Casual Spots in The Bay.

From pop-ups to hole-in-the-wall joints, I’ve discovered a lot of amazing places in the last year.

Since we all barely dined out in the past year and a half, the majority of my food adventures have been takeout from small businesses, taco trucks, bakeries, and pop-ups.

Let’s start with the savory goodies. Birria tacos have been all the craze and if you still haven’t tried them yet, you are seriously missing out. Birria tacos are made with beef that’s been braised until tender in a rich consommé. The meat is then shredded and stuffed inside a taco where the tortillas are dipped in that braising liquid and then griddled on a flat top. While I’ve tried a few places, hands down my favorite place is La Grana Fish in Oakland. While getting the quesabirria taco (birria with cheese) is always a MUST, their other items are not to be missed either. My second favorite item is their gobernador taco with shrimp, cheese, and poblano chili. So good. Other favorites include the fried fish taco with cabbage slaw, baked potato loaded with cheese and your choice of protein, vampiro tacos (fried tortilla with meat and cheese, I usually get adobada which is pork), aguachiles, and ceviches (get the shrimp or fresh tuna with avocado and mango). I haven’t tried their quesadillas or mulitas but I’m sure they’re fire. For dessert, you can’t miss their flan. It’s custardy, creamy, and always hits the spot (they have plain, pecan, or coconut, and all three are fantastic).

One of the best pop-ups I’ve tried this year is Smish Smash, a smash burger joint that has literally changed how I feel about burgers. Currently, they’ve cut down on the days they are open due to short staffing and they use the kitchen space at Neptune’s in Alameda. They have an online ordering system where you can only order for the current day and that shit sells out quick. We’ve tried several of their different smash burgers and the fried chicken sandwich and all have been outstanding. So. Much. Flavor. I’ve also tried their normal, curly, and waffle fries (once they even had chili cheese fries and they were sooo good). Also, their Nutella banana pudding is to die for!

There has been so much hype around Horn Barbecue and for good reason. First of all, it’s probably the only real deal barbecue in Oakland and while it’s pricey, it was pretty fucking good. I tried the brisket, pork hot links, and spareribs (they also have pulled pork, smoked chicken, and weekend specials). For sides, we tried the pit beans, granny’s potatoes, and coleslaw (they also have potato salad, mac & cheese, and collard greens). For dessert, they have banana pudding and bread pudding which I sadly did not order. My biggest issue with Horn Barbecue is the ridiculous lines. Even though we ordered online (which there is a minimum so you can’t order a small amount), we still had to wait a substantial amount of time for pickup. However, if you’re really craving barbecue, it’s worth the wait.

Moving right along we have Square Pie Guys in Oakland or San Francisco which has been my go-to spot whenever I’m craving pizza. I’m actually surprised I only have one picture because I’ve been there so many times, no joke. They serve Detriot-style pizzas so the dough is thicker with a delicious cheesy crispy crust. Below is Samin’s Summer Pie (garlic Ricotta cream, confit tomato, Calabrian chilis, Mama’s lil’s vinaigrette, and peppers) and the Bay Area Seoul (bacon, pepperoni, pickled jalapeños, and ranch drizzle). The key is to order a packet of Mike’s hot honey and drizzle that on top of any pizza, it’s a game-changer. Other pizzas that I’ve tried are their standard pepperoni, the Big Von (garlic Ricotta cream, Italian sausage, pepperoni, and Mike’s hot honey), and Bacon My Heart (bacon, kale, and cherry tomatoes). They also have salads, chicken wings, and a fried chicken sandwich. Don’t forget to order some Mike’s hot honey for any pizza, it’s a must!

Samin’s Summer Pie and Bay Area Seoul.

By far the best deli sandwiches are from Deli Board in San Francisco, Yes, you might bitch about the price but I’m always willing to pay if flavor delivers and they do not disappoint. I’ve been there three times and every time I’m blown away by how great their sandwiches are. Chef Adam truly puts love into these creative sandwich concoctions. Below you’ll find the Zeke (turkey, avocado, bacon, cream cheese, pickled onion, sprouts, and mayo on a french roll); the Leroy Brown (Romanian pastrami, turkey, kosher salami, yellow American cheese, muenster cheese, pepperoncini blend, pickles, and board sauce on a dutch crunch); and the Pilarzle fka Carzle (Romanian pastrami, brisket, Provolone cheese, cherry peppers, pickles, coleslaw, and board sauce on a garlic french roll). I’ve also tried the Armando (not pictured) that has turkey, bacon, avocado, Cheddar cheese, sprouts, pepperoncini blend, mayo, and board sauce on a garlic french roll. I’d have to say my favorites are the Leroy Brown and the Pilarzle fka Carzle…my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

One of my favorite new finds is Hidden Spot in Emeryville serving up American food such as burgers, sandwiches, and chicken wings. While I didn’t try their burgers or sandwiches, their chicken wings were fiiiiiire. I got honey garlic butter and MVP (sweet and spicy soy glazed) and both were bomb. Super crispy and crunchy. Other chicken wing flavors include buffalo, garlic parmesan, and lemon pepper and I cannot wait to go back. The seasoned fries and onion rings were solid too.

Honey Ginger Chicken Wings, MVP Chicken Wings, Fries, and Onion Rings.

I never get sushi for takeout as I’d rather eat it fresh at a restaurant but Mujiri is an exception. This takeout only spot in Oakland has high quality, relatively affordable sushi. They offer a 7 piece nigiri set with the daily maki roll, a sashimi combo set, or you can order a la carte nigiri and hosomaki. I was pretty impressed with the quality and would definitely go back whenever I’m craving sushi.

7 Piece Nigiri Set.

Alright, now onto the sweets. Who woulda thought that I would have such a sweet tooth now after years of never wanting desserts. Oh, how times have changed…

One of the best pop-ups I’ve discovered is Pie Society by Pinkerton Confectionary. While their workshop is in Berekely, they have weekly pickups in Oakland and San Francisco. Chef Angela Pinkerton has an impressive resume, most notable being the former executive pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park and receiving a James Beard award for outstanding pastry in 2011. She now is focusing all her time and energy on making exceptional pies and cookies. She offers chicken pot pie (which I’ve never tried), various fruit pies (9″ or 5″), and cookies. Her signature passionfruit bay leaf meringue pie is not to be missed with tangy passionfruit curd with bay leaf sweet cream, graham cracker crust, and toasted Swiss meringue. I also loved her strawberry cheesecake pie with a salted graham cracker crust. All her fruit pies such as honey apple, peach cobbler, stone fruit streusel, and chocolate berry have all been outstanding. Her cookies are also a hit with flavors like strawberry red velvet, chocolate chip & sea salt, chamomile cornmeal, cherry oatmeal chocolate walnut, gianduja brownie, and family love (chocolate, peanut butter, and oatmeal).

Another pie pop-up with exceptional pies is Edith’s Pie in Oakland. Every Tuesday, he releases his weekly offerings for either Friday pickup in San Francisco or Saturday pickup in Oakland. You can also request to order a certain pie flavor in advance (flavors include key lime, lemon icebox, raspberry lemonade icebox, coconut cream, fudgy banana cream, caramel banana cream, coffee cream, lemon poppyseed chess, honey ginger chess, chocolate chess, maple pecan, and chocolate pudding). Surprisingly, I only have one photo even though I’ve gotten numerous fruit pies from him in the past (apricot blackberry, apple, and stone fruit). The slices of cake pictured below (German chocolate cake and sweet potato cake) are not from Edith’s Pie but from Gregory’s Gourmet Desserts in Oakland that serve homey desserts from pies, cakes, brownies, and cookies. Be sure to check out both!

Stone Fruit Pie from Edith’s Pie and Sweet Potato Cake and German Chocolate Cake from Gregory’s Gourmet Desserts.

San Francisco has some of the best bakeries and Neighbor Bakehouse is one of them. I’ve been there a handful of times and every time I’m thoroughly impressed by the quality of their pastries and baked goods. I absolutely love the pistachio blackberry twice-baked croissant and Tommaso loves the ginger pull-apart and guava & cream cheese pastelito.

Neighbor Bakehouse Pastries.

On another occasion, we did a bakery tour where we visited three bakeries in San Francisco: Neighbor Bakehouse, Arsicault Bakery, and Jane the Bakery. Arsicault Bakery is another favorite of mine because of their impeccable kouign amann, almond croissant, and ham & cheese croissant. It was my first time visiting Jane the Bakery and we tried their pain au raisin, Nutella brioche, fluffernutter brioche, and pepperoni flatbread. While their pastries were delicious, they just didn’t hold up against Neighbor Bakehouse and Arsicault Bakery.

Hahdough, a German bakery with two locations in San Francisco, has delectable pastries and gorgeous cakes. We tried the apfelstreuselkuchen, a traditional German apple pie covered in streusel; berliner, a German take on a donut filled with jelly; and two slices of cake: bienenstich (beesting cake with vanilla cream, honey, and toasted almonds) and herrentorte (gentleman’s cake with sponge cake with brandy and white wine infused cream, apricot jam, and dark chocolate marzipan shell).

Another popular food within recent years is the mochi donut and Third Culture Bakery in Berkeley knows what’s up. We tried a selection of their mochi donuts and mochi muffins as well as mochi bread pudding. Since it’s made with glutinous rice flour, these are gluten free and have a very different texture than a normal donut. It’s chewy but in the best way possible.

Assorted Mochi Donuts, Mochi Muffins, and Mochi Bread Pudding.

Now onto regular donuts where Donut Savant shines at their new location in Oakland. Their donuts are fun because they have cron’t (hybrid of a croissant and a donut) as well as raised and cake donuts. All their donuts are smaller or mini-sized meaning you can get a bunch to sample! Favorites include the salted maple cron’t, the bernie (raised donut filled with vanilla cream and maple glaze), sean pecan-ery (cinnamon roll with buttercream frosting and toasted pecans),  and o.m.j. (cron’t with vanilla glaze and jam filling). Honestly, you can’t go wrong here as everything is top notch.

Another donut shop with fun flavored donuts is Donut Petit in Alameda. Their flavors change daily and can sell out so be sure to go on the earlier side. I really enjoyed the caramel apple donut, oreo donut, and the maple old fashioned donut.

Donut Petit Donuts.

Hanabi Cakes, a preorder only cake shop in San Francisco, have beautiful cakes and mini cakes. While I’ve never tried their larger celebratory cakes (prices range from $60-$100+ depending on the type of cake), their mini box cakes are very affordable and tasty. These are mini so keep that in mind as one person can easily crush a cake. We tried strawberry vanilla, chocolate sea salt oreo, honeycomb caramel, and matcha red bean.

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