Readers Choice 2013: Have a Nosh

Jewish Deli

The Bay Area used to be a pretty sorry place for finding the real deal in Jewish deli food, but the deli scene has improved vastly during the past couple of years, and hungry readers are doing their part to keep it going.

If you’ve visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco lately, you will have noticed that Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen has opened, serving traditional Jewish comfort foods prepared with fresh ingredients. Owners Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman obviously are doing something right —  they also have a successful restaurant on 24th Street and a stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Of course, there are plenty of reasons to go to the museum, but Wise Sons adds a delicious incentive.

Peter Levitt and Karen Adel, co-owners of Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen in Berkeley (Levitt is executive chef), describe their mission this way: “We strive to re-establish the foods of our roots, and the recipes of Old World kitchens. … We never forget that our immigrant cuisine of the late 1800s gave birth to the American Jewish deli.” From Ashkenazi comfort foods to classic and contemporary Sephardic cuisine, Saul’s Deli has been serving house-smoked pastrami, house-made sodas, freshly made z’hug, harissa, hummus, grilled liver and onions — and much more — for 28 years.

Whether you plan to eat at Max’s Restaurant and Bar in Burlingame, Max’s Opera Café in Palo Alto or Max’s Café in Redwood City, make sure to bring your appetite. Portions at Max’s may remind you of the elderly aunts who piled food on your plate and implored, “Essen, essen.” It’s not just about deli food here; in addition to traditional Jewish dishes, offerings such as quesadillas, Chinese chicken salad, a Portobello mushroom and fried egg sandwich share the menu.

Miller’s East Coast Deli came to San Rafael a couple of years ago when Robby Morgenstein opened his second old-style, East Coast eatery (the first is in San Francisco). He says, “We have great pastrami, corned beef, rye bread and the largest selection of smoked fish.” Dine in the deli, take food home, have an event catered — Morgenstein pledges an authentic East Coast–style experience.

San Francisco

Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen

(415) 787-3354 •


East Bay

Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen


(510) 848-3354 •


South Bay/Peninsula


Various locations


North Bay

Miller’s East Coast Deli

San Rafael

(415) 453-3354


Kosher Restaurant

Keeping kosher can make dining out a challenge. Fortunately, the Bay Area offers several healthy, tasty choices for kosher restaurant meals.

Shangri-La has dished up vegetarian kosher Chinese cuisine in San Francisco’s Chinatown since 1978. The emphasis is on maintaining health by eating well; Shangri-La prepares its dishes using “garden-fresh vegetables” and natural ingredients. Mom’s chicken soup with its healing properties may not be on the menu, but traditional Chinese herbal soups offer an appetizing alternative.

Jonathan Wornick opened Amba in Oakland’s Montclair Village four years ago with the goal of serving the best Middle Eastern, Israeli-style food in the Bay Area. The casual, kosher vegetarian restaurant serves up “fresh, authentic and reasonably priced” dishes, according to Wornick, including “great hummus and falafel.” Readers agree that Amba has been pleasing East Bay palates since it opened. As Wornick says, “Eat at Amba for a taste of Israel.”

Jerusalem Grill & Bar, opened by Erez Knobler in 2011, has established kosher Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine in the South Bay. In addition to the authentic, mouthwatering entrées, the Campbell restaurant also serves kosher beers and wines. Food is available for takeout; holidays are highlighted with special menus.

San Francisco

Shangri-La Vegetarian Restaurant

(415) 731-2548


East Bay



(510) 339-8000


South Bay/Peninsula

Jerusalem Grill & Bar


(408) 866-2666



What would life be like without the beloved bagel? We don’t have to worry about that as long as these winning bakeries continue turning out the genuine article.

House of Bagels in San Francisco is a New York–style bakery and deli that sells wholesale and retail. Says the company’s Joshua Bloom, “We outshine and separate ourselves from our competition for mainly one reason: our boiled, New York–style ‘water’ bagels.” Bloom says House of Bagels has been “providing real bagels that are boiled and baked on stone for over 50 years!”

Oakland’s Grand Bakery boils and bakes bagels every day. Owner Bob Jaffe says it’s not just about the bagels; the Grand Bakery produces sweets, savories, cakes, breads, pastries and cookies. He is also proud of the store’s popular challah. “We have something for everyone: dairy and parve, gluten-free items and vegan cookies. Our signature cookie is the ‘black and white.’ We try to [create] a unique, fun shopping experience.”

Israel Rind brought a bit of Brooklyn to Palo Alto nearly 20 years ago with Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagel. But Izzy’s isn’t just about the authentic New York bagels: deli salads, smoked white fish, herring and more are all part of that Brooklyn flavor — which readers appreciate, even if they’ve never been to the borough. For those who like a little heat with their food, check out Izzy’s jalapeño bagels or jalapeño cream cheese.

Marinites have kept Barton Goody busy since he opened Barton’s Bagels in downtown San Anselmo. Customers appreciate these real-deal bagels — boiled, of course — in traditional and not-so-traditional flavors (chocolate? pumpkin? blueberry?), as well as a variety of cream cheese choices. The busy bagelry offers other noshes along with strong coffee, espresso and tea and plenty of noncaffeinated choices, too.

San Francisco

House of Bagels

(415) 752-6000


East Bay

The Grand Bakery


(510) 465-1110


South Bay/Peninsula

Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels

Palo Alto / East Palo Alto

(650) 329-0700 / (650) 322-5700


North Bay

Barton’s Bagels

San Anselmo

(415) 458-8818


Specialty/Gourmet Market

While it’s true that we have to eat to live, enjoyment of food enriches our lives in many ways. These Readers’ Choice favorites provide the basics of life and so much more to savvy shoppers.

David M. Bennett, owner of Mollie Stone’s Markets, says his stores offer a “best of both worlds shopping experience.” The market “sources the world to bring a unique offering of foods to our customers,” so shoppers can buy necessities as well as many specialty items not found at other local stores. J. readers know that Mollie Stone’s also carries a selection of kosher foods for everyday meals and holiday repasts. The store was recognized by the National Association of Specialty Foods in 2012 as one of the country’s five best specialty markets.

Berkeley Bowl has been a mainstay for East Bay shoppers since 1977. The independent supermarket, with two stores serving Berkeley, is known for its produce department, which features a substantial selection of fruits and vegetables, many grown locally. Adventurous cooks know this is the place to procure that unusual or hard-to-find fruit or veggie. But it’s not just about the produce. Berkeley Bowl carries standard grocery items, as well as natural foods and specialty foods.

Gary Freeman, vice president of Oakland Kosher Foods, says the store is “the only fully kosher food market in Northern California.” From fresh meats and poultry to a large selection of kosher groceries, OKF strives to “to give all our customers good service and quality food.” OKF carries a large number of Israeli products along with a collection of kosher wines from throughout the world. Freeman says proudly that he’s been told OKF’s “shwarma in pita or baguette is the closest thing to being in Israel.”

On the Peninsula, Draeger’s is the place to find specialty grocery items along with upscale housewares. The stores, in Los Altos, Menlo Park and San Mateo (there’s also a location in Danville), feature a large wine selection, a bakery, a deli, and a cooking school that brings in well-known chefs. The family-owned stores started in San Francisco early in the 20th century, and the Draegers continue the tradition of offering customers the best in food, wine and service.

San Francisco & North Bay

Mollie Stone’s Markets

Various locations


East Bay

Berkeley Bowl Marketplace


(510) 843-6929 / (510) 898-9555

Oakland Kosher Foods


(510) 839-0177


South Bay/Peninsula

Draeger’s Market

Various locations


Italian & Pizza

Pizza may not compare to Bubbe’s brisket, but it’s a close second and a lot easier to come by. No matter what your pizza preference, there’s a Bay Area pie that will hit the spot.

Craig and Anne Stoll’s bustling neighborhood restaurants in San Francisco, Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina, offer seasonal Italian cooking with a menu that highlights the finest organic, local ingredients. “We strive to provide a consistently craveable experience through delicious food, honest connections and shared respect,” he says, “because we understand that our success comes from a spirit of generosity and a daily commitment to exceeding expectations.”

With its red-and-white checkered tablecloths, leather booths (a jukebox at every one), grape clusters and wine bottles hanging from the ceiling, plus the pizza maker throwing dough in front of the dining area, Gaspare’s Pizza House and Italian Restaurant in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond District is a classic (there is also a San Rafael location). The comfortable, family-friendly ambiance draws diners in; the food keeps them coming back. Owner Gaspare Indelicato has been turning out thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizza for 28 years. And, he says, “We have the best tiramisu and New York–style cheesecake.”

Over the past 30 years, Zachary’s Chicago Pizza, with outlets in Berkeley, Oakland, Pleasant Hill and San Ramon, has been recognized locally and nationally with 150 best pizza awards. Leandra Schuler, vice president and general manager, says Zachary’s sticks with its winning formula, offering two styles — a traditional thin crust pizza and a Chicago-style stuffed pizza (not to be confused with Sicilian-style or other stuffed crust pizzas).

Howard Bulka opened Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Palo Alto four years ago. The full-service casual Italian restaurant features artisanal pizza, along with appetizers, salads and other items. Bulka says his “passion and attention to detail” make his pizza “a great product.”

The name isn’t the only unusual thing about San Rafael’s Pizza Orgasmica. The menu is different from most other pizza places. In addition to the extensive selection of pizzas — close to 30, with toppings many of us have never thought of — the restaurant, which has four locations in San Francisco, also offers a variety of Brazilian items along with an assortment of its own private-label beers.

San Francisco

Delfina / Pizzeria Delfina

(415) 552-4055 / (415) 437-6800


Gaspare’s Pizza House and Italian Restaurant

(415) 387-5025


East Bay

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza

Various locations


South Bay/Peninsula

Howie’s Artisan Pizza

Palo Alto

(650) 327-4992


North Bay

Pizza Orgasmica

San Rafael

(415) 457-2337



Though the origins of the hamburger may still be disputed, no one can argue with Americans’ appetite for this dish, especially the epicurean offerings around the Bay Area.

Family-owned and -operated BurgerMeister has been serving San Franciscans high-quality, classic American comfort food — “no fancy recipes or gimmicks” — since 1999. Its three locations offer sustainably raised Niman Ranch beef, which is custom-ground daily and never frozen. “BurgerMeister also supports a greener earth by engaging in environmentally conscious business practices, utilizing 100 percent natural products, biodegradable packaging and 100 percent recyclable materials,” says Lina Shatara, office manager.

Barney’s Gourmet Hamurgers is a favorite in much of the Bay Area. Readers in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and San Rafael flock to Barney’s for a number of reasons: It’s a sit-down restaurant with table service, not a fast-food joint; it uses fresh, high-quality ingredients (such as Niman Ranch beef, says the company’s Perry Joorabchi); there are a lot of burger choices; and healthy salads, sandwiches and vegetarian burgers round out the menu. Confirmed carnivore or choosy vegetarian, Barney’s has a burger for you.

The Counter, says managing partner Peter Katz, “serves the best burgers on the planet.” And South Bay readers seem to agree. The Counter has opened a number of spots in the Bay Area in the past seven years, including locations in Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose and San Mateo. Hungry customers appreciate the high-quality ingredients that go into the customized burgers. Katz describes The Counter as a “full-service, custom-build burger restaurant with a full bar.”

San Francisco


Various locations


San Francisco & East Bay & North Bay

Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers

Various locations


South Bay/Peninsula

The Counter

Various locations

California Winery

Living in an area that produces so much wine, it’s hard to know where to go and which to choose. J. readers picked out these wineries, making it easier for the rest of us.

“We offer exceptional single-vineyard wines,” says Heidi Nigen, marketing manager at Ridge Vineyards. Since 1962, Ridge has searched California “for those rare vineyards where climate, soil and varietal are ideally matched.” As one might guess from its name, Ridge is located on Monte Bello Ridge in Cupertino. Ridge believes in minimal intervention in the winemaking process. With vineyards that produce high-quality grapes, this method is “not only environmentally and socially responsible, it’s also the best way to consistently make fine wine.”

Ernie Weir not only makes the wine at Hagafen Cellars in Napa, he owns the winery as well. For 34 years, Weir has produced critically acclaimed, award-winning premium Napa Valley varietal wines using sustainable and organically grown grapes. And there’s more — Hagafen wines are certified kosher. Tours are available by appointment. Weir says, “It’s a life! Come enjoy the ambiance here.”

East Bay

Ridge Vineyards


(408) 867-3233


North Bay

Hagafen Cellars


(888) 424-2336