Readers Choice 2014: Have a Nosh

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Kosher Restaurant

Dining out in the Bay Area can be a challenge for those who are observant. Our readers favor these restaurants, which are palate-pleasers for those who keep kosher, as well as those who simply seek quality food.

Jewish diners and Chinese food make a natural marriage — particularly if the restaurant is certified kosher. Shangri-La, in San Francisco’s Sunset District, has been serving vegetarian kosher cuisine since 1978. The menu focuses on fresh vegetables, whole grains and natural ingredients. A Chinese traditional herbal soup, perhaps with veggie chicken in a broth of wolfberry and lotus seeds, may not keep the wolf from the door, but it is designed for “beautifying, toning, nourishing, promoting youth and vitality,” according to the website.

Amba, the only kosher restaurant in the East Bay, opened in Oakland four years ago featuring Israeli-style, Mideastern vegetarian specialties, such as falafel and Israeli salads. Earlier this year, Amba revamped its menu and is now a glatt kosher restaurant serving meat. “Our hummus and shwarma are legendary,” says owner Jonathan Wornick, adding that “everything is made every day from scratch.” The restaurant also caters.

Opened by Erez Knobler in 2011, Jerusalem Grill & Bar in Campbell is designed “to bring the taste of Israel to Northern California,” according to the website. The menu features glatt kosher meats, including shwarma, kebabs, schnitzel and lamb specialties, as well as hummus and falafel, Israeli salads and eggplant dishes, and vegetarian choices. The restaurant also caters, provides food for takeout and serves kosher beers and wines. Jerusalem also prepares a Shabbat menu to order for takeout, with a chicken or beef entrée, two side dishes and a salad.

San Francisco

Shangri-La Vegetarian Restaurant

(415) 731-2548


East Bay



(510) 339-8000


South Bay/Peninsula

Jerusalem Grill & Bar


(408) 866-2666


Jewish-Style Deli

Ah, the taste of it — and the aroma. A thick pastrami sandwich on rye. Matzah ball soup. A potato knish. For American Jews, particularly transplants from the Eastern seaboard or Chicago, it’s not the memory of a madeleine that brings us to tears. It’s those wonderful deli favorites. Here are our readers’ favorites.

Robby Morgenstein knows what a deli sandwich should taste like. That’s why he opened Miller’s East Coast Deli, with restaurants in San Francisco and San Rafael and an outpost at Plaza J Cafe in the Osher Marin JCC. Now in its 14th year, the deli serves “the Bay Area’s Jewish population as well as transplanted East Coasters,” he says. It was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” series and KQED’s “Check, Please! Bay Area,” as well as in David Sax’s book “Save the Deli.” Interestingly, Miller’s in San Francisco also serves pizza — thin-slice, East Coast-style — baked in a brick oven. Go figure.

With a restaurant in the Mission District, plus outposts at the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Ferry Building, Wise Sons has increased its profile in just three years in San Francisco. The deli “is dedicated to building community through traditional Jewish comfort food,” says Evan Bloom, co-owner with Leo Beckerman. In 2010, the two Los Angeles buddies smoked their first pastrami in a San Francisco backyard, and the rest is history. “We take great pride in making just about everything in-house, from the double-baked rye bread to the smoked pastrami,” Bloom says. Wise Sons makes the pastrami “using beef with no hormones or antibiotics” and bakes the Jewish rye daily.

Don’t expect Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, established in 1986, to replicate a New York deli. After all, it’s in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, and the emphasis is on fresh, seasonal food, including vegetables and grains. Saul’s buys meat from sustainably raised animals, serves house-made sodas that aren’t sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and buys fresh bread from Acme. Patrons can order a pastrami sandwich in standard 6-ounce size, or 3- and even 2-ounce versions. According to the website, owners “Karen Adelman and Chez Panisse alum Peter Levitt strive to steward a Jewish cuisine reflecting season, time and place, reconnecting with traditional culinary practices.”

Sure, you can order a corned beef Reuben at Max’s, but you’ll also find Chinese chicken salad, stuffed giant mushrooms, and fettuccini alfredo with salmon on the menu. That’s because Max’s, with several restaurants on the Peninsula and elsewhere in the Bay Area, is an encounter between New York deli and California fusion. Not only that, the encounter comes with music at the opera cafés, where wait staff take turns singing not only arias but pop standards. Max’s slogan: “This is a good place for a diet. This is a bad place for a diet.” It’s up to the diner, but the desserts, like the Niagara Falls Cake, are sinful.

San Francisco & North Bay

Miller’s East Coast Deli

 San Francisco • (415) 563-3542

San Rafael • (415) 453-3354


San Francisco

Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen

(415) 787-3354


East Bay

Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen


(510) 848-3354


South Bay/Peninsula


Various locations



An American standard, the hamburger has metamorphosed into myriad variations, made with mushrooms, jalapeño peppers, chili, grilled pineapple or even meatless. All of these restaurants offer vegan or veggie burgers. But you can still order fries with that.

Barney’s, with locations across the Bay Area, is a perennial winner with J. readers, this year in three counties. The secrets to this 35-year-old success story? High-quality beef, fresh ingredients, baked sesame buns and table service. The menu also features kosher hot dogs, truffle french fries and a basket of mixed fried vegetables, including zucchini and portobello mushrooms topped with Parmesan cheese. Burgers are classic, with pesto or even chipotle sauce to liven things up. For something a bit different, try the Voodoo Burger topped with provolone and blue cheese, or the Popeye with spinach, feta and roasted garlic.

At BurgerMeister, a San Francisco favorite since 1999 and a Readers’ Choice winner for several years, “we believe in serving real classic American comfort food, without any fancy recipes or gimmicks,” says office manager Lina Shatara. “To us, that means animals are pasture-raised by small family farmers who ethically and honestly raise livestock — the right way.” The restaurants, with three San Francisco locations and three elsewhere in the Bay Area, prepare that burger to order. With vegan and vegetarian burgers, chicken sandwiches, and curly, cheesy or sweet potato fries, choices abound. Shakes, floats and malts fill out the menu. Products are 100 percent natural, and the restaurants use biodegradable packaging and recyclable materials.

Bison with Bite? Un-Brie-lievable? Southeast Asian Ahi? Sprouted Veggie? The Counter, a 10-year-old chain with South Bay/ Peninsula restaurants in Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose is all “about creative construction,” according to the website, and the diner is the creator. Everything is digital: your digit, a checklist and a pencil. First, mark the preferred burger, then cheese (smoked gouda, feta or vegan cheddar, perhaps). Then the sauce, toppings, bun and sides, maybe curly fries or grilled vegetable skewers. Of course, you can always order the Purist — or any of the burgers — in 1/3- or 1/2-pound size. Enjoy!

San Francisco & East Bay & North Bay

Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers

Various locations


San Francisco


Various locations


South Bay/Peninsula

The Counter

Various locations


Italian & Pizza

No time to cook? Hosting a sleepover or a post-game bash? Think pizza, and consider these reader favorites.

Craig and Anne Stoll named their restaurants Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina after a Michelin-starred Tuscan restaurant where chef Craig “defined his cooking style,” according to the owners. The Mission District restaurant, inspired by Italian trattorias, is committed to using organic, sustainable produce, curing many of the meats and fish and making its own sausages, pastas and desserts. “Our menu is short, printed daily and changes just as often,” Craig and Anne write, and has featured special menus for Hanukkah and other celebrations. The pizzeria, with two S.F. locations and two on the Peninsula, cooks up a host of variations, from classic cheese to Broccoli Raab or Cherry Pie, with marinated cherry tomatoes. Don’t forget the antipasto.

Established in 1983 and the winner of more than 170 awards, Zachary’s dishes up Chicago-style stuffed pizza as well as the thin-crust version in Berkeley, Oakland, Pleasant Hill and San Ramon. The deep-dish Chicago pizza begins with a thin layer of dough filled with cheese and other ingredients and is then topped with another layer of dough and tomato sauce. “The top layer of dough will melt into the cheese and seal in flavor as our flaky, buttery crust bakes until it is golden brown,” according to the website. The pizzeria also offers seasonal specials, including the Pizza Blanca, with a base of garlic, herbs and olive oil topped with mozzarella and ricotta de latte.

With locations throughout the South Bay as well as many other Bay Area cities, Amici’s serves “authentic East Coast-style artisanal pizza in an inviting, warm, customer-friendly and upscale environment,” says owner Peter Cooperstein, who launched Amici’s in the mid-1980s with fellow East Coast transplant Mike Forter. The thin-crust pizza, baked in a brick oven heated to 700 degrees, “comes out crisp and darker than the typical American pizza,” according to the website. Beyond the basics, variations include the Boston (with eggplant), the Greek Isle (with feta, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes) and the Asanté (with vegan cheese). Amici’s also has an extensive pasta selection and a number of salads, and Cooperstein says the Bay Guardian called Amici’s Caesar dressing the best “in the history of the universe.”

Located in Petaluma’s historic LanMart Building, Brixx is a family-owned dinnertime pizzeria specializing in 21 varieties of thin-crust pizza served in a “Cheers”-like establishment with full table service. Happy hour begins at 4 p.m., with specialty cocktails. The colorfully named pizzas include the Fun Guy (three kinds of mushrooms, caramelized onions and truffle oil), the Bada Bing (Italian sausage with sweet and hot peppers) and the Sweet Heater (Willie Bird chicken breast, gouda, bacon and mozzarella). Salads and sandwiches round out the menu. Local and traveling bands play on Saturday nights.

San Francisco

Delfina/Pizzeria Delfina

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

East Bay

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza

Various locations


South Bay/Peninsula

Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria

Various locations


North Bay

Brixx Pizzeria


(707) 766-8162


Specialty/Gourmet Market

No question about it: Northern California is foodie country, where fresh rules. Fortunately, with specialty markets that sell the best of California, it’s easy to dine well.

A Mission District institution since 1940, Bi-Rite Market has been in the Mogannam family since 1964. Brothers Sam and Raph took over from their parents in 1997, installing a kitchen and offering restaurant-quality food for takeout. The brothers also opened a second store on Divisadero Street in 2013. They grow food on their Sonoma County farm as well as on the roof of the Divisadero store. At Bi-Rite, much of the food is prepared on-site. “Our kitchen is our beating heart, right in the middle of the market so everyone can hear and smell the action as it’s happening,” according to the website. They “smoke [their] own salmon, whip up hummus from Mom Mogannam’s recipe and make risottos from scratch for dinners to-go.” They also are famous for their ice cream and baked goods at Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop.

Known as a go-to place for produce, Berkeley’s Monterey Market offers a large array of fruits and vegetables, much of it from local farmers who practice sustainable agriculture. This family-owned business was founded in 1961 by Tom and Mary Fujimoto and today is run by sons Ken and Bill. The mission as stated on the website is simple: “to provide good fruits and vegetables in season.” Grains, nuts and legumes are available in bulk. “The colors and variety are nothing short of amazing,” writes a Yelp reviewer.

Draeger’s Market, with stores in Menlo Park, Los Altos and San Mateo on the Peninsula, as well as Blackhawk in the East Bay, caters to the carriage trade, offering more than 250 varieties of cheese, U.S. dry-aged lamb, European-style baked goods and fine wines. Begun as a San Francisco delicatessen in the early 20th century, Draeger’s moved to the Peninsula in the postwar era and expanded. Today Draeger’s has a cooking school, flower department, cookware department and, in the San Mateo store, the restaurant Viognier.

Mollie Stone’s, which won in the North Bay, was launched in 1986 and also has markets in San Francisco and on the Peninsula. The Palo Alto store has “the largest year-round selection of kosher foods west of New Jersey,” according to the website. “If you don’t see the kosher product you’re looking for, Mollie Stone’s will gladly order it upon request [and send it] to your preferred store location,” the owners say. Kosher meats, cut in Palo Alto, can be ordered and delivered to all the stores for Jewish holidays. Mollie Stone’s also offers full-service bakeries and delicatessens for takeout or catering and an extensive selection of chocolates and wines. What’s not to like?

San Francisco

Bi-Rite Market

(415) 241-9760 (18th Street)

(415) 551-7900 (Divisadero)


East Bay

Monterey Market


(510) 526-6042


South Bay/Peninsula

Draeger’s Market

Various locations


North Bay

Mollie Stone’s Markets

Various locations



Some food aficionados say the bagel originated in Krakow, Poland, where vendors stacked them on a dowel and toted them to street markets. If they became stale, the vendors might dunk them in hot water. These days, we freeze them, toast them, even microwave them, but above all, we nosh on them — with cream cheese, lox, or even a jalapeño spread. These winners serve them fresh.

What makes a New York–style bagel? House of Bagels, a family-owned bakery and deli that brought the recipe from Brooklyn to San Francisco in 1962, says the key is boiling them in water before baking them on stone. Beyond the basics, try the Cragel, available in four flavors: plain, cinnamon toast with a crème brûlée-crust bottom, Chalapeño (jalapeno with cheese) and the Nutella Cragel, says co-owner Jenny Puente. “We are introducing a new one of these each month.” House of Bagels also caters, sells wholesale, serves deli sandwiches and offers a variety of baked goods, including challah and those famous New York black-and-white cookies.

The inspiration for Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland came from Montreal, “where bagels are rolled by hand, boiled in honey-sweetened water and baked in a wood-fired oven,” according to the website. The result is a wood-charred surface. Owners Amy Remsen and Blake Joffe (whose father came from Montreal) moved from Philadelphia to Oakland in 2009, couldn’t find the bagels they yearned for and opened up their own shop, “with a few tweaks and adjustments to create bagels that are truly our own.” Beyond the basic bagel, Beauty’s offers smoked trout salad, organic fried chicken and the After School Special, a bagel sandwich with chopped liver, Swiss cheese, mustard, lettuce and pickled onion. Beauty’s also caters and sells to other eateries.

Israel Rind was looking for the kind of bagels he enjoyed growing up in Brooklyn — boiled, rolled in seeds and baked golden brown. In 1996, he opened up a kosher establishment in Palo Alto, later adding a second shop in East Palo Alto. Among the 17 varieties, Izzy’s offers black-and-white rye-pumpernickel bagels, which are hard to find elsewhere, as well as sun-dried tomato and jalapeño bagels. Wild lox; a variety of spreads, including hummus; salads; wraps; and sweets, such as hamantaschen, round out the menu. Izzy’s catering menu includes several platter versions, including “The Works,” with baked salmon, lox and a variety of salads.

San Francisco

House of Bagels

(415) 752-6000


East Bay

Beauty’s Bagel Shop


(510) 788-6098


South Bay/Peninsula

Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels

Palo Alto • (650) 329-0700

East Palo Alto • (650) 322-5700


California Winery

With wineries throughout the region, residents have numerous opportunities for tasting and shopping. Our readers selected these wineries as their favorites.

To enjoy a taste of wine country without leaving town, Bluxome Street Winery, launched in 2010, is “the first working winery to open in downtown San Francisco since Prohibition,” according to Faith Lemon, partnerships and special events manager. Visitors can sip pinot noir and 12 other varietals in a tasting room that looks out on the production facilities. Friday nights are food truck nights, while the last Saturday of the month is a Meet Market, bringing together farmers, food producers and artisans. Winemaker Webster Marquez and his team work with “growers to source grapes from cool-climate pockets of Sonoma County, including the premium pinot noir,” Lemon says. Periodic wine-and-food tastings and concerts are also on the menu.

Rosenblum Cellars, with visitors’ centers in Oakland’s Jack London Square as well as Healdsburg, was founded in 1978 “with a focus on zinfandel and a smaller production of Rhône-style wines,” according to Angela Gutierrez Bortugno, senior public and media relations manager. Both sites, open seven days a week, feature outdoor patios, tastings and wine by the glass or the bottle. The winery partners with more than 50 grape growers throughout California. “We’re known for being all about zinfandel,” says Gutierrez Bortugno, “old-vine zin, high-altitude zin, single-vineyard zin, big-attitude zin. We love zinfandel so much, we make over 20 different types.”

Saratoga’s Mountain Winery, launched originally by French winemaker Paul Masson, is not just about wines. It’s a setting for weddings, receptions, concerts and holiday parties. Events may be held in the stone-masonry winery building or outdoors amid landscaped gardens and redwood grove. Guests can bring a picnic to the grove and enjoy a wine tasting. Current releases from the Estate Collection include a 2010 chardonnay and a 2009 pinot noir. Tastings are held from noon to 7 p.m. Thursday to Sunday.

Hagafen, founded in 1979, produces gold medal–winning Napa Valley varietals that are kosher for Passover and year-round. Owner Ernie Weir, aka “Don Ernesto,” is involved in both sides of wine production: grape growing in two estate vineyards in the eastern Napa Valley and winemaking in the Silverado Trail winery. Tours are available by appointment. The wines, which include cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, among others, have been served at the White House to foreign dignitaries. “After 35 years, we still believe in our mission and are still having a great time introducing wine lovers to our wines,” Weir says.

San Francisco

Bluxome Street Winery

(415) 543-5353


East Bay

Rosenblum Cellars


(877) 478-9467


South Bay/Peninsula

Mountain Winery


(408) 741-2822


North Bay

Hagafen Cellars


(888) 424-2336


Readers’ Choice 2014: Time to roll out the red carpet

Readers’ Choice 2014: Synagogue Life

Readers’ Choice 2014: Community

Readers’ Choice 2014: Culture

Readers’ Choice 2014: Seniors

Readers’ Choice 2014: Time to Celebrate

Readers’ Choice 2014: Shop Till You Drop

Readers’ Choice 2014: Health, Beauty & Fitness

Readers’ Choice 2014: Business & Professional

Readers’ Choice 2014: House & Home