From Southern to French — Delicious Bites Around the Bay
1733 PERALTA STREET, OAKLAND
Atmosphere: With the phrase “chicken is soul” firmly in mind, pitmaster Matt Horn finally opened his casual Kowbird just a few blocks from his runaway hit Horn Barbecue. But here it’s all about the bird, with four Southern-inspired chicken sandwiches (there is a fifth vegan option) as well as chicken and waffles, wings, mac and cheese, fried cabbage, pies and even — yes, you heard it right — bright red candy apples. Expect to see half of Oakland here as you wait for your chance to sit at the vintage lunch counter that wraps around the entire restaurant and watch this small-but-mighty team work.
What to order: All sandwiches feature chicken dredged in buttermilk and seasoned flour, topped with house-made pickles and “bird sauce” on a potato bun. But for those who like the heat, it’s got to be the Hot Bird, finished and dusted with dried fermented chiles.
What to drink: To wash it all down there is beer, root beer and cream soda on tap, but regulars love the classic sweet tea and lemonade.
When to go: Starting this month, Sundays are the day to go. That’s when you’ll have the chance to order the specialty Fried Catfish Sandwich in original or Nashville Hot. —Daniel Jewett
60 CORTE MADERA AVENUE, CORTE MADERA
Atmosphere: A little orange building in Corte Madera — referred to on their socials as “the tiny orange bungalow” — houses Burmatown, the dream manifest of mother-and-daughter duo Jenny Gee and Jennifer Fujitani. In a space conceived as a place where family and friends can join together to share a delicious meal, the vibe at Burmatown — though it’s always packed to the rafters — is inviting and warm, with cozy banquette and two-top seating. Unassuming yet exceptional, Burmatown has the perfect combination: Michelin Guide–worthy cuisine in a casual atmosphere.
What to order: The Burmatown Bao — a playful take on a traditional Chinese dim sum dish called char siu bao — is a steamed bun folded taco style and filled with Asian miso slaw, sesame, cilantro and your choice of ribeye beef, garlic shrimp or ginger chicken. Swoon.
What to drink: Ultraviolet is a Napa winery with a gorgeous sparkling rosé — light, floral, with white flower, strawberry and grapefruit zest notes and tight, fine bubbles. It stands on its own and pairs beautifully with the Burmatown Bao.
When to go: It is first come first serve from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and the kitchen can sell out quickly. In this case, we recommend a sharp 3:30 or 4 p.m. arrival for a late lunch or early dinner; otherwise the spot also offers curbside pickup, and you can take your bao — well, wherever you’d like to enjoy it. —Jane Vick
220 WESTERN AVENUE, PETALUMA
Atmosphere: A wall clock permanently set to display the time in Stockholm tells you where the hearts of the husband-and-wife team of chef Roberth Sundell and his wife, Andrea, lie. A parklet drenched in warm sunlight and a cute retail space tucked inside this corner restaurant tell you everything you need to know about their aesthetic. And those charming aesthetics are reflected in the menu that effortlessly meshes together Swedish, Californian and Middle Eastern tastes. Step up to the counter in the large open space and try anything; it is all local, farm-fresh and Michelin Bib Gourmand–awarded.
What to order: When in Stockholm — or in Petaluma — you’re going to want to try the Swedish dishes for an authentic experience. We recommend the Shrimp Skagen: a creamy mix of horseradish, red onion and dill with shrimp that you slather on warm toast and enjoy.
What to drink: Although alcoholic beverages are offered, here the sodas are the star. You can’t go wrong with flavors like blackcurrant, lingonberry and elderflower, or try the Swedish Soda Lundquist.
When to go: Pick a sunny day and go for lunch. The crowd is bustling with families and couples, and enjoying this food in the cozy parklet is hard to beat. —Daniel Jewett
22 FRANKLIN STREET, SAN FRANCISCO
Atmosphere: This new addition to the Hayes Valley dining scene offers something different with a menu of cured and dry-aged fish paired with French white wine and vinyl records. It’s the brainchild of Marin-based chef Robbie Wilson and Emily Perry Wilson and is situated in a cozy, subtly lit spot featuring white marble tables, dark woods, leather banquettes and soft hanging lights, all designed by Studio Ren Architecture. Enjoy the unique French-inspired culinary creations in the intimate 44-seat dining room, at the counter where you can watch the chef or in the dining nook and listening lounge just off the bar. No matter where they dine, guests will enjoy the sounds coming from the 1970s-inspired turntable and hand-built McIntosh sound system.
What to order: The heart of the menu is raw fish so, of course, there is caviar. One item not to miss is also Le Fantastique’s signature dish: miniature eclairs topped with smoked onion crème fraîche and maple glaze and finished with Kaluga caviar.
What to drink: The food practically calls out for the Champagne. White and rosé offerings here all come from sustainably focused producers across eight regions of France.
When to go: Book a table on a night when you are also planning on attending the opera or symphony, which are just a short walk away. Bon appétit! —Daniel Jewett
198 SIR FRANCIS DRAKE BOULEVARD, SAN ANSELMO
Atmosphere: Seating just 40, Madcap is upscale and intimate. Designed by nationally recognized, San Francisco–based artist and designer Michael Brennan — who knows that a restaurant’s design influences the food’s impact — Madcap is all about dark wood, textured Venetian plaster walls, red velvet banquettes and black leather chairs. The feel is close, dark like a promising evening, and splashed with color from paintings Brennan did himself. With all food served on ceramics made by a group of local artisans, Madcap is smartly curated for chef Ron Siegel’s tasting menu.
What to order: Madcap serves a nine-course tasting menu, awarded a Michelin star in 2019 and again in 2021 (2020 was a miss for pandemic reasons). Chef Siegel thoughtfully constructs all nine courses, which include Dungeness crab rolls in persimmon salsa, ora king salmon with kohlrabi and cauliflower, and a mascarpone carrot cake with coconut sorbet for dessert.
What to drink: Madcap has an impressive sake selection, of which the Miyasaka Hiyaoroshi Masumi, “Sleeping Beauty,” is a delicious choice. This sake is pressed in winter and stored cold until early fall, offering a balanced acidity, crispness and light fruit aromas.
When to go: Madcap is an evening experience. Open from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, this is a great early-, mid- or late-dinner spot. —Jane Vick
6518 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE
Atmosphere: Nestled in downtown Yountville, this Thomas Keller Restaurant Group eatery gets its name from the Oaxacan “calendas,” traditional parties that kick off community celebrations. The celebratory quality shines through in La Calenda’s inviting, Mexican-inspired atmosphere. Everything you touch, from the crockery to the mescal cups, is handmade by artisans in different regions of Mexico, further adding a sense of intimacy and uniqueness to each drink and dish. The outdoor patio is strung with lights and open to the bar, and inside is strung with colorful Mexican fiesta flags, in keeping with the festive feel. The tables and chairs are sturdy, finely carved wood, and the buzz from the open kitchen and fellow patrons creates a warm, lively feeling.
What to order: Tacos de Hongos are a must. Crafted with house-made, heirloom corn tortillas — sourced by Oaxacan-born chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling from multigenerational farms in Mexico — this taco features wild mushrooms, garlic, poblano peppers, epazote (an aromatic Mexican herb) and salsa avocado tomatillo and is topped with queso fresco and fresh radish. Perfection.
What to drink: The Negroni de Hongos, a mezcal negroni with porcini mushroom–infused Campari, is a fitting explorative cocktail from La Calenda, where the bar specializes in mezcal and tequila.
When to go: La Calenda is an ideal lunch spot. Tacos are a lighter, playful fare, easy to order and enjoy with drinks on a sunny afternoon after working up an appetite wandering through picturesque downtown Yountville. —Jane Vick
More places to add to your Must Dine List for 2022 (and beyond)
850 LAMONT AVENUE, NOVATO
This Novato outpost of the S.F. Peruvian eatery goes heavy on the fresh seafood, with a variety of ceviches and octopus prepared three different ways. Carnivores will love the traditionally made pork and beef dishes.
250 MAGNOLIA AVENUE, STE. B, LARKSPUR
Chef Yoshihiko Abe and his wife, Keiko Arata, are first-time restaurant owners, but Abe brings an impressive resume with him, including stints cooking in Japan and at Morimoto Napa. Expect a tempting selection of rolls, sashimi and nigiri as well as omakase experiences.
625 SAN ANSELMO AVENUE, SAN ANSELMO
San Anselmo’s newest culinary addition is an inviting mix of a decidedly local vibe, an incredible rooftop deck (no extra charge for the gorgeous views of Mount Tamalpais) and a Mediterranean-inspired menu. Need we say more?
Le Marais Bakery
250 E. BLITHEDALE AVENUE, MILL VALLEY
This is French decadence with a California twist (think avocado croissant toast) and a must-try spot for brunch with friends. Dishes are artfully presented and every single one of the baked goods are worth the calorie splurge.
227 THIRD STREET, SAN RAFAEL
A delectable offering of classic Indian favorites includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries, tandooris and so many delicious naans you’ll need to try them all. And the sides? You’ll want to try all of those as well.
Paseo: A California Bistro
7 THROCKMORTON AVENUE, MILL VALLEY
After a two-year hiatus, this Marin mainstay has reopened under new ownership (Ki Yong Choi, a Mill Valley resident, purchased the restaurant from Sammy Hagar in 2019) with a new look, a new team and new daytime hours.
1750 REDWOOD HIGHWAY, CORTE MADERA
While not new, it is one of the most glamorous dining venues in Marin. A glass roof, twinkling chandeliers, a water feature and unobstructed views of Mount Tamalpais only make the food taste even better. We love the elevated take on classic favorites — the truffled grilled cheese and scrambled eggs are so delicious they are worth the trip alone.
The Rock and Rye
19 CORTE MADERA AVENUE, MILL VALLEY
Sweetwater Music Hall’s new restaurant is a delicious South America–meets–New Orleans mashup thanks to executive chef Rick Hackett. And what would a live music venue be without a respectable drinks list? Come for the selection of spirits and stay for the craft cocktails.
1651 TIBURON BOULEVARD, STE. B, TIBURON
The in-house eatery at The Lodge at Tiburon has a decidedly hip gastropub vibe and tried-and-true favorites with an elevated spin. The bar is fun, but the outdoor seating is where it is at. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
39 CALEDONIA STREET, SAUSALITO
Formerly F3 — same owners, same space, new look, new menu — the restaurant has been reinvented as a Mediterranean bistro heavy on Greek, Moroccan and Middle Eastern flavors. The wine list is interesting as well with lesser-known varietals from Greece, Lebanon, Portugal, France and Italy (California wines are available, too).