Category Archives: Great Finds

Tay Ho Oakland For The Win

Incredible turmeric fried catfish at Tay Ho Oakland.
Incredible turmeric fried catfish at Tay Ho Oakland.

I love the over-the-top luxuriousness of a fancy, hours-long, upscale tasting menu as much as the next person.

But truth be told, it’s not really the food I crave on a regular basis.

While there’s a place and time for such sumptuousness, what I truly adore is food that’s punchy, distinctive, and suffused with down-home heart and soul.

No tweezers required.

That’s what Tay Ho Oakland is all about.

I was fortunate enough to come across this family-owned Vietnamese restaurant while writing my cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1). Indeed, it was the last restaurant to be included in the book, the 41st one to be spotlighted with stories and recipes. And I couldn’t be more thrilled that it was.

Yours truly with Owner Denise Huynh, whose restaurant is featured in my new cookbook, "East Bay Cooks.''
Yours truly with Owner Denise Huynh, whose restaurant is featured in my new cookbook, “East Bay Cooks.”

If you already have a copy of my cookbook, you know what Owner Denise Huynh poured her life savings into what was then a struggling restaurant nine years ago that she took over from her aunt. For the first few years, sheer will-power propelled her onward, as she worked to attract diners to what was then a still very gritty, crime-laden part of the city.

Now the neighborhood, with gleaming new condos and apartments going up, has grown with her. And Tay Ho Oakland has become known for its authentic cuisine served in a relaxed, inviting and cheerful spot.

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The Warmth of Zareen’s

First-time restaurateur Zareen Khan has created a gem in Zareen's in Mountain View and Palo Alto.
First-time restaurateur Zareen Khan has created a gem in Zareen’s in Mountain View and Palo Alto.

This summer, when timing necessitated postponing my birthday dinner at Michelin three-starred Manresa to two months later, my husband asked me where I wanted to go instead on my actual birthday weekend. I immediately knew the spot.

It was another Michelin-recognized establishment.

One where the food would be equally unforgettable and fill me with similar contentment.

And where my husband would be especially thrilled because it turned out to be the least expensive birthday dinner he’d ever bought me.

It was, of course, Zareen’s.

Though she had never opened a restaurant before, Pakistani-born Zareen Khan decided to do just that when she opened the original fast-casual Zareen’s in Mountain View on 2014. It proved such a hit that two years later, she opened a second, larger Zareen’s on California Avenue in Palo Alto, which is the one we frequent. In 2020, look for a third and larger location to open in downtown Redwood City.

The unassuming establishment on California Avenue in Palo Alto is always crowded.
The unassuming establishment on California Avenue in Palo Alto is always crowded.
On a sunny day, the sidewalk tables fill up fast. Khan has regulars who come every week.
On a sunny day, the sidewalk tables fill up fast. Khan has regulars who come every week.

Tech workers who get all the free food they want on their campuses gladly flock to Zareen’s to stand in line and, yes, pay their own money, for her incredible contemporary Pakistani-Indian food. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have dined here. And Chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly, the team behind Michelin-starred Protege in Palo Alto across the street from Zareen’s, have made no secret about being so addicted to Zareen’s chicken tikka masala that they eat it weekly.

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Savor A Classic Taste of San Francisco At Sam’s Grill

Celery Victor at Sam's Grill in San Francisco.
Celery Victor at Sam’s Grill in San Francisco.

These days, we’re so conditioned to flock to the new and trendy.

But there’s a lot to be said for the classic that’s withstood the test of time.

Sam’s Grill in San Francisco is a true testament to that. It was established in 1867. Let that sink in for a moment. The restaurant opened three years before Golden Gate Park was created, 11 years before the San Francisco Public Library opened, and 31 years before the Ferry Building was built.

It oozes history. And it’s a slice of old-school San Francisco you don’t find much of these days except at other venerated restaurants such as Swan’s Oyster Depot and the House of Prime Rib.

Five years ago, Sam’s Grill almost shuttered. But Peter Quartaroli, one of its former servers and maitre d’s who went on to become a screenwriter, decided to buy the place with help from some loyal customers.

The familiar sign in San Francisco's Financial District.
The familiar sign in San Francisco’s Financial District.

“My Dad used to work in restaurants. And I have worked at downtown San Francisco restaurants since I was a kid,” Quartaroli says. “So many places that became part of the fabric of the city are disappearing. I didn’t want to see Sam’s go away. It was so important to keep it.”

So Quartaroli set about preserving its history while also making it relevant in this era.

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The Little Caboose That Could — Dad’s Luncheonette

Hamburger Sandwich (top), and Mushroom Sandwich (bottom), at Dad's Luncheonette.
Hamburger Sandwich (top), and Mushroom Sandwich (bottom), at Dad’s Luncheonette.

It may be a train to nowhere, but it’s guaranteed to take your taste buds on a satisfying ride.

Dad’s Luncheonette opened two years ago in a historic caboose permanently parked on the edge of a shopping center in Half Moon Bay. Ever since then, it’s been drawing hordes to this unassuming spot.

After all, it’s not every day that a chef whose resume includes stints at uber upscale, Michelin three-starred Benu and Saison, decides to set up shop in such unusual and cramped quarters, all of 250 square feet.

Permanently parked on the side of Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay.
Permanently parked on the side of Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay.

But Chef Scott Clark and girlfriend Alexis Liu, owner of San Francisco’s Beacon Coffee & Pantry, were after a less hectic life after the birth of their daughter. When they spied the old caboose, it was love at first sight.

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Win A Signed Copy of My New “East Bay Cooks” Cookbook

Flourless chocolate cake from Old Towne Danville Bakery. (Photo by Eva Kolenko)
Flourless chocolate cake from Old Towne Danville Bakery. (Photo by Eva Kolenko)

Remember when you were a kid, and beamed with pride and happiness the first time you donned a snazzy new pair of red cowboy boots?

That’s how I feel about my newest cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1), which debuts this week. Thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of people, it turned out more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. Just get a load of the images here from the book, all of them shot by the incredibly talented Bay Area photographer Eva Kolenko.

Chorizo sourdough toast from Sabio on Main in Pleasanton. (Photo by Eva Kolenko)
Chorizo sourdough toast from Sabio on Main in Pleasanton. (Photo by Eva Kolenko)

Whether you’re a Bay Area native or not, this book will have you enthralled with the East Bay, the most populous region in the Bay Area. It spotlights 41 restaurants and bakeries, some brand new, and others that have endured for decades — no easy feat in this challenging and competitive market.

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