YUM: DINE IN OR TAKE OUT

WHERE SHALL WE GO?

Best kosher

When it comes to the Bay Area’s kosher eateries, newcomer Bar Ristorante Raphael has trumped the competition. Or, could it be that our readers prefer brick-oven pizza over a juicy brisket? Scandalous!

Whatever the case, if you read more in this category, you’ll see the Italian restaurant in Berkeley collected a salad bowl full of best of the Jewish Bay Area awards.

Second place went to two older standbys in the East Bay: Oakland Kosher and the Holy Land Kosher Restaurant in Oakland. Both are excellent places that follow kashrut.

First:

Bar Ristorante Raphael

2132 Center St., Berkeley

(510) 644-9500

www.ristoranteraphael.com

Second (tie):

Oakland Kosher

3419 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

(510) 839-0177

Holy Land Kosher Restaurant

677 Rand Ave., Oakland

(510) 272-0535

www.holylandrestaurant.com

Best deli

Saul’s co-owner Peter Levitt, who has worked in some of Berkeley’s best restaurants, now cooks in the Bay Area’s best deli — at least, according to j. readers.

Not many delis have alumni from Chez Panisse working in their kitchen. But Saul’s Deli is used to being an exception.

The deli certainly has earned a stellar reputation through its longevity, as it’s had a variety of names and reincarnations for several decades. But Karen Adelman, another Saul’s co-owner, complimented Levitt and his skills:"He brings a lot of his philosophy about fresh and local food to the deli for sure."

First:

Saul’s Deli

1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-DELI

www.saulsdeli.com

Second:

Oakland Kosher

3419 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

(510) 839-0177

Best Chinese

Here’s a category that means a great deal to the Jewish people, so San Francisco’s Shangri-La should feel especially good for taking home this trophy.

How does a Chinese restaurant distinguish itself in a crowded field? For starters, Shangri-La is kosher certified and 100 percent vegetarian. More importantly, the food’s terrific (our readers said) and the prices low (lunch for $4.50, full dinners for $7.95).

Shangri-La serves what it calls vegetal beef and chicken (it’s some sort of tofu hybrid) and a great variety of veggies. How does sautéed mushrooms and snow peas, or eggplant with sweet basil, sound? We thought so.

A close runner-up is Eliza’s, a Hunan and Mandarin restaurant in Potrero Hill. Those faux Matisse paintings liven up the décor, but it’s what’s on the plate that counts. Entrees such as salmon in black bean sauce, or mango beef with Portobello mushrooms, keep bringing ’em through the door day after day.

First:

Shangri-La

2026 Irving St., San Francisco

(415) 731-2548

Second:

Eliza’s

1457 18th St., San Francisco

(415) 648-9999

Best Middle Eastern

Have you ever ordered a falafel stuffed with veggies and French fries, dripping with tahini, fresh from a sidewalk stand in Jerusalem? If not, we feel sorry for you.

But there’s still hope: You can head for the Holy Land kosher restaurants in Oakland and Berkeley, and get the closest thing to authentic Israeli falafel you’re likely to find here.

The winner in the best Middle Eastern food category, Holy Land has been open since 1989 and serves up all kinds of Israeli fare: sambusak, rice and lentils, stuffed grape leaves and malawach, a kind of Yemini bread. You might think you died and went to heaven. Or at least Israel.

Other finalists included La Mediterranee and Albany’s Zand Market. There was even a few votes for a place called Goood Frikin’ Chicken. Don’t ask.

First:

Holy Land

677 Rand Ave., Oakland

(510) 272-0535

2965 College Ave., Berkeley

(510) 665-1672

Second:

La Mediterranee

several locations

www.lamediterranee.net

Best Thai

We had a first place Thai (sorry, we couldn’t resist). It’s not much to look at from the outside, but Amarin Thai did not win for its exterior strip-mall-chic appearance. It won because of a jam-packed menu of Thai favorites and specials at reasonable prices.

The house curry is a blend of red curry, coconut milk, sweet peas and fresh basil that goes well with all kinds of meats. Same for the Masaman curry. There’s plenty of vegetarian goodies as well, and a terrific lunch menu, said our voters.

The other first-place winner, Marnee Thai, has won numerous awards in recent years, from the Zagat Survey to a Super Chef Award presented by the prime minister of Thailand himself.

First (tie):

Amarin Thai

1332-C Park St., Alameda

(510) 748-0276

Marnee Thai

2225 Irving St., San Francisco

(415) 665-9500

Second place:

Cha Am

1543 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-9664

Best Japanese

There’s John Wayne the movie star. Then there’s John Wayne the sushi chef. He’s the cool dude behind King of the Roll, a Larkspur eatery that won our poll for best sushi (and no, it’s not his real name).

With approximately 24 million sushi bars in the area, it may be hard to single out just one, but Wayne’s world is all about fresh seafood and a thousand-and-one ways to turn it into a nice slice on rice.

Coming in second place, Berkeley’s Kirala, another place with a huge menu and a cool sake bar. But the sheer number of restaurants earning votes from readers (over 40 eateries) shows just how personally our readers take their sushi. Wasabi with that?

First:

King of the Roll

552 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur

(415) 924-1900

Second:

Kirala

2100 Ward St., Berkeley

(510) 549-3486

www.kiralaberkeley.com

Best pizza

When it comes to pizza, the West Coast isn’t always the best coast. Thus, thin-crust pizza, baked in a brick oven, is the favorite of our readers, who voted in equal numbers for Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria chain and Bar Ristorante Raphael in Berkeley.

Amici’s has seven locations throughout the Bay Area. Mike Forter and Peter Cooperstein, the co-owners, began the chain because they missed the kind of thin-crust pizza with the fold-over crust they grew up with on the East Coast.

At Raphael’s, chef Domenico Testa imports his flour (which along with all his other pizza toppings, is strictly kosher) from Italy. The pizza is also baked in a brick oven.

First (tie):

Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria

several locations

www.amicis.com

Bar Ristorante Raphael

2132 Center St., Berkeley

(510) 644-9500

www.ristoranteraphael.com

Best Italian

When Noah and Hope Alper envisioned the Italian restaurant they were going to open, they knew that it being kosher would not be enough to make it successful. In Berkeley’s"foodie" culture, they recognized it had to be comparable with the area’s best Italian restaurants in order to attract Italian food aficionados (who might not even notice that it happened to be kosher).

With Domenico Testa in the kitchen of Bar Ristorante Raphael, they apparently succeeded. The kosher Italian restaurant took top honors in this category, with the South Bay’s Frankie, Johnny & Luigi, Too! coming in second.

First:

Bar Ristorante Raphael

2132 Center St., Berkeley

(510) 644-9500

www.ristoranteraphael.com

Second:

Frankie Johnny & Luigi, Too!

939 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View

(650) 967-5384

www.fjlmountainview.com

Best Mexican

Down in the Berkeley flats, near all that Fourth Street hipness, is Picante, our winner for best Mexican restaurant.

The food is unadorned and fresh, the atmosphere familiar, with a tortilla-maker on duty at all times. With modest prices and quick service, Picante delivers a muy agradable experience. One caveat: If you don’t like children, beware. The place is usually crawling with little darlings.

Runners-up include the popular chain Cactus Taqueria, which definitely has its own rabid fan base. Other popular chains include Chevy’s and Baja Fresh. But if you’re in the mood for some estupendo low-end Mex, find a Gordo’s Taqueria near you. Gordo means"fat" in Spanish, and as caloric as their food is, it’s aptly named.

First:

Picante

1328 Sixth St., Berkeley

(510) 525-3121

Second:

Cactus Taqueria

5642 College Ave., Oakland

(510) 658-6180

1881 Solano Ave., Berkeley

(510) 528-1881

www.cactustaqueria.com

Best Ethiopian

Any cuisine that requires no silverware and only clean hands to eat is a winner in our book, and our readers apparently agree.

And when it comes to eating the cuisine of Ethiopia, the East Bay seems to be the place to go. The category ended in a tie between the decade-old Addis in Oakland and Berkeley’s Blue Nile, which also has been around long enough to earn a loyal customer base through its consistency and endurance.

Each of the two features numerous wats (stews), both meat and vegetarian, which come with a generous portion of injera, the sponge-like pancake that is used to scoop it up.

Bring your appetite and some Wet Naps.

First (tie):

Addis

6100 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

(510) 653-3456

www.addisethiopian.com

The Blue Nile

2525 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley

(510) 540-6777

Best Indian

No, Indian restaurants are not all the same, as Avatar, our poll winner, clearly proves.

Nestled in Sausalito, Avatar pioneered what the owners call"Marindian" food, blending ingredients and flavors more commonly found in Mexican and Jamaican cuisines. They do have the traditional vindaloos and tandoori dishes, but where else are you going to get a Punjabi enchilada, people?

Second-place winner Breads of India is a popular Berkeley stalwart. It is reasonably priced and all over the Indian map in terms of regional cooking — which is a big map, we might add.

First:

Avatar

2656 Bridgeway, Sausalito

(415) 332-8083

Second:

Breads of India

2448 Sacramento St., Berkeley

(510) 848-7684

Best brunch

Save your appetite for brunch, because we have a three-way tie here: Mama’s Royal Cafe, Rick & Ann’s, and Town’s End.

One thing all three share besides good food: a long hunger-amplifying wait to be seated. But not to worry, it’s worth the watch-watching.

Mama’s Royal has two locations: Oakland and Mill Valley. Rick & Ann’s is a stone’s throw from the Claremont Hotel (try the orange-white flour pancakes). And Town’s End also serves up high piles of your favorite morning comfort foods.

The category recalls the famous soliloquy from Janeane Garofalo on a"Seinfeld" episode, riffing on the concept of brunch."How come," she opines,"there’s a meal between breakfast and lunch — brunch — but nothing between lunch and dinner? Why not dunch or linner?"

Who needs it with this cornucopia of top brunch offerings in the Bay Area?

First (three-way tie):

Rick & Ann’s

2922 Domingo Ave., Berkeley

(510) 649-8538

www.rickandanns.com

Mama’s Royal Cafe

393 Miller Ave., Mill Valley

(415) 388-3261

4012 Broadway, Oakland

(510) 547-7600

Town’s End Restaurant & Bakery

2 Townsend St., San Francisco

(415) 512-0749

Best California cuisine

Ask people what they want out of life and they’re apt to respond with the usual,"kids, love, money, trip to Europe" stuff. Ask where they hope to eat, and dollars to donuts most will say,"Someday, I want to eat at Chez Panisse." Well, enough j. readers have done so to vote the restaurant best in this category.

Where else but at Alice Waters’ pioneering Berkeley eatery can you have your fill of spit-roasted Barred Plymouth Rock chicken stuffed with new garlic and wild fennel.

So save up your shekels and go. Otherwise"someday" may never come.

Second-place winner is Boulevard, chef Nancy Oakes’ popular downtown San Francisco restaurant. Other vote-getters included Firefly, Greens and Rivoli.

First:

Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 548-5525

www.chezpanisse.com

Second:

Boulevard

1 Mission St., San Francisco

(415) 543-6084

www.boulevardrestaurant.com

Best fast food

Arteries not hard enough? Cholesterol still a pathetic sub-300? Help is on the way.

Our readers rated In-N-Out Burger the best fast food in the Bay Area, and for saturated fat fans, this comes as no surprise.

Even Eric Schlosser, the burger-hating crusader/author of"Fast Food Nation," had nice things to say about In-N-Out (mostly regarding its treatment of workers and commitment to fresh ingredients, we admit).

Here’s a tip: Next time you order a burger from In-N-Out, ask for"animal style" (it’s not on the menu). We could tell you what that means, but wouldn’t it be more fun to find out for yourself (it has something to do with grilled onions)?

Ahead of the predictable votes for Jack-in-the-Box, Arby’s and Taco Bell, our second-place winner is Oakland’s Holy Land (which also placed first as best Mediterranean food). That’s probably because a falafel is by definition fast food.

First:

In-N-Out Burger

multiple locations

www.in-n-out.com

Second:

The Holy Land Restaurant

677 Rand Ave., Oakland

(510) 272-0535

www.holylandrestaurant.com

Best hamburger

The cows of America may not be happy, but we do have a winner in the best burger category: Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers, with five locations in the San Francisco and the East Bay.

Now, making a burger is like playing the guitar. Anyone can learn three chords and limp through a few Beatles songs, but it takes an artist to do it well. Same with preparing a burger, and Barney’s apparently has it down pat(ty).

Its menu offers everything from the basic meat-bun-onion triad to delightfully weird offerings with zucchini or eggplant or pineapple toppings. And don’t miss the spicy curly fries.

Coming in second, In-N-Out.

First:

Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers

multiple locations

www.barneysrestaurant.com

Second:

In-N-Out

multiple locations

www.in-n-out.com

Best steak

Yes, Ruth’s Chris Steak House is a chain (87 locations worldwide), and yes, its home base is New Orleans (Ruth Fertel opened the first one in 1965), but most local human carnivores agree Ruth’s Chris is da’ bovine bomb.

Try the filet mignon; it’s as tall as a small child (vegetarians, avert your eyes). And if you want to impress a girl, order the Porterhouse for Two — for appetizers, and the ribeye for dessert.

Second place goes to Harris’ Restaurant in San Francisco, another popular local steak house. Not only is the food tasty, but so are the martinis (Harris’ actually is famous for ’em).

First:

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

1601 Van Ness, San Francisco

(415) 673-0557

1553 Olympic Blvd., Bldg. E

Walnut Creek

(925) 977-3478

www.ruthschris.com

Second:

Harris’ Restaurant

2100 Van Ness, San Francisco

(415) 673-1888

www.harrisrestaurant.com

Best seafood

Since 1976, Scott’s has been synonymous with San Francisco seafood. At least, that’s how j. readers see it: They voted Scott’s No. 1 in the category.

What started out in one location at Lombard and Scott (since demolished after the ’89 quake) is now a chain throughout California, though founder Malcolm Stroud and his staff try hard to retain the personal touch.

Favorites include the clam chowder, fried calamari and always-fresh catches of the day."We stick with the old standards," says Kim Vidinha, a district manager."People like that."

It ain’t cheap, but a meal at Scott’s won’t break the bank either. One other plus: the Scott’s restaurants in Walnut Creek and Oakland offer certified kosher catering.

Readers also love Tadich Grill in downtown San Francisco. Open for business since 1849, it still packs ’em in nightly. This is one of those cozy wood-panel and bentwood chairs kind of joints, with an emphasis on shellfish.

First:

Scott’s Seafood Grill & Bar

multiple locations

www.scottsseafood.com

Second:

Tadich Grill

240 California St., San Francisco

(415) 391-1849

JUST LIKE BUBBE USED TO MAKE

Best blintzes

The word"blintz" comes from the Old Slavic word for"mill." Nowadays, it’s the Jewish term for"lusciously decadent stuffed crepe that brightens your brunch and hardens your arteries."

And where can you find the best blintzes in the Bay Area? Our readers said Trader Joe’s, everyone’s favorite gourmet chain.

They sell two products: their own 13.5 oz. regular cheese blintz, and a 12 oz. Tofutti soy-based blintz. Both are in the frozen foods section. Just add your own sour cream or strawberry jam or whatever, then heat, serve and smile.

Tying for second place, David’s Delicatessen in San Francisco and Max’s in multiple locations around the Bay Area. They both make their blintzes fresh, no thawing or microwaving necessary. Just like your great-grandma liked to think she used to make.

First:

Trader Joe’s

multiple locations

www.traderjoes.com

Second (tie):

David’s Delicatessen

474 Geary St., San Francisco

(415) 771-1600

Max’s

multiple locations

www.maxsworld.com

Best brisket

When our readers are craving delicious, juicy brisket, just like their bubbe made, they often head to Saul’s Deli in Berkeley. The brisket there is made from hormone-free Niman Ranch beef, explained Karen Adelman, a co-owner of Saul’s.

"Niman Ranch makes a huge difference," added Adelman."And it’s braised for a long time, with secret seasonings."

Although the homemade brisket of wives and mothers throughout the Bay Area were in the running, Oakland Kosher and Max’s tied for second place.

First:

Saul’s Deli

1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-DELI

www.saulsdeli.com

Second (tie):

Oakland Kosher

3419 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

(510) 839-0177

Max’s

multiple locations

www.maxsworld.com

Best challah

When you bake some 2,000 pounds of bread a week, you’d better know your stuff.

The folks at Grand Bakery in Oakland not only know their stuff, they don’t cut any corners in the process: Each and every challah is made by hand.

"We weigh it out, roll it, braid it and egg-wash it by hand," said co-owner Bob Jaffe."It’s an art more than a skill."

The bakery also makes rolls and 10-pound loaves for special occasions.

Semifreddi’s, from a bakery in Emeryville, came in second place. Its challah is sold in many supermarkets.

First:

Grand Bakery

3264 Grand Ave., Oakland

(510) 465-1110

Second:

Semifreddi’s

at grocery stores around the Bay Area

Best chicken soup

"Mine.""My mom’s.""My neighbor David’s.""Max’s."

In this category, there were enough personal answers like those to show that when it comes to the Jewish penicillin, homemade chicken soup is the fave.

Of the store-bought varieties, for those situations when you’re in dire need of some and your mother isn’t within driving distance, Max’s was clearly our readers’ choice. But bring your appetite — Max’s portions (for just about everything) make smorgasbords look stingy.

First

Max’s

multiple locations

www.maxsworld.com

Second (tie):

Saul’s Deli

1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-DELI

www.saulsdeli.com

Oakland Kosher

3419 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

(510) 839-0177

Best matzah ball soup

According to our readers, there are two places to get a momentous matzah ball soup. One, however, is by invitation only.

On the commercial front, Saul’s Deli in Berkeley, according to j. readers, has clearly mastered the challenging art of the matzah ball."They’re not floaters, they’re not sinkers, they’re some secret in between," explained Karen Adelman, Saul’s co-owner.

Saul’s recipe was devised after extensive research at delis and restaurants across the nation, including New York City’s 2nd Avenue Deli.

Jane Farkas of Tiburon, who obviously has a large family and even larger coterie of friends, wouldn’t reveal the secret to her success either:"The only way to get some is to be invited to my Shabbos table." She has no idea how she got a first-place tie — but somehow word got out that Jane’s not messing around when it comes to matzah meal.

First (tie):

Saul’s Deli

1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-DELI

www.saulsdeli.com

Jane Farkas

Tiburon resident

Second:

Max’s

multiple locations

www.maxsworld.com

Best chopped liver

"What am I, chopped liver?"

Saul’s Deli sure isn’t, and neither is Max’s. The two delis tied for top chopped liver — the stuff kids love turning up their noses at, and parents love sticking their noses in.

Saul’s co-owner, Karen Adelman, said lots of experimentation made Saul’s chopped liver recipe what it is. But like with any authentic version, she said, there’s plenty of shmaltz (chicken fat) and onions.

Dennis Berkowitz, the founder of the Max’s chain, still relies on his father’s recipe. Max’s chopped liver is good because of what’s not in it, not what is.

"There’s no brandy, no mayonnaise, no basil, no thyme, none of that." Berkowitz said.

First (tie):

Saul’s Deli

1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-DELI

Max’s

multiple locations

www.maxsworld.com

Best knishes

Borekas, knishes, with a little Manischewitz in the system, who can tell the difference?

Still, it comes as a surprise to Bob Jaffe that our readers voted his Grand Bakery best knish — since that’s one product he doesn’t roll out of the kitchen."Maybe people were mistaking them with our borekas?" he asked rhetorically.

Jaffe’s savory borekas come in five varieties, and one of them is potato, so perhaps Grand Bakery fans were doing just that.

Second place went to Saul’s Deli in Berkeley, which does in fact serve up some extraordinary knishes. No confusing borekas on the menu there, though.

First:

Grand Bakery

3264 Grand Ave., Oakland

(510) 465-1110

Second:

Saul’s Deli

1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-DELI

www.saulsdeli.com

Best latkes

The winner in this category might come as a surprise; rather than a deli, it’s Oakland’s Grand Bakery — the winner in several other food categories.

"It’s a secret recipe; we don’t tell it to anyone," said Bob Jaffe, co-owner of the bakery, which is becoming the"Lord of the Rings" of Best of the Jewish Bay Area awards.

What Jaffe would divulge about his latkes is that the potatoes are peeled by hand, and the batter is fried in"heart-healthy canola oil."

And when asked whether people prefer apple sauce or sour cream, Jaffe retorted,"They’re so good, people eat them plain."

"Mine" or"My mother’s" came in second. That seemingly ubiquitous mom was obviously one hell of a Jewish cook.

First:

Grand Bakery

3264 Grand Ave., Oakland

(510) 465-1110

Best rugelach

Bread-pin roll please … Grand Bakery’s rugelach took the top honors in this category, too.

The pastry is made by filling dough and then rolling each one up into bite-sized crescent shapes. Cream cheese is the ingredient that distinguishes rugelach from just your average dough.

Grand Bakery’s recipe has been around so long that co-owner Bob Jaffe doesn’t even know where it came from. Grand’s rugelach come in four flavors: chocolate, apricot-walnut, raspberry-coconut and cinnamon-raisin.

Chocolate is by far the most popular."We smear melted chocolate on the dough, and then put chocolate chips in, so we don’t skimp on anything," said Jaffe.

First:

Grand Bakery

3264 Grand Ave., Oakland

(510) 465-1110

Second:

Saul’s Deli

1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

(510) 848-DELI

www.saulsdeli.com

Best corned beef

The corned beef arrives from New York, or maybe from Iowa. A third of a pound of it goes on a sandwich, on only the freshest bread. With something like 150 sandwiches going out the door each week, it’s guaranteed to be fresh.

That’s how Yuval Atias, co-owner of Oakland Kosher, describes it. He speaks matter-of-factly about no small culinary matter: winning this category.

"We have a high turnover on the meat because we sell to a lot of schools," he said.

The Max’s chain came in second.

"Any deli in New York" also drew a healthy response.

First:

Oakland Kosher

3419 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

(510) 839-0177

Second:

Max’s

multiple locations

www.maxsworld.com

EATING AT HOME

Best grocery store with a kosher section

Anyone can throw a few boxes of matzah and bottles of Manischewitz wine on a card table around Passover. Mollie Stone’s, for one, does all that — but it does much, much more, all year round.

"Over the last 15 years, we’ve made a real effort to offer kosher food in all the categories: grocery, frozen, dairy, meat fish, poultry, deli and bakery on a year-round basis," explained David Bennett, the grocery chain’s co-owner along with Mike Stone."We do it because we have a large customer base interested in us doing it for them."

Kosher food has been prominent on Bennett’s radar ever since Palo Alto customers Bob Imberman and Rabbi Yosef Levin of Chabad of the Greater South Bay met with him in 1991.

"Those gentlemen approached me, and we sat down and tried to figure out what would be the best thing for the Jewish community and how to make this work out for Mollie Stone’s and the community," Bennett recalled.

Obviously, they did.

First:

Mollie Stone’s

multiple locations

www.molliestones.com

Second:

Trader Joe’s

multiple locations

www.traderjoes.com

Best supermarket

The winner in this category was Whole Foods.

The 25-year-old chain features 12 stores in the Bay Area alone, and bills itself as the"world’s leading natural and organic food market."

In fact, any product found on its shelves will be free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats.

There’s also a bakery section, catering and a wine and cheese selection that screams,"Let’s have a fĂȘte!"

First:

Whole Foods

multiple locations

www.wholefoodsmarket.com

Second:

Berkeley Bowl

2020 Oregon St., Berkeley

(510) 843-6929

www.berkeleybowl.com

Best takeout

Thankfully, when our readers are too busy to cook and too tired to eat out, there are a number of Bay Area eateries that make life a whole lot easier and tastier.

Since it opened last year, Bar Ristorante Raphael in Berkeley has done a brisk takeout business. The brick-oven pizza is a favorite to-go order, but the entire menu can be packaged for takeout.

Tied for second place were Holy Land Restaurant in Oakland and Whole Foods Market.

First:

Bar Ristorante Raphael

2132 Center St., Berkeley

(510) 644-9500

www.ristoranteraphael.com

Second (tie):

Holy Land Kosher Restaurant

677 Rand Ave., Oakland

(510) 272-0535

www.holylandrestaurant.com

Whole Foods Market

multiple locations

www.wholefoodsmarket.com

Best bagels

With the Bay Area full of New York transplants, determining the best bagel is no mean feat. Some New Yorkers here are even known to shlep a dozen H&H bagels with them every time they make a trip.

But the good news is that Izzy’s Bagels is the real thing. And with its two locations — one in San Francisco and one in Palo Alto — Izzy’s is a lot closer than the Upper West Side.

"You could make a bagel in half an hour, if you want," Israel Rind, the Izzy of Izzy’s Bagels, once said."You skip the freezing stage. But then it is a pretend bagel, an assimilated bagel. It is just a roll with a hole."

Rind opened his first shop in Palo Alto in 1996. And he speaks of his poppy seeds and sesames as if they were Cabernets and Zinfandels. Bagels must be made slowly, he said, in order to"cultivate the flavor, like wine."

Both Izzy’s locations are kosher.

First:

Izzy’s Bagels

477 California Ave., Palo Alto

(650) 329-0700

151 Townsend St., San Francisco

(415) 543-0900

www.123bagels.com

Second:

Noah’s Bagels

multiple locations

www.noahs.com

Best bakery

Being the best is a"labor of love," according to Bob Jaffe, co-owner of Grand Bakery — voted tops in this category by j. readers.

Jaffe said,"Some people think we have the best croissants they’ve had since Paris. Some think we have the best latkes. A lot of the gentiles who shop here think we have the best chocolate chip cookies, and they could go anywhere."

He added that no one in the kosher bakery business is going to get rich:"You work all night, and you don’t have a life, but people love the stuff, and that’s your satisfaction … and knowing that we’re serving the Jewish community, too."

Grand Bakery products — though not all of them — are available at some retail outlets too, including Andronico’s, Mollie Stone’s, Berkeley Bowl and Piedmont Grocery.

First:

Grand Bakery

3264 Grand Ave., Oakland

(510) 465-1110

Second (tie):

Arizmendi

multiple locations

www.arizmendibakery.org

La Farine

6323 College Ave., Oakland

(510) 654-0338

www.lafarine.com

LET'S INDULGE

Best desserts

Niagara Falls Cake is layered with ganache and buttercream. The Fantasy Torte offers three tastes: cheesecake, chocolate mousse and chocolate cake. Is your mouth watering yet?

If it is, go no further than your nearest Max’s, the chain voted best in this category.

Dennis Berkowitz opened his first restaurant (called Max’s Son) in 1978 in Daly City (Max is Berkowitz’s father). Now there are 12 locations in the Bay Area.

Mary Mejia, bakery manager in the chain’s South San Francisco headquarters, said that Niagara Falls Cake is the chain’s most popular dessert.

"We use simple recipes that don’t have a lot of complicated ingredients," she said,"with ample portions." Ample, to some customers, means everyone at the table can share.

First:

Max’s

multiple locations

www.maxsworld.com

Second (three-way tie):

Grand Bakery

3264 Grand Ave., Oakland

(510) 465-1110

Just Desserts

multiple locations

www.justdesserts.com

Bar Ristorante Raphael

2132 Center St., Berkeley

(510) 644-9500

www.ristoranteraphael.com

Best microbrewery

Bet you thought the"Biersch" in Gordon Biersch meant"beer" in German or Czech or Flemish or something. Wrong. It’s just the last name of Dean Biersch, who with Dan Gordon co-founded the brewery in 1988.

The Palo Alto-based company won best microbrewery in our poll, though the company actually isn’t so micro anymore. Thanks to their assorted marzens, pilsners, hefeweizens and dunkles, the company has grown large, with a string of brewery/restaurants all across the country.

But it all started with the beer, and, as they say,"Dude, it’s smooth." Other big vote-getters in this category include Berkeley’s Pyramid (take the tour, it’s fun) and good ol’ San Francisco’s Anchor Steam, another Bay Area product that’s caused quite a"brewhaha" in the beer universe. And of course, our readers offer three cheers for He’Brew Beer, Jeremy Cowan’s little ale that could.

First:

Gordon Biersch

multiple locations

www.gordonbiersch.com

Second:

Pyramid Ales

and Lagers

multiple locations

www.pyramidbrew.com

Best kosher winery

When told Hagafen Cellars was declared the best kosher winery, proprietor Ernie Weir said he thinks he knows why:"We’re a winery more than 25 years on the Silverado Trail [in Napa] with wonderful grape-growing areas."

Weir added that Hagafen can easily compete with its non-kosher rivals.

The winery, he said, is a fun place to visit, too. Tours can be set up in advance, and the winery rose garden is a favorite picnic spot.

The brand has about 10 varieties of wine, 60 percent of them red, 40 percent white.

Gan Eden came in second place, but the Sebastopol kosher winery is going out of business. Great deals are possible via its Web site.

First:

Hagafen Cellars

4160 Silverado Trail, Napa

(707) 252-0781

www.hagafen.com

Second:

Gan Eden Wines

4950 Ross Road, Sebastopol

(707) 829-5686

www.ganeden.com

Best ice cream

As every Jewish child learns, the Talmud says ice cream is the best of all desserts, with a scoop of French vanilla an easy way to glimpse the world to come.

OK, that’s not true, but j. readers certainly know good ice cream when they taste it. Topping our poll: Mitchell’s, a San Francisco institution. They’ve won many awards (none bigger than this one, of course), thanks to the homey feel of their Mission District store and the exotic nature of their handmade varieties.

How exotic? Try Lychee, Langka (a kind of fig), Macapuno (sweet coconut) or Ube (purple yam) flavored ice cream.

For the fragile palates, there’s always chocolate, strawberry or vanilla.

Coming in second was Fentons Creamery in Oakland, another haven for fans of the homemade. You use up your daily allotment of fat calories just by walking into the place, but hey, live a little.

The chains scored votes, too, including Ben & Jerry’s, Double Rainbow and Baskin-Robbins. They all put a smile on your face and a spare tire around your waist.

First:

Mitchell’s

688 San Jose Ave., San Francisco

(415) 648-2300

www.mitchellsicecream.com

Second:

Fentons Creamery

4226 Piedmont Ave., Oakland

510) 658-7000

www.fentonscreamery.com

Best chocolate

In this category, there are no losers, only richly decadent, swirly smooth cacao-crazed winners. And in this case, Scharffen Berger comes out on top.

And why shouldn’t it? Scharffen Berger tends to push the envelope when it comes to percentage of added cocoa butter (up to 82 percent, believe it or not). Its products and packaging tend to be divine, and the Berkeley factory is fun to tour. Or smell.

But if truffles are your thing, our second place finisher Joseph Schmidt is your man. The twinkly-eyed Israeli ex-pat is one of the pioneers of the Bay Area chocolate revolution.

Though he doesn’t make chocolate from scratch (as Scharffen Berger does), what he creates from his Belgian import is nothing less than edible art. The mind of Schmidt is a brave goo world.

Beyond those two, there’s plenty of great chocolate to be had in our region, some of it chains (See’s, Godiva), and some of it homegrown (Ghiradelli, Charles Chocolates).

And remember the calories don’t count if you eat with your eyes closed.

First:

Scharffen Berger

914 Heinz Ave., Berkeley

(510) 981-4050

www.scharffenberger.com

Second:

Joseph Schmidt Confections

3489 16th St., San Francisco

(415) 861-8682

www.josephschmidtconfections.com

The Best of the Jewish Bay Area 2005