Since 2010, I’ve created a top ten list of the restaurants that were the most memorable to me out of the places I’ve posted about over the past year. This year’s list has a pretty even mix of the East Coast and the Bay, with a likely surprise in the number one spot. Who doesn’t love arbitrary Top Ten lists? I know I read them all the time when I’m lurking celebrity gossip sites, heh. Don’t take my rankings too seriously since I am in no way a food/culinary expert, though I like to pretend I am. Enjoy. 🙂
When Ralph J. Bunche Academy reached out to me about potentially visiting their school, I was intrigued. Ralph J. Bunche Academy is a school within the Oakland Unified School District that teaches an HTR (Hospitality, Tourism, and Recreation) curriculum alongside the usual K-12 standard education. 11th and 12th graders are learning how to cook at the professional level! I attended their first fundraiser, “Taste of Bunche” in May. My favorite dish that night was the shrimp, grits, and collard greens!
The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the sauce had those cajun flavors and it was spicy! The grits were nice and creamy, I was eating them quickly by the forkful. But the collard greens – that was the real surprise. I’m not a huge “green” person and collard greens are not my favorite – they usually just taste soggy and bitter to me. But these ones had the same cajun flavors that the shrimp sauce did – and not bitter. At. All! This entire dish was composed really well and everything complemented each other. I’m in awe of these kids.
In search of a place to meet up with a few of my friends after a monotonous day at work, we settled on B Street & Vine. It was a midpoint for the both of us, and after being told that this was a place that had a bunch of different bruschettas, I was sold! You can order a set of 4 bruschetta toasts and it ranges from $15-$19. From the top to bottom we ordered: Brie with Apples; Hummus, Tomato, and Avocado; Salmon, Chives, Capers, Mascarpone; and Mango, Tomato, Avocado. These were all so delightfully delicious! I think my favorites were the brie and apple – it’s such a great combination of savory and sweet – and the Mango, Tomato, Avocado – this one is so refreshing and buttery with the avocado.
Besharam means “shameless” in Urdu, and it’s obviously meant to be cheeky. I was really intrigued by the fact that the menu would bring a spin on Gujarati flavors to the Bay Area that it’s chef behind it is a woman. The restaurant is located at the Minnesota Street Project, which also has art galleries in its space. But the restaurant itself has some awesome artwork itself. That giant mural along the back wall of the open concept restaurant is by one of my favorite artists @hatecopy a.k.a. Maria Qamar. So between the name, the unique spins on familiar foods (to me), and the art meant that I HAD TO GO.
One of my favorites was the Sev Puri, which the menu describes as “Crisp crackers, chutneys, and sev”. Sev Puri is a type of chaat and I love chaat, so this was a no-brainer. I would describe chaat as kind of like nachos – you have the puri rounds (fried dough, kind of like a cracker or a chip) and then you pile on the toppings onto it and eat it! For this Sev Puri, the puris were loaded with potatoes, onions, chutneys (spicy and sweet), cilantro, and sev (seasoned crunchy chickpea flour noodles). So many flavors and textures – it’s a happy explosion in your mouth.
Is it even my list if there’s not a coffee shop on it? 1 Oz Coffee popped up in Mountain View over a year ago, and I was really excited to try it. I love the minimal, blue vibe inside. There’s so much light coming into the shop throughout the day that it makes it bright and airy. They also have some art hung up around which adds a pop of color. Another thing that excites me about 1 Oz Coffee is that it’s a women-owned coffee shop. I got my usual latte, and added a little sugar because I like my coffee on the sweeter side. This was a great latte! The coffee wasn’t acidic at all; it was so smooth! It made it hard for me to slow down because I was really enjoying my coffee. Needless to say, I was really peppy that morning at my desk – perfect for being alone in the office on “Work from Home Fridays”.
6. Olla Cocina (San Jose, CA)
I was looking for a delicious (and cute) place to eat in San Jose awhile back, and came across Olla Cocina. My first thought was – how have I never heard of this place?! It’s a large Mexican restaurant right on San Pedro near the square! I’ve been in that area so many times that I’m shocked that I’ve never walked past it. It’s a giant, airy space that’s designed in a modern way but incorporates Mexican culture and design in its decor. Of course my favorite part of my meal was the Elote (street corn), with corn (of course), tajin, crema, and cotija cheese. I love the cheesy saltiness from the cheese and the spice and tang that tajin provides on naturally sweet corn. I could literally eat this as my entree – so delicious and addicting!
5. Thursday Kitchen (New York, NY)
My kewl Brooklyn friends had been talking about Thursday Kitchen all weekend, so I was definitely looking forward to it. They have good taste – I mean, obviously, they’re my friends. 😉 ]Thursday Kitchen is in Greenwich Village and it’s an unassuming restaurant that serves “new” Korean – as they like to call it. The dishes are new twists on Korean food with French and Spanish influences. The Avocado was one of my favorites! It’s avocado served with greens vinaigrette, pickled radish, yuzu sour crème, and shichimi pepper. It’s such a light dish that surprisingly has a lot of flavor with the sauces and the pickled radishes. It also felt very fresh. I will admit I initially ordered it because I saw how pretty it looked on Instagram but the ingredients is what made me bite the bullet and order it.
4. Third Culture Bakery (Berkeley, CA)
I remember I first randomly had one of Third Culture’s muffin’s at Academic Coffee around the end of September last year (2017). It’s amazing to see how much they’ve grown and how many amazing local businesses are carrying their products. By now, you’ve come across a mochi muffin or donut in a local cafe near you in the Bay. Not only are each of their baked goods delicious (between the matcha and ube and Thai custard, I don’t know which is my favorite!), but they have a great community feel about them that makes you want to continue to support them – and of course, because those treats are also addicting! I have to get at least one muffin or custard cake if I see it in a shop.
3. China Chilcano (Washington, D.C.)
I’ve had Peruvian food. I’ve had Chinese food. And I’ve had Japanese food. But all of it together? I was intrigued. China Chilcano is a José Andrés restaurant that has a unique take on Peruvian food by celebrating its multi-cultural cuisines. The restaurant combines traditional Peruvian dishes, Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian cuisine), and Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian cuisine) together for a really fun and interesting menu. Just like the explosion of flavors in your mouth, the restaurant has an explosion of art and decor too! The Pegao Norteño (Chifa/Chine-Peruvian) were almost too pretty to eat! I’m really glad I did eat them though because these lamb pot stickers with aderezo norteño, crispy cumin lace, and gold flakes were delicious! The crunch makes it really interesting with the hearty lamb. I could’ve finished both the pot stickers and dumplings by myself tbh. Definitely make it out to a José Andrés restaurant if you ever find yourself in the vicinity of one.
2. Roberta’s (Brooklyn, NY)
If you think Brooklyn is becoming more hipster and gentrified, then don’t come to Williamsburg. It is the hipsteriest place ever, and this is coming from a Bay native who visits the Mission. But I mean, I gotta do it for the pizza. And I do have some hipster tendencies (sigh). The restaurant was full inside, so we ordered a pie to go and sat outside next door in their garden area. We got the Famous Original, which has tomato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, parmigiano, oregano, and chili. Okay, so this pizza tho. IT WAS DELICIOUS. There were glorious, large chunks of melted cheese dispersed throughout this pizza. Each time we lifted a slice, you would get that oozing string that is cheese as you separate it from the pie. The chili also added a little kick at the end of each bite, which I think gave a new spin to an otherwise classic pizza. It was just perfectly cooked through, and the crust was cooked just right. This was one of those pizzas that have to fold in order to contain everything inside. I’m so glad I made us go.
1. A Baked Joint (Washington D.C.)
I know you’re thinking… a bakery and cafe in the number one spot? If it’s somewhere I wanted to go to TWICE in one weekend trip, you bet I thought it was amazing. I spent a whole summer in D.C. when I interned at the State Department in 2012, so I was super excited to come back five years later to see what’s new. I wasn’t sure what to think when the biscuit came out. It wasn’t a giant fluffy blob like the ones I had in Louisiana. BUT, it was crunchy on the inside, soft on the inside and each nook and cranny had all of these delicious fresh herbs. It looked like a homemade biscuit and it tasted so much better than I could have anticipated! The breakfast sandwich is also another great way to experience them. We even got extras to go for the flight – and my mouth still waters thinking about them.