10 Dishes at Top-Rated Bay Area Restaurants

Winning choices at the highest-scoring destinations, from Napa to Half Moon Bay
October 6, 2014
by Virginia Miller

These restaurants remain among the best of the best in our annual Zagat Survey, garnering near-perfect 28 and 27 ratings for food. Here's what to order at 10 of our top-rated places.

1. Saru Sushi Bar
Zagat Food Rating: 28
Must-Order Dish: At this tiny haven for fantastic sushi in cozy Noe Valley, snacks and appetizers (like the tasting spoons) are playful and impeccably fresh — try the tempura-battered seaweed "cracker" ($7) cradling spicy tuna and avocado.

Saru crispy "cracker" [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]

2. Acquerello
Zagat Food Rating: 28
Must-Order Dish: This venerable Italian classic offers tasting menus only ($87-$165) that change constantly. Dishes will remind you of fine dining in Italy, like the current ricotta-filled tomato raviolini in oven-roasted tomatoes, accented with a splash of traditional balsamico and a nontraditional twist from Thai basil.

3. Cafe Gibraltar
Zagat Food Rating:
Must-Order Dish: In the seaside town of Half Moon Bay, Cafe Gibraltar consistently brings fresh Mediterranean food, including the heartwarming cassoula ($26, pictured top), a melange of crab, scallops, seasonal white fish, calamari and prawns in a tomato vegetable broth accented with basil, lemon, white wine and peppers.

4. Kokkari Estiatorio
Zagat Food Rating:
Must-Order Dish: The Greek great has been going strong since the '90s, turning out elegant Greek food in a rustic-chic, multiroom setting. The grilled whole fish changes daily (branzino is a favorite), served in true Mediterranean style with simple accents of lemon and Cretan olive oil and big enough for two.

A Zushi Puzzle sashimi platter [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]

5. Zushi Puzzle
Zagat Food Rating:
Must-Order Dish: Roger Chong's intimate sushi bar inside humble-looking Zushi Puzzle still offers one of the most exciting sushi meals you'll find in the country, with an array of unusual seafood appearing at any given time, from pencil fish to flying fish, the latter speared through the wings as a garnish. There's nothing like the sashimi platter, in which you might encounter four different species of one kind of fish side-by-side for comparison.

6. La Toque
Zagat Food Rati
ng: 27
Must-Order Dish: Chef-owner Ken Frank's tasting menus ($80-$98) change regularly at this Napa fine-dining classic, but whatever iteration of Maine lobster he has on the menu is always a highlight. This summer, it was Maine lobster over truffled fresh corn “polenta” with accents of celery, rye crumbs and a generous shaving of Australian black truffles. 

La Toque's Maine lobster dishes [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]

7. Sea Thai Bistro
Zagat Food Rating:
Must-Order Dish: Americanized Thai it may be, but generous servings and spanking-fresh ingredients make this a Santa Rosa standout. A heaping bowl of peanut rice noodles and chicken ($13) in a creamy peanut curry sauce laden with broccoli, carrots and edamame is a shareable way to go.

8. La Taquiza Fish Tacos
Zagat Food Rating:
Must-Order Dish: Though these are definitely suburban tacos vs. Mexican street-food tacos, La Taquiza continues to draw locals to its strip-mall setting for its specialty made with ultra-fresh seafood ($2.75-$5.50). Start with the house fish favorite served either California- or Baja-style (grilled or fried) on a corn tortilla.

9. Glen Ellen Star
Zagat Food Rating:
Must-Order Dish: After a day of wine tasting in Sonoma, this casual-but-gourmet spot feels like something out of SF or Oakland, hip and buzzing (though beware of early closings at 9 PM, or 9:30 PM on Friday-Saturday). Pizzas ($14-$18) cooked in the wood-burning oven please, as do vegetable-heavy starters. Try roasted beets ($10.50) in a harissa crumble, drizzled in blood-orange oil.

Sea Thai's peanut noodle curry [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]

10. Ajanta
Zagat Food Rating:
Must-Order Dish: This longtime Berkeley stalwart for refined dishes from all over India is a comfortable respite. Specials change regularly (think nontraditional scallop and corn pakoras), while the lamb korma ($17.50), served in a creamy curry sauce dotted with slivered almonds, stays on the menu.

fine dining
fish tacos
under the radar
day trips
sushi den