Many restaurants have closed since March 2020, when the Bay Area went into lockdown, and many more will shutter during these pandemic times. In order to lend a helping hand, we’ve been getting more takeout than we ever did before 2020. Perhaps some of you out there had the same idea. We had also planned to use our platform to help small restaurants in the Bay Area in 2020, but the lockdown made that rather difficult. Well, we are putting our 2020 plan into action by offering free promotion on our site’s prime real estate.
We’ll feature a couple of restaurants on this page and in the banner window above. Feel free to send us your nominations. If you are the owner of a restaurant and wish to nominate your own business, that’s fine. And if you are hiring, we’ll help you get the word out (click on the Deals tab below). Use our Contact form and rest assured we read every email and check the junk folder diligently. Pizza joints are a low priority because we heard they’ve been doing great since 2020. National and international chains probably don't need our help.
Restaurants are like the radio stations of the hospitality industry. Before the corporate takeover of the radio market, most listeners had strong feelings toward certain local stations. In a similar fashion, most diners are devoted to their favorite restaurants. If we removed all the restaurant reviews on social media, what are we left with? Reviews of contractors and products. Not everyone feels the need to talk about music and film. But we all have an opinion about restaurants.
Every crisis has a silver lining. Just as the pandemic has changed the way people work and the way students learn, it has also forced the restaurant industry to adapt. Places that didn’t offer takeout before had to rethink that policy. More restaurants started working with food-delivery services. And after 2020, most businesses have the takeout packaging down to a science—from cardboard-lined bag to double bagging and extra care when dealing with leak-prone items. We even saw a restaurant keeping takeout food warm in an oven-like appliance. Al fresco dining became a means to survival; parklets became more commonplace.
We’ve always said you can easily eat your way around the world in the Bay Area. So let’s begin.
For years all we had around the country were Americanized Italian restaurants, Americanized Chinese restaurants, and Americanized Mexican restaurants. Well, times have changed as chefs introduced American diners to more authentic fare. There’s nothing wrong with Italian American restaurants, but if you want to move away from food that was made to appeal to “mainstream” palette a long time ago, come on down to Piedmont Avenue. Chef Michele Belotti and his wife operate a sit-down restaurant and a takeout-only bottega (shop). We prefer the latter for its location, another one of those two-lane restaurant rows. The menu showcases food from various regions of northern Italy: Piedmont (agnolotti, vitello tonnato, battuta), Lombardy (casoncelli, scarpinocc), Veneto (bigoli), and Emilia-Romagna (tortellini, tagliatelle). Pour yourself a glass of Lambrusco or Prosecco.
Nearby options: Pomella, Monkey King, Malibu’s Burgers, Mistura, The Saap Avenue, Lo Coco’s, The Wolf, La Farine Bakery, Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery, Fentons Creamery, Piedmont Grocery
The Quiet Side of Oakland
At the end of Piedmont Avenue is Mountain View Cemetery designed in 1863 by Frederick Law Olmsted, arguably America’s most celebrated landscape architect. He is best known as the designer (together with Calvert Vaux) of New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park. Cemeteries are the precursor to public parks, so it makes perfect sense that Olmsted designed Mountain View Cemetery while he lived in California. Some of the noted graves include Stephen Bechtel, Warren Bechtel, Charles Crocker, March Fong Eu, James A. Folger, Domingo Ghirardelli, Thomas Hill, Henry J. Kaiser, Fred Korematsu, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and T.A. Soong. Guided tours are no longer available, but the grounds are open to recreational visits Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Originally designed in 1909 and redesigned in 1928 by the aforementioned Morgan, Chapel of the Chimes is a designated Oakland landmark located in front of Mountain View Cemetery. Notable residents include Dick Bartell, Al Davis, Bones Ely, and John Lee Hooker. Guided tours are available by appointment.
Imperial Soup, Oakland | What...no video?! :-(
Here’s another unique restaurant in the Bay Area, a place that specializes in herbal soups. While we can’t vouch for their medicinal properties, what Imperial Soup offers tastes as comforting as, well, chicken soup. The English menu simply describes the 18 herbal soup options as “herbs.” Try the soup with American ginseng (#5) or the one with blaze mushroom (#7) or the one with sparerib (#9). It’s a nice change from the ubiquitous hot and sour soup. The desserts are on the “healthy” side as well. If they run out of double-layer steamed milk, steamed red bean milk with sago would be a good plan B. The rest are barely sweet—though where else can you find peach gum and tragacanth on the dessert menu? The main entrees are mostly steamed or braised (nothing deep-fried here). Hainan chicken rice is one of the better versions in the Bay Area. If you like food bundles, try steamed rice with pork belly in lotus leaf. Imperial Soup also serves noodles and noodle soups. There may be a $25 minimum for credit cards.
When the English menu fails to tell the whole story, we wish there’s a mobile app that allows one to point the camera at a foreign-language name or sign and get an English translation. Apple’s own Translate app doesn’t do that. If you find double-boiled herbal soup at other restaurants, it’s higher priced and usually requires a reservation. To learn more about food as medicine and food philosophy in general, check out episode #102 of Confucius Was a Foodie. KPJK is currently airing this Canadian series on Saturdays at 7 pm (starting in October 2021); KQED and KRCB will probably rerun it in the future.
Soup for One [►]
Nearby options: Peony Seafood, Cafe Gabriela, Battambang, Tay Ho, Shooting Star Cafe, C&M Bistro, Shandong, Eden Silk Road, Golden Peacock, UC Dessert
Past Featured Restaurants
♦♦♦ East Bay
De Afghanan Cuisine, Fremont | Localish [►]
We figure Afghanistan will remain in the news for a while, so now is as good a time as any to talk about Afghan restaurants. If you like kebabs, lamb, pilaf, or Persian food in general, then Afghan cuisine will give you a sense of deja vu. Dari, one of Afghanistan’s languages, is basically farsi. Try qabili polow (lamb shank pilaf) and bolani (stuffed flatbread). De Afghanan, located in Fremont’s Little Kabul, has been around since 1993 and still maintains a small takeout-only place (limited menu and cash only) a few doors down from the main restaurant. Note that there’s a ghost site put up by some company (cybersquatting?). If you go to De Afghanan, tell them Baylindo sent you.
Nearby options: Momo & Kebab, A Sack of Potatoes (int’l chain), Pav Bhaji Hut (int’l chain), Bun Appetit, MW Chinese Gourmet, El Halal Amigos, Madhuram, LiZhou
For some reason, Ethiopian restaurants are well represented in the Bay Area. Whether or not you’ve had your fill of injera, check out other African eats such as this Liberian restaurant in downtown San Leandro. Liberia is one of 17 nations in West Africa, where most American slaves originated. Sampling West African food is like tasting the American South’s mother cuisine. Jollof rice is likely the inspiration for jambalaya and other Southern rice dishes. We don’t consume enough collard greens outside of the South; Kendejah offers sweet potato greens and cassava leaves in addition to that Southern staple. Also try torborgee or bean stew. For marketing purpose, the owner of this restaurant chose to spell Kendeja, an artists’ village outside Liberia’s capital, his way.
Liberia has another special connection to this country—if you know your U.S. history.
Liberian Girl [►]
Nearby options: Slice House, Xiang Yuen Xiao Long Bao, Maejoo Wings, Indian Grill, Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, Cafe Sorriso
Veggie Lee, Hayward | What...no video?! :-(
As the name suggests, this is indeed a vegetarian restaurant near Chabot College. What distinguishes Veggie Lee from other vegetarian places is the fact that owner/chef Che Heng “Veggie” Lee used to work in non-vegetarian kitchens in the Bay Area. Salt and pepper pumpkin is not the heavy and greasy rendition you often find elsewhere. Everything under Chef’s Specials is a safe bet, including pine nuts with Chinese toon fried rice. Veggie Lee uses konjac as a substitute for shark fin in a couple of soups. As far as we know, the only other place that serves konjac is Earl Spicy in Millbrae. Note that all the dishes are allium-free (no garlic, onion, shallot, leek, or chive), which is important to some Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains. San Jose’s White Lotus was a beloved vegetarian spot until it closed in 2007; Veggie Lee has the potential to become an institution.
Nearby options: Bamboo Steamer, Hawaiian Drive Inn, Eon Coffee
♦♦♦ Silicon Valley/South Bay
Jubba, San Jose | CPBA [►]
Named after a river in Somalia, Jubba is the only Somali restaurant in the South Bay—if not the entire Bay Area. Somali cuisine includes some recognizable items. Canjeero is lighter and less sour than neighboring Ethiopia’s injera. You’ll also find spaghetti on Jubba’s menu (Italy briefly occupied both East African countries). Sambusa and sabaayad are similar to Indian samosa and chapati, respectively. Order beef or chicken suqaar as your main and finish with mandazi or fried bread. This modest restaurant with a cafeteria atmosphere is located near Westfield Oakridge, sandwiched between a light rail station and a sprawling apartment complex. The secluded area has a laid-back vibe that belies its location; the clock tower adds to its old-timey feel. As much as we love paper maps, you’re better off following driving directions on the Internet.
Nearby options: Westfield Oakridge, Mandarin Gourmet, Chaat Cafe
When SF Chronicle and Michelin Guide reviewed this Sichuan restaurant, they somehow overlooked the fact that it also serves Tanjia food. Tanjia (or Tan Family) is essentially Beijing’s take on Cantonese cuisine, which for the longest time was synonymous with Chinese food in the U.S. So while you can order spicy dishes like fish fillet in chili oil and sauteed chili pepper with preserved egg, you can also enjoy Cantonese-tasting dishes such as sauteed shrimp with egg and cabbage, winter melon with shrimp, and braised Napa cabbage with chestnut. This is a joint venture between award-winning chef Zongyi Liu and a childhood friend. It would be a shame if we lost a unique restaurant like Royal Feast in the Bay Area.
Nearby options: Tasty Place, Yummy Szechuan, Hong Kong Flower Lounge, New Asian Pearl, Ben Tre, Caffe Roma, Broadway (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to El Camino Real)
There aren’t too many Hunan restaurants around here, so get it while you can. The site presents a well-written and legible two-page menu—it’s the little things that mean so much. Ants climbing a tree (gotta love these poetic names) is not too spicy and has good flavor. Sweet potato noodles and cabbage (under Steamed Specials) is enough to feed a small family. Located in what is ostensibly Millbrae’s two-lane restaurant row on Broadway, Wonderful does live up to its name. There’s plenty of free parking everywhere.
Nearby options: Sugandh, Porridge & Things, Gourmet Village, Noodles & Things, Dean’s Produce, El Camino Real (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to Broadway)
Gone to the Big Food Court in the Sky
You don’t want to end up here....
Events and Teamwork
Check this space for special promotions from restaurants regarding Mother’s Day and other occasions. And look for career opportunities as well. Want to learn how to make fresh pasta that would make a nonna proud? Or create delectable desserts that would make anyone swoon? If you are a people person, we need you in the front of the house. They call it the hospitality industry for a reason.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why no ratings for these restaurants?
If we set out to publish the usual Bay Area restaurant reviews, we would definitely include a letter grade for each (we prefer this to the star or point system) and provide more details. But our mission is to help small businesses in these pandemic times, so anything lower than an A might dissuade some potential customers, not to mention there are—or will be—nominations that we don’t have an opportunity to visit ourselves. Just know that we will not feature any establishment that we find disappointing. Other than third-party suggestions, everything we select is either A or B.
Is a YouTube video a requirement?
The short answer is no. But we love to embed a video made available by professionals such as Check, Please! Bay Area and Localish in the banner window above. YouTube has made this a three-click process. Some homemade videos by customers are quite polished, and we don’t have a problem embedding or linking to them. If no one has uploaded a video about your restaurant, you might consider making one yourself. YouTube offers some basic tools to put it together. Or just take out your smartphone and shoot. We don’t expect an Oscar-winning short, but please think about what you want to show and what you want to say, if anything. Your video could be as simple as a series of photos that are probably already on your own site.
What’s the idea behind nearby options?
As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. As long as we highlight a specific restaurant, we feel we should mention others in the vicinity in order to give more places a boost. Note that the list of nearby options is curated as well. We try to include restaurants that have a decent reputation or an interesting menu at least. In short, we’ve done the homework for you.
How do we assess a kitchen’s level of competence?
Cooking is all about balance. Nothing should be too sweet, too tart, too salty, too bitter, or too spicy—some restaurants purposely ignore the last point. Nothing should be too greasy, too dry, or too heavy. And nothing should be overcooked or undercooked. If we’re talking about professional kitchens, the same dish should taste the same every time. Balance and consistency. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If good cooking was that easy, there wouldn’t be so many bad reviews out there.
How long do we intend to keep this page active?
Two things need to happen for this country to return to business as usual: we need to reach herd immunity and we need to vaccinate the rest of the world to keep mutations at bay. California may be the fifth-largest economy in the world, but it is not a country. We can’t close our borders and allow only vaccinated visitors in. Even within the state, some counties have a much lower vaccination rate than the Bay Area. The Bay Area’s vaccination rate may be relatively high on paper, but keep in mind the real rate on any given day is actually lower due to an influx of unvaccinated people from other parts of California, other states, and other countries. If recent trends are a good predictor of the future, well, hang on to your masks for years to come. The restaurant industry is notorious for its high failure rate to begin with, so we’ll keep this page going indefinitely—with tweaks along the way, of course.
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