We asked restaurant industry insiders from throughout the 650 area code to tell us about the local meals they can’t stop thinking about.

We asked a wide range of chefs, restaurant owners, food writers and other culinary industry insiders for the one dish that really stands out for them on the Peninsula. The list we got back is long, diverse and delicious. (Photo by Michelle Le)

I grew up in Menlo Park on a steady, if unexciting, diet of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Nestle ice cream drumsticks. It wasn’t until I grew older and wiser — and hungrier — that I realized that the region I grew up in, while often thought of as the sleepier, overlooked sibling to San Francisco’s dining scene, is flush with diverse, exciting food.

This was only reinforced by this project, in which we set out to crowdsource a curated list of the best dishes that chefs, restaurant owners, bakers and others in the local food and drink industry devoured on the Peninsula this year. We asked a wide range of culinary insiders to tell us about the food that stood out most to them this year — the dishes they haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

For our purposes, we sought to stay within the 650 area code, from San Mateo to Sunnyvale and Pacifica to Pescadero (though our appetites allowed for some delicious exceptions along the peripheries).

While many of the responses were familiar, just as many were new, from carefully crafted bowls of ramen at a pop-up in Daly City to Texas-quality brisket served out of a roving food truck or yaka mein, a hangover-friendly, Creole soup served at The Bywater in Los Gatos.

This list, while certainly not exhaustive, reflects the culinary talent and diversity on the Peninsula, which is only continuing to grow. It reminds us that there is always more to explore here, from the high to the low brow and everything in between, and that there is a thriving, vibrant community of chefs making the impossible work in the Bay Area.

So grab a friend (or three) and use this as a guide to break out of your dining routine. I know I’ll be working my way through this list, savoring all the Peninsula has to offer.

The chicken tikka masala at Zareen’s. (Photo via Yelp)

Chicken tikka masala, Zareen’s, Palo Alto, Mountain View

Dennis Kelly, co-owner, Protégé, Palo Alto: My favorite dish has to be Zareen’s chicken tikka masala with a cup of her famous chai or a mango lassi. The dish is served with cumin and turmeric scented basmati rice, warm spiced lentils, and pickled vegetables. I practically lived on this while Protégé was under construction. So tasty!

Anthony Secviar, chef/co-owner, Protégé: THAT WAS MINE!!!! :))))))

Lori Romero Villareal, owner, Calave, Palo Alto: I had Zareen’s a few months ago and was left wanting more and more. My favorite there is the chicken tikka masala with a side of naan. It stands out for me because there is the perfect balance. The spices have a nice kick but are not overpowering and are balanced with a creamy texture, perfect for dipping my naan. The chicken is cooked perfectly. I have had many Indian dishes at other places but this dish stands above all. I have recommended many to Zareen’s and all come back with the same feeling I do.

Tamago sashimi (lower left) at Komi Sushi. (Photo via Yelp)

Tamago sashimi, Koma Sushi, Menlo Park

Jesse Cool, owner, Flea St. Cafe, Menlo Park: I fall into Koma Sushi often because it is simple, real Japanese neighborhood sushi. No aioli or garlic or frills — just simple and I love it. My favorite treat, no matter how full I am, rather than dessert: I eat their tamago sashimi (no rice). They are one of the few places that still make their own and it is the sweeter interpretation. I eat it with lots of wasabi and a bit of soy….sweet, salty and rich!

The hamburger with potato chips and herb salad at Dad’s Luncheonette. (Photo by Michelle Le)

Hamburger sandwich, Dad’s Luncheonette, Half Moon Bay

Jarad Gallagher, executive chef, Chez TJ, Mountain View: It’s the burger at Dad’s Luncheonette. One of our captains brought it for me on a Saturday afternoon. He had it in his car for over an hour and it was still magical. It’s a standout because nothing is overdone or silly! Just quality ingredients, seasoned and cooked perfectly. They found a perfect balance between patty, buns, lettuce, tomato and sauce.

Wood-grilled avocado with ponzu and fresh wasabi at Bird Dog. (Photo via Bird Dog’s Instagram)

Wood-grilled avocado, Bird Dog, Palo Alto

Beryl Adler, executive sous chef, The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay: My go-to place is Bird Dog for Chef Robbie Wilson’s signature wood-grilled avocado. The warm, smoky flavors that permeate the avocado create an incredible creamy flavor and the fresh wasabi really helps cut a lot of the fat. It is truly my “go to” snack when I’m in Palo Alto.

The brisket at Capelo’s Barbecue. (Courtesy of Capelo’s Barbecue)

Brisket, Capelo’s Barbecue food truck

Chris Garrett, owner, Devil’s Canyon Brewery, San Carlos: The brisket at Capelo’s Barbecue is magical with a perfect smoke ring and flavor. Every time I eat it I feel like I’m on a journey to Lockhart, Texas. Pitmaster John Capelo has a remarkable ability to replicate, if not better, the likes of Black’s BBQ, Kreuz Market, Lockhart Chisholm Trail and Smitty’s Market from the Lockhart region. For true Texas hill country roadhouse BBQ on the far left coast, Capelo’s is on the mark.

Ricotta dumplings at Protégé. (Photo via Protégé’s website)

Ricotta dumplings, Protégé, Palo Alto

JC Andrade, co-owner Vino Locale, Palo Alto: Protégé’s ricotta dumplings with a very light butter sauce, almost like a beurre blanc but lighter than that. It had English peas and some kind of green. It stood out to me because of the sauce, how it melted in your mouth and the English peas were al dente, really well done. I was on a date with my lovely wife and the dish was even more memorable!

Nobu’s rock shrimp tempura. (Photo via Yelp)

Rock shrimp tempura, Nobu, Palo Alto

Monica Schreiber, Embarcadero Media restaurant reviewer: My obsession dish is from Nobu: the rock shrimp tempura with ponzu or creamy spicy sauce. Almost anything fried in tempura batter is going to be good, but there was something special about this succulent shrimp dish. First the satisfying crunch of the delicate tempura shell, then the warm, plump shrimp inside. Tangy rice vinegar and a little peppery heat plays across the tongue. The menu says you can order with ponzu or “creamy spicy” sauce, but I like to order them both on the side for maximum dipping pleasure. I’ve already told my husband he’s taking me to Nobu for this dish for my birthday.

The dining room at Taste in downtown Palo Alto. (Photo by Natalia Nazarova)

Twice-cooked bacon, Taste, Palo Alto

Dale Bentson, Embarcadero Media restaurant reviewer: A dish I look forward to meeting again soon is the twice-cooked bacon at Taste on University Avenue. The dish exploded with flavor, a collaboration of sweet and salty, that perfect balance that defines Sichuan cuisine. The dish was composed of green peppers, Sichuan peppers, onions, scallions, black bean sauce, sugar, soy sauce and plenty of bacon. Since I was writing a review of Taste at the time, I had a critical eye. The twice-cooked bacon took me by surprise, not that other dishes didn’t measure up, but because of the boldness and harmony of the flavors. Who doesn‘t like bacon?

Kouign-amann pastries by LoveforButter. (Photo by Nicole Ruiz Hudson)

Kouign-amann, Loveforbutter pop-up

Rocco Scordella, owner, Vina Enoteca, Tootsie’s Barn, Palo Alto: The dish I can not stop thinking of are John Shelsta’s pastries. The first pop-up he did (at my other favorite restaurant Zola in Palo Alto) I went and picked up some pastries to bring back for the team at Vina Enoteca. I got in the car and the kouign-amann looked so good that I parked my car and gave it a bite. You can imagine how I ended up. His pastries are simply spectacular. You can taste the love and work that he puts in each one of them. Everything is made by hand. The layers of each pastry (are) so light and crumbling. My mouth waters just writing about it.

Yuzu paitan ramen by Noodle in a Haystack. (Photo via Noodle In a Haystack’s Instagram)

Yuzu paitan ramen, Noodle in a Haystack, Daly City

Muffie Fulton, Bold Food Co., Los Altos: Noodle in a Haystack makes the best ramen I’ve eaten outside of Japan, and it competes with many bowls in Japan. We have a lot of great ramen restaurants on the Peninsula, probably the best collection in the entire Bay Area. I try to sample as many of them as I can, and the pop up that husband-and-wife Clint Tan and Yoko Fukuda run in Daly City is the best of not only the Peninsula but the entire Bay Area. Most people are familiar with tonkotsu ramen which is made from pork, but in Japan there are many varieties of ramen made from seafood, chicken, vegetables and miso. Clint and Yoko have mastered many diverse styles, using local ingredients but staying true to the ramen of Japan which is a very challenging task. My favorite is their yuzu paitan, a perfect ramen made from the richest chicken broth and dashi, a shio tare (a salt-based seasoning sauce infused with dried shrimp and fish from Japan) and yuzu chicken oil. If you are a ramen aficionado and haven’t eaten at Noodle in a Haystack yet, you need to get there right away. They sell out quickly so join their newsletter to know when tickets are available.

True Food Kitchen’s charred cauliflower. (Photo via True Food Kitchen Instagram)

Charred cauliflower, True Food Kitchen, Palo Alto

Sarah Lipps, co-owner, Bare Bowls, Palo Alto, Burlingame: My favorite dish has to be the charred cauliflower from True Food Kitchen at Stanford Shopping Center. The dish is cauliflower, harissa tahini, Medjool dates, dill, mint and pistachio. I love that it is a primarily veggie dish, dairy and gluten free but still maintains a level of comfort and sweetness to it. My most memorable experience with it was when I realized you could order it as more of an entree and a a protein on top. More cauliflower, please!

Zola’s ricotta gnocchi with a slow-cooked egg, slow egg, mushrooms, brown butter and green onions. (Photo via Yelp)

Ricotta gnocchi, Zola, Palo Alto

Lars Smith, chef-owner, State of Mind Public House, Los Altos: The dish is so rich and satisfying. At the same time it is airy and lighter than the description suggests. Sometimes one bowl isn’t enough. The mainstay on the menu consists of beautifully light gnocchi made with ricotta, a perfectly soft-cooked egg, mushrooms and brown butter. When truffles are available they will also shave fresh truffle all over the top. When available ALWAYS get the truffles added. Every experience at Zola is memorable, but I can remember vividly the first time I had the gnocchi with the truffle. The dish had been served and a chef came out and made it rain truffle all over the bowl. I think everyone at the table had their jaws hit the floor watching.

Ricotta gnocchi at Zola. (Photo via Zola’s Instagram)

Finally, for a pro tip: lways break the egg and mix everything together before indulging in the dish.

Kristi Marie, owner, Kristi Marie’s, Redwood City: I especially like the seared ricotta gnocchi with mushrooms and a soft egg at Zola. They have definitely executed French seasonal cuisine perfectly. Owner Guillaume Bienaime and his staff are always so genuinely hospitable.

Hakan Bala, co-owner, Taverna, Palo Alto: I’m going to recommend Zola’s most delicious dish: the ricotta gnocchi with Apple Tree Farms slow-cooked egg, mushrooms, brown butter and green onions.

The burrata plate at Vesta. (Photo via Yelp)

Burrata plate, Vesta, Redwood City

Erin Gleeson, The Forest Feast blog and cookbook, Woodside: One of the most delicious things I can remember having lately is the burrata plate (fresh burrata with fleur de sel and grilled bread) at Vesta. This appetizer is alarmingly simple — so much so that when it arrived I thought, “just cheese and bread? That’s it?” But after digging in, I couldn’t get over how absolutely delicious it was. It really didn’t need anything else because of the quality of the ingredients. This type of simplicity in dishes is something I strive for in writing my cookbooks. I’m currently working on a Mediterranean cookbook that has several burrata recipes and I am grilling the accompanying bread, in part inspired by this dish at Vesta.

Tonkotsu deluxe ramen at Ramen Izakaya Yu-Gen. (Photo via Yelp)

Tonkotsu deluxe ramen, Ramen Izakaya Yu-Gen, Mountain View

Greg Buccheister, owner, Coffeebar, Menlo Park: I love ramen and this winter while we were building out Coffeebar MP, I would go several times a week either on my own or with our team. Any time someone new would start, I’d use it as an excuse to take them. I always get the tonkotsu deluxe ramen dish. There is something about it and fuels my soul from within — rich, spicy, nourishing. It also conjures vibrant childhood memories just like Anton Ego (the fictional food critic) from Ratatouille!

Wagyu striploin at Bird Dog. (Photo via Bird Dog’s Instagram)

Wagyu striploin, Bird Dog, Palo Alto

Mistie Cohen, co-owner, Oren’s Hummus Shop, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Cupertino, San Francisco: I wish I could say Bird Dog’s fried chicken because everyone raves about the dish. … Unfortunately, having an allergy to gluten and always needing my protein fix (I could live off red meat, sadly) (it) would be the wagyu striploin. It’s extremely flavorful with a marbly cut, unique in its creation and has an almost orgasmic explosion happening with every bite. It’s definitely a highlight when visiting Bird Dog. Maybe TMI 🙂 but it is a fabulous dish and how it best comes to mind to describe!

Corn tortellini at Vina Enoteca. (Photo via Vina Enoteca’s Instagram)

Corn tortellini, Vina Enoteca, Palo Alto

John Shelsta, Loveforbutter pop-up: I recently ate at Vina Enoteca. The new chef has a corn tortellini on the menu that is simply awesome. I love the dough; the texture is spot on; the corn tortellini is sweet and creamy and the Parmesan brodo (an intense Parmesan-flavored broth) is deep and rich. It’s one of my favorite types of pasta; this one is very well done. It’s funny — eating it reminds me how much I love eating and making pasta. There really is an art to it!

Lobster tacos at Nobu. (Photo via Yelp)

Lobster taco, Nobu, Palo Alto

Debora Ferrand, owner, Mademoiselle Colette, Menlo Park, Palo Alto: I love this dish and have it every time I go there. It’s a small piece of perfectly cooked lobster in a very light shell, like finger food. The sauce is delicious, a little sweet and sour, the perfect mix between soft, crisp and flavorful, and the presentation is so cute…I love it!

Shaking beef at Tamarine. (Photo via Tamarine website)

Shaking beef, Tamarine, Palo Alto

Andrea Potischman, Simmer + Sauce blog, Menlo Park: A local dish I love is shaking beef, a delicious savory-sweet Vietnamese stir-fry dish from Tamarine. This dish wows me every time with its simplicity and bold, unforgettable flavor. Crispy, tender beef filet quickly pan-seared on high heat. To make this dish, you sear the beef cubes in a very hot pan, sealing in the juices, and then shake the pan once or twice to loosen them and allow everything to cook evenly. This particular dish at Tamarine has always been special to me and my family — so much so that we hosted my son’s bar mitzvah dinner party there in May. Shaking beef was prominently featured and the most talked about dish by far.

Spicy chicken bao, The Chairman food truck

The Chairman’s spicy chicken bao. (Photo via Yelp)

Guillaume Bienamie, chef-owner, Zola, Palo Alto: The dish that I go back to almost every other week is the spicy chicken bao from The Chairman food truck every Monday at The Willows Market in Menlo Park. From the first time I tried it, it seems to hit every note: sweet, spicy, sour, salty and delicate yet sumptuous. Also, my 7-year-old loved the tofu bun! It’s the only way I can get him to eat vegetables. He’ll put down six of those things.

Inside Wursthall in San Mateo. (Photo by Veronica Weber)

Cheddar bratwurst, Wursthall, San Mateo

Greg Kuzia-Carmel, chef-owner, Camper, Menlo Park: My most notable bite of the past few months was at Wursthall. I stopped after a long day when we finalized Camper and had their cheddar bratwurst (topped with sauerkraut, of course). It was really, really (really, really) tasty and I’ve since made a few stops back on my commute up the Peninsula. Everything about it is dialed: the snap of the casing, the seasoning….everything. Can’t wait for my next!

The short rib pithivier at Protégé. (Photo via Yelp)

Short rib pithivier, Protégé, Palo Alto

Zareen Khan, owner, Zareen’s, Palo Alto and Mountain View: Amid an array of amazing dishes in Protégé’s prix fixe dinner, the short rib pithivier stood out as a feast for the eyes and the mouth: a decorative pastry pie filled with succulent beef. The protégés have done their French Laundry mentor proud.

Ishiyaki beef at Wakuriya. (Photo via Yelp)

Ishiyaki beef, Wakuriya, San Mateo

Yu Min Lin, chef, The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse, Palo Alto: One of my favorite Peninsula restaurants is Wakuriya because you can experience all types of Japanese cooking. They don’t just serve sushi. When I first visited I didn’t know that they offer a tasting menu only and have a small number of seats. I had to come back on a different night to get a reservation but it was worth it because I was very impressed. The dish that stands out most for me is the ishiyaki beef, which is cooked on a hot stone. I like the interactive nature of this course and the true flavor of the beef that results from this method of preparation.

Duck breast at Zola. (Photo via Zola’s Instagram)

Duck breast, Zola, Palo Alto

Frank Klein, CEO FK Restaurants & Hospitality and founder of Asian Box, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Burlingame, San Jose, Campbell, San Francisco: I recently had a perfectly seared duck breast at Zola. Crisp skin, tender meat that was salt-brined and drizzled with a red-wine reduction, served over poached summer white beans that had a purée of vegetables done with a hint of vinegar. Perfect summer dish, paired with a slightly chilled red Rhone from France.

The Red King at Ramen Nagi. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

‘Red King’ ramen, Ramen Nagi, Palo Alto

Thanasis Pashalidis, co-owner, Taverna, Palo Alto: Last year, I had the opportunity to experience a trip to Tokyo which has influenced me tremendously. I’m a huge fan of soups, noodles and broths so I went on a culinary ramen tour in addition to my seafood expedition. I found comfort slurping up piping hot broth and tender noodles at all hours. Upon my return, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t find that comfort locally.

I (recently) visited Ramen Nagi. Finally, I was able to experience authentic Japanese ramen just a few blocks from home. The flavors are rich, the service is sincere and the ambiance is balanced. I really find myself craving a bowl of the Red King more often than I should. It has just the right amount of spice that I like. I enjoyed my first bowl at the counter and I observed the open kitchen and chefs making ramen with a flare, throwing noodles in the air and shouting in Japanese.

The New York Strip at Sundance the Steakhouse. (Photo via Sundance Steakhouse website)

New York Strip, Sundance the Steakhouse, Palo Alto

Chad Newton, culinary director and co-owner, Asian Box: The New York strip at Sundance the Steakhouse is perfection to me. High-quality beef expertly cooked with a touch of salt and butter, served with an awesome peppercorn sauce on the side. Pair it with one of bartender Ozzie’s chilled martinis.

Bigoli e coda at Donato Enoteca. (Photo via Donato Enoteca’s Instagram)

Bigoli e coda, Donato Enoteca, Redwood City

Jon Andino, co-owner, QBB, Mountain View: Bigoli e coda with homemade pasta, oxtail and asparagus at Donato Enoteca. Fresh, rich, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Every time I eat there, I fall in love with the whole experience. Chef-owner Donato Scotti is one of the most talented chefs anywhere.

Osteria’s veal piccata. (Photo via Yelp)

Veal piccata, Osteria, Palo Alto

Grace Nguyen, executive chef, Asian Box and Gracie Jones’ GF Bake Shop: The simple yet elegant veal piccata at Osteria is my favorite meal. It’s pounded thin, quickly pan-seared and topped with a bright, acidic lemon and caper sauce with just enough butter.

Porchetta Di Rancho Llano Seco at Vina Enoteca. (Photo via Food Gal blog)

Porchetta Di Rancho Llano Seco, Vina Enoteca, Palo Alto

Carolyn Jung, FoodGal blog: If ever there was a dish that would make your eyes roll back into your head, this is it. Picture a thick slab of roasted skin-on pork, nearly as big as the plate itself, with a rim of glistening fat about an inch thick. The health-conscious will be tempted to cut the fat off, but that would be a crime. Instead, go ahead and take a big bite to enjoy the intense sweet, porcine flavor of the meat with all those glorious fatty juices squirting out. It is nothing short of sublime.

The pork is from family-owned Llano Seco ranch in Chico, which raises pigs that are a cross of heritage breeds, Duroc, Yorkshire and Landrace. I ate this porchetta in December 2017 and have been obsessed with it ever since.

The only drawback? Our server told us then it was coming off the menu because few people ever ordered it, fearing the fat and the price tag. It’s $70, but meant to be shared. Our server said it serves two, but honestly, it’s so rich and satiating that four to six could easily divvy it up. He did add that the restaurant will still serve it if anyone asks specifically for it. So, do yourself a favor and pipe up for an order.

Wagyu brisket at Bird Dog. (Photo via Yelp)

Wagyu brisket, Bird Dog, Palo Alto

David Cohen, co-owner, Oren’s Hummus Shop: I’m a big fan of what Robbie Wilson is doing at Bird Dog. He’s located kitty corner to our Oren’s Hummus location and I’ve seen his menu continue to develop in creativity and the restaurant continues to enhance its dining experience. The wagyu brisket is over the top … gotta have it.

Inside Quinto Sol in Redwood City. (Photo via Yelp)

Tomatillo, Quinto Sol, Redwood City

Kathleen Daly, owner, Cafe Zoe, Menlo Park: This is pork in a tomatillo “green” sauce with onions and more. It is consistently delicious. I haven’t been able to venture away and order anything else yet. We absolutely love Quinto Sol in general. It’s a beautiful restaurant with a lot of love and thought put into the space and every dish they serve. Highly recommended.

Chef (and owner) Jin Suzuki at Hachi ju Hachi. (Photo via Hachi Ju Hachi’s Instagram)

Whole broiled mackerel, Hachi Ju Hachi, Saratoga

William Robert, executive chef, Taverna, Palo Alto: In Saratoga there is a traditional Japanese restaurant — Hachi Ju Hachi, owned and ran by Chef Suzuki. He serves an array of traditional dishes and sushi. While his sushi is amazing, what most stands out for me is his whole broiled mackerel. He air drys it for 24 hours and then grills it. Served whole on the bone with a radish salad and a drizzle of soy miso something sauce. I crave it! It’s a must have if anyone is a mackerel family of fishes fan.

The Falafel pita at Falafel Stop. (Photo via Yelp)

Falafel pita, Falafel Stop, Sunnyvale

Howard Bulka, owner, Howie’s Artisan Pizza, Palo Alto: It’s a big schlep from my house in Redwood City and there’s always a line when I get there, but the falafel pita from Falafel Stop is my constant craving. If I had the calories and the time to spare, I’d eat there most days. If you’re a falafel freak like me then you surely know all about Falafel Stop. It’s a foodie destination. It’s a funky little place. Just a covered patio with uncomfortable seats and a remarkably confusing ordering system, but once you get it figured out, it sort of works. In any case the food is simply terrific, the best falafel on the Peninsula. The warm pita is fluffy and freshly baked and the falafel are hot, crisp and well seasoned. The Israeli salad of cucumber, tomato and red onion is impeccably fresh and vibrant. Each falafel pita gets a smear of really good garlicky hummus and a slather of tahini. The piquant red chili sauce sends it over the top. It’s a big boy sandwich: hearty, satisfying and darn delicious.

Ricotta gnocchi at Pazzo in San Carlos. (Photo via Yelp)

Ricotta gnocchi, Pazzo, San Carlos

John Bentley, John Bentley’s, Redwood City (now closed): My favorite place at the moment is Pazzo. Veteran restaurateur Andy Gambardella and his son Andrew opened it almost four years ago. Everything is made “in-house.” We’ve eaten everything, all fantastic. But one of my favorite dishes: the ricotta gnocchi. Incredibly light, finished with artichokes, mascarpone, lemon, Grana Padano and a hint of mint. I would eat anything Andy makes! His raviolis are incredible, his pastas fantastic and his pizzas are paper thin, slightly charred (which I love!) and crispy.

Sausage and honey pizza at Vesta. (Photo via Vesta’s Instagram)

Sausage and honey pizza, Vesta, Redwood City

Becky Sunseri, owner, Tin Pot Creamery, Palo Alto, Los Altos: One of my favorite dishes on the Peninsula and one I crave especially often in the summer is Vesta’s sausage and honey pizza. This wood-fired pizza has an incredible balance of sweet and savory flavors, as well as crispy, chewy, creamy and crunchy textures. The crust on the pizza has those little blackened air pockets on the edges, so you know it’s gonna be good. The sauce is fresh and bright, and the pizza is topped with Italian sausage, mascarpone, serrano chili and is drizzled with honey. Although you may not have seen this flavor combination before, and perhaps it even seems a little odd, as soon as you taste it you know these flavors were made to go together!

Greg St. Claire, owner, Avenir Restaurant Group: It’s hard to find a better pizza anywhere in the country than the artisan sausage and honey wood-fired pizza at Vesta. Vesta uses the best ingredients, starting with perfect dough made from zero zero flour and a San Marzano tomato-based pizza sauce. What makes this pizza so unique is the balance of heat from the spicy house-made Italian sausage and serrano chilis combined with the sweetness from the mascarpone cheese and drizzled honey. Yes, honey on a pizza is awesome!

The tempura at Tokies. (Photo via Yelp)

Tempura, Tokie’s, San Mateo

Dan Gordon, Dan Gordon’s, Palo Alto: Tokie’s owner Victor Onizuka has been fulfilling my sushi needs for over 20 years but the secret is he makes the finest tempura I have ever had. I don’t know how he does it but everybody else pales in comparison. I had to hold my breath for a month when they moved from Foster City to downtown San Mateo but was able to survive the wait.

Breaded abalone at American Abalone Farms. (Photo via American Abalone Farms’s Instagram)

Breaded abalone, American Abalone Farms, Davenport

Ray Tang, owner, The Catamount, Los Gatos (now closed): Just on the edge of the Peninsula, in Davenport, I went to American Abalone Farms in the spring and had a wonderful experience. My companion and I enjoyed a perfectly crisped abalone appetizer with a bottle of Champagne. The atmosphere and memory of the dish still sticks with me. The baby abalone is breaded in Panko, quick fired and served in the shell with lightly dressed greens. (What was most memorable) was the skill of the young chef preparing the dish.

Galbi jjim at Jang Su Jang. (Photo via Yelp)

Galbi jjim, Jang Su Jang, Santa Clara

Tammy Huynh, owner, Tamarine, Palo Alto: Galbi jjim from Jang Su Jang. It’s a beef short rib stew in a spicy chili sauce with soy sauce, rice cake, sweet potatoes, carrots, jujube and radish. It was really good. The beef was super tender; the vegetables were tasty from braising in the spicy broth. The contrast of flavors and textures were how I remembered it. It’s a great dish.

Seared toro nigiri at Sushi Sam’s Edomata. (Image via Yelp)

Seared toro nigiri, Sushi Sam’s Edomata, San Mateo

Jeremy Cheng, executive chef, Avenir Restaurant Group: The seared toro nigiri at Sushi Sam’s Edomata. It’s lightly torched to just warm the fatty tuna to a melt-in-your-mouth temperature (literally) and brushed with a special yuzu glaze and sea salt. So good.

Grilled lamb riblets at Evvia. (Photo via Evvia’s website)

Grilled lamb riblets, Evvia, Palo Alto

Nancy Coupal, co-owner, Coupa Cafe, Palo Alto: I love going to eat at Evvia because the food and service are always wonderful. The grilled lamb riblets with lemon and oregano are a delightful appetizer and cooked to perfection. I have enjoyed many celebrations there, including my kids’ graduations from Stanford University — all three of them — at Evvia.

Adobo wing lollipops at The Attic. (Photo via Yelp)

Adobo wing lollipops, The Attic, San Mateo

Viari Lopez, co-owner, Sun of Wolf, Palo Alto: The adobo wing lollipops at The Attic. They cut the wing in the shape of an actual lollipop and use Rocky Junior free-range chicken. They are able to combine sweet Asian flavors with a spicy push, creating some heat as you chew. The wings are slightly fried and just fall off the bone. I love the dish with a side of their sweet potato fries that are perfectly cooked. They make sure each fry is evenly fried and they have a beautiful dark color to them. They are crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside. It comes with a homemade banana “ketchup” that is incredibly elegant. There are soft notes of banana with each bite, but it does not overpower the sauce. This dish is so incredibly simple-looking that when you take a bite you have no idea what you are in for. Hands down the best “wing” in the Bay Area and one of my favorite restaurants.

Yaka mein soup at The Bywater. (Photo via The Bywater’s Instagram)

Yaka mein soup, The Bywater, Los Gatos

Robbie Wilson, chef/co-owner, Bird Dog, Palo Alto: The yaka mein, a.k.a. “Old Sober,” soup at The Bywater. Spicy, fatty and oily (from the belly/brisket) broth engulfed with rice noodles is my one-stop shop for everything I love in life. Every single bite changes, which satiates my ADHD on every level.

The pork knuckle at Joy Restaurant. (Courtesy of Joy Restaurant)

Pork knuckle, Joy Restaurant, Foster City

Serena Chow, pastry chef, Bird Dog, Palo Alto: Earlier in the year my parents took me to one of their staple Chinese restaurants, Joy Restaurant. They had this pork knuckle that my dad told me he called 45 minutes in advance to “reserve” so it would be perfectly cooked by the time we got it. I’ve had it once more since then and both times were phenomenal. The meat fell off the bone and was super fatty, and the next day I could still enjoy the leftovers (the portion is huge). From what I hear, they also serve a killer Taiwanese breakfast, which is pretty hard to find.

The potato chips at Dad’s Luncheonette. (Photo via Yelp)

Potato chips, Dad’s Luncheonette, Half Moon Bay

Emily Perry Wilson, managing partner/co-owner, Bird Dog, Palo Alto: I crave the homemade potato chips at Dad’s Luncheonette. It’s a simple pleasure, but (my husband) Robbie and I love taking our little one to this darling spot on the way to the ocean. The entire menu is straightforward and delicious.

Panini at Cafe Zoe. (Photo via Yelp)

Green smoothie and tuna melt, Cafe Zoe, Menlo Park

Devin Roberts, general manager, Freewheel Brewing Company, Redwood City: A green smoothie and tuna melt from Cafe Zoe. It’s just really, really good! I dine out a lot on the Peninsula and tend to eat a fair amount of rich and spicy food. The food at Cafe Zoe is not this and that is what I love about it. It tastes both healthy and delicious, and without pretense. I needed to get some work done while eating lunch and decided to do this at Cafe Zoe. The whole vibe and environment feels welcoming and comfortable. The food is an extension of this and I left feeling refreshed and productive.

Roasted hen at Zola. (Photo via Zola’s Instagram)

Roasted hen, Zola, Palo Alto

Kasim Syed, owner, The Rose & Crown, Palo Alto; The Tap Room, Palo Alto; co-owner, QBB, Mountain View: There are some many great things to eat around us, but strangely enough, a chicken dish is one that comes to mind. I usually don’t order chicken in nicer restaurants, but on a recent outing to Zola I tried their roasted hen. It has a great, smoky mushroom ragu sauce and some pickled onions. It was cooked perfect and so, so juicy. I would definitely get it again.

The Pasta Armellino at Pasta Armellino. (Photo via Yelp)

‘Pasta Armellino,’ Pasta Armellino, Saratoga

Mark Sullivan, chef/partner, Bacchus Management Group: At Chef Peter Armellino’s new spot, there are fresh, house-made pastas that are simple yet delicious. My favorite is somewhat of a classic, the “Pasta Armellino:” tagliatelle with black pepper, Parmigiano, crab and uni.

Chocolate chip cookies at Gracie Jones GF Bakeshop. (Photo via Gracie Jones GF Bake Shop’s Instagram)

Chocolate chip cookie, Gracie Jones GF Bakeshop, Palo Alto

Matt Davidson, chef, Pizzeria Delfina, Palo Alto, Burlingame: The last really great food item I had down here in the Peninsula was the chocolate chip cookie at Gracie Jones GF Bakeshop. I run a pizzeria so I am in no way following a gluten-free diet but I am following a chocolate chip cookie diet as they are one of my favorite things in the world to eat. When I had this one I was blown away. Tasted better than most with gluten!

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Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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