This issue marks the one-year anniversary of my tenure as the Express staff restaurant critic. What a year. I’ve traveled to neighborhoods I never knew existed, and I’ve eaten some amazing food. In honor of last week’s Best of the East Bay issue, I’ve compiled my own list: the ten most memorable dishes of the past year. These are the dishes that I still daydream about, the ones that I recommend over and over to my friends.
1. Pambaso at La Torta Loca (Oakland). A large sandwich soaked in chile ancho sauce and stuffed with a choice of roasted or braised meats, lettuce, and tomato before being griddle-fried until crunchy and messy.
2. Tom rang me at May Hong (Oakland). Whole prawns dipped in a thin, crisp rice-flour batter and deep-fried, then sprinkled with tart tamarind powder and salt. Eat the head, too.
3. Braised mixed greens at Purple Plum (Oakland). A deep-green heap of kale, chard, collards, and mustard greens braised until silky-soft with bacon, tomato, and a little chile. Meatier than steak.
4. Jerk chicken at Jamaica Station (Oakland). Tender chicken coated in a mix of garlic, ginger, green onions, spices, and hot chiles with just a touch of vinegar to bring the flavors into sharp focus.
5. Pigeon with farro and black-trumpet mushrooms at Oliveto (Oakland). My favorite meat. Oliveto roasts its pigeon to a perfect, ruby-red medium rare and serves it with a deeply flavorful pigeon-stock reduction sauce.
6. Rock cod with ginger and scallions at Daimo (Richmond). Scooped from the tank and sent straight to the steamer, the fish never had time to lose any of its charms. The flesh could be lifted from the bones with chopsticks.
7. Anchovies in saor at Downtown (Berkeley). Served room temperature, these fresh anchovies were stewed in a mildly sweet-sour marinade with onion confit and raisins, offsetting the oily fishiness of the anchovies.
8. Tandoori jumbo prawns at Zaika (Berkeley). A thick layer of pungent, fiery spices coated flesh as soft as cotton and as sweet as lobster.
9. Cornmeal pancakes at Meal Ticket (Berkeley). Crisp around the edges, and impossibly ethereal inside. A perfect sponge for the real maple syrup they’re served with.
10. Tinga poblana at Fonda Solana (Berkeley). The chipotle chiles in this meaty, earthy stew of pork, potatoes, and tomatoes made it throb with a slow, smoky heat.
Runners-up: Baby octopus marinated in sesame oil and rice wine vinegar at Angelfish (Alameda); pasturma, thinly sliced air-dried beef, at the Aegean Grill (Berkeley); potato-stuffed bulanee, a griddled flatbread, at De Afghanan (Fremont); tofu stews at Pyung Chang Tofu House (Oakland); and the tiny coconut milk-scallion cakes at Wat Mongkolratanaram (Berkeley).