"If you're on a perpetual quest for a good burger," insists Frommer's, "a mandatory stop is Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers." The Bay Area institution's 20-plus specialty burgers start with a choice of five patties, including garden, wild Alaskan salmon, and all-natural, humanely raised Angus beef ground chuck delivered daily from Niman Ranch. Grill masters crown each patty with preservative-free ingredients that range from sprouts and grilled chili to garlic-basil pesto and spicy voodoo sauce.
Though burgers dominate Barney's menu, salads are a close second. The eatery's more than 15 specialties include an organic mix with roasted beets, caramelized walnuts, fennel, and goat cheese. All are drizzled with dressings made in-house from secret recipes handed down through generations via song. The rest of what Frommer's calls a "mind-boggling menu" due to its extensive choices includes shakes and floats, kosher beef hot dogs, and steak-cut fries.
The chefs at Mezzé’s careful use of bold spices and traditional recipes from across the Mediterranean earned their fragrantly seasoned cuisine a rating of "Very Good to Excellent" from Zagat. In addition to sourcing local, organic, and sustainably farmed ingredients whenever possible, they also keep their flavors close to home by stuffing spicy merguez, smoking Angus rib eyes, and pickling vegetables in house. Throughout their meal, diners can gaze directly into the open kitchen and watch the chefs at work, busily arranging the lamb-shank tagine or debating the relative merits of eating soup with a spoon versus a crazy straw.
A single weathervane squeaks as it sways in the breeze atop a peaked roof. Below it, a building dating back to 1948 houses Montclair Bistro amid fieldstone and brick pathways created in french provincial style. At 7 years old, future chef and owner Henry Vortriede began his cooking career by thumbing through culinary magazines and preparing meals for his family of eight. After going on to earn diplomas in food and wine at Le Cordon Bleu and L'Académie du Vin in Paris, France, he honed his skills as a chef in several French restaurants and created chocolate art showpieces at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.
Today, as owner and chef at Montclair Bistro, Vortriede draws on his culinary background to create a rotating menu that includes organic chicken scaloppini sourced from Petaluma Farms, duck-and-wild-mushroom quesadillas with brown-butter chestnuts, and thick, double-cut pork chops with sweet-potato-apple pancakes. Another menu of brunch fare combines traditional favorites such as scrambled eggs with black truffle and eggs benedict with lobster cake.
Vortriede's taste is on display not only on plates but also on the restaurant’s walls, where elegant painted canvases hang. Two hundred bottles of wine stand nearby on storage racks inside walk-in glass covered with the pressed noses of oenophiles. The decor, which includes dark carpeting and dark chairs, white-linen-covered tables, and flickering candles, helped earn the restaurant OpenTable's 2012 Diners' Choice award for romantic restaurant in East Bay.
Amba's menu is chock-full of delectable vegetarian and kosher Middle Eastern-style eats made daily from fresh ingredients. Start off with a savory bowl of lentil soup ($6), or put hand shovels to work using a warm pita to scoop up freshly made hummus topped with chickpeas and a drizzle of olive oil ($8). Try out a filling falafel pita sandwich ($8), or opt for the hearty sabich pita sandwich, stuffed to the brim with fried eggplant, Israeli and cabbage salad, a hard-boiled egg, and tahini ($8). A variety of crisp green salads are available in full ($7–$9) or side ($4) sizes, and any three options—such as tabouleh, Israeli couscous, and baba gannouj—may be combined into one Transformers-style megadish ($9). Quench palates with a glass of house-made iced tea or fresh mint lemonade ($3 each), or balance your main mouth events with seasonal sides such as Judean flatbread, Greek spinach rice, and Babka cake.
Chao Thai Cuisine’s modest exterior belies the bevy of delicious and authentic fare produced by its speedy kitchen staff. A three-page menu displays nearly 100 dishes including beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian entrees. House favorites, such as pineapple fried rice, pad thai, and green curries, can be enjoyed upon the eatery’s cozy collection of indoor mosaic tabletops or stashed away into a sturdy take-out container or a water-sealed top hat.