Best of the Bay 2009: Food and Drink - Page 4

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Most locals know Archuleta's rolls, nigiri, and specialty items from catered nights at Bender's, the Knockout, Mr. Barbershop, or 111 Minna, where fresh fishy delights can be obtained for less than $5. But Ichi also provides lunchtime service for clients at Google, YouTube, IDEO Design, and 826 Valencia. Whether you're looking for happy hour eats in the Mission or an alternative to a croissanwich platter at your office party in the Finanical District, you can't beat Ichi in sushi-bang for your ever-dwindling bucks.

(415) 822-4024, www.ichisushi.com

BEST EAST BAY IMITATION OF WEST AFRICA

There may have been a time when authentic Senegalese food was just too exotic for the Bay Area palate — but that time has long passed. At Lam Toro, nothing has been watered down for American tastes, from the spicy kick of habanero relish to the bones you're expected to pick out of your fish entrée. For an extra bit of authenticity, call ahead to have dishes like ceebu jen (fish sautéed in a tomato-spiced rice, considered the national dish) or yassa (chicken or fish simmered in a garlic, mustard, and lemon sauce) served family-style on a large plate in the middle of the table. Then enjoy hibiscus and ginger drinks while dining among a diverse crowd of West Africans, Afrophiles, and Peace Corps alumni. A fantastic East Bay complement to San Francisco's Bissap Baobab, this bright, cheerful eatery is the perfect place to experience Senegalese hospitality without needing a passport.

2432 Telegraph, Oakl; (510) 832-1010

BEST CUSTARD IN A CUP

Sure, the mole at La Oaxaqueña Bakery and Restaurant is the shizzle. And the mammoth Mexican pizzas, along with other regional specialties served in this glaringly-lit hole-in-the-wall, are muy excellente. But it's the housemade flan that really gets our locomotora running. Far from the boring dessert most of us have learned to ignore, this version is creamy and silken with intense vanilla flavor, lightly sweetened by a perfect puddle of caramel sauce. You won't even care about the uninviting, disposable, cafeteria-style plastic containers the flan comes in — once you've licked 'em clean.

2128 Mission, SF. (415) 621-5446

BEST WAY TO GET PHAT

It's no secret that the West Coast trounces our Eastern comrades on numerous fronts — weather, culture, blondes. But alas, there has always been the cheese steak factor, the one superior trait that your Atlantic Ocean-based relatives can hang over your head as cause for return eastward. Thankfully, Phat Philly's has removed that weapon from your family's arsenal. The 24th Street eatery features fresh Kobe beef, 12-inch Amoroso rolls shipped from Philly, and a cheese selection that includes Whiz, the glorious liquefied dairy product that covers steak and onions like a radioactive landslide. Not only is Phat Philly's classic cheesesteak perfectly dialed to East Coast standards, but the restaurant's menu also boasts an impressive range of other tasty options, such as crisscut waffle fries, steakhouse chili, and buffalo wings smothered in Mr. Pibb's barbecue sauce. Add in a toppings bar of various peppers with limitless soda refills, and you may never have to visit your relatives again.

3388 24th St., SF. (415) 550-7428, www.phat-philly.com

BEST MOUTHFUL OF ZEN

The tea-mongers' invasion of San Francisco is gaining momentum. Samovar Lounge has added its third venue to the fold, and all of "Zen Valley" is abuzz. Perched on the top of Page and Laguna, this branch of the tea empire is crafted from reclaimed wood and iron, including a long bar of wind-fallen redwood, and features a variety of teas sure to reclaim even the most jaded coffee palate.