Kate Bradshaw, Peninsula Foodist
While developing and then narrowing down my list of the most memorable dishes and drinks of the past year, I realized I grouped my favorites into three categories: those that inspired my excitement for the future of our local restaurant scene; those that epitomized something special that was on its way out; and those that represented quality, comfort and celebration.
Albondigas, Wildseed, Palo Alto
I was thrilled to finally eat at Wildseed in Palo Alto this year, which highlighted for me the exciting possibilities of plant-based dining — particularly the ways that plant-based meat dishes can now capture what feels like a fair imitation of a juicy, richly flavored lamb meatball. The albondigas, an appetizer on the menu, are plant-based meatballs served with a spicy tomato sauce, black currants, pine nuts, vegan tzatziki and mint, plus grilled levain bread. It was the perfect way to start out a satisfying plant-based meal.
Wildseed, 855 El Camino Real Building 4, Palo Alto; 408-781-0112, wildseedsf.com. Instagram: @wildseedsf.
Cherry cider, Redwood Coast Cider, San Carlos and San Mateo
When I made the pilgrimage to catch Redwood Coast Cider on one of the last days before it closed its San Carlos location, I was blown away by the sense of community I found in an isolated corner of an industrial neighborhood. In fact, the owner recognized me immediately as the reporter who'd planned to stop by because my friends and I were the only ones who weren't regulars at the establishment. Sipping on a pint of the cherry cider, which had a delectable blend of tartness, mild sweetness and notes of cherry and sour apple, I was struck by how sad it was that such warm and inviting community hubs are so hard to come by, and that this business with such loyal followers would be closing its doors soon.
Margherita pizza, Avanti Pizza, Menlo Park
Avanti Pizza on the Alameda in Menlo Park is my go-to whenever I'm hosting friends and family for a quick and filling meal. It's so fast — with a roughly 10-minute turnaround time from order to pickup — and is tasty, reliable and allows you to feed groups of people without breaking the bank, which feels pretty underrated and increasingly rare on the Peninsula. One of my favorite meals of the year was my backyard birthday gathering in June with friends and family around Avanti pizzas.
Avanti Pizza Fresh Pasta, 3536 Alameda de las Pulgas #4, Menlo Park; 650-854-1222, avantipizzafreshpasta.com. Instagram: @avantipizzafreshpasta.
Honorable mentions: "Smart Investment" cocktail and truffle fries from British Bankers Club in Menlo Park, the vegetarian paella at Telef?ric Barcelona in Palo Alto, the sipping chocolate from Timothy Adams Chocolate and the cr?me br?lée doughnut from Cruel Donuts in San Mateo.
Anthony Shu, former Peninsula Foodist
Most of my favorite meals were already shared in the Peninsula Foodist newsletter, but here are a couple of others.
Char siu, Wing Fat, San Mateo
I made it to the 84-year-old Wing Fat in San Mateo shortly before its closing. The rhythmic strikes of a cleaver on a well-worn cutting board conveyed the restaurant's experience in preparing its signature char siu, barbecue pork. The restaurant's impending closure caused me to eat intentionally and appreciate each slightly sweet, lightly charred and ruby red bite.
Fajitas, La Nueva Perla, South San Francisco
Readers might remember how my suburban Peninsula childhood induced an enduring obsession with Chili's. I satisfied my love of sizzling, smoky platters of bell peppers at South San Francisco's La Nueva Perla, where handmade tortillas envelop well-seasoned fajitas.
La Nueva Perla, 222 Lux Ave., South San Francisco; 650-741-6696, lanuevaperlarestaurant.com.
Sara Hayden, former Peninsula Foodist
Kouign amann, Manresa Bread, multiple locations
I finally made it to Manresa Bread and indulged in the legendary kouign amann. I had it at the end of a mini road trip in celebration of my fifth wedding anniversary, and it made our time on the road particularly special. I also happened to be pregnant with our first kiddo, and it was one of those moments when bread and pastry sounded particularly appealing.
The kouign amann's list of ingredients is short and sweet. It includes flour, water, sugar, salt, yeast and barley malt syrup. At Manresa Bread, these simple pleasures truly add up to something greater than the sum of their parts — a sweet treat for a sweet occasion.
I've since delivered my daughter. She's on a milk-only diet at the moment. In the meantime, I'll gladly take another kouign amann and look forward to sharing baked goods with her when she's older.
Pop into one of Manresa Bread's five locations for bread, pastries, toast and sandwiches. Come for the food and stay for the craft, process and passion — founder Avery Ruzicka says Manresa Bread is a place of learning. It will continue to be so even after the January closing of the three-Michelin-starred Manresa restaurant, where Ruzicka first found her love of bread and went on to run the bread program.
Manresa Bread, 855 El Camino Real, Suite 138, Palo Alto; 271 State St., Los Altos; 195 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 40 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 330 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz; manresabread.com. Instagram: @manresabread.
Julia Brown, editor
Asparagus soup, Flea Street, Menlo Park
Flea Street is one of my favorite special occasion restaurants in the Bay Area. I always appreciate founder Jesse Cool and chef Bryan Thuerk's focus on locally grown seasonal produce, which was on display in the Durst Farm asparagus soup on the menu when I dined at the Menlo Park restaurant for my birthday. The meyer lemon and crispy shallot rounded out the bright spring flavors, and bits of olive bread in the soup added a nice textural contrast.
Flea Street, 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 650-854-1226, Instagram: @flea_street.
408 Smash breakfast sandwich, Hash N Dash, in and around San Jose
Yes, this pop-up is largely based in and around San Jose (I visited twice when Lookout Coffee in Campbell hosted them this year), but it's worth waking up early for the 408 Smash. A breakfast sandwich with smashed sausage, grilled onions, an over-medium egg and a sauce mixing mayo, Tapatio and maple syrup, it balances a smokiness from the grill with the creamy egg yolk and sweet hint of maple syrup. Founder Brandon Salmon typically serves out of local coffee shops on weekends and announces his schedule for the week on social media. He sells out every pop-up, so get there early to snag your sandwich.
Hash N Dash pop-up, Instagram: @hashndashsj.
Detroit-style pizza, The Pizza Series, Stanford
I'm a fan of pizza that can withstand a slew of toppings, with a thick crust and flavorful tomato sauce sans endless gooey strings of cheese. Matt Driscoll and The Pizza Series deliver with their Detroit-style pizza, which I picked up after a visit to the Stanford campus shortly after the eatery opened in the spring. The slight char on the corner pieces added a satisfying crunch that complemented pops of pepperoni and mushroom, and the tomato sauce tasted like it had been simmering on a stovetop all day. I look forward to picking up a pizza on the way home from trips to Santa Cruz when Driscoll opens his Scotts Valley location soon.
The Pizza Series, 459 Lagunita Drive, Stanford (inside The Treehouse); 650-723-4500, thepizzaseries.com. Instagram: @the_pizza_series.
Honorable mentions: Chicken shawarma wrap from Shawarmaji in Santa Clara, boozy cold brew from Sun of Wolf in Palo Alto, the Gem sandwich from Hidden Spot in South San Francisco and the masala dosa from Madras Cafe in Sunnyvale.
Devin Roberts, photographer
Plato de Arrachera, La Fonda, Redwood City
La Fonda is located in a small and unassuming strip plaza off of El Camino and offers an elevated yet comfortable Mexican food experience with one of the most comprehensive mezcal and tequila collections in the Bay Area. I ordered the Plato de Arrachera, made with skirt steak, chorizo, refried beans, cambray onions, roasted jalapeno and handmade tortillas. It emerged as a perfectly seared skirt steak, presented beautifully on a wooden engraved platter with delicious sides, including incredible chorizo. I recommend finishing the meal with the flan.
La Fonda, 820 Veterans Blvd., Redwood City, 650-362-3069; Instagram: @la_fonda_restaurant_and_bar.
Sidewinder's Fang and Dragon Slayer, Wunderbar, San Mateo
Wunderbar is a reservation-only speakeasy located below Wursthall in downtown San Mateo. They feature classic cocktails and a riff on those classics. The Sidewinder's Fang and Dragon Slayer are two of the most delicious rum drinks found outside a full-blown tiki bar. They are well-balanced and made with the best booze and freshest ingredients. To find the entrance, follow the white rabbit.
Wunderbar, 310 Baldwin Ave., San Mateo; wunderbarsm.com. Instagram: @wunderbarsm.
Shoyu ramen, HiroNori Craft Ramen, San Mateo
The shoyu ramen at HiroNori Craft Ramen is made with 100% chicken broth, pork chashu, green onion, spinach, bamboo, kaiware sprouts and a half egg. I went on a Bay Area ramen odyssey this year and ate many distinctive variations, but this straightforward take was at the top of my list. The broth is flavorful yet balanced and the chashu is my favorite. HiroNori has several locations throughout California and makes their own original ramen noodles, stock and sauce. To prepare the shoyu ramen, they use soy sauce barrel-aged for two years. These barrels have been used for more than 300 years at one of the oldest soy sauce factories in Japan.
HiroNori Craft Ramen, 211 E 3rd Ave., San Mateo; 650-242-1223, hironori.com. Additional locations in Cupertino and Santa Clara. Instagram: @hironoriramen_bayarea.
Sophia Markoulakis, writer
Smoky baba ghanoush, Capo, Belmont
It was late in the afternoon during Orthodox Holy Week in April and my cousin was here visiting from Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, where he is a practicing monk. After an afternoon church service at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Belmont, we walked across the street to Capo to catch up. The owners are accustomed to waiting on men dressed in long robes sporting tall hats and long beards. They also know not to correct a Greek when he orders "Greek" coffee, even if they refer to it as "Turkish." Our fasting feast included cups of coffee, a basket of warm pita bread, a bowl full of cured olives and a dish of the most delicious smoky baba ghanoush, drizzled with olive oil and topped with toasted pine nuts.
Capo, 2040 Ralston Ave., Belmont; 650-508-1000, capobelmont.com. Instagram: @capo_belmont.
Gigantes plaki, Taverna, Palo Alto
Taverna's gigantes plaki is the perfect example of how a dish using humble ingredients like giant (elephant) beans, tomatoes and herbs can be elevated when there's respect for the ingredients and in the hands of a skilled cook. Taverna's gigantes are tender and creamy (not an easy task), and the layers of flavor from the sweet tomatoes, fruity olive oil, crunchy pieces of dako, salty crumbled feta and tender microgreens all add up to a satisfying and decadent meal on a cold day.
Taverna, 800 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-304-3840, tavernarestaurant.net. Instagram: @tavernarestaurant.
Nick's fries and baklava-topped froyo, Nick the Greek, San Mateo
Every time the temperature hit above 80 degrees this past summer, my husband and I would head to San Mateo's Nick the Greek to cool off in its air-conditioned dining room. The fast casual chain's location in the Laurelwood Shopping Center is our favorite — top 40 Greek music, friendly Greek staff and great food. We often split an order of Nick's fries piled high with gyro meat, feta and tzatziki. I always end my meal with a tart Greek yogurt froyo drizzled with honey and crumbled baklava.
Nick the Greek, 1324 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo; 650-345-4976, nickthegreek.com. Multiple additional Peninsula locations. Instagram: @nickthegreek.
Grace D. Li, writer
Kalbijjim, Daeho, San Mateo
This is my go-to place to take out-of-town guests, especially as the days grow colder. There's just one dish that everyone gets: the kalbijjim, also known as the braised beef rib. It's an enormous, hearty dish, packed with beef, rice cakes, carrots, potatoes, radishes and more, and it's meant to be shared between at least two to three people. Get it with the cheese and the waiter will set it on fire in front of you; the result is melty and bursting with flavor. Every time I've come here, the conversation stops when the food arrives and doesn't start up again until the meal is nearly over — all attention is on what's in front of us.
Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup, 213 2nd Ave., San Mateo; 650-389-6689, daehodininggroup.com. Instagram: @daeho_official.
And recommendations from neighboring cities:
How to Fix Spoiled Meat, Sura-Gan, San Francisco
The tasting menu here is nothing short of an experience. The recipes are inspired by the oldest known Korean cookbook, and each dish is interpreted and updated by the chef with careful attention to detail. The highlight is their current main dish, How to Fix Spoiled Meat, reimagined as a 48-hour braised short rib served with walnut sauce, shiitake, radish and lollo rosso. It tastes like the ideal of Korean barbecue; fold the crunchy lettuce around melt-in-your-mouth short rib, rice and a touch of walnut sauce to create the perfect pocket of flavor. I came here for a special occasion on a rainy evening in San Francisco and was immediately transported.
Sura-Gan Korean Fine Dining, 250 Hyde St., San Francisco; 415-376-8853, suragansf.com. Instagram: @suragansf.
Kitfo, Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant, San Jose
I love Ethiopian food and make it a point to try a new Ethiopian place wherever I travel, so imagine my delight when a friend recommended this local Ethiopian place to me a few months ago. My go-to dish is the kitfo, which is a finely chopped beef dish seasoned generously and best served raw. It's the more sophisticated version of beef tartare, and it's always served on fluffy, spongy injera. Zeni's takes this dish and does it perfectly; each bite is bursting with flavor and texture. If you're new to Ethiopian food, let this restaurant be your introduction; if you're a longtime fan, it's easy to find something to love here. I've come here with friends and also alone, basking in the comfort of good food.
Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant, 1320 Saratoga Ave., San Jose; 408-615-8282, zeniethiopianrestaurant.com. Instagram: @zeniethiopian.
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