Thursday, August 30, 2012 | return to: supplement, readers' choice awards


Readers’ Choice: Have a Nosh

by naomi kosman-wiener & jon roisman

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If you’re looking for a bagel to go with your morning coffee, or maybe a sweet treat to cap off a meal, look to these two Bay Area establishments, which Readers’ Choice voters have selected as their favorites.

Serving kosher baked goods since 1998, Grand Bakery in Oakland is the place for the eggiest, sweetest challah in town. From hamentaschen at Purim to black and white cookies every week — along with bagels, of course — it’s all under the tutelage of New Jersey native Bob Jaffe.

With some 18 varieties, Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels in Palo Alto has something to please every customer’s palate. Owner Israel Rind opened the shop in 1996 because he says he saw a need for quality bagels. Izzy’s are boiled and then baked, and that added step has contributed to the store’s success, Rind says. Izzy’s caters and also offers pizza, salads and wraps on the ever-growing menu.


East Bay

Grand Bakery


(510) 465-1110


South Bay/Peninsula

Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels

Palo Alto

(650) 329-0700



What do you eat when you wake up too late for breakfast but are too hungry to wait for lunch? Why, brunch, of course! Our readers say these restaurants serve some of the top brunches around.

Town’s End Restaurant and Bakery in San Francisco uses “primarily organic produce, natural meats and sustainable fish,” says Mary Sperber, co-owner with her husband, David, for 21 years. The brunch menu includes modern spins on old favorites, depending on what’s in season. With windows facing the Embarcadero, customers can enjoy the Bay view as they eat their eggs Benedict or corned beef hash.

Rick and Ann Lauer, owners of Rick & Ann’s, opened their Berkeley restaurant 23 years ago to introduce locals to the comfort food they grew up with. The brunch menu includes traditional and not-so-traditional dishes, such as old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes, orange-rice flour pancakes with blueberries, and potato-cheese pancakes that taste like latkes. “I always describe the restaurant as having good food without the snobbery,” says general manager Patrik Hendrickson. “It’s very casual [and] homey.”

At St. Michael’s Alley in Palo Alto, the chef prepares food to order from a brunch menu that features classic dishes as well as creations with a California twist. “We get a lot of compliments on our pancakes because they remind customers of what their parents made them as children,” says assistant manager Rigel Erlich. Some visitors comment that the cozy atmosphere reminds them of eateries in New York’s Greenwich Village, Erlich says.

San Francisco

Town’s End Restaurant

and Bakery

(415) 512-0749


East Bay

Rick & Ann’s Restaurant


(510) 649-8538


South Bay/Peninsula

St. Michael’s Alley

Palo Alto

(650) 326-2530


From the Sea

There’s nothing quite like a light, tender piece of fresh wild king salmon, Alaskan halibut or petrale sole. These winning Bay Area restaurants offer fish so fresh, it might taste as if you’re eating it right out of the water.

Readers say the Waterfront, located on the San Francisco Bay, serves some of the freshest fish in the city. In addition to the food, drinks and ambiance, the restaurant prides itself on excellent service. “I think what brings people back is how we give customers personal recognition,” says owner Al Falchi. “We remember names, where people like to sit, what they like to order and other special things like that.”

Upon entering Scott’s Seafood in Oakland, customers see a display case filled with fish, a certain sign that what’s served here will be fresh. Scott’s is on the water, and everything inside is first-rate: The tables are covered with linen cloths, the waiters are dressed in professional attire, and the wineglasses wait to be filled. Every Sunday, Scott’s serves an elaborate buffet brunch that includes Champagne and orange juice.

Another Readers’ Choice favorite in the East Bay is Sea Salt, which readers say serves some of the freshest fish around. The menu combines different cuisines. “We have a little bit of Asian, a little bit of Mediterranean, a little bit of Mexican, a little bit of Chinese and even a little bit of French,” says chef Martin Try. And he and co-chef Quyen Vu are always trying to improve it. “We change at least one item on the menu every week,” says Try. “We do research on a new dish, test it and try to make it better. It’s always a work in process.”

The Fish Market opened in Palo Alto in 1976, but it wasn’t until the second location opened in 1979 that the chain established its claim to fame: its own wholesale fishery, Farallon Fisheries. “Our independent company travels the world and buys seafood for our restaurant,” says Thomas Fisher, general manager in Palo Alto. “We have also gone to meet every single purveyor that we have purchased fish from; whether it’s a co-op, Scotland or New Zealand, someone has visited every location.” Moreover, the Fish Market has two fishing boats that bring in swordfish for the restaurant.

Readers in Marin love Pacific Catch, where the menu is influenced by the tastes of the Pacific Ocean. The chefs use local ingredients to create dishes with Asian, Latin American and Hawaiian flavors. The restaurant has four locations, each influenced by the community served. “The remodeled indoor-outdoor patio best defines the Corte Madera location,” says Chamin Mills, marketing director at the corporate headquarters. “It’s perfect for a casual, warm … afternoon lunch, and also transforms into a cozy space for a more intimate … dinner.”

San Francisco

Waterfront Restaurant

(415) 391-2696


East Bay

Scott’s Seafood Grill & Bar


(510) 444-3456


Sea Salt


(510) 883-1720


South Bay/Peninsula

The Fish Market

Palo Alto

(650) 493-8862


North Bay

Pacific Catch

Corte Madera

(415) 927-3474



When our readers need to satisfy a craving for a giant burger and delicious fries, these are the burger joints they say they visit most.

Serving San Francisco since 1999, BurgerMeister has seven locations, including three in the city and others across the Bay Area. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to flip a hamburger,” says owner Paul Mogannam. That’s why he says he emphasizes the quality of food, environmental friendliness and customer service. Mogannam has visited the Midwestern farms where the cattle are raised so he knows exactly what his customers are eating, like the California Burger with fresh avocado and jack cheese. “We take great pride in what we serve,” he says.

Established in 1978, Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers is our East Bay winner with locations in Berkeley and Oakland (and also San Francisco). This sit-down restaurant offers more than two dozen burger options, including the Pesto Burger and the Russian Burger, which features sautéed mushrooms and sour cream on rye bread. Vegetarians fear not, as Barney’s has plenty of options, such as the Greek Veggie Burger with cucumbers, avocado and feta cheese on pita bread.

Some might argue it’s difficult to choose from a menu with more than 312,000 selections on it. But they’d be wrong, as our South Bay and North Bay winner, the Counter, offers enough burger combinations for an entire lifetime, or for the pickiest eater. Choose your bun, meat, cheese, toppings and sauce, and then next time you can do it differently, if you so choose. With a number of Bay Area locations, it’s easy to step up to the Counter for a burger.


San Francisco


Various locations


East Bay

Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers

Various locations


South Bay/Peninsula/North Bay

The Counter

Various locations


Italian & Pizza

Walking the streets of Naples while munching on a slice of pizza is a delicious fantasy. Luckily, these restaurants have brought the taste of Italy to the Bay Area.

Patxi’s Pizza in San Francisco stresses high-quality ingredients in a family-friendly atmosphere. “None of our restaurants have a freezer in the kitchen because we make everything on the spot,” says Jonathan Guevara, assistant manager on Hayes Street. (Patxi’s has seven Bay Area locations.) The chefs follow specific recipes to ensure consistency, but customers can choose from a variety of toppings, cheeses and crusts.

Another S.F. reader favorite is Delfina. Craig Stoll opened the Mission District eatery with his wife, Annie, inspired by cuisine in Tuscany. Stoll chose to keep the menu simple to ensure authentic, flavorful dishes. “Nothing about Delfina is ostentatious,” says PR manager Ashley Bellview. “We try to be as genuine, gracious and human as possible, but as far as technique is concerned, we try to be perfect.” Pizzeria Delfina next door offers thin-crust pizza with simple ingredients.

At Gioia Pizzeria in Berkeley, co-owner Will Gioia remembers growing up in Brooklyn, where he would grab a slice at the neighborhood pizzeria and swallow it down with a Coke. He wanted to share his childhood memory in his Berkeley neighborhood. Gioia, however, isn’t stuck on the East Coast experience: He also adds elements of California cuisine to the classic flavors and ingredients of New York.

Another East Bay reader favorite is Zachary’s, with three locations. Its claim to fame (other than quality ingredients and consistency in taste) is Chicago stuffed pizza, made by adding an extra layer of crust, folding ingredients inside and topping it all with a zesty, chunky tomato sauce. This specialty item is cooked slowly at low temperature to create a thick, hearty texture, president Kevin Suto says.

Amici’s East Coast Pizza, with locations throughout the Bay Area, strives to prepare “the best pizza west of New York.” “Our pizzas are all handmade with no shortcuts taken,” says Peter Cooperstein, owner of Amici’s in San Mateo. “Our sauce is cooked from scratch, and we import the highest-quality cheeses.”

For seven years, Picco in Larkspur has re-created classic Neapolitan-style pizza. The chef uses a fine flour imported from Italy and cooks the pie in an oven hot enough to produce a thin, flat crust. Chef-partner Jared Rogers and owner Bruce Hill travel abroad regularly for inspiration and then adjust their recipes accordingly. “I like to cook with rustic ingredients and whatever is in season,” says Rogers.


San Francisco

Patxi’s Pizza

(415) 558-9991


Pizzeria Delfina

(415) 437-6800


East Bay

Gioia Pizzeria


(510) 528-4692


Zachary’s Chicago Pizza

Various locations


South Bay/Peninsula

Amici’s East Coast Pizza

San Mateo

(650) 342-9392


North Bay



(415) 924-0300


Jewish-Style Deli

It hasn’t always been easy to find an authentic Jewish deli in the Bay Area. During the past decade or so, however, several businesses have cropped up to offer customers classic and creative deli sandwiches made with flavorful meats and fish.

After a year as a pop-up eatery, Wise Sons opened as a brick-and-mortar restaurant in San Francisco in February, and it attracts hungry crowds every day. Owners Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom wanted to fashion their menu around the idea of a New York deli, one with Eastern European roots but featuring house-smoked and house-cured meats, original recipes and local, artisanal ingredients, all eaten in a communal environment. “A deli is like a meeting place where you run into people that you know, or talk to people next to you who you didn’t know when you walked in,” says Beckerman. Everything at Wise Sons is made in-house.

Saul’s in Berkeley prides itself on its combination of old-time favorites and a newer sensibility about ingredients, which are locally sourced. The most popular item on the menu, the pastrami, is smoked at the deli. According to co-owner Karen Adelman, Saul’s also offers traditional Sephardic specials that expand the scope of Jewish deli food. “This also keeps the menu relevant during summer months when the [warming] Eastern European cuisine” is not as requested.

Max’s has served classic deli sandwiches and other homey fare since the 1970s. The chain started as a family-owned business in San Francisco, and now has nine Northern California locations, including the South Bay winner in Palo Alto. Max’s popular Jewish fare includes corned beef sandwiches on rye and matzah ball soup. The Opera Cafés offer more than just food; every week, the servers and hosts, accompanied by a professional pianist, sing for the customers.

Miller’s East Coast Deli, which has been in San Francisco since 2001, launched a second location this year in San Rafael. Miller’s likens itself to a New York–style deli, with a large menu, huge portions and traditional favorites. “In a world where there is not much pastrami to buy, I think ours is pretty excellent,” says owner Robby Morgenstein. The customers also love the corned beef inside Miller’s Reuben and Rachel sandwiches, he says. “I’m thankful to have been one of the first delis to open up before food trucks and fancy sandwiches became such a fad.”


San Francisco

Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen

(415) 787-3354 •


East Bay

Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen


(510) 848-3354 •


South Bay/Peninsula

Max’s Opera Café

Palo Alto

(650) 323-6364 •


North Bay

Miller’s East Coast Deli

San Rafael

(415) 453-3354



Bay Area residents who are strictly kosher sometimes feel as if they can’t eat anywhere outside of their own kitchens. These restaurants, however, offer havens in the Bay Area where everything is prepared according to the rules of kashrut.

All of the dishes served at the Chinese restaurant Shangri-La in San Francisco are vegetarian and 100 percent kosher. According to the website, the menu follows the familiar motto: “We are what we eat.” The combination of fresh vegetables, tofu, nuts, beans and whole grains is meant to produce healthy meals that will contribute to the customers’ overall well-being.

Amba opened 21⁄2 years ago in Oakland aiming to serve excellent Middle Eastern vegetarian food in California, and our readers say the restaurant has achieved its goal. After months of experimenting with recipes and traveling to the Middle East and New York for inspiration, Amba’s chef has created a menu that features dishes made from the freshest ingredients and prepared with patience and care. According to the website, “In the end it’s about great hummus and falafel and always will be.”

When customers enter Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels in East Palo Alto and scan the walls, they might feel transported to New York. Beautiful old pictures of the Big Apple hang everywhere in the cozy restaurant. After ordering at the counter, customers can devour a bagel as dense as those in New York. “We are one of the only two places in the area that boils the bagels the right way,” says general manager Maria Arzate. Izzy’s also prides itself on the variety of its offerings. “We have at least 18 different flavors of cream cheese,” says Arzate.

When customers enter the Jerusalem Grill & Bar in Campbell, on the other hand, they feel transported to Israel. Erez Knobler opened the restaurant in 2011 eager to bring the spices and food of Jerusalem to the South Bay. And given that chef Kobi Edri was born and raised in Israel, the dishes are as authentic as it gets, including delicious shwarma, goulash and kebabs. “Although my goal is to create an Israeli menu that is rich and flavorful, I also want to promote good American standards regarding the facilities, the cleanliness of the dining area and kitchen, and the customer service,” says Knobler.

San Francisco

Shangri-La Vegetarian


(415) 731-2548 •


East Bay



(510) 339-8000 •


South Bay/Peninsula

Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels

East Palo Alto

(650) 329-0700 •


Jerusalem Grill & Bar


(408) 866-2666 •


Specialty/Gourmet Market

When it comes to finding the right ingredients for that special dish, our Readers Choice’ winners know where to shop. And they don’t have far to go to find quality groceries.

Mollie Stone’s won in an impressive three regions: San Francisco, South Bay/Peninsula and North Bay. The market, with nine Bay Area locations, offers year-round kosher selections, including frozen foods, along with international products, imported beers, fresh deli, seafood and more.

In San Francisco, Bi-Rite Market is a reader favorite. The market offers premium groceries, from grass-fed animal products to traditional Chinese teas. It also sells fresh cheeses, fruits and vegetables and has a wide selection of gluten-free items. Opened in 1940, the market’s mission is to “create community through food,” and it does that in part by buying from local farmers, artisans and vendors and offering monthly events, from tasting locally made granola to making cheese.

Our East Bay winner, Oakland Kosher Foods, sells kosher veal, lamb, deli meats and chicken, as well as packaged goods. The stores has a large selection of wines, and a café menu for customers who are too hungry to wait until they get home and want to eat in. Sandwiches, burgers, soups and daily desserts are available, as well.

Another favorite in the South Bay/Peninsula is Draeger’s Market. “We try to provide a broad selection of healthy and fresh products,” says vice president Tony Draeger. Founded in 1925, Draeger’s has been family-owned ever since and has multiple Bay Area locations. Many of the products come from local farmers, and the meat department specializes in high-end cuts of steak and lamb. The market also has a sizeable wine and spirits selection. “We try to run our business with the best service we can,” says Draeger.

Scotty’s Market in San Rafael is the Readers’ Choice winner in the North Bay. The market was founded in 1957 by Messina and Joseph Bregante before being sold to Dale Lee, who worked in the deli for 17 years, and his wife, Mary Ann. Family-owned and operated, Scotty’s, “the biggest little store around,” features hot foods, a large deli selection, meats and wines, along with everyday grocery items.


Bay Area

Mollie Stone’s Markets

Various locations


San Francisco

Bi-Rite Market

(415) 241-9760  •


East Bay

Oakland Kosher Foods


(510) 839-0177


South Bay/Peninsula

Draeger’s Market

Various locations •


North Bay

Scotty’s Market

San Rafael

(415) 479-2363



Wine is an important part of Jewish life, whether it is for rituals, to toast newlyweds, to celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah, or just to have something festive to drink with dinner. Our readers give these wineries their stamp of approval. So raise your glasses!

Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda has been making wine since 1978. The winery produces more than 20 types of zinfandel — no surprise, considering founder Kent Rosenblum is known as the “King of Zin.” Grape growers for Rosenblum Cellars harvest their crops in Sonoma, Paso Robles and Contra Costa County, and head winemaker John Kane travels throughout California looking for the best grapes.

The family-run Portola Vineyards has been producing wine in Portola Valley since 2005 and is considered a community resource for local wine, says winemaker Len Lehmann. “Santa Cruz Mountains is wine country,” Lehmann says. “There are a lot of fabulous wineries there; it just might take some exploration.” Portola Vineyards produces 350 cases of kosher pinot noir each year. Most of the wine produced goes to community members, who tend the vines and work the harvest. Free tours are offered in spring and summer.

Jeff Morgan, co-owner of Covenant Wines in St. Helena, says he reconnected to his Judaism through producing wine. The winemaker even had his bar mitzvah at age 54. “One of the best things about our winery is that we became much more observant Jews,” Morgan says. Covenant wines, including the sauvignon blanc, can be found around the world, from New York to Australia. All of the wine is certified kosher and supervised by people who are Sabbath-observant.

Another North Bay winner, Hagafen, has won Readers’ Choice for eight years in a row, and for good reason: It makes excellent wine, readers say. Located in the heart of Napa wine country, Hagafen produces cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, merlot, chardonnay and white Riesling, among others. Founded in 1979 and run by Irit and Ernie Weir, Hagafen has produced kosher wine since 1980 and can be found around the world. It’s even been served at the White House.

East Bay

Rosenblum Cellars


(510) 995-4100


South Bay/Peninsula

Portola Vineyards

Portola Valley

(650) 332-4959


North Bay

Covenant Wines

St. Helena

(707) 963-7385


Hagafen Cellars


(707) 252-0781


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