Eager eaters and drive-through fans may never eat at Taco Bell again.
601 Baker, SF. (415) 614-9411, www.greenchilekitchen.com
BEST JAPANESE PIZZA
There are many cuisines you'd probably never want to see featuring pizza, though after you've tried okonomiyaki, you'll realize that Japanese isn't one of them. Okonomiyaki, served hot at Mifune Don at the Peace Plaza in Japantown, is a savory and highly addictive little pancake made with a flour-based batter that includes yam, cabbage, dashi, and eggs, then topped with ingredients such as mochi, seafood, and kimchi. Like pizza, the whole thing is often accompanied with cheese; unlike its Italian cousin, it sometimes includes mayonnaise. Though this description may sound revolting, the Osaka specialty is extremely difficult to dislike. And Mifune Don's version is the best you'll find this side of the Pacific.
22 Peace Plaza, SF. (415) 346-1993
BEST COOKING CLUB FOR COOL KIDS
Cook Here and Now is not just a statement, it's a newfangled take on the old-fashioned potluck. This underground cooking and tasting club gathers for periodic food-a-thons in a donated kitchen space, often the Zocalo furniture store in Bayview. And while the movement has gained national attention last year CHN appeared in Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine magazines, and it has inspired similar cooking clubs as far away as Melbourne, Australia locally the group has remained under the radar. (Which is just as well, because attendees are ferociously loyal, and each event tends to fill the 40-or-so seats mere minutes after being announced.) Attendees must sign up in advance and agree to prepare part of the community meal based on a theme or ingredient. Then they shop for ingredients, bring kitchen tools to the meet-up, and spend nine hours cooking, chatting, drinking, eating, and cleaning all in the pursuit of one-upping each other with well-sourced ingredients, cooking technique, and culinary wow.
BEST WAY TO GET FIRED UP
We are unfathomably fortunate to be rolling in great, rustic, old world bread in the Bay Area, never needing to suffer the indignities of spongy-goo crumbs and lifeless crusts that are the cruel fate of other carb-loving gastro-regions. Although we're surrounded by many good bakeries, there is only one choice for King of the Loaves. That's Oakland's Firebrand Artisan Breads. This latest addition to the East Bay bakery scene crafts its incredible bread (the rye is our hands-down fave among baguettes and batards) in a wood-fired oven, which results in the crispest, heartiest, most robust crust that yeast, water, and grain can yield. It's dense, rustic, and unparalleled. Plus, the shop's a heckuva lot closer to San Francisco than Freestone's Wild Flour Bakery in West Marin.
1552 Beach, Oakl. (510) 594-9213, www.firebrandartisanbreads.com
BEST PUCKER FOR PENNIES
Candies imported from Mexico and South America have gotten a bad rap in recent years. But that's no reason to overlook the confection entirely particularly when such an outstanding specimen is made in the East Bay: Dulceria Miriam's tamarind candy. Situated next to the cash registers of many a Latino market are the unpresumptuous plastic jars of Dulceria Miriam's candy, whose sweet pucker cannot be beat. The ingredient list is deceptively simple: fresh tamarind and sugar, sometimes with the addition of salt and/or cayenne. But the way this independent candymaker cultivates this brown, sticky magic is a sour-candy fan's greatest dream.