June 18, 2024

The Best 50 Bay Area restaurants for 2022: Nos. 31-40

We’ve noshed and sipped our way through the Bay Area’s best restaurants, from swanky high-end restaurants to the most casual cafes. Now we’re ready to roll out our restaurant critics and food writers’ highly subjective list of the top 50 restaurants across the East and South Bays. Consider it not so much a ranking as a guide for all cravings and occasions, from a memorable quick lunch to a date-worthy experience.

We released the first batch — Nos. 41-50 — on Monday. Today, we’re diving into the next batch. Let’s get started — because whether you’re craving Bacalhau, brisket or Cochinita Pibil, you won’t want to dally.

A guide to the abbreviations:

$: A typical entree is $15 or less

$$: $16-$50

$$$: $51-$100

$$$$: More than $100

Slice House by Tony Gemignani, Walnut Creek: When you want pizza with world-class cachet

Walnut Creek’s worst-kept secret is a 900-square-foot, counter-service pizza place on the heaviest traffic corner of town. The magnificently hand-crafted pies — a library of styles, from New York and Sicilian to Detroit and Neapolitan — are the work of Fremont-raised Tony Gemignani, a 13-time World Pizza Champion who’s been spinning dough in the Bay Area since he was 17. Gemignani has received many accolades over the years, but 2022 is the pinnacle: He was named pizza maker of the year, and his San Francisco pizzeria, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, No. 10 in the world by a panel of Naples-based experts. Stateside, Gemignani made the cover of Pizza Today magazine, an honor he calls bigger than a James Beard Award.

The tiny Walnut Creek pizzeria — the first to bring multiple pie styles to the East Bay when it opened in 2016 — is particularly important to Gemignani. Not only is it the busiest Slice House outside of San Francisco, but with the mini empire moving toward a franchise model, it is the only one Gemignani and his partners own.

Tony Gemignani's award-winning Cal Italia pizza, with prosciutto, four cheeses, fig preserves and a balsamic reduction, is served at his Slice Houses. (Laura Oda/Bay Area News Group archives)
Tony Gemignani’s award-winning Cal Italia pizza, with prosciutto, four cheeses, fig preserves and a balsamic reduction, is served at his Slice Houses. (Laura Oda/Bay Area News Group archives) 

“It’s in my backyard,” Gemignani says. “And the young staff reminds me of my first jobs.”

Those staff members, who whip up pizzas by the slice as well as whole pies, are champs in their own right. Pizzaiolos work practically back-to-back with cashiers in a cramped space, where the vibe is somehow always chill, even on weekends. In addition to two dozen pizzas available in multiple styles, Slice House offers an array of salads, subs, meatballs ($1 on Mondays) and pastas.

Don’t miss: There are no bad choices here, only delicious ones, especially if you order the Wise Guy, Purple Potato, Pigman, Tomato Pie or Gemignani’s gold-medal winning Cal Italia, made with gorgonzola, prosciutto and figs.

Details: 1500 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek. Also at 135 Parrott St. in San Leandro and 1000C El Camino Real in Belmont; https://slicehouse.com; $

Petiscos, San Jose: When you want to give Portuguese cuisine a whirl

Not sure if bacalhau should be your next culinary obsession?

Start with a small plate. Or two or three. That’s the specialty at downtown San Jose’s Petiscos.

Restaurateurs Carlos and Fernanda Carreira and their chefs, David Costa and Jessica Carreira, first elevated Portuguese cuisine to Michelin level, garnering a star for their Adega restaurant in the city’s Little Portugal neighborhood. Then they launched their affordable, approachable concept, Petiscos — the name means small plates, the Portuguese equivalent of Spanish tapas.

The choices here for shareable plates of traditional favorites are many. The delectable Shrimp in Garlic Sauce is a must, as are the showy and delicious Flaming Chourico and the addictive Tempura Green Beans. It’s tough to decide among the Duck Rice, Asparagus Rice or Mushroom Rice, but you need one of those for the table. Other Petiscos fans swear by the Chicken Gizzards or the tender cubes of Beef Tongue. And Bacalhau, Portugal’s popular codfish, is served in casserole and codfish cake versions.

SAN JOSE - NOVEMBER 22: A portrait of executive chef David Costa at Petiscos in downtown San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group)
Executive chef David Costa oversees the kitchen at Petiscos in downtown San Jose. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group File) 

Not into sharing? The Francesinha sandwich is an OMG creation loaded with steak, ham and chourico, covered with cheese and then topped with a fried egg and gravy.

Don’t miss: If you enjoyed dessert at Petiscos, head over to the family’s East Santa Clara Street bakery-cafe, Pastelaria Adega, for pastéis de nata custards and other sweets.

Details: 399 S. First St., San Jose; http://petiscosadega.com; $-$$

Horn BBQ, Oakland: When you want prize-winning ‘cue with plenty of soul

Oakland pitmaster Matt Horn needs no introduction. His West Coast-style barbecue, a blend of Cali and Central Texas brisket, pulled pork and more, has made national headlines for years. And Horn BBQ, his counter-service restaurant in West Oakland, is on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list and was a 2022 James Beard finalist for best new restaurant. Like many restaurants, Horn BBQ has struggled during the pandemic; at press time, Horn was reportedly dealing with several financial issues, including delayed wages.

Inside the eatery, lines move fast, thanks to a streamlined counter system. Arrive early if you want to snag a seat inside — the positive juju from the old Brown Sugar Kitchen is still here — where framed photos of Horn and his family, including his beloved smoker, Lucille, line the walls. You’ll find her out back, along with a parklet of dark-gray picnic tables with life affirming quotes (“Take the stones people throw at you and use them to build monuments”) scrawled on the fence.

Oakland pitmaster Matt Horn has released his first cookbook, "Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ." (Andrew Thomas Lee)
Oakland pitmaster Matt Horn released his first cookbook, “Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ,” recently. (Courtesy Andrew Thomas Lee) 

You can get both the smoky-crusted brisket and juicy pulled pork by the pound or tucked in a sandwich, in addition to links, smoked chicken and a medley of sides, including mac and cheese, Horn’s personal favorite. And if Horn’s story of grit, determination and hard work doesn’t pluck at your heart strings, this will: The self-made chef is going to teach kids the history, craft and art of barbecue for free. The Academy of Smoke, geared toward budding pit masters ages 8 to 12, launches in the spring.

Don’t miss: Brisket, obviously, pulled pork, beef ribs, collard greens, pit beans and to finish, banana pudding.

Details: 2534 Mandela Parkway, Oakland; www.hornbarbecue.com; $-$$

Wojia Hunan Cuisine, Albany: When you crave hot-and-sour Chinese excellence

Some folks might balk at paying $18 for a basket of fried rice balls. But they’ve probably never tried Wojia’s, which are wildly addictive, glutinous rice orbs typically seen in Chinese dessert soup. Here, they’re turned savory with liquidy black-sesame filling and heaps of sliced jalapenos and red chiles. Just be sure to have a glass of water nearby for the ever-building heat.

Heat is what this popular Hunanese spot is about. It’s not so much a punch-you-in-the-mouth shock, but an exhilarating harmony of sour-hot spiciness typical to the cuisine and its use of fresh, dried, fermented and who-knows-what-else chiles. Diners will be rewarded by ordering any of the odder cuts of meat on the menu, from spicy ox aorta to glassy slices of beef tendon shining with chile oil. The soup of Laoshan sliced flounder (which can be upgraded with a live fish) offers silky meat and a broth fragrant from pickled vegetables and even more chiles. If you want to impress your table, look to the menu’s “Five Wows” section for the Chairman Mao Stew Pork Hock, a huge, tender hunk with a bone sticking straight up like a caveman’s club.

Don’t miss: Those fried glutinous rice balls are especially memorable, as are the sauteed eggplant with string beans and Laoshan boiled sliced flounder.

Details: 917 San Pablo Ave., Albany; hunancuisineonline.com; $$

Asa North, Los Altos, and Asa South, Los Gatos: When you’re curious about Wayback Wednesday

Andrew Welch’s two popular Asa restaurants, the original in Los Altos and the newer one in Los Gatos, are paying tribute to yet another restaurant and its signature cuisine.

That would be Casa de Cobre, the Mexican restaurant specializing in Michoacan fare that Welch operated in Saratoga for some years with executive chef Marcelino Hernandez. Customers were clamoring for a taste of Casa, so the pair brought back the recipes in 2020 for what they called Wayback Wednesday – and the tradition continues.

Treasured family recipes dominate. Hernandez’s abuela’s recipe for spiced, braised beef shoulder created a rich entree on Entomatado night. An old Casa favorite, Cochinita Pibil, slow-cooked pork shoulder, makes frequent appearances. The pork is slow-cooked in layers of banana leaves with ancho chile and white wine, then served with guajillo salsa and pickled local vegetables.