This is the time of year when every Bay Area publication starts cranking out listicles detailing various ways to “beat the heat” — lists of ice cream parlors, bubble-tea shops, and places where you might do some impromptu swimming.
But let’s be real: Do we all live in Walnut Creek now? Because, from where I’m sitting (in an office building in Oakland’s Jack London district), it is cold for long stretches of the day during the summer months here in the East Bay — cold enough that you have to throw a sweater on in the morning. Cold enough that, say, a bowl of cioppino is often a more appealing prospect than whatever frozen dessert happens to be in vogue.
So, let’s put aside this notion that we should eat hot-weather food just because it’s the summer. Outdoor grilling is a wonderful Bay Area summertime tradition — in part because the hot coals keep you from freezing off your steak-flipping hand!
And as for that recipe for cold gazpacho you just clipped from the Chronicle or wherever: That’s a delicious soup that’s well worth eating when tomatoes are in season. Just try not to spill any on your sweater.
Come July, you’ll more likely find me cozying up to a steaming-hot bowl of beef pho — as good during the summer as it any other time of year, especially during those cold Bay Area mornings before the fog has had a chance to burn off. It’s for good reason that most pho restaurants open bright and early. Lately, I’ve been enamored with the broth at Pho Hiep Hung (401 International Blvd., Oakland), where you should do as the Vietnamese do and doctor your soup with a bowl of nuoc beo, or rendered beef fat (available by request). Just the thing to warm you up.
In a similar vein, mark down the third Sunday of the month on your calendar. That’s when the Cal-Mexican taqueria Aztecali (303A Oakland Ave., Oakland) serves its amazing Guerrero-style chicken pozole verde, which is about as good a version of the Mexican hominy stew as you will find. Or, if you prefer your cold-weather summer food to have seasonal ingredients, the summer months are the only time of year when Ramen Shop (5812 College Ave., Oakland) serves its butter corn miso ramen, and when the cooks will throw tomato confit into their vegetarian Meyer lemon shoyu ramen. (As a concession to more traditional notions of summer food, Ramen Shop will also offer hiyashi chuka, aka chilled ramen noodles served with various toppings.)
And while it won’t top any summer food list, I can’t think of many dishes that speak more strongly to the spirit of summer than a nice bowl of beef chili — say, the chunky, black-eyed-pea-studded version at Crossburgers (300 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland) or the classic, no-bean, All-American fast-food version at Boss Burger (1187 Solano Ave., Albany). It’s food that makes you think of nights at the ballpark or parked at the drive-in movie theater — but also warms you up without you having to pretend like it’s 90 degrees out and humid.
Meanwhile, if you’ve already bookmarked a bunch of ice cream parlor listicles, don’t sweat it: September and October are just around the corner. Those of us who have been living in the East Bay for a minute know that’s when the real heat wave hits.