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New Survey Results: Best Restaurants in the East Bay

By Meesha Halm
October 1, 2013

Last week we shared with you some of San Francisco's biggest winners in this year’s Restaurants survey. This week, we turn our attention to the culinary leaders cooking up a storm on the other side of the Bay Bridge. From well-known icons in the Gourmet Ghetto and far-flung destination spots (Yosemite, anyone?) to exciting new ventures such as the Chez Panisse alum-backed Ramen Shop, here are some of the noteworthy spots in the East Bay and beyond.

This year was a particularly fertile one for the 510 dining scene. We saw a surge of openings on the Jack London Square waterfront (Forge, Lungomare, Nido), a spate of pop-ups that opened brick-and-mortars outlets (Juhu Beach Club, Marrow, Easy Creole) and a slew of new watering holes where the cocktails are as thoughtfully crafted and seasonally driven as the food (Tribune Tavern, Duende, El Gusano). See our short list below for the biggest winners in the East Bay and stay tuned for more Survey coverage from around the Bay Area throughout the month.

  • Top Food in the East Bay 

    Oakland may have a hot dining scene, but according to our surveyors, the best restaurant east of San Francisco can be found in Oakhurst, not Oakland, located about 20 minutes away from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. Just don’t plan on showing up in hiking boots. Named after the elderberry bushes that surround the castle-like Relais & Chateaux inn where it resides, Erna's Elderberry House presents sophisticated “superlative” locally sourced New French-Californian prix fixe dinners that are “inspired and commanding” as Half Dome itself. Rounding out the top five in the category are Chez Panisse, Commis, Chez Panisse Café and Rivoli.

  • Top Decor in the East Bay

    For a room with a view, Bay Area surveyors are willing to put on some mileage. Boasting a fairy tale setting and European country-estate atmosphere replete with working fireplaces and French provincial antiques-filled dining rooms, Erna’s Elderberry’s House took the top spot for Decor. The majestic views of Half Dome helped its neighbor the Ahwahnee Dining Room nab the second spot, followed by Wolfdale’s overlooking Lake Tahoe. Closer to home, Meritage nestled up in the hills at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley and The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore’s wine country also made the list.

  • Top Service in the East Bay

    "There are six elements I look for in good service," confesses Erna Kubin-Clanin, proprietress of Erna's Elderberry House, who won top honors for her and her staff's dedication to the craft. "Being genuine, intuitive, caring, respectful, gracious and knowledgeable. Indeed, only the last can be taught." Judging from our survey results - her staff notched a near perfect 29 for their efforts - she's a mighty fine teacher. Closer to home, over at Chez Panisse and the more casual Chez Panisse Cafe, the passionate front-of-the-house crew (who are happy to lead diners on a kitchen tour after their meal) also continue to excel, rounding out the East Bay's top five for service.

  • Top American Restaurants in the East Bay

    Oakland native James Syhabout is on a tear, opening a spate of casual venues such as Hawker Fare, the forthcoming Box & Bells, and The Dock at Linden Street Brewery, but surveyors are most impressed by the “stunning” “deliciously inventive” molecular-gastronomy inspired New American prix fixes on offer at his fine-dining flagship Commis, which earned the top spot in this category. Danville's go-to special occasion spot Esin also impresses in the number two spot, followed by the Lark Creek Walnut Creek, Flora, and Rick & Ann’s.

  • Top Mediterranean Restaurants in the East Bay

    Back in March, the world watched on TV as an emotional Alice Waters toured the devastation wreaked upon her beloved Berkeley restaurant by an early morning fire. But after a four-month closure, Chez Panisse and its upstairs Cafe iare back and better than ever, sporting a fresh new façade and porch, and once again were voted #1 and #2 for its reverently prepared, ingredient-driven organic Cal-Med meals. Other top Mediterranean maestros that continue to shine include Rivoli and Asena.

  • Top Italian Restaurants in the East Bay

    With a name like Pizzaiolo, it’s no surprise that surveyors crowned Charlie Hallowell’s Oakland eatery the best pizza purveyor in the East Bay. But you'll find more than just damn good wood-fired pies on the menu. The "inspired" antipasti, "sublime" pastas, and rustic roasts that round out the nightly changing menu helped the Chez Panisse alum also nab the crown for top Italian.

  • Top Japanese Restaurants in the East Bay

    Although Joshu-ya has been a Berkeley institution among students for more than 30 years, the rebranded Japanese brasserie has really taken off since chef Jason Kwon took it over in 2011, where he's wowing foodies with his seasonal avant-garde California-Asian menus. The young chef not only cracked the top five list for the first time, landing all the way at #1; his cookbook/memoir The Joshu-ya Cookbook is slated to be published this fall and he's just opened his second restaurant, Bleecker Bistro.

    Sadly, the East Bay bid adieu to the long-running Survey winner, O Chame, which closed earlier year, but diners are excited for the forthcoming Iyasare, a new rustic Japanese restaurant by noted Shotaro Kamio of Yoshi's fame that is slated to open in the same space later next month.

  • Top Seafood Restaurants in the East Bay

    Forget the big touristy spots overlooking the Marina. When surveyors crave a fish dinner, they head straight to the landlocked Marica, Rockridge's inventive New American seafooder which for the second year in a row was named the best in its category. (The kitchen's signature dish is twice-cooked lobster sautéed with ginger, cilantro and five-spice but there are plenty of meat and vegetarian dishes on the menu for landlubbers as well.) Alameda's dim sum temple East Ocean Seafood also made it on to the list for the first time for its Chinese preparation of fin fare.

  • Best Indian/Pakistani Restaurants in the East Bay

    The East Bay is known for its vibrant Indian restaurants and grocery stores, but the imaginative, seasonal fare at Lachu Moorjani's white-tablecloth haunt Ajanta "takes Indian cuisine to a whole new level," notching an impressive 27 for Food and the #1 spot along the way. It's easy to see why Berkeley diners never get bored. Ajanta's menu offerings (made from seasonal, sustainable ingredients and including a fair share of gluten-free and vegan options) rotate monthly, focusing on a different region of India. For curry in a hurry, surveyors are partial to Vik's Chaat Corner and the East Bay outposts of Shalimar, Udupi Palace and Pakwan.

  • Best-Buy Restaurants in the East Bay

    Hope you're not looking to get too comfortable - the best buy in this year's guide doesn't have chairs, only vintage ironing boards set up on the street that double as stand-up tables, but judging from the "crazy long lines" spilling outside Oakland's retro take-out bakery Bakesale Betty, no one seems to mind. East Bay devotees queue up at this Temescal favorite Tuesday-Saturday between 11 AM and 2 PM for the chance to sink their teeth into Betty's "incredible" signature fried chicken sandwiches laced with spicy slaw (a three-napkin affair), freshly baked seasonal desserts and "cookies the size of your head." Other top-rated bargain bites in the region include the grab-and-go Cheese Board Pizza and Gioia Pizzeria, and sit-down spots Brown Sugar Kitchen and Zachary's.

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Places Mentioned

Pakwan Restaurant

Asian • Fremont

Food23 Decor9 Service14 Cost$16
 
 
 
Prima

Italian • Walnut Creek

Food26 Decor23 Service23 Cost$49
 
 
 
Ajanta

Indian • Berkeley

Food27 Decor22 Service24 Cost$31
 
 
 
Marica Seafood Restaurant

Seafood • Oakland

Food25 Decor20 Service25 Cost$40
 
 
 
Joshu-ya Brasserie

Japanese • Berkeley

Food25 Decor22 Service23 Cost$34
 
 
 
Gioia Pizzeria

Pizza • Berkeley

Food25 Decor12 Service18 Cost$16
 
 
 
Flora

New American • Oakland

Food23 Decor22 Service21 Cost$43
 
 
 
East Ocean Seafood Restaurant

Chinese • Alameda

Food23 Decor17 Service19 Cost$24
 
 
 
Asena Restaurant

Mediterranean • Alameda

Food26 Decor20 Service25 Cost$30
 
 
 
Vik's Chaat Corner

Indian • Berkeley

Food24 Decor11 Service14 Cost$14
 
 
 
Brown Sugar Kitchen

Soul Food • Oakland

Food26 Decor18 Service22 Cost$22
 
 
 
Pakwan Restaurant

Pakistani • Hayward

Food23 Decor9 Service14 Cost$16
 
 
 
Food28 Decor28 Service29 Cost$101
 
 
 
Food27 Decor23 Service26 Cost$59
 
 
 
Ippuku

Berkeley

Food24 Decor23 Service21 Cost$41
 
 
 
Shalimar Restaurant

Indian • Fremont

Food23 Decor7 Service13 Cost$16
 
 
 
Commis

Oakland

Food27 Decor21 Service26 Cost$111
 
 
 
Chez Panisse

Berkeley

Food27 Decor25 Service27 Cost$85
 
 
 
Zachary's Chicago Pizza

Pizza • Oakland

Food25 Decor15 Service19 Cost$21
 
 
 
Zachary's Chicago Pizza

Pizza • Berkeley

Food25 Decor15 Service19 Cost$21
 
 
 
Lark Creek Walnut Creek

American • Walnut Creek

Food23 Decor21 Service22 Cost$44
 
 
 
Meritage At the Claremont

Californian • Oakland

Food23 Decor26 Service23 Cost$58
 
 
 
Bakesale Betty

Oakland

Food26 Decor12 Service21 Cost$13
 
 
 
The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards

Californian • Livermore

Food25 Decor26 Service24 Cost$59
 
 
 
Esin Restaurant & Bar

American • Danville

Food26 Decor24 Service26 Cost$45
 
 
 
Zachary's Chicago Pizza

Pizza • San Ramon

Food25 Decor15 Service19 Cost$21
 
 
 
Rivoli

Californian • Berkeley

Food27 Decor24 Service25 Cost$51
 
 
 
Pizzaiolo

Italian • Oakland

Food26 Decor20 Service21 Cost$37
 
 
 
Rick & Ann's Restaurant

American • Berkeley

Food23 Decor17 Service19 Cost$25
 
 
 
Cheese Board Pizza

Pizza • Berkeley

Food26 Decor16 Service19 Cost$13
 
 
 
Zachary's Chicago Pizza

Pizza • Pleasant Hill

Food25 Decor15 Service19 Cost$21
 
 
 
Udupi Palace

Indian • Berkeley

Food23 Decor13 Service19 Cost$16
 
 
 
 
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