintage Alpine peasant dress, presenting you with a tray of succulent sweets, would just hit the spot? Question number two: has the dreary gray wallpaper of your office ever begged the same dose of sugary sunshine? Christa Hill's dessert catering company Hey, Cookie!, then, is the stuff of your dreams. Offering everything from vegan Mexican wedding cookies and oatmeal butterscotch chip cookies to fudge brownies and rice crispy treats, it's clear that the biggest draw of Hey Cookie! isn't its dirndls. Unofficially coined the Cookie Girl, Hill epitomizes service with a smile, and her staff follows suit, so feel free to shout them out at your next Dolo hill sit.

(415) 999-0205, www.twitter.com/heycookiesf

 

BEST GOURGÉRES

We don't know what makes the clutch of cafes around Church and Market in SF so inviting — OK, we do: great service, good coffee, and a laidback, no-hurries vibe — but we find ourselves drawn here more often than not on those precious early mornings off. French bakery Thorough Bread and Pastry is one of those cafes, and although the punny name evinces a slight groan, the trés magnifique selection of authentic French pastries keeps us coming back for more. There are flaky croissants, of course, and fruit-laden tarts, dense and drenched baba au rhum and mint-kicky grasshopper cakes, wee sugar-dusted chouquettes and almond-brown butter financiers. And could anything be more perfect on a foggy morning than a small bag full of fresh-out-the-oven gougéres? The original cheesy puffs, these savory, bite-sized beauties (four for $1.50) instantly bring out the sunshine. Combine them with a steaming cup of coffee, s'il-vous plaît, and you've got breakfast pegged.

248 Church, SF. (415) 558-0690, www.thoroughbreadpastry.com

 

BEST CAN-ARCHY

When it comes to the latest trends in pickling, canning, jarring, putting up, putting by, or just plain preserving, we've got a dirty little secret: everything we know about Mason jar-ology comes from the amazing Punk Domestics. Food and travel blogger Sean Timberlake, with support from his husband Paul Brown and terrier Reese, took inspiration from canning expert and former Guardian writer Karen Solomon — particularly a review of one of her books that mentioned the "punk domesticity of the hipster DIY movement" — to launch a content aggregation site for can-atics of everything dried, cured, or otherwise preserved. It's jam-packed with links to community-posted articles with helpful hints and innovative techniques from around the Web, plus heads-ups on events, giveaways, recipes, and book releases. Ever wonder about micro-farming, curing meats, making cheese, or pickling duck eggs? No need to keep a lid on it when the Punk Domestics are in the house.

www.punkdomestics.com

 

BEST MARMALADY

Who wouldn't want all the colorful bounty of the Bay Area served up on a nice piece of toast (preferably sourdough, in our case)? Meyer lemon, Santa Rosa plum, pear, apple, mild pepper, lime, nectarine, grape ... these fruits (plus pineapple, kiwi, rose petal, lavender, and blueberry) are gathered from backyards and garden plots by the ever-foraging Aunt Kitty, a.k.a. Kitty Myers of San Francisco's Sunset District, and transformed into the most spectacular jellies imaginable. The secret is not simply organic; it also lies in the unique combination of two or three parts fruit to one part sugar, allowing a lush effulgence of natural flavor. Besides delicious marmalades packaged in distinctive little Mason jars and sold in local cafes and grocery stores, Kitty's homegrown company, Aunt Kitty's Kreations, also supplies apple and mango chutney, piccalilli and cranberry-orange relish, and even fudge. According to legend, many of Aunt Kitty's products were actually developed in her church's basement — maybe that's where the wholesome flavor comes from?

www.auntkittyskreations.com

 

BEST PUPUSA PARADISE

If you were to describe Mission establishments by historical eras, El Paraiso Cafe would be decidedly Post-German working class, Pre-Valencia Street $200 cork wedges. Its menu bears the marks of a business whose customer base does not guide its brunch-seeking steps toward outrageously pricey gluten-free breakfast plates. Rather, El Paraiso is perfect for that Mission dream of a neighborhood half-full of families and transplants from all over the world and half-full of broke boho Americans — OK, and those who are a mix of the two — who flock toward piping hot pupusas accompanied by free, generous bowls of curtido (piquant, fresh coleslaw) and thin red salsa. And it's all parked kitty-corner to the yelping soccer children and sunbathing elders of Parque de los Ninos Unidos. Did that Mission ever exist? Or are we thinking of paradise?

1198 Treat, SF. (415) 824-2535

 

BEST SECRET WORLD OF CHEESE

Be not fooled by Gourmet & More's small size. This long, skinny Hayes Valley specialty shop, owned by French-born longtime Bay Area residents Laurent and Josiane Recollon, is bursting at the shelves with all manner of goodies for the gourmand. Foie gras has flown the coop, but there's an array of tasty imported meats (prosciutto, salami, chorizo), breads, sweets (no such thing as "too many macarons"), fancy mustards and oils, and made-to-order sandwiches (to-go, or to eat on Gourmet & More's back patio). But the best part, bien sûr, is the climate-controlled shoplet tucked away at the back, stuffed with more than 300 kinds of cheese. Customers are encouraged to sample before they buy (any wonder that there's sometimes a line to get in there?). We repeat: cheese room. Who needs Paris?

141 Gough, SF. (415) 874-9133

 

BEST CLAWS FOR CELEBRATION

It is ridiculous that we are about to register a wee bit of complaint regarding the Bay's incredible surplus of native seafood — we could happily live on Tomales Bay oysters, Dungeness crab, and all those other tasty species one finds stewing in our hot pots of cioppino. And yet ... we do miss a nice fresh lobster to go with our bubbly on special occasions, or some genuine surf to pair with our turf when we're feeling old-school romantic-fancy. That's when we head to our secret Maine-line to East Coast crustacean bliss, New England Lobster Company in South San Francisco, which offers not just succulent, flown-in pinchers both live and frozen, but steamers, scallops, mussels, clams, and many other treasures of the briny deep. And hey, what do you know, you can score some good ol' Dungeness here, too. Don't miss the super-delish lobster rolls from the lunchtime food truck in the parking lot, either. (Motto: "We're on a roll!" LOL.) Time to get cracking.

170 Mitchell Ave., (650) 873-9000, www.newenglandlobster.net

 

BEST POP-UP RIVER OF LIQUOR

The Bon Vivants cocktail crew — Scott Baird, Josh Harris, Jason Henton — is a local treasure, throwing some of the coolest, most innovative parties around. They've also created winning cocktail menus, like the one at Berkeley's new Comal, while working on their long-awaited Mission bar Trick Dog. But till then, tipsy transients can catch them at their more fleeting establishment, the Rio Grande Bar. What started as part of A Temporary Offering — the intriguing rotating pop-up project that inhabits the entire ground floor of the Renoir Hotel — may soon (we hope) become a permanent destination. Or it could morph into roving gypsy bar. Evoking a funky border-town roadhouse as Quentin Tarantino might interpret it, the bar is already a cute-kitschy go-to for cocktailians in the know. There, tequila, mezcal, whiskey, and beer (in cans) flow. No drink menu is needed: talented bar staff create bracing beverages based on your mood. Or simply opt for a Dos Equis while grooving to live bands on the mini stage, beneath shrines to 1970s adult film star Vanessa del Rio and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

1108 Market, SF. www.bonvivants-sf.com

 

BEST BRIGHT-EYED BREAD GUY

Photo by Rafi Aji

Here's how Vermont-bred Josey Baker launched Josey Baker Bread: he walked into Mission Pie and asked (sweetly) if he might borrow some oven space. The neighborhood bake shop obliged, and to no one's surprise (the alluring qualities of handsome men and fresh-baked bread being what they are) Baker's business took off, delighting subscribers to his poppy, walnut, and black pepper parmesan loaves — delivered weekly to your door! — and walk-in customers alike. On some days he has even given away bread on a by-donation basis; we've seen it. Now he's set to open his own bakery in partnership with Four Barrel on Divisadero. His fans may be excited by swirling rumors of a toast bar, but for us it would be enough to just see that smile again. He may not be oblivious to his own charms; his website recommends that you write him a love letter. Josey, does this count?

736 Divisadero, SF. joseybakerbread.wordpress.com